Tags Posts tagged with "Money Matters"

Money Matters

METRO photo

By Michael Christodoulou

Michael Christodoulou

If you own a business and you offer a 401(k) or similar retirement plan to your employees, you’ll want to stay current on the various changes affecting these types of accounts. And in 2024, you may find some interesting new developments to consider.

These changes are part of the SECURE 2.0 Act, enacted at the end of 2022. And while some parts of the law went into effect in 2023 — such as the new tax credit for employer contributions to start-up retirement plans with 100 or fewer employees — others were only enacted this year. 

Here are some of these changes that may interest you: 

New “starter” 401(k)/403(b): If you haven’t already established a retirement plan, you can now offer a “starter” 401(k) or “safe harbor” 403(b) plan to employees who meet age and service requirements. These plans have lower contribution limits ($6,000 per year, or $7,000 for those 50 or older) than a typical 401(k) or 403(b) and employers can’t make matching or nonelective contributions. These plans are low-cost and easy to administer but the credit for employer contributions doesn’t apply, as these contributions aren’t allowed, and since start-up costs are low, the tax credit for these costs will be correspondingly lower than they’d be for a full-scale 401(k) plan. 

Matches for student loan payments: It’s not easy for young employees to save for retirement and pay back student loans. To help address this problem, Congress included a provision in Secure 2.0 that allows employers the option to provide matching contributions to employees’ retirement plans (401(k), 403(b), 457(b) and SIMPLE IRAs) when these employees make qualified student loan payments. Of course, if you offer this match for student loan payments, your costs will likely increase, although these matching contributions are tax deductible. In any case, you may want to balance any additional expense with the potential benefit of attracting and retaining employees, particularly those who have recently graduated from college. 

401(k) eligibility for part-time employees: Part-time employees who are at least 21 years old and have at least 500 hours of service in three consecutive years must now be eligible to contribute to an existing 401(k) plan. The inclusion of part-time employees could lead to higher business expenses for you, depending on the amount of contributions you may make to employees’ plans. Again, though, you’d be offering a benefit that could be attractive to quality part-time employees. 

Emergency savings account: Many people, especially those who don’t earn high incomes, have trouble building up emergency funds they can tap for unexpected costs, such as a major home or car repair or large medical expenses. Now, if you offer a 401(k), 403(b) or 457(b) plan, you can include a pension-linked emergency savings account (PLESA) that allows non-highly compensated employees to save up to $2,500, a figure that will be indexed for inflation in the future. PLESA allows for tax-free monthly withdrawals without incurring a 10% tax penalty. PLESA contributions are made on an after-tax (Roth) basis and must be matched at the same rate as other employee contributions.  

You may want to consult with your tax and financial professionals to determine how these changes may affect what you want to do with your retirement plan. The more you know, the better your decisions likely will be. 

Michael Christodoulou, ChFC®, AAMS®, CRPC®, CRPS® is a Financial Advisor for Edward Jones in Stony Brook. This article was written by Edward Jones for use by your local Edward Jones Financial Advisor.

 

METRO photo

By Michael Christodoulou

Michael Christodoulou
Michael Christodoulou

We all hope to remain healthy and independent throughout our lives — but life can be unpredictable. If you were ever to need some type of long-term care, would you be financially prepared?

Long-term care encompasses everything from the services of a home health aide to a stay in an assisted living facility to a long residence in a nursing home. You may never need any of these kinds of care, but the odds aren’t necessarily in your favor: Someone turning age 65 today has almost a 70% chance of needing some type of long-term care services and support in their remaining years, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

And all types of long-term care can involve considerable financial expense. The median annual cost for a home health aide’s services is more than $60,000 per year, and it’s more than $100,000 per year for a private room in a nursing home, according to Genworth, an insurance company. Furthermore, contrary to many people’s expectations, Medicare usually pays very little of these costs. 

Of course, some people expect their family will be able to take care of their long-term care needs. But this may not be a viable strategy. For one thing, your family members simply may not have the skills needed to give you the type of care you may require.  Also, by the time you might need help, your grown children or other family members might not live in your area. 

