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2 Good Reasons to Use Direct Rollover From a 401(k) Plan


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If you have a 401(k) plan (or any Qualified Retirement Plan (QRP) such as a 403(b) plan), when you leave employment at that job you can rollover the plan funds to an IRA or another QRP at a new job. Listed below are 2 very good reasons that you should use a Direct rollover (also known as a trustee-to-trustee transfer) instead of the 60-day rollover.

A 60-day rollover is where the former plan distributes the funds from your account to you, and in order to make the rollover complete you must deposit the entire distributed amount into the new plan or IRA within 60 days.

Reasons to Use a Direct Rollover

  1. You must complete the rollover to the new account or IRA within 60 days. There is little if any leeway on this 60-day period – and though it seems as if this is a simple task to accomplish, there are many cases where well-intentioned individuals missed the bus on this one. All it takes is a lost letter in the mail, or the check falling through the cracks, or any of myriad ways to miss the deadline.
  2. When funds are distributed from a QRP to an individual, the plan administrator is required to withhold 20% of the distribution for income tax. This presents a problem if you were planning to rollover the full amount of the QRP distribution into your new plan or IRA, since you’ll now need to come up with the missing 20% from other sources. Granted, if all things remain the same you should get the withheld 20% back from the IRS when you file your taxes, but that could be a long wait if you don’t have a lot of excess cash lying around.

Using the direct rollover eliminates both of the issues listed above. When then QRP administrator enacts a direct rollover for you, most often the distribution is directly to the administrator or custodian of the new plan or IRA. Sometimes the QRP administrator will send a check to you, the plan participant, made out to the new administrator or custodian, so you’ll still need to make sure that the check gets to the new plan. You’re in a much better position to get around the 60-day window if the check is made out to the new custodian, since technically the 60-day rollover requires that you have the funds at your disposal (for use or deposit in another account).

In addition, using a direct rollover eliminates the 20% withholding requirement altogether. There’s no amount to make up later.

Spouse May Be Your Best Option for IRA Beneficiary

Since a surviving spouse gets the most flexibility and tax breaks of all possible beneficiaries (other than perhaps a charity), it seems that choosing your spouse as the beneficiary of your IRA may be the best way to go.

This is partly due to the availability of delaying taking distributions. Any other eligible designated beneficiary must begin taking Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) by the end of the year following the year of the original IRA owner’s death. The spouse beneficiary may defer distributions to the year in which the deceased would have reached RMD age, which would be 73 or 75 these days, without taking any action.

In addition, any other eligible designated beneficiary besides the spouse is required to take the RMDs over his or her fixed-term single-life expectancy, while the spousal beneficiary can choose to take the RMDs over his or her single-life expectancy recalculated annually, so that the distributions will actually stretch out over his or her entire life. The fixed-term single-life expectancy often winds up ending sometime in the beneficiary’s 80’s.

The best part of all is that the surviving spouse beneficiary can choose to rollover the IRA to an IRA in his or her own name, which could have the effect of delaying the start of RMDs even further, if the spouse beneficiary is younger than the decedent. When this option is chosen, the surviving spouse could also choose to roll the IRA into a Qualified Retirement Plan (QRP) such as a 401(k). If the surviving spouse is still working for this employer past regular RMD age, RMDs could be delayed even further – up until the surviving spouse retires.

An added bonus to the option of the surviving spouse using a rollover, he or she can name another designated beneficiary of this rolled over IRA, providing flexibility to the overall process. Plus, with an IRA in his or her own name, when the time comes to begin RMDs, the surviving spouse can use the Uniform Lifetime Table (instead of the Single Life Table) which will allow for further stretching of the benefits, potentially far beyond his or her lifetime.

I specifically noted above that the spouse is in a superior position to other eligible designated beneficiaries. For any non-eligible designated beneficiaries, there’s not even a comparison since these beneficiaries are required to drain the inherited IRA within 10 years at the very most, no other options.

Caregiver Costs Qualify as Medical Expenses

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It’s a little known fact that certain costs for caregivers, licensed or unlicensed, may qualify as medical expenses for tax deductions. Maintenance and personal care service costs can be considered qualified medical expenses in cases where the patient receiving the care has been certified by a health-care professional as unable to perform two or more of the six activities of daily living: Bathing, Eating, Dressing, Toiletting, Continence, and Transferring (moving from bed to chair, for example).

Note: An easy way to remember these six activities is to use the first characters in the order I presented them above – B E D To C – this gives us the first five, and the entire mnemonic provides the sixth, Transferring from BED To Chair.

The health-care professional who certifies the patient as incapable of these activities can be a doctor, a nurse, or a licensed social worker, and the certifying professional is required to approve of the care program for the patient.

Another example of such qualifying expenses would be where an individual has dementia which causes serious health concerns requiring 24-hour supervision, determined by the doctor. Both licensed and unlicensed caregivers are hired to care for the individual. Payments for these caregivers are deductible as medical expenses. These expenses are considered qualified long-term care expenses.

Of course, all medical expense deductions are limited to the extent that they exceed 7.5% of the AGI of the taxpayer, and deduction is only relevant if all itemized deductions are greater than the standard deduction (if the standard deduction is available to the taxpayer).

One Way to Use IRA Funds to Invest in Your Business

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As you know, it is against all the rules to use your IRA to invest in anything which benefits you or a related party. This is one quick way to get your entire IRA disqualified, quite likely owing a big tax bill and penalties as well.

