Pitfalls of Buffered and Levered ETFs to Achieve Your Financial Goals

Pitfalls of Buffered and Levered ETFs to Achieve Your Financial Goals

 

The marketplace for exchange-traded funds (ETFs) grows each day, and more and more different and innovative products are being created. One new type utilizes derivatives. A derivative is a financial object that derives its value from an underlying financial security. An example of this is what is called an option. An option is a contract between two parties that gives the buyer the choice to buy or sell a security at a predetermined fixed price. The original purpose for options was to balance risk in a concentrated portfolio. You could hedge a bet by securing a selling price or buying price of a stock. Nowadays, some ETFs are using derivatives for very different purposes, such as increasing their exposure (levered ETFs) or setting a buffer on the equity returns (defined-outcome ETFs). While these ETFs are innovative and flashy, it’s important to think about the ramifications of investing in such a product.

A levered ETF uses either derivatives or borrowed capital to increase exposure to the underlying assets (e.g., stocks). This increase is a double-edged sword. Not only are the ups larger but the downs are larger as well. In a portfolio, the increase in the drawdowns makes the leverage ineffective for increasing risk-adjusted returns, unless paired with volatility or drawdown-reducing strategies such as trend following. In March of 2020, the S&P 500 Index fell by -12.5%. For a theoretical 2x levered portfolio, the drawdown would have been -25%. An unlevered portfolio would need a return
of 14.3% to get back to breakeven. A 2x levered portfolio would need a return of 33.3% to get back to breakeven. Astute readers will notice that 33.3% is MORE than double 14.3%. This simple aspect of leverage is one of the many reasons it should be taken on with caution. Successful investing is often more about not losing than it is about winning.

These ETFs offer certain upsides and downsides. These upsides and downsides are calculated for the lifetime of these funds. Depending on when the investor buys into the fund, they could experience a very different return, including one outside of the promised range. This limitation can particularly be a problem if the market increased prior to the purchase, as the upside return at that point can be severely capped. The forward-looking return of these products decreases exponentially as the market increases.

Levered ETFs also suffer from underperformance compared to their benchmark. This drag comes from the imperfect way that leverage is acquired either through derivatives or borrowed capital. Out of 22 standard levered ETFs in the market today, every single one of them has underperformed their prospectus benchmark when the same amount of leverage was provided for the past five years. We believe this underperformance, when combined with the issue of large drawdowns, high tax costs due to inefficiency of derivatives, and high fees, makes these levered ETFs ill-advised as long-term investments.

Another new instrument that has captured the attention of many is the so-called “buffer ETF.” Buffer ETFs advertise guaranteed returns in a specific range. While these products offer a solution to specific problems, like the levered ETFs, we believe they are an ill-advised investment for long-term investors looking to grow their principal or provide income in retirement.

The biggest drawback of buffered ETFs is that investors pay too much for the downside protection that they receive.

The most widely held products advertise options for reducing annual downside risk by 9%, 15%, or 30%. In return, the investor relinquishes upside growth.

The plot below shows how the annual return distribution of a buffered approach compares to the return of the underlying index. The index is represented by the historical annual returns of the S&P 500 minus 0.05% which is an estimated cost for a low cost S&P 500 index fund. The buffered approach simulates applying a 9% reduction in downside risk and capping the upside at 15%. It is intended to be representative of the types of products currently on the market. It also includes a 0.75% reduction to simulate the fees associated with typical defined-outcome products.

 

 

The plot shows clearly that while the buffering provides some downside protection in large drawdown years, there have been very few of those historically. Let’s see how this affects an investor’s outcome in some real-life scenarios.

For the years 2017, 2018, and 2019, the S&P 500 has returned 22%, -4%, and 32%. A 13% buffer ETF would have reduced the cumulative 53% gain to an approximate 25% gain. When we apply this same methodology of a 15% top buffer and a -9% bottom buffer to the S&P 500 since 1928 (94 years) on an annual basis, we get a stark difference in returns. During the 94 years surveyed, the S&P 500 index minus an average index fund expense ratio (“Net S&P 500 Index”- see important disclosures regarding these calculations below) had an annualized return of 10.2%, while a the model for a rolling buffer ETF on the S&P 500 Index starting January 1st would have a return of 6.1%. To further illustrate this point, for example, start with $100,000 and invest it for 25 years, and at these annualized rates of return an investor may see the Net S&P 500 Index outperform the rolling buffer ETF model by $600,000. This underperformance can seriously affect the probability of successfully reaching one’s goals.