So, you may need to protect yourself and your loved ones from the potential costs of long-term care. Basically, you’ve got two main choices: You could self-insure or you could transfer the risk by purchasing some type of long-term care insurance. 

If you have considerable financial resources, you might find self-insuring to be attractive, rather than choosing insurance and paying policy premiums.  You may wish to keep an emergency savings or investment account that’s earmarked exclusively for long-term care to help avoid relying on your other retirement accounts. But self-insuring has two main drawbacks.  First, because long-term care can be costly, you might need to plan for a significant amount. And second, it will be quite hard to predict exactly how much money you’ll need, because so many variables are involved — your age when you start needing care, interest rates or inflation, the cost of care in your area, the type of care you’ll require, the length of time you’ll need care, and so on. 

As an alternative to self-insuring, you could purchase long-term care insurance, which can provide benefits for home health care, adult day care and assisted living and nursing home facilities. However, you will need to consider the issues attached to long-term care insurance. For one thing, it can be expensive, though the younger you are when you buy your policy, the more affordable it may be. 

Also, long-term care policies typically require you to wait a certain amount of time before benefits are paid. But policies vary greatly in what they offer, so, if you are thinking of buying this insurance, you’ll want to review options and compare benefits and costs.

In any case, by being aware of the potential need for long-term care, its cost and the ways of paying for it, you’ll be able to make the appropriate decisions for your financial situation, your needs and your loved ones.  

Michael Christodoulou, ChFC®, AAMS®, CRPC®, CRPS® is a Financial Advisor for Edward Jones in Stony Brook

This article was written by Edward Jones for use by your local Edward Jones Financial Advisor.

 

By Michael Christodoulou

One of your important sources of retirement income will likely be Social Security — but when should you start taking it?

You can start collecting Social Security benefits at 62, but your checks will be considerably bigger if you wait until your full retirement age, which is likely between 66 and 67. You could even wait until you’re 70, at which point the payments will max out, except for yearly cost-of-living adjustments. But if you need the money, you need the money, even if you’re just 62 or any age before full retirement age. 

However, if you have adequate financial resources to meet your monthly needs, whether through earned income, your investment portfolio or a combination of the two, you could have some flexibility in choosing when to take Social Security. In this case, you may want to weigh these considerations:

Life expectancy: For all of us, it’s one of life’s great mysteries: How long will we live? Of course, we can’t see into the future, so the question can’t be answered with total confidence. But to make an informed decision on when to take Social Security, you don’t need to know your exact lifespan — you just need to make a reasonably good estimate. 

So, for example, if you’re approaching 62, you’re enjoying excellent health and you have a family history of longevity, you might conclude it’s worth waiting a few years to collect Social Security, so you can receive the bigger payments. Conversely, if your health is questionable and your family has not been fortunate in terms of longevity, you might want to start taking your benefits earlier. 

Employment: You can certainly continue working and still receive Social Security benefits. However, if you’re under your full retirement age for the entire year, Social Security will deduct $1 from your benefits for every $2 you earn above the annual limit of $22,320. In the year you reach your full retirement age, Social Security will deduct $1 in benefits for every $3 you earn above $59,520. So, you may want to keep these reductions in mind when deciding when to begin accepting benefits. Once you reach your full retirement age, you can earn any amount without losing benefits. (Also, at your full retirement age, Social Security will recalculate your benefit amount to credit you for the months you received reduced benefits because of your excess earnings.)

Spouse: Spouses can receive two types of Social Security benefits: spousal and survivor. With a spousal benefit, your spouse can receive up to 50% of your full retirement benefits, regardless of when you start taking them. (Your spouse’s benefit can be reduced by the amount of their own retirement benefit and whether they took Social Security before their full retirement age.) But with a survivor benefit, your decision about when to take Social Security can make a big difference. 

A surviving spouse can receive the larger of their own benefit or 100% of a deceased spouse’s benefit, so if you take benefits early and receive a permanent reduction, your spouse’s survivor benefit may also be reduced for their lifetime. 

When to take Social Security is an important — and irrevocable — decision. So, consider all the factors before making your choice. 

