Taking the Mystery Out of Alternative Minimum Tax

office pictures may 2012 002This year many taxpayers were faced with the unwelcome surprise of Alternative Minimum Tax on their income tax return. Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) is a complex, parallel income tax system to the standard income tax calculation.  AMT was started in 1969 in an attempt to prevent very wealthy people from using large deductions and exemptions to avoid paying income tax.  At that time it was discovered that 155 households with income over $200,000 were able to avoid paying any income tax.  AMT was originally aimed at the very rich but over the years it has come to impact millions of middle and upper income taxpayers.

Until you are hit with AMT, you may be unaware that behind the scenes your tax software runs two sets of numbers to determine how much income tax you will owe.  Your return is calculated using the standard income tax rules and it is calculated using the AMT rules.

AMT recalculates your taxable income by adding back many commonly used deductions and exemptions.  Some of the most common AMT add-backs include state and local taxes including real estate taxes, miscellaneous itemized deductions, home equity loan interest that isn’t used to buy or improve a home, and medical expenses.  AMT also adds back exemptions for dependents and the standard deduction, if you don’t itemize.  Tax-exempt interest from most private activity bonds becomes taxable under AMT and if you exercise Incentive Stock Options, the gain becomes taxable upon exercise. Under the standard income tax calculation, tax is due when the stock is sold.

If there is a possibility you will be subject to AMT, I recommend having your taxes professionally prepared or using tax preparation software.  Your software will calculate AMT by adding the items listed above to your adjusted gross income to arrive at your Alternative Minimum Tax Income (AMTI).  You are allowed to exempt some of your income from AMTI.  For 2016 the exemption for single filers is $53,900 and for joint filers is $83,800, the exemption is reduced for higher income taxpayers.  AMT is calculated by subtracting your exemption from your AMTI and multiplying your first $186,300 by 26% and anything over $186,300 by 28%, these figures are adjusted every year.  Your total income tax for the year will be the higher of your standard income tax calculation or AMT.

Taxpayers who are most likely to fall into AMT are those who live in a state with high income taxes, those with high deductions and those with large families. While there are limited opportunities to reduce the likelihood of paying AMT, one option is to reduce your adjusted gross income by maximizing tax deferred retirement plans such as 401k and 403b plans.  You also may be able to reduce AMT by moving to a state with no or low income tax or by managing the timing on when you pay state and local taxes.

Variable Annuities May Not Be Your Best Option

Jane Young, CFP, EA

Jane Young, CFP, EA


A variable annuity is an investment contract with an insurance company where you invest money into your choice of a variety of sub-accounts. Sub-accounts are similar to mutual funds, where money from a large number of investors is pooled and invested in accordance with specific investment objectives. Like mutual funds, sub-accounts may invest in different categories of stock or interest earning investments.
One characteristic of a variable annuity is the tax deferral of gains until the funds are withdrawn. However, upon distribution the gains are taxable at regular income tax rates, as opposed to capital gains rates that may be available for mutual funds. Additionally, there is no step-up in basis upon death for assets held in variable annuities.
Variable annuities are generally more appropriate for non-retirement accounts because gains within a retirement account are already tax deferred. Traditional retirement accounts and Roth IRAs meet the tax deferral needs for most investors. However, in some cases a variable annuity may be attractive to a high income investor who has maximized his traditional retirement options and needs additional opportunities for tax deferral. This is especially true for an investor who is currently in a high tax bracket and expects to be in a lower tax bracket in retirement.
When investing in variable annuities, with non-retirement money, there is no requirement to take a Required Minimum Distribution at 70 ½. However, there is generally a 10% penalty on withdrawals made before 59 1/2. Trades can be made within a variable annuity account without immediate tax consequences. The entire gain will be taxable upon withdrawal. There is no annual contribution limit for variable annuities, and you can make non-taxable transfers between annuity companies using a 1035 exchange. However, you may have to pay a surrender charge if you have held the annuity for less than seven to ten years, and you purchased it from a commissioned adviser. Before buying an annuity, read the fine print to fully understand all of the fees and penalties associated with the product. Most variable annuities have early withdrawal penalties and a higher expense structure than mutual funds.
A variable annuity may be an option for someone who wants to purchase an insurance policy to buffer the risk of losing money in the market. For many investors, due to the long term growth in the stock market, this guarantee may be come at too high a price. Some investors are willing to pay additional fees in exchange for the peace of mind that a guaranteed withdrawal benefit can provide. Guaranteed minimum withdrawal benefits (GMWB) can be very complex and have some significant restrictions. Additionally, some products offer a guaranteed death benefit for an extra fee. Read the contract carefully and make sure you understand the product before you buy.
Due to the high costs, lack of flexibility, complexity and unfavorable tax treatment variable annuities are not beneficial for many investors.

