If you have a traditional IRA or tax-deferred retirement plan account, you probably know that you must take required minimum distributions (RMDs) when you reach a certain age — or you’ll be penalized. The CARES Act, which passed last March, allowed people to skip taking these withdrawals in 2020 but now that we’re in 2021, RMDs must be taken again.

The basics

Once you attain age 72 (or age 70½ before 2020), you must begin taking RMDs from your traditional IRAs and certain retirement accounts, including 401(k) plans. In general, RMDs are calculated using life expectancy tables published by the IRS. If you don’t withdraw the minimum amount each year, you may have to pay a 50% penalty tax on what you should have taken out — but didn’t. (Roth IRAs don’t require withdrawals until after the death of the owner.)

You can always take out more than the required amount. In planning for distributions, your income needs must be weighed against the desirable goal of keeping the tax shelter of the IRA going for as long as possible for both yourself and your beneficiaries.

In order to provide tax relief due to COVID-19, the CARES Act suspended RMDs for calendar year 2020 — but only for that one year. That meant that taxpayers could put off RMDs, not have to pay tax on them and allow their retirement accounts to keep growing tax deferred.

Begin taking RMDs again

Many people hoped that the RMD suspension would be extended into 2021. However, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, which was enacted on December 27, 2020, to provide more COVID-19 relief, didn’t extend the RMD relief. That means if you’re required to take RMDs, you need to take them this year or face a penalty.

Note: The IRS may waive part or all of the penalty if you can prove that you didn’t take RMDs due to reasonable error and you’re taking steps to remedy the shortfall. In these cases, the IRS reviews the information a taxpayer provides and decides whether to grant a request for a waiver.

Keep more of your money

Feel free to contact us if have questions about calculating RMDs or avoiding the penalty for not taking them. We can help make sure you keep more of your money.

© 2021 Covenant CPA

Contributing to a tax-advantaged retirement plan can help you reduce taxes and save for retirement. If your employer offers a 401(k) or Roth 401(k) plan, contributing to it is a smart way to build a substantial sum of money.

If you’re not already contributing the maximum allowed, consider increasing your contribution rate. Because of tax-deferred compounding (tax-free in the case of Roth accounts), boosting contributions can have a major impact on the size of your nest egg at retirement.

With a 401(k), an employee makes an election to have a certain amount of pay deferred and contributed by an employer on his or her behalf to the plan. The contribution limit for 2020 is $19,500. Employees age 50 or older by year end are also permitted to make additional “catch-up” contributions of $6,500, for a total limit of $26,000 in 2020.

The IRS recently announced that the 401(k) contribution limits for 2021 will remain the same as for 2020.

If you contribute to a traditional 401(k) 

A traditional 401(k) offers many benefits, including:

  • Contributions are pretax, reducing your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI), which can also help you reduce or avoid exposure to the 3.8% net investment income tax.
  • Plan assets can grow tax-deferred — meaning you pay no income tax until you take distributions.
  • Your employer may match some or all of your contributions pretax.

If you already have a 401(k) plan, take a look at your contributions. Try to increase your contribution rate to get as close to the $19,500 limit (with an extra $6,500 if you’re age 50 or older) as you can afford. Keep in mind that your paycheck will be reduced by less than the dollar amount of the contribution, because the contributions are pretax — so, income tax isn’t withheld.

If you contribute to a Roth 401(k)

Employers may also include a Roth option in their 401(k) plans. If your employer offers this, you can designate some or all of your contributions as Roth contributions. While such contributions don’t reduce your current MAGI, qualified distributions will be tax-free.

Roth 401(k) contributions may be especially beneficial for higher-income earners, because they don’t have the option to contribute to a Roth IRA. Your ability to make a Roth IRA contribution for 2021 will be reduced if your adjusted gross income (AGI) in 2021 exceeds:

  • $198,000 (up from $196,000 for 2020) for married joint-filing couples, or
  • $125,000 (up from $124,000 for 2020) for single taxpayers.

