Category Archives: Retirement Planning

Do You Know How Much Your 401(k) Is REALLY Costing You?

Do you know how much your 401(k) is costing you? Are you sure? What most people don’t know is that many employees with “free” retirement plans through an employer actually pay a number of hidden fees. According to a recent article in the Huffington Post, “71 percent of plan participants don’t think they pay any fees for their company’s retirement plan. In reality, they pay a variety of fees including investment management, administrative and advisory fees, and more — investment management fees usually comprising the bulk of the expenses.”

All of this is about to change, however, thanks to new laws being enacted by the Department of Labor. CNN Money reports that “A new federal rule took effect July 1 that requires 401(k) plan providers to disclose certain 401(k) fees, and employers to distribute these disclosures to plan participants by Aug. 30.” The hope with this new disclosure rule is that it will increase transparency, and help both employees and employers stay aware of how much their “free” 401(k) may or may not be costing them in administrative fees.

We live in a culture of constant demands and distractions, and it is all too easy to fill out the paperwork to set up a 401(k) with an employer and then forget about it, assuming that as long as nothing changes, everything will keep working the way it’s supposed too. Things do change, however, both in the world of investment and in our own lives. All too often we see clients who miscalculate their 401(k) growth in relation to their retirement needs, or whose valuable retirement savings is lost to taxes when the owner passes away unexpectedly. In all cases, it is important not only to be aware of what’s happening to your savings, but also to be proactive about protecting it, and this is where our office can help.

Whether you are already retired or just getting started with your savings, our firm can help you evaluate your assets, plan for their growth and upkeep, and ensure that they end up in the right hands if something should happen to you. The temptation to procrastinate or bury your head in the sand can be strong, but the knowledge of the consequences of inaction can be stronger. Contact our office and let us help you protect your retirement savings for yourself and your loved ones.

The Decision to Exercise Spousal Refusal Can Be Painful, But Often Necessary

Couples who are still married, even into their 70s or 80s are the lucky ones. They’ve made it through the hard times, the ups and downs of life, and still have their companion at their side. But even the most devoted of spouses is sometimes finds it necessary to exercise “Spousal Refusal” to pay the long-term care bills of their spouse when he or she has lost the ability to perform the activities of daily living. This may sound cruel and selfish, but as this article in the Huffington Post points out, exercising Spousal Refusal can sometimes be the only way to save the healthy spouse’s small nest egg for his or her own later years.

Spousal Refusal isn’t about turning away from a spouse in their time of need; in fact, many of the elderly individuals who exercise this option do so only after a long and painful decision-making process, and they do it not out of selfishness but out of necessity. “Those who need help beyond [the first 100 days of nursing or rehab care covered by Medicaid] are facing costs in excess of $100,000 per year in many areas of the U.S. It is not uncommon for someone to lose their house and all of their savings because they had to go into a nursing home.”

As the article points out, couples who choose to pay for a spouse’s long-term care costs won’t be left completely out in the cold. “Anti-spousal impoverishment laws were enacted on the federal level in the late 1980s. In 2012, the well spouse (or community spouse) is permitted to retain up to $113,640 in assets while his or her spouse is covered under the Medicaid program.” Unfortunately, in this day and age, $113,640 doesn’t go a long way, especially if the healthy spouse lives for another decade or so.

The decision to exercise Spousal Refusal is not an easy decision to make. Married couples must weigh the costs and benefits—not only financial costs and benefits, but emotional and ethical as well. No couple should have to go through this alone. The advice of a trusted elder attorney, or an estate or financial planner can help.

The Good News and The Bad News About Retirement

The good news is that Americans are living longer, the bad news is that it costs a whole lot more to retire than it used to. But the rising cost of retirement has more to do with just longer life expectancy. As this recent article in the New York Times points out, “Social Security and Medicare are being eyed for cutbacks and 401(k)’s produce ever-varying lump sums.” This means that people are learning to think differently about saving, to think differently about planning for the future, and especially to think differently about when and how they will retire.

