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.

Retirement Income Planning

What is Your Planned Retirement Trigger?

The introduction to one of my recent MarketWatch RetireMentors columns, You Need a Plan to Retire Before You Plan to Retire, stated the following fact of which most people aren’t aware:

“You’re not going to retire when you plan on retiring. You’re probably going to retire earlier.”

The article cited results of two recent well-known and respected annual studies that demonstrated that there’s a good chance that you will retire before you expect to do so.

The Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) Retirement Confidence Survey has consistently shown an increasing trend in the percentage of people retiring earlier than planned since 2007. Per the 2014 survey, 49% of people retired earlier than planned, 38% retired about when planned, and only 7% retired later than planned.

Results of the Gallup 2014 Average Actual vs. Expected Retirement Age Survey for the last 13 years have found that the average expected retirement age among non-retirees has consistently exceeded the average actual retirement age among retirees by four to seven years. 2014 was no exception when the average expected retirement age among non-retirees was 66 vs. average actual retirement age among retirees of 62.

Why did 49% of people surveyed by EBRI leave the workforce earlier than planned? While some retirees gave positive reasons for retiring early, many cited negative reasons for doing so. The top three were as follows:

  • Health problems or disabilities (61%)
  • Changes at companies, such as downsizing or closure (18%)
  • Having to care for spouses or other family members (18%)

Why Plan for a Specific Retirement Age?

As emphasized in several of my posts, including the last one, Do You Want to RAP or Do You Prefer to RIP?, retirement planning is unquestionably the most difficult type of goal-oriented financial planning. Knowing that there’s a 50% chance that you will retire earlier than expected, often for reasons beyond your control, and that the average actual retirement age among retirees is 62, why bother planning to retire at a specific age?

While you may retire earlier or later than planned, that’s no different than other types of financial planning where actual results are generally different from those that were planned. Furthermore, this knowledge doesn’t negate the need for planning, especially when it comes to retirement income planning where the fear of running out of money can cause many sleepless nights without proper planning. If anything, it emphasizes the importance of having a retirement income trigger, or age at which you would like to retire, and reinforcing your plan by including a premature retirement strategy.

Increase Your Odds for Success

You don’t have to be average. If you want to improve the likelihood of retiring at your planned retirement age, consider working with a financial adviser if you aren’t doing so already. As pointed out in my July 11, 2013 MarketWatch RetireMentors article, Retire Confidently With a Written Plan, the value of working with a financial adviser and having a written retirement income plan is reinforced by the numbers of individuals who retire voluntarily versus involuntarily.

Citing the results of the 2013 Franklin Templeton Retirement Income Strategies and Expectations (RISE) Survey, the article stated that 74% of those currently working with an adviser retired by choice. In addition, per the survey, only 18% of those working with an adviser expected running out of money to be their top concern during retirement.

Three Questions to Ask Yourself

If you’re planning for retirement, here are three questions you should ask yourself:

  • What is your planned retirement trigger?
  • Do you have a written retirement income plan for your trigger?
  • Are you working with a financial advisor who specializes in retirement income planning?
Annuities Fixed Index Annuities

Fixed Index Annuity Income Rider Charge – Is It Worth It? – Part 2 of 2

Part 1 of this post explained the benefits of attaching an income rider to a fixed index annuity (“FIA”). It also discussed the charge for this rider, including how it’s calculated. Now we come to the crux of the matter – is a FIA income rider charge worth it?

Before answering this question, I want to make it clear that the charge doesn’t reduce the lifetime income, or lifetime retirement paycheck (“LRP”) amount that you will receive. It’s deducted from the accumulation value of your FIA, or value of your FIA before any applicable surrender charges. As explained in Part 1, the income account value is used to calculate the amount of your LRP and is separate and apart from the accumulation value of your annuity contract.

Not to state the obvious, however, when you purchase something for yourself, you generally do so only if you plan on using it or benefiting from it in some way. This applies to a FIA income rider. The reason that people purchase a FIA with an income rider is to obtain the security that no matter what happens with the rest of their investment portfolio, subject to individual life insurance company claims-paying abilities, they will receive guaranteed lifetime income beginning at a flexible income start date, with the amount of income increasing the longer the start date is deferred.

Furthermore, per Part 1, one of the five benefits offered by an income rider is the ability to calculate the LRP amount that you will receive beginning on a specified future date on the date of purchase. When you invest in a FIA and tack on an optional income rider, your retirement income planner should be able to show you (a) the amount of annual income that you will receive beginning on different dates with specified initial and additional purchase amounts and (b) the amount of your projected retirement income need that will be met by your FIA income.

Assuming your goal is to receive a specific amount of income each year beginning at a specified future date, you won’t withdraw funds from the accumulation value of your FIA before or after your income start date. If you do so, the income account value will decrease by the amount of your withdrawals, decreasing your LRP amount.

