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Social Security Filing Strategies for the Single Person

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backwardsMost Social Security filing strategies are focused on married folks, or those who have been married and are now divorced or widowed. Single folks who have never been married seem to get short shrift – but it’s not because the decisions are any less important. The reason Social Security filing strategies for the single person are not often reviewed is because there are very few things that can be done strategically for the single person’s Social Security filing.

We’ll go over the primary options for a single person below.  Keep reading…

Where to Start With Retirement Savings

choicesToday, we have so many choices for our retirement savings that it can be difficult to choose which sort of account to contribute to. If you are fortunate enough (as many are) to have more than one type of retirement plan available to you, in what order should you contribute to the accounts? Right now, at the beginning of a new year, is an excellent time to start with retirement savings.

Qualified Retirement Plans

First of all, many folks who are employed by a company have some sort of tax-deferred, qualified, retirement savings account available. These accounts go by many names – 401(k), 403(b), 457, and deferred compensation. These accounts are collectively referred to as qualified retirement plans, or QRPs. QRPs do not include IRAs – this is another type if retirement savings account with some different rules. A QRP account is a good place to start when contributing to retirement savings. For the purpose of clarity, when I refer to a QRP, I am referring to all of these types of accounts (401(k), 403(b), 457, etc.). Understand, though, that unless I specifically include them, reference to QRPs does not include traditional or Roth IRA accounts. Keep reading…

2015 IRA MAGI Limits – Married Filing Separately

separateNote: for the purposes of IRA MAGI qualification, a person filing as Married Filing Separately, who did not live with his or her spouse during the tax year, is considered Single and will use the information on that page to determine eligibility.

For a Traditional IRA (Filing Status Married Filing Separately):

If you are not covered by a retirement plan at your job and your spouse is not covered by a retirement plan, there is no MAGI limitation on your deductible contributions.

If you are covered by a retirement plan at your job and your MAGI is less than $10,000, you are entitled to a partial deduction, reduced by 55% for every dollar (or 65% if over age 50), and rounded up to the nearest $10.  If the amount works out to less than $200, you are allowed to contribute at least $200.

If you are covered by a retirement plan at your job and your MAGI is more than $10,000, you are not entitled to deduct any of your traditional IRA contributions for tax year 2015.  You are eligible to make non-deductible contributions, up the annual limit, and those contributions can benefit from the tax-free growth inherent in the IRA account.

If you are not covered by a retirement plan but your spouse is, and your MAGI is less than $10,000, you are entitled to a partial deduction, reduced by 55% for every dollar over the lower limit (or 65% if over age 50), and rounded up to the nearest $10.  If the amount works out to less than $200, you are allowed to contribute at least $200.

Finally, if you are not covered by a retirement plan but your spouse is, and your MAGI is greater than $10,000, you are not entitled to deduct any of your traditional IRA contributions for tax year 2015.  You are eligible to make non-deductible contributions, up the annual limit, and those contributions can benefit from the tax-free growth inherent in the IRA account.

For a Roth IRA (Filing Status of Married Filing Separately):

If your MAGI is less than $10,000, your contribution to a Roth IRA is reduced ratably by every dollar, rounded up to the nearest $10.

If the amount works out to less than $200, you are allowed to contribute at least $200. If your MAGI is $10,000 or more, you can not contribute to a Roth IRA.

2015 MAGI Limits for IRAs – Married Filing Jointly or Qualifying Widow(er)

jointsNote: for the purposes of IRA MAGI qualification, a person filing as Married Filing Separately, who did not live with his or her spouse during the tax year, is considered Single and will use the information on that page to determine eligibility.

For a Traditional IRA (Filing Status Married Filing Jointly or Qualifying Widow(er)):

If you are not covered by a retirement plan at your job and your spouse is not covered by a retirement plan, there is no MAGI limitation on your deductible contributions.

If you are covered by a retirement plan at work, and your MAGI is $98,000 or less, there is also no limitation on your deductible contributions to a traditional IRA.

