Why Unrealized Gains/Losses Isn’t the Best Way to Look at Performance

When trying to figure out your own performance, it’s common to look at your unrealized gain and loss first on your statement (Charles Schwab, Fidelity, TD Ameritrade). The problem with trying to evaluate performance based upon the gain and loss column alone is that it doesn’t reflect your total return and the impact of rebalancing.

Rebalancing entails selling assets that have grown beyond your target and buying assets that have fallen below your target, meaning, selling overvalued securities to buy undervalued securities. When rebalancing occurs, the assets sold likely had a large unrealized gain. Once sold, that gain is wiped out and the proceeds are re-invested in an asset that may show an unrealized loss or a much smaller gain. Rebalancing helps avoid your portfolio drifting too far from your target allocation of stocks, bonds and specialized investments to reduce your risk if the stock market were to decline. Furthermore, rebalancing takes advantage of the shift over time in which assets are in or out of favor.

Total return takes into consideration changes in the price of the asset (unrealized gain/loss), dividends, interest and capital gains distributions received. For many investments, such as more income focused mutual funds, most of the return comes from the components of total return that are not reflected in the unrealized gain or loss column on the statement. Below is the formula to calculate total return. (more…)

How to report a backdoor Roth IRA contribution on your taxes

In practice, the process of making a backdoor Roth IRA contribution is straightforward, but the documentation and reporting at tax time may be confusing. Whether you work with a professional tax preparer, use tax software such as TurboTax or complete your taxes by hand, understanding the mechanics of the money movements can help ensure you file your taxes correctly.

Let’s say you make a contribution to your Traditional IRA. If your income is too high to qualify for a deduction for the IRA contribution, the contribution is considered non-deductible. Your advisor doesn’t let the custodian (such as Charles Schwab, Fidelity or TD Ameritrade) know whether the contribution is deductible – you report it at tax time on IRS form 8606, Nondeductible IRAs. You use the form to keep track of basis in your Traditional IRA, and basis in this sense means after-tax contributions, to make sure you don’t pay tax on those exact dollars twice.

After you make the non-deductible IRA contribution, it’s converted, i.e., transferred from your Traditional IRA to your Roth IRA account. From that point on, those dollars are now Roth IRA assets and aren’t subject to future tax on earnings. If the conversion is never made, you’ll have basis, i.e., after-tax contributions in your Traditional IRA that you’ll need IRS form 8606 to keep track of. This ensures you aren’t subject to income taxes on withdrawals of that basis in the future, such as in retirement.

Around tax-time, you’ll receive a 1099-R from your custodian showing the distribution from your Traditional IRA that was converted to your Roth IRA the previous year. After tax time, closer to May, you’ll receive an information reporting Form 5498 that shows the contribution you made to the Traditional IRA, and the amount that was converted to Roth IRA for purposes of reconciliation and recordkeeping.

Let’s walk through the reporting process for a backdoor Roth IRA. (more…)

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

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

For those who gave part or all of their required minimum distribution directly to charity through making a qualified charitable distribution (QCD), 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 in your taxable income on your tax return. It’s important to keep a record of any QCDs made during the year and hold on to the receipts or letters that you receive from the charities confirming receipt of the 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 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.

You should put the information from the 1099-R on the first page of your tax return (Form 1040) on line 15a and 15b (shown below). In the example, 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 your taxable income. If you have the option, write “QCD” to the left of box 15b on your tax return. You 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 64 (page 2) of your tax return.

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

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

The Ins and Outs of Deferred Compensation Plans

If your income is greater than $400,000 a year, does making a $18,000 deferral to your company’s 401(k) retirement plan do much toward replacing your income in retirement? This less than 5% of income deferral to your retirement plan would leave you significantly underfunded to maintain your lifestyle in retirement. While you can save elsewhere through non-retirement accounts, your company may permit you to postpone receiving income through a Section 409A deferred compensation plan.

