Annuities Deferred Income Annuities Income Tax Planning Qualified Longevity Annuity Contract (QLAC)

Is a QLAC Right for You?

2014 marked the introduction of qualified longevity annuity contracts, or QLACs. For those of you not familiar with them, a QLAC is a deferred fixed income annuity designed for use in retirement plans such as 401(k) plans and traditional IRAs (a) that’s limited to an investment of the lesser of $125,000 or 25% of the value of a retirement plan and (b) requires that lifetime distributions begin at a specified date no later than age 85. QLAC investment options are currently limited to deferred income annuities, or DIAs.

The purchase of deferred fixed income annuities in retirement plans for longevity protection isn’t a new concept. What’s unique about QLACs is the ability to extend the start date of required minimum distributions (RMDs) from April 1st of the year following the year that you turn 70-1/2 to up to age 85. This provides potential income tax planning opportunities for QLAC holders subject to the purchase cap.

Potential Income Tax Savings

A lot of individuals are selling QLACs short due to the purchase cap. While on the surface, $125,000 may not represent a sizable portion of a retirement plan with assets of $750,000 or more, the potential lifetime income tax savings can be significant.

The amount of savings is dependent on six factors: (a) amount of QLAC investment (b) age at which QLAC investment is made, (c) deferral period from date of QLAC purchase until income start date, (d) rate of return, (e) income tax bracket, and (f) longevity.


I have prepared the attached exhibit to illustrate potential income tax savings achievable by investing $125,000 at three different ages in a QLAC by comparing it to a non-QLAC investment that’s subject to the RMD rules. Assumptions used in the preparation of the exhibit are as follows:

  1. $125,000 is invested in a non-QLAC vehicle at one of three different ages: 55, 60, or 65.
  2. Rate of return is 5%.
  3. RMD’s are taken from age 71 through 85, the range of ages between which RMD’s and QLAC distributions, respectively, are required to begin.
  4. Income tax brackets are 2015 federal income tax brackets plus 5% for assumed state income tax.

In addition to assumed rates of return and income tax brackets, a key assumption is the age at which the QLAC investment is made. All else being equal, purchases at earlier ages avoid greater amounts of RMDs and associated income tax liability. Per the exhibit, the amount of projected income tax savings over 15 years ranges from approximately $20,000 to $97,000 depending upon assumed QLAC investment date and income tax bracket.


Reduction of RMDs and associated income tax liability is an important goal, however, it may not be the best strategy for achieving the overriding goal of retirement income planning, i.e., making sure that you have sufficient income to meet your projected expenses for the duration of your retirement.

There are several questions you need to answer to determine the amount, if any, that you should invest in a QLAC:

  • What are your projected federal and state income tax brackets between age 71 and 85?
  • What are the projected rates of return on your retirement funds between 71 and 85 taking into consideration the likelihood of at least one bear market during this time?
  • What is your, and your spouse, if married, projected life expectancy?
  • Which years between age 71 and 85 can you afford to forego receipt of projected net RMD income, i.e., RMD less associated income tax liability?
  • Will you need to take retirement plan distributions in excess of your RMDs, and, if so, in which years and in what amounts?
  • What other sources of income do you have to replace the projected RMD income you won’t be receiving?
  • What is the projected income tax liability you will incur from withdrawing funds from other sources of income?
  • What is the amount of annual lifetime income that you will receive from a QLAC beginning at various ages between 71 and 85 assuming various investment amounts, with and without a death benefit with various payout options?
  • Does it make more sense to invest in a non-QLAC longevity annuity such as a fixed index annuity with an income rider?
  • Should you do a Roth IRA conversion instead?

Given the fact that opportunities to reduce RMDs and associated income tax liability are limited, QLACs are an attractive alternative. Projected income tax savings are just one factor to consider and can vary significantly from situation to situation, depending upon assumptions used. There are a number of other considerations that need to be analyzed before purchasing a QLAC to determine the best strategies for optimizing your retirement income.

Retirement Income Planning

Can We Still Plan to Retire at a Specific Age?

Not too long ago it was common for pre-retirees to depend on two sources of retirement income: Social Security and a private or public pension. Both began at age 65, were expected to last for life, and typically met 50% or more of retirees’ financial needs.

With two secure sources of lifetime income, age 65 was the standard retirement age for many years. Retirement income planning focused on closing or narrowing the gap between one’s projected retirement income needs and what would be provided by Social Security and pension income.

Retirement Planning Milestone

The decline of defined benefit pension plans over the past 30 years eliminated one source of dependable lifetime income for most retirees. The replacement of these plans with 401(k) defined contribution plans was a milestone in the retirement planning world since it transferred the responsibility for funding retirement from employers to employees.

Retirement income planning has dramatically increased in importance in recent years as employees have realized that it isn’t easy to (a) accumulate sufficient assets in 401(k) plans to generate adequate retirement income and (b) convert 401(k) plan assets into sustainable lifetime income streams beginning at a specified age.

The shift from employer defined benefit to employee defined contribution retirement plans, combined with longer life expectancies, has made it much more challenging to plan for retirement at a specific age. While it’s definitely possible, it requires a different mindset and the assistance of an experienced retirement income planning professional to increase one’s opportunity for success.

Retirement Income Plan is Essential

As part of the change in mindset, it’s important to understand and recognize that a retirement income plan is an essential tool for helping individuals close or reduce the gap between projected retirement income needs and what will be provided by one source of sustainable lifetime income in many cases, i.e., Social Security. Unlike other types of financial plans, a retirement income plan typically isn’t a “one-and-done” exercise.