Michael Christodoulou, ChFC®, AAMS®, CRPC®, CRPS® is a Financial Advisor for Edward Jones in Stony Brook. Edward Jones, Member SIPC

Stock photo

By Michael Christodoulou

Michael Christodoulou

As we begin the new year, you may be receiving various tax statements from your financial services provider — so it’s a good time to consider how your investments are taxed. This type of knowledge is useful when you’re doing your taxes, and, perhaps just as important, knowing the type of taxes you generate can help you evaluate your overall investment strategy. 

To understand the tax issues associated with investing, it’s important to understand that investments typically generate either capital gains or ordinary income. This distinction is meaningful because different tax rates may apply, and taxes may be due at different times. 

So, when do you pay either capital gains taxes or ordinary income taxes on your investments? You receive capital gains, and pay taxes on these gains, when you sell an investment that’s increased in value since you purchased it. Long-term capital gains (on investments held more than a year) are taxed at 0%, 15% and 20%, depending on your income. 

Also, qualified dividends — which represent most of the dividends paid by American companies to investors — are taxed at the same rates as long-term capital gains. (Keep in mind that you’ll be taxed on dividends even if you automatically reinvest them.)

On the other hand, you pay ordinary income taxes on capital gains resulting from sales of appreciated assets you’ve held for one year or less. You also pay ordinary income taxes when you receive “ordinary” dividends, which are paid if you purchase shares of a company after the cutoff point for shareholders to be credited with a stock dividend (the ex-dividend date). 

Because your ordinary income tax rate may be much higher than even the top long-term capital gains rate, you may be better off, from a tax standpoint, by focusing on investments that generate long-term capital gains. And the best strategy for doing just that is to buy quality investments and hold them for the long term. By doing so, you could also reduce the costs and fees associated with frequent buying and selling.

The investment tax situation has another twist, though, because not all ordinary income is taxable — and if it is, it may not be taxable immediately. The most common example of this is tax-deferred accounts, such as a traditional IRA and 401(k). When you take money from these accounts, typically at retirement, you’ll pay taxes at your personal tax rate, but for the years and decades before then, your taxes were deferred, which meant these accounts could grow faster than ones on which you paid taxes every year. Consequently, it’s generally a good idea to regularly contribute to your tax-advantaged retirement accounts. 

Finally, some investments and investment accounts are tax free. Municipal bonds are free from federal income taxes, and often state income taxes, too. And when you invest in a Roth IRA, your earnings can grow tax free if you don’t start taking withdrawals until you’re at least 59½ and you’ve had your account at least five years. 

Ultimately, tax considerations probably shouldn’t be the key driver of your investment choices. Nonetheless, knowing the tax implications of your investments — specifically, what type of taxes they may generate and when these taxes will be due — can help you evaluate which investment choices are appropriate for your needs.  

Michael Christodoulou, ChFC®, AAMS®, CRPC®, CRPS® is a Financial Advisor for Edward Jones in Stony Brook. Edward Jones, Member SIPC

METRO photo

By Michael Christodoulou

Michael Christodoulou

It’s been a bumpy year for the financial markets — which means that some of your investments may have underperformed or lost value. Can you use these losses to your advantage?

It’s possible. If you have some investments that have lost value, you could sell them to offset taxable capital gains from other investments. If your losses exceed gains for the year, you could use the remaining losses to offset up to $3,000 of ordinary income. And any amount over $3,000 can be carried forward to offset gains in future years. 

This “tax-loss harvesting” can be advantageous if you plan to sell investments that you’ve held in taxable accounts for years and that have grown significantly in value. And you might receive some gains even if you take no action yourself. For example, when you own mutual funds, the fund manager can decide to sell stocks or other investments within the fund’s portfolio and then pay you a portion of the proceeds. These payments, known as capital gains distributions, are taxable to you whether you take them as cash or reinvest them back into the fund. 

Still, despite the possible tax benefits of selling investments whose price has fallen, you need to consider carefully whether such a move is in your best interest. If an investment has a clear place in your holdings, and it offers good business fundamentals and favorable prospects, you might not want to sell it just because its value has dropped. 

