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Blogs Written by PWR Advisors
Should I save to my pre-tax 401k at work or my Roth IRA? I cannot fully fund both.
Dear Super Saver,
To determine which account you should save to, calculate your tax rate today versus your projected rate in retirement. In general, Roth contributions are made with after-tax dollars and distributed tax-free. The 401k is the opposite - contributions are made with pre-tax dollars and distributions are taxed at ordinary income rates.
If you are in a higher tax bracket now than you will be in retirement, save to the pre-tax 401k. If you will be in a higher tax bracket in retirement, save to the Roth IRA.
There are other considerations:
Tax laws can change - We don't know for sure what tax rates will be in the future, therefore, some people prefer to save to both types of accounts to hedge this uncertainty and manage their tax bill in retirement.
Employer matching - If your employer offers a match on contributions, save at least enough to the 401k to receive that "free money".
Investment options - If your 401k options are limited and expensive, you may choose to invest in the Roth IRA for the ability to create a custom strategy.
Income phaseouts - You may make too much money to contribute to a Roth IRA. You can typically get around this with a backdoor Roth IRA, but saving to a 401k may still be the best option for high earners.
Flexibility - Roth IRA's and 401k's have different hardship provisions for accessing money earlier than generally allowed (age 59 1/2 with exceptions). Examples relate to education expenses, medical bills and a first time home purchase. Additionally, some 401k's allow you to take out a loan. While this isn't necessarily a good idea, it is an option that is not available to you with the Roth IRA.
Even though one savings vehicle may end up being a better choice for you mathematically, realistically, either is fine as long as you are saving enough. Have a fee-only, fiduciary Advisor develop a custom retirement plan to make sure you are on track.
Dear Linda, I recently transitioned from being a salaried employee to a self-employed consultant. I like the flexibility but realize that I have more responsibility with regards to my finances. For example, I was previously enrolled in my employer's 401k plan and now I am not sure how to save for retirement. I am also confused about taxes - my employer withheld money from each paycheck but no taxes are being withheld when clients pay me. And people keep saying I can "write things off", but I am not sure what that means.
This transition can be confusing, but as long as you stay organized you will be fine. Here are some recommendations to help get you started.
Track all income & expenses related to your consulting work.
Open a separate bank account for business activity. Save all invoices and receipts relating to the business transactions. While not necessary, we also recommend using a bookkeeping software, such as Quickbooks Online, to generate invoices, attach receipts to transactions, and run reports that will help you at tax time.
Pay your taxes throughout the year.
You may need to calculate and pay estimated tax payments. Alternatively, you can increase your spouse's withholding if you are married and filing jointly. If you do not withhold or pay enough in estimated taxes you may incur a penalty. Work with a tax preparer if you have any concerns about the calculation or process.
Take advantage of "write-offs" and document your work mileage.
Deductions, or "write off's", are eligible expenses that reduce your taxable income. Examples include advertising costs, professional fees, and insurance premiums. You can also write-off expenses related to your work area at home as long as it is used solely for work. If you drive for work, you can deduct car expenses but a mileage log is required to justify the deduction. It is hard to re-create this at tax time so start keeping track now if it is something you plan to deduct. Leave a notebook in the car that lists the date, mileage and business purpose of each trip including the start and end location. You also need the odometer reading the first and last days of the year that the car is used for business (the tax return will ask for personal vs. work miles). There are phone apps that track mileage including one that links up to Quickbooks, so find what works best for you.
Continue saving for retirement.
Check with your financial planner to determine the best type of retirement account to use. Examples include the SEP IRA, Traditional IRA, Single 401k and Roth IRA. They all have unique characteristics and contribution limits so it will depend on your tax bracket, expected income, and other details relating to your personal situation.
Re-evaluate your personal insurance coverage.
Don't forget to seek out any coverage you may have lost when you transitioned to self-employment. Examples include medical, life and disability insurance.
This information is not a substitute for tax advice. We recommend speaking with your tax advisor if you have any questions relating to your particular situation. PWR offers Tax Preparation and Advisory Services. Learn more.