A successful retirement income plan generally requires an ongoing disciplined, systematic, approach beginning at least 20 years prior to retirement and continuing for the duration of retirement. The purpose of such a plan should be to make sure that sufficient assets will be saved at specified times using tax-advantaged investment and protection strategies that will increase the likelihood of providing adequate and reliable after-tax income to cover one’s planned and unplanned expenses beginning at a specified age for the duration of retirement.

With the shift from employer to employee retirement funding, can we still plan to retire at a specific age? I believe that it’s possible provided that we understand (a) the burden for making this a reality has shifted from employers to employees, (b) a retirement income plan beginning at least 20 years prior to retirement in most situations is essential, and (c) a lifetime commitment is required to monitor and update the plan in order to reduce the risk of outliving one’s assets.

Roth IRA

5 Ways to Reduce Your Tax Liability Using Roth IRA Conversions

One of the most important financial goals for retirees is maximization of after-tax income. There are two ways to accomplish this: (a) maximize pre-tax income and (b) minimize income tax liability. A Roth IRA can go a long way toward helping you achieve the latter.

There are two ways to fund a Roth IRA: (a) annual contributions and (b) conversions. Annual contributions, in and of themselves, generally won’t result in a significant source of retirement income due to the relatively low limitation – currently $5,500 or $6,500 if you’re age 50 or older. In addition, eligibility to make Roth IRA contributions is limited to the extent that your income exceeds defined limits.

Roth IRA conversions, on the other hand, have the ability to generate substantial after-tax income while also reducing income tax liability for up to 20 to 30 years or more of retirement. Since income tax liability on the value of Roth IRA conversions will need to be paid, timing of conversions is key. See the May 10, 2010 post, Be on the Lookout for Roth IRA Conversion Opportunities, for a discussion of this topic.

There are five ways that you can potentially reduce your income tax liability and increase your after-tax income during your retirement years by doing Roth IRA conversions.

1. Never pay income tax on the growth of your Roth IRA

While you’re required to include the value of your IRA, 401(k) or other qualified plan assets that you convert to a Roth IRA in your taxable income in the year of conversion, 100% of the growth of your Roth IRA is excluded from taxation. This is true whether or not you ever take any distributions from your Roth IRA.

Individuals who did Roth IRA conversions in March, 2009 when the Dow dipped below 7,000 didn’t mind paying income tax on those conversions in retrospect given the fact that the Dow is currently hovering over 17,000 less than six years later. The income tax savings on the growth of the equity portion of their converted accounts over this period of time plus future potential growth is significant for those in this situation.

2. Roth IRA accounts aren’t subject to required minimum distribution rules

If you don’t do a Roth IRA conversion, 100% of the value of your traditional IRA, 401(k), and other qualified plan assets, including appreciation, will be subject to IRS’ required minimum distribution, or RMD, rules. These rules require you to take annual minimum distributions from your retirement plan accounts beginning by April 1st of the year following the year that you turn 70-1/2. 100% of distributions reduced by any allowable portion of nondeductible contributions are taxable.

As an example, suppose you were born on January 7, 1940 and you own a traditional IRA account with a value of $500,000 on December 31, 2013, you would be required to take a minimum distribution of $21,008.40 from your account by December 31, 2014 and include it in your 2014 taxable income. If instead you owned a Roth IRA account with the same value, you wouldn’t be required to take any distributions from your account.

3. Potentially reduce net investment income tax

The RMD rules sometimes force people to take distributions from their taxable IRA accounts that they don’t need. Often times, they transfer RMDs from their taxable IRA account to a nonretirement investment account and leave them there. For individuals with high levels of income, this can result in additional taxation as a result of subjecting the earnings on their nonretirement account to the net investment income tax of 3.8%. This isn’t an issue for Roth IRA account holders since the RMD rules don’t apply to them.

4. Roth IRA distributions aren’t included when calculating taxable Social Security benefits

The taxation of Social Security benefits is dependent upon your combined income and tax filing status. Combined income includes adjusted gross income, nontaxable interest, and 50% of Social Security benefits.

Single filers are subject to tax on 50% of their Social Security benefits for combined income between $25,000 and $34,000 and up to 85% of benefits when combined income exceeds $34,000. Married filing joint taxpayers are subject to tax on 50% of their Social Security benefits for combined income between $32,000 and $44,000 and up to 85% of benefits when combined income exceeds $44,000.

Roth IRA distributions aren’t included in adjusted gross income, therefore, they don’t affect taxation of Social Security benefits.

5. More opportunities for income tax bracket planning

For all taxpayers, taxable income is subject to seven different rates of tax ranging from 10% to 39.6% depending upon the amount of taxable income. Given the foregoing four potential ways of reducing taxable income and associated income tax liability, Roth IRA conversions can also reduce the income tax rates that are used to calculate income tax liability on other sources of income. This allows for more opportunities for income tax bracket planning to potentially further reduce income tax liability in one or more years.

Although it’s not income-tax related, one other potential benefit of Roth IRA conversions that shouldn’t be overlooked is their impact on the calculation of Medicare Part B premiums. Monthly Medicare Part B premiums currently range from $104.90 to $335.70 depending upon tax filing status and the amount of modified adjusted gross income from two years ago. Roth IRA distributions aren’t included in the calculation of adjusted gross income. As such, they don’t affect the amount of Medicare Part B premiums paid.

