Retirement Plans for Small Businesses

If you’re self-employed or own a small business and you haven’t established a retirement savings plan, what are you waiting for? A retirement plan can help you and your employees save for the future.

Tax advantages

A retirement plan can have significant tax advantages:

  • Your contributions are deductible when made
  • Your contributions aren’t taxed to an employee until distributed from the plan
  • Money in the retirement program grows tax deferred (or, in the case of Roth accounts, potentially tax free)

Types of plans

Retirement plans are usually either IRA-based (like SEPs and SIMPLE IRAs) or “qualified” (like 401(k)s, profit-sharing plans, and defined benefit plans). Qualified plans are generally more complicated and expensive to maintain than IRA-based plans because they have to comply with specific Internal Revenue Code and ERISA (the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974) requirements in order to qualify for their tax benefits. Also, qualified plan assets must be held either in trust or by an insurance company. With IRA-based plans, your employees own (i.e., “vest” in) your contributions immediately. With qualified plans, you can generally require that your employees work a certain numbers of years before they vest.

Which plan is right for you?

With a dizzying array of retirement plans to choose from, each with unique advantages and disadvantages, you’ll need to clearly define your goals before attempting to choose a plan. For example, do you want:

  • To maximize the amount you can save for your own retirement?
  • A plan funded by employer contributions? By employee contributions? Both?
  • A plan that allows you and your employees to make pretax and/or Roth contributions?
  • The flexibility to skip employer contributions in some years?
  • A plan with lowest costs? Easiest administration?

The answers to these questions can help guide you and your retirement professional to the plan (or combination of plans) most appropriate for you.

SEPs

A SEP allows you to set up an IRA (a “SEP-IRA”) for yourself and each of your eligible employees. You contribute a uniform percentage of pay for each employee, although you don’t have to make contributions every year, offering you some flexibility when business conditions vary. For 2017, your contributions for each employee are limited to the lesser of 25% of pay or $54,000. Most employers, including those who are self-employed, can establish a SEP.
SEPs have low start-up and operating costs and can be established using an easy two-page form. The plan must cover any employee aged 21 or older who has worked for you for three of the last five years and who earns $600 or more.

SIMPLE IRA plan

The SIMPLE IRA plan is available if you have 100 or fewer employees. Employees can elect to make pretax contributions in 2017 of up to $12,500 ($15,500 if age 50 or older). You must either match your employees’ contributions dollar for dollar–up to 3% of each employee’s compensation–or make a fixed contribution of 2% of compensation for each eligible employee. (The 3% match can be reduced to 1% in any two of five years.) Each employee who earned $5,000 or more in any two prior years, and who is expected to earn at least $5,000 in the current year, must be allowed to participate in the plan.

SIMPLE IRA plans are easy to set up. You fill out a short form to establish a plan and ensure that SIMPLE IRAs are set up for each employee. A financial institution can do much of the paperwork. Additionally, administrative costs are low.

Profit-sharing plan

Typically, only you, not your employees, contribute to a qualified profit-sharing plan. Your contributions are discretionary — there’s usually no set amount you need to contribute each year, and you have the flexibility to contribute nothing at all in a given year if you so choose (although your contributions must be nondiscriminatory, and “substantial and recurring,” for your plan to remain qualified). The plan must contain a formula for determining how your contributions are allocated among plan participants. A separate account is established for each participant that holds your contributions and any investment gains or losses. Generally, each employee with a year of service is eligible to participate (although you can require two years of service if your contributions are immediately vested). Contributions for any employee in 2017 can’t exceed the lesser of $54,000 or 100% of the employee’s compensation.

401(k) plan

The 401(k) plan (technically, a qualified profit-sharing plan with a cash or deferred feature) has become a hugely popular retirement savings vehicle for small businesses. According to the Investment Company Institute, 401(k) plans held $4.8 trillion of assets as of March 2016, and covered 52 million active participants. (Source: www.ici.org/401k, accessed November 15, 2016.) With a 401(k) plan, employees can make pretax and/or Roth contributions in 2017 of up to $18,000 of pay ($24,000 if age 50 or older). These deferrals go into a separate account for each employee and aren’t taxed until distributed. Generally, each employee with a year of service must be allowed to contribute to the plan.
You can also make employer contributions to your 401(k) plan — either matching contributions or discretionary profit-sharing contributions. Combined employer and employee contributions for any employee in 2017 can’t exceed the lesser of $54,000 (plus catch-up contributions of up to $6,000 if your employee is age 50 or older) or 100% of the employee’s compensation. In general, each employee with a year of service is eligible to receive employer contributions, but you can require two years of service if your contributions are immediately vested.
401(k) plans are required to perform somewhat complicated testing each year to make sure benefits aren’t disproportionately weighted toward higher paid employees. However, you don’t have to perform discrimination testing if you adopt a “safe harbor” 401(k) plan. With a safe harbor 401(k) plan, you generally have to either match your employees’ contributions (100% of employee deferrals up to 3% of compensation, and 50% of deferrals between 3 and 5% of compensation), or make a fixed contribution of 3% of compensation for all eligible employees, regardless of whether they contribute to the plan. Your contributions must be fully vested.
Another way to avoid discrimination testing is by adopting a SIMPLE 401(k) plan. These plans are similar to SIMPLE IRAs, but can also allow loans and Roth contributions. Because they’re still qualified plans (and therefore more complicated than SIMPLE IRAs), and allow less deferrals than traditional 401(k)s, SIMPLE 401(k)s haven’t become popular.

Defined benefit plan

A defined benefit plan is a qualified retirement plan that guarantees your employees a specified level of benefits at retirement (for example, an annual benefit equal to 30% of final average pay). As the name suggests, it’s the retirement benefit that’s defined, not the level of contributions to the plan. In 2017, a defined benefit plan can provide an annual benefit of up to $215,000 (or 100% of pay if less). The services of an actuary are generally needed to determine the annual contributions that you must make to the plan to fund the promised benefit. Your contributions may vary from year to year, depending on the performance of plan investments and other factors.
In general, defined benefit plans are too costly and too complex for most small businesses. However, because they can provide the largest benefit of any retirement plan, and therefore allow the largest deductible employer contribution, defined benefit plans can be attractive to businesses that have a small group of highly compensated owners who are seeking to contribute as much money as possible on a tax-deferred basis.
As an employer, you have an important role to play in helping America’s workers save. Now is the time to look into retirement plan programs for you and your employees.

 

 

 

The information in these materials may change at any time and without notice. Securities offered through FSC Securities Corporation, member FINRA / SIPC . Investment advisory services offered through The Retirement Group, LLC, a registered investment advisor which is not affiliated with FSC Securities Corp. Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. does not provide investment, tax, or legal advice. The information presented here is not specific to any individual’s personal circumstances. To the extent that this material concerns tax matters, it is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law. Each taxpayer should seek independent advice from a tax professional based on his or her individual circumstances. These materials are provided for general information and educational purposes based upon publicly available information from sources believed to be reliable—we cannot assure the accuracy or completeness of these materials. 

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529 College Savings Plans – by John Jastremski

Section 529 college savings plans are tax-advantaged college savings vehicles and one of the most popular ways to save for college today. Much like the way 401(k) plans changed the world of retirement savings a few decades ago, 529 college savings plans have changed the world of college savings.