"Ask Linda" is a monthly personal finance column where the founder of Planning Within Reach, LLC, Linda Rogers, picks one question from her readers and publishes a detailed answer with the hope that it benefits others. If you would like to ask Linda a question, email her or contact her on Twitter.
Dear Linda,I will be receiving an unexpected bonus shortly. I want to make sure I am smart with the money and have a plan in place for what I am going to do with it. Any ideas?
Sincerely, Lucky Lady
Dear Lucky Lady,
Your question is a common one we receive around this time of year as companies complete their prior-year reporting and issue bonuses. You are wise to create a strategy before spending the bonus. Without knowing the details of your situation, here are some general thoughts to help you get started.
1) Obtain a detailed tax projection from your tax preparer so you know how much of the bonus will be yours to keep after taxes. If your employer withholds less taxes than projected, reserve the balance so you have it available when it is due at tax time. You can also increase your W-4 withholding for the rest of the year. Withhold at least enough to avoid the underpayment tax penalty.
2) Pay off high-interest rate debt including credit cards, personal loans, or student loans. For example, some student loans charge close to a 7% interest rate. If you pay that loan off, it is as if you earned a risk-free rate of return of 7% on the money. However, if you plan to qualify for a student loan forgiveness program, you may not want to rush and pay it off. It will depend on your situation.
3) Build a cash emergency reserve. If you don't have this in place, reserve at least three months' worth of expenses in a high-interest rate savings account. You can reserve a larger amount if you are worried about losing your job, are expecting to move soon, or simply feel more comfortable holding a larger amount of cash. Realize that the interest rate on a savings account will not keep up with inflation over the long-term, so keep this account at the minimum balance required for your personal situation.
4) Increase your retirement savings at work. If your employer offers a retirement plan, you can save up to the IRS limit for 2018. For example, if you have a 401k or TSP, the limit is $18,500 if you are under 50 years old and $24,500 if you are over 50 years old.
Increase savings elsewhere. After you have implemented the first four suggestions, you may consider one or more of the following options:
- Save to a Roth IRA or Traditional IRA, if you qualify.
- Maximize your Health Savings Account (HSA), if you qualify.
- Consider after-tax 401k contributions, if available. After-tax 401k contributions are different than Roth contributions. There is no tax deduction on the savings, but the money will grow tax-deferred and can be rolled into a Roth IRA (without limitation) after you leave the company. Not every company offers this option.
- Save to a Brokerage account. There is no tax deduction on contributions to a brokerage account, but it is still a good option. Qualified retirement accounts (such as a 401k or TSP) are taxed differently than a brokerage account. When you have a mix of account types, you have more flexibility to utilize asset location strategies and manage your tax bill in retirement.
- Save to a donor-advised fund (DAF). A DAF is an investment account for charitable purposes. You invest as you would with any investment account and when you are ready to donate to a qualified charity, use the money from the DAF. Assuming you are eligible for charitable deductions, you will receive the deduction when you place money into the DAF, not when money is withdrawn. If you are charitably inclined and expect to be in a higher tax bracket now than in the future, take advantage of the tax deduction now while it provides a greater benefit to you.
- Save $10K to an I-Bond. I-Bonds are government bonds adjusted for inflation. You are allowed to buy $10K each calendar year per person.
- Fund other goals you may have. Confirm you have enough life and disability insurance, and if not, use the bonus to become adequately insured. If you are saving for a house, earmark some of the bonus for the down payment. If you are saving for a child's college education, consider a 529 plan.
Work with a fee-only, fiduciary advisor and tax preparer if you want a customized strategy that prioritizes your available options in detail.
Are you considering setting up a crowdfunding campaign for yourself, or someone you know, to help pay for medical bills, tuition, or raise money for a cause? While there are different types of crowdfunding, we address donation-based crowdfunding in this post since it is the kind we see most often. Money received from donation-based crowdfunding should be considered gifts, and therefore non-taxable. However, payment processors used by crowdfunding sites, such as Paypal, may issue a Form 1099-K to the recipient regardless of whether the crowdfunding proceeds are taxable or not. The 1099-K notifies the IRS that the taxpayer received income from a crowdfunding site, and if the taxpayer did not claim the income on their tax return (thinking it was a gift), the IRS may issue a deficiency letter.
