Navigating Healthcare Options

Navigating Healthcare Options

 

We strive to deliver peace of mind to our clients, not just about investments and taxes but about everything that touches their financial lives. One subject that continually comes up is healthcare. How will I be able to afford healthcare? Should I work until age 65 so that I qualify for Medicare? To help answer this question, we partner with outside experts to help our clients evaluate different healthcare options. We spoke to Ed Steffens at Propel and asked about health insurance through the Exchange versus COBRA.

 

How do you help your clients?

I help clients navigate their options with individual healthcare, Medicare, life insurance, and long-term care insurance.

 

COBRA vs Affordable Care Act (ACA)

Since the rate increases in the individual market back in 2017, COBRA is usually the better option, depending on the tax credits (subsidies) available to you. If you have to pay full price on the ACA exchanges, COBRA plans tend to be better. The network of doctors with the COBRA plan option has fewer limitations and is generally available throughout the US. These networks offer coverage in and of network, with higher costs using an out of network doctor.

ACA plans, on the other hand, use more restrictive networks of doctors. Generally, your available network is your home area and surrounding areas. There is no coverage out of network, with exception to true emergencies. In this case, ER and ambulance are covered anywhere in the country.

Before you choose a COBRA or ACA plan, spend time with a professional and/or on the healthcare website: https://www.healthcare.gov/glossary/exchange/ and www.wahealthplanfinder.org.  Subsidies are estimated based on the current year of total estimated MAGI. When determining MAGI, your income includes unemployment benefits and your spouse’s income. If the tax credits are deep enough, ACA may end up being a better option than COBRA.

 

When should people reach out to you?

The sooner the better. Separation from service, marriage, death, permanent move, and the birth of a child are all qualifying events. It might just be a 10-minute call. If tax credits are an option, however, a longer conversation will be necessary. For Medicare, please reach out three months before your 65th birthday. 

 

How are you compensated?

I am compensated by salary and not by enrollments. This allows me to work in the best interest of my clients.

 

What kind of clients do you most enjoy working with?

I enjoy helping everyone. People who are in their fifties and sixties are the most common clients I work with, as they are more likely to experience the above-mentioned qualifying events—including those who are contemplating retirement. I am unable to help people with Medicaid though Such cases are redirected back to the state. 

 

What would you tell someone who does not think they should retire because of the cost of healthcare?

People should analyze their situation and explore the options. They are often pleasantly surprised. It should really be explored on a case-by-case basis, regarding both the coverage available and the cost of coverage. This analysis should be taken into account along with the individual’s entire financial picture in order to make this life transition.

 

What are common misconceptions about healthcare on the open market?

It goes both ways. Some people think they should get tax credits but don’t. Other people think they won’t get credits and do. The amount of tax credits you may receive is unrelated to the level of health coverage (labeled as Gold, Silver, or Bronze, depending on what coverage you purchase). In general, the three tiers of health coverage look like this:

Bronze level plans: Lowest cost, highest deductibles, highest cost sharing after deductible.

Silver level plans: “Reasonable” cost, deductibles and cost sharing.

Gold level plans: Highest cost, highest level of coverage, lowest deductibles and cost sharing.

 

Tell me about the recent changes in the stimulus package. 

The new administration opened new enrollments through May 15, and then extended it to August 15t. They raised income limits on tax credits. Everyone has an opportunity to make changes now through August 15th. The government is trying to make insurance as accessible as possible. You can use a subsidy calculator for an estimate.

 

How should clients contact you?

I can be reached at 541.494.7714 or via email at ed.steffens@propelinsurance.com to schedule an appointment.

 

Disclosure: Edward Steffens is a licensed insurance agent/broker for Propel Insurance. 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 article. These opinions are subject to change without notice and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any particular individual. The material 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 or accounting advice, and nothing contained in these materials should be taken as such.

Why Diversification Matters

Why Diversification Matters

 

 

You’ve probably heard the saying, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” but what exactly does that mean for retirement planning? Or, put a different way: Why should you care about diversifying your investments?

