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2015 Contribution Limits for Retirement Plans

The IRS recently published the new contribution limits for various retirement plans for 2015.  These limits are indexed to inflation, and as such sometimes they do not increase much year over year, and sometimes they don’t increase at all. This year we saw a few increases for some contribution amounts, and the income limits increased for most types of accounts after virtually no changes to the contribution amounts in 2014.

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: 

Why You Should Participate in a 401(k)

We all know that we should save money for a rainy day, a message we’ve received since we were little ones, but this article covers some more reasons why you should participate in a 401(k) plan, if you have one available. It’s on you Back in the olden days when the earth was still cooling, employees could count on (or at least thought they could count on) a pension benefit from their employer upon retirement.  This pension plan provided a safety net that allowed the employee to go into retirement with relatively little concern about whether there would be enough money to live on.

Roth 401(k) Rules

If your employer has a 401(k) plan available for you to participate in, you may also have a Roth 401(k) option available as a part of the plan. (We’re referring to 401(k) plans by name here, but unless noted the rules we’re discussing also apply to other Qualified Retirement Plans (QRPs) such as 403(b) or 457 plans.)  Roth 401(k) plans are not required when a 401(k) plan is offered, but many employers offer this option these days. The Roth 401(k) option, also known as a Designated Roth Account or DRAC, first became available with the passage of the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act (EGTRRA) of 2001, with the first accounts available effective January 1, 2006.  The Roth 401(k) was designed to provide similar features present in a Roth IRA to the employer-provided 401(k)-type plans. Similar to traditional 401(k) Certain features of the Roth 401(k) are similar to the traditional […]

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 […]

Mechanics of 401(k) Plans – Employer Contributions

This is the second post in a series of posts that explain the mechanics of a 401(k) plan.  As mentioned previously, there are many types of Qualified Retirement Plans (collectively called QRPs) that share common characteristics.  Some of these plans are called 401(k), 403(b), and 457.  In these articles we’ll simply refer to 401(k) plans to address common characteristics of all of these QRPs. Employer Contributions Many companies provide a matching contribution to the 401(k) plan – and sometimes there is a contribution made to a QRP on your behalf no matter if you have contributed your own deferred salary or not. Most of the time these matching contributions are stated as x% of the first y% of contributions to the account.  An example would be “50% of the first 6%”, meaning if you contribute 6% of your salary to the plan, the company will match that contribution with 3% […]

Retirement Plan Contribution Limits for 2014

The IRS recently published the new contribution limits for various retirement plans for 2014.  These limits are indexed to inflation, and as such sometimes they do not increase much year over year, and sometimes they don’t increase at all. This year we saw virtually no increases for most all contribution amounts, but as usual the income limits increased for most types of account. IRAs The annual contribution limit for IRAs (both traditional and Roth) remains at $5,500 for 2014.  The “catch up” contribution amount, for folks age 50 or over, also remains at $1,000. The income limits for traditional (deductible) IRAs increased slightly from last year: for singles covered by a retirement plan, your Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) must be less than $60,000 for a full deduction; phased deduction is allowed up to an AGI of $70,000.  This is an increase of $1,000 over the limits for last year.  For […]

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 […]

Exceptions to the 10% Early Withdrawal Penalty from IRAs and 401(k)s

When you take money out of your IRA or 401(k) plan (or other qualified retirement plan, such as a 403(b) plan), if you’re under age 59½ in most cases your withdrawal will be subject to a penalty of 10%, in addition to any taxes owed on the distribution.  There are many exceptions to this rule though, and the exceptions are not the same for all types of plans.  IRAs have one set of rules, and 401(k)s have another set of rules. The exceptions are always related to the purpose for which the money was withdrawn.  The exact same dollars withdrawn do not have to be used for the excepted purpose, just that the excepted expense was incurred. IRA Exceptions It is important to know that all distributions from your traditional IRA are subject to ordinary income tax, but some distributions are not subject to the early withdrawal penalty.  The list […]