Assuming you won’t be withdrawing funds from the accumulation value of your FIA and you will only be using your FIA to generate lifetime income, the accumulation value will be of secondary importance to you during your lifetime. If there’s a chance that you may take withdrawals from your accumulation value, you shouldn’t be purchasing an FIA with an income rider.

With an income rider, once you start receiving income from your contract, you will continue to do so for the rest of your life even if the accumulation value has been reduced to $0 as a result of income withdrawals and income rider charges. Assuming that you use your income rider as intended, receiving lifetime income without taking any withdrawals from the accumulation value of your contract, the primary benefit of your contract’s accumulation value is as a potential death benefit to your beneficiaries. Keeping in mind that income distributions reduce accumulation value, the latter may be minimal or potentially depleted in the event that there have been ongoing income distributions for many years.

Assuming (a) you value the five benefits of a FIA income rider presented in Part 1, (b) you understand that the income rider charge won’t affect the amount of your lifetime income, (c) you recognize that the accumulation value is of secondary importance, and (d) the income rider charge is competitive with other FIA income rider charges assessed by similarly-rated life insurance carriers that will pay a similar amount of income, you will probably conclude that the income rider charge is a small price to pay to obtain the unique combination of benefits offered by a FIA income rider.

Annuities Deferred Income Annuities Fixed Index Annuities Retirement Income Planning

Is Your Investment Advisor Afraid of Losing AUM?

When it comes to retirement income planning, one of my philosophies is a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. As defined in Urban Dictionary, this expression means that it is better to have an advantage or opportunity that is certain than having one that is worth more but is not so certain.

One of the ways that I use this approach is to look for opportunities to convert what amounts to a sliver of a client’s portfolio into a deferred sustainable income stream beginning in a targeted year during my client’s planned retirement. The income stream, while it’s often for life, is sometimes for a specified period of time to close a projected retirement income gap (See Mind the Gap).

The opportunities to which I’m referring are sizeable abnormal increases in the stock market that inevitably are followed by market corrections, or downturns. Rather than celebrating what often proves to be temporary good fortune, when appropriate, I will recommend to my clients who need sustainable retirement income that they consider transferring a small portion of their investment portfolio into one or more new or existing fixed income annuities. These include fixed index annuities (“FIA’s”) with income riders, deferred income annuities (“DIA’s”), and single premium immediate annuities (“SPIA’s”).

This is a natural timely conversation that invariably makes sense to the clients to whom I recommend this approach since it is in their best interest. Furthermore, it’s an easy conversation for me to initiate since I specialize in retirement income planning, am a Retirement Income Certified Professional® (RICP®), CPA, CFP® professional, and a licensed insurance agent in addition to my firm being regulated as a Registered Investment Advisor (“RIA”). There’s no conflict of interest when I make the above recommendation to a client since, unlike most investment advisors, my income isn’t tied to a single compensation model.

The compensation model to which I’m referring is assets under management, or “AUM.” While many firms charge financial planning fees, the lion’s share of compensation earned by most traditional investment management firms is derived from AUM. As the name implies, the fee is typically calculated as a declining percentage of the value of a client’s investment portfolio. The greater the value of a portfolio, the smaller the percentage is that is applied to calculate the investment management fee. This is one of several compensation models offered by my firm.

Firms that are tied to an “AUM” compensation model generally don’t offer retirement income planning solutions that require insurance licensing and ongoing specialized insurance and annuity training. Most “AUM” driven firms are reluctant to refer clients to advisors like myself who offer a total retirement income planning approach since, in addition to the obvious revenue loss, this would be tantamount to an admission that they’re unable to provide a total retirement income planning solution.

An “AUM” model, while it’s appropriate for assisting clients with their retirement planning, i.e., asset accumulation, needs, isn’t designed for addressing lifetime sustainable income and other retirement income planning solutions. For clients seeking sustainable retirement income, it’s like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.

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.

Annuities Deferred Income Annuities Fixed Index Annuities Longevity Insurance Retirement Income Planning

Insure Your Longevity

When people hear the term, “longevity insurance,” they immediately conjure up images of insurance agents trying to sell them an insurance policy. Longevity insurance isn’t a product in and of itself. It is instead one application of a couple of different types of fixed income annuity products offered by life insurance companies.

The Need for Longevity Insurance

It’s been my personal and professional experience that people generally underestimate how long they will live. Not only is it common to live to age 80, it isn’t unusual to survive to age 90 and even to 100. According to a March, 2012 report, The 2011 Risks and Process of Retirement Survey, prepared for the Society of Actuaries, when a couple reaches 65, there’s a 10% chance that at least one of the individuals will live to 100. There’s a 1% chance that one spouse will reach 107. More than half of retirees and pre-retirees underestimate the age to which a person of his or her age and gender can expect to live.

Given the foregoing facts, combined with the uncertainty of the sustainability of a traditional investment portfolio as a source of retirement income, there’s a need for a guaranteed lifetime income solution for the latter stage of one’s life. The income amount, when combined with other sources of sustainable income, needs to be sufficient to meet projected known and unforeseen expenses for an indefinite period of time.