However – and there’s always a however in life, right? – there is one possible way that you could use funds from an IRA to invest in your own business. It’s a bit tricky, but it is a perfectly legal, in fact encouraged, method.

Howzat? The IRS encourages the use of IRA funds for your own business? Not exactly. There’s more to it than that. The IRS encourages by preferential law the use of 401(k) funds to invest in the business sponsoring the plan. A 401(k) is a type of qualified retirement plan that is allowed specifically to invest in the stock of the employer.

So, if you start a business and it’s incorporated (specifically a C corporation, not an S corporation), you can adopt a 401(k) and roll your IRA into the plan, then use the 401(k) funds to invest in your business. You have to make certain that the 401(k) follows all the usual rules – the plan has to be primarily designed to provide retirement benefits, it must be permanent in nature, you must make substantial and recurring contributions, and the plan must not discriminate against employees. Generally this business must be a new start up in order for the process to fit in with the rules.

Done correctly, this is a tax-free way to access your retirement savings funds to underwrite your new business. Since it’s not a loan per se, there is no requirement for lender approval or specific credit requirements, either.

This sort of use of your retirement funds comes with risks, for sure. The IRS admits that a high percentage of businesses adopting a ROBS strategy ultimately fail. And this means that a significant portion of your retirement savings will be lost as well.

This is definitely not for the faint of heart. Although all the statutes allow the method as legal, the IRS is well aware of the method and they don’t seem to like it much. They’re referring to this activity as “rollovers as business startups”, or ROBS, and they are siccing their auditors on abusers of the option. I suspect that the main reason that folks run afoul of the IRS on this is if they don’t stick with the requirements for a valid plan and abuse the privilege. I recommend getting a professional (accountant or lawyer, or both) to assist with setting up the plan so that you don’t make any mistakes.

As with many of these sorts of schemes, I don’t recommend it for regular use. It could work for special circumstances though – but you should definitely be very careful if you decide to give it a shot. The downside could be significant and painful.

Make a Long-Term Plan and Stick to It.

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In his Preface to the Fourth Edition of Benjamin Graham’s legendary book The Intelligent Investor, Warren Buffett wrote the following:

To invest successfully over a lifetime does not require a stratospheric IQ, unusual business insights, or inside information. What’s needed is a sound intellectual framework for making decisions and the ability to keep emotions from corroding that framework. This book precisely and clearly prescribes the proper framework. You must supply the emotional discipline.

I’ve seen the same sentiment boiled down and paraphrased a bit, also attributed to Mr. Buffett (although I couldn’t find the original source) as:

It only takes two things to make money – having a plan and sticking to it – and of those two, it’s the sticking to it that most investors struggle with.

Either way, the point is crystal clear – investing successfully, per se, is not rocket science, there are many sources you can use to develop your plan; or rather, your “intellectual framework for making decisions”. The difficult part is keeping your emotions in check when your investments have gone to extremes, high or low, so that you can stick to your plan. The whole reason for developing a plan in the first place is to help you to navigate the tough times.

The same goes for your overall financial goal plans – such as retirement plans or college savings. Developing a plan is not exactly simplicity – there are many issues to be dealt with to ensure that the plan itself is sound, including investment allocation, tax concerns, coordinating various sources (Social Security, taxable accounts, IRAs, 401(k)s, pensions, etc.), timing of contributions and withdrawals, and so on. These things are quantifiable, although the weaving together of these issues can be very complex.

The place where most financial and investing plans go awry is when difficulties arise, and you begin to question the plan. This is perfectly understandable, in part because you can often find yourself facing these difficulties in a vacuum, without any idea whether what you’re experiencing is common for all folks in your position or if you’re doing better, or if you’re doing worse. You may have no idea if the plan you’ve developed is appropriate for weathering the current storm, or if the reason you’re experiencing poor results is due to some problem in the plan itself.

This is where a good financial advisor can be worth her or his weight in gold. If the advisor you’ve chosen is properly qualified, he or she can draw upon voluminous knowledge and experience to help you understand what the plan needs to include to weather the storms. The second part, and according to Buffett the most important part, is staying with the plan even when things aren’t rosy all around. A good financial advisor, one who will operate as a fiduciary, undertakes the duty to maintain calm and to ensure that emotions are not driving the decisions.

Note: Not all financial professionals undertake this responsibility in their work with clients. Ask the questions, and if the financial pro you’re talking to won’t explicitly accept the responsibility to help you stay on track when things get rough, you need to look elsewhere for a new advisor. Try for starters.

Most often this “sticking-to-it” part becomes the most difficult when there is great volatility on the downside in the markets. You don’t have to go very far back in time to recall some of those dark days… we saw such a dramatic downturn in the markets in 2020 and again in 2022. Those were scary times, to say the least. I remember sending out messages to my clients every few weeks during those days, repeating the mantra to stay with the plan, don’t panic. Maintaining perspective and remembering that the plan is for long term is the key – I can remember conversations where we discussed the concept that we’ve invested with the aim of using the money many years from now, and since what’s happening today is the short term, we need to maintain our positions.

That leads us to my final point on this quote: One thing that the rephrased quote above leaves out (versus the original) that I think is just as critical is where Mr. Buffett specifically refers to investing “successfully over a lifetime”. Mr. Buffett has many times stated:

I never attempt to make money on the stock market. I buy on the assumption that they could close the market the next day and not reopen it for five years.