 

I’ve had a number of conversations lately with my clients who have a concentrated portfolio (sometimes through no fault of their own), and thankfully the past decade has rewarded many of them. Either because of how they’re compensated (i.e., RSUs) or through a laid-back approach to rebalancing, I’ve seen a lot of portfolios with a large allocation to one or a handful of stocks. Mostly, it’s been a concentration in tech stocks (e.g., AMZN, MSFT, GOOG, FB, SNAP, TSLA, etc.), but because of how the recent bull market has been a success story for many large growth companies, I’ve seen lots of different variations all with a common theme: A lot of eggs, all in one basket.

 

First, we need to understand the importance of diversification. Building a portfolio with lots of different types of investments spreads the risk around. Technically speaking, to have a well-diversified portfolio means you have different assets that are as uncorrelated to each other as possible. It’s not necessarily a quantity-over-quality metric. You can easily have a portfolio made up of dozens or hundreds of different stocks/mutual funds/ETFs and still be undiversified if all of those investments behave very similarly. Proper diversification can be achieved by investing in asset classes that are made up of different types of investments (stocks, bonds, real estate, commodities, cash, etc.), by investing in the same type of investment (small-sized company stock vs large-sized company stock), and by investing in different geographic regions (US vs International). Obviously, this is a high-level overview, and there’s a lot of research and effort that goes into building a thoughtfully diversified portfolio.

 

Now, back to why you should care. There’s another famous saying that goes something like this: Wealth can be built with concentration, but it should be protected with diversification. A realistic investment philosophy should be built with planning at its core. I often tell my clients (or anyone that will listen) that it’s impossible to predict what’s going to happen in the market, but we can prepare for the unexpected.

 

“While we can’t predict the markets, we can prepare for them.”

 

If you’ve built up a concentrated portfolio and because of that concentrated allocation you’re closer to retirement than you might have been otherwise: Congrats! I’m not here to chastise anyone for successfully building their wealth. Instead, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask: What’s next? Or better put: What’s your plan to protect your hard-earned wealth? This is where diversification can make a huge impact on your future retirement plans. A well-constructed and professionally managed portfolio should be able to weather the ups and the downs of different market cycles. It’s very important that I point out that a diversified portfolio is in no way immune to losses, but with the right amount of guidance and discipline, diversification can be the key to long lasting financial freedom.

 

 

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.

Medicare Income-Related Monthly Adjustment Amount (IRMAA) Surcharge – What Does It Mean, What Can I Do, and How?

Medicare Income-Related Monthly Adjustment Amount (IRMAA) Surcharge – What Does It Mean, What Can I Do, and How?

 

 

Co-written with Jeffrey Barnett

 

The first question on many retirees’ minds is how to pay for expensive healthcare costs and health insurance when you’re no longer covered by the employer plan you relied on throughout your career. Medicare is the U.S. government’s answer for supporting healthcare costs throughout retirement. While you might have already enrolled in Medicare or are at least looking forward to beginning benefits at age 65, you may not know how Medicare premiums work. Let’s explore Medicare premiums and an important potential speedbump known as IRMAA.

 

What Is IRMAA?

 

To provide some background, approximately 75% of the costs of Medicare Part B (Medical Insurance) and Part D (Prescription Drug) are paid directly from the General Revenue of the Federal Government, with the remaining 25% covered through monthly premiums paid by Medicare enrollees. If you receive Social Security or Railroad Retirement Board benefits, your Medicare Part B premiums are typically deducted automatically from your monthly benefits. For those who don’t receive these benefits, you’ll receive a bill to pay your premiums instead. Medicare premiums increase as your income grows through Income-Related Monthly Adjustment Amount (IRMAA), which is an additional surcharge for higher income individuals on top of the 2021 Medicare Part B baseline premium of $148.50.

 

Medicare premiums and any surcharges are based on your filing status and Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI) with a two-year lookback (or three years if you haven’t filed taxes more recently). That means your 2021 premiums and IRMAA determinations are calculated based on MAGI from your 2019 federal tax return. MAGI is calculated as Adjusted Gross Income (line 7 of IRS Form 1040) plus tax-exempt interest income (line 2a of IRS Form 1040). The table below details the base premium amount you’ll pay for Medicare in 2021 depending on your MAGI and filing status, inclusive of any additional IRMAA surcharge.

