Overcoming Financial Fears

Overcoming Financial Fears

 

Early in my career, I had several instances of folks canceling their appointments with me last minute. Some were for emergencies with work or family, and some were for reasons such as “not being prepared to meet” or “not sure this is the avenue I want to take” or, in rare cases, saying nothing at all. It was easy to take that personally, but over the years I have come to realize that such cancelations or procrastination in general when meeting with a professional financial planner is often driven by fear.

Let me give you some context. When someone has a financial problem today, they often will hit the internet—Google, YouTube, a blogger whom they follow for answers. When answers are harder to come by, they might call a trusted friend or family member and ask for help. Getting even to this point takes time; the question may be put back on the shelf for another day. But let’s assume it is a big issue, like buying a new home and figuring out how to finance two homes for a time. This person will need answers, soon, and a professional advisor to help. From here, they may ask for a referral or hit up Google again for folks to call—but then it comes the call, scheduling, and SHOWING UP to the appointment. They have gone through five or more steps just to get to appointment day, and now they are ready to cancel.

Why? We live in a world where finances are not often discussed, even amongst our closest family. We have been taught that you don’t discuss it, and then we are bombarded for years with the Joneses’ owning the next big, expensive item. Facebook and Instagram have shown us the best of other people’s lives; and by comparison, we feel inadequate, even if our financial road has been relatively free of detours. This feeling can make it difficult to approach a professional and lay out our financial truth. But I am here to say that it doesn’t have to be.

As an advisor, I pride myself on being neutral. Your financial life up to today is what it is, and we cannot change those facts. If you have debt, feel like you should have saved more, are late to the game, or have gotten this far by sheer luck, it does not matter. In fact, it does not change who you are as a person. If you are asking for guidance, any great advisor will take the time to educate you on what they feel is best for your situation and will strive to make you feel at ease.

As you are searching for an advisor, look for someone who you feel you can trust. Meet with several if the first one isn’t right. In fact, check out our blog posts on what to look for in an advisor and the 10 reasons why clients hire us. Everyone has something in their financial past that they are not proud of, and airing that to a stranger can feel scary; but I promise that we are not the “financial confessional” I once had someone mention to me. We are here to help and would love to meet 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 Do Incentive Stock Options (ISOs) Impact Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)?

How Do Incentive Stock Options (ISOs) Impact Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)?

 

One of the most common areas where we see clients introduced to Alternative Minimum Tax is when Incentive Stock Options (ISOs) enter the financial picture.  To learn more about AMT and how it is calculated, so you can avoid a shock, check our blog post from last week.

ISOs can be a tremendous benefit to creating wealth, but they are often misunderstood and can pack a large surprise if not appropriately planned for.  Here are a few key terms to get us started:

  • Grant Date/Amount– Original date and number of shares awarded
  • Vesting Date– The date at which you are allowed to exercise your options
  • Exercise Price– Price paid for options, usually discounted from the current share price.
  • Bargain Element– Difference between exercise price and fair market value (FMV); drives potential AMT liability

ISO preferential tax treatment is attained when the shares are sold one year after exercise and two years after grant. When this criterion is met, the gains upon the sale will be considered long-term capital gains, as opposed to short-term gains which are taxed at current income rates.

 

Qualifying vs Disqualifying Disposition:

 

Qualifying Disposition
  • Exercise and sell one year after exercise and two years after grant – AMT liability in the year you exercise, and gains are considered long-term capital gains
  • Exercise and hold – AMT liability in the year you exercise but no additional immediate tax liability because the shares have yet to be sold

 

Disqualifying Disposition:
  • Exercise and sell within one calendar year – no AMT liability and gains are taxed as regular income
  • Exercise and sell within 12 months, across two calendar years – AMT liability in the year you exercise, and gains are taxed as regular income
  • Exercise and sell more than one year from exercise but less than two years from grant – AMT liability in the year you exercise, and gains are split between regular income rates for the bargain element and capital gains depending on holding period

 

The AMT tax liability mentioned in the scenarios above is determined based on the difference between the exercise price and the fair market value (FMV) of the shares on the date of exercise. AMT may result in a larger tax bill than a typical year without exercising options and thus will directly affect your household’s cash flow.  The good news is that when you end up paying AMT related exercising ISOs, you will likely receive an AMT tax credit, which can be used to offset your federal income tax bill in future years.  This is a great reason why involving a CPA to help keep track of all the moving pieces is highly recommended.