Tax advantages and more

529 college savings plans offer a unique combination of features that no other college savings vehicle can match:

  • Federal tax advantages: Contributions to your account grow tax deferred and earnings are tax free if the money is used to pay the beneficiary’s qualified education expenses. (The earnings portion of any withdrawal not used for college expenses is taxed at the recipient’s rate and subject to a 10% penalty.)
  • State tax advantages: Many states offer income tax incentives for state residents, such as a tax deduction for contributions or a tax exemption for qualified withdrawals.
  • High contribution limits: Many plans let you contribute over $300,000 over the life of the plan.
  • Unlimited participation: Anyone can open a 529 college savings plan account, regardless of income level.
  • Professional money management: College savings plans are offered by states, but they are managed by designated financial companies who are responsible for managing the plan’s underlying investment portfolios.
  • Flexibility: Under federal rules, you are entitled to change the beneficiary of your account to a qualified family member at any time as well as rollover the money in your 529 plan account to a different 529 plan once per year without income tax or penalty implications.
  • Wide use of funds: Money in a 529 college savings plan can be used at any college in the United States or abroad that’s accredited by the Department of Education and, depending on the individual plan, for graduate school.
  • Accelerated gifting: 529 plans offer an estate planning advantage in the form of accelerated gifting. This can be a favorable way for grandparents to contribute to their grandchildren’s education. Specifically, a lump-sum gift of up to five times the annual gift tax exclusion ($14,000 in 2017) is allowed in a single year, which means that individuals can make a lump-sum gift of up to $70,000 and married couples can gift up to $140,000. No gift tax will be owed, provided the gift is treated as having been made in equal installments over a five-year period and no other gifts are made to that beneficiary during the five years.

Choosing a college savings plan

Although 529 college savings plans are a creature of federal law, their implementation is left to the states. Currently, there are over 50 different college savings plans available because many states offer more than one plan.
You can join any state’s 529 college savings plan, but this variety may create confusion when it comes time to select a plan. Each plan has its own rules and restrictions, which can change at any time. To make the process easier, it helps to consider a few key features:

  • Your state’s tax benefits: A majority of states offer some type of income tax break for 529 college savings plan participants, such as a deduction for contributions or tax-free earnings on qualified withdrawals. However, some states limit their tax deduction to contributions made to the in-state 529 plan only. So make sure to find out the exact scope of the tax breaks, if any, your state offers.
  • Investment options: 529 plans vary in the investment options they offer. Ideally, you’ll want to find a plan with a wide variety of investment options that range from conservative to more growth-oriented to match your risk tolerance. To take the guesswork out of picking investments appropriate for your child’s age, most plans offer aged-based portfolios that automatically adjust to more conservative holdings as your child approaches college age. (Remember, though, that any investment involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of how an investment will perform in the future. The investments you choose may lose money or not perform well enough to cover college costs as anticipated.)
  • Fees and expenses: Fees and expenses can vary widely among plans, and high fees can take a bigger bite out of your savings. Typical fees include annual maintenance fees, administration and management fees (usually called the “expense ratio”), and underlying fund expenses.
  • Reputation of financial institution: Make sure that the financial institution managing the plan is reputable and that you can reach customer service with any questions.

With so many plans available, it may be helpful to consult an experienced financial professional who can help you select a plan and pick your plan investments. In fact, some 529 college savings plans are advisor-sold only, meaning that you’re required to go through a designated financial advisor to open an account. Always carefully read the 529 plan issuer’s official materials before investing.

Account mechanics

Once you’ve selected a plan, opening an account is easy. You’ll need to fill out an application, where you’ll name a beneficiary and select one or more of the plan’s investment portfolios to which your contributions will be allocated. Also, you’ll typically be required to make an initial minimum contribution, which must be made in cash or a cash alternative.
Thereafter, most plans will allow you to contribute as often as you like. This gives you the flexibility to tailor the frequency of your contributions to your own needs and budget, as well as to systematically invest your contributions. You’ll also be able to change the beneficiary of your account to a qualified family member with no income tax or penalty implications. Most plans will also allow you to change your investment portfolios (either for your future or current contributions) if you’re unhappy with their investment performance.

529 prepaid tuition plans–a distant cousin

There are actually two types of 529 plans–college savings plans and prepaid tuition plans (prepaid plans are the less popular type). The tax advantages of college savings plans and prepaid tuition plans are the same, but the account features are very different. A prepaid tuition plan lets you prepay tuition at participating colleges at today’s prices for use by the beneficiary in the future. The following chart describes the main differences:

College Savings Plans Prepaid Tuition Plans
Offered by states Offered by states and private colleges
You can join any state’s plan State-run plans require you to be a state resident
Contributions are invested in your individual account in the investment portfolios you have selected Contributions are pooled with the contributions of others and invested exclusively by the plan
Returns are not guaranteed; your account may gain or lose value, depending on how the underlying investments perform Generally a certain rate of return is guaranteed
Funds can be used at any accredited college in the U.S. or abroad Funds can only be used at participating colleges, typically state universities

Investors should consider the investment objectives, risks, charges, and expenses associated with 529 plans before investing. More information about specific 529 plans is available in each issuer’s official statement, which should be read carefully before investing. Also, before investing, consider whether your state offers a 529 plan that provides residents with favorable state tax benefits. As with other investments, there are generally fees and expenses associated with participation in a 529 savings plan. There is also the risk that the investments may lose money or not perform well enough to cover college costs as anticipated.

The information in these materials may change at any time and without notice. Securities offered through FSC Securities Corporation, member FINRA / SIPC . Investment advisory services offered through The Retirement Group, LLC, a registered investment advisor which is not affiliated with FSC Securities Corp. Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. does not provide investment, tax, or legal advice. The information presented here is not specific to any individual’s personal circumstances. To the extent that this material concerns tax matters, it is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law. Each taxpayer should seek independent advice from a tax professional based on his or her individual circumstances. These materials are provided for general information and educational purposes based upon publicly available information from sources believed to be reliable—we cannot assure the accuracy or completeness of these materials. 

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Paying the Bills: Potential Sources of Retirement Income – by John Jastremski

Planning your retirement income is like putting together a puzzle with many different pieces. One of the first steps in the process is to identify all potential income sources and estimate how much you can expect each one to provide.

Social Security

According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), nearly 9 of 10 people aged 65 or older receive Social Security benefits. However, most retirees also rely on other sources of income.
For a rough estimate of the annual benefit to which you would be entitled at various retirement ages, you can use the calculator on the Social Security website, www.ssa.gov. Your Social Security retirement benefit is calculated using a formula that takes into account your 35 highest earnings years. How much you receive ultimately depends on a number of factors, including when you start taking benefits. You can begin doing so as early as age 62. However, your benefit may be approximately 25% to 30% less than if you waited until full retirement age (66 to 67, depending on the year you were born). Benefits increase each year that you delay taking benefits until you reach age 70.
As you’re planning, remember that the question of how Social Security will meet its long-term obligations to both baby boomers and later generations has become a hot topic of discussion. Concerns about the system’s solvency indicate that there’s likely to be a change in how those benefits are funded, administered, and/or taxed over the next 20 or 30 years. That may introduce additional uncertainty about Social Security’s role as part of your overall long-term retirement income picture, and put additional emphasis on other potential income sources.

Pensions

If you are entitled to receive a traditional pension, you’re lucky; fewer Americans are covered by them every year. Be aware that even if you expect pension payments, many companies are changing their plan provisions. Ask your employer if your pension will increase with inflation, and if so, how that increase is calculated.
Your pension will most likely be offered as either a single or a joint and survivor annuity. A single annuity provides benefits until the worker’s death; a joint and survivor annuity provides reduced benefits that last until the survivor’s death. The law requires married couples to take a joint and survivor annuity unless the spouse signs away those rights. Consider rejecting it only if the surviving spouse will have income that equals at least 75% of the current joint income. Be sure to fully plan your retirement budget before you make this decision.

Major Sources of Retirement Income

Fast Facts and Figures About Social Security, 2016, Social Security Administration

Work or other income-producing activities

Many retirees plan to work for at least a while in their retirement years at part-time work, a fulfilling second career, or consulting or freelance assignments. Obviously, while you’re continuing to earn, you’ll rely less on your savings, leaving more to accumulate for the future. Work also may provide access to affordable health care.
Be aware that if you’re receiving Social Security benefits before you reach your full retirement age, earned income may affect the amount of your benefit payments until you do reach full retirement age.
If you’re covered by a pension plan, you may be able to retire, then seek work elsewhere. This way, you might be able to receive both your new salary and your pension benefit from your previous employer at the same time. Also, some employers have begun to offer phased retirement programs, which allow you to receive all or part of your pension benefit once you’ve reached retirement age, while you continue to work part-time for the same employer.
Other possible resources include rental property income and royalties from existing assets, such as intellectual property.