The Difference Between an Roth IRA and a Traditional IRA

Jane Young, CFP, EA

Jane Young, CFP, EA


One of the biggest decisions associated with saving for retirement is choosing between a Roth IRA and a Traditional IRA. The primary difference between the two IRAs is when you pay income tax. A traditional IRA is usually funded with pre-tax dollars providing you with a current tax deduction. Your money grows tax deferred, but you have to pay regular income tax upon distribution. A Roth IRA is funded with after tax dollars, and does not provide a current tax deduction. Generally, a Roth IRA grows tax free and you don’t have to pay taxes on distributions. In 2013 you can contribute up to a total of $5,500 per year plus a $1,000 catch-up contribution if you are over 50. You can make a contribution into a combination of a Roth and a Traditional IRA as long as you don’t exceed the limit. You also have until your filing date, usually April 15th, to make a contribution for the previous year. New contributions must come from earned income.
There are some income restrictions on IRA contributions. In 2013, your eligibility to contribute to a Roth IRA begins to phase-out at a modified adjusted gross income of $112,000 if you file single and $178,000 if you file married filing jointly. With a traditional IRA, there are no limits on contributions based on income. However, if you are eligible for a retirement plan through your employer, there are restrictions on the amount you can earn and still be eligible for a tax deductible IRA. In 2013 your eligibility for a deductible IRA begins to phase out at $59,000 if you are single and at $95,000 if you file married filing jointly.
Generally, you cannot take distributions from a traditional IRA before age 59 ½ without a 10% penalty. Contributions to a Roth IRA can be withdrawn anytime, tax free. Earnings may be withdrawn tax free after you reach age 59 ½ and your money has been invested for at least five years. There are some exceptions to the early withdrawal penalties. You must start taking required minimum distributions on Traditional IRAs upon reaching 70 ½. Roth IRAs are not subject to required minimum distributions.
The decision on the type of IRA is based largely on your current tax rate, your anticipated tax rate in retirement, your investment timeframe, and your investment goals. A Roth IRA may be your best choice if you are currently in a low income tax bracket and anticipate being in a higher bracket in retirement. A Roth IRA may also be a good option if you already have a lot of money in a traditional IRA or 401k, and you are looking for some tax diversification. A Roth IRA can be a good option if you are not eligible for a deductible IRA but your income is low enough to qualify for a Roth IRA.

Pitfalls in Taking Early Social Security

Jane M. Young CFP, EA

 

You can begin taking Social Security at age 62 but there are some disadvantages to starting before your normal retirement age.   The decision on when to start taking Social Security is dependent on your unique set of circumstances.  Generally, if you plan to keep working, if you can cover your current expenses and if you are reasonably healthy you will be better off taking Social Security on or after your normal retirement age.  Your normal retirement age can be found on your annual statement or by going to www.socialsecurity.gov and searching for normal retirement age.

Taking Social Security early will result in a reduced benefit.  Your benefits will be reduced based on the number of months you receive Social Security before your normal retirement age.    For example if your normal retirement age is 66, the approximate reduction in benefits at age 62 is 25%, at 63 is 20%, at 64 is 13.3% and at 65 is 6.7%.  If you were born after 1960 and you start taking benefits at age 62 your maximum reduction in benefits will be around 30%.

On the other hand, if you decide to take Social Security after your normal retirement age, you may receive a larger benefit.  Do not wait to take your Social Security beyond age 70 because there is no additional increase in the benefit after 70.  Taking Social Security after your normal retirement age is generally most beneficial for those who expect to live beyond their average life expectancy.  If you plan to keep working, taking Social Security early may be especially tricky.  If you take benefits before your normal retirement age and earn over a certain level, the Social Security Administration withholds part of your benefit.   In 2012 Social Security will withhold $1 in benefits for every $2 of earnings above $14,640 and $1 in benefits for every $3 of earnings above $38,880.  However, all is not lost, after you reach full retirement age your benefit is recalculated to give you credit for the benefits that were withheld as a result of earning above the exempt amount. 

Another potential downfall to taking Social Security early, especially if you are working or have other forms of income, is paying federal income tax on your benefit.  If you wait to take Social Security at your normal retirement age, your income may be lower and a smaller portion of your benefit may be taxable.  If you file a joint return and you have combined income (adjusted gross income, plus ½ of Social Security and tax exempt interest) of between $32,000 and $44,000 you may have to pay income tax on up to 50% of your benefit.  If your combined income is over $44,000 you may have to pay taxes on up to 85% of your benefit. 