Another related article from U.S. News and World Report mentions that “the average expected retirement age and been gradually increasing over the past seventeen years from age 60 in 1995 to 64 in 2005,” and most recently to 67 in 2012. In addition to influencing your financial planning, this shift in the retirement age can also influence your estate planning in some of the following ways:

1. Gift-giving. Parents and grandparents may now choose to hold off on giving significant cash gifts to their heirs; socking that cash away for a longer retirement, if necessary.

2. If your estate plan includes a Retirement Trust you will absolutely want to talk to your estate planning attorney before making any significant decisions regarding your plans for retirement.

3. Long-Term Care Insurance. The longer you’re working, the longer you may be able to contribute to a long-term care insurance policy. Consider adjusting your contributions accordingly.

Everybody’s happy about a longer life expectancy, and there are many people who are happy to push off retirement a few years as well, but it does require a little extra planning. “If life expectancy continues its upward curve, you’ll have your work cut out for you, because you may need to think about what you want to do in your 10th and 11th decades.”

What Will You Be Doing With This Year’s IRA Withdrawal?

Many of our clients who are 70 ½ or older have chosen in the past to give a certain portion of their required IRA withdrawal to charity each year; doing so has allowed them to take the required withdrawal, keep their taxable income down, and give to a cause they care about all at the same time. Unfortunately, the individual-retirement-account donation rule expired at the end of 2011 and has yet to be restored by Congress.

This recent article in the Wall Street Journal explains that “under current rules, the first dollars out of an IRA count as the required withdrawal. So if an IRA owner makes a withdrawal before Congress extends the law, he or she can’t redeposit the funds and make a donation of IRA funds after lawmakers act.”

The expiration of this rule may not be a big deal for many of our readers who intend to make charitable donations as they always have, regardless of retirement-account donation benefits; but for some, not knowing what Congress may choose to do is making it hard to design a financial plan for the year, and causing increasing stress. “The problem arises for IRA owners [who are] over 70½ and must take an annual payout from the account. They want to withdraw as little as possible in order to let the assets expand but also want to donate some or all of the required payout directly to charity.”

Your best bet right now may be to consider your ultimate goal both for your IRA payout and for your charitable giving for the year, and then talk to a trusted advisor. One thing any estate or financial planner will tell you is that there is almost always more than one way to accomplish your goals. We cannot stress enough, however, how important it is to stay on top of any legal requirements or changes in the law when it comes to IRAs and retirement savings.

Long Term Care Insurance Is Tax Deductible for Business Owners

By now most people, when planning for their “Golden Years”, know that they need to consider the possibility that they may need long-term care at some point in time, and that long-term care insurance is a logical option for this purpose. What most people don’t know is that if you are self-employed or own your own business the cost of your insurance premiums could be tax deductible.

A recent article in Forbes reveals that “self-employed folks with business income that passes through onto their personal returns… can deduct 100% of the premiums paid for themselves (and spouse) as a business expense, just like health insurance. These folks are still subject to the age-related premium limits, but that doesn’t necessarily limit [their] deduction.”

This could be a HUGE incentive for self-employed business owners who tend to lag behind their traditionally-employed counterparts in saving for future retirement expenses. It’s not that business owners are less concerned about their futures than their peers, but that as entrepreneurs struggle to get their small business off the ground in the early years they are more likely to put any extra income back into their business, rather than investing it for retirement. This tax-deduction for long-term care insurance can be just what entrepreneurs need to put them back on equal footing.

In today’s economy traditional employees and entrepreneurs alike need all the help they can get saving for the future and protecting the assets they have. To find out more about this, or other strategies to prepare yourself and your family for what we hope will be a long and prosperous retirement, please contact our office.