Your ability to contribute to a Roth IRA in 2021 will be eliminated entirely if you’re a married joint filer and your 2021 AGI equals or exceeds $208,000 (up from $206,000 for 2020). The 2021 cutoff for single filers is $140,000 or more (up from $139,000 for 2020).

The best mix

Contact us if you have questions about how much to contribute or the best mix between traditional and Roth 401(k) contributions. We can discuss the tax and retirement-saving strategies in your situation.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

Taking distributions from a traditional IRA

Although planning is needed to help build the biggest possible nest egg in your traditional IRA (including a SEP-IRA and SIMPLE-IRA), it’s even more critical that you plan for withdrawals from these tax-deferred retirement vehicles. There are three areas where knowing the fine points of the IRA distribution rules can make a big difference in how much you and your family will keep after taxes:

Early distributions. What if you need to take money out of a traditional IRA before age 59½? For example, you may need money to pay your child’s education expenses, make a down payment on a new home or meet necessary living expenses if you retire early. In these cases, any distribution to you will be fully taxable (unless nondeductible contributions were made, in which case part of each payout will be tax-free). In addition, distributions before age 59½ may also be subject to a 10% penalty tax. However, there are several ways that the penalty tax (but not the regular income tax) can be avoided, including a method that’s tailor-made for individuals who retire early and need to draw cash from their traditional IRAs to supplement other income.

Naming beneficiaries. The decision concerning who you want to designate as the beneficiary of your traditional IRA is critically important. This decision affects the minimum amounts you must generally withdraw from the IRA when you reach age 72, who will get what remains in the account at your death, and how that IRA balance can be paid out. What’s more, a periodic review of the individual(s) you’ve named as IRA beneficiaries is vital. This helps assure that your overall estate planning objectives will be achieved in light of changes in the performance of your IRAs, as well as in your personal, financial and family situation.

Required minimum distributions (RMDs). Once you attain age 72, distributions from your traditional IRAs must begin. If you don’t withdraw the minimum amount each year, you may have to pay a 50% penalty tax on what should have been paid out — but wasn’t. However, for 2020, the CARES Act suspended the RMD rules — including those for inherited accounts — so you don’t have to take distributions this year if you don’t want to. Beginning in 2021, the RMD rules will kick back in unless Congress takes further action. In planning for required distributions, your income needs must be weighed against the desirable goal of keeping the tax shelter of the IRA going for as long as possible for both yourself and your beneficiaries.

Traditional versus Roth

It may seem easier to put money into a traditional IRA than to take it out. This is one area where guidance is essential, and we can assist you and your family. Contact us to conduct a review of your traditional IRAs and to analyze other aspects of your retirement planning. We can also discuss whether you can benefit from a Roth IRA, which operate under a different set of rules than traditional IRAs.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

If you recently launched a business, you may want to set up a tax-favored retirement plan for yourself and your employees. There are several types of qualified plans that are eligible for these tax advantages:

  • A current deduction from income to the employer for contributions to the plan,
  • Tax-free buildup of the value of plan investments, and
  • The deferral of income (augmented by investment earnings) to employees until funds are distributed.

There are two basic types of plans.

Defined benefit pension plans

A defined benefit plan provides for a fixed benefit in retirement, based generally upon years of service and compensation. While defined benefit plans generally pay benefits in the form of an annuity (for example, over the life of the participant, or joint lives of the participant and his or her spouse), some defined benefit plans provide for a lump sum payment of benefits. In certain “cash balance plans,” the benefit is typically paid and expressed as a cash lump sum.

Adoption of a defined benefit plan requires a commitment to fund it. These plans often provide the greatest current deduction from income and the greatest retirement benefit, if the business owners are nearing retirement. However, the administrative expenses associated with defined benefit plans (for example, actuarial costs) can make them less attractive than the second type of plan.

Defined contribution plans

A defined contribution plan provides for an individual account for each participant. Benefits are based solely on the amount contributed to the participant’s account and any investment income, expenses, gains, losses and forfeitures (usually from departing employees) that may be allocated to a participant’s account. Profit-sharing plans and 401(k)s are defined contribution plans.