If you are covered by a retirement plan at your job and your MAGI is more than $98,000 but less than $118,000, you are entitled to a partial deduction, reduced by 27.5% for every dollar over the lower limit (or 32.5% if over age 50), and rounded up to the nearest $10. If the amount works out to less than $200, you are allowed to contribute at least $200.

If you are covered by a retirement plan at your job and your MAGI is more than $118,000, you are not entitled to deduct any of your traditional IRA contributions for tax year 2015. You are eligible to make non-deductible contributions, up the annual limit, and those contributions can benefit from the tax-free growth inherent in the IRA account.

If you are not covered by a retirement plan at your job, but your spouse IS covered by a retirement plan, and your MAGI is less than $183,000, you can deduct the full amount of your IRA contributions.

If you are not covered by a retirement plan but your spouse is, and your MAGI is greater than $183,000 but less than $193,000, you are entitled to a partial deduction, reduced by 55% for every dollar over the lower limit (or 65% if over age 50), and rounded up to the nearest $10. If the amount works out to less than $200, you are allowed to contribute at least $200.

Finally, if you are not covered by a retirement plan but your spouse is, and your MAGI is greater than $193,000, you are not entitled to deduct any of your traditional IRA contributions for tax year 2015. You are eligible to make non-deductible contributions, up the annual limit, and those contributions can benefit from the tax-free growth inherent in the IRA account.

For a Roth IRA (Filing Status of Married Filing Jointly or Qualifying Widow(er)):

If your MAGI is less than $183,000, you are eligible to contribute the entire amount to a Roth IRA.

If your MAGI is between $183,000 and $193,000, your contribution to a Roth IRA is reduced ratably by every dollar above the lower end of the range, rounded up to the nearest $10. If the amount works out to less than $200, you are allowed to contribute at least $200.

If your MAGI is $193,000 or more, you cannot contribute to a Roth IRA.

2015 MAGI Limits – Single or Head of Household

householdNote: for the purposes of IRA MAGI qualification, a person filing as Married Filing Separately who did not live with his or her spouse during the tax year, is considered Single and will use the information on this page to determine eligibility.

For a Traditional IRA (Filing Status Single or Head of Household):

If you are not covered by a retirement plan at your job, there is no MAGI limitation on your deductible contributions.

If you are covered by a retirement plan at work, if your MAGI is $61,000 or less, there is also no limitation on your deductible contributions to a traditional IRA. If you are covered by a retirement plan at your job and your MAGI is more than $61,000 but less than $71,000, you are entitled to a partial deduction, reduced by 55% for every dollar over the lower limit (or 65% if over age 50), and rounded up to the nearest $10. If the amount works out to less than $200, you are allowed to contribute at least $200.

If you are covered by a retirement plan at your job and your MAGI is more than $71,000, you are not entitled to deduct any of your traditional IRA contributions for tax year 2015. You are eligible to make non-deductible contributions, up the annual limit, and those contributions can benefit from the tax-free growth inherent in the IRA account.

For a Roth IRA (Filing Status Single or Head of Household):

If your MAGI is less than $116,000, you are eligible to contribute the entire amount to a Roth IRA. If your MAGI is between $116,000 and $131,000, your contribution to a Roth IRA is reduced ratably by every dollar above the lower end of the range, rounded up to the nearest $10. If the amount works out to less than $200, you are allowed to contribute at least $200.

If your MAGI is $131,000 or more, you cannot contribute to a Roth IRA.

Stay Away From This Asset Class in 2015

The SwamiAdmittedly, this is a pretty deceiving headline. We see headlines like these every day in the newspapers, TV and from colleagues at work. The truth of the matter is that there are certainly going to be assets classes that will behave horribly while other asset classes do extremely well. The point is, neither you nor I (or anyone else) will accurately be able to predict which ones will do better than others.

For every person that says stocks will have a meteoric rise in 2015 there will be just as many that will say to avoid them. You’ll have others saying that bonds are doomed while others will sing their praises. Buy gold, sell gold; buy real estate, sell real estate. The point is no one knows which asset classes will do well and which ones will fall.

Keep reading…

Coordinating Social Security Benefits in Matters of Divorce and Remarriage

divorce throws a curve

Photo courtesy of Bec Brown via Unsplash.com.

