How to Circumvent the Demise of the Stretch: Strategies to Provide for Beneficiaries Beyond the 10-year Rule

How to Circumvent the Demise of the Stretch: Strategies to Provide for Beneficiaries Beyond the 10-year Rule

 

The Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act passed in late 2019, creating significant retirement and tax reforms with the goal of making retirement savings accessible to more Americans. We wrote a blog article detailing some of the high-level changes from this piece of legislation.

We’re going to dive deeper into some of the questions we’ve been receiving from our clients to shed more light on topics raised by the new legislation. We have divided these questions into six major themes; charitable giving, estate planning, Roth conversions, taxes, stretching IRA distributions, and trusts as beneficiaries.  Here is our fourth of six installments on stretching IRA distributions.

One of the major changes from the SECURE Act was the elimination of the ‘stretch’ IRA, which allowed beneficiaries to take retirement account distribution over their lifetime to spread out the income.  While a limited number of beneficiaries still have this option (see blog article referenced above), the act has replaced this option for the vast majority of beneficiaries with a new 10-year payout rule, requiring the retirement account to be emptied by the end of the 10th year following the year of death.  This will significantly shortening the distribution period on those retirement accounts and require the beneficiaries to recognize income more quickly than they would have had to do before.

Now that the stretch has been eliminated for IRAs, are there other options for my beneficiary to receive the income over a period longer than 10 years?

Since the law is only a few months old, new strategies are still being considered to address the compressed distribution schedule for non-spouse beneficiaries. A few strategies have gained traction, but they require intentional actions by the account owner before a death occurs. They include:         

  • Designating a charitable remainder trust as the beneficiary on the IRA. The CRT can pay a lifetime income stream to a person (or persons) of the IRA owner’s choice, but any residual balance will be retained by the charity. This option works best for owners who are already charitably inclined.
  • Consider tactical bequests. For example, leave Traditional IRAs to spouses (since they still have the stretch distribution options) or to charity (since they don’t pay taxes, so the compressed distribution won’t matter to them) but leave Roth IRAs, after-tax accounts, or real estate assets to non-spouse beneficiaries.
  • Take larger IRA distributions during your lifetime to purchase life insurance which can be paid to a trust. Since the life insurance proceeds are post-tax assets, there would be no time requirement on the trust distribution. The trust can even be set up as an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust to keep the insurance proceeds out of the decedent’s estate if federal or state estate taxes are a concern.

Each of these strategies require careful consideration but can potentially provide your beneficiaries with income beyond the next decade.  We recommend speaking with your financial advisor or estate planner if you think any of these strategies may be appropriate for you.

 

First Installment: I’m Planning to Leave Assets to Charity – How Does the SECURE Act Change That?

Second Installment: How to Optimize Your Accounts After the SECURE Act

Third Installment: Must-Know Changes for Your Estate Plan After the SECURE Act

Fifth Installment: The SECURE ACT: Important Estate Planning Considerations

Sixth Installment:

 

Disclosure: 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. Any information 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 financial professional to discuss the appropriateness of the strategies discussed.

Merriman INSIGHT – Using Qualified Charitable Distributions to Maximize Charitable Gifts

On December 18, 2015, the president signed into law the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act of 2015. One of the popular tax provisions in this bill was to permanently extend the ability for IRA owners to make qualified charitable distributions (QCD) from their IRA to a qualified charity of their choice. Prior to the PATH Act, this provision expired multiple times since its debut in 2006, only to be temporarily extended by Congress each time, often at the last minute or retroactively. This uncertainty made charitable planning more difficult, but now we finally have clarity!

For those who are charitably inclined, a QCD can really maximize the effectiveness of charitable gifts.

Here’s how it works

IRA owners who are 70½ or older and would otherwise have to satisfy a required minimum distribution from an IRA may donate any portion up to $100,000 of the required distribution directly to qualified charity. The IRA owner can exclude the amount of the QCD from his or her gross income (thereby reducing their adjusted gross income), but any donation made via a QCD is not eligible for a charitable deduction. From a tax perspective, an exclusion from income is preferable over a deduction from income — particularly for those who don’t meet the itemized deductions threshold in the first place.

As with many IRS provisions there are a number of fine print items to keep in mind.

  • You’re only eligible to make a QCD if you are 70½ or older.
  • Contributions can only be made to 501(c)(3) charities and 170(b)(1)(A) organizations.
  • Donor advised funds and private non-operating foundations are not eligible to receive QCDs.
  • The QCD must be made directly from your IRA to the desired charity, meaning the check issued from your IRA must be payable to the organization. If the check is made payable to you, then it counts as taxable income and will be considered a normal IRA distribution.
  • The QCD can be made from any IRA. SEP and SIMPLE IRAs are only eligible if they are not receiving employer contributions in the same year as the QCD is made. You cannot make the QCD from any employer retirement plans, such as a 401(k), 457 or 403(b), etc.
  • The QCD cannot be a split-interest gift, meaning 100% of the gift must go to a single charity and the gift cannot be shared with the donor or any other designee of the donor (for example, Charitable Remainder Trusts or Charitable Lead Trusts would not qualify). The donor cannot receive any economic benefit as part of the gift.

If you are interested in making a donation directly from your IRA to a charity, please reach out to your advisor to get started and make 2016 a year of giving!