A 401(k) plan provides for employer contributions made at the direction of an employee under a salary reduction agreement. Specifically, the employee elects to have a certain amount of pay deferred and contributed by the employer on his or her behalf to the plan. Employee contributions can be made either:

  1. On a pre-tax basis, saving employees current income tax on the amount contributed, or
  2. On an after-tax basis. This includes Roth 401(k) contributions (if permitted), which will allow distributions (including earnings) to be made to the employee tax-free in retirement, if conditions are satisfied.

Automatic-deferral provisions, if adopted, require employees to opt out of participation.

An employer may, or may not, provide matching contributions on behalf of employees who make elective deferrals to the plan. Matching contributions may be subject to a vesting schedule. While 401(k) plans are subject to testing requirements, so that “highly compensated” employees don’t contribute too much more than non-highly-compensated employees, these tests can be avoided if you adopt a “safe harbor” 401(k) plan. A highly compensated employee in 2020 is defined as one who earned more than $130,000 in the preceding year.

There are other types of tax-favored retirement plans within these general categories, including employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs).

Other plans

Small businesses can also adopt a Simplified Employee Pension (SEP), and receive similar tax advantages to “qualified” plans by making contributions on behalf of employees. And a business with 100 or fewer employees can establish a Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees (SIMPLE). Under a SIMPLE, generally an IRA is established for each employee and the employer makes matching contributions based on contributions elected by employees.

There may be other options. Contact us to discuss the types of retirement plans available to you.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

If you’re getting close to retirement, you may wonder: Are my Social Security benefits going to be taxed? And if so, how much will you have to pay?

It depends on your other income. If you’re taxed, between 50% and 85% of your benefits could be taxed. (This doesn’t mean you pay 85% of your benefits back to the government in taxes. It merely that you’d include 85% of them in your income subject to your regular tax rates.)

Crunch the numbers

To determine how much of your benefits are taxed, first determine your other income, including certain items otherwise excluded for tax purposes (for example, tax-exempt interest). Add to that the income of your spouse, if you file joint tax returns. To this, add half of the Social Security benefits you and your spouse received during the year. The figure you come up with is your total income plus half of your benefits. Now apply the following rules:

1. If your income plus half your benefits isn’t above $32,000 ($25,000 for single taxpayers), none of your benefits are taxed.

2. If your income plus half your benefits exceeds $32,000 but isn’t more than $44,000, you will be taxed on one half of the excess over $32,000, or one half of the benefits, whichever is lower.

Here’s an example

For example, let’s say you and your spouse have $20,000 in taxable dividends, $2,400 of tax-exempt interest and combined Social Security benefits of $21,000. So, your income plus half your benefits is $32,900 ($20,000 + $2,400 +1/2 of $21,000). You must include $450 of the benefits in gross income (1/2 ($32,900 − $32,000)). (If your combined Social Security benefits were $5,000, and your income plus half your benefits were $40,000, you would include $2,500 of the benefits in income: 1/2 ($40,000 − $32,000) equals $4,000, but 1/2 the $5,000 of benefits ($2,500) is lower, and the lower figure is used.)

Important: If you aren’t paying tax on your Social Security benefits now because your income is below the floor, or you’re paying tax on only 50% of those benefits, an unplanned increase in your income can have a triple tax cost. You’ll have to pay tax on the additional income, you’ll have to pay tax on (or on more of ) your Social Security benefits (since the higher your income the more of your Social Security benefits that are taxed), and you may get pushed into a higher marginal tax bracket.

For example, this situation might arise if you receive a large distribution from an IRA during the year or you have large capital gains. Careful planning might be able to avoid this negative tax result. You might be able to spread the additional income over more than one year, or liquidate assets other than an IRA account, such as stock showing only a small gain or stock with gain that can be offset by a capital loss on other shares.