The 83(b) Election is an alternative approach to divesting company stock. If your company allows, you have 30 days from the grant date to notify the IRS and your company of the 83(b) election. This involves paying tax on the exercise price from the grant at regular income rates; there would be no AMT implication and depending on when you sell the shares, you would later realize short- or long-term capital gains. For shares which you expect to increase in value, this can provide a fantastic tax break. This is however considered a risky approach because the shares could lose value and you would have overpaid on taxes by making this election.

Please reach out to us if you would like to work through your specific situation.

 

 

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. 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 unless a client service agreement is in place.

 

How Do I Correct Excess Roth IRA Contributions?

How Do I Correct Excess Roth IRA Contributions?

 

Co-written by: Scott Christensen & Katherine Li

 

Contributing to a Roth IRA is a great way to receive tax benefits for retirement savers. If you already do or are planning to take advantage of this tax savings vehicle, it is important to familiarize yourself with the rules that govern these accounts. The IRS has put in place strict limits regarding the amount that individuals can contribute to their Roth IRAs, as well as income limits for determining who qualifies.

 

If you are a single tax filer, you must have Modified Adjusted Growth Income (MAGI) under $140,000 in order to contribute to your Roth IRA. The amount you can contribute to your Roth IRA begins to phase out starting at a MAGI of $125,000; if your MAGI is greater than $140,000, you can no longer contribute to the Roth IRA. For those who file as married filing jointly, your MAGI must be under $208,000 in order to contribute. The phaseout range in this case applies to those with a MAGI between $198,000 and $208,000. The maximum IRA contribution in either case is $6,000 for those under 50 and $7,000 for those 50 and older.

 

As a result of these strict limits, it is easy for taxpayers to overcontribute. So what happens when taxpayers contribute in excess of their contribution limit?

 

For every year that your excess contribution goes uncorrected, you must pay a 6% excise tax on the excess contribution. In order to avoid the 6% tax penalty, you must remove the excess contributions in addition to any earnings or losses on that excess contribution by the tax filing deadline in April. To determine your earnings on your excess contribution, you can use the net attributable income (NIA) formula.

 

Net income = Excess contribution x (Adjusted closing balance – Adjusted opening balance) / Adjusted opening balance

 

Note: If you find that you have losses on your excess contribution, you can subtract that loss from the amount of your excess contribution that you have to withdraw.

 

Reasons for Overcontribution

 

  • You’ve contributed more than the annual amount allowed.
    • Remember that the $6,000 and $7,000 dollar maximum applies to the combined total that you can contribute to your Traditional and Roth IRAs.
  • You’ve contributed more than your earned income.
  • Your income was too high to contribute to a Roth IRA.
    • Unfortunately, single tax filers who make $140,000 or more and those who are married filing jointly who make $208,000 or more are unable to contribute to a Roth IRA.
  • Required minimum distributions (RMDs) are rolled over.
    • RMDs cannot be rolled over to a Roth IRA.
      • If it is rolled over to a Roth IRA, the amount will be treated as an excess contribution.

 

Removal of Excess Prior to Tax Filing Deadline

 

If you find that you have overcontributed prior to filing your tax return and prior to the tax filing deadline, you can remove your excess contributions before the tax filing deadline (typically April 15) and avoid the 6% excise tax. However, your earnings from your excess contribution will be taxed as ordinary income. Additionally, those who are under 59 and a half will have to pay a 10% tax for early withdrawal on earnings from excess contributions.

  • Keep in mind that it is your earnings that are subject to an ordinary income and early withdrawal tax, not the amount of your excess contribution.

 

If you find that you have overcontributed after filing your tax return, you can still avoid the 6% excise tax if you are able to remove your excess contribution and earnings and file an amended tax return by the October extended deadline (typically October 15). 

 

Recharacterization 

 

Recharacterization involves transferring your excess contribution and any earnings from your Roth IRA to a Traditional IRA. In order to avoid the 6% excise tax, you would have to complete this transfer process within the same tax year. It is also important to note that you can’t contribute more than your total allowable maximum contribution. Thus, you must make sure that you can still contribute more to your Traditional IRA prior to proceeding with recharacterization.

 

Apply the Excess Contribution to Next Year

 

You can offset your excess contribution by lowering the amount of your contribution the following year by the excess amount. For example, say that you contributed $7,000 to your Roth IRA when the maximum amount that you could contribute was $6,000. The next year, you can offset this excess amount of $1,000 by limiting your contribution to $5,000. You are, however, still subject to the 6% excise tax due to the fact that you were unable to correct the excess amount by the tax filing deadline, but you won’t have to deal with withdrawals. 

 

Withdraw the Excess the Next Year

 

If you choose to withdraw the excess the following year, you will only have to remove the amount of your excess contribution, not any earnings. However, you will be subject to a 6% excise tax for each year that your excess remains in the IRA.

