The answer depends on your income.
Your Social Security income could be taxed. That may seem unfair, or unfathomable. Regardless of how you feel about it, it is a possibility.
Seniors have had to contend with this possibility since 1984. Social Security benefits became taxable above certain yearly income thresholds in that year. Frustratingly for retirees, these income thresholds have been left at the same levels for 32 years.1
Those frozen income limits have exposed many more people to the tax over time. In 1984, just 8% of Social Security recipients had total incomes high enough to trigger the tax. In contrast, the Social Security Administration estimates that 52% of households receiving benefits in 2015 had to claim some of those benefits as taxable income.1
Only part of your Social Security income may be taxable, not all of it. Two factors come into play here: your filing status and your combined income.
Social Security defines your combined income as the sum of your adjusted gross income, any non-taxable interest earned, and 50% of your Social Security benefit income. (Your combined income is actually a form of modified adjusted gross income, or MAGI.)2
Single filers with a combined income from $25,000-$34,000 and joint filers with combined incomes from $32,000-$44,000 may have up to 50% of their Social Security benefits taxed.2
Single filers whose combined income tops $34,000 and joint filers with combined incomes above $44,000 may see up to 85% of their Social Security benefits taxed.2
What if you are married and file separately? No income threshold applies. Your benefits will likely be taxed no matter how much you earn or how much Social Security you receive.2
You may be able to estimate these taxes in advance. You can use an online calculator (a Google search will lead you to a few such tools), or the worksheet in IRS Publication 915.2
You can even have these taxes withheld from your Social Security income. You can choose either 7%, 10%, 15%, or 25% withholding per payment. Another alternative is to make estimated tax payments per quarter, like a business owner does.2
Did you know that 13 states also tax Social Security payments?North Dakota, Minnesota, West Virginia, and Vermont use the exact same formula as the federal government to calculate the degree to which your Social Security benefits may be taxable. Nine other states use more lenient formulas: Colorado, Connecticut, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Rhode Island, and Utah.2
What can you do if it appears your benefits will be taxed? You could explore a few options to try and lessen or avoid the tax hit, but keep in mind that if your combined income is far greater than the $34,000 single filer and $44,000 joint filer thresholds, your chances of averting tax on Social Security income are slim.If your combined income is reasonably near the respective upper threshold, though, some moves might help.
If you have a number of income-generating investments, you could opt to try and revise your portfolio, so that less income and tax-exempt interest are produced annually.
A charitable IRA gift may be a good idea. You can make one if you are 70½ or older in the year of the donation. You can endow a qualified charity with as much as $100,000 in a single year this way. The amount of the gift may be used to fully or partly satisfy your Required Minimum Distribution (RMD), and the amount will not be counted in your adjusted gross income.3
You could withdraw more retirement income from Roth accounts. Distributions from Roth IRAs and Roth workplace retirement plan accounts are tax-exempt as long as you are age 59½ or older and have held the account for at least five tax years.4
Will the income limits linked to taxation of Social Security benefits ever be raised? Retirees can only hope so, but with more baby boomers becoming eligible for Social Security, the IRS and the Treasury stand to receive greater tax revenue with the current limits in place.
This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note - investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.
1 - ssa.gov/policy/docs/issuepapers/ip2015-02.html [12/15]
2 - fool.com/retirement/general/2016/04/30/is-social-security-taxable.aspx [4/30/16]
3 - kiplinger.com/article/retirement/T051-C001-S003-how-to-limit-taxes-on-social-security-benefits.html [7/16]
4 - irs.gov/retirement-plans/retirement-plans-faqs-on-designated-roth-accounts [1/26/16]
In fact, many predictions about Wall Street have misread the market’s direction.
Trying to determine how Wall Street will behave next week, next month, or next year is difficult. Some feel it is impossible. To predict the near-term direction of the market, you may also need to predict upcoming earnings seasons, central bank policy moves, and the direction of both the domestic and global economy. You might as well forecast the future of the world.