On the other hand, if the investments you’re thinking of selling are quite similar to others you own, it might make sense to sell, take the tax loss and then use the proceeds of the sale to purchase new investments that can help fill any gaps in your portfolio. 

If you do sell an investment and reinvest the funds, you’ll want to be sure your new investment is different in nature from the one you sold. Otherwise, you could risk triggering the “wash sale” rule, which states that if you sell an investment at a loss and buy the same or a “substantially identical” investment within 30 days before or after the sale, the loss is generally disallowed for income tax purposes.

Here’s one more point to keep in mind about tax-loss harvesting: You’ll need to take into account just how long you’ve held the investments you’re considering selling. That’s because long-term losses are first applied against long-term gains, while short-term losses are first applied against short-term gains. (Long-term is defined as more than a year; short-term is one year or less.) 

If you have excess losses in one category, you can then apply them to gains of either type. Long-term capital gains are taxed at 0%, 15% or 20%, depending on your income, while short-term gains are taxed at your ordinary income tax rate. So, from a tax perspective, taking short-term losses could provide greater benefits if your tax rate is higher than the highest capital gains rate.

You’ll want to contact your tax advisor to determine whether tax-loss harvesting is appropriate for your situation — and you’ll need to do it soon because the deadline is Dec. 31. But whether you pursue this technique this year or not, you may want to keep it in mind for the future — because you’ll always have investment tax issues to consider.  

Michael Christodoulou, ChFC®, AAMS®, CRPC®, CRPS® is a Financial Advisor for Edward Jones in Stony Brook. Member SIPC.

By Michael Christodoulou

If your children are grown and your mortgage is paid off, do you still need to carry life insurance? 

It depends on your situation, but for many people, a cash-value life insurance policy, such as whole life or universal life, can be a valuable, tax-efficient source of retirement income. And by drawing on the cash value of your policy, you might be able to temporarily reduce the amount you take out from your retirement accounts, such as your IRA and 401(k). This ability could be especially important when the financial markets are down — you’d probably like to avoid liquidating your assets when their prices have dropped.  

Basically, you can use the cash in your policy in the following ways:

Withdrawals: You can typically withdraw part of the cash value of your life insurance without losing coverage. You generally won’t incur income taxes on these withdrawals, up to the amount you’ve put into the policy — that is, the premiums you’ve paid. Once your withdrawals exceed this amount, you would generally owe taxes. Also, keep in mind that any withdrawals will reduce your policy’s death benefit and the available cash surrender value.

Policy loans: Rather than taking a withdrawal from your policy, you could take out a loan. You won’t have to go through an approval process or income verification, and policy loans typically have lower interest rates than bank loans and don’t assess closing costs. Plus, because your insurer will be lending you the money and using the cash in your policy as collateral, your policy’s cash value can remain intact and still potentially grow. However, policy loans do carry some issues of which you should be aware. For one thing, while a loan usually isn’t taxable, you could end up owing taxes on any unpaid loan balance, including interest. And if this balance exceeds the policy’s cash value, it could cause your policy to lapse. Also, outstanding loans can reduce your death benefit. 

Cashing out: If you cash out, or “surrender,” your policy, you can receive the entire cash value, plus any accrued interest. You will have to subtract any money needed to pay policy loans, along with unpaid premiums and surrender fees, which can be significant. Also, any amount you receive over the policy’s cash basis — the total of premiums you’ve paid — will be taxed as regular income. 

1035 Exchange: Through what’s known as a Section 1035 Exchange, you can transfer your life insurance policy to an annuity, which can be structured to pay you a lifetime income stream. The exchange won’t be taxable but surrender charges may still apply.  

Given the potential tax implications of the above options, you may want to consult with your tax advisor before making any moves. Also, be sure you are comfortable with a reduced or eliminated death benefit. Specifically, you’ll want to be confident that your spouse or other family members don’t need the proceeds of your policy. This may require some discussions about your loved ones’ plans and needs. And don’t forget that life insurance can help your family pay for final expenses, such as funeral costs and unpaid medical bills.

Whether it’s providing you with needed retirement income or helping your family meet future needs, your cash value life insurance policy is a valuable asset so try to put it to the best use possible.  

