Have you received a pay raise, bonus or an inheritance and as a result changed your spending habits? Have you bought things such as expensive items, cars or even a new home because of one of these events? Soon, your lifestyle starts to inflate or creep to where your standard of living resets at this new higher income level. Spending can quickly become unsustainable if your income doesn’t stay at the same pace and continue to rise. Importantly, you’ll need to save substantially more now to continue that lifestyle in retirement than originally planned. From experience, most families continue at near the same spending level if not more in retirement, especially when grandchildren enter the picture!
There isn’t any harm with spending more money if you make more, however you need to also increase your savings for important goals at the same level. For example, if your income is now $250,000 or above, you’ll need to save quite a bit more than the $19,000 401(k) contribution to maintain your lifestyle when you decide to retire. These savings targets increase much more if you want to “make work optional” at an earlier age.
It’s inevitable that your income will rise as you progress through your career, however there are good habits to follow to prepare for the future while still enjoying the “now”:
Prepare and follow a budget
No matter your income level, having a household budget is key to achieving your goals. It allows you to put all your income and expenses on one sheet of paper to determine how much savings you can automate each month. Many households are cash flow “rich” thereby they are best served by figuring out monthly savings targets. This article discusses a budget technique that can be used as a template for your budgeting. It’s especially important to have a cash flow plan for families where cash bonuses and restricted stock make up a large portion of their annual income.
Develop and adhere to a pre-determined plan for extra income
If you receive a bonus, you should have a pre-determined savings allocation for those extra resources. This meaning that of the bonus that you receive after-tax, possibly 25% is allocated to spending (i.e. the fun stuff), 25% to travel and short-term savings, and 50% to long-term savings. That way, you get to spend and enjoy a large portion of your bonus while also saving a large sum towards the future. Too often do people receive a bonus and quickly spend it. Having a pre-determined plan or formula for how to allocate these excess dollars is important as your budget won’t account for this income.
Routinely update your retirement projections
Your financial plan needs to be updated each time your spending level increases as the plan is not going to be successful if it is based on $100,000 of annual spending in retirement when your lifestyle now requires $200,000 a year. Many households attempt to exclude child costs from this figure as they won’t have dependents in retirement, however experience has taught that the spending has been replaced by spending on trips and supporting children and grandchildren.
We suggest reading the book Making Work Optional: Steps to Financial Freedom to learn about how best to prioritize your savings to achieve your long-term goals. Importantly, make sure to read the section about “mistakes to avoid” on your path to financial freedom.
Please contact Merriman if you have any questions about developing a cash flow plan or for any of your other financial planning needs.
Executives and other highly compensated employees might notice a different option in their benefits plan, beyond the usual 401(k). Some employers also offer Section 409A nonqualified deferred compensation plans to high earners, which have their own mix of rules, regulations and potential drawbacks to navigate. However, when you’re earning income in the hundreds of thousands, it’s important to consider every option for saving on taxes and setting aside a larger nest egg for retirement. Contributing to the usual bevy of IRAs and 401(k) might not be enough to see you through your golden years, and tools like deferred compensation plans could also help you bridge the gap of early retirement.
Deferred compensation plans look a bit different than the 401(k) you already know. Like a 401(k), you can defer compensation into the plan and defer taxes on any earnings until you make withdrawals in the future. You can also establish beneficiaries for your deferred compensation. However, unlike 401(k) plans, the IRS doesn’t limit how much income you can defer each year, so you’ll have to check if your employer limits contributions to start building your deferred compensation strategy. Elections to defer compensation into your nonqualified plan are irrevocable until you update your choices the following year, and you have to make your deferral election before you earn the income. If you’re in the top tax bracket (37.0% in 2019), this can allow you to defer income now and receive it at a later date (such as when you retire) in a lump sum or a series of payments, when you expect to be in a lower tax bracket.
Unlimited contribution amounts and optional payout structures may sound too good to be true, but nonqualified deferred compensation plans also have significant caveats to consider. The big risk is that unlike 401(k), 403(b) and 457(b) accounts where your plan’s assets are qualified, segregated from company assets and all employee contributions are 100% yours—a Section 409A deferred compensation plan lacks those protections. 409A deferred compensation plans are nonqualified, and your assets are tied to the company’s general assets. If the company fails, your assets could be subject to forfeiture since other creditors may have priority. The IRS permits unlimited contributions to the plan in exchange for this risk, and the potential loss of deferred compensation can motivate company officers to maintain the health of the company.
Let’s review potential distribution options from nonqualified deferred compensation plans. A Section 409A deferred compensation plan can provide payment no earlier than the following events:
A fixed date or schedule specified by the company’s plan or the employee’s irrevocable election (usually 5 to 10 years later, or in retirement)
A change of company control, such as a buyout or merger
An unforeseen emergency, such as severe financial hardship or illness
Once your income is deferred, your employer can either invest the funds or keep track of the compensation in a bookkeeping account. Investment options often include securities, insurance arrangements or annuities, so it’s important to evaluate the potential returns and tax benefits of your deferred compensation plan versus other savings options. Plan funds can also be set aside in a Rabbi Trust; however, those funds still remain part of the employer’s general assets.
Nonqualified deferred compensation plans have a variety of structures, rules and withdrawal options depending on how your employer builds the plan. Consider the following pros and cons of deferred compensation plans when reviewing your employer’s options.
You can defer a significant amount of income to better help you replace your income in retirement. The IRS does not limit contributions.
