Archives for January 2019

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A Rough, General-Purpose Retirement Plan

For a few years now I’ve been talking about a basic “cookie cutter” sort of Social Security plan (i.e., an approach that works reasonably well in most cases) and about factors that would suggest that a person or couple should make adjustments to such a plan.

I’ve been thinking recently that it might be fun/useful to extend that same type of thinking to a broader range of retirement planning areas. So here’s my attempt to do just that.

And just to be super clear about something that is hopefully obvious given the brevity of this article: there are many, many cases in which the suggestions below would not be the best approach for an actual person, due to their personal circumstances. I have mentioned some of the circumstances that would suggest alternative approaches, but in each of the topics below there are plenty of potential factors that I have not mentioned.

Social Security

If you’re single, delay claiming benefits until somewhere in the 68-70 range. If you’re married, the spouse with the higher earnings record files at 70, and the spouse with the lower earnings record files as early as possible (62 and 1 month in most cases).

Some of the circumstances that would suggest an adjustment to such a strategy include:

  • You are single and are in very poor health (in which case you should file earlier),
  • You are married and both spouses are in good health (lower earner should file somewhat later) or very bad health (higher earner should file somewhat earlier),
  • The lower earning spouse is working beyond age 62 (in which case they should usually wait to file until they quit work or have reached full retirement age),
  • You have minor children or adult disabled children (may be a reason for the higher earner to file earlier), or
  • You or your spouse will be receiving a government pension (could affect the decision in either direction).

Tax Planning (Retirement Account Distributions)

Try to “smooth out” your taxable income over the course of your retirement.

For example, if you retire at age 60 but don’t plan to take Social Security until 70, you have a 10-year window during which your income will be markedly lower than it has been in the past (because you’re retired) and lower than it will be in the future (because neither Social Security nor RMDs have started yet). So it’s likely wise to spend from tax-deferred accounts and likely do some Roth conversions during that 10-year window — with the goal being to shift income from future years (which would otherwise be higher-income years) into the current lower-income years (i.e., smoothing out your taxable income over time).

To be clear, that’s somewhat of a simplification. In reality you want to try to smooth your marginal tax rate — rather than taxable income — over time. That is, if your marginal tax rate now is lower than it will be later, try to shift income from future years into this year. (And it’s key to remember that your marginal tax rate is often quite different from your tax bracket, especially during retirement.)

Spending Rate

Firstly, set aside (in something safe, such as a short-term bond fund) enough money to fund any Social Security delay that will be happening. For example, if you are forgoing $150,000 of Social Security benefits by waiting from 62 until 70, set aside $150,000 in something safe in order to fund the extra spending necessary until age 70. Then, from the remainder of the portfolio, use the IRS RMD table (i.e., “Uniform Lifetime table“) to calculate a spending amount each year. And for years prior to 70, use the same overall age-based approach — with a lower rate of spending the younger you are.

We discussed this overall strategy last year, and you can find a paper here from Steve Vernon that discusses it in more depth. Broadly speaking though, basing spending on RMD percentages has two main advantages:

  • It adjusts spending over time based on portfolio performance, rather than spending a fixed inflation-adjusted amount each year of retirement, and
  • It adjusts spending based on your remaining life expectancy (i.e., it accounts for the fact that you can afford to spend a larger percentage of your portfolio per year when you are age 90 than when you’re age 60).

Circumstances that could suggest an adjustment to such a strategy:

  • You have an unusually long or short life expectancy,
  • Real interest rates are very high or very low,
  • Market valuations are very high or very low, or
  • Your portfolio makes up a relatively small part of your overall financial picture. (For instance if you have a government pension that covers all of your major needs, you can spend from your portfolio at a faster rate, if you so desire — because, unlike many retirees, you would not be in an especially bad situation if you depleted, or nearly depleted, your portfolio.)

Asset Allocation

There’s a huge range of asset allocations that could be reasonable for a retirement portfolio (i.e., the portfolio that does not include the fixed sum that is set aside for the purpose of delaying Social Security).