 

These rules can be confusing to navigate which is why we recommend involving your tax accountant or trusted advisor in these situations. We are happy to connect you with a Merriman advisor to discuss your situation.

 

 

Sources:

https://www08.wellsfargomedia.com/assets/pdf/personal/goals-retirement/taxes-and-retirement-planning/correct-excess-IRA-contributions.pdf

https://www.nerdwallet.com/article/investing/excess-contribution-to-ira

https://investor.vanguard.com/ira/excess-contribution

https://www.fool.com/retirement/plans/roth-ira/excess-contribution/

 

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. 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 unless a client service agreement is in place.

 

Buying a Car: Does It Make Sense to Use Rideshare Instead?

Buying a Car: Does It Make Sense to Use Rideshare Instead?

 

The decision to buy a car today is different than it was a decade ago because of today’s rideshare options. If you’re in the market for a new car, there’s more to think about than shopping for the lowest price or best interest rate. Have you compared the cost of your car to the cost of using rideshare options? We have, and we’d like to share our thoughts.

Cost. Let’s compare some estimated costs of buying a car or using rideshare:

Using rideshare may cost about $7,500 less over a 10-year period—which is not a trivial amount. Keep in mind, this excludes other expenses people often pay when owning a car, such as parking fees or toll fares. For many people, owning a car is probably more expensive than our estimate. However, we’ve kept things simple here, so our cost estimates may differ from your actual costs for both owning a car and using rideshare. In addition to cost, there are other factors to consider.

Lifestyle. Your lifestyle probably also plays a part in your decision to own a car or use rideshare. Let’s meet two different couples who said just that and examine some aspects of their lifestyles:

Judy and Joe are both 35, have two kids ages 8 and 10, and a dog. They live in a house and have two cars parked in their garage.

Kim and Kyle are both 32, don’t have kids, and have two cats. They live in a condo and have two cars, which they both pay to park in their building’s garage.

Location. Location determines a big part of our lifestyles. If you live in a metropolitan area, you’ve probably spent a lot of time considering where you live, where you work, and what your commute is like. Wherever you live, do you commute to work by car? Is having your car a “must”? Here’s what Judy and Joe’s and Kim and Kyle’s locations look like:

Judy and Joe live in Redmond, and both commute to Seattle for work. Their morning commute consists of a 10-minute drive to their nearest park-and-ride, followed by a 40-minute bus ride into Seattle.

Kim and Kyle’s condo is located in downtown Seattle, and they both commute to work on foot. Their daily commute is about a 20-minute walk each way, but they’ll bus or Uber if it’s raining.

Judy and Joe agree that they only need one car to get to the park-and-ride while commuting to work. Kim and Kyle realize that they don’t need their cars in order to get to work and could save a lot of money if they downsize to one or none, especially considering they pay for parking in their building. These instances illustrate the importance of considering location when deciding between owning a car and using rideshare. Likewise, your activity choices also play an important role.

Activities. Activities and hobbies dictate a huge portion of our lifestyle choices. Do you have kids or do your favorite activities involve a lot of driving? If you love the outdoors, could you still get to those hikes you’ve been dying to do without a car? Some recreational activities may be limited when you don’t own a car, so it’s important to consider this when determining if utilizing rideshare options is not only economical but also practical. Here are some of the activities Judy and Joe and Kim and Kyle participate in:

Judy and Joe’s weeknights are spent shuttling kids to and from various sports practices. Once home, they typically enjoy a homecooked meal together. On the weekends, the kids generally compete in sporting events. Occasionally, they also get out of town for a family camping trip in the mountains.

Kim and Kyle spend their weeknights going to the gym. This is often followed by dinner at a friend’s house or a local restaurant. During the weekend, they like to hike, visit Kim’s family on Bainbridge Island, and kayak as often as Seattle’s weather permits.

Judy and Joe agree they likely still need two cars to get the kids to their conflicting practices. They’ve decided to experiment by driving only one of their cars for a couple weeks in conjunction with ridesharing as needed to see if life with one car would work for them. Kim and Kyle agree that they still need one car for their weekend trips and for hauling their kayaks around town. As we can see, our activity choices are also an important consideration in deciding whether to own a car or use rideshare.

Bottom line. Having a car for the sake of convenience may unnecessarily be costing you money. Using rideshare might save you money; however, it may be more practical for you to own a car if you’d like to maintain a certain lifestyle. We encourage you to evaluate your situation.