There are no IRS limits on how much compensation can be deferred; however, your company’s plan may have a limit. You could defer a bonus, incentive, or part of your salary in the present year and receive that, plus the potential for earnings on its investments, in future stated years. To do this, you must make an irrevocable election to defer compensation prior to the year in which you expect the compensation to be earned. If you’re in the top tax bracket (39.6% in 2017), this can allow you to defer income now and receive it at a later date (such as when you retire) in a lump sum or a series of payments when you expect to be in a lower tax bracket.

The major requirement to receive this deferral status is that your funds are subject to substantial risk of forfeiture. Unlike 401(k), 403(b), and 457(b) accounts where your plan’s assets are qualified, segregated from company assets, and all employee contributions are 100% yours, a Section 409A deferred compensation plan is nonqualified, and your assets are tied to the company’s general assets. If the company fails, your assets are subject to forfeiture, as creditors would have priority. Only through accepting this risk does the IRS permit unlimited contributions to this plan. If your employer doesn’t include this deferred compensation as part of the company’s general assets, making them subject to forfeiture, the deferred compensation becomes taxable immediately, plus a 20% penalty and interest. A potential reason for this requirement of substantial risk of forfeiture is to incentivize executives and business owners to maintain the health of the company, and to ensure they don’t inappropriately withdraw too much of its resources, and then try to leave. (more…)

The Benefits of Consolidating Dormant Retirement Plans

Like most people, you’ve probably switched jobs at some point in your career. If you’ve done this a few times, you may have several outstanding retirement plans, like a 401(k), 403(b), etc. In the flurry of paperwork between leaving your former employer and starting a new job, you should have been given the option to either leave the retirement plan as-is (default), transfer it to an individual retirement account (IRA), move it to your existing employer retirement plan or cash it out. If these plans aren’t consolidated after each job change, whether to an outside rollover IRA (or Roth IRA if you made after-tax contributions), or to your current employer retirement plan, they can start to accumulate and become more of a frustration later to deal with.

Consolidating your retirement plans has several benefits:

Investments align with the asset allocation your financial plan recommends 

When you enroll in a new employer’s retirement plan, they ask how you’d like to invest the proceeds. You may not have even made a choice and were put into the default investment option. In the past, the default option was the stable value or money market fund, which is not designed to help you grow your assets; instead, it preserves the value with minimal interest. Nowadays, the default options are target date retirement funds that at least have a more diversified breakdown of assets between stocks and bonds.

Importantly, your financial plan may require that your investments be more aggressive (stocks) or conservative (bonds) than how your dormant retirement account is invested. Regardless of the account’s size, you want all of your investments functioning in a cohesive manner, as that investment allocation will drive the long-term returns necessary to achieve your financial goals. (more…)

Affordable Care Act – the Subsidies

Due to the 2016 presidential election, parts of the Affordable Care Act described below may change. The current rules will likely stay in place through 2017. We’ll provide updates as they occur.

When an employer provides health insurance, you receive tax advantages that you don’t get when purchasing health insurance on your own. All the premium costs – whether paid by the employer or employee – are excluded from taxable income (both income tax and FICA taxes).

By contrast, individual health insurance you purchase on your own is paid for with after-tax dollars. These payments don’t receive the same tax advantages, so purchasing $1 of health insurance on your own is more expensive than purchasing $1 of health insurance through your employer plan

To address this, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) created a tax credit for individuals who purchase health insurance through the ACA marketplace. The credit is available to taxpayers earning up to 400% of the poverty level in the current year. For a household of two, that limit is $64,080 in 2017. A taxpayer’s income for this calculation is adjusted gross income (AGI), plus tax-exempt interest and any Social Security that was excluded from taxable income. So a married couple with no kids who earn $50,000 in 2017 would qualify for a tax credit if they had to purchase their own health insurance.

Because tax credits aren’t calculated until the end of the year, you have to pay your health insurance premiums all year in order to get money back when you file your taxes after the end of the year. This is where subsidies come in. (more…)