As you can see, assuming (a) you can get over the hurdle of prepaying a portion of your income tax liability when you do Roth IRA conversions and (b) you have sufficient nonretirement funds to pay the tax, this can create several tax reduction opportunities as well as a potential reduction of Medicare Part B premiums throughout your retirement years. These benefits, combined with the ability to eliminate taxation on the growth of Roth IRA accounts, can result in greater and longer-lasting after-tax retirement income compared to not doing any Roth IRA conversions.

Annuities Deferred Income Annuities

You Don’t Have to Wait Until 85 to Receive Your Annuity Payments

Longevity insurance was recently blessed again by the IRS with its finalization of a regulation allowing the inclusion of an advanced-age lifetime-income option in retirement plans such as 401(k) plans and IRAs.

As discussed in my July 25 MarketWatch article, 6 Ways a New Tax Law Benefits a Sustainable Retirement, “longevity insurance” isn’t an actual product that you can purchase from a life insurance carrier. It’s instead a term that refers to a deferred lifetime fixed income annuity with an advanced age start date, typically 80 to 85.

In a nutshell, IRS’ final regulation allows you to invest up to the lesser of $125,000 or 25% of your retirement plan balance in “qualifying longevity annuity contracts” (QLACs) provided that lifetime distributions begin at a specified date no later than age 85. Although the regulation leaves the door open for other types of fixed-income annuities in the future, QLAC investment vehicles are currently limited to lifetime deferred income annuities, or DIAs.

Suppose you’re concerned about the possibility of outliving your assets and you’re considering investing a portion of your retirement plan in a QLAC. Do you have to wait until age 85 to begin receiving your lifetime annuity payments? Absolutely not. So long as distributions begin no later than the first day of the month following the attainment of age 85, you will be in compliance with the regulation.

Although the regulation doesn’t define the earliest starting date of QLAC payments, based on previous legislation, it would seem to be April 2 of the year following the year that you turn 70-1/2. Why April 2? Per my MarketWatch article, regulations in effect before the new rule allow for inclusion of fixed income annuities without limit provided that the periodic annuity payments (a) begin by April 1 of the year following the year that the owner turns 70-1/2 and (b) are structured so that they will be completely distributed over the life expectancies of the owner and the owner’s beneficiary in compliance with IRS’ required minimum distribution, or RMD, rules.

Let’s suppose that you’re doing retirement income planning when you’re 60 and you’re planning on retiring at 67. In addition to your IRA which has a value of $600,000, you have a sizeable nonretirement portfolio that will not only enable you to defer your Social Security start date to age 70, there’s a high likelihood that you won’t need to withdraw from your IRA until 75.

Despite the fact that you don’t foresee needing income from your IRA until 75, IRS requires you to begin taking minimum annual distributions from your IRA beginning by April 1 of the year following the year that you turn 70-1/2. This is true, however, IRS now also allows you to circumvent the RMD rules by investing a portion of your retirement plan assets in a QLAC. Relying on these rules, you decide to invest $125,000 of your IRA in a QLAC with an income start date of 75. This enables you to longevitize, or extend the financial life of, your retirement using the six ways described in my MarketWatch article.

As you can see, there’s a lot of flexibility when it comes to selecting the start date of your lifetime income distributions from a QLAC. There’s approximately a 13- to 14-year window depending upon your birth date which falls between April 2 of the year following the year that you turn 70-1/2 and age 85. The key is that you must define your income start date at the time of applying for your QLAC. This is a requirement of all deferred income annuities, not just QLAC’s.

Finally, a QLAC may, but is not required to, offer an option to begin payments before the contract’s annuity starting date. While the amount of your periodic distributions will be greater the longer you defer your start date, you don’t have to wait until age 85 to begin receiving lifetime income.

Retirement Income Planning

The Retirement Income Planning Disconnect

When I began writing and publishing Retirement Income Visions™ almost five years ago, retirement income planning was a relatively new concept. What people thought was retirement income planning turned out to be traditional retirement asset planning in most cases.

While the distinction between retirement income and retirement asset planning has gotten more attention in the media over the last five years and has come to the forefront for financial advisors with The American College’s establishment of the Retirement Income Certified Professional® (RICP®) designation two years ago, the importance of implementing a retirement income plan hasn’t caught on yet with most pre-retirees.

According to a TIAA-CREF survey, 72 percent of retirement plan participants said that either their plan didn’t have a lifetime income option or they weren’t sure if their plan offered one. While 28 percent said that their plan offered a lifetime income option, only 18 percent of plan participants actually allocated funds to this choice.

This is despite the fact that 34 percent of retirement plan participants surveyed said that the primary goal for their plan is to have guaranteed money every month to cover living costs and another 40 percent wanted to make sure that their savings are safe no matter what happens in the market. Furthermore, while 74% are concerned about security of their investments, only 21 percent expect to receive income from annuities.

Given the fact that fixed income annuities are the only investment that’s designed to provide guaranteed lifetime income, there’s an obvious disconnect and associated lack of understanding between what pre-retirees want and what they’re implementing when it comes to retirement planning. A large part of the problem is attributable to the fact that employees are relying too much on their employer’s retirement plan to meet their retirement needs. See Don’t Depend on Your Employer for Retirement.

Most employers today offer a 401(k), or defined contribution plan, to their employees vs. the traditional defined benefit plan that was prevalent several years ago. The latter plan is designed to provide lifetime income beginning at a defined age whereas a 401(k) plan is designed to accumulate assets, the value of which fluctuates over time depending upon market performance.