Retirement savings/investments

Until now, you may have been saving through retirement accounts such as IRAs, 401(k)s, or other tax-advantaged plans, as well as in taxable accounts. Your challenge now is to convert your savings into ongoing income. There are many ways to do that, including periodic withdrawals, choosing an annuity if available, increasing your allocation to income-generating investments, or using some combination. Make sure you understand the tax consequences before you act.
Some of the factors you’ll need to consider when planning how to tap your retirement savings include:

  • How much you can afford to withdraw each year without exhausting your nest egg. You’ll need to take into account not only your projected expenses and other income sources, but also your asset allocation, your life expectancy, and whether you expect to use both principal and income, or income alone.
  • The order in which you will tap various accounts. Tax considerations can affect which account you should use first, and which you should defer using.
  • How you’ll deal with required minimum distributions (RMDs) from certain tax-advantaged accounts. After age 70½, if you withdraw less than your RMD, you’ll pay a penalty tax equal to 50% of the amount you failed to withdraw.

Some investments, such as certain types of annuities, are designed to provide a guaranteed monthly income (subject to the claims-paying ability of the issuer). Others may pay an amount that varies periodically, depending on how your investments perform. You also can choose to balance your investment choices to provide some of both types of income.

Inheritance

An inheritance, whether anticipated or in hand, brings special challenges. If a potential inheritance has an impact on your anticipated retirement income, you might be able to help your parents investigate estate planning tools that can minimize the impact of taxes on their estate. Your retirement income also may be affected by whether you hope to leave an inheritance for your loved ones. If you do, you may benefit from specialized financial planning advice that can integrate your income needs with a future bequest.

Equity in your home or business

If you have built up substantial home equity, you may be able to tap it as a source of retirement income. Selling your home, then downsizing or buying in a lower-cost region, and investing that freed-up cash to produce income or to be used as needed is one possibility. Another is a reverse mortgage, which allows you to continue to live in your home while borrowing against its value. That loan and any accumulated interest is eventually repaid by the last surviving borrower when he or she eventually sells the home, permanently vacates the property, or dies. (However, you need to carefully consider the risks and costs before borrowing. A useful publication titled “Reverse Mortgages: Avoiding a Reversal of Fortune” is available online from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.)

If you’re hoping to convert an existing business into retirement income, you may benefit from careful financial planning to minimize the tax impact of a sale. Also, if you have partners, you’ll likely need to make sure you have a buy-sell agreement that specifies what will happen to the business when you retire and how you’ll be compensated for your interest.

With an expert to help you identify and analyze all your potential sources of retirement income, you may discover you have more options than you realize.

The information in these materials may change at any time and without notice. Securities offered through FSC Securities Corporation, member FINRA / SIPC . Investment advisory services offered through The Retirement Group, LLC, a registered investment advisor which is not affiliated with FSC Securities Corp. Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. does not provide investment, tax, or legal advice. The information presented here is not specific to any individual’s personal circumstances. To the extent that this material concerns tax matters, it is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law. Each taxpayer should seek independent advice from a tax professional based on his or her individual circumstances. These materials are provided for general information and educational purposes based upon publicly available information from sources believed to be reliable—we cannot assure the accuracy or completeness of these materials. 

 

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Pay Down Debt or Save for Retirement? – by John Jastresmki

You can use a variety of strategies to pay off debt, many of which can cut not only the amount of time it will take to pay off the debt but also the total interest paid. But like many people, you may be torn between paying off debt and the need to save for retirement. Both are important; both can help give you a more secure future. If you’re not sure you can afford to tackle both at the same time, which should you choose?

There’s no one answer that’s right for everyone, but here are some of the factors you should consider when making your decision.

Rate of investment return versus interest rate on debt

Probably the most common way to decide whether to pay off debt or to make investments is to consider whether you could earn a higher after-tax rate of return by investing than the after-tax interest rate you pay on the debt. For example, say you have a credit card with a $10,000 balance on which you pay nondeductible interest of 18%. By getting rid of those interest payments, you’re effectively getting an 18% return on your money. That means your money would generally need to earn an after-tax return greater than 18% to make investing a smarter choice than paying off debt. That’s a pretty tough challenge even for professional investors.
And bear in mind that investment returns are anything but guaranteed. In general, the higher the rate of return, the greater the risk. If you make investments rather than pay off debt and your investments incur losses, you may still have debts to pay, but you won’t have had the benefit of any gains. By contrast, the return that comes from eliminating high-interest-rate debt is a sure thing.

An employer’s match may change the equation

If your employer matches a portion of your workplace retirement account contributions, that can make the debt versus savings decision more difficult. Let’s say your company matches 50% of your contributions up to 6% of your salary. That means that you’re earning a 50% return on that portion of your retirement account contributions.
If surpassing an 18% return from paying off debt is a challenge, getting a 50% return on your money simply through investing is even tougher. The old saying about a bird in the hand being worth two in the bush applies here. Assuming you conform to your plan’s requirements and your company meets its plan obligations, you know in advance what your return from the match will be; very few investments can offer the same degree of certainty. That’s why many financial experts argue that saving at least enough to get any employer match for your contributions may make more sense than focusing on debt.
And don’t forget the tax benefits of contributions to a workplace savings plan. By contributing pretax dollars to your plan account, you’re deferring anywhere from 10% to 39.6% in taxes, depending on your federal tax rate. You’re able to put money that would ordinarily go toward taxes to work immediately.

Your choice doesn’t have to be all or nothing

The decision about whether to save for retirement or pay off debt can sometimes be affected by the type of debt you have. For example, if you itemize deductions, the interest you pay on a mortgage is generally deductible on your federal tax return. Let’s say you’re paying 6% on your mortgage and 18% on your credit card debt, and your employer matches 50% of your retirement account contributions. You might consider directing some of your available resources to paying off the credit card debt and some toward your retirement account in order to get the full company match, and continuing to pay the tax-deductible mortgage interest.
There’s another good reason to explore ways to address both goals. Time is your best ally when saving for retirement. If you say to yourself, “I’ll wait to start saving until my debts are completely paid off,” you run the risk that you’ll never get to that point, because your good intentions about paying off your debt may falter at some point. Putting off saving also reduces the number of years you have left to save for retirement.
It might also be easier to address both goals if you can cut your interest payments by refinancing that debt. For example, you might be able to consolidate multiple credit card payments by rolling them over to a new credit card or a debt consolidation loan that has a lower interest rate.
Bear in mind that even if you decide to focus on retirement savings, you should make sure that you’re able to make at least the monthly minimum payments owed on your debt. Failure to make those minimum payments can result in penalties and increased interest rates; those will only make your debt situation worse.

Other considerations

When deciding whether to pay down debt or to save for retirement, make sure you take into account the following factors:

  • Having retirement plan contributions automatically deducted from your paycheck eliminates the temptation to spend that money on things that might make your debt dilemma even worse. If you decide to prioritize paying down debt, make sure you put in place a mechanism that automatically directs money toward the debt–for example, having money deducted automatically from your checking account–so you won’t be tempted to skip or reduce payments.
  • Do you have an emergency fund or other resources that you can tap in case you lose your job or have a medical emergency? Remember that if your workplace savings plan allows loans, contributing to the plan not only means you’re helping to provide for a more secure retirement but also building savings that could potentially be used as a last resort in an emergency. Some employer-sponsored retirement plans also allow hardship withdrawals in certain situations–for example, payments necessary to prevent an eviction from or foreclosure of your principal residence–if you have no other resources to tap. (However, remember that the amount of any hardship withdrawal becomes taxable income, and if you aren’t at least age 59½, you also may owe a 10% premature distribution tax on that money.)
  • If you do need to borrow from your plan, make sure you compare the cost of using that money with other financing options, such as loans from banks, credit unions, friends, or family. Although interest rates on plan loans may be favorable, the amount you can borrow is limited, and you generally must repay the loan within five years. In addition, some plans require you to repay the loan immediately if you leave your job. Your retirement earnings will also suffer as a result of removing funds from a tax-deferred investment.
  • If you focus on retirement savings rather than paying down debt, make sure you’re invested so that your return has a chance of exceeding the interest you owe on that debt. While your investments should be appropriate for your risk tolerance, if you invest too conservatively, the rate of return may not be high enough to offset the interest rate you’ll continue to pay.

