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Everything But The Retirement Plan!

Conventional wisdom says that when you leave a job, whether you’ve been “downsized” or you’ve just decided to take the leap, you should always move your retirement plan to a self-directed IRA. (Note: when referring to retirement plans in this article, this could be a 401(k) plan, a 403(b), a 457, or any other qualified savings deferral-type plan). But there are a few instances when it makes sense to leave the money in the former employer’s plan.  You have several options of what to do with the money in your former employer’s plan, such as leaving it, rolling it over into a new employer’s plan, rolling it over to an IRA, or just taking the cash. The last option is usually the worst. If you’re under age 55 you’ll automatically lose 10% via penalty from the IRS (unless you meet one of the exceptions, including first home purchase, healthcare costs, […]

Should You Invest Dollars or Percentages?

In many employer sponsored plans such as a 401k, 403b, 457, or SIMPLE employees are generally given the option of deferring a fixed dollar amount or fixed percentage of their income. The question becomes which category to choose when initially enrolling in the plan and whether or not to change the original decision. Generally, the wiser decision is to choose (or switch to) the fixed percentage. The reason is that by choosing a percentage, you really never have to worry about increasing your contributions. For example, an individual starts a job earning $50,000 annually and decides to contribute 10% annually to his retirement plan which is $5,000 per year.

Important Tax Numbers for 2015

For 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.

An Exception to the RMD Rule

For 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.

To Roll or Not to Roll?

At some point in almost everyone’s lifetime they have gone through the process of changing jobs. Many times those jobs offered retirement plans such as 401(k)s 403(b)s, etc. Conventional wisdom would say that for most employees it may make sense to roll their employer sponsored plan into an IRA. Based on a request from a reader (thanks David!), I thought I would go over some of the issues to consider before rolling your employer sponsored plan to an IRA.

16 Ways to Withdraw Money From Your 401k Without Penalty

When you have a 401k plan and hard times befall you, you may wonder if there is a way to get your hands on the money. In some cases you can get to the funds for a hardship withdrawal, but if you’re under age 59½ you will likely owe the 10% early withdrawal penalty. (The term 401k is used throughout this article, but these options apply to all qualified plans, including 403b, 457, etc.) Generally it’s difficult to withdraw money from your 401k, that’s part of the value of a 401k plan – a sort of forced discipline that requires you to leave your savings alone until retirement or face some significant penalties. Many 401k plans have options available to get your hands on the money, but most have substantial qualifications that are tough to meet. The list below is not all-inclusive, and each 401k plan administrator may have different […]

RMD Avoidance Scheme: Birthdate Makes All The Difference

As you may recall from this previous article, it is possible to use a rollover into an active 401(k) plan as an RMD avoidance scheme. Of course, this will only work as long as you’re employed by the employer sponsoring the 401(k) plan and you’re not a 5% or greater owner of the company. In addition, the rollover must be done in a timely fashion, prior to the year that you will reach age 70 1/2 in order to avoid RMD. An example of where timing worked against a taxpayer (at least temporarily) recently came to me via the ol’ mailbag: 

A Quick Trick to Reduce Your Tax Liability

Now that most folks are recovering from tax time there may be some individuals that paid an excessive amount of tax to Uncle Sam and are looking for ways to reduce their tax liability for next year. This post will be short and sweet, but hopefully it will drive a few points home. The best way to explain this is through an example. Let’s say that Mary and her husband Paul both work and file their taxes jointly. Their tax liability for 2013 was $4,000 – meaning that’s the amount of the check they wrote to the IRS. Needless to say, they are both looking for a potential way to reduce that liability – at least in the here and now. In this case, their marginal tax rate is 25%. The quick trick in this example is to take their tax rate which is 25% and divide it into their […]

Are Target Date Funds Off Target?

  It seems that an easy fix for saving for retirement for many folks is to simply choose a target date fund. Generally how target date funds work is a fund company will have a set of different funds for an investor to pick from depending on a best guess estimate of when the investor wants to retire. For example, an investor who’s 30 years old and wants to retire at age 65 may choose a 2045 fund or a 2050 fund. In this example since the investor is age 30 in the year 2014, 30 more years gets him to 2044. Most target date funds are dated in 5 year increments. If the investor was age 60 and wanting to retire at age 65, then he may choose a 2020 fund to correspond to his timeline. Generally, the goal of target date funds is to follow a glide path […]

Mechanics of 401(k) Plans – Vesting

In this article in our series on the mechanics of 401(k) plans, we’ll be covering the concept of vesting.  As with the other articles in the series, we’ll refer specifically to 401(k) plans throughout, but most of the provisions apply to all types of Qualified Retirement Plans (QRPs), which go by many names: 401(k), 403(b), 457, etc.. Vesting refers to the process by which the employer-contributed amounts in the 401(k) plan become the unencumbered property of the employee-participant in the plan.  Vesting is based upon the tenure of the participant as an employee of the employer-sponsor of the plan. Generally, when an employee first begins employment there is a period of time when the employer wishes to protect itself from the circumstance of the new employee’s leaving employment within a relatively short period of time.  Vesting is one way that the employer can protect itself from handing over employer-matching funds […]