Since an income tax deduction is available for contributing to a non-Roth 401(k) plan and the maximum allowable contribution level is fairly generous for most employees, the incentive to seek out lifetime income options in the marketplace is limited for most retirement plan participants. This is the case even though people like the idea of lifetime income and their employer’s retirement plan doesn’t usually offer this option.

As the marketplace becomes better educated about the importance of having a retirement income plan, this is reinforced by the next stock market downturn, and employers increase the availability of lifetime income options, the disconnect between the desire for, and inclusion of, sustainable lifetime income in one’s plan will lessen over time.

Financial Planning Retirement Asset Planning Retirement Income Planning

Budget Now or Budget Later – It’s Your Choice

No one likes the word, “budget,” let alone doing it. While it should be basic to personal financial planning, budgeting is often a reluctant response to a negative financial experience. A common example of this situation is after an inordinate amount of credit card debt has been accumulated.

Setting up, modifying, and sticking to a budget requires discipline. Planning, organizing, and monitoring personal finances needs to be done on an ongoing basis. It may mean sacrificing things you would otherwise do and buy without this essential financial tool.

The ostensible, traditional purpose of budgeting is defensive in nature — making sure that you live within your means. To many people, this implies spending all of the income you receive without going in the hole. Never mind setting aside funds for an extraordinary unexpected expense, let alone saving for a future life-changing financial event like retirement.

For those of us who want to control our financial destiny, budgeting is instead a proactive financial strategy that’s used to achieve various financial goals. The overriding theme of this strategy is “Pay yourself first.” Before you allocate income toward paying for nondiscretionary expenses like your mortgage, utilities, food, etc., set aside a defined amount of income in an account that’s earmarked for a specific financial goal.

A common way this is often done is with employee 401(k) plan contributions. Before a participant’s paycheck hits his/her checking account, a specified percentage of each paycheck is automatically withdrawn and deposited into a retirement savings account. As an added bonus, the participant receives a tax deduction for the contributions and the funds grow tax-deferred until they’re withdrawn.

Does making a 401(k) plan contribution seem like budgeting? It should if you’re doing it with the goal of paying yourself first to save for retirement. It’s more difficult to adopt this mindset, however, if you don’t have a mechanism in place to automatically transfer funds from your paycheck to an investment that’s earmarked for a particular financial goal. This is a major reason why people aren’t successful in achieving financial goals, especially saving sufficient funds for retirement.

Once realistic goals are established, the core of any type of financial planning approach is a proactive budgeting “pay-yourself-first” strategy. To the extent that you don’t adopt this mindset during your working years and earmark funds for retirement, you will be forced into traditional defensive budgeting when you retire, i.e., making sure that you live within your means. Your means will be much less than what they would otherwise be had you chosen to employ a disciplined approach with your finances during your working years. Budget now or budget later – it’s your choice.

Retirement Income Planning

Ladder Your Retirement Income

“Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.” This is a saying that’s often tossed around when it comes to retirement income planning. Usually it’s brought into the conversation to address different types of investments one should consider to generate retirement income.

While diversification is a fundamental principle when it comes to both pre- and post-retirement investment planning, income timing is just as important in retirement. The first thing that needs to be recognized is that retirement isn’t a single financial event. It’s a process that includes multiple stages, each with its own financial demands.

There are unique types of expenses associated with each stage. For example, there may be an emphasis on travel in the initial stage of retirement, potentially requiring a large initial budget for this item that may decline, and ultimately be eliminated, in later stages. Another example may be a mortgage that gets paid off during retirement. Finally, health and long-term care expenses tend to dominate the final stage. Nonrecurring, or infrequently recurring, expenses, such as car purchases and home improvements, need to also be considered.

Given the fact that income needs to cover expenses and there will be various types and amounts of expenses with different durations associated with each of the various stages, different streams, or ladders, of income need to be planned for to match one’s needs. Several types of income need to be analyzed to determine which ones will be best suited to match the projected expense needs of each stage.

When considering income types, it must always be kept in mind that after-tax income is used to pay for expenses. If the income source to be used to pay for a particular expense is a retirement account such as a 401(k) plan, a larger distribution will generally need to be taken from the plan than would be required from a nonretirement money market fund or from a Roth IRA account. Income tax planning is essential when it comes to income ladder design.

Complicating the income ladder design process is the decision regarding when to begin receiving Social Security. While Social Security can provide a solid base, or floor, to meet income needs for the duration of retirement, the amount of income that you will receive is dependent upon the age when you begin to receive your income. Given the fact that the amount will increase by 8% per year plus cost of living adjustments between full retirement age and age 70, it may make sense to defer the start date depending upon one’s retirement age, marital status, health condition, and other potential sources of income. The types, timing, and amounts of income ladders are directly affected by the Social Security start date decision.

Keeping in mind that successful retirement income planning includes planning, managing, and protecting income, an analysis of one’s income protection plan is also essential to the income ladder design process. As an example, to the extent that long-term care insurance has been purchased, a large income stream won’t be needed to pay for long-term care expenses. Funds will generally be needed, however, to pay for long-term care insurance premiums throughout retirement unless a claim arises.

As you can see, retirement isn’t a smooth ride whereby you can plan for the same amount of expenses each year increased by an inflation factor. Given this fact, an analysis of different types of projected expenses, including amounts and timing of each, is critical, followed by the design of an after-tax income ladder plan to match your expense needs.

Income Tax Planning

New Tax Law – Don’t Let the Tax Tail Wag the Dog – Part 2 of 2

Part 1 of this post focused on the two investment-related tax areas of the new tax law that went into effect on January 1st – (a) the Medicare investment income tax and (b) long-term capital gains and qualified dividends. It made the point that while the amount of potential income tax liability resulting from exposure to one or both of these changes may be significant, neither one in and of itself, or in combination for that matter, should cause you to overhaul an otherwise appropriate retirement income planning investment strategy.

