Aging Safely – Self or Others

While we’re all aging, some of us are further along in the process than others! But even you’re still very young, you probably have people you care about who might be labeled an “older adult.” With age comes certain privileges and freedoms, but we also have to acknowledge that aging also brings cognitive changes as well as physical changes. This is true even for those with no cognitive impairment or dementia – everyone’s brain changes as they age.

This cognitive aging can lead to “diminished financial capacity” – a term used to describe a decline in a person’s ability to manage money and financial assets to serve his or her best interests, including the inability to understand the consequences of investment decisions. Some errors that occur due to diminished financial capacity may be minor, like forgetting to pay a bill, but serious errors that threaten our financial security are possible.

Happily, there are steps we can take to protect ourselves and those we care about. These steps include:

  • keeping important documents organized and easy to find;
  • providing names of “trusted contacts” to your financial professionals;
  • creating (or updating) a power of attorney;
  • and more.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) provides a practical breakdown of steps that will protect you as you age, and also steps to help you assist an older friend or relative you are concerned about: Planning for diminished capacity and illness. None of us likes to think about possible future problems, but if something happens, we know we’ll be glad we did!

NOTE: People of all ages can be injured in accidents or suffer illness that diminishes ability to manage finances and make decisions. The steps outlined by the CFPB are appropriate for adults of all ages to consider.

For more details about cognitive aging and how it affects different types of mental functioning differently, see a trio of articles from The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, starting with Cognitive Aging: A Primer.

Barb Wollan

Barb Wollan's goal as a Family Finance program specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is to help people use their money according to THEIR priorities. She provides information and tools, and then encourages folks to focus on what they control: their own decisions about what to do with the money they have.

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Improve Retirement Readiness by Being Realistic About Social Security

We already know that the average American is financially under-prepared for retirement, putting them at risk for lifestyle cutbacks and even hardships in retirement. A recent study (University of Michigan Retirement and Disability Research Center) showed:

  • that having unrealistically high expectations for Social Security benefits contributes to inadequate retirement savings; and
  • that the majority of workers over-estimate what they will receive in Social Security retirement income.

Those two findings combine to suggest trouble ahead. And it doesn’t take TOO much thought to reach the conclusion that everyone needs realistic expectations about Social Security income in retirement. The good news? It’s pretty easy to obtain a reasonable estimate of your Social Security income!

The Social Security Administration offers two excellent tools we can use to obtain a good estimate of what our Social Security retirement benefit will be. Both involve entering personal data, so be sure to use a secure internet connection. The Retirement Estimator provides a personalized estimate of your benefit at three ages: 62; your full retirement age (which is between age 66 and 67); and age 70. By logging into your “My Social Security” account on-line, you can see even more: you can pick a precise age at which you wish to claim social security, rather than being limited to just three options, AND you can review the earnings record shown there to make sure that all your earnings are included. Note: about a month ago I talked with a woman whose record was missing her earnings for 2018 and 2019! It’s a good thing she checked! Without those figures, her Social Security income would have been lower than what she was supposed to receive.

Suppose you discover that your Social Security income is projected to be about $2,000/month (in today’s dollars). Then you can consider: do you want to live on $2,000/month after you retire? If you’d rather have more income to live on in retirement, that’s motivation to save and invest now! To get started, learn about retirement saving options available through your employer: if a 401(k) or other tax-advantaged plan is available to you, that can be a great option. If your employer will match your contributions to a retirement account, then be sure to take advantage of that match, as well.

For those who do not have a retirement savings option available through their job, be sure to check out your Individual Retirement Account (IRA) options. The IRS Publication 590A explains the rules associated with contributing to an IRA account. You may choose to consult with a financial adviser in deciding how to invest those funds – an IRA can be invested in any type of financial account, including mutual funds, a stock and/or bond portfolio, and money market accounts. Your choice of investments, along with your decisions about how much to save, will have a huge impact on your retirement well-being. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) offers great learning materials for learning to invest and for choosing financial professionals.

Sources: Squared Away Blog: Workers Overestimate their Social Security, 6-17-21, from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College; and
Prados, María J., and Arie Kapteyn. 2019. Subjective Expectations, Social Security Benefits, and the Optimal Path to Retirement, University of Michigan Retirement and Disability Research Center.

Barb Wollan

Barb Wollan's goal as a Family Finance program specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is to help people use their money according to THEIR priorities. She provides information and tools, and then encourages folks to focus on what they control: their own decisions about what to do with the money they have.