  • Want a 70% stock, 30% bond portfolio? Go for it.
  • Prefer a 30% stock, 70% bond portfolio? That’s cool too.
  • Want to exclude international stocks completely? Sure.
  • Prefer to have a heftier 30-50% international stock allocation? Knock yourself out.
  • Want to use only Treasury bonds for your fixed-income holdings? That’s reasonable.
  • Prefer to use a “total bond” fund instead? Super.

One key point — something that surprises many people — is that a higher stock allocation (or any allocation decision that shifts things toward more risk and more expected return) tends to result in only a relatively modest increase in the amount you can safely spend per year early in retirement. The higher expected returns are, to a significant extent, offset by the increased unpredictability. (For related reading, here’s Wade Pfau’s 2018 update to the Trinity Study — though of course that has to be considered with all the usual caveats about using historical returns to try to plan for the future.)

The more dramatic impacts of higher-risk, higher-expected return allocations are that they tend to mean more volatility (duh) and a greater chance of either a) leaving a large sum to your heirs or b) increasing spending later in retirement.

Insurance

If you are retired, you probably don’t need life insurance, as it’s likely that you have no dependents anymore. One noteworthy case in which you likely would want life insurance as a retiree would be if you still have minor children or if you have an adult disabled child. Another case in which a retiree might want life insurance is if they’re married and a major portion of their total income comes from a pension with a small survivor benefit amount.

If you are retired you almost certainly don’t need disability insurance. Disability insurance exists to replace income that you’d be unable to earn if you’re unable to work. But if you aren’t working anyway (i.e., you’re retired), you don’t need it.

Health insurance is a must-have. If retiring prior to Medicare eligibility, make sure you have a very specific, well-researched plan for health insurance. The Affordable Care Act makes it possible to get insurance, but make sure you have a good idea of the cost, and make sure you have researched plans to know what they cover — though of course it’s subject to change every year.

Long-term care insurance is a genuine predicament, regardless of what decision you make. If you don’t buy it, you could potentially be on the hook for huge costs. If you do buy it, you might be faced with premiums that rise rapidly and unpredictably. (Other related products to consider are “hybrid” long-term care annuities or long-term care life insurance, but those both have their problems as well.)

Having proper liability insurance (including an umbrella policy, in many cases) continues to be important. In fact, it’s likely more important than at any prior point, given that during retirement you are more dependent on maintaining your assets than you are at earlier stages.

As far as longevity risk (i.e., the risk of outliving your money, because you live well beyond your life expectancy), lifetime annuities (whether immediate or deferred) can provide protection. The downside is that they reduce your liquidity/flexibility, reduce the amount you’re likely to leave to your heirs, and usually come with significant inflation risk. Delaying Social Security provides the same type of protection at a much better cost — and with an inflation adjustment. So purchasing such an annuity generally only makes sense if you are already age 70 and still want additional longevity protection (or if you are already planning to delay Social Security to 70 and still want additional longevity protection).

Retiring Soon? Pick Up a Copy of My Book:

Can I Retire Cover

Can I Retire? Managing a Retirement Portfolio Explained in 100 Pages or Less

Topics Covered in the Book:
  • How to calculate how much you’ll need saved before you can retire,
  • How to minimize the risk of outliving your money,
  • How to choose which accounts (Roth vs. traditional IRA vs. taxable) to withdraw from each year,
  • Click here to see the full list.

A Testimonial from a Reader on Amazon:

"Hands down the best overview of what it takes to truly retire that I've ever read. In jargon free English, this gem of a book nails the key issues."

Investing Blog Roundup: Remembering Jack Bogle

As you have likely heard by now, Jack Bogle died this week.

There have been an abundance of great articles about him in the last two days — not just about what he achieved professionally (as monumental as those achievements were), but about what he was like as a person. That’s no coincidence. Many of us have personal stories to share.

He founded a massive company, and he revolutionized an industry, but he was as approachable as anybody I’ve met. He’d ask you what you were working on. He’d tell you about what he’d been reading lately. He’d sit next to you at lunch and discuss Social Security — sharing his opinions (he had opinions!), but also listening intently to yours.

If you’re feeling moved to do something in his memory, I have two suggestions:

  1. A donation to the National Constitution Center (Bogle served as chairman of the Center’s board for several years and often bragged about the work that they do), and/or
  2. A donation to the John C. Bogle Center for Financial Literacy.

