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On “Forced” Required Minimum Distributions

Mandatory RMDs

By Rick Kahler CFP®

Planning is important for all things financial, including retirement, which is inevitable no matter how far into the future it may seem. The financial decisions you make in your 20s through your 60s will greatly impact the quality of your lifestyle during retirement. Social Security and family won’t be enough to get you through 30 years of retirement. If you haven’t worked for a branch of government, you will rely heavily on income you’ve stashed in 401(k)s and IRAs.

Traditional IRAs

One of the big advantages of a traditional IRA or 401(k) is being able to save pre-tax dollars and let them grow tax deferred until you need them. Hopefully, when you take the distributions in retirement, you will be in a lower tax bracket than when you made the contribution. The downside is that traditional IRA funds become 100% taxable when you withdraw them.

Deferrals

Deferring distributions from your IRA only works until age 70½, when you’ll be forced to take money out whether you want to or not. This is called a Required Minimum Distribution, or RMD. If, at age 70½, you don’t need to withdraw funds to live on but are faced with an annual RMD, there are several things you can do to minimize your tax hit.

The easiest is don’t stop earning an income if you have a substantial 401(k). Employees are not required to take RMDs when they are still working, even part-time. This only applies to your employer’s 401(k). You will need to take RMDs from personal IRAs or 401(k)s and IRAs from previous employer plans.

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However, if you plan ahead you may be able to bypass this. If you have IRAs that are rollovers from previous 401(k)s, your employer may allow you to roll them into your current plan. By consolidating previous qualified employer plans into your current plan, you can defer taking an RMD until you quit working.

If you give to charities, you can give any portion or all of your RMD to a charity and not pay any taxes on the distribution. This can really save you a lot of money if you are currently giving to charities out of taxable accounts. When you turn 70½, simply redirect your charitable giving from taxable accounts to your IRA. You can give up to $100,000 annually without paying taxes on those distributions.

Another strategy we use commonly with clients is converting traditional IRA funds to Roth IRAs. Money in a Roth is not subject to RMDs. Of course, the downside is that you must pay taxes on the funds converted from your traditional IRA to a Roth.

For a conversion to make financial sense, two important factors must apply. You generally want to do a Roth conversion when your current tax bracket is lower than you anticipate it will be in the future. The most obvious scenario here is when you delay Social Security until age 70 and you are currently in a 10% or 15% tax bracket. It’s highly possible that Social Security and RMDs all kicking in at the same time may put you into the 25% tax bracket. Moving as much money at the 15% bracket prior to age 70 can make a lot of sense. It’s also important that the money to pay the taxes needs to come from a taxable account.

Assessment

As with all financial strategies that are crammed into a 600-word article, there are variations and nuances I am not able to go into. If you think one of these strategies may apply to you, don’t try it on your own. First get advice from a competent tax advisor or financial professional.

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Tax Strategies for Retiring Medical Professionals

Some Valuable Tips for 2011

By Sean G. Todd, Esq., M. Tax, CFP©, CPA 

www.EMCAdvisors.com

We need to start this ME-P with the famous quote made by Benjamin Franklin almost 300 years ago and yet still rings true: 

Nothing in life is certain except death and taxes.”

I believe physicians and all individuals better be formulating a tax-efficient investment and distribution strategy. Here is why: as a physician retiree or planning-to-be retired, with an effective tax strategy, you will keep more of your hard-earned assets for yourself and your heirs. Here are a few items for consideration which just might help with your money management during your later years.

The General “Rules”

1.  Utilize Tax Efficient Investments

Municipal bonds or “munis” have long been appreciated by retirees seeking a haven from taxes and stock market volatility. In general, the interest paid on municipal bonds is exempt from federal taxes and sometimes state and local taxes as well. The higher your tax bracket, the more you may benefit from investing in munis. This is not the “silver bullet” to retirement income planning. Yet, we see unknowing investors being exposed to a significant downside risk which could result in significant losses of their assets.

2.  Utilize Tax Efficient Mutual Funds/Index Funds

A more acceptable point is that all mutual funds are not created equal. A prudent move might be to reallocate part of your portfolio to start investing in tax-managed mutual funds. Managers of these funds pursue tax efficiency by employing a number of strategies. For instance, they might limit the number of times they trade investments within a fund or sell securities at a loss to offset portfolio gains. Equity index funds may be even more tax-efficient than actively managed stock funds – having the ability to identify which index fund(s) are being more tax efficient is where we come in.

It’s also important to review which types of securities are held in taxable versus tax-deferred accounts. Why? Because in 2003, Congress reduced the maximum federal tax rate on some dividend-producing investments and long-term capital gains to 15%. In light of these changes, many financial experts recommend keeping real estate investment trusts (REITs), high-yield bonds, and high-turnover stock mutual funds in tax-deferred accounts. Low-turnover stock funds, municipal bonds, and growth or value stocks may be more appropriate for taxable accounts.

A Comparison Chart

Just for ease of comparison on a pure return basis, I thought the following chart would make a great reference.  Would a tax-free bond be a better investment for you than a taxable bond? Compare the yields to see. For instance, if you were in the 25% federal tax bracket, a taxable bond would need to earn a yield of 6.67% to equal a 5% tax-exempt municipal bond yield.

Federal Tax Rate 15% 25% 28% 33% 35%
Tax-Exempt Rate Taxable-Equivalent Yield
4% 4.71% 5.33% 5.56% 5.97% 6.15%
5% 5.88% 6.67% 6.94% 7.46% 7.69%
6% 7.06% 8% 8.33% 8.96% 9.23%
7% 8.24% 9.33% 9.72% 10.45% 10.77%
8% 9.41% 10.67% 11.11% 11.94% 12.31%

*The yields shown above are for illustrative purposes only and are not intended to reflect the actual yields of any investment. 