That is not to say forecasting is useless. You could even argue that it is a necessity. Every month, economists are polled by various news outlets that publish their median forecasts for hiring, inflation, personal spending, and other economic indicators. Those median forecasts are often close to the mark, and sometimes exactly right.
Figuring out what lies ahead for equities, however, is often a guessing game. Looking back, some very bold predictions have been made for the market – some way off the mark.
Dow 30,000! More than a decade ago, a few analysts boldly forecast that the Dow Jones Industrial Average would climb to astonishing heights – heights the index has yet to reach today.
The first was investment manager Harry Dent, who, to his credit, had written a book called Great Boom Ahead predicting an amazing run for both the economy and the market starting in the mid-1990s. (Indeed, the S&P 500 averaged a yearly gain of almost 29% during 1995-99.) Dent’s 1999 bestseller, The Roaring 2000s, posited that the Dow would top 30,000, perhaps 35,000 in the near future as maturing baby boomers poured money into equities. He was wrong. What happened instead was the so-called “lost decade,” in which the broad market basically did not advance. As for the Dow 30, it ended the 2000s at 11,497.12.1,2
As a money manager, Robert Zuccaro had been part of a team that had realized triple-digit annual returns in the late 1990s. He put out a book soon afterward called Dow 30,000 by 2008: Why It’s Different This Time. (As the market cratered in 2008, you might say his timing was bad.) Analysts James K. Glassman and Kevin A. Hassett authored a volume called Dow 36,000: The New Strategy for Profiting from the Coming Rise in the Stock Market. It came out in 2000, and also proved overly optimistic.2,3
Dow 3,300! Harry Dent changed his outlook over time. In 2011, he told the Tampa Bay Times that the blue chips would plunge to that dismal level by 2014 or earlier. The Dow finished 2014 at 17,823.07. For the record, Dent now sees a “bubble collapse” starting in 2016 or 2017, soon breeding “widespread civil unrest” in America.2,4
Sell your shares now! In “Bearish on America,” a 1993 Forbes cover story, Morgan Stanley analyst Barton Biggs urged investors to dump their domestic shares en masse in light of the economic policies favored by a new presidential administration. The compound return of the S&P 500 over the next seven years: 18.5%.5
The market is done, no one believes in it! Perhaps the most famous doomsday call of all time occurred in 1979 when Business Week published a cover story entitled “The Death of Equities.” Wall Street was emerging from its second awful bear market in less than seven years. The article cited a widespread loss of faith among investors, asserting that “the death of equities is a near permanent condition.” Equities, so to speak, soon proved very much alive: the S&P 500 returned 21.55% in 1982, 22.56% in 1983, 6.27% in 1984, 31.73% in 1985, and 18.67% in 1986.5,6
Recession ahead, the market points the way! Can the behavior of the market foretell a recession? Is there a causal relationship between a down or sideways market and an oncoming economic slump? Some analysts see little or no link. Fifty years ago in Newsweek, the noted economist Paul Samuelson wrote that the equity markets had “forecast nine of the past five recessions.” He was being sardonic, but he had a point. Looking back from 2016 to 1945, Wall Street has seen 13 bear markets, only seven of which (53%) have seen a recession begin within about a year of their onset.7,8
Take the words of the pundits with a grain of salt. Some have been right, but many have been wrong. While the most radical market predictions may make good copy, they may also lead investors to take bad advice.5
Citations.1 - cbsnews.com/news/harry-dent-and-the-chamber-of-poor-returns/ [8/19/13]2 - finance.yahoo.com/q/hp?s=^DJI&a=11&b=29&c=1999&d=11&e=31&f=2014&g=d [6/2/16]3 - dividend.com/how-to-invest/10-hilariously-wrong-bullbear-calls/ [1/19/15]4 - tampabay.com/news/business/markets/economic-naysayers-including-tampas-harry-dent-are-back-with-fresh-reports/2270981 [3/28/16]5 - forbes.com/sites/katestalter/2015/09/14/6-doomsday-predictions-that-were-dead-wrong-about-the-market/ [9/14/15]6 - forbes.com/sites/oppenheimerfunds/2014/01/23/clues-from-the-80s-bull-run/ [1/23/14]7 - cnbc.com/2016/02/04/can-the-markets-predict-recessions-what-we-found-out.html [2/4/16]8 - blogs.wsj.com/economics/2013/10/03/plunging-stock-prices-are-good-recession-predictor/ [10/3/13]
These spending and investing precepts may encourage its longevity.
