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!

Start the New Year Right – Financial Mistakes to Avoid in 2021

Start the New Year Right – Financial Mistakes to Avoid in 2021

 

In a recent National Association for Business Economics survey, 72% of respondents expect a recession to hit our country by the end of 2021. The last major recession, from December 2007 to June 2009, brought with it a huge dive in the stock market.

While no one knows when the next recession will occur, you need to learn what not to do so that you can make yourself financially stable. With that in mind, Business Insider reached out to experts to analyze the mistakes which hurt you and to offer ideas for avoiding them. Here are some of the top mistakes along with some additional tips to make sure you’re prepared for anything!

 

Avoid excessive spending

People think that they earn in order to spend. But in reality, money has four jobs: spending, saving, investing, and donating.

Spending is one factor of money management. Most people make mistakes by spending excessively. They spend more and thus get into serious debt.

When you pick up that extra cheese pizza, stop for a latte, eat out, or pay for a movie, your spending seems small. However, it adds up to a larger amount once you consider how much you spend on these small items in a year.

If you’re enduring financial hardship, you need to monitor your expenses closely.

 

Not having a detailed idea of all expenses

Having only a rough idea of where your money goes can land you in a difficult situation. As the saying goes, you can’t manage what you don’t measure. When asked how much you will spend this month, a quick answer would no doubt include a few bills and other expenses. But when you start going through your bank and credit card bills, you will be surprised to see where a substantial amount of your paycheck is going. So, in order to avoid these errors, it is mandatory that you detail all these individual expenses, and there are many good tools to help with budgeting.

 

Living on borrowed money

Excessively borrowing or spending on credit is not financially healthy. Using a credit card for day-to-day purchases or for the airline miles or rewards programs is normal. But if you’re paying interest on gas, groceries, and other items, then you’re making a big mistake. Credit card interest rates make the price of the items a bit expensive. Purchasing on credit also has the tendency to allow you to lose track of exactly what you are spending, often resulting in spending more than you earn.

If you use credit cards to make purchases, make sure to repay the entire bill at the end of every billing cycle.

 

Making minimum payments on credit card debt

Paying extra on credit card debt is certainly better than paying the minimum amount. You can repay your debt faster by putting extra money toward the debt with the

highest interest rate and making just the minimum payments on the rest. As one balance is paid off, shift those payments toward the next card with the highest rate and so on until you’re debt-free.

 

Paying bills late

Paying bills late means extra money goes out of the pocket. Many people forget the due dates of bill payments. To avoid this, automatic bill payment is a great solution. In addition, you can use your phone’s calendar alert and easy-to-use apps to send you text alerts when bills are due.

 

Halting on regular savings and investing

The stock market was volatile in 2020. Many investors panicked as their investment portfolio temporarily went off track due to a sudden fall in the stock prices. The only way to deal with this is to reset your investment portfolio.

Watching the market drop doesn’t mean you should stop investing—in fact, you get the benefit from stocks being cheaper than they previously were.

Make a financial plan, choose an investment strategy that’s appropriate for your needs, and stick to the plan unless there’s a major change in your financial life.

 

Stopping retirement contributions

If you or your spouse lose your job when unexpected expenses arise, you might consider stopping your contributions to your retirement savings to cope with increased financial demand. However, once the situation comes under control, do not neglect your retirement fund.

 

Spending more to maintain a lifestyle

A sudden rise in your income can entice you to improve your lifestyle. Resisting this temptation is the smartest thing you can do, particularly if you have a large goal like buying a house, good education for the kids, etc.

You can splurge a bit but don’t spend beyond your budget. Rather, focus on saving the amount you need to attain a financial goal.

 

Using home equity like a piggy bank

Having a shelter over your head is the most essential thing. Your home is your palace. Taking out a loan from it gives the authority over your house to someone else. So, if you can’t repay the amount, you can lose your home. Think twice before doing so.

 

Spending too much on the house

Dreaming of a big house is good, but it is not a necessity. If you have a big family, you may need a larger house, but to go for a luxury home is something that hampers your spending. Choosing a more expensive or luxury home will only mean more taxes, maintenance, and utilities. After knowing this, do you still want to take a chance for a long-term dent in your budget?