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Every Little Bit Counts

I raise bees, then extract and sell their honey. I set my finances up so I can keep that money separate and use it to buy or replace equipment, hoping my hobby would support itself. If I run my apiary as a business, I would need an EIN (Employer Identification Number), and would need to keep good records of all my Income and Expenses. If I run my apiary as a hobby, I will still need to keep good records because I will need to report my income. Personally, I would keep track of my expenses even though they will not help me when filing my tax return. As much as I love bees and their honey, I want to track my expenses to make sure I am not losing too much money with this hobby.

An activity qualifies as a business if your primary purpose for engaging in the activity is for income or profit and you are involved in the activity with continuity and regularity. As a business, you will use a Schedule C to report your business activities (income and expenses) and determine what tax should be paid.  You will also be expected to pay self-employment tax quarterly.

As for me and my hobby, I will report my honey sales on a Schedule 1, line 8 of the Form 1040. The income won’t be subject to self-employment tax. On the downside, I may not be able to deduct expenses associated with my apiary.

So, you might be wondering now, “why report the income if I will have to pay taxes on it?” The first reason is that the law requires it. But in addition, there are at least two ways you can benefit from reporting the income.

  • If you have a lower income and are trying to make ends meet by working on the side, any earned income will be used to calculate the Earned Income Credit. Hobby income is not considered “earned income,” but if you report it on Schedule C as business income, then it is considered “earned income.” The earned income credit (EIC) is a tax credit that helps certain U.S. taxpayers with low earned incomes reduce the amount of tax owed on a dollar-for-dollar basis and may result in a refund to the taxpayer if the amount of the credit is greater than the amount of tax owed.  
  • Another benefit of reporting that income as earned income relates to Social Security. Remember that the monthly social security check you will receive in the future is based on current and past work and earnings history. Social Security retirement benefits are based on your average indexed monthly earnings (AIME) over your 35 highest-earning years.  You must have 40 quarters of at least $1410 (2020 rule) of earned income to qualify for Social Security.  Though the income from any job-on-the side is not enough to live on, it may be worth counting toward your 40 quarters and the calculations used to determine your future social security check.

Brenda Schmitt

A Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Family Finance Field Specialist helping North Central Iowans make the most of their money.

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Curious Behaviors That Can Ruin Your Retirement

This week, I discovered a fun tool that can help us all be more ready for retirement. I don’t think it’s new, so I am surprised I hadn’t seen it before, because I pay a lot of attention to retirement information. I guess that just goes to show that we always have more to learn, no matter how much we think we already know!

The tool is provided the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College — one of the premiere sources of quality information on retirement. I tell you that because I want you to know it’s trustworthy. They have other great resources too.

The fun (and enlightening) part is that it prepares us to make better decisions about retirement issues by alerting us to natural human tendencies that can work against us. It’s called “Curious Behaviors That Can Ruin Your Retirement.” I enjoyed it — it took about 10 minutes, and explained things in clear language with great examples.

I’d encourage everyone to check it out — at least everyone who wants the best retirement possible, especially if you’re over 50. Personally, I think I might go back to it about once a year, just to keep myself on my toes!

Barb Wollan

Barb Wollan's goal as a Family Finance program specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is to help people use their money according to THEIR priorities. She provides information and tools, and then encourages folks to focus on what they control: their own decisions about what to do with the money they have.

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Rethinking Your Retirement During COVID-19

I have several acquaintances who are retiring early because of the pandemic. You probably do, too. Retirement plans are just one more thing that have been thrown into flux due to COVID-19.

Some employers are offering early retirement incentives. Many Iowans are considering early retirement due to job challenges, health concerns, or other reasons. On top of that, temporary policy changes have made it easier for people to withdraw from their retirement accounts during 2020. You may have questions as you sort through your options.

A new 45-minute on-line workshop “Rethinking Your Retirement During COVID-19” from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is designed to equip you to make informed retirement decisions during this turbulent time.  

The free workshop is available at noon or 5 p.m. on both Tuesday September 29 and Thursday October 1, with more dates likely through the fall. Pre-registration is required. You’ll find the registration links at ISU Extension’s retirement resource page — scroll under the “Upcoming Events” section to find the session you wish to attend!

Barb Wollan

Barb Wollan's goal as a Family Finance program specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is to help people use their money according to THEIR priorities. She provides information and tools, and then encourages folks to focus on what they control: their own decisions about what to do with the money they have.