Products Providing Longevity Insurance

There are two types of fixed income annuities that can be used for the purpose of longevity insurance: deferred income annuities (“DIA’s”) and fixed index annuities (“FIA’s”) with income riders. Both provide the ability to (a) receive income beginning in a future year, and (b) have the income be paid for the remainder of one’s life and a spouse’s life if married.

Deferred Income Annuities

Although DIA’s are currently offered by only a handful of life insurance companies, they’re the solution that’s typically been touted for longevity insurance up until now. Like single premium immediate annuities, or “SPIA’s,” DIA’s pay periodic income for a specified period of time or over one’s lifetime or joint lifetimes as applicable. Unlike SPIA’s which begin payments one month after date of purchase, the start date of DIA payments is contractually defined and is deferred for at least 13 months. The longer the income start date is delayed, the lower the premium, or investment, required to provide a specified amount of income.

Although DIA’s can be purchased for a specified term, e.g., ten years, when used as longevity insurance, the payout on DIA’s often starts in one’s 80’s and is for life. Depending upon the age at which a DIA is purchased, the premium can be a relatively small amount compared to the potential lifetime income that may be received.

Fixed Index Annuities With Income Riders

For those individuals who don’t want to be locked into a fixed starting date, in addition to providing an accumulation value, FIA’s with income riders offer greater flexibility than DIA’s. With FIA’s, which are more readily available than DIA’s, there’s no contractual income start date. Income withdrawals can generally begin any time at least one year after the initial investment is made. The longer the start date is deferred, the greater the amount of lifetime income. The start date can be targeted when the investment is purchased based on the amount and timing of initial and projected ongoing investments and desired amount of income. A flexible, vs. single, premium FIA is required in order to invest additional funds.

Depending upon one’s needs and marketplace availability, it may make sense to use a combination of DIA’s and FIA’s with income riders. and potentially multiple products within each category, to meet deferred lifetime income needs. As with all things of this nature, a thorough analysis should be prepared by a professional retirement income planner to determine the solution that will best meet your needs.

Social Security

Insure Your Longevity Risk with Social Security

When planning for retirement, you need to plan for all of your retirement years. Sounds obvious, however, too often there’s a focus on living it up in the early years without fully considering the potential for longevity and financial risks associated with the later years. As stated in previous posts, the consequences of the financial decisions that you make before you retire can have a profound effect on your ability to meet your financial needs throughout your later retirement years.

How do you plan for all of your retirement years if you don’t know how long you’re going to live? The answer is longevity insurance, otherwise known as a lifetime income annuity. This type of investment will pay you a specified amount of income beginning at a specified date at specified intervals, e.g., monthly or quarterly, with potential annual payment increases for the duration of your life.

If you’re married, the payments can continue to be paid to your spouse upon your death at the same or a reduced amount, depending upon the contractual terms of the particular annuity. Unlike equity-based investments, the payments will be made regardless of market performance.

One of the best longevity insurance planning tools that most of us have at our disposal is Social Security. With its lifetime income payments, not to mention flexible starting date, i.e., age 62 through 70, and associated 7% – 8% increase in benefits each year that the starting date is deferred, excluding cost-of-living adjustments (“COLA’s”), we can use it to insure our, and, if married, our spouse’s, longevity risk.

The amount of retirement income that we choose to insure with Social Security is a personal decision. It’s dependent upon several factors, including, but not limited to, projected investment assets and liabilities, other projected sources of income and expenses and projected timing and duration of same, as well as income tax laws and projected income tax rates.

Delayed claiming of Social Security benefits, in addition to providing increased annual lifetime benefits, results in greater longevity insurance since there will be more guaranteed income available in the latter years of retirement when it may be needed the most. The ability to delay one’s Social Security benefit start date needs to be determined within the context of an overall retirement income planning analysis that includes an analysis of various potential retirement dates.

Social Security

Approaching 62? – Stop Before You Leap – Part 2 of 2

Last week’s post began a discussion regarding the far-reaching and long-term consequences of the Social Security claiming decision. It concluded by stating that the choice of a Social Security starting age will differ depending upon each person’s unique circumstances.

Why is the choice of a Social Security start date so important? There are several reasons, all of which can be divided into two categories:  (a) Those dictated by Social Security rules and regulations and (b) Other fianncial reasons.

Reasons Dictated by Social Security Rules and Regulations

Social Security rules and regulations affecting the choice of a start date include the following:

  • Benefit amounts will increase by 7% – 8% each year that the start date is deferred between age 62 and 70, excluding cost-of-living adjustments (“COLA’s”).
  • Social Security COLA amounts will be greater for those who defer their start date.
  • If married, it will affect the amount of one’s spousal Social Security benefit.
  • If married, it will affect the amount of one’s survivor’s Social Security benefit.
  • With two exceptions, it’s an irrevocable decision.