The burden of proof lies with the taxpayer. Even if the funds should be non-taxable, typically these letters go out after time has passed and the taxpayer doesn't have sufficient documentation to verify the nature of the crowdfunding proceeds. To prevent confusion, we offer the following guidelines in approaching this type of transaction. The goal is to be as proactive and transparent as possible in the event you are challenged on the tax implications of your crowdfunding proceeds.
1) When you create a crowdfunding website, include the following details:
Campaign Purpose - Define what the campaign proceeds will be used for. Beneficiary - Identify who will be receiving the funds raised during the campaign. Creator - If the campaign is created by someone other than the Beneficiary, clearly identify that person as the Creator and note that he/she is acting on behalf of the Beneficiary listed. Donations - State that donations to the Campaign Purpose are solicited and donors will receive nothing in return for their donation.
2) Save an electronic copy of the crowdfunding site with all the details outlined in #1. Your campaign website may be removed by the time the IRS issues a deficiency notice. Maintaining a copy allows you show that the transaction was clearly labeled.
3) Keep documentation of the money trail. For example, if you create a website for a friend, you will receive the funds from the crowdfunding site, and the potential 1099-K, even though you created the site for someone else and didn't keep the money. To protect yourself, you need to be able to verify that you transferred this exact amount to your friend.
4) Maintain records to prove that the donations received were spent as promised according to the Campaign Purpose. Following the above example, the ultimate recipient of the funds (my friend) must have documentation to show that he/she spent the proceeds according to the Campaign Purpose.
Payment processors are only required to send out 1099-K's if the campaign had more than 200 contributors and raised more than $20,000.Regardless of what success you expect from your campaign, it is good policy to follow these steps. All income is taxable unless you can prove it qualifies as an exception. Even if you don't receive a 1099-K, you may still get questioned about the transaction if you get audited.
This information is not a substitute for tax advice. We recommend speaking with your tax advisor if you have any questions relating to your particular situation. The rules are complicated and these steps are not a guarantee that your argument will work with the IRS.
Dear Linda, I am a widow and want to gift some of the individual, concentrated stock in my brokerage account to my only child, my adult son. I am tired of managing the stock and feeling like I need to stay on top of the earnings reports, news, etc. I would rather gift it to him and have the rest of my portfolio in low-cost, diversified positions. The stock has a very low basis and will incur a large amount of long-term capital gains upon selling. What are your thoughts? Sincerely, Generous Mom
Dear Generous Mom,
Here are a couple options:
Option 1 - Gift the asset: If your son were to receive the stock as a gift, he would also receive your cost basis (purchase price plus other costs like commissions and fees). Therefore, when he goes to sell it, he will also owe a large amount of capital gains. This would meet your objective of getting rid of the concentrated position, which you presumably don't need to fund your spending needs, but it may not be the most tax-efficient strategy.
Option 2 - Bequeath the asset: If your son were to inherit the stock upon your passing, he would receive a step-up in basis. That means the cost basis of the asset would equal the fair market value at the date of your death. In other words, if he waits and inherits the stock, he can turn around and sell it upon your passing with minimal, if any, taxes due and invest the proceeds in a diversified portfolio.
Conduct a thorough analysis of option 1 & 2 with your financial and tax advisor to confirm which strategy makes the most sense given you and your son's ages, health situation, tax rates, the stock value and the unrealized gain. You should also include an estate planning attorney in the discussion to see if there are any estate or gift tax issues. For example, there is an annual, per recipient gifting limit ($15K for individuals in 2018) and an estate tax exemption ($11.2M for individuals in 2018).
If you decide Option 2 is the best choice, speak with your financial planner about other ways to help reduce your concentration in the stock. Here are some examples:
1) Stop re-investing interest and dividends so you do not further the concentration issue.
2) Consider donating some of the highly appreciated stock instead of cash. The potential charitable deduction would be equal to the fair market value of the stock and an IRS qualified charity can sell the asset without having to pay tax on the gain.
3) Harvest losses elsewhere in your portfolio to offset the capital gains realized when selling some of the highly appreciated stock.
Have a question that relates to financial or tax planning? Ask Linda.