NOW is the Time to Think About Long-Term Care

As Baby Boomers begin to retire and to think about life after retirement, many find that one of their primary concerns is that of long-term care. Some news sources seem to think that paying for long-term care is going to be a number one issue in the coming years, not only for elderly individuals and their families, but for our society as a whole.

“The cost of long-term-care itself is not trivial. Nursing homes cost on average $87,235 annually… One year in an assisted-living facility is now $41,724. Adult day services are $70 per day, and home health aides cost $21 per hour… How can the country deliver and finance long-term-care for its rapidly aging population?”

It is comforting to know that AARP takes a somewhat less dramatic view of the issue. While they do agree that most seniors will at some point face the need for long-term care—“even if you’re in good health today, there’s a good chance that you’ll eventually need some type of long-term care, at least for awhile”— they urge people to take a pragmatic approach… and to start planning as early as possible. “The cost goes up with age, but it’s still affordable for many people over age 65. Once you hit the mid-70s, though, the cost of a good long-term care policy becomes very expensive, and it may be difficult to qualify for [it].”

An elder law or estate planning attorney is another resource for seniors and their families who are trying to plan ahead for the possibility of paying for long-term care. We specialize in helping you sort through your options, get your financial ducks in a row (right now and years down the line), and apply for government benefits, if necessary.

Don’t let the need for long-term care catch you by surprise. Contact our office to start planning now.

Good News for Retirement Savings in 2012

The past few years have been very hard on retirement savings. As if the devastating impact of the economic crash on retirement assets wasn’t enough, many people weren’t able to sock away nearly as much as they’d like during the lean years that followed the crash. But a new article in U.S. News and World Report announces that things are looking up for retirement accounts in 2012!

According to the article, savers can look forward to 4 beneficial changes in the new year:

Higher income limits for contributions to your Roth IRA. “The income limits for making contributions to a Roth IRA will be between $110,000 and $125,000 for singles and heads of household in 2012, up $3,000 from 2011.” Married couples will reap the benefits as well, as their income limits will increase from $173,000 to $183,000 in 2012.

The ability to contribute more to your 401(k). “The contribution limit for 401(k), 403(b), and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan will increase to $17,000 in 2012, up from $16,500 in 2011.” This is great news for anyone who lost money when the economy crashed and is trying to slowly build up their savings again.

Tax breaks for more households who contribute to a traditional IRA. While IRA contribution limits will remain the same in 2012, and while there will be no change to the fact that “only workers who earn below certain income levels get a tax break for contributing to a traditional IRA.” The good news is that “those income limits will relax slightly next year.”

The tax-saver’s credit is expected to be expanded in 2012 as well, with “income limits [increased] by $1,000 to $57,500 for married couples filing jointly and by $750 to $43,125 for heads of households.”

While these may be baby steps as far as many savers and tax-payers are concerned, even small steps are good news for those trying to recoup their losses and get back on track for retirement. For more information about how these changes (or others) may benefit you or your loved ones please contact our office.

There’s More than One Way to Name IRA Beneficiaries

Do you know the best way to pass your IRA savings on to your loved ones when you die? It sounds like a simple question, but naming beneficiaries for your IRA is not always as straightforward as it sounds. This article in CBS MoneyWatch explains: “Without proper estate planning, you may be reducing your family’s future wealth potential. That’s because improper planning can mean not only a premature end to your IRA at your death, but also assets being inherited by the wrong individuals or entities.”

Deciding who should inherit your retirement savings is fairly simple (although it is not uncommon for an ex-spouse to receive IRA benefits because beneficiary designation forms are not updated after significant life events such as a divorce,) it’s figuring out how the assets should be distributed that poses the problem. If done correctly, inherited IRA assets can be rolled over and stretched out by beneficiaries for years. But without the correct planning your heirs may find themselves paying significant taxes on their inheritance or worse yet, unable to access the funds at all.

