City of Tacoma Employees: Buy-Up Long-Term Disability Insurance Benefit

City of Tacoma Employees: Buy-Up Long-Term Disability Insurance Benefit

 

Starting Monday, January 11 through Friday, January 29, eligible City of Tacoma employees have an opportunity to buy affordable additional long-term disability insurance coverage through the City. While this benefit may not sound too exciting, it represents essential insurance coverage that can protect your income in the unfortunate event that you become disabled.

City of Tacoma employees should sign-up and take advantage of this benefit.

Who am I? My name is Geoff, and I am a financial planner with Puget Sound-based Merriman Wealth Management, LLC. I got excited after seeing the special benefits notice my wife received as a City of Tacoma employee. I do not work for the City or the vendor, and I do not receive any personal benefit from you enrolling in this extra disability coverage. I am just passionate about helping families make the best financial decisions possible and wanted to provide additional information on a topic that can seem overly complicated or may often be overlooked.

The FAQ below illustrates just how important this additional long-term disability coverage is, whether or not you have dependents:

 

What is disability insurance?

This type of insurance is used to protect your income and financial livelihood in the event of an untimely illness or injury.

There are two types of disability insurance: short-term and long-term. Long-term disability coverage is the most valuable because it replaces a portion of your income starting 90 days after your disability until recovery or age 65, whichever is sooner.

 

Don’t I already have long-term disability coverage through the City of Tacoma?

You do. However, for most employees this basic employer-paid benefit only protects 60% of the first $1,500 in monthly pre-disability earnings. This means that if you earn $6,250 a month or $75,000 a year, you will only receive $900 a month in benefits.  Will $900 a month cover your bills?

 

How much extra income protection will this additional benefit provide me?

Up to $4,100 of extra income per month of pre-disability earnings. Combined with the basic employer-provided benefit described above, you could receive up to $5,000 of income replacement (i.e., a total of 60% of $8,333 pre-disability earnings). The employee from question two above, earning $6,250 a month or $75,000 a year, would receive $3,750 a month in benefits, which would go much farther toward being able to cover bills.

Note: Employees earning $100,000 or more would receive the maximum benefit of $5,000 a month.

 

What is the difference between the 90-day and 180-day waiting period options?

This waiting period, otherwise called the elimination period, is how long you have to wait to start receiving long-term disability payments from the insurance carrier. Premiums are naturally higher for the 90-day waiting period option as you will start receiving benefits earlier. The difference in premium for choosing the 90-day waiting period over the 180-day waiting period is offset by starting to receive income 3 months earlier.

 

How much does this benefit cost and how is it paid?

The benefit costs 0.303% of pre-disability earnings up to the pre-disability earnings cap for the 90-day waiting period option. This means the employee earning $75,000 would pay an extra $18.94 per month or $227.28 a year (i.e., 0.303% X $6,250 pre-disability earnings). Employees earning $100,000 or more a year would pay an extra $25.25 per month or $303 a year. This extra benefit far outweighs the additional premium cost.

Note: This premium cost would be deducted via payroll as a post-tax cost.

 

What happens if I stop working at the City of Tacoma?

Generally, you cannot keep group disability benefits like this one offered through the City of Tacoma if you leave (i.e., not portable).

 

If I do become disabled, how does the benefit work? How long would the benefit last?

In the unfortunate event of an illness or injury that qualifies for disability insurance benefits, you would file a claim with the disability insurance carrier that includes medical evidence of your disability. If approved, you would start receiving the above-described benefits after the waiting period until recovering from the disability or age 65, whichever comes first.

 

Would the benefits received from this extra policy be taxable?

Because the premium is paid post-tax rather than pre-tax where you receive a tax deduction for the premium cost, the disability payment you would receive would be tax-free. SAID AGAIN: All of the income received from this extra long-term disability coverage would not be subject to taxation. The tax-free nature of the payments further helps replace your pre-disability income (as your pre-disability income is gross income or otherwise subject to taxes).

Note: Income received from the employer-paid basic long-term disability coverage (i.e., 60% of the first $1,500 in monthly pre-disability income) would be subject to taxation. This is because your employer pays the premiums for this benefit.

 

What if I earn more than $100,000 a year? Do I need additional income protection beyond this extra benefit offered by the City?