Your Employer’s Retirement Plan

Whether you work as a doctor, teacher, office administrator, attorney, or government employee chances are you have access to your employer’s retirement plan such as a 401(k), 403(b), 457, SEP, or SIMPLE. These plans are a great resource to save money into, and some employers will even pay you to participate! Let’s start with the 401(k). A 401(k) is a savings plan that is started by your employer to encourage both owners of the business and employees to save for retirement. Depending on how much you want to save, you can choose to have a specific dollar amount or percentage of your gross pay directed to your 401(k) account. Your money in your account can be invested tax-deferred in stock or bond mutual funds, company stock (if you work for a publicly traded company), or even a money market account. Your choice of funds will depend on the company that […]

Rolling Over a 401(k) into a New Employer’s Plan

When you change jobs you have a choice to make regarding your retirement plan at former employer.  If the plan is a 401(k), 403(b), or other qualified plan of that nature, you may have the option to roll the old plan into a plan at your new employer. The new employer’s plan must allow rollovers into the plan – this isn’t always automatic.  Most plans will allow rollover of former employer’s plans, but not all.  Once you’ve determined that the plan will accept a rollover, you should review the new plan to understand whether or not it makes sense to roll your old plan into it, or choose another option.  Other options may be: rollover the old plan into an IRA, convert the old plan to a Roth IRA, leave the old plan where it is, or take a distribution from the old plan in cash. In this article we’ll […]

How Dollar-Cost-Averaging Can Work to Your Advantage for Your 401(k)

When you invest in your 401(k) plan with salary deferrals from each and every paycheck, you are taking part in a process known as Dollar-Cost-Averaging (DCA).  This process can be advantageous when investing periodically over a long span of time, by smoothing out the volatility of the market and giving you an average cost of your investment shares over time. How does this work, and how can it be advantageous? Dollar-Cost-Averaging When deferring income with each paycheck, typically you will be investing in your 401(k) plan each pay period, whether monthly, bi-weekly, or weekly.  Each pay period the same amount is deferred and invested, no matter what the price of the underlying investments are at the time.  Since you’re always putting the same amount into the investment, when the price of the shares is higher, you purchase fewer shares; when the price is lower, you are purchasing more shares. Note: […]

Defined Contribution vs. Defined Benefit Plans

Many employers have made retirement plans available for their employees, and sometimes there are multiple types of plans that the employee can participate in.  These retirement plans fall into two categories: Defined Contribution and Defined Benefit plans.  In this article we’ll cover the differences between the two types of plans. Defined Benefit (DB) Plans The older type of retirement plan is the Defined Benefit Plan. (We’ll refer to this as DB for the rest of the article.)  DB plans are generally the old standard pension-type of plan, and this category of plan is named as it is because the benefit is a defined amount in a pension plan. By a defined amount, we mean that a formula is used to calculate the amount of pension that you’ll receive.  The formula typically uses factors such as your years of employment, your average salary (either over your entire career, or perhaps over […]

Pay Yourself First

One of the first steps to saving is to get yourself on an automatic pay plan. You’re going to learn to pay yourself first. It doesn’t matter if it’s only a minimal amount. What does matter is that you are going to pay yourself first. This concept is found in the book, The Richest Man In Babylon by George S. Classon. Consider yourself the first bill you have to pay. Here’s how you can apply this to your life: First, one of the easiest things you can do is take a portion of your paycheck and stick it right in the bank, right away, the day you get paid. One of the best ways I know of to accomplish this is through the genius of direct deposit. If your employer allows it, have your paycheck directly deposited into your bank account each and every payday. Some employers even allow a […]

5 Facts You Need to Know About Your Retirement Plan

Image via Wikipedia Many of us are covered by one or more types of defined contribution retirement plans, such as a 401(k), 403(b), 457, or any of a number of other plans. What many of these plans have in common is that they are referred to as Cash Or Deferred Arrangements (CODA), as designated by the IRS.  These plans are also often referred to as Qualified Retirement Plans (QRPs). 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. (Note that this list of plans does not include IRAs. IRAs have certain characteristics that are completely different from QRPs, and vice-versa.) 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 […]