All retirees want their money to last a lifetime. There is no guarantee it will, but, in pursuit of that goal, households may want to adopt a couple of spending and investing precepts.
One precept: observing the 4% rule. This classic retirement planning principle works as follows: a retiree household withdraws 4% of its amassed retirement savings in year one of retirement, and withdraws 4% plus a little more every year thereafter – that is, the annual withdrawals are gradually adjusted upward from the base 4% amount in response to inflation.
The 4% rule was first formulated back in the 1990s by an influential financial planner named William Bengen. He was trying to figure out the “safest” withdrawal rate for a retiree; one that could theoretically allow his or her savings to hold up for 30 years given certain conditions (more about those conditions in a moment). Bengen ran various 30-year scenarios using different withdrawal rates in relation to historical market returns, and concluded that a 4% withdrawal rate (adjusted incrementally for inflation) made the most sense.1
For the 4% rule to “work,” two fundamental conditions must be met. One, the retiree has to invest in a way that will allow his or her retirement savings to grow along with inflation. Two, there must not be a sideways or bear market occurring.1
As sideways and bear markets have not been the historical norm, following the 4% rule could be wise indeed in a favorable market climate. Michael Kitces, another influential financial planner, has noted that, historically, a retiree strictly observing the 4% rule would have doubled his or her starting principal at the end of 30 years more than two-thirds of the time.1
In today’s low-yield environment, the 4% rule has its critics. They argue that a 3% withdrawal rate gives a retiree a better prospect for sustaining invested assets over 30 years. In addition, retiree households are not always able to strictly follow a 3% or 4% withdrawal rate. Dividends and Required Minimum Distributions may effectively increase the yearly withdrawal. Retirees should review their income sources and income prospects with the help of a financial professional to determine what withdrawal percentage is appropriate given their particular income needs and their need for long-term financial stability.
Another precept: adopting a “bucketing” approach. In this strategy, a retiree household assigns one-third of its savings to equities, one-third of its savings to fixed-income investments, and another third of its savings to cash. Each of these “buckets” has a different function.
The cash bucket is simply an emergency fund stocked with money that represents the equivalent of 2-3 years of income the household does not receive as a result of pensions or similarly scheduled payouts. In other words, if a couple gets $35,000 a year from Social Security and needs $55,000 a year to live comfortably, the cash bucket should hold $40,000-60,000.
The household replenishes the cash bucket over time with investment returns from the equities and fixed-income buckets. Overall, the household should invest with the priority of growing its money; though the investment approach could tilt conservative if the individual or couple has little tolerance for risk.
Since growth investing is an objective of the bucket approach, equity investments are bought and held. Examining history, that is not a bad idea: the S&P 500 has never returned negative over a 15-year period. In fact, it would have returned 6.5% for a hypothetical buy-and-hold investor across its worst 15-year stretch in recent memory – the 15 years ending in March 2009, when it bottomed out in the last bear market.2
Assets in the fixed-income bucket may be invested as conservatively as the household wishes. Some fixed-income investments are more conservative than others – which is to say, some are less affected by fluctuations in interest rates and Wall Street turbulence than others. While the most conservative, fixed-income investments are currently yielding very little, they may yield more in the future as interest rates presumably continue to rise.