The decision on when to take Social Security can be very complicated and these are just a few of the many factors that should be taken into consideration.

 

 

 

Advantages and Disadvantages of Variable Annuities

 

Jane M. Young, CFP, EA

 

What is a Variable Annuity?


A variable annuity is a contract with an insurance company where you invest money into your choice of a variety of sub-accounts, similar to mutual funds. Non-qualified, variable annuities provide tax deferral on gains until the funds are withdrawn. Upon distribution your gains are taxed at regular income tax rates as opposed to capital gains rates. Variable annuities generally charge fees twice those charged by mutual funds. Additionally, you will be to subject to substantial early withdrawal charges if you purchase an annuity from an advisor who is compensated through commissions. Most variable annuities provide the option to buy a guaranteed death benefit option and/or a Guaranteed Minimum Withdrawal Benefit. These do not come without a cost and can be very complex.  Below are some advantages and disadvantages of Variable Annuities.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Variable Annuities:

Advantages:

  • Tax Deferral of gains, beneficial if you have maximized limits on other retirement vehicles such as 401ks and IRAs.
  • No Required Minimum Distribution at 70 and ½ as with traditional retirement accounts. There is no Required Minimum Distribution on Roth IRAs.
  • Death benefit and Guaranteed Lifetime Withdrawal Benefits (GLWB) riders can be purchased for additional fees. However, the death benefit is rarely instituted due to long term growth in the stock market. GLWBs can be very complex and not without risk.
  • Trades can be made within annuity without tax consequences – this is also true within all retirement accounts.
  • Non-taxable transfers can be made between companies using a 1035 exchange.
  • No annual contribution limit. Traditional retirement plans have annual contribution limits.

Disadvantages:

  • Gains taxed at regular income tax rates as opposed to capital gains rates on taxable mutual funds.
  • Higher expense structure –Mortality and Expense fees substantially higher than mutual funds.
  • Substantial surrender charges for up to 10 years on commission products
  • 10% penalty on withdrawals prior to 59 ½, this is also true with most traditional retirement accounts.
  • Complex insurance product
  • Lack of liquidity due to surrender charges and tax on gains
  • No step-up in basis, taxable mutual funds and stocks have a step-up in basis upon death
  • Loss of tax harvesting opportunities

Watch Out for These Pitfalls with Social Security and IRA Rollovers

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Jane M. Young, CFP, EA

Here are a couple issues on Social Security and IRA Rollovers that frequently catch people by surprise.

Think twice about taking your Social Security at 62 or before your regular retirement age, if you plan to work during this timeframe. In 2011, if you earn more than $14,160, Social Security will withhold $1 for every $2 earned above this amount. However, all is not lost, when you reach full retirement age Social Security will increase your benefits to make up for the benefits withheld. Once you reach your full retirement age there is no reduction in benefits for earning more than $14,160. However, the amount of tax you pay on your Social Security benefits will increase as your taxable income increases. This may be a good reason to wait until your full retirement age or until you stop working to begin taking Social Security.

If you are thinking about moving your IRA from one custodian to another I strongly encourage you to do this as a direct transfer and not as a rollover. We frequently use these terms synonymously but I assure you the IRS does not! A transfer is when you move your IRA directly from one IRA trustee/custodian to another – nothing is paid to you. A rollover is when a check is issued to you and you write a second check to the new IRA Trustee/Custodian. This must be done within 60 days or the transaction is treated as a taxable distribution. You can do as many transfers as you desire in a given year. However, you can only do one rollover per year, on a given IRA. This is a very stringent rule and there are very few exceptions even when the error is out of your control. Whenever possible be sure to use a direct transfer not a rollover to move your IRA Account.

Attend a Financial Fireside Chat with Jane and Linda on December 2nd to discuss “Year End Financial Planning Tips and Money Saving Ideas for the Holidays”

 

You and a guest are invited to a Financial Fireside Chat with Jane and Linda at our office, from 7:30 – 9:00 am on Thursday, December 2nd to discuss “Year End Financial Planning Tips and Money Saving Ideas for the Holidays.”

A Financial Fireside chat is an informal discussion over coffee and donuts, where our clients and guests can learn about various financial topics in a casual non-threatening environment. This is free of charge and purely educational. There will be absolutely no sales of products or services during this session. We will provide plenty of time for informal discussion.