If you’d like to speak with a financial advisor about your current transportation situation, we can help you determine if it makes more sense for you to own a car or utilize the various rideshare options available today. Please reach out to us. We are here to help you!

 

Sources: 

*https://bettermoneyhabits.bankofamerica.com/en/auto/cost-of-owning-a-car

** https://www.zipcar.com/pricing

***https://www.ridester.com/uber-rates-cost/

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.

Demystifying Retirement Income

Demystifying Retirement Income

 

You’ve worked hard. You’ve saved your pennies and watched every cent. Yet now that retirement is just around the corner, you’re second guessing whether you’re truly ready.

We see this often at Merriman. Near-retirees get cold feet not because they’re unprepared for retirement but because they’re unsure how to manage their retirement income. There’s less room for mistakes without a salary coming in. At the same time, retirement is full of financial uncertainties, ranging from personal health to the economy.

The solution isn’t to delay the retirement you’ve worked hard to secure. If you want to feel financially secure heading into retirement, start by learning the ins and outs of your retirement income.

 

How Much Income Do You Need in Retirement?

Outliving your savings is a top fear for retirees. Rather than letting worry consume you, do the math to understand your retirement budget. Account for major budget items like housing, transportation, and healthcare along with variable expenses. Then, take stock of your retirement benefits to see how they stack up.

Is there a big gap? Consider how you can reduce living expenses in retirement. Housing is a major expense, and many older adults are paying for more housing than they need. Downsizing saves money and cashes out home equity to put towards retirement savings. However, this only works if you have enough equity to make selling worthwhile. To estimate home equity, subtract the mortgage balance from the home’s current market value.

After housing, recurring bills and lifestyle expenses have the biggest impact. Rather than assuming small expenses don’t make a dent, use a budget to see how it all adds up and then adjust as needed.

 

Understanding Retirement Income Sources

Now that you understand the expenses side of the equation, let’s examine retirement income.

 

How to calculate Social Security benefits

Social Security retirement income depends on two main factors: lifetime earnings and the age you claim benefits. Filing early reduces benefits whereas delaying past full retirement age increases Social Security payments. Estimate your Social Security benefits online.

 

What about pensions?

Workers with a pension enjoy a second fixed income source in retirement. Pension plans distribute monthly payments according to a vesting schedule. Making the most of a pension requires understanding minimum distributions, age requirements, and other fine print to maximize your payout.

 

Other fixed income sources in retirement

In addition to Social Security and pension plans, retirees rely on fixed-income investments for income generation and capital preservation.

Fixed income investments include:

  • Bonds and bond funds
  • Certificates of deposit
  • Fixed annuities
  • Mortgage-backed securities
  • Preferred stock or securities

 

How to Supplement Fixed Retirement Income

Fixed-income sources provide stability and peace of mind. They don’t, however, keep up with rising costs of living. To maintain their standard of living over time, retirees need diversified income.

 

Building a balanced investment portfolio

It’s standard for near-retirees to shift asset allocation towards low-risk investments. However, stocks are still an essential part of a balanced portfolio due to the return potential. An experienced financial advisor can determine the right asset allocation for your goals. They’ll also develop a withdrawal strategy to maximize retirement savings. Common approaches include the 4% withdrawal rule, fixed-dollar withdrawals, fixed-percentage withdrawals, systematic withdrawal plans, and withdrawal “buckets.”

 

Working in retirement

Many older adults are starting businesses for flexible retirement income. The best businesses for retirees are low-risk and low-cost, such as consulting in a field where you have niche experience. Beyond less financial risk, consulting businesses are easy to start: Simply file a “doing business as,” also known as a DBA, with the Washington Secretary of State to operate as a sole proprietor under your brand.

 

Retirement shouldn’t feel like the great unknown. If you feel like you’re walking into retirement without a plan, contact Merriman to learn how we can help. Merriman’s fee-only services will help you clarify your retirement goals and understand your options for achieving them. Contact us toll-free at 800-423-4893 or email info@merriman.com to learn how you can invest wisely and live fully.

 

 

 

Written exclusively for Merriman.com by Katie Conroy.
Katie Conroy is the creator of Advice Mine. She enjoys writing about lifestyle topics and created the website to share advice she has learned through experience, education and research.

 

 

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. 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 unless a client service agreement is in place.

Saving for College? Here are 5 Accounts You Can Start Using Now

Saving for College? Here are 5 Accounts You Can Start Using Now

 

It’s true what people say about having kids: the days are long, but the years are short. Sometimes our busy, ever-changing lives leave us wondering: “Where did the time go?” When it’s time to send your child off to college, you may feel sentimental, but there’s no need to feel unprepared. With so many options to save for your child’s future, you’ll be able to find the one for you.