There has been great concern over what rising interest rates will do to this investment class, but, if history is any guide, short-term pain may be alleviated by ultimately greater yields. Last December, Vanguard Group projected that, if the Federal Reserve gradually raised the benchmark interest rate to 2.0% across the three-and-a-half years ending in July 2019, a typical investment fund containing intermediate-term fixed-income securities would suffer a -0.15% total return for 2016, but return positively in the following years.3
Avoid overspending and invest with growth in mind. That is the basic message from all this, and, while following that simple instruction is not guaranteed to make your retirement savings last a lifetime, it may help you to sustain those savings for the long run.
Citations.1 - money.cnn.com/2016/04/20/retirement/retirement-4-rule/ [4/20/16]2 - time.com/money/4161045/retirement-income/ [5/22/16]3 - tinyurl.com/hjfggnp [12/2/15]
Have our memories of the Great Recession altered our habits?
Consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of economic activity in the United States. Lately, that spending has moderated. Across the 12 months ending in March, personal spending advanced 3.4%. That matched the gain seen in 2015.1,2
Is a 3.4% annualized gain in personal spending adequate? Not in historical terms. During 2014, consumer spending accelerated 4.2%. The average monthly gain in consumer spending across the past 12 months (0.28%) is roughly half the historical average seen since 1959 (0.54%).1,2
While the personal spending rate has slumped recently, the personal savings rate has not. In March, it was at 5.4%. It has varied between 4-6% for more than three years, staying notably above the levels seen prior to the Great Recession of 2007-2009.3
Has consumer psychology been altered since then? That is an interesting question to consider, and it especially begs consideration, given the fact that inflation-adjusted personal spending has declined for three straight quarters.4
Real disposable income (that is, disposable income adjusted for inflation) has been rising without fail. It has increased for 13 straight quarters, beginning in Q1 2013 after the payroll tax cut at the end of 2012. You would think unflagging increases in real disposable income would promote greater economic expansion, but real gross domestic product grew just 1.5% in 2013 and only 2.4% in both 2014 and 2015. Those GDP levels are well below those seen in the early 2000s, not to mention the 1990s.4,5
When is too much frugality a bad thing? When it risks hampering economic growth. The 5.4% personal savings rate recorded in March tied a three-and-a-half-year high. As we are well into an economic recovery, it would seem only natural for Americans to spend more than they did several years ago.4
Perhaps people are just not ready to do that. As a Deutsche Bank research note asserted this month, the memory of the Great Recession may be too hard to erase: “The shock of the crisis likely increased the desire to hold more savings for precautionary motives.”4
Since 2001, Gallup has consistently asked Americans a question each year: “Are you the type of person who more enjoys spending money or who more enjoys saving money?”6
This year, 65% of respondents said they preferred saving and 33% of respondents said they preferred spending. That gap has never been so pronounced in fifteen years of polling.6
As recently as 2009, just 53% of Americans told Gallup they preferred saving while 44% indicated they preferred spending. The gap has gradually widened ever since, and it is now fairly consistent across all age groups.6
A little more polling history seems to affirm a perception shift. In 2006, Gallup found that 51% of Americans rated their personal financial situation as “excellent/good;” in that year, 50% of Americans preferred saving to spending. Four years later, only 41% of Americans felt their personal financial situation was “excellent/good”, and 62% indicated a preference for saving. This year, 50% of Americans ranked their personal finances as “excellent/good,” yet 65% preferred saving dollars to spending them. “The appeal of saving over spending shows some signs of being the new normal rather than a temporary reaction to the hard times after 2008,” Gallup’s Jim Norman observed last month.6
In its latest report on personal income and outlays, the Bureau of Economic Analysis says personal incomes were up 4.2% year-over-year as of March. Consumer prices rose but 0.9% in the same span. Unimpressive wage growth aside, it would appear that many households are nicely positioned to spend. Of course, what these two numbers do not take into account is debt: mortgage debt, student loan debt, credit card debt. The rebound in the personal savings rate surely relates to the goal of reducing such liabilities.7,8
The Great Recession taught America a great lesson about living within one’s means. Could that lesson, as vital as it is, now be constraining the economy? As economists try to pinpoint reasons for America’s slow recovery, they may want to cite the psychology of the consumer.