After preparing income tax projections using current vs. prior tax law, your CPA or other income tax professional will be able to determine two things: (a) the total amount of your additional projected income tax liability attributable to various changes in the law, and (b) the amount of your additional projected income tax liability attributable to specific changes in the law, including the Medicare investment income tax and 20% long-term capital gains and qualified dividends tax.

Once you determine the amount of your projected income tax liability attributable to specific changes in the law, the next step is to determine (a) the applicable income threshold type and amount that you have exceeded, and (b) the projected amount of excess income over the applicable threshold amount. In the case of the Medicare investment income tax, the threshold type is modified adjusted gross income (“MAGI”) and the amount is $200,000 if single or $250,000 if married filing joint. If your additional projected income tax liability is attributable to long-term capital gains and/or qualified dividends, the threshold type is taxable income and the amount is $400,000 if single or $450,000 if married filing joint.

Whether you’re affected by the Medicare investment income tax or the 20% (vs. 15%) tax on long-term capital gains and dividends, the next step is to determine the various components of income that comprise your gross income. Once you do this, you need to determine which specific non-investment related components can be reduced, as well as the amount of reductions for each component, in order to reduce the amount of your projected income tax liability attributable to changes in the tax law.

It’s important to keep in mind that some types of income can be reduced indirectly. An example of this is taxable salary which can be reduced significantly by various types of pre-tax deductions as available, including, but not limited to, 401(k) plan and cafeteria plan contributions. Another example is self-employment income which can be reduced by self-employment expenses.

In addition to determining which specific non-investment related components can be reduced, it’s also important to determine if any losses can be created or freed up as another means of reducing gross income. This can include capital losses to offset capital gains, net operating losses, as well as passive activity loss carryovers that can be freed up as a result of the sale of a rental property. The latter strategy can be a double-edged sword since this may also result in a capital gain that may increase exposure to the Medicare investment income tax and/or the 20% capital gains tax.

Since the starting point for determining exposure to both the Medicare investment income tax and 20% capital gains tax calculations is adjusted gross income (“AGI”), the next step is to determine potential deductions for AGI, or “above-the-line” deductions, that you may not be currently taking advantage of. This includes self-employed retirement plan contributions, self-employed health insurance premiums, and health savings account (“HSA”) contributions, to name a few.

If your issue is the 20% capital gains tax, in addition to reducing your AGI, there’s another way that you can potentially reduce your exposure to this tax and retain the 15% favorable capital gains tax. Keeping in mind that the threshold type in the case of the 20% capital gains tax is taxable income which is calculated by subtracting itemized deductions and personal exemptions from AGI, you may be able to increase your itemized deductions in order to reduce your taxable income.

As you can see, there are things you can do to reduce your exposure to the Medicare investment income tax and 20% capital gains tax without changing your investment strategy. If you have an otherwise appropriate retirement income planning investment strategy, don’t let the tax tail wag the dog.

Annuities Fixed Index Annuities

Fixed Index Annuity Income Rider Similarities to Social Security – Part 4 of 4

This is the fourth and final part of our series discussing eight characteristics that are shared by fixed income annuity (“FIA”) income riders and Social Security. The first seven characteristics of a fixed index annuity income rider were addressed in Parts 1 through 3, with #8, income taxation, the topic of this week’s post.

There are three income taxation attributes that FIA income riders and Social Security have in common as follows:

  1. Limited income tax deduction for investment funding
  2. Tax-deferred growth
  3. Benefits taxable as ordinary income

Limited Income Tax Deduction for Investment Funding

With qualified pension plans, e.g., 401(k) plans, there are pre-tax deductions available for employer and employee contributions up to specified limits. In the case of Social Security and FIA income riders, tax savings from initial and ongoing investment funding is limited.

For Social Security, the ability to take an income tax deduction is limited to employer contributions. Employee contributions are nondeductible. For 2012, employers may deduct their contributions of 6.2% of Social Security earnings up to a maximum of $110,100 per employee. Self-employed individuals may deduct the employer portion of Social Security and Medicare tax, with the limit being identical to the employer portion of employee Social Security earnings.

When it comes to FIA funding, income tax deductibility is determined by FIA location. Like most investments, FIA’s can be held in nonretirement and retirement investment accounts. Contributions to nonretirement investment accounts are non-deductible. Contributions to retirement investment accounts, on the other hand, may or may not be deductible, depending upon the type of investment account and other rules, a discussion of which is beyond the scope of this post.

Tax-Deferred Growth

An important advantage enjoyed by both Social Security and FIA income riders is tax-deferred growth. Simply stated, there’s no taxation until payments are received. With Social Security, tax-deferred growth happens behind the scenes. Unlike 401(k) plans and IRA’s where each participant has a separate account where tax-deferred growth can be tracked, this isn’t the case for Social Security recipients. Tax-deferred growth is instead transparent since there’s no direct correlation between employee and employer Social Security contributions and benefits that are ultimately paid.

Although tax-deferred growth doesn’t occur behind the scenes, it isn’t as straightforward as with other investments, including the FIA accumulation value, when it comes to a FIA income rider. Income withdrawals are calculated based on a separate income account value. Please see the April 2, 2012 post, How is Your Fixed Index Annuity’s Income Account Value Calculated? to learn more.