 

Invest in a 529 Plan

When saving for your child’s future, 529 Plans are a popular choice. These savings accounts offer tax advantages similar to a Roth IRA. When your child is ready to go to college, you can make tax-free withdrawals to pay for qualified education expenses.

Benefits

  • You can open a 529 plan as soon as your child is born. This allows the money to grow over a longer period of time.
  • The funds apply to both undergraduate and graduate programs at any two- or four-year institution.
  • They allow up to $300,000 in lifetime contributions.
  • If your child doesn’t go to college, you can change the beneficiary.
  • Some K–12 expenses may qualify under the 529 plan, such as tuition and fees.

Drawbacks

  • Any funds not spent on qualifying expenses are subject to income tax and a 10% tax penalty.
  • You are required to report withdrawals on the FAFSA if the account is owned by someone other than the parent. This could negatively impact the student’s eligibility for financial aid.

 

Consider a Roth IRA

Roth IRAs are typically used for retirement savings, but you can also use them to save for your child’s future. You can’t take distributions on Roth IRAs penalty free before 59½. However, any account open for at least five years can be used for education, so make sure you open the account no later than your child’s 8th grade year.

Benefits

  • Distributions are tax free and penalty free as long as they are used for qualifying education expenses.
  • After graduation, the account can still be repurposed as your retirement account.
  • The value of the retirement account is not included in a FAFSA application.

Drawbacks

  • Roth IRAs have annual contribution limits of $6,000. An average year at a university can cost upwards of $20,000. So, it would be difficult to save enough money with a Roth IRA account unless you start early.
  • Remember, any withdrawals from a Roth IRA are considered income, which will be reported on a future FAFSA. This might impact your child’s chances for financial aid.

 

 

Coverdell ESA

A Coverdell Education Savings Account (ESA) is a great alternative to a 529 plan. It is a tax-deferred trust account with high potential for growth.

Benefits

  • Savings can be used for primary and secondary education as well as college.
  • There is more flexibility in what is considered a “qualifying expense.” Parents can use the funds to pay for school uniforms, tutoring, and other K–12 programs.

Drawbacks

  • Annual contribution limits are set at $2,000 per person, per year.
  • You also cannot make contributions after age 18. All funds must be spent before the beneficiary turns 30.
  • There are also income limits on who can contribute to a Coverdell ESA account.

 

 

Custodial UGMA/UTMA

Custodial accounts are another great way to save for your child’s future. With a Custodial UGMA/UTMA, you have the ability to transfer assets to your minor children and enjoy tax breaks.

Benefits

  • When the assets are transferred, a portion of the value of the assets is taxed at the child’s tax rate, and the rest is taxed at the parent’s tax rate.
  • Since this is only a transfer of assets, there are no restrictions on how the money should be spent, other than the benefit of the child.
  • A custodial account allows any asset (not just cash), such as stocks, bonds, art, and real estate, to be transferred to a minor.

Drawbacks

  • Since the assets are owned by the child, parents have less control over how the money is spent.
  • These accounts will have to be reported on a FAFSA, so there is a chance for them to negatively impact financial aid.

 

Savings Bonds

Savings bonds are issued by the US government and can be purchased from a financial broker or directly from the US Treasury. They may be a good option for more conservative investors, at least for a portion of your investment strategy.

Benefits

  • Bonds are low-/no-risk investments since they are backed by the federal government.
  • If you invest in Series EE or Series I bonds, interest earned is tax free when funds are used for qualified education expenses.

Drawbacks

  • Incredibly low rate of return. You’ll need a backup savings plan.

 

When it comes to financial planning, you’ll also want to consider making sure you have your retirement accounts set up first. A certified financial planner will help you decide which account is the best option when saving for your child’s future. He or she can monitor all of your accounts and suggest any changes needed to secure a bright financial future for you and your family.

 

 

 

 

Written Exclusively for Merriman.com by Lyle Solomon

Lyle Solomon has considerable litigation experience as well as substantial hands-on knowledge and expertise in legal analysis and writing. Since 2003, he has been a member of the State Bar of California. In 1998, he graduated from the University of the Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, California, and now serves as a principal attorney for the Oak View Law Group in Los Altos, California.

 

Disclosure: All opinions expressed in this article are for general informational purposes and constitute the judgment of the author(s) as of the date of the report. These opinions are subject to change without notice and it is not intended to serve as a substitute for personalized investment advice or as a recommendation or solicitation of any particular security, strategy or investment product. .  Facts presented have been obtained 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. 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 unless a client service agreement is in place.