Maybe. Start by asking these questions:

  • Does my contribution to covering household expenses exceed $5,000 a month?
  • Do I expect these expenses above $5,000 a month to continue for at least another year?
  • Do I expect my income and expenses to increase in the future?

If you answered YES to these questions (and be conservative on this), then it makes sense to consider buying an additional individual disability policy outside of your City benefits. This is especially important for households with a single earner.

 

An advisor can get quotes through an insurance broker to help you make an informed decision. It is also important to evaluate this decision through the lens of your overall financial plan, taking into account all of your goals and resources.

If you have questions about how much disability insurance coverage you need to protect your income or any other financial planning topics, like whether you are on track to achieve your financial goals, feel free to contact me directly at geoff@merriman.com.

Other useful resources:

 

Disclosure: The opinions expressed in this article are for general informational purposes only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual or on any specific security. The material is presented solely for information purposes and has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, however Merriman cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of such information, and certain information presented here may have been condensed or summarized from its original source.  Merriman does not provide tax or legal advice, and nothing contained in these materials should be taken as such. To determine which investments may be appropriate for you, consult your financial advisor prior to investing. As always please remember investing involves risk and possible loss of principal capital; past performance is no guarantee of future performance. Advisory services are only offered to clients or prospective clients where Merriman and its representatives are properly licensed or exempt from licensure. No advice may be rendered by Merriman Wealth Management unless a client service agreement is in place.

Think Twice Before Moving Into Your Rental To Avoid Taxes

Think Twice Before Moving Into Your Rental To Avoid Taxes

Updated 12/23/2020 by Geoff Curran, Jeff Barnett, & Scott Christensen

National real estate prices have been on the rise since 2014, and many investors who jumped into the rental industry since the Great Recession have substantial gains in property values (S&P Dow Jones Indices, 2019). You might be considering selling your rental to lock in profits and enjoy the fruits of your well-timed investment, but realizing those gains could come at a cost. You could owe capital gains tax in addition to potential depreciation recapture on the profits from your rental sale.

One strategy for paying less tax is to move back into your rental and use the property as a primary residence before selling. Living in your rental full-time for at least two years prior to selling can help you take advantage of the gain exclusion of $500,000 ($250,000 if single), which can wipe out all or most of your gain on the property. Sounds easy, right?

Let’s take a look at some of the moving pieces for determining the taxes when you sell your rental. Factors like depreciation recapture, qualified vs. non-qualified use and adjusted cost basis could make you think twice before moving back into your rental to avoid taxes.

Depreciation Recapture

One of the benefits of having a rental is the ability to claim depreciation on the property, which allows you to offset rental income that would otherwise be taxed as ordinary income. The depreciation you take reduces your basis in the property, potentially resulting in more capital gains when you ultimately sell. If you sell the property for a gain, the amount up to the depreciation you took is taxed at the maximum recapture rate of 25%. Any remaining gains are taxed at the lower long-term capital gains rate. Moving back into your rental to claim the primary residence gain exclusion does not allow you to exclude your depreciation recapture, so you might still owe a hefty tax bill after moving back, depending on how much depreciation was deducted. (IRS, 2019).

When the Property Sells for a Loss

Keep in mind that if you sell your home for a loss, whether it’s currently a rental or is now your primary residence, you aren’t subject to depreciation recapture or other gains taxes. However, due to depreciation decreasing your cost basis in the property each year until it reaches zero, it’s more common that sales of former rental homes result in gains. (more…)

Why Do I Need A Financial Plan?

Why Do I Need A Financial Plan?

 

If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail. This adage, generally attributed to Benjamin Franklin, is as true for financial planning as it for other endeavors. At Merriman, we want to help clients meet their financial goals. Any successful goal-setting strategy includes a detailed plan. But this plan is not only helpful for increasing chances of success. It is also one method we use to minimize potential failures.

When you first met your advisor, did you start your relationship and immediately hand over your hard-earned resources to their management, or did they put you through a rigorous due-diligence process to develop an agreed-upon plan before moving forward?