… meaning of course, that moving in and out of the market based upon “timing”, gut feelings, or crystal ball predictions, is not the way to be successful. Having long-term plans with solid investments, not the “get rich quick” type of investment, is the way to success.

So – here’s another rephrasing with my adjustment: Have a well-thought-out long-term plan to help you make decisions for your future (investing or otherwise), and stick to it. And hire a financial advisor to help you with both, because you’ll need the guidance, knowledge, and discipline to help you through tough times.

How Survivor Benefits are Treated

social security benefits taxedWhen you’re married to someone who has worked under the Social Security taxation system, you have two different benefits that may be available to you: Survivor Benefits, and Spousal Benefits. These two benefits may be more than the benefit you’ve earned under your own working record.

Spousal Benefits are available while your spouse (or ex-spouse) is still alive. Survivor Benefits are available after your spouse’s (or ex-spouse’s) death.

Social Security Survivor Benefits are much different from Spousal Benefits in several ways. In fact, there’s very little to compare between the two, other than that they are benefits for the spouse or ex-spouse of someone who earned a Social Security Retirement Benefit. Here are the primary things that you need to know about Survivor Benefits:

  • Survivor Benefits can be claimed as early as age 60.  Of course, as with all early claims for benefits, the amount will be reduced if you claim earlier than Full Retirement Age (FRA). At age 60 your Survivor Benefit would be reduced to 71.5% of your late spouse’s benefit amount (or PIA (Primary Insurance Amount) if he or she wasn’t at FRA). Determining the actual Survivor Benefit amount is a complex process.
  • Survivor Benefits are based upon 100% of the amount of benefit (at your FRA) that the deceased spouse was or should be receiving, whereas Spousal Benefits are based upon the PIA, and then only at a 50% maximum rate.
  • Survivor Benefits can also be applied for separately from your own retirement benefit – meaning that you can receive Survivor Benefits while delaying receipt of your own retirement benefit (if it’s higher or will be higher) in order to receive Delayed Retirement Credits up to age 70.
  • Survivor Benefits are only payable if the surviving spouse has not remarried before age 60. After age 60, the surviving spouse can remarry and still receive Survivor Benefits based upon the deceased spouse’s record.
  • A disabled surviving spouse can collect benefits as early as age 50 – at the same rate as if waiting to age 60 – 71.5% of the deceased spouse’s benefit.
  • If a surviving spouse is caring for a child under the age of 16, a different type of Survivor Benefits can be claimed until the child or children are over age 16. This benefit, known as a Mother’s Benefit or Father’s Benefit, is equal to 75% of the deceased spouse’s benefit (or PIA if the deceased spouse was not receiving benefits). This is only available to the surviving parent while the child is under age 16.
  • Survivor Benefits can also be paid to children of the decedent, provided they are under age 19 and a full time student. If the child is disabled (prior to age 22), Survivor Benefits can still be paid to the child after age 19. The child’s Survivor Benefit is at a 75% rate of the decedent’s benefit.
  • If the parents of the person who earned the Social Security benefit were dependent upon the worker, they can also receive a Survivor Benefit, known as the Parent’s Benefit, if they are age 62 or older. This benefit is 82.5% of the worker’s benefit amount if there is only one parent claiming, or if there are two dependent parents, each can claim a 75% benefit.

These Survivor Benefit rules also apply to ex-spouses who become widows or widowers, as long as the ex-spouse was married to the ex-spouse for at least ten years, and the ex-spouse did not remarry (and remain married) before age 60.

Withholding Tax Without Income?


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We’ve discussed in the past how it’s possible to eliminate quarterly estimated tax payments by using a withdrawal from your IRA. But did you know that you can put this method in motion without actually increasing your income?

Wait a minute… did you just catch that? I’m telling you that you can eliminate your withholding or quarterly estimated taxes by using a withdrawal from an IRA – and that you can do this without having to recognize income from the IRA withdrawal.

It’s a little tricky, but if you’re not too faint of heart, this could actually be a cool little maneuver. What you do is to take a withdrawal from your IRA, and on the withdrawal slip indicate that you want the entire withdrawal withheld for taxes. Then, within 60 days, replace the funds (from another, non-IRA source) into either that same IRA or another IRA – completing a sixty-day rollover. End result: taxes withheld, no income, no penalty.

While it might seem crazy to assert that you can have taxes withheld from a distribution that was negated by a 60-day rollover, but the IRS allows you to do a tax-free rollover of a distribution that has been sent to the IRS as withheld income tax, by using substitute funds (see Reg 1.402(c)-2, Q-11).

What’s so cool about this maneuver? Take these factors into account:

  • When you withhold tax from an IRA distribution, the IRS considers that it has been withheld over the course of the year, so timeliness of withholding isn’t important: you could have your entire tax burden withheld on December 31 if you wanted. If you tried this with non-IRA funds, only making one estimated tax payment (or withholding payment), the IRS would hit you with an under-withholding penalty for not sending the money to them throughout the year.
  • If you are self-employed or otherwise in complete control of your income, you can eliminate withholding and/or estimated tax payments completely, by saving up the equivalent of withholding through the year and then pulling the trick outlined above toward the end of the year.

You’d be able to very accurately calculate your tax payments, reducing the loss of income that comes along with over-withholding through the year. This way you can invest the money that you’d otherwise be sending in quarterly installments, and at the end of the year make one large payment from your IRA, and roll-in your withholding stash.