While an investor is buying drawdown protection by using a buffer ETF on a 5-year timescale since 1928 this has only yielded better returns 18% of the time as compared to utilizing alternative vehicles in seeking to protect against downside risk. Historically, a more efficient and higher return way of decreasing downside risk is using fixed income solutions such as treasury bonds. By way of an example utilizing the historical data described above, if an investor used 20% of the portfolio allocated to 5-year treasury bonds and the rest to the S&P 500 index model referenced above, the investor has reduced the historical possibility of underperformance to 13% and will maintain, pursuant to the historical data, a return that’s over 3% of the buffer ETF model. When done with multiple types of fixed income and alternative asset classes such as reinsurance or alternative lending the probability of underperformance continues to decrease. Do take note that the return and underperformance possibilities are based upon historical performance data and, therefore, future performance is in no way guaranteed and may be subject to wide variances due to unforeseen market, economic and other conditions. Peace of mind is something we all seek. In many cases, purchasing insurance to guard against risks one can’t control is an excellent choice. However, if the premium you pay is greater than the insurance you receive, it doesn’t make financial sense.

The bottom line for most of these derivative investments is that while they seem very attractive on the surface, once you look at the mechanics and nuances, they turn out to be ineffective at generating the solid risk-adjusted returns most investors need and want to meet their financial goals.

 

 

IMPORTANT DISCLOSURE AND DATA INFORMATION

The distribution graph 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. The information portrayed in these materials represents model performance and characteristics for the Merriman Model S&P 500 Index Fund or the Buffered S&P 500 and may not reflect the impact that material economic and market factors may have had on the adviser’s decision making. The make-up of any actual advisory program portfolio may differ as compared to the model portfolio provided herein, and is not meant to be representative of any one client or portfolio. In addition, the actual results of any of the adviser’s client portfolios may have been, or may be, materially different than the results of the hypothetical portfolio set forth herein. Market conditions, client restrictions, world events and any other macro variables may have a substantial impact on any of the adviser’s advisory program portfolios. The performance information does include the deduction of advisory fees and execution related fees, except custodial fees. To determine the Net S&P 500 Index, the average expense ratio used was determined by taking three of the largest and most liquid S&P 500 Index ETFs and averaging their fee. (IVV @ 0.04%, VOO @ 0.03%, and SPY @ 0.0945%) This averaged to 0.058% and then rounded down to 0.05% for ease of use and due to industry wide fee compression. The performance information does reflect the reinvestment of dividends and earnings. The information used for S&P 500 columns is based on historical index returns from 1928-2019. The information used for the “buffered” column is based on simulated data as described in the article. All data calculations are available upon request.

The information provided should not be considered a recommendation to purchase or sell any industry, sector or particular security. There is no assurance that any industry, sector or security discussed herein will remain in a client’s account at the time of reading this material or that any industry, sectors or securities sold have not been repurchased. The industries, sectors or securities discussed herein do not represent a client’s entire account and in the aggregate may only represent a small percentage of an account’s holdings. It should not be assumed that any of the securities, transactions or holdings discussed were, or will prove to be profitable, or that investment recommendations or decisions we make in the future will be profitable or will equal the investment performance of the securities discussed herein. All investing entails the risk of loss.

The S&P 500 index includes 500 leading companies in the US and is widely regarded as the best single gauge of large-cap US equities. Any reference to an index is included for illustrative purposes only, as an index is not a security in which an investment can be made. Indices are unmanaged vehicles that serve as market indicators and do not account for the deduction of management fees and/or transaction costs generally associated with investable products. The holdings and performance of Merriman client accounts may vary widely from those of the presented indices. 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.

What Women Need to Know When Working With a Financial Advisor | 5 Tips

What Women Need to Know When Working With a Financial Advisor | 5 Tips

 

I want to acknowledge that all women are wonderfully unique individuals and therefore these tips will not be applicable to all of us equally and may be very helpful to some men and nonbinary individuals. This is written in an effort to support women, not to exclude, generalize, or stereotype any group. 