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Financial Cause and Effect

As a site coordinator and quality reviewer at a local Volunteer Tax Assistance site, I am able to see hundreds of real-life examples of “cause and effect”. 

  • What EFFECT will cashing out my 401k have on my taxable income? It may CAUSE a portion of your Social Security taxable.
  • What EFFECT will $24,000 of income (with no withholdings) have on a 19 year-old full-time student living at home? The EFFECT will be felt by the student who will owe taxes and by the parents who will not be able to claim the child as a dependent.

The most recent unpleasant EFFECT was CAUSED by gambling winnings.  A very lucky woman in her 70’s received a W-G from a local casino, indicating she won $20,800 worth of winnings with NO taxes withheld. The fact that no taxes were withheld did not bother her because she also had documentation showing her losses, which far exceeded her winnings. She knew that her losses could be deducted from her winnings. What she did not understand was…

  • She could only write-off the losses that were equal to her winnings…meaning…of the 25,000 of losses she had incurred trying to win the $20,800, she could only write off 20,800.
  • What she also did not know was…The losses are reported on a schedule A, while the winnings are counted as income. Once the winnings were added to her pension income and the $26,418 of social security income, she discovered that, not only had the winnings pushed her into a higher tax bracket, her income now was high enough that $13,661 of her Social Security was now taxable. Last year, with no gambling winnings, none of her Social Security was taxed.
  • It was only after her total income was calculated that she could subtract her itemized deductions (which included her gambling losses). 

The combination of increased income (due to gambling winnings), plus the increased tax bracket, plus the increase in the taxable portion of her social security, and the fact that there were no tax withholding on the gambling winnings; this woman owed more than $2000 for her federal tax return…something she had not anticipated.

Before doing anything different with your money, it is important to stop and consider what effect it will have on your tax return.

Brenda Schmitt

A Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Family Finance Field Specialist helping North Central Iowans make the most of their money.

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Income Taxes in Retirement

United States tax forms

As a volunteer tax preparer with VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance), I frequently wish people understood taxes better. In recent weeks I’ve done three tax returns for people who, in their first year of retirement, cashed out their entire IRA or 401(k) account (ranging from $15,000 to $60,000).

In most cases, these new retirees used the funds for their long-term benefit – major home improvements and other purchases that will help them in the long run. I think they probably thought about the fact that spending the money now means they’ll live on more limited income for the rest of their lives, and they decided that was okay with them.

But I do NOT think they understood the tax implications of their decision, and I found myself wishing I would’ve had the chance to explain it all before they decided to withdraw the whole amount at once. Here are some things retirees should know:

  1. Withdrawals from “traditional” IRA, 401(k), and similar retirement plans will generally be included in your taxable income. Large withdrawals can easily move you into a higher tax bracket, meaning that you pay a higher tax rate on some of that income. For a single person, income above about $53,000 is typically subject to a 22% tax rate, rather than the lower 10% or 12% rate.
  2. The first year of retirement is especially tricky for income tax purposes, because usually the person also had employment income for part of the year, which may contribute to bumping them into a higher tax bracket.
  3. Social Security income is only partly taxable (at most 85% of it is subject to tax). How much is taxable depends on how much other income you have that year. When a person has very low income, none of their Social Security income will be taxable; as their income increases, the portion of Social Security subject to tax also increases. That means that large withdrawals from retirement accounts can create a double-whammy by increasing the taxable amount of Social Security as well has increasing total income.

I know that some of the clients I served paid at least $5,000 more in income tax than they would have if they had spread their retirement plan withdrawals over five years, or even over two or three years. I’m also pretty confident that they did not really understand the tax impact when they made the decision to withdraw it all at once.

Bottom line? Before making decisions about withdrawing from retirement plans, consider various options and get information from someone who is knowledgeable about taxes. If you don’t have a tax expert to ask, try using IRS form 1040-ES (estimated taxes) OR the IRS online withholding estimator to compare different options. Note: remember to consider state income taxes, as well.

Barb Wollan

Barb Wollan's goal as a Family Finance program specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is to help people use their money according to THEIR priorities. She provides information and tools, and then encourages folks to focus on what they control: their own decisions about what to do with the money they have.

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Secure Act: Part 1

The Secure Act was originally written to make changes to retirement laws. The act passed through the House last May and was held by the Senate until November when it was added to the Appropriations Bill and signed into law in December.

The law change catching attention is the starting age for required minimum distributions (RMDs). If you are retired and reached 70 1/2 before the end of 2019 you are required to take distributions. Everyone else can wait until the year they reach age 72. The annual RMD amount continues to be based on life expectancy tables published by the IRS.