Social Security has a way of making decisions very difficult. In the simplest of circumstances, the choices can be tough. But what if you’re in a tough spot, such as if you’re divorced and now involved with someone else, considering remarriage? Social Security benefits in matters of divorce can become very complicated.

The Decisions

Social Security benefits can be taken as early as age 62. You can also delay taking benefits to any age after you’ve reached age 62. Delaying to your full retirement age will result in a larger benefit, but of course you will have to go without benefits for a few years in order to receive that larger benefit. Delaying further to age 70 will result in a maximized benefit for you, but again, you have to figure out how to get by without the monthly benefits for a few years while waiting for the maximum benefit to accrue.

Keep reading…

Make SMART Goals as You Plan

goal settingGoal planning is the real “meat” of financial planning. That is to say, once you’ve covered the issues of organizing your information, developing and improving your net worth, and providing for the safety issues, it is now time to consider exactly what you would like to do with your money and your life.

This is a very personal set of decisions – no one person makes the same choices. Perhaps you’d like to open your own business, and become your own boss. Maybe all you’d like to do is to finish working after 30 years and spend your time playing with your grandchildren. Or maybe you’ve finished up college and now you’re beginning to earn some money, and so you’re planning on starting a family and buying a home.

Setting your goals is very important as you begin a savings and investing plan, because without a goal in mind, it is difficult if not impossible to “map” your way there. Of course, if all you’d like to do is save money for the fun of watching the amounts increase – that, in itself can be a goal.

Keep reading…

Important Tax Numbers for 2015

3446025121_072700607f_n2For 2015 the IRS has given the new limits regarding retirement contributions as well as estate and gift tax exemptions.

Regarding retirement contributions employees may now defer $18,000 annually to their employer sponsored plan including a 401k, 403b, and 457 plans. This is an increase from last year’s $17,500 amount. Additionally, employees age 50 or older can now make an age based catch-up contribution of $6,000 which is a $500 increase from last year’s $5,500 amount.

Keep reading…

A Message about Risk in Investing

risk in swimmingThe following is a story that was related to me by another financial planner. The message is quite remarkable – and important for all of us to understand.

A dentist, age 53, had sold his practice and partially retired. When we reviewed his portfolio, which amounted to approximately two million dollars, it became apparent that he had strong feelings regarding protection of capital. The entire two million dollars was invested in a combination of CD’s, money market funds, and short-term US government bonds.

Keep reading…

ABLE Accounts

womanprayingFor 2015 there is a new type of tax-deferred savings account, called the ABLE account. The acronym ABLE comes from the name of the act: Achieving a Better Life Experience Act of 2014. As such, these accounts are dedicated to provide for tax-deferred savings (non-deductible contributions) of up to $14,000 per year for folks who became blind or disabled before age 26.

Tax-free distributions from the ABLE account can be used to pay for housing, transportation, education, job training, and the like.  The assets in an ABLE account are not counted toward an individual’s eligibility to qualify for Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income and other federal mean-tested benefits (up to a $100,000 balance in the ABLE account).

This is the great benefit of the ABLE account, because the means-testing applied to so many benefits for folks with disabilities actually discourages savings of this nature. With the ABLE account, people with disabilities will be able to save in a tax-efficient manner for future needs.

There will be much more information about the ABLE accounts as the regulations from the IRS are finalized. Stay tuned.

Qualified Charitable Distributions Extended for 2014

With the passage of the Taxpayer Tax Increase Prevention Act of 2014, the qualified charitable distribution (QCD) from your IRA is available through the end of the year under normal rules.  This means that you can, if you’re age 70½ or older, make direct distributions from your IRA to a qualified charity or charities, not counting the distribution as income and not itemizing the charitable contribution.

Retirement vs College Saving in a Nutshell

LockeEducation1693Those of us who are parents know this conflict very well – should we put aside money for retirement, or for college saving? It may come as a surprise, but a general rule of thumb with regard to this conflict is to put money aside for retirement first, and college second.

The reason behind this is that there are many ways to pay for college, such as grants, scholarships, work-study programs, student loans, parent loans, etc.. With this plethora of choices, it becomes clear that your student’s college funding needs can be met from quite a few angles, none of which should have a dramatic impact on your overall net worth (or your student’s).