Roth 401(k) Conversions Explained

Earlier in 2013, with the passage of ATRA (American Taxpayer Relief Act) there was a provision to loosen the rules for 401(k) plan participants to convert monies in those “regular” 401(k) accounts to the Roth 401(k) component of the account.  Prior to this, there were restrictions on the source of the funds that could be converted, among other restrictions.  These looser restrictions apply to 401(k), 403(b) and 457 plans, as well as the federal government Thrift Savings Plan (TSP). Recently, the IRS announced that guidance was available to utilize the new conversion options.  As long as the 401(k) plan is amended to allow the conversions, all vested sources of funds can be converted, even if the participant is not otherwise eligible to make a distribution from the account. This means that employee salary deferrals, employer matching funds, and non-elective payins to the 401(k) account can be converted to a Roth […]

What You Can Do If Your 401(k) Has High Fees

Now that we’ve all been receiving 401(k) plan statements that include information about the fees associated with our accounts, what should you do with that information?  Some 401(k) plans have fees that are upwards of 2% annually, and these fees can introduce a tremendous drag on your investment returns over a long period of time. There are two components to the overall cost of your 401(k) plan.  The first, and the easiest to find, is the internal expense ratios of the investments in the plan.  Recent information shows that, on average, these investment fees are something on the order of 1% to 1.4% or more.  The second part of the costs is the part that has recently begun to be disclosed: the plan-level fees.  These are the fees that the plan administrator has negotiated with the brokerage or third-party administrator to manage the plan.  These fees can average from 1% […]

When Rolling Over a 401(k) to an IRA Isn’t a No-Brainer

Oftentimes when folks are considering leaving employment, the decision to rollover 401(k) to an IRA is a no-brainer.  After all, why would you leave your retirement funds at the mercy of the constricted, expensive investment choices and other restrictions of your old company’s 401(k) administrator, when you can be free to invest in any (well, most any) investment you choose, keeping costs down, and completely within your own control in an IRA? Well, for some folks this decision isn’t the straightforward choice that it seems to be, for the very important reason of access to the funds before reaching age 59½ (see this article for more info about The Post-55 Exception to the 10% Penalty for Withdrawals from 401(k)).  Since only within a 401(k) (or other employer-sponsored plans) can you take advantage of this early withdrawal exception, it might be in your best interests to think about your rollover choice […]

Did the Advent of 401(k) Plans Hurt Americans?

There’s been quite a bit of press lately about the recent Economic Policy Institute study (see this article “Rise of 401(k)s Hurt More Americans Than It Helped” for more), which indicates that the 401(k) plan itself is the cause of American’s lack of retirement resources.  I think it has more to do with the fact that the 401(k) plan (and other defined contribution plans) were expected to be a replacement for the old-style defined benefit pension plans, and the fact that those administering the retirement plans did little to ensure success for the employees. Traditional defined benefit pension plans didn’t ask the employee to make a decision about how much to set aside – this was determined by actuaries.  Then the company made sure that the money was set aside (in most cases) so that the promised benefit would be there when the employee retires.  In the world of 401(k) […]

Why Diversify?

Remember Enron? I think we all do. Enron was once a powerhouse company that saw its empire crumble and took the wealth of many of its employees with it. Why was that the case? Many of Enron’s employees had their 401(k) retirement savings in Enron stock. This was the classic example of having all of your eggs in one basket and zero diversification. Let’s say that the employees had half of their retirement in Enron stock and half in a mutual fund. Enron tanks but their mutual fund stays afloat. This means that they lost, but only lost half of their retirement, all else being equal. Imagine if they had only a quarter of their retirement in Enron and the remaining 75% in three separate mutual funds. Enron’s demise is only responsible for a fourth of their retirement evaporating. This could go on and on. The point is that when […]

Book Review: A Random Walk Down Wall Street

Right from the start this book will be an excellent read for both financial advisors as well as their clients. Dr. Malkiel provides academic insight on the reasons why passive management works and some great commentary on the use of index funds as part of someone’s overall portfolio. This was the second time I read this book and certainly not the last. It’s great reinforcement on why we invest our clients’ money the way we do and provides solid academic evidence that doing anything to the contrary is counterproductive, more expensive and simply playing a loser’s game. Some of the bigger takeaways from the book are Dr. Malkiel’s thoughts and research on the different part of the Efficient Market Hypothesis or EMH. The EMH consists of three parts – the strong form, the semi-strong form and the weak form. The EMH essential admits that markets are efficient – meaning that current […]