 

 

Fortunately, the Social Security Administration (SSA) tracks these numbers for you and uses MAGI data from the IRS. For every year that they determine IRMAA applies to you, you’ll receive a pre-determination notice explaining what information was used to make the determination and what to do if individuals feel the finding is incorrect, like due to a life-changing event as defined by the SSA. After 20 or more days, the SSA sends another notice with additional information regarding your appeals rights. For the instances you feel an incorrect determination was made, you can request a “New Initial Determination.”

 

Am I Eligible to Request a New Initial Determination?

 

There are five qualifying circumstances where an individual may be eligible to request a “New Initial Determination.” They are:

  1. An amended tax return since original filing
  2. Correction of IRS information
  3. Use of two-year-old tax return when SSA used IRS information from three years prior
  4. Change in living arrangement from when you last filed taxes (e.g., filing status is now “married filing separately” but you previously filed jointly)
  5. Qualified life-changing event(s)

 

According to the SSA, a Life-Changing Event (LCE) can be one or more of the following eight events:

  • Death of spouse
  • Marriage
  • Divorce or annulment
  • Work reduction
  • Work stoppage
  • Loss of income-producing property
  • Loss of employer pension
  • Receipt of settlement payment from a current or former employer

 

A common scenario we often see is with new retirees age 65 or over where income is much lower in retirement than it was two years ago, but the SSA determines that the IRMAA surcharge should be applied to your premium costs given the lookback period. Fortunately, an exception can be requested under the “work stoppage” LCE, and we can help you navigate that process. Luckily, this is typically irrelevant after the first or second year of retirement since post-retirement income is often significantly reduced and naturally falls below the IRMAA threshold. Another common scenario for retirees is having portfolio income that pushes you above the IRMAA tiers. However, it’s important to point out that portfolio income from things like capital gains or Roth conversions are not allowable exceptions to request for the IRMAA surcharge in a high-income year.

 

If you don’t qualify to request a new initial determination based on the 5 qualifying circumstances noted above, you also have the right to more formally appeal the determination, which is also known as requesting a reconsideration.

 

 

Requesting a New Determination

 

If any of the above life-changing events apply, individuals are likely eligible to request a new initial determination by calling their local Social Security office or, alternatively, completing and submitting this form for reconsideration along with appropriate documentation. We highly recommend calling the Social Security hotline at 800-772-1213 to discuss if more than one LCE applies to you, if you have questions about why IRMAA applies to you, or if you have questions about requesting a reconsideration.

 

We know that Medicare can be tricky and that this only scratches the surface, so we also encourage you to contact us if you have any questions. We regularly serve as a resource for questions around enrolling for Medicare along with many of the other factors involved in planning for retirement, and we are happy to help you as those questions move to the forefront.

Sources:
2021 Income Thresholds:  https://www.medicare.gov/your-medicare-costs/part-b-costs

Life-Changing Event: https://www.ssa.gov/OP_Home/handbook/handbook.25/handbook-2507.html

Determination Notices: https://secure.ssa.gov/poms.nsf/lnx/0601101035

 

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.

New Payroll Tax in Washington State

New Payroll Tax in Washington State

 

Do you work at Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, F5 Networks, or any of the other large tech employers in Washington State? Do you earn over $300,000 a year? If so, read this!

Washington State passed a new tax on employees to fund the first public-operated, long-term care (LTC) insurance program. Effective January 1, 2022, Washingtonians who are W-2 employees will be subject to a 0.58% payroll tax on all compensation. Said differently: You will pay $580 of additional tax per every $100,000 of compensation with no income cap.

Good news: You can opt-out and become exempt from this tax and program by having your own individual long-term care insurance policy in place before the deadline. Apart from the annual savings, the benefits of an individual policy are far superior to those offered through the state’s LTC insurance program.

 

Q&A on Washington’s Long-Term Care Trust Act:

 

What is long-term care? What is long-term care insurance?

Long-term care includes services designed to meet a person’s health or personal needs as they age and need additional help completing their daily activities. This care is provided through three stages: independent living, assisted living, and skilled nursing.