 

Having the wrong life insurance policy

Life insurance is important if you have dependents. A general rule of thumb is to have term insurance equal to ten times your salary. Work with an insurance agent you trust, one who’s not going to try and sell you a more expensive policy than you need.

Gather knowledge and purchase a policy that fulfills the needed requirement.

 

Not having an emergency fund

You should set aside extra funds for emergencies. They can happen to anyone at any time. Unforeseen circumstances like a job loss, car repair bill, illness, etc., should be planned for as much as possible. An emergency fund can protect you from crippling debts. A good rule of thumb is to have at least 3 to 6 months of your spending set aside in an emergency fund.

Avoiding the mistakes and following the strategies shared above can help you have a healthier financial life in 2021.

 

 

Written by: Phil Bradford | Exclusively for Merriman.com

 Author Bio: Phil Bradford is a financial content writer and an enthusiast. He is not employed or associated with Merriman. He has expert knowledge about personal finance issues and he is a regular contributor to Debt Consolidation Care. His passion for helping people who are stuck in financial problems has earned him recognition and honor in the industry. Besides writing, he loves to travel and read books.

 

What Women Need to Know About Working with Financial Advisors | Tip #4

What Women Need to Know About Working with Financial Advisors | Tip #4

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 #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).

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.

Be sure to read our previous and upcoming blog posts for additional tips to help women get the most out of working with a financial advisor.

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.

 

What Women Need Know About Working with Financial Advisors | Tip #3

What Women Need Know About Working with Financial Advisors | Tip #3

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 #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.

Having a conversation about your risk tolerance, the level of risk needed to meet your goals, and asking for more information is always easier 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.

Be sure to read our previous and upcoming blog posts for additional tips to help women get the most out of working with a financial advisor.

How Kids, Teens, and Parents Can Be Financially Smart—Together!

How Kids, Teens, and Parents Can Be Financially Smart—Together!

 

Why is it that when the words “children” and “finances” are mentioned in the same sentence, parents brace themselves like they are about to hear the punchline to a really bad joke? Well, it may be because children and finances are often characterized as two major topics that can cause stress and frustration.

This stress and frustration may be a roadblock, preventing parents from having an open dialogue about finances. Being a financially smart family is so important.

We want to tear down that roadblock and give you a road map to help you, your teens, and even young children develop great financial habits. When every member of your family understands basic finances and sets financial goals together, everyone feels more financially confident and accomplished.

Even doing something simple like money saving DIY activities together teaches them that saving can be fun and satisfying.

An American Psychological Association survey questioned parents on their relationship with their children and finances. The results revealed that only 37% talk often with their family members about the subject of finances.

Why is it that the vast majority of parents don’t talk about finances with their kids? Maybe most don’t know at what age to begin. Maybe they don’t know what to say. Or maybe they think talking about finances as a family isn’t important

Whatever the reason, you may find yourself as a parent in one of these three categories, needing an extra push to establish some basic familial financial habits. For you and all your children, let’s take a look at some ways to help everyone under the same roof get a better handle on the family finances without feeling the need to be an accounting professional.

 

Financial Tips for Young Kids: Show How Far Their Dollars Go

Do you often find yourself with your kids at the store having to say “no” to the many toys and candy bars that they have pulled off the shelf? Maybe you want to reward your kids with a little something, but they don’t always understand why that $40 limited edition Lego set may not be in the budget.

That’s because they are used to you being the gatekeeper of their spending. Instead, teach them how to be the gatekeeper of their own spending by giving them a bit of financial freedom under your supervision.

Financial freedom for an elementary- or middle-school-aged child should be exercised through simple, intentional actions. It can be as simple as giving them a small amount of money with the intention of letting them have the final say in how they spend it.

This simple action encourages thoughtfulness and awareness about the cost of something they want, which helps them feel a sense of financial freedom while still under your supervision.

Example: Say you want to reward your child by giving them $5 to spend at the store however they would like. Point them over to the dollar section or by the checkout, making note of the price tags that are displayed. Weigh the options of getting several small things versus one larger item.