 

I was recently reminded of a troubling statistic: Two-thirds of women do not trust their advisors. Having worked in the financial services industry for nearly two decades, this is unfortunately not surprising to me. But it is troubling, largely because it’s so preventable.

Whether you have a long-standing relationship with an advisor, are just starting to consider working with a financial planner, or are considering making a change, there are some simple tips all women should be aware of to improve this relationship and strengthen their financial futures.

 

Tip #1 – Work with an Advisor You Like

You may think this is obvious or that this shouldn’t matter. Unfortunately, it isn’t obvious to many people, and I would argue that it may be the most important factor. If you don’t like someone, you are unlikely to trust them; and if you don’t trust them, you are unlikely to take their advice, even when it’s advice you should be taking. You’re also more likely to cut your meetings short or avoid them altogether. Chatting with my clients is one of my favorite parts of my job, and it’s also when I usually find out about the important changes in their life that they might not even realize impact their financial plan. It’s an advisor’s job to identify the financial impacts of your life changes, and your advisor can’t help if they are not aware of the changes. The better your relationship with your advisor, the more likely you will keep them updated—and the more likely they can help you make smart financial decisions.

Take some time to consider what’s most important to you when building a trusting relationship, and don’t be afraid to ask an advisor about their personality traits or communication style. You may need someone who is approachable and compassionate, or it may be more important to you that they are straightforward and detailed. I’ve worked with enough advisors to know we come in every shape and size you can imagine, so don’t settle for someone who isn’t a good fit.

This chart can be an extremely helpful tool for identifying your preferred communication style(s). Once you’ve identified your preferred style, you should be able to easily tell whether your advisor is communicating effectively according to your personality. If they aren’t, send them the chart! Strong communication skills are essential in financial planning, so they should be able to adapt to fit your preferences.

Aside from communication style, it may be important to you that you work with an advisor who shares certain values that you hold dear. I recently met with some new clients who I could tell were not completely at ease even though I thought we had hit it off. They were squirming in their seats when they finally got up the courage to ask me about my political leanings. When they learned that we felt the same way, they were visibly relieved. It was important enough to them that I don’t think they could have had a trusting relationship without this information. If you feel this strongly about anything, ask about it when interviewing advisors.

If you find you are having a hard time getting to know your advisor, ask to go to lunch. Once you get away from the office and their financial charts, it will likely be easier to build a connection. You may even get a free lunch out of it!

 

Tip #2 – Tell Them What You Want

Studies have shown that women tend to be more goal-oriented than men. I have found it to be true that women are more likely to focus on goals like maintaining a certain lifestyle in retirement, sending children to college, or making sure the family is protected in the event of an emergency, while others may focus more on measuring investment performance.

At Merriman, we believe all investing and financial planning should be goal-oriented (hence our tagline: Invest Wisely, Live Fully), but many advisors still set goals that focus on earning a certain percentage each year. This can be especially difficult if your partner focuses on this type of measurement as well. Women (or any goal-oriented investor) can sometimes feel outnumbered or unsure of how to direct the conversation back to the bigger picture. You made 5%, but what does this mean for your financial plan? Can you still retire next year? The issue is not that you don’t understand performance or lack interest in market movements, whether or not this is true. The issue is that the conversation needs to be refocused on the things that matter to you. All of the truly excellent financial planners I have worked with have known this and do their best to help clients identify their goals, create a plan for obtaining them, and then track their progress. If you’re not experiencing this, it’s either time to look for a new advisor or to speak up and tell them what you want. Also, note that speaking up is more easily done when you work with an advisor you like (see tip #1).