If your 2017 return contains one or more of these red flags, you have a higher likelihood of receiving some sort of correspondence from the IRS. Don't panic. You just need to double check your numbers and confirm you are organized with your documentation. You should be doing this regardless, but you may find it useful to know where to be extra careful. Red flag #1: Page 1 of the 1040, Other Income (line 21), is filled out
This line is for very uncommon income items, such as jury duty pay or taxable distributions from a qualified tuition program. Instead, many taxpayers place self-employment income here. Even if you don't have any expenses associated with the self-employment income, most should be using Schedule C instead. Schedule C will generate self-employment tax, unlike line 21.
Red flag #2: You are claiming a deduction for a home office
The code is very specific and detailed about what a taxpayer can deduct with regards to a home office. For example, the home office must be a space in your home that is used exclusively and regularly as your principal place of business. There are additional requirements if you are an employee. This doesn't mean you shouldn't claim a home office if you are eligible, but make sure you are doing it within the IRS code limitations.
Red flag #3: Not reporting all of your income, or input errors
Copies of the tax forms you receive, such as W2's and 1099's, are also being sent to the IRS. They have an automated system to confirm that what you report on your return matches those tax forms. If you make an error or fail to report income, they will notify you. When I left my job at a financial software company in New York City, the firm asked me to do consulting for them to help transition the employee taking over my position. I did it for a short time at the beginning of the year, and by the time next tax season rolled around, that small amount of income wasn't on the top of my mind. The company sent my 1099 to an old address on file and I never received it. Thankfully, something jogged my memory shortly after filing and I immediately amended my return to include the income. It is easy to make mistakes, so keep good records and follow-up on any tax forms expected, but not received.
Red flag #4: You have a lot of even numbers on your return
We use even numbers in our financial plans because we are estimating and trying to make things simpler. This is not the way things work in real life or on your tax return. The IRS expects to see random numbers, so if they see a lot of deductions that are rounded to the nearest 100, for example, they may assume you are estimating and contact you for substantiation.
Red flag #5: There are unusually large amounts of business or charitable deductions on your return
The IRS keeps track of the average business expense associated with a given industry. Similarly, they track the average charitable contribution as a percentage of income. If you are taking these deductions at a rate that is higher than average, they may contact you for details. Along the same lines, if you only have one vehicle and claim it is 100% for business, that seems unrealistic. If it is the case, make sure you have detailed records to back up your claim.
What to do if the IRS contacts you
As a reminder, the IRS will initially contact you via USPS mail. They will not call, email or contact you via social media demanding immediate payment or ask for identifying information, such as your social security number or bank account. Here is more info on protecting yourself from tax scams.
When you receive a letter from the IRS, have comfort in the fact that many letters don't carry bad news, don't require a response or are very easy to answer. If you are working with a tax preparer, contact them as soon as possible and they will help you through the process. If not, read the letter in detail to make sure you understand what it is saying and that you agree with it, then move forward with a solution. Remember, the IRS makes mistakes too! If that is the case, respond with a detailed letter and any backup documentation necessary to correct the error. The most important thing to remember is to not panic or ignore the letter. By delaying your response, if required, you may be limiting your options to remedy the situation. Once you are done, scan and file the notice with the rest of your documentation for that respective tax year.
The TCJA (Tax Cuts and Jobs Act) passed in late 2017 affects your tax planning for 2018. We highlighted the changes that are most likely to pertain to our clients. The information is general in nature, and not a substitute for individual and customized tax advice from your tax preparer. 1) Some retirement plan contributions have increased.
If you contribute to a TSP, 401k, or 403b, you may be eligible to increase your savings. The limit is now $18,500 versus $18,000 in 2017. The catch-up contribution (for those age 50 and older) remains unchanged at $6,000. If you contribute to a SEP IRA, the maximum annual contribution is now the lesser of $55,000 (vs $54,000 in 2017) or 25% of compensation.
Roth IRA and IRA contribution limits remain unchanged at $5,500 per year with a $1,000 catch-up contribution.
2) The annual, per-recipient, gift tax exclusion rises to $15,000 (from $14,000 in 2017).