Benefits Taxable as Ordinary Income

When taxable, Social Security and FIA income rider benefits are both treated as ordinary income. This means that, unlike long-term capital gains which enjoy a favorable tax rate, benefits are taxed at one’s regular income tax rates. The rates range between 10% and 35% and are dependent upon filing status and amount of taxable income.

The taxation of Social Security is dependent upon the total of one’s other income, tax-exempt interest, and one-half of Social Security benefits compared to a specified threshold amount that’s different for single and married taxpayers. When the total exceeds the threshold amount and benefits are taxable, anywhere between 50% and 85% of benefits are taxable as ordinary income depending upon the amount of the excess of the total over the threshold amount.

The taxation of FIA income rider withdrawals is dependent upon FIA location. When held in qualified plans and non-Roth IRA’s, 100% of all withdrawals in excess of one’s basis are taxable as ordinary income. Withdrawals from Roth IRA accounts are nontaxable. If not annuitized, income withdrawals from nonretirement FIA’s are subject to “last-in first-out,” or “LIFO,” taxation. 100% of all withdrawals will be taxed until all interest is recovered with subsequent withdrawals received tax-free as a return of principal.

Annuities Fixed Index Annuities

Target Retirement Income to Match Your Financial Needs

Can you name an investment that offers all of the following features?

  • Guaranteed income*
  • Lifetime income
  • Tax-deferred income
  • Known future income amount at time of initial and ongoing investments
  • Flexible income start date
  • Greater income amount the longer you defer your income start date
  • Potential doubling of income amount to cover nursing home expense
  • Investment value in addition to future income stream
  • Protection from loss of principal
  • Potential for increase in investment value
  • Potential matching of percentage of investment amounts by financial institution
  • Death benefit

Sounds too good to be true? If you’ve been reading Retirement Income Visions™ for the last nine months, you know that the answer to this question is a fixed index annuity (“FIA”) with an income rider. There’s no other investment of which I’m aware that offers all 12 of the foregoing features.

The reason that I’m so enthusiastic about this particular investment and I’ve been writing about it for the last nine months, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future, is that it’s a retirement income planner’s dream-come-true. As a result of possessing all of these different features, this gives me the ability to target retirement income to match my client’s financial needs.

Working within a client’s parameters, including, but not limited to, current age, marital status, desired retirement age, projected retirement expenses, projected Social Security and other sources of retirement income, current investment values and types of investments, e.g., Roth IRA, 401(k) plan, nonretirement, etc., as well as life and long-term care insurance protection, I can design a plan for a client to generate a targeted amount of lifetime income beginning at a specified age to match my client’s situation.

It should be emphasized that while a FIA with an income rider is a wonderful solution for targeting retirement income to meet a client’s needs, it isn’t the only solution. Whenever I prepare a retirement income plan for a client, I look at other opportunities for meeting my client’s specific needs. With my arsenal of retirement income planning tools and expertise, I can design and execute a customized plan that may include one or more FIA’s with or without income riders in addition to other retirement income planning investment vehicles.

*Guaranteed income refers to income for which an insurance carrier is contractually bound to pay to an annuitant(s) and/or an annuitant’s beneficiaries that is subject to the claims paying ability of each individual insurance carrier.

Retirement Income Planning

A Retirement Paycheck is Essential

Last week’s post, Where Have All the Pensions Gone? made the point that given (a) the scarcity of traditional defined benefit pension plans, (b) the inability of 401(k) plans, employee and self-employed retirement plans, and many nonretirement investment vehicles to provide for a predetermined monthly lifetime income beginning at a specified age, and (c) the inadequacy and uncertainty of the Social Security system, it behooves each and every one of us to create our own pension plan.

With this week’s post, I want to expand upon and clarify the conclusion in last week’s post. I understated the point when I said that it behooves each and every one of us to create our own pension plan. It isn’t simply beneficial or worthwhile to create our own pension plan – it’s imperative that we do so. To do otherwise is to leave our retirement exposed to too many variables beyond our control and, in turn, risk that we will outlive our retirement assets.

Retirement Roadblocks

Outliving one’s retirement assets can happen in any number of ways, including, but not limited to, experiencing one or more of the following eight retirement roadblocks:

  • Insufficient investment assets to sustain a longer- than-average life expectancy
  • Prolonged higher-than-average inflation
  • Sequence of returns with bad early years. See the October 5, 2009 post, The Sequence of Returns – The Roulette Wheel of Retirement.
  • Withdrawal drag. See the September 28, 2009 post, Withdrawal Drag – The Silent Killer.
  • Excessive investment withdrawals relative to available retirement assets
  • Uninsured events, e.g., long-term care
  • Unfavorable income tax law changes
  • Poor investment management

As you can see, too many things can happen, many of which are beyond our control, that can prematurely deplete one’s investment assets. Although unplanned, the occurrence of one or more of these events could easily derail what’s suppose to be our golden years.

Something we have the ability to control, and, furthermore, as previously stated, is imperative for us to do, is creation of our own pension plan. Specifically, we need to replace employment income with a retirement paycheck.

The risk that we will outlive our retirement assets is shared by individuals of all means. A sizeable nest egg, while it can sustain one through many years of retirement, can also be depleted before the end of one’s and one’s spouses, if married, lifetime(s) in the absence of a sound retirement income plan.

Although a retirement paycheck doesn’t guarantee that we won’t outlive our retirement assets, it will eliminate our exposure to several of the eight retirement roadblocks, and, in turn, improve our odds for success.

Retirement Income Planning

Where Have All the Pensions Gone?