Other Financial Reasons

Other financial reasons why the choice of a Social Security start date is so important include the following:

  • It can affect the choice of one’s retirement age as well as that of one’s spouse if married.
  • It may impact sustainability of retirement income and assets for 30 to 40 years.
  • It will influence the amount and timing of withdrawals from retirement and nonretirement investment assets.
  • It can affect the amount of Social Security benefits that are taxable each year.
  • It will directly affect one’s overall income tax liability and tax planning.

As you can see, there are many things riding on the choice of one’s Social Security starting age, most of which won’t become apparent until several years, or even decades, after the claiming age decision has been made. The age at which you begin receiving Social Security retirement benefits may possibly be the most significant factor in your ability to sustain financial security throughout retirement. Given the importance of this decision, sit down with your retirement income planner before going to the “Boldly Go Online to Retire – It’s So Easy!” section of the Social Security Administration website and clicking the “Apply for Retirement” link.

Social Security

Approaching 62? – Stop Before You Leap – Part 1 of 2

As I’ve dealt with clients and nonclients alike over the last three decades, one of my ongoing observations is the lack of formal and informal financial education we receive as a society when it comes to how to recognize and plan for critical life-changing financial events in our lives. This is especially true as it pertains to one of the most, if not the most, important financial decisions most of us will make during our lifetime, i.e., when to begin receiving Social Security retirement benefits.

By way of background, although you may apply to begin receiving Social Security retirement benefits at age 62, your benefit will increase each month that you defer your start date until age 70. While it’s tempting to turn on the faucet at age 62, this may not be the best age to begin receiving benefits if you’re concerned about maximizing and prolonging your retirement income stream and that of your spouse if you’re married.

The timing of the Social Security claiming age decision occurs at the crossroads of most peoples lives when many decisions need to be made that will affect the financial and emotional success of one’re retirement years. It comes at a time when:

  • The financial and psychological security of full-time employment will be ending in the near future for most people.
  • The sequence of investment returns can make or break one’s retirement if not properly planned for.
  • There will be a prolonged period of financial uncertainty without the associated safety of a paycheck, including unknown investment performance, inflation, and income tax rates.
  • Health begins to decline for many people with escalating health insurance premiums, potential higher out-of-pocket medical costs, and potential uncovered long-term care expense.

Given the far-reaching and long-term consequences of the Social Security claiming decision, it should be a high priority for anyone approaching age 62 to have a professional retirement income planner prepare an analysis as part of a retirement income plan to determine the optimal age to begin receiving Social Security retirement benefits.

The choice of a Social Security starting age will differ depending upon each person’s unique circumstances. This will become more evident when you read the reasons why the choice of your Social Security claiming age is so important in Part 2 of this post next week.

Roth IRA

Black Friday – Think Roth IRA Conversion

This Friday is Black Friday. It’s the day after Thanksgiving when major retailers open early promoting significant price reductions on lots of items. It has routinely been the busiest shopping day of the year since 2005.

There’s another major sale taking place as I write this post that’s not being publicized. It’s happening in the investment world. It’s one of those perfect storm moments when a confluence of seemingly unrelated factors occurs that results in a short-lived opportunity for those who act on it.

With the recent 1,000 point, or 8%, drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA), closing at 13,593 on September 14th and finishing at 12,588 on Friday, combined with a distinct possibility of higher income tax rates in 2013, with one notable exception, this is one of those moments for individuals considering a Roth IRA conversion.

Let’s start with the exception which is the result of the last major Roth IRA conversion opportunity. In 2010, individuals who did Roth IRA conversions were given the choice of including income from their conversion on their 2010 income tax returns or deferring it. If they chose the latter, they were required to report 50% of the income on their 2011 income tax returns and 50% on their 2012 returns.

Several of my clients did sizeable conversions in 2010, choosing to defer 50% of their Roth IRA conversion income to 2011 and 50% to 2012. While these individuals have enjoyed 30% increases in the equity portion of their Roth IRA accounts since 2010 as a result of the increase in the DJIA from the 10,000 level that will never be taxed, they will also be including large amounts of income from their 2010 conversions on their 2012 income tax returns. Without offsetting losses or deductions, most of these individuals won’t be good candidates for a 2012 Roth IRA conversion.

If your 2012 taxable income is being inflated by a large amount of deferred income from a 2010 Roth IRA conversion without offsetting losses or deductions, you may not be a good candidate for a 2012 Roth IRA conversion. Assuming that you don’t fall under this exception and you haven’t already done a sizeable Roth IRA conversion in 2012, you should be evaluating this strategy as part of your 2012 year-end income tax planning. Once again, there isn’t one, but two, events that make this a potentially timely transaction depending upon your tax situation, either one of which qualifies as a potential trigger.