Examples of gifts that are affected by this exclusion limit include how much you can contribute to a child's 529 plan or how much you can gift a child for a wedding or down payment.
3) Alimony is treated differently.
Alimony is no longer allowed to be deducted on the payer's tax return. Likewise, it will no longer be included as taxable income for the recipient. In the past, alimony was treated as "earned income" for purposes of the recipient being able to save to an IRA. This is no longer the case for 2018 going forward.
4) "Backdoor" Roth IRA conversions have been legitimized.
You can only contribute to a Roth IRA if you make less than the income limit defined by the IRS. Many of our clients make too much money to contribute to a Roth IRA. The backdoor Roth conversion is a term used when a taxpayer moves non-deductible contributions in a Traditional IRA account to a Roth IRA account, without owing taxes or being subject to income limitations. The TCJA explicitly states this is now a legitimate planning tool and is allowed.
That being said, you need to be careful. For example, if you have any pre-tax or deductible IRA money (say from an old employer's 401k that you rolled into an IRA), you will owe taxes on the conversion of the non-deductible IRA money to a Roth even though it is a separate account. Here is another resource that goes into more detail (see gotcha #4).
5) Charitable Deductions will not be as big of a benefit, if at all, for many people.
The charitable deduction is an itemized deduction on your schedule A. The TCJA eliminates or cuts many itemized deductions and increases the standard deduction, so many people who have used the schedule A in the past, may not use it in 2018, therefore getting no benefit for their charitable donations.
For clients that have IRA's and are over 70 1/2 (and therefore subject to required minimum distributions or RMD's), a better way to give to charity may be through qualified charitable distributions (or QCD's). This is when you transfer your RMD directly from a traditional IRA to the qualified charity. The RMD is typically taxable income, but when you execute a QCD, it is excluded from taxable income. It gives you the same benefit as if you took a taxable distribution from your IRA, gave the money to charity, then deducted the donation. The limit on QCD's is $100,000 for 2018.
6) You may want to bunch your deductions every other year.
Since many people may be on the border as to whether they will get the standard or itemized deduction, it is worth having your tax preparer do a tax analysis to see if you can reduce your taxes with good planning. For example, one year you may want to reach for the itemized deduction by paying January's mortgage payment in December, pre-pay property taxes and/or contribute double to charity. The following year would be a standard deduction year (no pre-payments or charity), followed by the same strategy the following year to itemize.
The tax law and changes are complicated, so check with your tax and financial advisor before implementing any of the above strategies. PWR prepares taxes. If you are looking for help implementing these strategies, or need a tax preparer, review our services page or schedule a free call to learn more.
Every year, I compile a list of the FAQ's I get during tax season to share in the hopes it answers somebody else's question. This is not a substitute for tax advice. Please check with your tax professional for questions specific to your situation.
I have a taxable account, but I did not receive a 1099-INT form for it. I looked online and I earned $7 of interest in 2015. Do I need to claim this interest income on my tax return?
Yes - claim the interest income. Banks are only required to issue 1099-INT forms on accounts with income greater than $10 for the year. Regardless, all income is taxable (even if it is below the reporting requirements).
What is the 1095 form I received this year?
This form proves that you had health insurance for the entire year in 2015. The majority will only need to check a box on their tax return attesting to coverage. Those who purchased insurance on the Marketplace will get a 1095-A form and will need to fill out more information to see if their advance premium credit was accurate. The 1095-B and 1095-C are purely informational, but still need to be kept with your other tax documents in case you get audited.
I am considering installing solar panels this year. What tax benefit do I receive from this, if any?
You can claim 30% of the cost to install qualified solar systems as a federal tax credit.
Is unemployment income taxable?
I started a business. Can I deduct expenses related to my home office?
Yes, but only if the area for your home office is exclusively and regularly used for your business. It cannot be used for personal as well as business reasons. See the other requirements and details here.
Can I deduct the cost of my child's summer camp?
You may be eligible for the dependent care tax credit if the child is your dependent, under age 13, and sending him or her to camp allows you to work. Check out IRS Publication 503 for more information.
How do I value my non-cash charitable contributions?
Use TurboTax's Its Deductible tool.