The Fireside Chat will be held at the Pinnacle Financial Concepts, Inc. offices at 7025 Tall Oak Drive, Suite 210. Please RSVP with Judy at 260-9800.

We are looking forward to seeing you on Thursday, December 2nd to learn about and discuss some great year end financial planning ideas.

A Money Moment with Jane – A Few Financial Planning Suggestions for the Fall

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By Jane M. Young, CFP, EA

 

  • Required Minimum Distributions were not required for 2009.  However, if you are at least 70½ you will be required to take a distribution in 2010.

 

  • If you are planning to convert some of your regular IRA to a Roth IRA, do so in 2010 to spread the taxes over 2011 and 2112.

 

  • Have you maximized your Roth IRA and 401k contribution?  The 2010 contribution limit for the Roth is $5,000 plus a $1,000 catch-up provision if you are 50 or older.  The 2010 contribution limit for 401k plans is $16,500 plus a $5,500 catch-up provision if you are 50 or older.

 

  • This is a good time to do some tax planning to make sure your withholdings or estimates are adequate to cover the taxes you will owe in April. 

 

  • Do you have any underperforming stocks or mutual funds that should be sold to take advantage of a tax loss in 2010?

 

  • Now is the time to go through your home for items to be donated to charity.  These can provide a nice deduction on your 2010 tax return.

 

  • Start planning for Christmas now and save money by working to a plan. 

 

Your Money Bus is Coming to Colorado Springs

Your Money Bus is coming to Colorado Springs.

                               Get free professional advice, no strings attached

It’s never too late to secure your financial future.

Re: Free Non-profit Financial Education Event – Please share with friends, family and business associates.

All of us have family; friends and colleagues who are struggling to save money, eliminate debt and find jobs. Please share with them the opportunity to meet for a free one-on-one with local independent financial advisors when the national Your Money Bus Tour rolls into Colorado Springs on July 8th and 9th. Pinnacle Financial Concepts, Inc. is coordinating the Colorado Springs stop of this non-profit tour, visiting more that 25 cities. We will be volunteering at this event along with several other fee-only financial planning firms in town. The Your Money Bus Tour is sponsored by The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA) Consumer Education Foundation, TD AMERITRADE, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine and FiLife.com.

The Your Money Bus Tour will stop in Colorado Springs at the Penrose Library (downtown) on July 8th from 12:00 – 7:00 and at UCCS, Lot 1 on July 9th from 12:00 – 5:00. At each stop, consumers can sit down with locally-based volunteer financial advisors to ask pressing financial questions. All Money Bus visitors will receive a free financial education kit, including a Kiplinger magazine and a budgetary workbook.

Forty percent of American families spend more than they earn and the average American with a credit file has more than $16,000 in debt, not including mortgages. We encourage people to stop byYour Money Bus to learn how to better save, eliminate debt and develop personal financial sustainability habits that will get them through and beyond these tough times.

The NAPFA Consumer Education Foundation is a 501c (3) organization committed to educating Americans on personal finance. Consumers need easy to understand information without any bias, sales, or conflicts of interest. All volunteer financial advisors are fee-only fiduciaries; nothing is being sold or promoted. This is strictly educational and free information for the public. The public is welcome to just stop by or make an appointment ahead of time.

For more information, visit www.YourMoneyBus.com and for up-to-date schedule information contact Krist Allnutt,krista.allnutt@perceptiononline.com.

Warmest Regards,

Jane M. Young, CFP, EA

To Convert or Not Convert – Looking Beyond the Roth IRA Conversion Calculator

Jane M. Young, CFP, EA

As I mentioned in the previous article on Roth IRAs, with a Roth IRA you pay income tax now and not upon distribution. With a traditional IRA you defer taxes today and pay income taxes upon deferral. When you convert a Traditional IRA to a Roth IRA you must pay regular income taxes on the amount that is converted. The advisability of converting to a Roth depends on the length of time you have until you take distributions, your tax rate today and your anticipated tax rate upon retirement and your projected return on your investments.

When you run your numbers through one of the numerous calculators available on the internet you may or may not see a big savings in doing a Roth Conversion. However, there are several other factors that may tilt the scale toward converting some of your money to a Roth.

• Income tax rates are currently very low and there is a general consensus that they will increase considerably by the time you start taking distributions. With a Roth conversion you pay the tax now at the lower rates and take tax free distributions when the tax rates are higher.

• The stock market is still down about 25% from where it was in August of 2008. There is a lot of cash sitting on the sidelines waiting to be invested once consumer confidence is restored. You can pay taxes on money in your traditional IRA while the share prices are low and take a tax free distribution from your Roth down the road when the market has rebounded.