While it’s possible that the stock market may decline further and income tax rates may not increase in 2013, the recent significant stock market decline in and of itself presents a Roth IRA conversion opportunity. In addition to avoiding taxation on future appreciation of conversion amounts, Roth IRA conversions result in reduction of taxable IRA accounts which in turn offers two other potential benefits.

Smaller taxable IRA accounts translate to smaller required minimum distributions (“RMD’s”) and reduced taxable income beginning at age 70-1/2. In addition, to the extent that you have less taxable income, you may be able to reduce the amount of your taxable Social Security benefits, providing for a second tax reduction opportunity as well as enhanced retirement income longevity.

While you’re setting your alarm clock to take advantage of all of those Black Friday sales, don’t forget about the Roth IRA conversion sale. It may be one of those short-lived investment opportunities that you won’t see for a long time.


Retirement Income Center Website Makes Its Debut

The long-awaited release of Retirement Income Center’s website is finally here. In the works since the beginning of the year when Retirement Income Center (RIC) succeeded Financial Design Center (FDC), RIC’s website,, made its official debut on September 1st.

Robert Klein, President of Retirement Income Center, and the creator and author of Retirement Income Visions™, a weekly blog featuring innovative strategies for creating and optimizing retirement income that recently celebrated its three-year anniversary, designed and wrote all of the material for the website. RIC’s site is hosted by TypePad® which also hosts Retirement Income Visions™ blog.

Bob said, “I’m extremely excited about the launch of Retirement Income Center’s website. It provides me with yet another tool to demonstrate my passion for retirement income planning. More importantly, it enables me to offer a much-needed educational resource for clients and non-clients alike to help them learn about and appreciate the complex world of retirement income planning. When linked with Retirement Income Visions™, I would dare to say that this combination is one of the internet’s leading providers of independent authoritative information on this subject.”

RIC’s website promotes Retirement Income Center’s motto: Planning, Managing, and Protecting Your Retirement Income™. Per “Looking for a Retirement Income Planner?” on the home page of RIC’s site, “Planning, managing, and protecting retirement income is no small task. Very few firms offer all three services. Investment advisory firms’ services are generally asset-based. They rarely offer or recommend sustained income management solutions that are an integral part of any retirement income plan.”

The website is easy to navigate, with the firm’s motto dictating the site’s three main menu choices: PLANNING, MANAGING, and PROTECTING. Unlike many websites that are often static, RIC’s site, similar to retirement income planning, is dynamic. This is evidenced by the home page which features Retirement Income Visions™ current blog post in the left-hand column and a customized Twitter feed of “Retirement Income Planning News” and links to “Recent Retirement Income Visions™ Posts” in the right-hand column.

RIC’s website provides a portal to the firm’s Retirement Income System. The system is Retirement Income Center’s retirement income planning, management, and protection system for its clients. It serves as a highly secure, up-to-date window into clients’ entire financial world that’s accessible at anytime from anywhere with an internet connection or mobile device.

As stated in the title of the first page in the PLANNING section, “Retirement Income Planning Isn’t Optional.” Per this page, “The consequences of not having a dynamic retirement income plan that’s managed and protected from unforeseen events can be costly at the least and potentially financially and emotionally devastating. This applies to the individuals who fail to plan as well as to their family, and, potentially to their living and unborn heirs.”

Robert Klein, CPA, PFS, CFP®, CLTC is the founder of Retirement Income Center, a Registered Investment Advisor. The firm is located at 5020 Campus Drive in Newport Beach, California.

Annuities Celebration Fixed Index Annuities Retirement Income Planning

Retirement Income Visions Celebrates 3-Year Anniversary!

Thanks to my clients, subscribers, and other readers, Retirement Income Visions™ is celebrating its three-year anniversary. Retirement Income Visions™ has published a weekly post each Monday morning, the theme of which is Innovative Strategies for Creating and Optimizing Retirement Income™.

As stated in the initial post on August 16, 2009, Retirement Income Visions™ Makes Its Debut, the importance of retirement income planning as a separate and distinct discipline from traditional retirement planning was magnified during the October, 2007 – March, 2009 stock market decline. Just ask anyone who retired just prior to, or during, this period that didn’t have a retirement income plan in place when he/she retired.

With increasing life expectancies, record-low interest rates, traditional pension plans going by the wayside, soaring health and long-term care costs, and the potential for inflation, retirement income planning is no longer an option. It has become a necessity for anyone who wants to ensure that he/she will have sufficient income to meet his/her expenses for the duration of retirement. Recognizing this fact, The American College launched its Retirement Income Certified Professional™ (RICP™) program earlier this year in which I was one of the first enrollees.

Since its inception, Retirement Income Visions™ has used a themed approach, with several weeks of posts focusing on a relevant retirement income planning strategy. This year was no exception. The weekly posts, together with the customized Glossary of Terms, which currently includes definitions of 137 terms to assist in the understanding of technical subject matter, has contributed to a growing body of knowledge in the relatively new retirement income planning profession.