 

Tip #3 – Know the Difference Between Risk Aware & Risk Averse

Countless studies have shown that women are not necessarily as risk averse as they were once thought to be. As a group, we just tend to be more risk aware than men are. Why does this matter? First of all, I think it’s important to be risk aware. If you aren’t aware of the risk, you can’t possibly make informed decisions. But by not understanding the difference, women sometimes incorrectly identify as conservative investors and then invest inappropriately for their goals and risk tolerance. Since most advisors are well-practiced in helping people identify their risk tolerance, this is an important conversation to have with your advisor. During these conversations, risk-aware people can sometimes focus on temporary monetary loss and lose sight of the other type of risk: not meeting goals. If you complete a simple risk-tolerance questionnaire (there are many versions available online), women may be more likely to answer questions conservatively simply because they are focusing on the potential downside. Here is an example of a common question:

The chart below shows the greatest 1-year loss and the highest 1-year gain on 3 different hypothetical investments of $10,000. Given the potential gain or loss in any 1 year, I would invest my money in …

Source: Vanguard           

A risk-aware, goal-oriented person is much more likely to select A because the question is not in terms they relate to. It focuses on the loss (and gain) in a 1-year period without providing any information about the performance over the period of time aligned with their goal or the probability of the investment helping them to achieve their goal. A risk-averse person is going to want to avoid risk no matter the situation. A risk-aware person needs to know that while the B portfolio might have lost $1,020 in a 1-year period, historically it has earned an average of 6% per year, is diversified and generally recovers from losses within 1–3 years, statistically has an 86% probability of outperforming portfolio A in a 10-year period, and is more likely to help them reach their specific goal.

A risk-aware person needs to be able to weigh the pros and cons so when presented with limited information, they are more likely to opt for the conservative choice. Know this about yourself and ask for more information before making a decision based on limiting risk.

 

Tip #4 – Ask Questions

Studies have shown that women tend to be more realistic about their own skill level. It’s not necessarily that we lack confidence—more that we lack overconfidence. I think that’s a good thing; however, it means women lacking financial expertise are more likely to feel self-conscious about asking a question that could be perceived as foolish. This can be particularly hard if there is a third party present (such as a spouse) who has a greater understanding, likes to use the lingo, and/or tends to monopolize the conversation. If necessary, don’t be shy about asking for a one-on-one meeting with your advisor so you have a chance to ask all the questions you want without someone interrupting you or changing the subject.

I would always prefer that someone ask questions rather than misunderstand, and it can be difficult to gauge a client’s level of understanding if they don’t ask questions. I have many highly-educated clients who have never had any interest in investing or financial planning, so it just isn’t their strong suit. There is nothing to be embarrassed about. I promise that an experienced advisor has heard any basic question you might ask a thousand times before. If an advisor is unhelpful or condescending when you ask a question, you should not be working with that person. There are plenty of advisors out there who are eager to share what they know with you. Sometimes the hard part can be getting us to stop talking once you’ve asked! And of course, being comfortable enough to ask questions is always easier if you like the person you are working with (see tip #1).

 

Tip #5 – Go to the Meetings

I haven’t seen any studies on whether or not women attend fewer meetings. However, if two-thirds of women don’t trust their advisors, I have to believe they aren’t eager to sit in a room with someone they don’t trust for an hour. I sometimes hear that one spouse “just isn’t interested in finances” so they don’t attend meetings. It’s perfectly fine to not be interested. My spouse isn’t! One thing I always find fascinating about working with couples is seeing all the different ways we decide to divide and conquer household tasks. Those lines are often logically drawn based on who has the most interest or the most time. However, even if you completely trust your spouse to handle the finances and you don’t have any interest, it’s important that you are part of the big picture conversations. You may not have any opinion on whether you invest in mutual fund XYZ, but you may have goals that aren’t even on your spouse’s radar or strong opinions about whether your entire portfolio is invested conservatively or aggressively. I find that when one spouse “just isn’t interested in finances,” it means that they attended meetings with other advisors in the past where the conversation wasn’t properly framed to address their goals, or they felt uncomfortable asking questions.

In addition to making sure your financial plan properly addresses your goals and takes your comfort level into account, it’s also important to build a relationship with your advisor so that if you do have questions, if you separate from your spouse, or if they pass away, you have someone you trust to turn to for help.

 

You may notice that all five of these tips are easier to follow when you follow tip #1—work with an advisor you like. There are many different considerations when hiring an advisor: Are they a fiduciary? Do they practice comprehensive planning? How are they compensated? What is their investment philosophy? They may check off all your other boxes, but if you don’t like them, you are unlikely to get all you need out of the relationship. If you’re looking for an advisor you’re compatible with, consider perusing our advisor bios.

 

 

Disclosure: 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, legal or accounting advice, and nothing contained in these materials should be relied upon as such.