Long-term care insurance provides the means to cover part or all of the costs for such services. This insurance coverage is essential for couples and individuals who do not have the personal financial resources to cover these costs.

 

Why is Washington state adding this program now?

Washington, like most states, has an aging population. Each year, more and more people over the age of 65 will need some sort of support service. By putting this program in place now, Washington hopes to mitigate part of this problem.

 

What benefits does this program provide?

Individuals can receive up to $100 per day to cover long-term care costs, with a maximum lifetime benefit of $36,500. This equates to a year’s worth of coverage for long-term care expenses at $100 per day.

Other considerations:

  • Benefits are not available outside of Washington State.
  • Benefits only cover the employee who is contributing through payroll, not their spouse or dependents.

 

Who is subject to this new tax?

Starting January 1, 2022, all W-2 employees will be subject to this new payroll tax (unless you opt-out in time). This tax will be paid by employees through mandatory employer paycheck withholdings.

Self-employed individuals, such as independent contractors, sole proprietors, partners, and joint venturers, are not subject to this tax. They can, however, choose to opt-in to the program (similar to Washington’s paid family and medical leave program).

 

What do you mean by all employee compensation is subject to this tax?

This includes your salary, bonuses, and company stock (such as restricted stock units [RSUs]) with no income cap.

For example: An Amazon employee with an annual compensation of $450,000 ($160,000 salary plus $290,000 vesting RSUs) would pay an additional $2,610 in payroll taxes.

 

How can I opt-out and be exempt from this new payroll tax?

You can opt-out permanently if you have your own long-term care insurance policy in place before November 1 that provides equal or better benefits. You must then submit an attestation that you purchased this policy to Washington State’s Employment Security Department between October 1, 2021, and December 31, 2022.

Note: Individuals can also be exempt from this program if they have a qualified life insurance policy or annuity that includes supplemental coverage for long-term care expenses.

 

What are the differences in benefits if I get my own LTC insurance policy?

The benefits provided by an individual policy can be substantially greater and more comprehensive than those offered by the state’s program. One common difference is that individual LTC insurance policies provide coverage for two or more years. You can also purchase a shared policy with your spouse where you get a joint benefit and receive discounts on the premium.

 

Should I get my own LTC insurance policy?

We recommend exploring alternatives for any of the following reasons:

  • High income earners: This means anyone who earns $300,000 or more in annual employee compensation. Most will be able to find a much better LTC insurance alternative for far less than $1,740 a year ($300,000 * 0.58% payroll tax). This is especially the case for households with two high incomes (i.e., $400,000 or more in joint employee compensation) that can purchase a shared policy to receive discounts on their insurance premiums. 
  • Plan to move outside of Washington State in retirement: You can only collect these benefits if you receive care in Washington State. Those who plan to move away will not receive any benefits and would receive far greater value by buying their own policy that can be used for LTC expenses in any state they choose to live in retirement.
  • Plan to retire in the next few years: To be eligible, you must have paid into the system either (1) for 3 years within the past 6 years, or (2) for a total of 10 years, with at least 5 of those years paid without interruption. As such, you will not receive any benefits if you do not meet these requirements before leaving employment.

 

Please contact us if you have questions about how Washington’s Long-Term Care Trust Act might impact your financial 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. Nothing in this presentation in intended to serve as personalized investment, tax, or insurance advice, as such advice depends on your individual facts and circumstances. 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.

 

Should I Set Up a Traditional 401k for My Business?

Should I Set Up a Traditional 401k for My Business?

 

Whether you recently transitioned to being self-employed or have been a business owner for years, you may have wondered what the best way is to save for retirement. While it is commonplace for established companies to offer a retirement plan to their employees, many self-employed individuals may not realize the potential for significant retirement savings by establishing their own plan.

However, the decision as to which type of plan to choose is far from simple. There are a multitude of questions a business owner must ask themselves before they can identify the best fit for their goals and preferences. To assist in this decision, the following flowchart poses the most pertinent of these questions.

 

 

Whether you are considering a SIMPLE IRA or are curious how a defined benefit plan can help you achieve your savings goals, Merriman’s team of knowledgeable advisors are here to help you make the most optimal selection. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have questions about your unique 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.

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.