It should be noted that, while this is a valid option to consider, there are pitfalls that could really cause you problems. Just forgetting to do the IRA withdrawal (withholding the withdrawal to pay tax) on time can result in some very serious penalties. Furthermore, missing the 60-day deadline for completing the rollover could penalize you further with the 10% early withdrawal penalty. To simplify things, you should complete the rollover within the same tax year if at all possible.

In addition, keep in mind that there’s a once-per-year limit on these 60-day rollovers. So if you wanted to try this on a regular basis year after year, you’d need to time things properly to keep from hitting up against your 12-month restriction on repeated rollovers.

I would not suggest doing this maneuver on a regular basis – it should be one of those tools that you have available if you get caught in a pinch. The penalties for screwing it up are severe, and the chances of screwing it up are plenty.

Do You Need a Friend at the IRS?

As taxpayers, many of us have faced difficulties in dealing with the IRS – and it can be a daunting position to be in. One way to deal with these issues is to hire a CPA or Enrolled Agent to help you through the process. Another way is to deal with it yourself. The problem is that dealing with the IRS by yourself can be a very difficult thing to do.

The good news is that you have a friend at the IRS: The Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS).  The purpose of the TAS is to help taxpayers:

  • whose problems with the IRS are causing financial difficulties;
  • who have tried but have not been able to resolve their problems with the IRS; and
  • who believe an IRS system or procedure is not working as it should.

The IRS has listed ten things that they believe every taxpayer should know about TAS:

  1. The Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) is an independent organization within the IRS and is your voice at the IRS.
  2. We help taxpayers whose problems are causing financial difficulty. This includes businesses as well as individuals.
  3. You may be eligible for our help if you’ve tried to resolve your tax problem through normal IRS channels and have gotten nowhere, or you believe an IRS procedure just isn’t working as it should.
  4. The IRS has adopted a Taxpayer Bill of Rights that includes 10 fundamental rights that every taxpayer has when interacting with the IRS:
    • The Right to Be Informed.
    • The Right to Quality Service.
    • The Right to Pay No More than the Correct Amount of Tax.
    • The Right to Challenge the IRS’s Position and Be Heard.
    • The Right to Appeal an IRS Decision in an Independent Forum.
    • The Right to Finality.
    • The Right to Privacy.
    • The Right to Confidentiality.
    • The Right to Retain Representation.
    • The Right to a Fair and Just Tax System.

      Our TAS Tax website at can help you understand these rights and what they mean for you. The website also has examples that show how the Taxpayer Bill of Rights can apply in specific situations.

  5. If you qualify for our help, you’ll be assigned to one advocate who will be with you at every turn. And our service is always free.
  6. We have at least one local taxpayer advocate office in every state, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.  You can call your advocate, whose number is in your local directory, in Publication 1546, Taxpayer Advocate Service — Your Voice at the IRS, and on our website at You can also call us toll-free at 877-777-4778.
  7. The TAS website at has basic tax information, details about tax credits (for individuals and businesses), and much more.
  8. TAS also handles large-scale or systemic problems that affect many taxpayers. If you know of one of these broad issues, please report it to us at
  9. You can get updates at:
  10. TAS is here to help you, because when you’re dealing with a tax problem, the worst thing you can do is to do nothing at all.

Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) Don’t Have to Be in Cash, But…

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Here’s something that I bet you’ve never run across – when you have to begin taking Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) from your IRA or Qualified Retirement Plan (QRP), most folks think you must take these distributions in cash.

This is not the case, you can actually take distributions of any sort, not just RMDs, from your plan (IRA or QRP) in either cash or “in kind”. By “in kind”, this means that you can take the actual securities (stocks, bonds, or other investments) from the account. These distributions in kind can be used to satisfy your RMD for the year. There can be both pros and cons to taking distributions in kind.

Pros in favor of in-kind distributions

You might want to consider using an in-kind distribution if your IRA or QRP is fully invested and you want to keep it that way. Sometimes (such as in a market downturn) it can be beneficial to maintain a cash position, but generally it’s often in your best interest to remain fully invested. Using an in-kind distribution will allow you to remain fully invested before and after your distribution.

Another reason that you might want to use an in-kind distribution is if you have a particular position in a stock or limited partnership (for example) that you consider to be undervalued, such that it will appreciate considerably after you’ve distributed it. This would put you in a position to have your gain (beginning with the date of distribution) taxed at capital gains rates rather than ordinary income tax rates.

In this second case you need to understand that you’d be taxed at ordinary income tax rates on the value of the distribution (on the day of the distribution) and your basis in the position will be set at that value. Future gains will be considered against that basis.

In addition, if you don’t have to cash out of a position in order to distribute it, you wouldn’t incur a trade commission.  Assuming that you would just re-invest in the same or a similar security, you’d then incur another trade commission when you made the new purchase. So distributing in-kind can cause a double commission to be paid, which may not be necessary.

Cons against in-kind distributions

Sometimes it can be difficult to value a security – for example if it is very thinly-traded. In a situation such as this, distributing the RMD in-kind can cause difficulties, especially if you’re hoping to minimize the distribution to only the required minimum.

With this in mind, in order to reduce confusion and ensure that you’re taking the correct amount in your RMD, it can be prudent to maintain or create a cash holding that will be sufficient for your RMD.


It’s important to keep in mind that no matter how you take your distributions, you’ll have to pay ordinary income tax on the distribution – and the tax may be pro-rata if the IRA is partly non-deductible.