Stimulus 2.0: What Is (and Isn’t) Included in Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA) of 2021

Stimulus 2.0: What Is (and Isn’t) Included in Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA) of 2021

 

On December 21, 2020, Congress passed the second round of major stimulus as a follow-up to the CARES Act passed earlier in March 2020. President Trump initially balked at signing the new legislation, citing that he wished to see a higher Recovery Rebate payment for families, but ultimately he signed the legislation as presented on December 27, 2020. While the CAA expanded on some of the relief provided in the earlier CARES Act, it was also notable for a few specific provisions it didn’t include.

Here are some highlights included in the bill:

Recovery Rebate: Qualified families are eligible for an additional advanced rebate of $600 per taxpayer and $600 for each qualified child (compared to $1,200 per taxpayer and $500 per child under the CARES Act). The income thresholds remain the same as under the CARES Act, with phaseouts beginning at $75,000 for Single or $150,000 for Married Filing Joint.

Extended Federal Unemployment Benefits: The earlier CARES Act authorized additional federal unemployment benefits to be paid on top of state unemployment benefits to help individuals affected by the pandemic. However, those federal benefits were set to expire in December 2020, but the CAA extended the benefit for another 11 weeks at a reduced rate of $300 per week (down from the original $600 per week). Employees as well as self-employed individuals remain eligible for the extended federal unemployment benefits.

Enhancements to Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Loans: The CAA provides significant relief to businesses impacted by the pandemic. In addition to expanding the list of qualified expenses eligible for loan use, the CAA opened the doors for businesses to obtain a second PPP loan. These loans may be forgiven if used to pay for qualified expenses such as wages, rents, utilities, and now certain operational expenditures, property damage due to vandalism, and worker protection expenditures. Also of note, the act specifically allows businesses to deduct expenses paid with PPP loan proceeds, even if the loan is later forgiven.

 

Equally notable are the provisions NOT addressed in this bill:

No Extension of the 2020 RMD Waiver: Taxpayers will need to resume their Required Minimum Distributions in 2021.

No Extension of Coronavirus-Related Distributions (CRD) into 2021: Last year, individuals affected by the coronavirus could access retirement accounts (IRAs, 401(k)s, etc.) for up to $100,000 without being subject to the 10% early distribution penalty if they were under age 59 ½. Furthermore, these distributions could be paid back within 3 years to “undo” the income. Unfortunately, the CAA did not extend this withdrawal provision into 2021, so be careful when accessing retirement accounts before age 59 ½.

No Further Student Loan Relief: Federally backed student loan payments had been suspended under the CARES Act and through executive order through January 31st, 2021, but the CAA did not further extend this relief.

 

President Biden has already indicated that a third round of stimulus will be needed, so we are likely to see more legislative changes this year. We will continue to stay on top of the changes impacting our clients, but please reach out to your advisor at any time if you would like to understand how these changes may impact you.

Disclosure: 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, legal or accounting advice, and nothing contained in these materials should be relied upon as such.

How to Report Your 2020 RMD Rollover on Your Tax Return

How to Report Your 2020 RMD Rollover on Your Tax Return

 

Following the stock market decline early in 2020, Congress passed the CARES Act on March 27, providing relief for individuals and businesses impacted by the pandemic. One of the provisions was a suspension of 2020 Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs). Individuals who hadn’t taken a distribution yet were no longer required to do so.

For individuals who took a distribution early in 2020, they were given the opportunity to “undo” part or all of that distribution by returning funds to their IRA by August 31, 2020.

 

Tax Forms for IRA Rollovers

Some taxpayers who took advantage of this rollover to undo that RMD may be surprised to get tax forms reporting the withdrawal.

Example 1: Kendra turned 75 in 2020 and had a $30,000 RMD at the start of the year. She took her distribution on February 1, 2020, with 10% tax withholding ($27,000 net distribution and $3,000 for taxes). She didn’t “need” the distribution as Social Security and other income covered her entire cost of living. Because she didn’t need the money, she returned the full $30,000 to her IRA on June 15, 2020.

In January 2021, Kendra was surprised to receive a Form 1099-R since she returned the entire amount and knew she shouldn’t owe taxes on it. The Form 1099-R reported a $30,000 distribution from her IRA in Box 1 and $3,000 in Box 4 for tax withholding. Box 7 reports code 7 for a “normal distribution.”