Regardless of your choice, perhaps the most important decision you can make is to take action and get started now. The sooner you decide on a plan for both your debt and your need for retirement savings, the sooner you’ll start to make progress toward achieving both goals.

The information in these materials may change at any time and without notice. Securities offered through FSC Securities Corporation, member FINRA / SIPC . Investment advisory services offered through The Retirement Group, LLC, a registered investment advisor which is not affiliated with FSC Securities Corp. Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. does not provide investment, tax, or legal advice. The information presented here is not specific to any individual’s personal circumstances. To the extent that this material concerns tax matters, it is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law. Each taxpayer should seek independent advice from a tax professional based on his or her individual circumstances. These materials are provided for general information and educational purposes based upon publicly available information from sources believed to be reliable—we cannot assure the accuracy or completeness of these materials. 

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Four Things Women Need to Know about Social Security – by John Jastremski

Ever since a legal secretary named Ida May Fuller received the first retirement benefit check in 1940, women have been counting on Social Security to provide much-needed retirement income. Social Security provides other important benefits too, including disability and survivor’s benefits, that can help women of all ages and their family members.

1. How does Social Security protect you and your family?

When you work and pay Social Security taxes, you’re paying for three types of benefits: retirement, disability, and survivor’s benefits.

Retirement benefits

Retirement benefits are the cornerstone of the Social Security program. According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), because women are less often covered by retirement plans and live longer on average than men, they are typically more dependent on Social Security retirement benefits.* Even if other sources of retirement income are exhausted, Social Security retirement benefits can’t be outlived. Many women qualify for benefits based on their own work record, but if you’re married, you may also qualify based on your spouse’s work record.

Disability benefits

During your working years, you may suffer a serious illness or injury that prevents you from earning a living, potentially putting you and your family at financial risk. But if you qualify for Social Security on your earnings record, you may be able to get monthly disability benefits. You must have worked long enough in recent years, have a disability that is expected to last at least a year or result in death, and meet other requirements. If you’re receiving disability benefits, certain family members (such as your dependent children) may also be able to collect benefits based on your work record. Because eligibility requirements are strict, Social Security is not a substitute for other types of disability insurance, but it can provide basic income protection.

Survivor’s benefits

You probably know the value of having life insurance to financially protect your family, but did you know that Social Security offers valuable income protection as well? If you’re qualified for Social Security at your death, your surviving spouse (or ex-spouse), your unmarried dependent children, or your dependent parents may be eligible for benefits based on your earnings record. You also have survivor protection if you’re married and your covered spouse dies and you’re at least age 60 (or at least age 50 if you’re disabled), or at any age if you’re caring for your covered child who is younger than age 16 or disabled.

2. How do you qualify for benefits?

When you work in a job where you pay Social Security taxes or self-employment taxes, you earn credits (up to four per year, depending on your earnings) that enable you to qualify for Social Security benefits. In 2017, you earn one credit for each $1,300 of wages or self-employment income. The number of credits you need to qualify depends on your age and the benefit type.

  • For retirement benefits, you generally need to have earned at least 40 credits (10 years of work). However, you may also qualify for spousal benefits based on your spouse’s work history if you haven’t worked long enough to qualify on your own, or if the spousal benefit is greater than the benefit you’ve earned on your own work record.
  • For disability benefits (if you’re disabled at age 31 or older), you must have earned at least 20 credits in the 10 years just before you became disabled (different rules apply if you’re younger).
  • For survivor’s benefits for your family members, you need up to 40 credits (10 years of work), but under a special rule, if you’ve worked for only one and one-half years in the three years just before your death, benefits can be paid to your children and your spouse who is caring for them.

Whether you work full-time, part-time, or are a stay-at-home spouse, parent, or caregiver, it’s important to be aware of these rules and to understand how time spent in and out of the workforce might affect your entitlement to Social Security.

3. What will your retirement benefit be?

Your Social Security retirement benefit is based on the number of years you’ve worked and the amount you’ve earned. Your benefit is calculated using a formula that takes into account your 35 highest earnings years. If you earned little or nothing in several of those years, it may be to your advantage to work as long as possible, because you may have the opportunity to replace a year of lower earnings with a year of higher earnings, potentially resulting in a higher retirement benefit.
Your benefit will also be affected by your age at the time you begin receiving benefits. If you were born in 1943 or later, full retirement age ranges from 66 to 67, depending on the year you were born. Your full retirement age is the age at which you can apply for an unreduced retirement benefit.
However, you can choose to receive benefits as early as age 62, if you’re willing to receive a reduced benefit. At age 62, your benefit will be 25% to 30% less than at full retirement age (this reduction is permanent). On the other hand, you can get a higher payout by delaying retirement past your full retirement age, up to age 70. If you were born in 1943 or later, your benefit will increase by 8% for each year you delay retirement.
For example, the following chart shows how much an estimated monthly benefit at a full retirement age (FRA) of 66 would be worth if you started benefits 4 years early at age 62 (your monthly benefit is reduced by 25%), and how much it would be worth if you waited until age 70–4 years past full retirement age (your monthly benefit is increased by 32%).

Benefit at FRA Benefit at age 62 Benefit at age 70
$1,000 $750 $1,320
$1,200 $900 $1,584
$1,400 $1,050 $1,888
$1,600 $1,200 $2,112
$1,800 $1,350 $2,376

What if you’re married and qualify for spousal retirement benefits based on your spouse’s earnings record? In this case, your benefit at full retirement age will generally be equal to 50% of his benefit at full retirement age (subject to adjustments for early and late retirement). If you’re eligible for benefits on both your record and your spouse’s, you’ll generally receive the higher benefit amount.
One easy way to estimate your benefit based on your earnings record is to use the Retirement Estimator available on the SSA website. You can also visit the SSA website to sign up for a my Social Security account so that you can view your personalized Social Security Statement. This statement gives you access to detailed information about your earnings history and estimates for disability, survivor’s, and retirement benefits.

4. When should you begin receiving retirement benefits?

Should you begin receiving benefits early and receive smaller payments over a longer period of time, or wait until your full retirement age or later and receive larger benefits over a shorter period of time? There’s no “right” answer. It’s an individual decision that must be based on many factors, including other sources of retirement income, your marital status, whether you plan to continue working, your life expectancy, and your tax picture.

As a woman, you should pay close attention to how much retirement income Social Security will provide, because you may need to make your retirement dollars stretch over a long period of time. If there’s a large gap between your projected expenses and your anticipated income, waiting a few years to retire and start collecting a larger Social Security benefit may improve your financial outlook. What’s more, the longer you stay in the workforce, the greater the amount of money you will earn and have available to put into your overall retirement savings. Another plus is that Social Security’s annual cost-of-living increases are calculated using your initial year’s benefits as a base–the higher the base, the greater your annual increase, something that can help you maintain your standard of living throughout many years of retirement.

This is just an overview of Social Security. There’s a lot to learn about this program, and each person’s situation is unique. Contact a Social Security representative if you have questions.

The information in these materials may change at any time and without notice. Securities offered through FSC Securities Corporation, member FINRA / SIPC . Investment advisory services offered through The Retirement Group, LLC, a registered investment advisor which is not affiliated with FSC Securities Corp. Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. does not provide investment, tax, or legal advice. The information presented here is not specific to any individual’s personal circumstances. To the extent that this material concerns tax matters, it is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law. Each taxpayer should seek independent advice from a tax professional based on his or her individual circumstances. These materials are provided for general information and educational purposes based upon publicly available information from sources believed to be reliable—we cannot assure the accuracy or completeness of these materials. 