IRS Penalties – 8 Facts You Need to Know


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There are generally two ways that the IRS can assess a penalty to you – failure to file, or failure to pay; and it’s not out of the question that you could be subjected to both types of penalties. There are many other penalties, such as accuracy-related penalties, that may also apply. Listed below are some facts from the IRS about penalties.

Facts on Penalties

  1. If you do not file by the deadline, you might face a failure-to-file penalty. If you do not pay by the due date, you could face a failure-to-pay penalty.
  2. The failure-to-file penalty is generally more than the failure-to-pay penalty. So if you cannot pay all the taxes you owe, you should still file your tax return on time and explore other payment options in the meantime. The IRS will work with you.
  3. The penalty for filing late is usually 5% of the unpaid taxes for each month or part of a month that a return is late.  This penalty will not exceed 25% of your unpaid taxes.
  4. If you file your return more than 60 days after the due date or extended due date, the minimum failure-to-file penalty is the smaller of $485 or 100% of the unpaid tax.
  5. If you do not pay your taxes by the due date, you will generally have to pay a failure-to-pay penalty of ½% of your unpaid taxes for each month or part of a month after the due date that the taxes are not paid.  This penalty can be as much as 25% of your unpaid taxes.
  6. The ½% increases to 1% if the tax remains unpaid 10 days after the IRS issues a notice of intent to levy property. If you file your return by its due date and request an installment agreement, the one-half of one percent rate decreases to one-quarter of one percent for any month in which an installment agreement is in effect.
  7. Be aware that the IRS applies payments to the tax first, then any penalty, then to interest. Any penalty amount that appears on your bill is generally the total amount of the penalty up to the date of the notice, not the penalty amount charged each month.
  8. If you timely filed a request for an extension of time to file and you paid at least 90% of your actual tax liability by the original due date, you will not be faced with a failure-to-pay penalty if the remaining balance is paid by the extended due date.
  9. If both the failure-to-file penalty and the failure-to-pay penalty apply in any month, the 5% failure-to-file penalty is reduced by the failure-to-pay penalty. However, if you file your return more than 60 days after the due date or extended due date, the minimum penalty is the smaller of $485 or 100% of the unpaid tax.
  10. You will not have to pay a failure-to-file or failure-to-pay penalty if you can show that you failed to file or pay on time because of reasonable cause and not because of willful neglect.
  11. Generally, interest accrues on any unpaid tax from the due date of the return until the date of payment in full. The interest rate is determined quarterly and is the federal short-term rate plus 3 percent. Interest compounds daily.

Limits on Social Security Disability Coverage

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When you leave full-time employment, there is a period of time after that when you will continue to be covered by Social Security Disability Benefits. Welcome to the 20/40 Rule.

The 20/40 Rule

If you have become disabled after you’ve left employment, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability Benefits – assuming that you’re under Full Retirement Age (FRA). In a case such as this, if you have worked the required number of quarters to be eligible for Disability Benefits, the rule is that you must have worked 20 quarters out of the previous 40 quarters, earning at least the minimum.

This is the 20/40 Rule. The quarters don’t need to be consecutive, but it must be 20 out of the 40 quarters just prior to the onset of the disability. Another way to look at it is that for five years after you leave employment you will continue to be covered by Social Security Disability Benefits, again assuming that you’re under FRA.

If you work, even part-time, ($1,730 earned in a quarter for 2024), this will count as a quarter for your coverage.

The 20/40 Rule is adjusted for age, as well. If you’re under age 24 when you become disabled, you must have worked for 6 quarters out of the prior 12 quarters before you become disabled. Between ages 24 and 31, the numbers are half of the quarters after your age 21 – so if you’re 29, you would need to have 16 of the 32 quarters after your age 21. After you reach age 31, the 20/40 Rule lives up to its name – 20 quarters out of the prior 40.

Once you reach FRA, Social Security Disability Benefits are converted to Retirement Benefits, so this rule doesn’t apply any more.

How a Spouse Can Stretch an Inherited IRA

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If you or someone you know has inherited an IRA from a spouse, there are several options available for handling the account. You could transfer the IRA to an inherited IRA, properly titled, and begin taking RMDs based upon your own age; or you can transfer the IRA to an IRA titled in your own name and treat the IRA as your own. Each option has merit, you just need to determine which is best for you.

Take the IRA as an inherited IRA

If you transfer the IRA to an inherited IRA, you can immediately begin taking RMDs based upon your own age, using IRS Table I.  This will allow you to stretch out the payments you would receive from the IRA over your lifetime, without penalty. If you have need for some of the funds now but wish to defer withdrawal over a longer period of time.

You could also take withdrawals in any amount you wish (or take no withdrawals in some years), but completely drain the account by the end of the 10th year after the death of your spouse. There could be some benefit to this method – you would not have to take distributions at all for the first 9 years, and then take the entire account during the 10th. Your tax plan might fit in with this scenario, for example, if you’re still working and taking significant distributions earlier would push you into higher tax brackets.

This option, the 10-year payout, is only available if the original owner (your spouse) was not already subject to RMDs.

Take the IRA as your own

If you decide to make the IRA your own, you can treat the IRA exactly as if it were your own: you can make contributions to it, rollover other eligible funds into it, or convert it to a Roth IRA. In this case, you can delay the time to start taking RMDs until you reach age 73 – so if you are younger than your late spouse was, this method may allow you to delay RMDs the longest.