And this is probably as good a time as any to suggest that you consider signing up to be an organ donor, if you have not yet done so. It’s easy, costs nothing, and could save somebody’s life — much as Jack’s life was saved in 1996 by somebody’s generous decision to be an organ donor.

Recommended Reading

Thanks for reading!

Open Social Security Update: Child Benefits, Retroactive Applications

A few days ago I rolled out an update for the Open Social Security calculator that includes a few new pieces of functionality:

  • Child benefits (now for married couples as well as single people),
  • Child-in-care spousal benefits, and
  • Retroactive applications.

This update took about three months of work, mostly because the “combined family maximum” rules and child-in-care spousal benefit rules are pretty complicated. (And the calculator has to be prepared to deal with any combination of uncommon complicating factors.)

If you are using the child benefit-related functionality, please be aware that the calculator will take somewhat longer to run. When minor children or disabled children are in the picture, your computer has to do a lot more math in each month of the simulations.

With regard to child-in-care spousal benefits, I expect to do a more thorough writeup of how they work in the not-so-distant future. But for now, a simplified explanation is that they’re like regular spousal benefits, with a few major differences:

  • You don’t have to be age 62 to receive them,
  • There is no reduction for entitlement prior to full retirement age, and
  • Filing for (and entitlement to) child-in-care spousal benefits does not trigger a deemed filing for retirement benefits.

As far as retroactive applications, the calculator now recommends them when a person is eligible for such and when such would be helpful. A simplified explanation of the retroactive application rules is that a person beyond FRA can backdate their application up to 6 months (or 12 months in some disability-related cases) — but no earlier than the month in which they reached full retirement age.

Want to Learn More about Social Security? Pick Up a Copy of My Book:

Social Security cover Social Security Made Simple: Social Security Retirement Benefits and Related Planning Topics Explained in 100 Pages or Less
Topics Covered in the Book:
  • How retirement benefits, spousal benefits, and widow(er) benefits are calculated,
  • How to decide the best age to claim your benefit,
  • How Social Security benefits are taxed and how that affects tax planning,
  • Click here to see the full list.

A Testimonial from a Reader on Amazon:

"An excellent review of various facts and decision-making components associated with the Social Security benefits. The book provides a lot of very useful information within small space."

Investing Blog Roundup: How Important is Sequence of Returns Risk?

I recently encountered an article from the Early Retirement Now blog, discussing just how much sequence of returns risk matters in retirement. The article isn’t new (May 2017). And it’s pretty math-heavy. But it’s worth a read.

One noteworthy finding: over a 30-year retirement, only 31% of the variation in safe withdrawal rates is explained by the average return earned by the portfolio over that 30-year period. 64%, however, is explained by the sequence of those returns.

If the math intimidates you, I would still encourage you to at least click over to the article and find the second table — the one with a column of green-highlighted cells. What these cells are showing you is how important each 5-year window of returns is in determining safe withdrawal rate.

It’s quite striking how much less important each 5-year window of returns is, relative to the prior 5-year window. For example, years 0-5 explain more than 28% of the variation in safe withdrawal rate. Years 5-10 explain another 19%. Years 10-15 explain another 13%. And so on.

Key takeaway being: the returns that your portfolio earns in the first several years of retirement matter a lot.

Other Recommended Reading

Thanks for reading, and Happy New Year!

How are Partnerships Taxed?

The following is a modified excerpt from my book LLC vs. S-Corp vs. C-Corp Explained in 100 Pages or Less.

Partnerships themselves are not actually subject to Federal income tax. Instead, they — like sole proprietorships — are pass-through entities. While the partnership itself is not taxed on its income, each of the partners will be taxed upon his or her share of the income from the partnership.

Form 1065

Form 1065 is the form used to calculate a partnership’s profit or loss. On the first page, you list the revenues for the business, list the expenses for the business, and then subtract the total expenses from the total revenues. It’s exactly what you would expect.

On the second and third pages of Form 1065 you answer several yes/no questions about the nature of the partnership. For instance, you’ll be asked whether any of the partners are not U.S. residents, whether the partnership had control of any financial accounts located outside of the U.S., and other questions of a similar nature.