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401(k) Plans – by John Jastremski

Qualified cash or deferred arrangements (CODAs) permitted under Section 401(k) of the Internal Revenue Code, commonly referred to as “401(k) plans,” have become one of the most popular types of employer-sponsored retirement plans.

How does a 401(k) plan work?

With a 401(k) plan, you elect either to receive cash payments (wages) from your employer immediately, or defer receipt of a portion of that income to the plan. The amount you defer (called an “elective deferral” or “pretax contribution”) isn’t currently included in your income; it’s made with pretax dollars. Consequently, your federal taxable income (and federal income tax) that year is reduced. And the deferred portion (along with any investment earnings) isn’t taxed to you until you receive payments from the plan.

Melissa earns $30,000 annually. She contributes $4,500 of her pay to her employer’s 401(k) plan on a pretax basis. As a result, Melissa’s taxable income is $25,500. She isn’t taxed on the deferred money ($4,500), or any investment earnings, until she receives a distribution from the plan.

You may also be able to make Roth contributions to your 401(k) plan. Roth 401(k) contributions are made on an after-tax basis, just like Roth IRA contributions. Unlike pretax contributions to a 401(k) plan, there’s no up-front tax benefit, but qualified distributions from a Roth 401(k) account are entirely free from federal income tax.

When can I contribute?

You can contribute to your employer’s 401(k) plan as soon as you’re eligible to participate under the terms of the plan. In general, a 401(k) plan can make you wait up to a year before you’re eligible to contribute. But many plans don’t have a waiting period at all, allowing you to contribute beginning with your first paycheck.
Some 401(k) plans provide for automatic enrollment once you’ve satisfied the plan’s eligibility requirements. For example, the plan might provide that you’ll be automatically enrolled at a 3% pretax contribution rate (or some other percentage) unless you elect a different deferral percentage, or choose not to participate in the plan. This is sometimes called a “negative enrollment” because you haven’t affirmatively elected to participate–instead you must affirmatively act to change or stop contributions. If you’ve been automatically enrolled in your 401(k) plan, make sure to check that your assigned contribution rate and investments are appropriate for your circumstances.

How much can I contribute?

There’s an overall cap on your combined pretax and Roth 401(k) contributions. You can contribute up to $18,000 of your pay ($24,000 if you’re age 50 or older) to a 401(k) plan in 2017. If your plan allows Roth 401(k) contributions, you can split your contribution between pretax and Roth contributions any way you wish. For example, you can make $10,000 of Roth contributions and $8,000 of pretax 401(k) contributions. It’s up to you.
But keep in mind that if you also contribute to another employer’s 401(k), 403(b), SIMPLE, or SAR-SEP plan, your total contributions to all of these plans–both pretax and Roth–can’t exceed $18,000 ($24,000 if you’re age 50 or older). It’s up to you to make sure you don’t exceed these limits if you contribute to plans of more than one employer.

Can I also contribute to an IRA?

Yes. Your participation in a 401(k) plan has no impact on your ability to contribute to an IRA (Roth or traditional). You can contribute up to $5,500 to an IRA in 2017, $6,500 if you’re age 50 or older (or, if less, 100% of your taxable compensation). But, depending on your salary level, your ability to make deductible contributions to a traditional IRA may be limited if you participate in a 401(k) plan.

What are the tax consequences?

When you make pretax 401(k) contributions, you don’t pay current income taxes on those dollars (which means more take-home pay compared to an after-tax Roth contribution of the same amount). But your contributions and investment earnings are fully taxable when you receive a distribution from the plan.
In contrast, Roth 401(k) contributions are subject to income taxes up front, but qualified distributions of your contributions and earnings are entirely free from federal income tax. In general, a distribution from your Roth 401(k) account is qualified only if it satisfies both of the following requirements:

  • It’s made after the end of a five-year waiting period
  • The payment is made after you turn 59½, become disabled, or die

The five-year waiting period for qualified distributions starts with the year you make your first Roth contribution to the 401(k) plan. For example, if you make your first Roth contribution to your employer’s 401(k) plan in December 2017, your five-year waiting period begins January 1, 2017, and ends on December 31, 2021. Each nonqualified distribution is deemed to consist of a pro-rata portion of your tax-free contributions and taxable earnings.

What about employer contributions?

Many employers will match all or part of your contributions. Your employer can match your Roth contributions, your pretax contributions, or both. But your employer’s contributions are always made on a pretax basis, even if they match your Roth contributions. That is, your employer’s contributions, and investment earnings on those contributions, are always taxable to you when you receive a distribution from the plan.

Should I make pretax or Roth contributions?

Assuming your 401(k) plan allows you to make Roth 401(k) contributions, which option should you choose? It depends on your personal situation. If you think you’ll be in a similar or higher tax bracket when you retire, Roth 401(k) contributions may be more appealing, since you’ll effectively lock in today’s lower tax rates. However, if you think you’ll be in a lower tax bracket when you retire, pretax 401(k) contributions may be more appropriate. Your investment horizon and projected investment results are also important factors. A financial professional can help you determine which course is appropriate for you.
Whichever you decide–Roth or pretax–make sure you contribute as much as necessary to get the maximum matching contribution from your employer. This is essentially free money that can help you reach your retirement goals that much sooner.

What happens when I terminate employment?

Generally, you forfeit all contributions that haven’t vested. “Vesting” means that you own the contributions. Your contributions, pretax and Roth, are always 100% vested. But your 401(k) plan may generally require up to six years of service before you fully vest in employer matching contributions (although some plans have a much faster vesting schedule).
When you terminate employment, you can generally take a distribution (all or part of which may be taxable to you), leave your money in your 401(k) plan (if your vested balance exceeds $5,000) until the plan’s normal retirement age (typically age 65), or you can roll your dollars over tax free to an IRA or to another employer’s retirement plan that accepts rollovers.*

What else do I need to know?

  • Saving for retirement is easier when your contributions automatically come out of each paycheck
  • You may be eligible to borrow up to one-half of your vested 401(k) account (to a maximum of $50,000) if you need the money
  • You may be able to make a hardship withdrawal if you have an immediate and heavy financial need. But this should be a last resort–hardship distributions are taxable events (except for Roth qualified distributions), and you may be suspended from plan participation for six months or more
  • If you receive a distribution from your 401(k) plan before you turn 59½, (55 in certain cases), the taxable portion may be subject to a 10% early distribution penalty unless an exception applies
  • Depending on your income, you may be eligible for an income tax credit of up to $1,000 for amounts contributed to the 401(k) plan
  • Your assets are generally fully protected from creditors in the event of your, or your employer’s, bankruptcy

 

 

The information in these materials may change at any time and without notice. Securities offered through FSC Securities Corporation, member FINRA / SIPC . Investment advisory services offered through The Retirement Group, LLC, a registered investment advisor which is not affiliated with FSC Securities Corp. Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. does not provide investment, tax, or legal advice. The information presented here is not specific to any individual’s personal circumstances. To the extent that this material concerns tax matters, it is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law. Each taxpayer should seek independent advice from a tax professional based on his or her individual circumstances. These materials are provided for general information and educational purposes based upon publicly available information from sources believed to be reliable—we cannot assure the accuracy or completeness of these materials. 

 

 

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Variable Annuities – by John Jastremski

Some basics

A variable annuity is a contract between you (the purchaser) and an insurance company (the issuer). In return for your premium payments, the issuer agrees to make periodic payments to you (if you elect this option), beginning either immediately or at some future date.

Annuity premium payments may be made with after-tax dollars and are not tax deductible. Annuities also may be purchased within tax-advantaged plans, such as 401(k) plans, Section 403(b) retirement plans (TSAs), or IRAs. Premiums for annuities in tax-advantaged plans are generally paid with pretax dollars, and may be subject to annual contribution limits.