On the other hand, no one will give you a scholarship to retire. It is solely up to you and your savings (coupled with Social Security and any available pensions).

Your Year-End Bonus

7027608495_daeb33feb7_m61As the end of the year approaches many employers will pay and many employees will receive year-end bonuses. While often the icing on the cake for a productive year employee should be aware of the tax consequences of their bonus.

Percent vs. Aggregate Method

When it comes to taxing the bonus an employer may choose the percentage method versus the aggregate method. Under the aggregate or wage holding bracket method the employer will use the withholding tables generally used for the employee normal paycheck. Then, the supplemental wages are aggregated with the employee’s normal pay and taxes are withheld accordingly.

Keep reading…

Making Every Month Count – Excerpt from A Social Security Owner’s Manual, 3rd Edition

You can listen to this article by using the podcast player below if you’re on the blog; if you’re reading this via RSS, there should be a “Play Now” link just below the title to access the audio.

monthDid you realize that even delaying a few months can have a significant impact on your Social Security benefit? This is the case for all Social Security benefits, including your own, a Spousal Benefit, or a Survivor Benefit. This applies whether you are taking the benefit before FRA or after, since your age is always calculated by the month. Increase or reduction factors are applied for each month of delay or early application, respectively.

Keep reading…

5 Tips To Avoid Overspending for the Holidays

wpid-Photo-Nov-22-2012-933-AM.jpgThe Holiday season is the time of year when we get into the spirit of giving and start our lists of who’s been naughty and nice. With Black Friday and Cyber Monday over, there are still plenty of days left to shop for friends and loved ones.

It can be tempting to get caught up in the spirit of giving so much that after the Holidays are over we’ve put ourselves in a financial bind. The following are five tips to consider this Holiday season to avoid overspending.

Keep reading…

College Costs Increase for 2014/2015

411417417_9dd1963fd4_nBackground

Every year, the College Board releases  its Trends in College Pricing and Trends in Student Aid reports that highlight current college costs and trends in financial aid. While costs can vary significantly depending on the region and college, the College Board publishes average cost figures, which are based on its survey of nearly 4,000 colleges across the country.

Following are cost highlights. Total cost figures include tuition and fees, room and board, and a sum for books, transportation, and personal expenses. Together, these expenditures are officially referred to as the “total cost of attendance.”

Keep reading…

Five Things You Need to Know About Retirement Plans

Listen to this post:

Most of you have one or more types of defined contribution retirement plans, such as a 401(k), 403(b), 457, IRA, SEP-IRA, or any of a number of other plans. Each type of plan has certain characteristics that are a little different from other plans, but most of them have the common characteristic of deductibility from current income and deferred taxation on growth.


1. Each dollar you defer is worth more than a dollar. It’s true. As you defer money into your retirement account, each dollar that you defer could be worth as much as $1.66. How, you might ask?

Since you are not taxed on the dollar that has been deferred into the retirement account, your “take home” pay only reduces by the amount that is left over after taxation. For example, if you’re in the 25% bracket, generally your income will only reduce by 75¢ for every dollar that you defer into your retirement plan. Therefore, the 75¢ that you’ve effectively “spent” is worth 33% more ($1.00) in your retirement account. For every dollar that you defer, you effectively have set aside $1.33 (for the 25% bracket).

If you happened to be in the upper-most 39.6% tax bracket, this works out to a 66% increase in the value of each dollar deferred. This doesn’t even take into account the potential for matching dollars from your employer! Keep reading…

An Exception to the RMD Rule

401kFor many folks, attaining age 70 ½ means the beginning of required minimum distributions (RMDs) from their 401k, 403b as well as traditional IRAs. There are however, some individuals that will continue to work because they want to or (unfortunately) have to and still want to save some of their income.

At age 70 ½ individuals can no longer make traditional IRA contributions. They are allowed to make contributions to a Roth IRA as long as they still have earned income. Earned income is generally W2 wages or self-employment income. It is not pension income, annuity income or RMD income.

Keep reading…