If you know your Social Security benefits will be taxed, you can voluntarily arrange to have the tax withheld from the payments by filing a Form W-4V. Otherwise, you may have to make estimated tax payments. Contact us for assistance or more information.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

As you may have heard, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act allows “qualified” people to take certain “coronavirus-related distributions” from their retirement plans without paying tax.

So how do you qualify? In other words, what’s a coronavirus-related distribution?

Early distribution basics

In general, if you withdraw money from an IRA or eligible retirement plan before you reach age 59½, you must pay a 10% early withdrawal tax. This is in addition to any tax you may owe on the income from the withdrawal. There are several exceptions to the general rule. For example, you don’t owe the additional 10% tax if you become totally and permanently disabled or if you use the money to pay qualified higher education costs or medical expenses

New exception

Under the CARES Act, you can take up to $100,000 in coronavirus-related distributions made from an eligible retirement plan between January 1 and December 30, 2020. These coronavirus-related distributions aren’t subject to the 10% additional tax that otherwise generally applies to distributions made before you reach age 59½.

What’s more, a coronavirus-related distribution can be included in income in installments over a three-year period, and you have three years to repay it to an IRA or plan. If you recontribute the distribution back into your IRA or plan within three years of the withdrawal date, you can treat the withdrawal and later recontribution as a totally tax-free rollover.

In new guidance (Notice 2020-50) the IRS explains who qualifies to take a coronavirus-related distribution. A qualified individual is someone who:

  • Is diagnosed (or whose spouse or dependent is diagnosed) with COVID-19 after taking a test approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (including a test authorized under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act); or
  • Experiences adverse financial consequences as a result of certain events. To qualify under this test, the individual (or his or her spouse or member of his or her household sharing his or her principal residence) must:
    • Be quarantined, be furloughed or laid off, or have work hours reduced due to COVID-19;
    • Be unable to work due to a lack of childcare because of COVID-19;
    • Experience a business that he or she owns or operates due to COVID-19 close or have reduced hours;
    • Have pay or self-employment income reduced because of COVID-19; or
    • Have a job offer rescinded or start date for a job delayed due to COVID-19.

Favorable rules

As you can see, the rules allow many people — but not everyone — to take retirement plan distributions under the new exception. If you decide to take advantage of it, be sure to keep good records to show that you qualify. Be careful: You’ll be taxed on the coronavirus-related distribution amount that you don’t recontribute within the three-year window. But you won’t have to worry about owing the 10% early withdrawal penalty if you’re under 59½. Other rules and restrictions apply. Contact us if you have questions or need assistance.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

Do you want to save more for retirement on a tax-favored basis? If so, and if you qualify, you can make a deductible traditional IRA contribution for the 2019 tax year between now and the extended tax filing deadline and claim the write-off on your 2019 return. Or you can contribute to a Roth IRA and avoid paying taxes on future withdrawals.

You can potentially make a contribution of up to $6,000 (or $7,000 if you were age 50 or older as of December 31, 2019). If you’re married, your spouse can potentially do the same, thereby doubling your tax benefits.

The deadline for 2019 traditional and Roth contributions for most taxpayers would have been April 15, 2020. However, because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the IRS extended the deadline to file 2019 tax returns and make 2019 IRA contributions until July 15, 2020.

Of course, there are some ground rules. You must have enough 2019 earned income (from jobs, self-employment, etc.) to equal or exceed your IRA contributions for the tax year. If you’re married, either spouse can provide the necessary earned income.

Also, deductible IRA contributions are reduced or eliminated if last year’s modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is too high.

Two contribution types

If you haven’t already maxed out your 2019 IRA contribution limit, consider making one of these three types of contributions by the deadline:

1. Deductible traditional. With traditional IRAs, account growth is tax-deferred and distributions are subject to income tax. If you and your spouse don’t participate in an employer-sponsored plan such as a 401(k), the contribution is fully deductible on your 2019 tax return. If you or your spouse do participate in an employer-sponsored plan, your deduction is subject to the following MAGI phaseout:

  • For married taxpayers filing jointly, the phaseout range is specific to each spouse based on whether he or she is a participant in an employer-sponsored plan:
    • For a spouse who participated in 2019: $103,000–$123,000.
    • For a spouse who didn’t participate in 2019: $193,000-$203,000.
  • For single and head-of-household taxpayers participating in an employer-sponsored plan: $64,000–$74,000.