You can pay your premiums in one lump sum, or you can make a series of payments over time. Annuities funded with after-tax premiums are not subject to annual contribution limits.

If your annuity is funded with after-tax dollars, you’ll pay taxes (at your regular income tax rate) only on the earnings portion of withdrawals, since your contributions to principal were made with after-tax dollars. As with a qualified retirement plan, if you withdraw from an annuity before age 59½, a 10% tax penalty may be imposed on the taxable portion of the withdrawal, unless an exception applies.

Annuities are designed to be very long-term investment vehicles. In most cases, if you take a withdrawal, including a lump-sum distribution of your annuity funds within the first few years after purchasing your annuity, you may be subject to surrender charges imposed by the issuer. As long as you’re sure you won’t need the money until at least age 59½, an annuity is worth considering.

Your investment choices are varied

As the purchaser, you can designate how your premium dollars will be allocated among the investment choices (often called subaccounts) offered within the variable annuity. A variable annuity’s subaccount choices will be described in detail in the fund prospectus provided by the issuer.

Typical subaccount investment offerings

  • Government securities
  • Corporate and high-yield bonds
  • A balanced subaccount (made up of both stocks and bonds)
  • A growth and income account
  • A guaranteed subaccount (in which the issuer guarantees* a minimum rate of interest)

With the exception of a guaranteed subaccount, variable annuities don’t offer any guarantees on the performance of their subaccounts. You assume all the risk related to those investments. In return for assuming a greater amount of risk, you may experience a greater potential for growth in your earnings. However, it’s also possible that the subaccounts will perform poorly, and you may lose money, including principal.
*Guarantees are subject to the claims-paying ability and financial strength of the issuer.

A note about variable annuities

Variable annuities are sold by prospectus. Variable annuities contain fees and charges including, but not limited to mortality and expense risk charges, sales and surrender (early withdrawal) charges, administrative fees and charges for optional benefits and riders. You should consider the investment objectives, risk, charges, and expenses carefully before investing. The prospectus, which contains this and other information about the variable annuity and the underlying investment choices, can be obtained from the insurance company issuing the variable annuity or from your financial professional. You should read the prospectus carefully before you invest.

How a Variable Annuity Works
  1. In the accumulation phase, you (the annuity owner) send your premium payment(s) (all at once or over time) to the annuity issuer.
  2. You may choose how to allocate your premium payment(s) among the various investments offered by the issuer. These investment choices, often called subaccounts, typically invest directly in mutual funds. Generally, you can also transfer funds among investments without paying tax on investment income and gains.
  3. The issuer may collect fees to manage your annuity account. These may include an annual administration fee, underlying fund fees and expenses which include an investment advisory fee, and a mortality and expense risk charge. If you withdraw money in the early years of your annuity, you may also have to pay the issuer a surrender fee.
  4. The earnings in your subaccounts grow tax deferred; you won’t be taxed on any earnings until you begin withdrawing funds or begin taking annuitization payments.
  5. With the exception of a fixed account option where a guaranteed* minimum rate of interest applies, the issuer of a variable annuity generally doesn’t guarantee any return on the investments you choose. While you might experience substantial growth in your investments, your choices could also perform poorly, and you could lose money.
  6. Your annuity contract may contain provisions for a guaranteed* death benefit or other payout upon the death of the annuitant. (The annuitant provides the measuring life used to determine the amount of the payments if the annuity is annuitized. As the annuity owner, you’re most often also the annuitant, although you don’t have to be.)
  7. Just as you may choose how to allocate your premiums among the subaccount options available, you may also select the subaccounts from which you’ll take the funds if you decide to withdraw money from your annuity.
  8. If you make a withdrawal from your annuity before you reach age 59½,you may have to pay a 10% premature distribution tax on the taxable portion of the withdrawal, unless an exception applies.
  9. After age 59½, you may make withdrawals from your annuity proceeds without incurring any premature distribution tax. Since annuities funded with after-tax dollars have no minimum distribution requirements, you don’t have to make any withdrawals. You can let the account continue to grow tax deferred for an indefinite period, subject to limits specified in the annuity contract.
  10. To obtain a guaranteed* income stream for life or for a certain number of years, you can annuitize, which means exchanging the annuity’s cash value for a series of periodic income payments. The amount of these payments will depend on a number of factors including the cash value of your account at the time of annuitization, the age(s) and gender(s) of the annuitant(s), and the payout option chosen. Usually, you can’t change the payments once you’ve begun receiving them.
  11. The tax you pay on withdrawals (at your ordinary income tax rate) depends, in part, on whether the annuity is funded with pre-tax or after-tax dollars.

* All guarantees are subject to the claims-paying ability and financial strength of the issuing company.

The information in these materials may change at any time and without notice. Securities offered through FSC Securities Corporation, member FINRA / SIPC . Investment advisory services offered through The Retirement Group, LLC, a registered investment advisor which is not affiliated with FSC Securities Corp. Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. does not provide investment, tax, or legal advice. The information presented here is not specific to any individual’s personal circumstances. Each taxpayer should seek independent advice from a tax professional based on his or her individual circumstances. These materials are provided for general information and educational purposes based upon publicly available information from sources believed to be reliable—we cannot assure the accuracy or completeness of these materials. To the extent that this material concerns tax matters, it is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law.

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Protecting Your Loved Ones with Life Insurance – by John Jastremski

How much life insurance do you need?

Your life insurance needs will depend on a number of factors, including the size of your family, the nature of your financial obligations, your career stage, and your goals. For example, when you’re young, you may not have a great need for life insurance. However, as you take on more responsibilities and your family grows, your need for life insurance increases.

Here are some questions that can help you start thinking about the amount of life insurance you need:

  • What immediate financial expenses (e.g., debt repayment, funeral expenses) would your family face upon your death?
  • How much of your salary is devoted to current expenses and future needs?
  • How long would your dependents need support if you were to die tomorrow?
  • How much money would you want to leave for special situations upon your death, such as funding your children’s education, gifts to charities, or an inheritance for your children?
  • What other assets or insurance policies do you have?

Types of life insurance policies

The two basic types of life insurance are term life and permanent (cash value) life. Term policies provide life insurance protection for a specific period of time. If you die during the coverage period, your beneficiary receives the policy’s death benefit. If you live to the end of the term, the policy simply terminates, unless it automatically renews for a new period. Term policies are typically available for periods of 1 to 30 years and may, in some cases, be renewed until you reach age 95. With guaranteed level term insurance, a popular type, both the premium and the amount of coverage remain level for a specific period of time.
Permanent insurance policies offer protection for your entire life, regardless of your health, provided you pay the premium to keep the policy in force. As you pay your premiums, a portion of each payment is placed in the cash-value account. During the early years of the policy, the cash-value contribution is a large portion of each premium payment. As you get older, and the true cost of your insurance increases, the portion of your premium payment devoted to the cash value decreases. The cash value continues to grow–tax deferred–as long as the policy is in force. You can borrow against the cash value, but unpaid policy loans will reduce the death benefit that your beneficiary will receive. If you surrender the policy before you die (i.e., cancel your coverage), you’ll be entitled to receive the cash value, minus any loans and surrender charges.
Many different types of cash-value life insurance are available, including:

  • Whole life: You generally make level (equal) premium payments for life. The death benefit and cash value are predetermined and guaranteed (subject to the claims-paying ability and financial strength of the issuing insurance company). Your only action after purchase of the policy is to pay the fixed premium.
  • Universal life: You may pay premiums at any time, in any amount (subject to certain limits), as long as the policy expenses and the cost of insurance coverage are met. The amount of insurance coverage can be changed, and the cash value will grow at a declared interest rate, which may vary over time.
  • Indexed universal life: This is a form of universal life insurance with excess interest credited to cash values. But unlike universal life insurance, the amount of interest credited is tied to the performance of an equity index, such as the S&P 500.
  • Variable life: As with whole life, you pay a level premium for life. However, the death benefit and cash value fluctuate depending on the performance of investments in what are known as subaccounts. A subaccount is a pool of investor funds professionally managed to pursue a stated investment objective. You select the subaccounts in which the cash value should be invested.
  • Variable universal life: A combination of universal and variable life. You may pay premiums at any time, in any amount (subject to limits), as long as policy expenses and the cost of insurance coverage are met. The amount of insurance coverage can be changed, and the cash value and death benefit goes up or down based on the performance of investments in the subaccounts.