Social Security Update – Couples Planning Just Got Tougher

In a previous Merriman Insight article, we wrote about the “free spousal” strategy for married couples. Shortly after that article was published, Congress passed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, which was signed into law on November 2nd.  The Budget Act contained many provisions affecting Social Security. One such provision effectively ended the ability to employ the “free spousal” strategy after the 180 day transition period from the Act’s enactment date.

Many recent articles have been written about the new law changes, so we won’t reinvent the wheel here. Instead, we’d recommend this article for a detailed discussion of the changes. The main highlights are:

  • The new rules are not retroactive; anyone currently employing a “file and suspend” or “restricted application” strategy will continue to be grandfathered under the old rules, as well as those who “file and suspend” by April 30, 2016 or who plan to use a “restricted application” and are at least 62 by the end of 2015
  • Survivor benefits and claiming strategies are unaffected by the new rules
  • “File and suspend” claims initiated after April 30, 2016 will now suspend all benefits based on the claimant’s earnings record (including spousal, ex-spouses, and dependent benefits)
  • “File and suspend” claims initiated after April 30, 2016 will no longer allow the claimant to reinstate their benefits back to the original suspension date and receive a lump sum payment
  • “Restricted applications” for spousal-only benefits will no longer be available to those who are not at least 62 by the end of 2015

If you believe the new rules will impact your situation, we recommend contacting your financial advisor to review your options.

Merriman INSIGHT – Add Thousands to Your Lifetime Social Security Benefit

Shortly after the article below was published, Congress passed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, which was signed into law on November 2nd. The Budget Act contained many provisions affecting Social Security. One such provision effectively ended the ability to employ the “free spousal” strategy after the 180 day transition period from the Act’s enactment date. Read the highlights of the new law changes here.

Couple discussing social security benefitsIn helping our clients make smart decisions with their money, we often spend a lot of time on the subject of Social Security. The rules are complex, but the decision of when and how to claim Social Security can have a big impact on the quality of life for most families. Thus, it’s a very important decision with long-term ramifications. The good news is your advisor can help you evaluate your options so you’re well positioned to make the best decision for your particular situation.

Evaluating all of the available claiming strategies for Social Security is beyond the scope of this article (and would bore most people to tears), so I’d like to focus on one particular strategy that I think has tremendous value: the “free spousal.” I’ll describe it using a real life example, although I rounded the numbers for simplicity.

“Henry” and “Wilma” are both 66. Henry is still working, and although he is qualified to claim Social Security benefits now, he decides to wait because they’re able to live comfortably on his salary alone. His benefits at age 66, which is full-retirement age (FRA) in this example, would be $2,700 per month, but delaying the benefits will earn him 8% more each year until age 70. By that time, his benefits would jump to around $3,600 per month.

Wilma is retired and has her own Social Security benefits. She’d receive $1,800 per month if she claims at FRA, but $2,400 if she waits until age 70. Since they don’t need the extra money right now, she also decides to wait.

Everything seems fine, right? They’ll receive their higher benefits at 70, which will maximize their monthly income for the rest of their lives. I’d wager that most people would be thrilled in this situation!

But they’re leaving free money on the table.

Henry should “file and suspend” his benefits at FRA. Then, Wilma should file a “restricted application” to claim her 50% spousal benefit against Henry’s earnings. By restricting her claim to just the spousal benefit, Wilma’s own benefits can continue to earn the delayed credits. At 70, they can both claim their own higher benefits, just like they had always planned to do. But by jumping through a few hoops, Wilma could receive a spousal benefit of $1,350 per month between ages 66 to 70 for free—that’s an extra $64,800 in their pockets over the four years—without impacting their original plan. Hence the term free spousal!

There are some important steps in this strategy that must be adhered to strictly. First, Henry must file and suspend his benefits before Wilma submits her application because Wilma cannot claim spousal benefits unless Henry has started his claim. The “suspend” part of this strategy allows Henry to continue earning the 8% per year delayed credits, even though he has now filed for benefits. Secondly, Wilma must clearly indicate that her claim is restricted only to the spousal benefit and not her own benefits based on her earnings history. Although she is entitled to both, she can only ever receive one at a time, and while her own benefits are higher than the spousal benefit ($1,800 at FRA instead of $1,350 for the spousal, in this example), if she elects to take her own now, she would lose out on the 8% annual increase.

If the strategy and steps above are a little confusing, that’s okay. The goal of this article isn’t to fully explain the free spousal strategy; instead, it illustrates one of the many planning opportunities your financial advisor can help you with that go beyond your investments. Maximizing your Social Security benefits can be complicated, but you have a wonderful resource at your disposal to help make this very important decision. We’re always available to help!

Social Security strategies for couples

iStock_000010373589SmallThere are countless articles online on strategies for maximizing your Social Security benefits. Married couples have far more options than singles, and the rules are complex. If you are married and eligible (or almost eligible) for Social Security, it is worth talking to a financial or tax professional to ensure you weigh all of your options. In the meantime, this article from Kiplinger provides a nice primer on two of those available strategies: File and Suspend and Restricting an Application. It’s worth a quick read so you can come prepared to speak intelligently with your advisor, and thereby maximize your probability of a successful outcome.