While the first two years of Retirement Income Visions™ presented a variety of retirement income planning strategies, fixed index annuities, or “FIA’s,” have been the sole focus of virtually every weekly post for the past 13 months. Continuing a theme that began on July 11, 2011 during the second year of publication with Shelter a Portion of Your Portfolio From the Next Stock Market Freefall, the inner workings of FIA’s, including their unique benefits as a retirement income planning solution, has been discussed in detail. As a result, Retirement Income Visions™ has become an authoritative source of information on this important and timely topic.

Although FIA’s has been the theme of almost every post for over a year, the posts have been organized by a number of sub-themes. Following the July 11, 2011 post, the introduction to the FIA strategy continued with the next five posts, Looking for Upside Potential With Downside Protection – Take a Look at Indexed Annuities (July 18, 2011), Limit Your Losses to Zero (July 25, 2011), Do You Want to Limit Your Potential Gains? (August 1, 2011), When is the Best Time to Invest in Indexed Annuities? (August 8, 2011), and How Does Your Fixed Index Annuity Grow? (August 22, 2011).

The next twelve posts, beginning with the August 29, 2011 post, Indexing Strategies – The Key to Fixed Index Annuity Growth, through the November 14, 2011 post, How to Get Interest Credited to Your Fixed Index Annuity When the Market Declines, presented a thorough discussion of the various traditional fixed index annuity indexing strategies. This included an introduction to, and comparison of, the following indexing methods: annual point-to-point, monthly point-to-point, monthly average, trigger indexing, inverse performance trigger indexing, as well as the fixed account that’s included as one of the strategy choices by virtually every FIA.

Moving beyond the base product, the subject of the next nine posts was an introduction to the income rider that’s offered by many FIA’s. The income, or guaranteed minimum withdrawal benefit (“GMWB”), rider is the mechanism for providing guaranteed (subject to the claims-paying ability of individual life insurance companies) lifetime income with a flexible start date that is essential to so many retirement income plans. This kicked off with the enlightening December 5, 2011 and December 12, 2011 posts, No Pension? Create Your Own and Add an Income Rider to Your Fixed Index Annuity to Create a Retirement Paycheck. The introduction to income rider series also included two two-part series, Your Fixed Index Annuity Income Rider – What You Don’t Receive (December 19, 2011 and December 26, 2011) and 5 Things You Receive From a Fixed Index Annuity Income Rider (January 9, 2012 and January 16, 2012).

Following two posts introducing fixed index annuity income calculation variables on January 23, 2012 and January 30, 2012 (10 Fixed Index Annuity Income Calculation Variables and Contractual vs. Situation Fixed Index Annuity Income Calculation Variables), a five-part series ensued revolving around a topic often misunderstood by the general public — premium bonuses. The posts in this series included 8 Questions to Ask Yourself When Analyzing Premium Bonuses (February 6, 2012), What’s a Reasonable Premium Bonus Percentage? (February 13, 2012), How Will a Premium Bonus Affect a Fixed Index Annuity’s Value? (February 20, 2012), How Will Withdrawals Affect Your Premium Bonus? (February 27, 2012), and How Will a Premium Bonus Affect Your Fixed Index Annuity Income Distribution? (March 5, 2012).

The next five posts delved into the inner workings behind the variables and interaction of variables behind the calculation of income withdrawal amounts from FIA income riders. This included the following posts: Income Account Value vs. Accumulation Value – What’s the Difference? (March 19, 2012), How is Your Fixed Index Annuity’s Income Account Value Calculated? (April 2, 2012), How Much Income Will You Receive From Your Fixed Index Annuity? (April 9, 2012), and a two-part series, Don’t Be Fooled by Interest Rates – It’s a Package Deal (April 16, 2012 and April 23, 2012).

When Should You Begin Your Lifetime Retirement Payout? was the subject of a two-part series (May 7, 2012 and May 14, 2012) followed by another timing question, When Should You Begin Investing in Income Rider Fixed Index Annuities? (May 21, 2012).

The May 28, 2012 through June 18, 2012 four-part series, Fixed Index Annuity Income Rider Similarities to Social Security, was a well-received and timely topic. This was followed by a second five-part comparison series beginning on June 25, 2012 and continuing through July 23, 2012, FIA’s With Income Riders vs. DIA’s: Which is Right for You?

The last two weeks’ posts have addressed the topic of valuation of a FIA’s income rider stream. This included the July 30, 2012 post, What is the Real Value of Your Fixed Index Annuity, and the August 6, 2012 post, Why Isn’t the Value of Your Income Stream Shown on Your Fixed Index Annuity Statement?.

As I did in my August 9, 2010 and August 15, 2011 “anniversary” posts, I would like to conclude this post by thanking all of my readers for taking the time to read Retirement Income Visions™. Once again, a special thanks to my clients and non-clients, alike, who continue to give me tremendous and much-appreciated feedback and inspiration. Last, but not least, thank you to Nira, my incredible wife, for her enduring support of my blog writing and other professional activities.