With so many types of life insurance available, you’re sure to find a policy that meets your needs and your budget.

Choosing and changing your beneficiaries

When you purchase life insurance, you must name a primary beneficiary to receive the proceeds of your insurance policy. Your beneficiary may be a person, corporation, or other legal entity. You may name multiple beneficiaries and specify what percentage of the net death benefit each is to receive. If you name your minor child as a beneficiary, you should also designate an adult as the child’s guardian in your will.

What type of insurance is right for you?

Before deciding whether to buy term or permanent life insurance, consider the policy cost and potential savings that may be available. Also keep in mind that your insurance needs will likely change as your family, job, health, and financial picture change, so you’ll want to build some flexibility into the decision-making process. In any case, here are some common reasons for buying life insurance and which type of insurance may best fit the need.
Mortgage or long-term debt: For most people, the home is one of the most valuable assets and also the source of the largest debt. An untimely death may remove a primary source of income used to pay the mortgage. Term insurance can replace the lost income by providing life insurance for the length of the mortgage. If you die before the mortgage is paid off, the term life insurance pays your beneficiary an amount sufficient to pay the outstanding mortgage balance owed.
Family protection: Your income not only pays for day-to-day expenses, but also provides a source for future costs such as college education expenses and retirement income. Term life insurance of 20 years or longer can take care of immediate cash needs as well as provide income for your survivor’s future needs. Another alternative is cash value life insurance, such as universal life or variable life insurance. The cash value accumulation of these policies can be used to fund future income needs for college or retirement, even if you don’t die.
Small business needs: Small business owners need life insurance to protect their business interest. As a business owner, you need to consider what happens to your business should you die unexpectedly. Life insurance can provide cash needed to buy a deceased partner’s or shareholder’s interest from his or her estate. Life insurance can also be used to compensate for the unexpected death of a key employee.

Review your coverage

Once you purchase a life insurance policy, make sure to periodically review your coverage; over time your needs will change. An insurance agent or financial professional can help you with your review.

 

 

The information in these materials may change at any time and without notice. Securities offered through FSC Securities Corporation, member FINRA / SIPC . Investment advisory services offered through The Retirement Group, LLC, a registered investment advisor which is not affiliated with FSC Securities Corp. Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. does not provide investment, tax, or legal advice. The information presented here is not specific to any individual’s personal circumstances. To the extent that this material concerns tax matters, it is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law. Each taxpayer should seek independent advice from a tax professional based on his or her individual circumstances. These materials are provided for general information and educational purposes based upon publicly available information from sources believed to be reliable—we cannot assure the accuracy or completeness of these materials. 

 

 

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Long-Term Care Annuities – by John Jastremski

When planning for the potential cost of long-term care, you’ve probably considered long-term care insurance. But premiums can be expensive and if you do buy the coverage, you probably hope you never have to use it. The prospect of paying costly premiums for long-term care insurance that you might never use might discourage you. Enter the long-term care annuity.

What is it?

This hybrid product, offered by insurance companies, is a nonqualified annuity that provides long-term care benefits (it can’t be used with IRAs or employer-sponsored qualified retirement plans). These policies allow you to use the annuity proceeds for long-term care, and if you don’t use the long-term care benefit, you still have typical annuity options. For instance, you can convert the annuity to a stream of income payments (annuitization), redeem the annuity at its maturity (e.g., cash in the annuity), or, at your death, you can pass the remaining balance of your annuity to your named beneficiaries.
While policy provisions may differ from company to company, generally you put money into the annuity, usually in a lump sum or through a series of premium payments. You may also exchange another annuity or cash value life insurance for a long-term care annuity via a Section 1035 exchange. The annuity typically pays a fixed rate of interest each year. In addition, the annuity provides a long-term care benefit amount, usually equal to two or three times your annuity cash value, subject to a maximum benefit period, which is the maximum length of time that you may receive long-term care benefit payments from the annuity. Long-term care annuity benefits are usually paid monthly. There is usually a charge for the long-term care component (generally ranging from 0.4% to 1.25% of the annuity’s cash value) that is deducted from your annuity each year.

How does this product work?

Typically, long-term care annuities have the same qualification requirements as most stand-alone long-term care insurance policies. You first have to be considered “insurable” by the annuity company, which means you have to answer questions relating to whether you have suffered any major illness such as cancer or heart disease, or whether you have a significant cognitive impairment like Alzheimer’s disease. But you usually don’t have to undergo a physical, and the underwriting is generally less stringent than with stand-alone long-term care insurance, meaning it’s a little easier to qualify for the long-term care annuity.
Like most stand-alone long-term care policies, in order to be eligible for long-term care benefits from the annuity, you must either suffer from cognitive or mental incapacity or be unable to perform at least two of six activities of daily living that include feeding, bathing, dressing, transferring, continence, and toileting. Thereafter, benefits are typically available after a waiting period of between 30 days and 2 years (depending on the particular product).

Say you pay $75,000 to purchase a long-term care annuity. You select a long-term care benefit equal to 200% of your annuity’s cash value, with a 5-year benefit period. Initially, your long-term care benefit equals $150,000 ($75,000 x 2). Let’s assume the annuity earns 4.5% per year and the cost of the long-term care provision is 0.5% per year. At the end of 20 years (presuming you take no withdrawals) the annuity is worth about $163,622 and the long-term care benefit amount is $327,244. This will provide maximum long-term care benefit payments of $5,454 per month for as long as 5 years. And even if cumulative long-term care payments exceed the annuity’s contract value ($163,622), the long-term care payments will continue until you either exhaust the long-term care benefit amount ($327,244) or you no longer need long-term care. (This is a hypothetical example. It does not represent a specific product. Product terms and conditions may differ. Check with the annuity issuer for specific product details.)

What about taxes?

Generally, withdrawals from an annuity are considered to come from earnings first and are subject to income tax. With respect to long-term care annuities in particular, prior to 2010, payments of long-term care benefits from annuities were also deemed to have been taken from annuity earnings first, then principal. Thus, each long-term care benefit payment was taxed as ordinary income to the annuity owner until all earnings within the annuity had been exhausted.

Beginning January 1, 2010, potentially favorable tax treatment applies to certain withdrawals from annuities purchased after 1996, if the withdrawals are used to pay for qualified long-term care insurance coverage. This means you won’t have to pay income tax on the benefits you receive from your long-term care annuity used to pay for long-term care expenses.

More on exchanges

Prior to 2010, you couldn’t exchange your annuity for a long-term care insurance policy without incurring income tax on the earnings portion of the annuity. Now you can exchange your deferred annuity for either a stand-alone long-term care insurance policy or a long-term care annuity on a tax-free basis. However, with any exchange, be sure your current annuity has reached maturity before exchanging it; otherwise surrender charges may reduce your current annuity’s value. Also, if you exchange your current annuity for a long-term care annuity, you will likely incur a new surrender charge period that accompanies the new long-term care annuity. Surrender charges may apply to withdrawals you take from your annuity. However, surrender charges generally do not apply to long-term care benefit payments. Before entering into an exchange, you should talk to your financial professional or tax professional to be sure the exchange will be tax free.