1 - cnbc.com/2016/02/01/us-personal-income-dec-2015.html [2/1/16]
2 - tradingeconomics.com/united-states/personal-spending [5/22/16]
3 - tradingeconomics.com/united-states/personal-savings [5/12/16]
4 - usnews.com/news/articles/2016-05-11/years-later-psychological-scars-from-great-recession-skew-spending [5/11/16]
5 - statista.com/statistics/188165/annual-gdp-growth-of-the-united-states-since-1990/ [5/12/16]
6 - gallup.com/poll/190952/nearly-two-thirds-americans-prefer-saving-spending.aspx [4/25/16]
7 - shopfloor.org/2016/04/personal-spending-remained-soft-in-march-despite-decent-income-growth/ [4/29/16]
8 - reuters.com/article/us-usa-economy-inflation-idUSKCN0XB1I4 [4/14/16]
Let them know how they will receive retirement assets and insurance benefits.
Will your heirs receive a fair share of your wealth? Will your invested assets go where you want them to when you die?
If you have a proper will or estate plan in place, you will likely answer “yes” to both of those questions. The beneficiary forms you filled out years ago for your IRA, your workplace retirement plan, and your life insurance policy may give you even more confidence about the eventual transfer of your wealth.
One concern still remains, though. You have to tell your heirs that these documents exist.
That does not mean sharing all the details. If you have decided that some of your heirs will one day get more of your wealth than others, you can keep quiet about that decision as long as you live. You do want to tell your heirs the essential details; they should know that you have a will and/or an estate plan, and they should understand that you have named beneficiaries for your retirement accounts, your investment accounts, and your insurance policies.
Over time, you must review your beneficiary decisions. In fact, you may want to revisit them. As an example, say you opened an IRA in 1997. Your life has probably changed quite a bit since 1997. Were you single then, and are you married now? Were you married then, and are you single now? Have you become a parent since then? If you can answer “yes” to any of those three questions, then you need to look at that IRA beneficiary form now. Your choices may need to change.
Here is a quick look at how beneficiary decisions play out for a few of the most popular retirement accounts.
Employer-sponsored retirement plans. These are governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), which rules that if the late accountholder was married, the surviving spouse is entitled to at least 50% of the account assets. That applies even if another person has been designated as the primary beneficiary. In such a case, the spouse and the primary beneficiary may split the assets 50/50. (The spouse can actually waive his or her right to that 50% of the invested assets through a Spousal Waiver form. A spouse usually has to be older than 35 for this to be allowed.) These rules also apply for other types of ERISA-governed retirement assets, such as pension plan accounts and corporate-owned life insurance.1,2
The Supreme Court has decided that these rules take priority over state laws (Egelhoff v. Egelhoff, 2001; Hillman v. Maretta, 2013) and divorce agreements (Kennedy Estate v. Plan Administrator for the DuPont Saving and Investment Plan, 2008).3,4
If a participant in one of these retirement accounts remarries, the new husband or wife is entitled to 50% of those assets at death. While a plan participant may name a child as the beneficiary of a retirement account after a divorce, remarriage will leave only 50% of those assets with that child when the accountholder dies, rather than 100%, unless the new spouse waives his or her right to receiving 50% of the assets. The new spouse will be in line to receive that 50% of the account even if unnamed on the beneficiary form.1
IRAs. Unlike an employer-sponsored retirement plan, a spouse does not have automatic beneficiary rights with an IRA. That is because IRAs are governed under state laws rather than ERISA. One interesting estate planning aspect of an IRA rollover is that the owner of the new IRA has the freedom to name anyone as the primary beneficiary.1
Life insurance policies. The death proceeds go to the named beneficiary; occasionally, a beneficiary may not know a policy exists.