Taxpayers with MAGIs within the applicable range can deduct a partial contribution. But those with MAGIs exceeding the applicable range can’t deduct any IRA contribution.

2. Roth. Roth IRA contributions aren’t deductible, but qualified distributions — including growth — are tax-free, if you satisfy certain requirements.

Your ability to contribute, however, is subject to a MAGI-based phaseout:

  • For married taxpayers filing jointly: $193,000–$203,000.
  • For single and head-of-household taxpayers: $122,000–$137,000.

You can make a partial contribution if your 2019 MAGI is within the applicable range, but no contribution if it exceeds the top of the range.

3. Nondeductible traditional. If your income is too high for you to fully benefit from a deductible traditional or a Roth contribution, you may benefit from a nondeductible contribution to a traditional IRA. The account can still grow tax-deferred, and when you take qualified distributions, you’ll only be taxed on the growth.

Act soon

Because of the extended deadline, you still have time to make traditional and Roth IRA contributions for 2019 (and you can also contribute for 2020). This is a powerful way to save for retirement on a tax-advantaged basis. Contact us to learn more.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has caused the value of some retirement accounts to decrease because of the stock market downturn. But if you have a traditional IRA, this downturn may provide a valuable opportunity: It may allow you to convert your traditional IRA to a Roth IRA at a lower tax cost.

The key differences

Here’s what makes a traditional IRA different from a Roth IRA:

Traditional IRA. Contributions to a traditional IRA may be deductible, depending on your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) and whether you (or your spouse) participate in a qualified retirement plan, such as a 401(k). Funds in the account can grow tax deferred.

On the downside, you generally must pay income tax on withdrawals. In addition, you’ll face a penalty if you withdraw funds before age 59½ — unless you qualify for a handful of exceptions — and you’ll face an even larger penalty if you don’t take your required minimum distributions (RMDs) after age 72.

Roth IRA. Roth IRA contributions are never deductible. But withdrawals — including earnings — are tax-free as long as you’re age 59½ or older and the account has been open at least five years. In addition, you’re allowed to withdraw contributions at any time tax- and penalty-free. You also don’t have to begin taking RMDs after you reach age 72.

However, the ability to contribute to a Roth IRA is subject to limits based on your MAGI. Fortunately, no matter how high your income, you’re eligible to convert a traditional IRA to a Roth. The catch? You’ll have to pay income tax on the amount converted.

Saving tax

This is where the “benefit” of a stock market downturn comes in. If your traditional IRA has lost value, converting to a Roth now rather than later will minimize your tax hit. Plus, you’ll avoid tax on future appreciation when the market goes back up.

It’s important to think through the details before you convert. Some of the questions to ask when deciding whether to make a conversion include:

Do you have money to pay the tax bill? If you don’t have enough cash on hand to cover the taxes owed on the conversion, you may have to dip into your retirement funds. This will erode your nest egg. The more money you convert and the higher your tax bracket, the bigger the tax hit.

What’s your retirement horizon? Your stage of life may also affect your decision. Typically, you wouldn’t convert a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA if you expect to retire soon and start drawing down on the account right away. Usually, the goal is to allow the funds to grow and compound over time without any tax erosion.

Keep in mind that converting a traditional IRA to a Roth isn’t an all-or-nothing deal. You can convert as much or as little of the money from your traditional IRA account as you like. So, you might decide to gradually convert your account to spread out the tax hit over several years.

Of course, there are more issues that need to be considered before executing a Roth IRA conversion. If this sounds like something you’re interested in, contact us to discuss with us whether a conversion is right for you.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

Many people’s estates typically include IRAs. Be aware that two major laws passed into law recently, the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, have had a direct effect on IRAs.