Schedule K and Schedule K-1

The fourth page of Form 1065 is what’s known as Schedule K. Schedule K is used to break down the partnership’s income into different categories. For instance, ordinary business income goes on line 1, rental income goes on line 2, interest income shows up a little bit later on line 5, etc.

After filling out Schedule K, you’ll fill out a separate Schedule K-1 for each partner. On each partner’s Schedule K-1, that partner’s share of each of the different types of income is listed.

EXAMPLE: Aaron and Jake own and operate a partnership. Their partnership agreement states that they’re each entitled to exactly 50% of the partnership’s income. If, on Schedule K, the partnership shows ordinary business income of $50,000 and interest income of $200, each partner’s Schedule K-1 will reflect $25,000 of ordinary business income and $100 of interest income. This income will eventually show up on each partner’s regular income tax return (Form 1040).

What’s important to note here is that allocations from a partnership maintain their classification once they show up on the partners’ individual tax returns. This is important because some types of income are taxed differently than other types of income. For instance, long-term capital gains (gains from the sale of investments that were held for greater than one year) are currently taxed at a maximum rate of 23.8%, and in some cases they are not taxed at all.

EXAMPLE: Aaron and Jake’s partnership buys shares of a stock, holds the shares for several years, and then sells them for a gain of $10,000. When Aaron’s $5,000 share of the gain shows up on his tax return, it still counts as a long-term capital gain (as opposed to counting as ordinary income). It will, therefore, be taxed at a maximum rate of 23.8%, even if Aaron is in a much higher tax bracket.

Similarly, deductions maintain their character when passed through from a partnership. For example, if a partnership makes a cash contribution to a qualified charitable organization, that contribution will maintain its character when it shows up on each of the partners’ personal returns. (That is, it will count as an itemized deduction, subject to all the normal limitations for charitable contributions.)

Self-Employment Tax for Partnerships

Ordinary business income from a partnership is generally subject to the self-employment tax when it is passed through to general partners. This makes sense given the rule that we just discussed about income maintaining its classification when allocated to a partner on his or her K-1.

Deduction for Pass-Through Income

Because partnerships, like sole proprietorships, are pass-through businesses, profit from a partnership will also qualify for the deduction for pass-through business income. With a partnership, your deduction is for 20% of your share of the partnership’s profit, subject to limitations.

Allocated Profit vs. Distributed Profit

One thing that surprises the owners of many partnerships when their first tax season rolls around is the fact that partners get taxed on their allocated share of the partnership’s profit, even if nothing was distributed to them.

EXAMPLE: Michelle, Kayla, and Tim start a partnership. Their partnership agreement states that profit or loss will be evenly allocated to the partners.

In the first year, their partnership makes $60,000. However, they’re sure that their business could grow quickly if they had the capital. So, they decide not to distribute any cash to the partners. Instead, they make plans to use all $60,000 to buy new production equipment next year.

Despite the fact that none of the partners actually received any cash payout, they’re each going to be taxed on $20,000 of business income (1/3 of the $60,000 total). That is, each is taxed on his or her “allocated profit” of $20,000 rather than his or her “distributed profit” of $0.

[Note: Profits and losses in a partnership are not required to be split evenly between the partners. The partners can choose to split the profit or loss in any way they choose. It just makes the math in the examples easier if we give each partner an equal share.]

In Summary

  • Like sole proprietorships, partnerships are “pass through” entities. A partnership is not subject to federal income tax. Rather, its owners are subject to Federal income tax on their share of the profit.
  • Form 1065 is used to calculate a partnership’s profit or loss.
  • Schedule K is used to break down a partnership’s income and deductions by category. Schedule K-1 is then used to show each partner’s allocated share of the various types of income and deductions.
  • Income and deductions from a partnership maintain their original classification when they are passed through to a partner. For example, long-term capital gains will be taxed at a max rate of 23.8%, and ordinary business income is subject to self-employment tax.
  • For tax years 2018-2025, you can claim a deduction equal to 20% of your share of a partnership’s profit, subject to limitations.
  • Partners are taxed on their allocated share of the profit, regardless of how much of the profit is actually paid out to them.