Social Security

Plan for the Frays in Your Social Security Blanket – Part 1 of 2

Until recent years, most of us thought of Social Security as our retirement income security blanket. Even if they had other sources of retirement income that were greater in amount, retirees knew that, come hell or high water, they would receive a monthly check or electronic deposit from the Social Security Administration. This feeling of comfort was based on a long-standing history of benefits being paid to workers when they retired at age 65 beginning with the enactment of the Social Security Act of 1935 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the first payment of monthly benefits in 1940.

Although there were periodic cost of living adjustment, or COLA, increases as early as 1950, beginning in 1975 and until 2009, retirees also knew that they could depend on them with the enactment of statutory annual increases based on annual Consumer Price Index, or CPI, changes. The annual COLA, was never less than 1.3% (1986 and 1998) and was as much as 14.3% (1980), averaging 4.4% over 34 years and 2.8% over the last 20 years. 2009 was the first year since 1975 that there was no COLA with the possibility of a repeat looming for 2010.

Nine years after the beginning of statutory COLA’s in 1975, an indirect reduction of benefits for many Social Security recipients was enacted beginning in 1984. The basic rule put into place in that year was that up to 50% of Social Security benefits is taxable if one’s income exceeded certain thresholds. With the highest marginal income tax rate at 50%, this equated to a maximum 25% (50% x 50%) tax on Social Security.

Nine years later in 1993, legislation was passed that increased the percentage of taxable Social Security benefits from 50% to up to 85% for “higher income” beneficiaries. With a top marginal income tax rate of 39.6%, this equated to a 33.7% (85% x 39.6%) maximum tax rate on Social Security benefits. Although the current highest marginal income tax rate is 35%, resulting in a 29.8% (85% x 35%) maximum tax rate on Social Security benefits, the top marginal income tax rate is currently expected to increase from 35% to 39.6% in 2011.

Part 2 will discuss additional changes that have reduced or delayed the commencement of receipt of one’s Social Security benefits.

Annuities Deferred Income Annuities Retirement Income Planning

The Thrive® Income Distribution System – A Revolutionary Retirement Income Planning System

Talk about innovative strategies for creating and optimizing retirement income! Today, I have the distinct pleasure and good fortune to be interviewing Curtis Cloke, the inventor of the Thrive® Income Distribution System (“Thrive®”), one of the leading retirement income planning solutions available to financial advisors. I personally use the Thrive® system with my clients who have been receptive and enthusiastic. The following are eight questions I asked Curtis about the system together with Curtis’ answers.

  1. What is the Thrive® Income Distribution System?

    Thrive® is a retirement income solution that helps advisors utilize the least amount of a client’s portfolio to provide for their income gap needs with a known and precise amount of their retirement assets. This creates contractually-guaranteed and inflation-adjusted income that allows the client to invest the portion of their portfolio not needed to generate their income needs in traditional accumulation investments providing a significant horizon appropriate for longer-term strategies without being concerned about the sequence of returns. Thrive® is a turnkey web-based platform, including educational tools, marketing materials, client presentations and a calculation system that trains and helps advisors implement the strategy using a compliance-approved action plan and report for the client. The system is designed to help implement the purchase of income products that will create solid and authentic retirement income solutions for which advisors will never have to apologize.

  • Why did you develop the Thrive® system?

    In 1999, I became concerned with the typical withdrawal strategy generally being recommended by the industry and manufacturers of investment products that supported modern portfolio theory as an end-all solution. I had seen an amazing run-up on the market and became very aware that at some point the house of cards would fall and sequence of returns or dollar cost averaging in reverse would become the great demise for many of those who had retired or would be retiring.I realized that the gross rates of return being highlighted were suspect to the real return being generated for the general public. There were fees and taxes on asset accumulation and then when income distribution became a necessity, the volatility of the market, in combination with all of the moving parts, became a significant danger zone for retirees.

    My goal was to show that there are ways to contractually guarantee an inflation-adjusted income solution without high fees, focusing totally on real return without trading off the legacy of the client’s wealth in order to provide income free of market risk. My goal was to revolutionize the way retirement was done.

  • How is the Thrive® system different from other retirement planning software that financial advisors use?

    Thrive® uses some relatively not-so-well-known income products that provide significant tax and pricing efficiencies that simply discount the amount of dollars required from the client’s portfolio to generate their income needs on a contractually-guaranteed basis with built-in inflation adjustment. Because this method of allocating dollars can be done at anytime pre- or post-retirement, Thrive® can also help eliminate the “Danger” or “Red Zone,” with which many of us have become familiar, that can annihilate a client’s portfolio when all assets are held in the market too close to retirement.

  • Who is the target audience for the system?