In this method, any withdrawals that you take before age 59½ could be subject to the 10% early withdrawal penalty, unless you meet one of the exceptions. You can transfer the IRA to an account in your own name at any time during the first five years, even if you’ve taken some distributions from the originally-titled account. You couldn’t take this option if you had re-titled the account as inherited (the option above), however.

Bear in mind, the above options are not every possible option for handling an inherited IRA as a spouse. For more detailed reading, check out IRS Publication 590.

Tax Deductions for Property Damage from Disaster

Damage left by an EF1 tornado
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If violent weather has caused damage to your property, you may be able deduct a part of the cost of the damage from your taxes, if the event was a federally-declared disaster.

You are generally eligible to deduct losses that result from federally-declared disasters. This can include, here in the Midwest, such mundane items like floods or tornados, plus the occasional derecho. In California, it might include (per Jimmy Buffett) riots, fires, mudslides and sushi in the mall*. Remember that the deduction amount is limited by any amount that you recover by way of insurance.

Riots and sushi may not actually included. Consider it poetic license.

If you’re in a presidentially-declared disaster area, there are special rules that apply to you. You are eligible to deduct those losses that occurred in the specific event in a current tax year on either your current or prior year tax return, whichever is more beneficial to you. If you’ve already filed the return for the prior year you can amend it with the casualty loss information to get a refund. For more information, go to

When a qualified federally-declared disaster has impacted you, you may have more options available to you. For more information on types of losses, see IRS Pub 547 for detailed definitions of the casualty loss (within the state of a declared disaster), disaster loss (within the county of a declared disaster), and qualified disaster loss (certain specified disasters). For these qualified disaster losses, you are allowed to itemize the loss deduction without regard to other itemized deductions. The 10% floor limitation mentioned below does not apply, but the disregarded “first amount” is $500 instead of $100.

If you have otherwise experienced a loss due to damage from one of these natural disasters, this is classified by the IRS as a casualty loss. Casualty losses are deducted using IRS Form 4684. Deductible losses are limited in two ways for individuals: the first $100 is not deductible; above that amount, your deductible loss is limited to the amount that is greater than 10% of your Adjusted Gross Income (AGI). You must itemize deductions in order to deduct a casualty loss as an individual.

Losses from other events that are not federally-declared disasters are not eligible for a deduction during tax years 2018 through 2025. We’ll have to wait and see if the deduction is restored after 2025.

For a business, the limits mentioned above are not in affect, and they do not need to be claimed as itemized deductions.

Did You Break Your SOSEPP?

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If you don’t know what a SOSEPP is, that’s okay – chances are if you don’t know what it is, you don’t have one. SOSEPP stands for Series Of Substantially Equal Periodic Payments. It’s a method that you can use that allows you to take a series of distributions from your IRA prior to age 59½ without being subject to the 10% early withdrawal penalty.

The SOSEPP is a very complicated avenue to travel, and there are some specific restrictions that you need to follow. One of the restrictions is that you absolutely must maintain the “equality” of payments you’re taking from the IRA. If you increase or decrease the payments, you may have “broken” the SOSEPP.

There is no specific provision in the Internal Revenue Code for relief from the penalty if you have broken your SOSEPP. On the other hand, the IRS has in some cases granted relief in several private letter rulings by determining that a change in the series of payments did not materially modify the series for purposes of the rules.

If the series is broken due to an error by an advisor (for example), some prior PLRs have been issued in favor of the taxpayer. PLR 201051025 and PLR 200503036 each address the situation of an advisor making an error and the distributions were allowed to be made up in the subsequent year. Bear in mind that PLRs are not valid for any other circumstances other than the specific one in the ruling, and cannot be used to establish legal precedence for subsequent cases.

But in reality, the likelihood of your getting a favorable PLR for your case of a broken SOSEPP is small. Unfortunately, breaking the series usually results in application of the penalty for previous payments received, and the SOSEPP is eliminated. This means that, back to the beginning of your SOSEPP, each payment that doesn’t meet some other exception will be hit with the 10% early withdrawal penalty.

If you wish to restart the series after having broken it you can do so, but you’ll be starting with a new five-year calendar (the series must exist for at least five years, or until you reach age 59½, whichever is later).

Forget your RMD? Here’s What to Do

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If you have an IRA that you have to take Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) from, you need to do this every year by the end of the year.  So what if you forget one year?

The rule is that if you don’t take your RMD by the end of the year, you could be subject to a penalty of 25% of the amount of the RMD. If you’ve realized your error before the IRS has notified you, there are a few things you can do to try to resolve the situation. There may even be a way to resolve it even though the IRS has caught on, as well.

The very first thing you should do is immediately withdraw the RMD in the amount that you should have in the previous year. Contact your IRA custodian and request the distribution as soon as possible. It is recommended that you take this as a separate distribution, in exactly the amount prescribed (more on this later).

Then, if you’ve already filed your tax return for the previous year, fill out out Form 5329 for that specific year.  If you haven’t filed yet, go ahead and file the Form 5329 with your regular Form 1040 return. To find the old forms, to the the and search for the year you need (

Form 5329 is the form that you use to report additional taxes on your IRA accounts – in this case you’re reporting the fact that you “overaccumulated” by not taking your appropriate RMD. You’re concerned with section IX on the form (Additional Tax on Excess Accumulation…). Fill out line 52 with the amount of the distribution you should have taken, and put zeros in 53-55. On the dotted line next to line 54 (the subtraction line), place the following – RC ($1,000) – this is if the distribution was $1,000. Update with your actual figure. (Note: I used the form from 2021, the form you use might have different line numbers.)