While the latter requires a lot more time and energy upfront from both parties, this hard work pays off and makes the relationship more valuable and more productive in the long-term. (Short-term pain, long-term gain). It can especially add value during times of uncertainty or major life transitions, such as retirement. When the unexpected happens, the plan serves as the basis for deciding how to react. Without a plan, it is easy to act impulsively or without fully considering future consequences. A good plan has already taken into account potential pitfalls or trouble spots and has a strategy to overcome them. With a plan in place, you are able to adjust course, if needed, and ultimately still get to your desired outcomes.

At Merriman, we build a plan together from the beginning of our relationship and stress test your resources to determine the likelihood of achieving your most important financial goals. We start with a discovery meeting where we map out all aspects of your life—financial and otherwise—so we can provide a truly customized plan to help you achieve your goals. To make this meeting as productive as possible, we ask that if you have a spouse or partner, have them join us, as the plan we are building together is for the both of you.

As part of our due diligence, we securely collect important items such as tax documents, insurance statements, estate planning documents, paystubs, budgeting and expenses, financial accounts and retirement income statements, and debts, among other information. This may seem like a lot to ask for at the start, but these documents provide clues to potential weak spots in your plan.

Think of it this way: when you meet with a physician for the first time, do they judge your health based solely on your physical appearance, or do they ask tough questions and run a gamut of tests before providing a diagnosis? The collected samples and information serve as the inputs and the test results are the outputs based on the criteria used in the examination. A financial plan can be thought of the same way.

While test results are useful, they are in themselves really just data. We then interpret this data, informed by our education and experience, to provide comprehensive advice on how best to achieve your financial goals.

Why do you need a financial plan? Because in good times and difficult times, a financial plan is your best opportunity to meet your financial goals. At Merriman, that’s our mission, and that’s why we take financial planning as seriously as we do. You should expect the same attention to detail from anyone with whom you choose to work.

Reach out to us to discuss your specific goals and the necessary next steps to achieve them.

 

Things to Remember Around Tax Time if You’ve Made a Qualified Charitable Distribution

Things to Remember Around Tax Time if You’ve Made a Qualified Charitable Distribution

By reporting QCD’s correctly on your tax return, you rightfully receive the benefit of income exclusion.

Form 1099-R is issued around tax time to report distributions you withdrew during the previous year from a retirement account. A few of the things this form tells you and the IRS are: how much was withdrawn in total, how much of the distribution was taxable and whether there were any withholdings for federal and state income taxes.

If you gave part or all of your required minimum distribution directly to charity through making a QCD (qualified charitable distribution), this amount is still included in the taxable portion of your total distribution on form 1099-R. As you’ll see, the QCD is included in your gross distribution (box 1) and taxable amount (box 2a). However, the box for “taxable amount not determined” (box 2b) will be checked. Whether you work with a professional tax preparer, use software like TurboTax or prepare your own taxes by hand, it can be easy to forget that the QCD portion of your distribution should not be included on your tax return as taxable income. It’s important to keep a record of every QCD made during the year, and hold on to any correspondence that you receive from the charities that confirms the receipt of funds.

Below is a blank version of the 1099-R available on the IRS website.

 

 

This is a copy of a 1099-R issued by TD Ameritrade.

 

In this first example, the individual had a $70,000.00 gross (line 1) and taxable distribution (line 2a). The box next to “taxable amount not determined” (line 2b) is checked. Federal income tax of $8,000.00 was withheld (line 4). The distribution was considered a “normal distribution” because the distribution code 7 was used (line 7). What this 1099-R doesn’t tell you is that $20,000 of this individual’s RMD was a QCD, while the remaining $50,000 of the withdrawal was taxable.

As shown below, you should put the information from the 1099-R on the first page of your tax return (Form 1040) on line 4a and 4b. Here the individual had a total IRA distribution of $70,000. Of this distribution, $20,000 was a QCD. This means that the QCD won’t be included in the taxable income. If there is the option to do so, write “QCD” to the left of box 4b on your tax return. Here you would need to add the $8,000 federal income tax withheld from this IRA distribution to any other federal withholdings from W-2s and/or 1099s for the year on line 17 (page 2) of your tax return.

Remember to file IRS Form 8606 Nondeductible IRAs if you had basis (after-tax contributions) in the Traditional IRA from which you made the QCD, and took a regular distribution. You must also file this form if you made a QCD from your Roth IRA. However,  we would not suggest making a QCD from a Roth IRA since the account is after-tax versus pre-tax.