They will feel empowered by the challenge of seeing how far their dollar can stretch. This sort of freedom helps them develop the habit of thoughtful spending, and it keeps Mom and Dad from always having to say, “No!”

Practical Goal: Take your child to a store of their choosing at the end of the week (if they’ve earned it) and give them a set amount of cash to spend however they would like. Help them weigh their options and select something that they are happy about.

 

Financial Tips for Teenagers: Responsibility Comes with Freedom

It’s time to make the pivot from the gatekeeper of all of your teenager’s expenses to a partner in their expenses. Teens are now at that stage of life where they are capable of earning a bit of income, and they need some extra help learning how to manage it.

Whether you and your spouse decide to give them a bit of weekly allowance or encourage a summer job, teens are entering the arena of earnings and need help with spending. It is important to establish basic habits now to help them feel confident in their spending habits in the future.

One of the most valuable skills that can help teens feel more confident with their money is helping them develop financial observational skills. This includes being aware of how much things cost, keeping track of where their money goes, and planning on how to save towards something they want.

This sounds basic, but these observational skills can help them become more thoughtful in their spending. The simple act of slowing down and thinking about how they should use their money will instill confidence and prevent impulsiveness.

Plus, you’ll be able to set financial boundaries with your teens while still giving them freedom to do what they want with their money.

Here is a list of different things you could do to help your teens become more financially observant and responsible.

#1 – Create a Savings Plan for Something Expensive

If your teen has their heart set on buying a more expensive item, brainstorm ways to make it happen. Help them make a savings plan or even suggest splitting the cost with you. Remember, you are their partner; you are there to encourage them, not control them.

#2 – Think of Their Money as a Budget, Not a Limit

Each week, take a few minutes at dinner to ask your teen about what they’ve spent that week. This will help them start thinking of money as a budget, not a limit. Ask them if they were happy with how they spent their money or if they wish they had used their money in a different way. All answers are great for learning.

#3 – Start Off with an Allowance at First

If your teen does not yet have any sort of income, consider giving them an allowance each month—an allowance that is contingent on something that you and your teen decide together. There is a sense of satisfaction that comes from earning money and choosing how to spend it that teens should begin to experience.

Practical Goal: Read these three examples together with your teen. Talk through how these examples can establish good spending habits, then select at least one of the examples to implement in the following week together.

 

Financial Tips for Parents: Take Charge of Your Finances and Give Wisdom

As parents, you and your spouse are in charge of leading financial conversations. Including your children in certain financial decisions can help you and your children be on the same page when it comes to money.

It’s not necessary for them to be aware of all financial decisions between you and your spouse. Kids and teens won’t understand high level concepts yet, but you can help your kids be more conscious of money when they have a say in casual, familial financial decisions.

A familial financial decision could be something like comparison shopping for family car insurance plans, but think of ways to involve the kids in that process that is appropriate for their level.

The first step to create an open dialogue with your children is to help them understand how their financial actions make a difference. When your kids feel like their voices are being heard and taken seriously, they will be more likely to actually want to talk about financial matters.

Just talking about how to spend your Saturday night together, weighing options and assessing price points of different activities, can help them better understand why sometimes the decision to do something is “no” and other times “yes.” Familial financial unity begins with frequent, honest discussions.

Example: Let’s say that you and your family decide to save up for a family vacation. Each member of the family decides how they are going to help contribute to this family goal.

Your youngest one may choose to eat at home instead of getting that after-school Happy Meal. Your teenager may volunteer to babysit the younger kids longer once a week so that a parent can get a few more hours in at their part-time job.

The parents can include a vacation savings allotment in the family budget as a way to slowly work up to the goal. With everyone playing a part in the goal, each family member can feel like they are contributing to the vacation.

Goal: Pick a family activity that appeals to everyone, figure out the estimated cost, then list out ways that everyone would be capable of contributing. Each week, check in on everyone’s progress to see how close you and your family are to that specific goal.

Now call your family together and set your goals in motion!

 

Written exclusively for Merriman.com by Madison Smith 

Madison Smith is a personal and home finance expert at BestCompany.com. She works to help others make positive financial strides in their lives by providing expert insight on anything from credit card debt to home-buying tips.