The RC notation indicates that you believe you missed this distribution due to a reasonable cause. A reasonable cause is generally something outside of your control, such as your custodian did not indicate to you that a distribution was necessary. Other reasonable causes could include a health issue or death of your spouse, for example. Simply forgetting is generally not a reasonable cause, but if you have some plausible explanation, give it a shot. If the IRS disagrees, they’ll send you a bill for 25% of the amount of the RMD.

Include a letter with the return, asking for a waiver of the penalty, explaining why you missed the RMD (your reasonable cause), and that as soon as you realized it you corrected your error by taking the distribution. The IRS may let you off the hook – it’s easier for them to do this for taxpayers than to hunt you down and send you a bill.

It’s not fool-proof, but it’s the best chance that you have at this stage. And then figure out a way so that you don’t get into this position again in the future. For example, set up an automatic distribution plan by having an adequate amount sent to you monthly or quarterly.  Make sure that you adjust this annually to match that year’s RMD. This way maybe you won’t have this problem next time around.

If you simply forgot and don’t have a reasonable cause for the omission, fill out Form 5329 as the instructions explain, indicating the amount you owe in additional tax, and send that amount along with your signed form.

The Protective Filing Statement


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When planning for your Social Security benefits, there is an additional tactic that you may never have heard of: the Protective Filing Statement. This statement is a way to apply for benefits without actually applying.


At any time after you reach age 62 (for retirement benefits), you can file the Protective Filing Statement (PFS) which will “protect” the date of acceptance as your application date, whenever you choose to apply in the future. And when you do apply, the PFS date will be considered your filing date – and you’ll get retroactive benefits back to that date, as long as you’ve applied within the closeout window. For retirement benefits, the closeout window is 6 months. For SSI, it’s only 60 days, and can be as much as 12 months for SSDI.

Protected filing is probably most important for SSI and SSDI, because you may wish to file for benefits before you’re approved in order to receive back-payments once approved. It can be useful for retirement benefits as well, although after FRA you are allowed up to a 6-month retroactive date, but no earlier than your FRA date. We’re only covering protected filing for retirement benefits in this article.

For retirement benefits, after the PFS is filed, the SSA will issue a notice indicating that you must file within six months. This doesn’t mean that you have to file within six months, it just means that, in order to retroactively file as of your protected date, your actual application must have been filed no later than six months after the protected date.

How does this work in practice? Let say that you reach age 62 in February this year. You’re actually eligible for benefits in March, since you weren’t 62 for the entire month of February… so you file a PFS in March. You’re not ready to collect benefits, but you want to protect your date. Then in July your company “reorganizes” (we all know that really just means layoffs). Instead of seeking other work, you decide to just go ahead and retire. When you file your application for Social Security benefits in August, your actual filing date can be retroactive to March, since you filed a PFS.

If your income for the year was low enough, you might go ahead and take the retroactive benefits – but the key here is that without the PFS you would forego those benefits altogether. It’s for this purpose that it makes sense to file a PFS from time to time if you’re delaying receipt of benefits sometime after age 62.

How to do it

There’s nothing magical about the PFS – it’s simply a statement you’ve made to the SSA indicating that you’re intending to file at some point in the future. You don’t have to set a date when you actually file and stick to it, you just need to indicate that you’re intending to file. Here are the requirements:

  • Must be in writing
  • Must indicate an intention to claim in the future
  • Must be signed by the applicant
  • Must be submitted to your local district office

And that’s it. A few words of caution are in order: Keep a date-stamped copy of your PFS. If you hand-deliver the statement (recommended) to the district office, ask the representative to photocopy the statement and date-stamp your copy. Occasionally these get lost, and without a copy of your statement, it will be impossible to prove that you submitted it.

If mailing the statement, make a copy beforehand, and then send the statement by registered or certified mail. This way you’ll have evidence of delivery.

It’s also important to note the six month limit for the PFS (for retirement benefits). After six months has passed, the PFS is no longer in effect, and if you apply at that stage, unless you’ve filed a subsequent PFS, the date of your application is your filing date, with no retroactivity unless you’re over FRA.

Required Minimum Distributions and the Successor Beneficiary


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If the beneficiary of an inherited IRA dies before exhausting the inherited IRA or qualified retirement plan (QRP) through distributions, how are the ongoing distributions to be handled?

In this case, there is no Eligible Designated Beneficiary, regardless of your status with regard to either the original IRA owner or the beneficiary.

As a successor beneficiary (the beneficiary of an original inherited IRA’s beneficiary), upon the death of the original beneficiary you would continue to use the same distribution plan as the original beneficiary, with a new 10-year time period to fully distribute the account.

This means that by December 31 of the year that includes the 10th anniversary of the death of the original beneficiary, the entire account must have been fully distributed.

The Affect of Earnings on Your Social Security Benefit

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Your wage earnings and other income can impact your Social Security benefit in several ways. These earnings can increase the amount of your Social Security benefit that is taxable. In some cases, continued earnings can increase your future benefit rate as well. Wage earnings while collecting benefits can also reduce your current benefit if you’re over the annual earnings limits and you’re under Full Retirement Age. Continued wage earnings at or above the substantial earnings limits can also result in a smaller WEP reduction, or perhaps eliminate WEP altogether.