 

How to Report the 2020 Rollover

Since Kendra returned the entire $30,000 withdrawal listed on her tax return, it won’t be included in her taxable income. However, she will need to report both the withdrawal and the rollover on her tax return.

In her case, the full $30,000 will be reported on line 4a of Form 1040, with $0 reported on Line 4b. She will also write “Rollover” next to line 4b. In her case, the $3,000 that was withheld for taxes will still be reported with other tax withholding and will impact her ultimate refund or balance due.

How to Report a Partial Rollover

Example 2: Jane turned 76 in 2020. She also had a $30,000 distribution that she took on February 1, 2020, with 10% tax withholding ($27,000 net after $3,000 for taxes). On June 15, 2020, she returned $12,000 to her IRA instead of the full $30,000.

In January 2021, she received a 1099-R that also reported a $30,000 distribution from her IRA in Box 1 and $3,000 in Box 4 for tax withholding. Box 7 reports Code 7 for a “normal distribution.”

In Jane’s case, she will also report the full $30,000 on line 4a. She will report $18,000 on line 4b ($30,000 original distribution minus $12,000 returned to her IRA in 2020). She will also write “Rollover” next to line 4b. The $3,000 withheld for taxes will still be reported with other tax withholding as usual.

 

Form 5498

Taxpayers who returned some or all of their distribution in 2020 will receive Form 5498. They likely will not receive this form until May 2021—after the April 15 tax filing deadline. This form will be used to report the amount returned to the retirement account in 2020 and verify the rollover reported on the 2020 tax return. The taxpayer does not need to wait (and should not wait) for the Form 5498 before filing their taxes. This is simply an information form so the IRS can verify what was reported on the tax return.

 

Exception from the Usual Rule

It’s important to remember that all of these rollovers are a one-time exception in 2020 from the usual rule. Typically, this type of rollover can only be done once per rolling 365-day period and must be completed within 60 days of taking the withdrawal. Also, RMDs are generally specifically prohibited from this type of rollover.

 

Conclusion

Individuals who returned RMDs in 2020 to avoid having to include the withdrawal in their taxable income will still receive a tax form showing the distribution and will have to report it on their tax return. When reported correctly, the amount returned will be excluded from their income as intended.

 

 

 

 

Disclosure: 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, legal or accounting advice, and nothing contained in these materials should be relied upon as such.

 

Getting the Most From Your Health Savings Account (HSA)

Getting the Most From Your Health Savings Account (HSA)

 

Are you aware of the many planning aspects of HSAs? We’d like to share some of the more in-depth aspects with you here so you can get the most from your HSA. However, if you’re unfamiliar with HSAs or need a quick reminder about them and high-deductible health plans (HDHP), then we encourage you first to read our blog article: A New Perspective on Health Savings Accounts.

HSAs are more tax efficient than other retirement accounts.

HSA accounts are often referred to as “triple tax-exempt” because your contributions, earnings, and qualified withdrawals are not taxed. This triple tax-exempt nature of HSAs makes them more attractive than other retirement accounts that are only double tax-exempt, including 401(k)s, IRAs, and Roth IRAs.

 

Employee HSAs could be considered quadruple tax-exempt.

Additionally, if you’re an employee and make HSA contributions via payroll deduction, then you have an added benefit of avoiding FICA (Social Security and Medicare) and FUTA (unemployment) taxes on those contributions. Contributions to your 401(k) via payroll deductions don’t avoid these taxes.

 

Don’t use your HSA for current medical expenses and invest the funds.

In order to fully benefit from the triple or quadruple tax-exempt nature of an HSA, you’ll need to let the account grow. It’s important to leave your contributions in your HSA and to invest them for the most potential growth.

Note: This means you’ll need to pay for medical expenses out of pocket, which can get expensive when you have a high-deductible health plan (HDHP).

 

Save receipts for current medical expenses to reimburse yourself in the future.

There is no time limit for reimbursing yourself for qualified medical expenses, so you can reimburse yourself in the future—even 30 years from now—for expenses incurred today. You must keep records of these expenses, so it’s important to keep your receipts. You’ll have plenty of medical expenses in retirement, so saving receipts for small expenses may not be worth the effort. Consider saving receipts for larger current expenses.