    Not only does the system serve clients who are at or post-retirement, it also provides new opportunities for growth and accumulation with established guarantees for future income with clients who are five, ten or even fifteen years before they retire. The system is not a respecter of portfolio size. It works with both large and small portfolios. The higher the tax bracket and the larger the portfolio size, the more powerful the tax efficiencies are. Though there are no minimums or maximums, the most common portfolio range is $250,000 – $5,000,000.

  • How many years before retirement should the system be used?

    The earlier one invests in the income products, the greater the returns generated during the accumulation and distribution phases, while also eliminating the “Danger” or “Red Zone” from market volatility prior to retirement. The rates of return for the accumulation period are also the same rates of return applied to the distribution phase, making this one reason why the portion of the portfolio needed to generate income is less than other more typical income distribution methods. The accumulation period is always tax-deferred no matter what asset class is used. There are significant tax efficiencies during the distribution phase as well. The sooner a client is able to understand and appreciate the value of this strategy, the more beneficial it may be. We have implemented it with clients up to 20 years prior to retirement.

  • Is it a one-time or ongoing solution? If ongoing, how often should it be used?

    Though the strategy allows assets to be allocated all at once or over time, we recommend an annual review with each client since there will be changes in the retiree’s life that require flexibility and changes in the system along the way. Many of the products used allow flexibility to change the income start date, increase or reduce income, and monitor assets used to accumulate ongoing wealth for future needs and the legacy of heirs.

  • Where can the public go to see a list of financial advisers who are using the system?

    Thousands of advisors have access to the Thrive® Income Distribution System via a network of financial service organizations across the country. Interested members of the public can ask their financial advisor about the Thrive® solution, or can ask their advisor to contact Thrive® directly if he/she doesn’t currently have access to the Thrive® system.

  • How can I learn more about the Thrive® system?

    Advisors can find educational material as well as contact information at our website,

Annuities Deferred Income Annuities Retirement Income Planning

Lifetime Annuity Payout – Watch Out!

Using Fixed Income Annuities to Build Your Income Portfolio Ladder introduced two types of fixed income annuities: single premium immediate annuities, or “SPIAs,” and deferred income annuities, or “DIAs.” As stated in that blog post, while the use of SPIAs is widespread, DIAs are currently offered by only a handful of life insurance companies.

SPIAs and DIAs come in two flavors insofar as the length of time that life insurance companies are on the hook for making payments to you: life annuities and period certain annuities. While SPIAs have traditionally been favored over DIAs, life annuity payment modes have generally been chosen over period certain annuities. This is understandable since most people don’t want to run out of money, with married couples preferring income to last for the remainder of both individuals’ lifetimes.

A life, or joint life, payout, can be a great choice in certain situations, however, if your goal is to create a retirement income plan that provides for different and distinct income streams to match your expense needs associated with different stages of your retirement years, it probably won’t be the best solution. Also, a lifetime payout, due to the open-ended nature of the number of payments, is the most expensive annuitization choice. Finally, unless you purchase an appropriate amount of life insurance in conjunction with the commencement of lifetime annuitization of a fixed annuity, you could potentially lose your entire investment after receiving just one annuity payment.

Let’s take a look at the last situation first since it is potentially the most devastating. Suppose that you are 65 and the value of your fixed income annuity is $250,000 when you decide to annuitize it, choosing a life annuity payment option resulting in a $1,400 per month payment to you for the rest of your life. This seems like a good deal to you since you will be receiving $16,800 a year, or 6.7% of the current value of your investment each year for the rest of your life. After receiving your first electronic deposit (whatever happened to checks?) for $1,400, you die in a car accident. Guess what? Game over. Life insurance company passes go and retains $248,600 ($250,000 – $1,400). Your beneficiaries receive nothing.

The previous example, while it’s certainly possible, is not your typical scenario. What’s more likely to occur is that you will live for a longer period of time, say ten, twenty, or even thirty years, receiving $1,400 each and every month. While it may not end up being such a great deal if you live to 75 since you will receive a total of $168,000, or $82,000 less than the value of your investment of $250,000 when you began receiving payments, if you live twenty or thirty years, you will receive payments totaling $336,000 or $504,000, respectively.

While you may receive payments under a life payout option for an extended period of time that may meet your needs when you retire, this generally won’t be the case after five or ten years due to inflation. Assuming 3% inflation, your $1,400 per month payment will be worth $1,045 in ten years, $775 in twenty years, and $580 in thirty years. Unless your retirement income plan includes another source of income kicking in ten years into your retirement, e.g., a deferred income annuity, or DIA, you may be forced to adjust your lifestyle and/or sell your house in order to cover your expenses.

Finally, when deciding between different payment options, always keep in mind that a lifetime payout is always going to be the most expensive way to go. When you choose this option, and assuming that you are 65 when you begin receiving payments, keep in mind that the life insurance company is potentially liable for making payments for 30, 40, or more years. Due to the open-ended nature of the number of payments combined with increasing life expectancies, the monthly payment that you will receive by choosing a life, or joint life payout, will usually be much less than if you choose a term certain, e.g., twenty years, payout.