Recently, 60 Minutes did an expose on the insurance industry. Major insurers had withheld more than $7.5 billion in life insurance death proceeds from beneficiaries. They had a contractual reason for doing so: the beneficiaries had never stepped forward to file claims.5
While many of the policies involved were valued at $10,000 or less, others were worth over $1 million. The deceased policyholders had either failed to tell their heirs about the policies or misplaced the copies and the paperwork. Their heirs did not know (or know how) to claim the money. As a result, the insurance proceeds lay unclaimed for years, and the insurers only now feel pressure to pay out the benefits.5
Update your beneficiaries; let your heirs know how vital these forms are. Make sure that your beneficiary decisions on retirement, brokerage and bank accounts, college savings plans, and life insurance policies suit your wealth transfer objectives.
1 - 401khelpcenter.com/401k_education/connor_beneficiary_designations.html [4/21/16]
2 - nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/claim-payable-on-death-assets-32436.html [4/21/16]
3 - marketwatch.com/story/check-your-beneficiary-designations-now-2013-09-17/ [9/17/13]
4 - forbes.com/sites/deborahljacobs/2013/06/03/supreme-court-favors-ex-wife-over-widow-in-battle-for-life-insurance-proceeds/ [6/3/13]
5 - cbsnews.com/news/60-minutes-life-insurance-investigation-lesley-stahl/ [4/17/16]
That development may mean lifestyle as well as financial adjustments.
Your significant other may retire later than you do. Sometimes that reality reflects an age difference, other times one person wants to keep working for income or health coverage reasons. If you retire years before your spouse or partner does, you may want to consider how your lifestyle might change as well as your household finances.
How will retiring affect your identity? If you are one of those people who derives a great deal of pride and sense of self from your profession, leaving that career for life around the house may feel odd. Who are you now? Who will you become next? Can you retire and still be who you were? Hopefully, your spouse recognizes that you may have to entertain these questions. They may prompt some soul-searching, even enough to affect a relationship.
How much down time do you want? That is worth discussing with your spouse or partner. If you absolutely hate your job, you may want weeks, months, or years of relaxation after leaving it. You can figure out what to do next in good time. Alternately, you may see every day of retirement as a day for achievement; a day to get something done or connect with someone new. Your significant other should know whether you prefer an active, ambitious retirement or a more relaxed one.
How will household chores or caregiving be handled? Picture your loved one arising at 6:30am on a January morning, bundling up, heading for work and navigating inclement weather, all as you sleep in. Your spouse or partner may grow a bit envious of your retirement freedom. One way to offset that envy is to assume more of the everyday chores around the house.
For many baby boomers, caregiving is also a daily event. When one spouse or partner retires, that can rebalance the caregiving “equation.” One or more individuals have to provide 100% of the eldercare needed, and retirement can make shared percentages more equitable or allow a greater role for a son or daughter in that caregiving. Some people even retire to become a caregiver to Mom or Dad.
Do you have kids living at home? Adult children? Right now, in this country, every fifth young adult is living with his or her parents. With so many new college graduates having to accept part-time or low-paying service industry jobs, and with education loan debt averaging roughly $30,000 per indebted graduate, this situation will persist for years and, perhaps, even become a new normal.1
You and your loved ones may find yourself on different timetables. Maybe your spouse or partner works from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. in a high-stress job. Maybe your children attend school on roughly the same schedule. How do they get to and from those places? Probably through a rush-hour commute, either in a car or amid the crowds lined up for mass transit. If you have abandoned the daily grind, you may have an enthusiasm and a chattiness in the evening that they lack. Maybe they just want to unwind at 6:30pm, but you might be anxious to reconnect with them after a day alone at home.
Talk about retirement before you retire. What should your daily life look like? What are the most important things you want out of the retirement experience? How do your answers to those questions align or contrast with the answers of your best friend? As you retire, make sure that your spouse or partner knows your point of view, and be sure to respect his or hers in the bargain.
1 - chicagotribune.com/business/success/savingsgame/tca-boomerang-children-affecting-parents-retirement-plans-20160413-story.html [4/13/16]