Michael Christodoulou, ChFC®, AAMS®, CRPC®, CRPS® is a Financial Advisor for Edward Jones in Stony Brook. Member SIPC.

Stock photo

By Michael Christodoulou

You may spend decades contributing to various retirement accounts. But for some accounts, such as a traditional IRA and 401(k), you must start withdrawing funds at a certain point. What should you know about this requirement?

To begin with, the rules governing these withdrawals — technically called required minimum distributions, or RMDs — have changed recently. For many years, individuals had to begin taking their RMDs (which are based on the account balance and the IRS’ life expectancy factor) when they turned 70½. 

The original SECURE Act of 2019 raised this age to 72, and SECURE 2.0, passed in 2022, raised it again, to 73. (If you turned 73 in 2023, and you were 72 in 2022 when the RMD limit was still 72, you should have taken your first RMD for 2022 by April 1 of this year. You will then need to take your 2023 RMD by Dec. 31. And going forward, you’ll also need to take your RMDs by the end of every year.) 

Not all retirement accounts are subject to RMDs. They aren’t required for a Roth IRA, and, starting in 2024, won’t be required for a Roth 401(k) or 403(b) plan. But if your account does call for RMDs, you do need to take them, because if you don’t, you could face tax penalties. Previously, this penalty was 50% of the amount you were supposed to have taken, but SECURE 2.0 reduced it to 25%.

When you take your RMDs, you need to be aware of a key issue: taxes. RMDs are taxed as ordinary income, and, as such, they could potentially bump you into a higher tax bracket and possibly even increase your Medicare premiums, which are determined by your modified adjusted gross income. 

Are there any ways you could possibly reduce an RMD-related tax hike? You might have some options. Here are two to consider:

Convert tax-deferred accounts to Roth IRA. You could convert some, or maybe all, of your tax-deferred retirement accounts to a Roth IRA. By doing so, you could lower your RMDs in the future — while adding funds to an account you’re never required to touch. So, if you don’t really need all the money to live on, you could include the remainder of the Roth IRA in your estate plans, providing an initially tax-free inheritance to your loved ones. However, converting a tax-deferred account to a Roth IRA will generate taxes in the year of conversion, so you’d need the money available to pay this tax bill. 

Donate RMDs to charity. In what’s known as a qualified charitable distribution, you can move up to $100,000 of your RMDs directly from a traditional IRA to a qualified charity, avoiding the taxes that might otherwise result if you took the RMDs yourself. After 2023, the $100,000 limit will be indexed to inflation.

Of course, before you start either a Roth IRA conversion or a qualified charitable distribution, you will need to consult with your tax advisor, as both these moves have issues you must consider and may not be appropriate for your situation.

But it’s always a good idea to know as much as you can about the various aspects of RMDs — they could play a big part in your retirement income strategy.  

Michael Christodoulou, ChFC®, AAMS®, CRPC®, CRPS® is a Financial Advisor for Edward Jones in Stony Brook. Member SIPC.

Pixabay photo

By Michael Christodoulou

You’ll find some big differences between traditional and speculative investments — and knowing these differences can matter a great deal when you’re trying to reach your financial goals.

To begin with, let’s look at the basic types of traditional and speculative investments. Traditional investments are those with which you’re probably already familiar: stocks, bonds, mutual funds, government securities, certificates of deposit (CDs) and so on. Speculative investments include cryptocurrencies, foreign currencies and precious metals such as gold, silver and copper.

Now, consider these three components of investing and how they differ between traditional and speculative investments:

The first issue to consider is risk. When you own stocks or stock-based mutual funds, the value of your investments will fluctuate. And bond prices will also move up and down, largely in response to changing interest rates. However, owning an array of stocks — small-company, large-company, international, etc. — can help reduce the impact of volatility on your stock portfolio. And owning a mix of short- and long-term bonds can help you defend yourself somewhat against interest-rate movements. 

When interest rates fall, you’ll still have your longer-term bonds, which generally — but not always – pay higher rates than short-term ones. And when interest rates rise, you can redeem your maturing short-term bonds at potentially higher rates.