In a nutshell, the CARES Act waives required minimum distribution (RMD) rules for IRAs (and certain defined contribution plans) for calendar year 2020. If you’re fortunate enough that you don’t need to make withdraws from your IRA, there’s an opportunity to leave more for your heirs in your retirement plan. However, bear in mind that because the SECURE Act generally put an end to “stretch” IRAs, the estate planning benefits of inheriting IRAs are somewhat muted.

RMD rules waived

Not taking RMDs in 2020 is particularly advantageous because the amount of the distribution is based on year-end 2019 account values. Otherwise, you might be forced to liquidate account assets at depressed values during the stock market downturn.

The waiver covers both 2019 RMDs required to be taken by April 1, 2020, and RMDs required for 2020. It applies for calendar years beginning after December 31, 2019.

“Stretch” IRAs eliminated

Perhaps more important for some estate plans, the SECURE Act eliminates so-called “stretch” RMD provisions that have allowed the beneficiaries of inherited IRAs and defined contribution accounts to spread the distributions over their life expectancies. Younger beneficiaries could use the provision to take smaller distributions and defer taxes while their accounts grew.

Under the SECURE Act, most beneficiaries must withdraw the entire balance of an account within 10 years of the owner’s death. However, they don’t have to follow any set schedule. They can wait and withdraw the entire amount at the end of 10 years if they wish.

The new rules apply only to those inheriting from someone who died after 2019. Thus, if you inherited an IRA years ago, you won’t be subject to the new rules with respect to your RMDs. However, when your beneficiaries inherit the IRA from you, they’ll be subject to the new rules.

Review your plans

The changes made by the CARES Act and the SECURE Act may have an impact on your retirement and estate plans. We can help you review your plans to ensure that they continue to meet your objectives.

© 2020 Covenant CPA

In many industries, offering a 401(k) plan is a competitive necessity. If you don’t offer one and a competitor does, it could mean the difference in a job candidate’s decision to accept their offer over yours. It could even send employees heading for the door.

Assuming you do offer a 401(k), the challenge then becomes plan maintenance and compliance. Just as you presumably visit your doctor annually for a checkup, you should review the administrative processes and fiduciary procedures associated with your plan at least once a year. Let’s look at some important areas of consideration:

Investments. Study your plan’s investment choices to determine whether the selections available to participants are appropriate. Does the lineup offer options along the risk-and-return spectrum for all ages of participants? Are any pre-mixed funds, which are based on age or expected retirement date, appropriate for your employee population?

If the plan includes a default investment for participants who have failed to direct investment contributions, check the option to ensure that it continues to be appropriate. If your company plan doesn’t have a written investment policy in place or doesn’t use an independent outside consultant to assist in selecting and monitoring investments, consider incorporating these into your investment procedures.

Fees. 401(k) plan fees often come under criticism in the media and can aggravate employees who follow their accounts closely. Calculate the amount of current participant fees associated with your plan’s investments and benchmark them against industry standards.

Investment managers. Have you documented in writing the processes your plan has in place for the selection and monitoring of investment managers? If not, doing so in consultation with an attorney is highly advisable. If you have, reread the documents to ensure they’re still accurate and comprehensive.

Administrator. Solicit and monitor participant feedback on the administrator so that you know about grumblings before they grow into heated complaints. Further, put criteria in place to assess the plan administrator’s performance on an ongoing basis and to benchmark performance against industry standards.

Compliance. Are your plan’s administrative procedures in compliance with current regulations? If you intend your plan to be a participant-directed individual account plan, are all the provisions of ERISA Section 404(c) being followed? Have there been any major changes to 401(k) regulations over the last year? These are just a few critical questions to ask and answer.

A 401(k) is usually among the most valued benefits a business can offer its employees, but you’ve got to keep a close and constant eye on its details. We’d be happy to help you assess the costs and other financial details of your company’s plan.

© 2020 Covenant CPA