The article explains that each of the many options for IRA beneficiaries requires a different kind of planning. Naming a spouse as a beneficiary is fairly straightforward, your spouse can either “Roll the funds into his or her own IRA” or “Open an inherited IRA and take distributions based upon his or her remaining life expectancy.” Planning to leave your IRA to a single child is somewhat similar to planning to leave it to a spouse.

But if you would like to leave your IRA to more than one child, or to a trust for the benefit of multiple individuals or charities, you’ll likely want to contact an attorney or accountant for more significant planning. As beneficial as these options can be, there are regulations and requirements involved with multiple beneficiaries, and “there are a lot of complexities with naming trusts as beneficiaries, so seek a competent estate planner for assistance.”

Is Planning for the Future Easier if You’re Single?

“The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” It seems that this old adage is appropriate for married people planning for retirement, who look over the fence at their single counterparts and imagine how much easier it must be for them. According to a recent article in the New York Times, “More than half of married Americans, and more than two-thirds of singles, say they believe it is easier to make major financial decisions for retirement when there is no spouse in the picture.”

We all know, however, that the wisdom of this adage comes from the fact that things are not always as they appear. The same is true, it seems, when it comes to perceptions about the difficulty of retirement planning for married couples vs. single individuals. The findings of the Charles Schwab & Company survey quoted by the NY Times article reveal that “85 percent of married Americans were saving for retirement, compared with 67 percent of singles, across all age groups. Thirty-eight percent of married Americans expressed confidence in their retirement readiness, compared with 32 percent of those who were single.”

The numbers aren’t all that surprising when you consider that while it may be easier to make decisions about money when you’re on your own, it’s easier to sock money away in a savings or retirement account when you have two incomes to draw from.

Furthermore, having a second person in the picture can actually serve as an incentive to stick to your savings plan. “While everyone wishes they didn’t have to compromise, a spouse is also a sort of ‘buddy system,’ in terms of staying on track for savings… If one person tends to be a spender, a spouse who has the opposite tendency may help the couple stay on track toward savings goals.”

The important thing—whether you’re single or married—is that you’re ready for whatever the future may be. Having a retirement savings plan, and protecting that plan for yourself and your family, is of the utmost importance.

How Does Your State Rank on the Long-Term Care Scorecard?

One of the primary concerns of the aging population is long-term care. As the life expectancy of Americans goes up so does the expectation that they will someday need some form of long-term care. You may not know whether that care will happen in a hospital, a nursing home, or in your own home, but you can be sure that it will be expensive.

How expensive will long term care be? It turns out the answer to this question depends a great deal on where you live. The AARP, The Commonwealth Fund, and The SCAN Foundation recently released a report which they call “The Long Term Scorecard,” which compares states and ranks them according to categories. The website Web MD has an article explaining how to use the scorecard and what it means.

The article in Web MD states that “Long-term care is unaffordable for middle income families, according to [The Long Term Scorecard report.] Even in states where nursing home care is most affordable, such care averages 171% of an older person’s household income. The national average is 241%.”

Some states, however, have been making the issue of long-term care a priority, and have been wrestling with questions such as how to make it more affordable to residents and how to provide support to family caregivers. According to the article in Web MD, they’ve broken down the information in “The Scorecard” to help readers understand which states provide the best support (either financial, social, emotional or legal) for the elderly and their caregivers.

The article “ranks states’ performance according to four categories: 1. Affordability and access, 2. Patient choice of both provider and setting, 3. Quality of life and care, and 4. Support for family caregivers.” The states ranked highest overall were Minnesota, Washington, Oregon, Hawaii and Wisconsin; while the lowest ranking states turned out to be Mississippi, Alabama, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Indiana. (For more information on how the states were ranked and what each ranking means please read the article here.)

Perhaps the most important lesson to take from all this is that no matter where you live, or what your health is like right now, it is very likely that you will need some kind of long-term care in the future, and that that care will be expensive. Burying your head in the sand or choosing to “think about it when the time comes” will only make things worse for you and for your family. Call our office and let us help you prepare now for whatever the future may bring.