• You may have a sizable portion of your portfolio in tax deferred retirement accounts on which you will have to take required minimum distributions (RMD). This could put you into a much higher tax bracket. By converting some of your traditional IRA into a Roth you can get some tax diversification on your portfolio. This will lower your RMD– because there is no RMD on a Roth IRA. Diversifying your portfolio between a traditional IRA and a Roth IRA enables you to take your distributions from the most appropriate pot of money in any given year.

For more information on Roth IRAs and the new tax laws for 2010 please review the articles previously posted under Roth IRAs.

Roth IRAs – Part II – The Major Differences Between a Roth IRA and a Traditional IRA

Jane M. Young, CFP, EA

The primary difference between a Traditional IRA and a Roth IRA is when you pay income tax. A traditional IRA and a traditional retirement plan are funded with pre-tax dollars and you pay taxes on your withdrawals. A Roth IRA is funded with after tax dollars and you don’t pay taxes on your withdrawals. The decision to buy a Roth or a Traditional IRA is largely based on your current and future tax rates, your investment timeframe and your investment goals. The Roth IRA is usually the more advantageous of the two options but it depends on your individual situation.

Traditional IRA: (tax me later)

• Funded with pre-tax dollars therefore it provides a current tax deduction
• Earnings are tax deferred
• Distributions taxed at regular income tax rates, penalty if withdrawn before 59 1/2
• Required minimum distributions must be taken beginning at age 70 1/2
• Income limit on contributions begins at, if participant is in a retirement plan, $89,000 MFJ and $55,000 if single.
• Annual contribution limit is $5000 if under 50 and $6000 if over 50
• Many IRAs are created as a result of a rollover from a company retirement plan such as a 401k – very similar in tax structure.

Roth IRA: (tax me now)

• Funded with after tax dollars, does not provide a current tax deduction
• Earnings tax exempt (after five years or 59 ½)
• Contributions can be withdrawn penalty and tax free
• Earnings can be withdrawn tax free after five years or 59 1/2
• No required minimum distribution
• Income limit on contribution begins at $166,000 MFJ and $105,000 if single
• Annual contribution limit is $5000 if under 50 and $6000 if over 50

Part III of this series will address the pros and cons of converting a Roth IRA to a Traditional IRA.

Start Planning Now! Income Limits on Roth IRA Conversions to be Lifted in 2010 – Part 1

Jane M. Young, CFP, EA

Beginning in January 2010 the income limit of $100,000 AGI (adjusted gross income) on converting a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA will be lifted. This is a huge opportunity for many who have been unable to contribute to a Roth or convert to a Roth due to income restrictions. Normally, when one converts a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA the amount converted is added to gross income in the year of conversion. However, for conversions made in 2010 the government is allowing you to spread out the payment of taxes over the 2011 and 2012 tax years.

Why should you care about this now, prior to 2010? There are several things you can do to prepare for this opportunity. This is a great time to fund your traditional IRA, non-deductible traditional IRA or your 401k plan, if you are planning to retire or change companies soon, in anticipation of converting it to a Roth in 2010. You will need cash to pay the taxes associated with converting to a Roth IRA, so you should be incorporating this additional need for liquidity into your financial planning today.

This is the first in a series of postings on Roth IRAs and Roth IRA conversions.

Three Significant Changes to Your Retirement Plans in 2009 and 2010

Jane M. Young, CFP, EA

1. No required minimum distribution in 2009 for IRA, 401k, 403b, 457b, 401k and profit sharing plans. This does not apply to annuitized defined benefit plans.

2. If you are older than 70 ½, in 2009 you can make charitable gifts from your IRA without the payment being included in your adjusted gross income. The distribution must be a “qualified charitable distribution”, which means it must be made directly from the IRA owner to the charitable institution. This is especially beneficial if you claim a standard deduction and were unable to deduct charitable contributions by itemizing.

3. Beginning in 2010 individuals earning over $100,000 in modified adjusted gross income will be able to convert traditional IRAs to Roth IRAs. Modified adjusted gross income is the bottom line on the first page of the 1040 tax form. Income from a conversion in 2010 may be reported equally over 2011 and 2012.

While there are many benefits to converting from a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA the conversion will increase your adjusted gross income (AGI) which can have some unintended consequences. An increase in AGI may impact the taxability of your social security, phase-outs on itemized deductions, education and your tax bracket.

I will write more about Roth IRA conversions in a future blog.