With speculative investments, though, price movements can be extreme as well as rapid. During their short history, cryptocurrencies in particular have shown astonishingly fast moves up and down, resulting in huge gains followed by equally huge, or bigger, losses. The risk factor for crypto is exacerbated by its being largely unregulated, unlike with stocks and bonds, whose transactions are overseen by well-established regulatory agencies. There just isn’t much that investors can do to modulate the risk presented by crypto and some other speculative investments.

A second key difference between traditional and speculative investments is the time horizon involved. When you invest in stocks and other traditional investments, you ideally should be in it for the long term — it’s not a “get rich quick” strategy. But those who purchase speculative investments want, and expect, quick and sizable returns, despite the considerable risk involved.

A third difference between the two types of investments is the activity required by investors. When you’re a long-term investor in traditional investments, you may not have to do all that much once you’ve built a portfolio that’s appropriate for your risk tolerance, goals and time horizon. 

After that point, it’s mostly just a matter of monitoring your portfolio and making occasional moves — you’re not constantly buying and selling, or at least you shouldn’t be. But when you speculate in crypto or other instruments, you are constantly watching prices move — and then making your own moves in response. It’s an activity that requires considerable attention and effort.

One final thought: Not all speculative instruments are necessarily bad investments. Precious metals, for instance, are found in some traditional mutual funds, sometimes in the form of shares of mining companies. And even crypto may become more of a stable vehicle once additional regulation comes into play. 

But if you’re investing for long-term goals, such as a comfortable retirement — rather than speculating for thrills and quick gains, which may disappear just as quickly — you may want to give careful thought to the types of investments you pursue.

Michael Christodoulou, ChFC®, AAMS®, CRPC®, CRPS® is a Financial Advisor for Edward Jones in Stony Brook. Member SIPC.

METRO photo

By Michael Christodoulou

When you retire, you’ll experience many changes — should one of them involve your living arrangements?

The issue of downsizing is one that many retirees will consider. If you have children, and they’ve grown and left the home, you might find yourself with more space than you really need. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean you must pack up and scale down yourself. You might love your home and neighborhood and see no reason to go. But if you’re open to a change, you could find that moving to a smaller house, a condo or an apartment may make sense for you.

Let’s consider some of the advantages of downsizing:

You could save money. Moving to a smaller space could lower your utility bills and upkeep costs.

You could save effort. A smaller home will mean less maintenance and cleaning.

You could de-clutter. Over the years, most of us accumulate more possessions than we really need. Downsizing gives you a chance to de-clutter. And you can do some good along the way, too, because many charitable organizations will welcome some of your items.  

You could make money. If you’ve had your home for many years, it’s certainly possible that it’s worth more — perhaps a great deal more — than what you paid for it. So, when you sell it, you could pocket a lot of money — possibly without being taxed on the gains. 

Generally, if you’ve lived in your home for at least two years in the five-year period before you sold it, you can exclude $250,000 of capital gains, if you’re single, or $500,000 if you’re married and file taxes jointly. (You’ll want to consult with your tax advisor, though, before selling your home, to ensure you’re eligible for the exclusion, especially if you do own multiple homes. Issues can arise in connection with determining one’s “primary” residence.)

While downsizing does offer some potentially big benefits, it can also entail some drawbacks. First of all, it’s possible that your home might not be worth as much as you had hoped, which means you won’t clear as much money from the sale as you anticipated. Also, If you still were paying off a mortgage on your bigger home, you may have been deducting the interest payments on your taxes — a deduction that might be reduced or lost to you if you purchase a less-expensive condo or become a renter. 

Besides these financial factors, there’s the ordinary hassle of packing and moving. And if you’re going to a much smaller living space, you may not have much room for family members who want to visit or occasionally spend the night.

So, as you can see, you’ll need to weigh a variety of financial, practical and emotional issues when deciding whether to downsize. And you will also want to communicate your thoughts to grown children or other family members who may someday have reason to be involved in your living space. In short, it’s a big decision — so give it the attention it deserves. 

Michael Christodoulou, ChFC®, AAMS®, CRPC®, CRPS® is a Financial Advisor for Edward Jones in Stony Brook. Member SIPC.