3.  A question we get frequently: Which Security to Tap First?

A successful retirement plan is largely based on a sustainable income stream. This type of financial planning requires a specific set of skills. To facilitate a consistent income stream, another major decision is when to liquidate various types of assets.  The advantage of holding on to tax-deferred investments is that they compound on a before-tax basis and therefore have a greater earning potential than their taxable counterparts.

Consideration must also be given to making qualified withdrawals from tax-deferred investments which are taxed at ordinary federal income tax rates up to 35%, while distribution, in the form of capital gains or dividends, from investment in taxable accounts are taxed at a maximum 15% [Capital gains on investments held for less than one year are taxed at regular income tax rates].

This reason makes it beneficial to hold securities in taxable accounts long enough to qualify for the 15% rate.  When the focus is on estate planning, long term capital gains are more attractive because the beneficiary will receive a step-up in basis on appreciated assets inherited at death.
Another consideration when developing the sustainable retirement income plan is the timeframe for tapping into tax-deferred accounts.  Keep in mind, the deadline for taking required annual minimum distributions (RMDs) and have you taken into account the possible impact of the proposed tax law changes on your retirement income distribution plan?

4.  The Ins and Outs of RMDs

The IRS mandates that you begin taking an annual RMD from traditional IRAs and employer-sponsored retirement plans after you reach age 70 1/2. The premise behind the RMD rule is simple — the longer you are expected to live, the less the IRS requires you to withdraw (and pay taxes on) each year. RMDs are now based on a uniform table, which takes into consideration the participant’s and beneficiary’s lifetimes, based on the participant’s age. Failure to take the RMD can result in a tax penalty equal to 50% of the required amount.

Inside Tip: Why you should not wait until you retire to develop a sustainable retirement income plan: If you’ll be pushed into a higher tax bracket at age 70 1/2 due to the RMD rule, it may pay to begin taking withdrawals during your sixties. Unlike traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs do not require you to begin taking distributions by age 70 1/2. In fact, you’re never required to take distributions from your Roth IRA, and qualified withdrawals are tax free. For this reason, you may wish to liquidate investments in a Roth IRA after you’ve exhausted other sources of income. Be aware, however, that your beneficiaries will be required to take RMDs after your death. 

Estate Planning and Gifting

Attaining proper investment counsel and advice has to answer the question—-“What happens when I die?”  Many strategies can be implemented by clients to address the various ways to make the tax payments on your assets easier for your heirs to handle. Who is the proper beneficiary of your money accounts?  If you do not name a beneficiary, your assets could end up in probate, and your beneficiaries could be taking distributions faster than they expected.

In most cases spousal beneficiaries are ideal, because they have several options that aren’t available to other beneficiaries, including the marital deduction for the federal estate tax, and the ability to transfer plan assets — in most cases — into a rollover IRA.

Also consider transferring assets into an irrevocable trust if you’re close to the threshold for owing estate taxes based on the sunset provisions.  Best estate tax avoidance plan today – die in 2010 as there is no limit on the amount you can pass to the next generation estate tax free.  Assets in this type of arrangement are passed on free of estate taxes, saving heirs tens of thousands of dollars.

Inside Tip: If you plan on moving assets from tax-deferred accounts do so before you reach age 70 1/2, when RMDs must begin.

Finally, if you have a taxable estate, you can give up to $13,000 per individual ($26,000 per married couple) each year to anyone tax free.  If you need my contact information, please let me know.  Also, consider making gifts to children over age 14 as dividends may be taxed — or gains tapped — at much lower tax rates than those that apply to adults.

Inside Tip: You may want to consider a transfer of appreciated securities to custodial accounts (UTMAs and UGMAs) to help save for a grandchild’s higher education expenses.

Market Focus

As individuals, especially doctors living in mini-mansions, come to grips with not being able to sell their homes for a value they once thought possible, we are apt to suggest that we might see increased activity in the home improvements sector as individuals just decide to make the upgrade to their existing home while they wait this whole real estate mess out. 

How can all this help you financially?  You are seeing exactly why you cannot base your investment decisions on the latest headline or try to time the market  Single and doubles in the investment world will score more runs than trying to to hit a home run (timing the market). What is your singles and doubles strategy? 

Summary

  • Formulating a tax-efficient investment and distribution strategy may allow you to keep more assets for you and your heirs.
  • Consider tax-efficient investments, such as municipal bonds and index funds, to help reduce exposure to taxes.  It’s what you keep that counts.
  • Tax-deferred investments compound on a before-tax basis and therefore have greater earning potential than their taxable counterparts. However, qualified withdrawals from tax-deferred investments are taxed at income tax rates up to 35%, whereas distributions from taxable investments held for more than 12 months are taxed at a maximum 15%.
  • You must begin taking an annual amount of money (known as a required minimum distribution) from some tax-deferred accounts after you reach age 70 1/2.
  • Review how your assets fit into a comprehensive estate plan to make the most of your money while you’re alive and to maximize the amount you’ll pass along to your heirs.
  • Before selling appreciated investment assets, be sure that you have owned them for at least one year. That way, you’ll qualify for lower capital gains taxes.
  • If you’re considering placing assets in a trust or custodial account, think carefully about which assets would be most appropriate to transfer.
  • Schedule a meeting with a financial professional to review your tax management strategies.
  • Remember to begin taking required minimum distributions from traditional IRAs and employer-sponsored retirement accounts after you reach age 70 1/2 in order to avoid costly penalties.

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