The other change attracting attention relates to distribution rules for inherited retirement accounts. These accounts, including IRAs, 401(k)s and other similar qualified accounts, generally have named beneficiaries. When there is just one beneficiary and it is the spouse, then the withdrawal rules are the same as if the account originally belonged to the spouse. The SECURE Act did not change this.

However, when the account beneficiary is not the spouse, the rules for taking distributions have changed. In general, the beneficiary must take distributions on a schedule that will liquidate the account within ten years. Stretch IRAs, which set up for distributions over the beneficiary’s life expectancy, are no longer an option. Beneficiaries will want to plan for the tax implications of those distributions.

Exceptions to the ten year distribution schedule include: disabled beneficiary, chronically ill beneficiary, beneficiaries not more than ten years younger than the deceased, and children that have not reached the age of majority. Separate rules apply to these individuals, and also to situations where multiple beneficiaries are named, so professional guidance is recommended.

More about the Secure Act will follow in subsequent posts……

Joyce Lash

Joyce Lash is a Human Sciences Specialist in Family Finance who wants to keep you ahead of the curve on financial information.

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Secure Act : Part II

Welcome to part two of our review of the the Secure Act! We’ll introduce you to some of the other retirement plan changes employees can expect to hear about as new rules and options are added to their plans.

A part-time employee who has worked a minimum of 500 hours each year for three continuous years can now begin making retirement savings contributions to an employer’s retirement plan. This change expands eligibility beyond the old rules that allowed an employer to use a 1,000-hours-worked rule before full time employees are allowed to participate in a retirement plan.

New tax credits are available for small business owners who start a retirement plan for their employees. Additional credit is given if the plan uses an automatic enrollment structure. The additional business tax credit is also available if an existing plan is converted to automatic enrollment. The business tax credits range from $500 to $5000 and can be claimed for three years. Small employers can also participate in multiple-employer plans that allow many unrelated businesses to join together to share costs of plan administration.

Old rules allowed employers to include annuity options in their 401K plans, but if the insurance company selling the annuity contract failed, the employer was required to guarantee the continuation of the contract payments. The Secure Act removed the employer’s responsibility to protect retirees. The inclusion of annuities in retirement plan menus is expected to increase.

The cap for auto enrollment contributions to an employer’s retirement plan was 10% of employee pay; the amount has been raised to 15%. Employers must continue to give employees the option, once a year, to change their contribution.

The Secure Act also removes the restriction that prohibited individuals age 70 1/2 or older, who are still working, from making contributions to an IRA.

In our next post we will visit some of the non-retirement changes included in the new Secure Act.

Joyce Lash

Joyce Lash is a Human Sciences Specialist in Family Finance who wants to keep you ahead of the curve on financial information.

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Secure Act: Part III

Eligibility for participation in retirement savings plans, incentives for small businesses to establish retirement plans, and rules for contributions and distributions are the main focus of the Secure Act, but there are other changes worth understanding in the new law.

  • Loans allowed by an employer from retirement funds can no longer be distributed through a credit card account or similar arrangements. If received through a credit card, the funds must be claimed as income and are subject to taxes and penalties.
  • Withdrawals from retirement accounts can now be made for the birth or adoption of a child within one year of the event. The limit is $5000 per account owner and it has to be claimed as income, but there will be no penalty tax added.
  • At least once a year, your retirement account report must include a statement of monthly benefits the owner can expect in retirement. The amount will be based on a single lifetime or joint lifetime annuity.
  • 403B and 457 plans have new rules for transferring account funds to a new employer’s plan or to a qualified plan distribution annuity.

And in areas unrelated to retirement accounts:

  • 529 plans can now be used to cover the costs of registered apprenticeships, homeschooling costs, private elementary, secondary and religious schooling. Up to $10,000 can be used to repay student loan debt. (State alignment is necessary so check your state rules.)
  • The Kiddie Tax on unearned income is being reset to rules in place before the 2017 TCJA law. Under TCJA, unearned income was subject to the Estate or Trust tax rates. Amended returns can be filed for 2018.
  • The penalty for failing to file a tax return is a maximum of $400 or 100% of the tax due.

Rules and implementation guidelines will further define these changes, so check with financial professionals and your employer’s HR departments for more details.

Joyce Lash

Joyce Lash is a Human Sciences Specialist in Family Finance who wants to keep you ahead of the curve on financial information.

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