If you aren’t receiving a pension from a former private sector employer, there’s a pretty good chance that your employee benefit package doesn’t include this once-cherished perk. According to a study by Towers Watson & Co., as of May 31, 2011, only 30% of Fortune 100 companies offered a defined benefit plan to new salaried employees. That’s down from 37% at the end of 2010, 43% in 2009, 47% in 2008, and 83% as recently as 2002. This is a far cry from 1985 when 90% of Fortune 100 companies offered a traditional pension plan to new employees.

While defined contribution plans, predominantly 401(k) plans, have replaced defined benefit plans in the private sector, the pension aspect is lacking in the majority of such plans today. Specifically, with limited exceptions, these plans generally don’t provide for a predetermined monthly payment that an employee can expect to receive beginning at a specified age for the rest of his/her life and his/her spouse’s life if married.

Furthermore, to the extent that a 401(k) plan is available, the future accumulation value of a participant’s account is unknown. It’s dependent upon several variables, including number of years of participation, IRS-imposed employee and employer contribution limits, employee contribution amounts, potential employer matching contributions, investment offerings, performance of chosen investments, participant loans, and potential plan distributions.

The inability to provide for a known monthly lifetime income upon retirement is not unique to employer-sponsored plans. It’s also common to employee and self-employed retirement plans, including, but not limited to, traditional IRA’s, Roth IRA’s, and SEP-IRA’s.

In addition, the nature of many investment vehicles, whether held inside or outside a retirement plan, don’t lend themselves to plan for a predictable known future lifetime or joint lifetime stream of income. Whether you’re talking about a savings account, CD, bond, stock, mutual fund, or exchange traded fund, this feature is generally unavailable.

Finally, a discussion about retirement income wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Social Security. Social Security is a wonderful provider of monthly retirement income for those individuals who qualify to receive it. Of all non self-funded plans, it comes closest to duplicating the pension aspect of a defined benefit plan. Unlike most defined benefit plans, the monthly benefit can increase as a result of cost of living adjustments. Unfortunately, the uncertainty that surrounds the Social Security system makes it difficult to plan for this benefit, especially for younger individuals.

Given (a) the scarcity of traditional defined benefit pension plans, (b) the inability of 401(k) plans, employee and self-employed retirement plans, and many nonretirement investment vehicles to provide for a predetermined monthly lifetime income beginning at a specified age, and (c) the inadequacy and uncertainty of the Social Security system, it behooves each and every one of us to create our own pension plan.

Annuities Fixed Index Annuities

Contract Date – The Driver of Fixed Index Annuity Performance

Last week’s post began a discussion about the second way that fixed index annuities grow in addition to a contract’s defined minimum guarantees – indexing strategies. It pointed out that there are actually two choices that you need to make when selecting a particular indexing strategy: (1) Stock market index and (2) Indexing method. Stock market indexes, including how they work and the different types that are typically available when working with fixed indexed annuities, was the subject of last week’s post.

What is the purpose of an indexing method? An indexing method, together with a particular stock market index, determines the amount of interest that is credited to the value of a fixed index annuity on the contract anniversary date each year. Interest crediting is flexible and will vary for each fixed index annuity contract based on several factors.

No matter which stock market index(es) and indexing method(s) is (are) chosen, interest crediting is first, and foremost, driven by the contract date. This is the date on which the contract is effective. The measurement date for all indexing strategies begins on this date.

Every indexing strategy uses a contract year. In the first year, this period begins on the contract date and ends on the day before the contract anniversary date. In subsequent years, the ending date is the same, however, the contract year begins on the contract anniversary date.

Suppose that you applied for a fixed index annuity for your IRA last month using funds that were rolled over from your dormant 401(k) plan and your fixed index annuity is issued with a September 6, 2011 contract date. The measurement period for calculation of interest crediting during your first contract year will begin on September 6, 2011 and will end on September 5, 2012. Your second contract year, or measurement period, will begin on September 6, 2012 and will end on September 5, 2013, and so forth.

Since each contract year for each fixed index annuity contract is determined by the contract date, there are 365 (366 for fixed index annuity contracts issued in leap years once every four years) possible measuring periods. Forgetting about choices of stock market indexes and indexing methods, given the sheer number of measuring periods, no single indexing method will result in the highest interest crediting in every situation. The performance of a particular indexing method will be different if the contract year begins on September 6th vs. if it begins on February 23rd, and, furthermore, will vary from year to year.

While generalizations can, and are often made, about the performance of various types of indexing methods during different types of markets, e.g., bull vs. bear, it’s important to keep in mind that no one can predict the change in a particular stock market index from one date to the same date a year later, let alone predict the individual monthly changes during a particular year that is required for working with certain indexing methods.

In summary, fixed index annuity interest crediting is determined on an annual basis by the performance of one or more chosen stock market indexes and indexing methods based on the original contract date. Given the fact that there are 365 or 366 possible measuring periods and typically several choices of indexing strategies, interest crediting amounts will generally be different for each contract issued for each fixed index annuity product.

Income Tax Planning Retirement Income Planning

Sizeable Capital Loss Carryover? Rethink Your Retirement Plan Contributions

Last week’s post answered the question, “What is the right mix of retirement vs. nonretirement investments in a retirement income plan?” with a simple, but correct, answer: “It depends.” It pointed out that each scenario is different, requiring a professional analysis by a qualified retirement income planner of the interaction between a host of many variables unique to that situation.