You have the ability to postpone income in years when you’re in high tax brackets until later when you expect to be in a lower tax bracket.
If your employer offers investment options, you may be able to invest the money for greater earnings.
There are no nondiscrimination rules for participants, so the plan can benefit owners, executives and highly compensated employees specifically. Other retirement plans may limit contributions or participation due to discrimination rules.
Your deferred compensation plus any investment earnings are subject to forfeiture based upon the general financial health of the company.
The election to defer compensation and how/when it will be paid out is irrevocable and must be made prior to the year compensation is earned.
Depending on the terms of your plan, you may end up forfeiting all or part of your deferred compensation if you leave the company early. That’s why these plans are also used as “golden handcuffs” to keep important employees at the company.
The plan may or may not have investment options available. If investment options are available, they may not be very good (limited options and/or high expenses).
If you leave your company or retire early, funds in a Section 409A deferred compensation plan aren’t portable. They can’t be transferred or rolled over into an IRA or new employer plan.
Unlike many other employer retirement plans, you can’t take a loan against a Section 409A deferred compensation plan.
The questions below are helpful for assessing whether a deferred compensation plan makes sense for you.
Is your company financially secure? Will it remain financially secure?
Will your tax rate be lower in the future when this deferred compensation is paid?
Can you afford to defer the income this year?
Does the plan have investment options? Are the fees and selection of funds reasonable?
Does the plan allow a flexible distribution schedule?
Section 409A deferred compensation plans have inherent drawbacks and prominent risks, but they could help you save toward your retirement planning goals. We recommend working with a Merriman advisor to review your specific plan terms and financial situation when preparing for the future. We can help you decide whether a nonqualified deferred compensation plan makes sense for your situation, weigh issues like future taxes and create a long-term plan. We want you to feel ready for everything life has to offer.
In this article, we discuss the Smiths’ and the Jones’ different lifestyle spending needs, and the annual savings necessary to maintain their lifestyle in retirement. Let’s walk through the steps these families should take each year to help them stay on track to achieve their goals.
1. Determine the cost of your annual lifestyle spending needs, and how much of that will continue into retirement.
Smiths – They currently earn $150,000 a year. After excluding retirement savings and expenses that wouldn’t continue into retirement, such as the cost of commuting to work, they determine that their annual spending is $90,000.
Joneses – They currently earn $500,000 a year. After backing out retirement savings and expenses that wouldn’t continue into retirement, this couple finds their annual spending is $250,000. This higher spending need is in part due to living in an expensive city and having a mortgage on their home and vacation property. About 10 years ago, this couple’s income was $175,000, with spending needs of $115,000.
Take-away: To determine your lifestyle spending needs, you need to exclude retirement savings and expenses that wouldn’t continue into retirement. Expenses that remain include utilities, taxes, food, entertainment, travel, etc. Many households carry a mortgage for the first 10-15 years into retirement. If you don’t think you’ll pay off your mortgage by the time you retire, make sure to include this housing cost in your spending estimate. You need to be aware of how much your lifestyle spending changes over time to make sure it’s sustainable in retirement. It’s far easier to spend more money than to cut back on your lifestyle. (more…)
Before filing your tax return, take a few moments to consider the extra ways you can reduce your tax bill and maximize your retirement savings at the same time. Certain retirement account contributions provide tax-deductions or opportunities for future tax planning.
To qualify to contribute to any of the following accounts, you or your spouse must have earned income in 2017. You must open and fund these accounts before the normal tax filing deadline of Monday, April 16, 2018. With one exception, for the SEP IRA, filing for an extension does not extend the time you have to make contributions. (more…)
Everyone thinks about saving for retirement, and not many people want to work forever. However, have you thought about the best way to save for the future? If you are setting aside the yearly max in your 401(k) and channeling extra savings to your brokerage, you might be missing out on powerful tax-advantaged saving opportunities. In this article, we will show you how we help clients maximize savings, minimize taxes and secure their future using the Mega Backdoor Roth.
Most people know they can contribute to their employer’s retirement plan from their paychecks through pre-tax and Roth contributions up to $19,000 a year ($25,000 if age 50 or older; IRS, 2018). What people miss is whether their retirement plan allows for additional after-tax contributions beyond this limit. Enter the supercharged savings!
It turns out that some company plans permit you to contribute up to the IRS maximum for total contributions to a retirement plan, which is $56,000 in 2019 ($62,000 with catch-up contributions; IRS, 2018). The IRS maximum counts contributions from all sources, including pre-tax employee deferrals, employer matching contributions, and even after-tax contributions for the Mega Backdoor Roth. That means you might be able to contribute an additional $20,000 or more after-tax each year after maxing your elective deferral and receiving your match. You can then convert the extra after-tax savings to Roth dollars tax-free. This more than doubles what most individuals can contribute to their retirement plan, and you won’t have to pay taxes on your Roth account distributions in retirement. This benefit is even greater when both spouses have this option available through their employers, so be sure to check both plans.
Retirement plans like those at Boeing, Facebook, and Microsoft permit easy conversions of after-tax to Roth dollars within the retirement plan. Other companies offer a variation where you can make in-service distributions and move after-tax dollars into a Roth IRA. Make sure to check with your benefits team to find out if your company’s retirement plan supports after-tax contributions and Roth conversions, the steps involved and the maximum amount you can contribute to the after-tax portion of your retirement plan. It’s important not to run afoul of plan rules or IRS requirements, so also be sure to consult experts like your accountant or financial advisor if you have any questions.