Depending on your level of income, Social Security benefits may be included at as high as an 85% rate with your other taxable income on your tax return. But this level can range to as little as 0% if your provisional income (all of your other income besides Social Security benefits plus 1/2 of your Social Security benefit) is low enough.

For more details on how this works, check out this article on taxation of Social Security benefits.

Increasing future benefits

When you continue to work, depending on your wage income (or net self employment income), you may be increasing your future benefits. This happens when you have relatively low income reported in some earlier years (or perhaps zero income) and those low or zero years are included in your top-35 years of indexed earnings on record with Social Security.

To see how your benefit might increase, here’s an article about the calculation of the Average Indexed Monthly Earnings (AIME), which is used then to produce your Primary Insurance Amount (PIA) – a critical figure in determining your Social Security benefit amount.

Reducing current benefits

What happens if you are earning a significant amount of money (more than the limits) and you decide to go ahead and begin receiving your benefit before Full Retirement Age (FRA)?

When you’re under FRA, wage earnings greater than the limits will result in a $1 for $2 over the limit reduction to your annual benefits. Eventually at FRA you’ll get credit for those withheld benefits, but in the meantime your benefit is reduced by the over-earnings.

If you’re already at or older than FRA, you have no limit on your earnings, either as an employee or as a self-employed individual.  Your earnings have no negative impact on your Social Security retirement benefit, although if your earnings are significant and more than some of your earlier earnings years, your future benefits could possibly increase as mentioned above. In addition, any benefits that your dependents or spouse may be receiving that are based upon your record are also not impacted by your earnings at this stage.

Smaller or eliminated WEP reduction

If your earnings from SS-covered wages are at or above the substantial earnings limits, you can gradually eliminate the impact of WEP reduction on your benefits. Once you have 20 or more years of these substantial earnings, WEP’s impact begins to shrink with each added year of substantial earnings. When you reach 30 years of substantial earnings covered by Social Security, WEP is effectively eliminated for you.

For more on how this works, see this article on substantial earnings with regard to WEP.

Which Retirement Account Should You Tap First?


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If you have multiple options of various different kinds of accounts to choose from, such as an IRA, a Roth IRA, a qualified retirement plan (such as a 401(k) plan) also known as a QRP, and perhaps an inherited IRA; you may be asking yourself: which one should I withdraw from first?

If you’re under age 59½, some of the options include considerable penalties – withdrawals from either the traditional IRA or the QRP will incur a 10% penalty for early withdrawal unless you meet one of the exceptions. So this leaves the Roth IRA or the inherited IRA. Each of these can be taxable to some degree, or partly non-taxable, depending upon the circumstances.

If the inherited IRA was subject to estate tax upon the passing of the original owner, you may be able to take a portion of your withdrawal in credit against the estate tax, due to the IRD tax deduction. In today’s world, this is less and less likely due to the increased estate tax exemption of $12+ million, but it’s still something to consider in your quest.

If you’re age 59½ or older and still working, the 10% penalty will not apply to any of your accounts, but that doesn’t mean that your choice is completely unlimited with no consequences. There are still tax issues to consider, as well as other affects that the law places on you as the owner of these accounts.

At any age, your contributions and conversions more than five years old can be withdrawn from your Roth IRA without tax or penalty. Any growth in the account will be subject to tax and penalty, and any conversions that were completed less than five years ago will also be subject to the 10% penalty.

Since you’re required to take a distribution from the inherited IRA (if you’re not the surviving spouse in some cases), this is where you’ll be taking a withdrawal no matter what other circumstances are occurring. If your need for money is greater than the Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) from the inherited IRA, then the most tax efficient option is to take a withdrawal of your contributions to the Roth IRA.

After those choices, you also could take a loan from your 401(k) plan (as long as this is available). This would be another option that is tax efficient (in general) but you would need to pay back the loan, and in turn this is a good way to derail your retirement savings. This could also result in taxation of your loan amount if you leave employment.

Lastly, you can always take money from your IRA and pay the taxes and penalties. This is probably the least desirable of all the options, as it is the most costly.

Something else to consider, if you have an inherited IRA and you’re not the surviving spouse: you’re required to take the RMD from the account each year, and this can often be a nuisance to keep track of. If you’re in need of money you can take extra from the inherited account and this will reduce future RMDs or perhaps eliminate them if you drain the account. Of course each dollar withdrawn is likely subject to ordinary income tax.

The other thing that makes the inherited IRA the better choice (over your other retirement accounts) is that you can defer use of these accounts until you reach age 73 (for your entire lifetime for the Roth) – and the rate of withdrawal will be less than with the inherited IRA.

In addition, for your owned accounts (non-inherited) your beneficiaries of those accounts can stretch payments over 10 years, or their lifetimes if they are specially eligible designated beneficiaries.

Once you reach age 73 (if born between 1951 and 1959), you must begin taking distributions from your IRAs and QRPs. These are a required minimum amount each year, so you can take the minimum and augment that amount by withdrawing from your Roth IRA options if you have them available.

As in earlier ages, you still need to withdraw the RMDs from your inherited IRAs, this continues throughout your life or as long as there is money in the account.

The goal should be to keep current taxes to a minimum, so using the Roth account may be a good option if you need more money than the RMDs provide for you. However, your Roth IRA is the one account that never requires you to take withdrawals during your lifetime. This can result in a legacy to provide for your heirs – one that will have no tax consequences to your beneficiaries.