One of the variables mentioned last week was income tax carryover losses. There are limitations on the amount of losses arising from various types of transactions that may be deducted on the tax return for the year in which the loss incurred. The portion of the loss that isn’t deductible in the year of origin of the loss must instead be carried forward to the following year, and potentially to additional future years, until the requisite type and amount of income becomes available to absorb the loss.

An example of a common income tax carryover loss is a capital loss. After netting capital losses against capital gains, to the extent that there is an excess of capital losses over capital gains, you end up with a net capital loss. Under income tax laws that have been in existence since at least 1980 when I started practicing as an accountant, only net capital losses up to $3,000 ($1,500 if married and filing a separate return) are allowed to be deducted in the current tax year. Any net losses in excess of the specified amounts are required be carried forward to the following year.

If you have a sizeable capital loss carryover, as many people do as a result of 2009 securities sales when the stock market plummeted, nondeductible contributions to a nonretirement investment account may be preferable to making deductible retirement plan contributions, including 401(k) plans, SEP-IRA plans, deductible IRA’s, and other retirement plans. This assumes that you’re not planning on selling an asset, such as a piece of real estate or a business that will generate a sizeable capital gain that can be used to absorb your capital loss carryover.

Why is this? Doesn’t it make sense to contribute to a retirement plan where you know that you’re going to receive a current income tax deduction, often sizeable, that will save you a bunch of income taxes today? Keeping in mind that the tradeoff for a current income tax deduction when it comes to retirement plan contributions is deferred income inclusion and associated taxation when the assets are distributed, perhaps at a higher tax rate, the answer to this question isn’t necessarily “yes.”

This is especially true when large capital loss carryovers are present. If you’re in this situation and you don’t realize any capital gains, you will be taking a $3,000 tax deduction on your tax return for many, many years with the possibility, depending upon your age and the amount of your loss, that your carryover loss won’t be used in its entirety during your lifetime. Given this situation, the goal should be to create opportunities for capital gains that can be used to absorb chunks of your capital loss carryover each year without incurring any income tax liability until such time as there is no further available capital loss.

How do you do this assuming limited financial resources? One option that can make sense in many situations is to divert funds that would otherwise be used for making deductible retirement plan contributions into nonretirement equity investment accounts that have the potential to generate capital gains. To the extent that the equities appreciate in value, they can be sold, with the gains generated by the sales used to offset a portion of your capital loss carryover without incurring any income tax liability. Furthermore, unlike other situations where capital losses aren’t present and your goal may be to hold onto investments for longer than a year in order to obtain the benefit of favorable long-term capital gains tax treatment, this isn’t necessary. Capital loss carry forwards can be offset again any capital gains, whether short- (i.e., one year or less) or long- (i.e., greater than one year) term.

Using this strategy, you won’t receive an income tax deduction for investing in your nonretirement investment account. You will, however, create an opportunity to potentially increase the value of your nonretirement account up to the amount of your capital loss carryover plus $3,000 without incurring any income tax liability that you might not otherwise do. In addition, once your capital loss carryover has been used in its entirety, subsequent sales of assets can create additional losses or capital gains that can be taxed at favorable long-term capital gains rates. All of this can occur without exposing yourself to guaranteed ordinary income taxation at potentially higher tax rates down the road when you take distributions from your retirement plans had you instead invested the same funds in retirement plans.

Retirement Income Planning

Nonretirement vs. Retirement Plan Investments – What is the Right Mix?

Last week’s post made the point that retirement plans, in and of themselves, generally aren’t sufficient for meeting most people’s retirement needs and, therefore, it’s important to include nonretirement investments in most retirement income plans. The question is, what is the right mix of retirement vs. nonretirement investments?

Like the answer to many financial planning questions, the correct response is, “It depends.” Each situation is different. It all revolves around the interaction between a host of many variables, including, but not limited to, current age, projected retirement age, retirement income goals, insurance coverage, current investments, access to and participation in employer retirement plans, availability of other types of retirement plans, other assets owned, liabilities, current disposable income, projected sources of retirement income, income tax carryover losses, and current and projected income tax rates.

Aside from obvious situations where there are inherent limitations in the ability to make nonretirement investments, e.g., minimal disposable income combined with access to an employer-matching 401(k) plan, a detailed analysis should be performed and monitored periodically by a qualified retirement income planner to determine the optimal mixture of retirement vs. nonretirement investments. In addition, the analysis should include the determination of which individual investments are best suited for inclusion in a retirement plan vs. a nonretirement investment portfolio.

As stated last week, nonretirement investments are simply the same types of investments that you find in retirement plans, i.e., stocks, bonds, mutual funds, exchanged traded funds, annuities, CD’s, etc. While this is true, different types of assets behave differently in retirement vs. nonretirement plans. The behavioral differences are attributable to differing income tax rules associated with each type of investment. Furthermore, different income tax rules apply to the accumulation vs. the distribution stage.

It’s critical to understand the accumulation and distribution income tax differences associated with placing a specific investment in your nonretirement portfolio vs. holding it in your retirement plan. An example of this is annuities. Whether held inside or outside a retirement plan, annuities grow tax-deferred. This means that so long as there are no distributions taken from the annuity, there are no current income tax reporting requirements associated with it. When it comes time to taking distributions, it’s a completely different story. Distributions from annuities held in retirement plans are generally taxable as ordinary income vs. those from nonretirement plan annuities are subject to an exclusion ratio whereby a portion of each distribution is generally nontaxable.

The allocation of investments between retirement vs. nonretirement plans as well as the inclusion of a particular investment in a retirement vs. a nonretirement investment portfolio can make or break a retirement income plan. This definitely falls under the category, “Don’t try this at home.”