Note: You can’t reimburse yourself for medical expenses incurred before the HSA account was established or for medical expenses deducted on Schedule A of your tax return as itemized deductions.

 

Maximize your catch-up contributions in a family HDHP.

You can make an annual $1,000 catch-up contribution to your HSA beginning at age 55. If you have a family HDHP or two separate HDHPs, then you can potentially make two catch-up contributions—one for each spouse who’s 55 or older if the catch-up contributions are made to each of their separate HSA accounts.

Note: Most family HDHPs are set up with one HSA account in the employee’s name. If the spouse doesn’t have their own HSA account, then they will need to open one in order to make their own catch-up contribution.

 

Contribute after you stop working and before you enroll in Medicare

Unlike an IRA or Roth IRA, you don’t need to have earned income to be able to contribute to your HSA. You can contribute to your HSA if you have an HDHP and haven’t yet enrolled in Medicare. If you retire before Medicare age, then you’ll need to either continue your coverage through your employer with COBRA or get individual coverage. If either of these coverages is an HDHP, then you can contribute to an HSA.

Note: You can’t contribute to an HSA once you enroll in Medicare because Medicare is not an HDHP. Enrollment in Medicare includes enrollment in any Medicare coverage—Parts A, B, C, D, or a Medigap plan.

 

Contribute tax-free funds from your IRA in a one-time rollover.

You can make a one-time rollover from your IRA to your HSA up to your contribution limit for the year. If you wait to perform this rollover until you’re age 55, you can rollover both the maximum annual contribution and your catch-up contribution. This rollover must be transferred directly from your IRA into your HSA in order to be tax-free.

Note: A good candidate for this rollover would be someone who has a large IRA and might already be looking for openings to convert some of their IRA to after-tax accounts, such as a Roth IRA.

 

Use your HSA to pay for certain insurance premiums.

You can use your HSA to pay for certain health insurance premiums that are considered qualified expenses, including long-term care insurance (subject to limits and restrictions), healthcare continuation such as COBRA, healthcare coverage while receiving unemployment benefits, and Medicare or other healthcare coverage at age 65. Premiums for a Medicare supplemental policy are not considered a qualified expense.

Note: The annual amount of qualified long-term care premiums is limited and based on your age, which ranges from $420 for those age 40 and younger to $5,270 for those age 71 and older. The long-term care policy must also meet certain requirements itself to be qualified.

 

Non-qualified withdrawals after age 65 aren’t penalized.

Withdrawals for qualified expenses for yourself, your spouse, and your dependents are not taxable and not subject to a penalty. Non-qualified withdrawals are subject to a 20% penalty and tax, but the 20% penalty no longer applies once you reach age 65. Non-qualified withdrawals after age 65 are taxable, making them comparable to IRA withdrawals. While you’ll lose the triple-tax exempt nature of an HSA, your contributions and growth were tax-free.

Note: If you must take taxable distributions and you aren’t yet 65, then consider distributing funds from an IRA before distributing funds from your HSA to avoid the 20% penalty. Keep in mind that there is a 10% penalty for IRA withdrawals prior to age 59 ½.

 

Qualified distributions for a deceased owner are non-taxable within one year of death.

If you pass away and your beneficiary is your spouse, then they can continue the HSA as their own. If the beneficiary is not your spouse, then the value of your HSA at the time of your death is distributed and deemed taxable income for them. However, your beneficiary can use the HSA to pay for your outstanding qualified expenses within one year of your death. Funds used for this purpose by a non-spouse beneficiary are excluded from the value of the account, thus lowering their taxable income.

Note: Discuss your outstanding qualified expenses with your beneficiary. They can only use the account to pay for your expenses after your death if they have the necessary information and records.

 

Getting the most out of your HSA can be difficult, especially while trying to do so over a long period of time. It’s important to integrate HSA planning into your overall financial goals and retirement plan. As financial advisors, we love to help our clients accomplish these things, so please reach out to us if you have any questions. We’re here to help!

 

 

Disclosure: 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, legal or accounting advice, and nothing contained in these materials should be relied upon as such.

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.