 

 

 

 

 

The material provided is current as of the date presented, and is for informational purposes only, and does not intend to address the financial objectives, situation, or specific needs of any individual investor. The specific example provided is for illustrative purposes only, and is not intended to serve as personalized tax and/or investment advice since the availability and effectiveness of any strategy is dependent upon your individual facts and circumstances.  Investors should consult with a tax professional to ensure all their tax paperwork is accurately filed.

The Lessons I Learned by Not Hiring a Professional from the Start

The Lessons I Learned by Not Hiring a Professional from the Start

As many of you know, my wife and I had our first child earlier this year. As such, we’ve been slowly working on improvements around our house to make it more kid safe. One project was to upgrade our garage door openers to the 21st century to include the safety reverse sensors. To fund this project, we used the money set aside from the monthly contribution to our home improvements fund. So far so good, right?

What happened next is similar to what many people do when deciding whether to hire a professional to help them.

For this project, I decided to replace my garage door openers on my own. I had never done it before, but I convinced myself that I could do it because of the following considerations:

  • Time – I’d need to be home while the installation pro was there anyway, so why not just use that time to install them myself? Importantly, I could do it when it wouldn’t impact my wife or son.
  • Cost – I didn’t want to pay for a professional to install the garage door openers. By doing it myself, we could save our hard-earned money and put it in savings or toward other projects.
  • Privacy – I simply didn’t want a stranger in my home, even if it was only for a couple of hours in our garage.
  • Resources –With all of the YouTube how-to videos, forums, and step-by-step guides available online, I thought it would easy to figure out how to do it. Clearly, many others with similar skills had been successful.

Here’s what I learned the hard way after spending 10 plus hours on this project, without installing even one garage door opener successfully:

  • Time – The project ended up taking four times what I thought it would, without success! I wasn’t very popular with my wife as she had to pick up my slack on the weekend chores and baby duty.
    • Lesson 1 – A professional could have installed each garage door opener in 45 minutes. I could have spent my time (our most limited resource) in far better ways.
  • Cost – I ended up paying a professional to install the garage door openers. I was left with a tough choice of paying a small fortune to get them installed right away (my car was outside since I removed a garage door opener) or wait for their regular scheduling. And, I had to replace a couple of parts that I damaged (argh!) and buy a wrench set that I likely won’t use.
    • Lesson 2 – Focusing only on cost is a mistake. It’s super important to also consider the value of your time. It might have made sense for me to take on this project if it took just two hours to complete, but 10 plus hours – no way!
  • Privacy – I was anxious about this at first, but the benefit of not having to do it myself eased my mind (especially after what I’d gone through!).
    • Lesson 3 – A professional is licensed, insured, experienced, and vetted. While my apprehension may lead me to believe that having a stranger in my home is a risk, this was not the case with a professional.
  • Resources – In hindsight, all the video tutorials and guides in the world wouldn’t have made this project easier. The actual installation was infinitely more difficult than the installation videos made it look.
    • Lesson 4 – Implementing a task, project or plan is the hardest part of any process. Too often, one part does not go according to plan, throwing everything off. There’s simply no substitute for expertise.

The last consideration I overlooked, which could have been the costliest, is risk. The risks include:

  • I could have installed the safety sensors or garage door opener incorrectly, causing a family member to be seriously injured. Or, the car could have been damaged.
  • The garage door opener could have fallen on me during the removal of my old opener and the installation of the new one (especially since we didn’t have the right height of ladder as recommended in the instructions – I didn’t want to buy a new ladder).
  • I could have injured myself with the disassembly of the old garage door opener or during the assembly of the new garage door opener. Mistakes and injuries happen more often than we think with DIY projects.
  • I could have damaged major parts (beyond what I already did!), which could have cost me a lot more money. Warranties and store policy exchanges don’t protect against negligence and true ignorance.

We hired a professional to minimize these risks for our family. 

As a note: My wife recommended from the start that we hire a professional to install the garage door openers. I learned my lesson here, too! As such, I had to park my car out in the cold until my garage door was fixed. Going forward, I will forever remember these lessons because time is our most finite resource and we need to be more intentional with how we spend it.