For More Information, See My Related Book:

Book6FrontCoverTiltedBlue

LLC vs. S-Corp vs. C-Corp Explained in 100 Pages or Less

Topics Covered in the Book:
  • The basics of sole proprietorship, partnership, LLC, S-Corp, and C-Corp taxation,
  • How to protect your personal assets from lawsuits against your business,
  • Which business structures could reduce your Federal income tax or Self-Employment tax,
  • Click here to see the full list.

LLC Tax Advantages and Disadvantages

The following is an excerpt from my book LLC vs. S-Corp vs. C-Corp Explained in 100 Pages or Less.

As far as federal income taxes are concerned, LLCs don’t really exist. The Internal Revenue Code — the body of law that outlines all federal income taxation — treats each LLC as if it were one of the other types of entities.

Specifically, unless they have elected otherwise, single-member LLCs (LLCs with one owner) will be taxed as sole proprietorships, and multiple-member LLCs will be taxed as partnerships. Because of this tax treatment, LLCs — like sole proprietorships and partnerships — are often referred to as “pass-through” entities.”

EXAMPLE: Kali owns and operates a restaurant as a sole proprietorship. She later decides to form an LLC for her business. Because the LLC is a disregarded entity, the business will continue to be taxed as a sole proprietorship (for federal tax purposes at least).

EXAMPLE: Steve and Beth own and operate a winery. After learning about the potential dangers of unlimited liability in a partnership, they decide to form an LLC. Because the LLC is a disregarded entity, the business will continue to be treated as a partnership for federal income tax purposes.

LLCs Taxed as Corporations

Sometimes, after forming an LLC, the owner(s) of the LLC will decide that they would benefit from being taxed as a C-corporation rather than as a sole proprietorship or partnership. When this happens, the owner(s) have two options:

  1. Form a corporation and transfer all of the assets from the LLC to the corporation, or
  2. Fill out a form (Form 8832) electing corporate tax treatment.

The second option is certainly the easier and less costly of the two.

The same thing can be done should the LLC’s owner(s) decide that S-corporation taxation would be beneficial. The only difference is that a different form (Form 2553) is used to notify the IRS of the election.

Disregarded Entities

If a single-member LLC does not elect to be taxed as a corporation, it is referred to as a “disregarded entity” because its existence is disregarded entirely as far as federal income tax is concerned. (That is, the LLC and its owner are considered to be one and the same.)

State Taxation of LLCs

Again, unless an election is made otherwise, LLCs will be treated as either sole proprietorships or partnerships for federal tax purposes. However, depending upon where your business is located, state income taxes might not work the same way.

For example, some states tax LLC directly on their income rather than (or in addition to) taxing the owners on their share of the income. For instance, in California, LLCs are subject to an $800 annual tax, as well as an income-based fee if the LLC earned more than $250,000 in California that year.

EXAMPLE: Braden runs a sole proprietorship in California for his part-time video production business. He earns roughly $3,000 per year from the business, and is considering forming an LLC. However, even with an annual income of only $3,000, a California LLC would still be subject to a tax of $800, or more than one-quarter of the business’s total profit. Braden eventually decides that the benefits of forming an LLC would be outweighed by this disproportionately large tax.

Before deciding to form an LLC, it’s definitely a good idea to find out precisely how your state taxes limited liability companies.

In Summary

  • For federal tax purposes, single-owner LLCs are treated as sole proprietorships, and multiple-owner LLCs are treated as partnerships.
  • An LLC can elect to be taxed as a corporation simply by filing a form with the IRS (Form 8832 for C-corporation tax treatment or Form 2553 for S-corporation tax treatment).
  • Some states do not tax LLCs the same way that the federal government does, so be sure to find out how your own state taxes LLCs before creating one.

For More Information, See My Related Book:

Book6FrontCoverTiltedBlue

LLC vs. S-Corp vs. C-Corp Explained in 100 Pages or Less

Topics Covered in the Book:
  • The basics of sole proprietorship, partnership, LLC, S-Corp, and C-Corp taxation,
  • How to protect your personal assets from lawsuits against your business,
  • Which business structures could reduce your Federal income tax or Self-Employment tax,
  • Click here to see the full list.
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My new Social Security calculator: Open Social Security