Pluses/minuses

As with most insurance products, there are pluses and minuses to consider in determining whether a long-term care annuity is right for you. On the plus side:

  • Long-term care annuities allow for tax-free withdrawals if used to pay for qualified long-term care coverage
  • With typical long-term care insurance, if you don’t use the coverage, you generally don’t get a return of your premiums; but with a long-term care annuity, at your death you can pass any remaining annuity balance to your beneficiaries
  • If you’re not in the best of health and you want some long-term care protection, you might not be able to qualify for stand-alone long-term care insurance. But, it’s generally easier to qualify for a long-term care annuity (e.g., you probably won’t need a physical)
  • Once you put money in the annuity, you don’t have to make any more premium payments as you would with stand-alone long-term care insurance policies

On the other hand:

  • Most long-term care annuities are funded with a single premium payment of at least $50,000, so you may need to have at least that much available in a lump sum
  • Long-term care annuities, like most deferred annuities, come with surrender charges, so taking money out of the annuity that’s not used for long-term care expenses may be subject to surrender charges, income tax, and a penalty of 10% if taken before age 59½
  • Currently, long-term care annuities do not qualify as partnership plans, which otherwise afford some asset protection when trying to qualify for Medicaid
  • If you don’t deposit enough money into the long-term care annuity, you may not have enough protection to cover your long-term care expenses
  • There’s a cost to purchase the long-term care benefit which can range from 0.4% to 1.25% of the annuity’s account value
  • Since the cost of the long-term care portion of the annuity is deducted from your investment in the annuity (and not the earnings), you can’t take the cost of long-term care as a medical expense deduction

Is it right for you?

Whether a long-term care annuity is right for you depends on a number of factors. But the long-term care annuity is certainly a viable option available for long-term care planning that might merit a second look.

The information in these materials may change at any time and without notice. Securities offered through FSC Securities Corporation, member FINRA / SIPC . Investment advisory services offered through The Retirement Group, LLC, a registered investment advisor which is not affiliated with FSC Securities Corp. Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. does not provide investment, tax, or legal advice. The information presented here is not specific to any individual’s personal circumstances. To the extent that this material concerns tax matters, it is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law. Each taxpayer should seek independent advice from a tax professional based on his or her individual circumstances. These materials are provided for general information and educational purposes based upon publicly available information from sources believed to be reliable—we cannot assure the accuracy or completeness of these materials. 

 

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Get More Income from an Impaired Risk Immediate Annuity – by John Jastremski

Having enough income during retirement is a challenge and concern for most retirees. Immediate annuities offer a retirement planning option by providing a guaranteed income. (Payment guarantees are based on the claims-paying ability of the annuity issuer). In exchange for the payment of a single, lump-sum premium to an insurance company, you receive a stream of payments for either a fixed period of time (such as ten years) or for the rest of your life. The amount of each payment depends on the premium paid, your age, gender, and whether the annuity is for an individual or a couple.

If you have a medical condition or a disability that may shorten your life expectancy, you may qualify to receive immediate annuity payments that are larger than standard payments. Known as a medically underwritten immediate annuity, an impaired risk immediate annuity, or a substandard immediate annuity, this annuity lets you benefit by either reducing your premium for a specific stream of payments or by receiving larger payments for the same premium.

Get more income for your premium

Ordinarily, before an insurance company establishes the amount of the annuity payments it will make to you, it first must estimate how long it will have to make those payments. To project the length of time payments are expected to be made, companies refer to actuarial tables that project the life expectancy of a person of your particular age and gender. But if you demonstrate to the company, primarily through your medical records, that due to a health impairment your life expectancy is shorter than the actuarial projection, then the company projects that it will make payments over a shorter period of time. Since it anticipates making fewer payments, the company can make higher payments for the same premium, or it can make the same payments for a smaller premium.

Some qualifying medical conditions

The following are examples of health conditions that may qualify for medical underwriting. The list has been compiled from various companies offering impaired risk annuities. It is not intended to be an exhaustive list.

Alzheimer’s Diabetes Muscular  Dystrophy
Alcoholism Heart Attack, Heart Disease, Angina Obesity with Complications
ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) High Blood  Pressure Organ Transplant
Angioplasty or  Heart Surgery Hodgkin’s Disease Organic Brain Syndrome
Cancer (except  basal cell) Injury Due to Falls or Imbalance Paraplegia or Quadriplegia
Chronic Hepatitis/ Hepatitis C Leukemia Parkinson’s  Disease
Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) Liver Disease Renal Failure
Cirrhosis of the Liver Mental Illness Stroke

A 70-year-old man pays $100,000 as a lump-sum premium for an immediate annuity and receives $861 per month ($10,332 per year) for the rest of his life (life only option). But if he has a health condition (such as heart disease or diabetes) that changes his actuarial age to 75, his distributions increase to $1,003 per month ($12,396 per year) for the same $100,000 premium. As an alternative, he can reduce his single premium payment for a life only option from $100,000 to $85,865, and receive the original payout of $861 per month.

This hypothetical example is for illustration only and does not reflect actual insurance products or performance, nor is it intended to promote a specific company or product.

Some additional features

Impaired risk immediate annuity payments are almost always for life only, meaning the payments will continue as long as you live, but will end at your death. A few impaired risk immediate annuities include a return of premium rider (available at an additional cost) that ensures that if you don’t live long enough to receive the return of your premium payment, your beneficiary will continue to receive payments from the company until the total of all payments made equals your premium payment. As with ordinary immediate annuity payments, impaired risk immediate annuity payments generally do not change once they’ve begun. However, some companies offer impaired risk immediate annuities with an inflation rider (available at an additional cost) that increases the payments by a predetermined percentage each year.

Qualifying for an impaired risk annuity

In general, the issuer must determine that you have a demonstrable health condition that can result in a life expectancy that is shorter than normal. Most insurance companies that offer impaired risk annuities require that you provide medical information to document your health condition. Medical records and reports from your doctors and any facilities from which you receive treatment for your health condition are often all that is required, although some issuers may request an examination or interview with the company’s doctor.

Why should you buy an impaired risk immediate annuity?

  • The payments are larger than standard immediate annuity payments.
  • You can get standard immediate annuity payments for a premium that is less than the cost of a standard immediate annuity.
  • It can provide a guaranteed* income for the rest of your life, regardless of changes in interest rates, fluctuations in market performance, or increases in inflation.
  • The income stream can be used to pay long-term care or life insurance premiums.
  • The certainty of a guaranteed* income may allow you to assume more risk in allocating other assets for greater growth potential.
  • You can use the increased income to make charitable donations or gifts to grandchildren for education.
  • If you can’t qualify for long-term care insurance, yet face prolonged costs for such care, the increased payments offered by an impaired risk immediate annuity can be used to pay for some, if not all, of these medical expenses, preserving some of your other assets for your estate.
  • A portion of your payments may not be subject to income tax. Each immediate annuity payment is part nontaxable return of your investment in the contract and part payment of accumulated earnings (until the investment in the contract is exhausted). Generally, only that portion of each payment that represents accumulated earnings is subject to income tax.

*Payment guarantees are based on the claims-paying ability of the annuity issuer.

Is an impaired risk immediate annuity right for you?

Immediate annuities, including impaired risk immediate annuities, require that you relinquish control over a lump sum of money in exchange for a steady income. Before buying an impaired risk immediate annuity, you may want to be sure you have other savings available to cover unexpected expenses that may arise. Also, some impaired risk immediate annuities offer payments only for the duration of your life. While you won’t outlive the payments, you could die without receiving at least the return of your investment in the annuity. Weigh the advantages of the impaired risk immediate annuity against the potential drawbacks to determine if it’s the right choice for you.

Securities offered through FSC Securities Corporation, member FINRA / SIPC . Investment advisory services offered through The Retirement Group, LLC, a registered investment advisor which is not affiliated with FSC Securities Corp. Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. does not provide investment, tax, or legal advice. The information presented here is not specific to any individual’s personal circumstances. To the extent that this material concerns tax matters, it is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law. Each taxpayer should seek independent advice from a tax professional based on his or her individual circumstances. These materials are provided for general information and educational purposes based upon publicly available information from sources believed to be reliable—we cannot assure the accuracy or completeness of these materials. The information in these materials may change at any time and without notice.

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