November 2021 Newsletter

Sizing Up Inheritances, Real and Imagined

According to the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances, last taken in 2019, about one-fourth of U.S. families have received an inheritance, trust, or gift. The average inheritance received was $46,200, and the average inheritance expected in the future is $72,200. Wealthier households tend to inherit far greater amounts than those in lower wealth groups, and some members of younger generations may have unrealistic inheritance expectations.

Should You Speed Up Your Retirement Plans?

According to a March 2021 survey, an estimated 2.8 million Americans ages 55 and older decided to file for Social Security benefits earlier than they expected because of COVID-19. This was about double the 1.4 million people in the same age group who said they expected to work longer, presumably due to pandemic-related financial losses.1

Many older workers were pushed into retirement after losing their jobs, and others may have had health concerns. Still, it appears that work-related stress and the emotional toll of the pandemic caused a lot of people to rethink their priorities and their retirement timelines.

How do you know if you can realistically afford to retire early? First and foremost, determine whether you will have enough income to support the lifestyle you envision. Instead of accumulating assets, you may have to start draining your life savings to cover living expenses. Here are four important factors to consider.

Lost Income and Savings

You may be sacrificing years of future earnings and contributions to your retirement accounts. For example, an early retiree who was making $80,000 per year would forgo about $400,000 of salary over five years or $800,000 over a decade, not counting cost-of-living or merit increases. The 10-year total rises to nearly $1 million when annual raises averaging just 3% are included.

If the same retiree could have contributed 5% of salary to an employer-sponsored retirement plan with a 100% match, he or she would also miss out on $8,000 in contributions in the first year, more than $40,000 over five years, and almost $100,000 over 10 years.

Debt and Other Financial Responsibilities

If you are still paying a mortgage, have other debts, or are supporting children or aging parents, you may not be ready to retire. Ideally, you should be free of “extra” financial responsibilities so you can focus on meeting your own living expenses without a regular paycheck.

Reduced Social Security Benefits

The earliest age you can file for Social Security is 62, but your benefit would be reduced to 70% or 75% of your full retirement benefit — for the rest of your life. So even if you do decide to retire, you might think about waiting to claim your benefit until you reach full retirement age (age 66 to 67, depending on the year you were born) or longer if you have enough income and/or savings to cover your expenses. For every year you wait past your full retirement age, your benefits will increase by 8% (up to age 70).

Higher Medical Costs

If you retire before you (or a spouse) become eligible for Medicare at age 65, you could lose access to an affordable employer-provided health plan. You can purchase health insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace or a broker, but the age-based premiums are more expensive for older applicants. For two 60-year-olds with a household income of $100,000, the average premium for a silver Marketplace plan in 2021 is $708 per month ($8,500 per year), after subsidies. And if you seek medical treatment, you’ll typically need to cover copays, deductibles, coinsurance, and some other expenses (up to the plan’s out-of-pocket maximum).2

Even with Medicare, it’s estimated that a married couple who retired at age 65 in 2020, with median prescription drug expenses, would need $270,000 to have a 90% chance of paying their health-care costs throughout retirement.3

The bottom line is that some people might be giving up more than they realize when they retire early. Before you say goodbye to the working world, be sure you have the resources to carry you through the next phase of your life.

  • S. Census Bureau, 2021
  • Kaiser Family Foundation, 2021
  • Employee Benefit Research Institute, 2020

Year-End 2021 Tax Tips

Here are some things to consider as you weigh potential tax moves before the end of the year.

Defer Income to Next Year

Consider opportunities to defer income to 2022, particularly if you think you may be in a lower tax bracket then. For example, you may be able to defer a year-end bonus or delay the collection of business debts, rents, and payments for services in order to postpone payment of tax on the income until next year.

Accelerate Deductions

Look for opportunities to accelerate deductions into the current tax year. If you itemize deductions, making payments for deductible expenses such as medical expenses, qualifying interest, and state taxes before the end of the year (instead of paying them in early 2022) could make a difference on your 2021 return.

Make Deductible Charitable Contributions

If you itemize deductions on your federal income tax return, you can generally deduct charitable contributions, but the deduction is limited to 60%, 30%, or 20% of your adjusted gross income (AGI), depending on the type of property you give and the type of organization to which you contribute. (Excess amounts can be carried over for up to five years.) For 2021 charitable gifts, the normal rules have been enhanced: The limit is increased to 100% of AGI for direct cash gifts to public charities. And even if you don’t itemize deductions, you can receive a $300 charitable deduction ($600 for joint returns) for direct cash gifts to public charities (in addition to the standard deduction).

Bump Up Withholding

If it looks as though you’re going to owe federal income tax for the year, consider increasing your withholding on Form W-4 for the remainder of the year to cover the shortfall. The biggest advantage in doing so is that withholding is considered as having been paid evenly throughout the year instead of when the dollars are actually taken from your paycheck.

Increase Retirement Savings

Deductible contributions to a traditional IRA and pre-tax contributions to an employer-sponsored retirement plan such as a 401(k) can help reduce your 2021 taxable income. If you haven’t already contributed up to the maximum amount allowed, consider doing so. For 2021, you can contribute up to $19,500 to a 401(k) plan ($26,000 if you’re age 50 or older) and up to $6,000 to traditional and Roth IRAs combined ($7,000 if you’re age 50 or older). The window to make 2021 contributions to an employer plan generally closes at the end of the year, while you have until April 15, 2022, to make 2021 IRA contributions. (Roth contributions are not deductible, but qualified Roth distributions are not taxable.)

RMDs Are Back in 2021

While required minimum distributions (RMDs) were waived for 2020, they are back for 2021. If you are age 72 or older, you generally must take RMDs from traditional IRAs and employer-sponsored retirement plans (an exception may apply if you’re still working for the employer sponsoring the plan). Take any distributions by the date required — the end of the year for most individuals. The penalty for failing to do so is substantial: 50% of any amount that you failed to distribute as required. After the death of the IRA owner or plan participant, distributions are also generally required by beneficiaries (either annually or under the 10-year rule; there are special rules for spouses).

Weigh Year-End Investment Moves

Though you shouldn’t let tax considerations drive your investment decisions, it’s worth considering the tax implications of any year-end investment moves. For example, if you have realized net capital gains from selling securities at a profit, you might avoid being taxed on some or all of those gains by selling losing positions. Any losses above the amount of your gains can be used to offset up to $3,000 of ordinary income ($1,500 if your filing status is married filing separately) or carried forward to reduce your taxes in future years.

Is Your Business Eligible for the Research and Development Tax Credit?

Has your business encountered and solved technological challenges in recent years? Maybe you invested in software development, re-engineered manufacturing processes, or performed laboratory testing. If so, then your business may be eligible for the federal research and development (R&D) tax credit. This credit may be available to U.S. business owners who spent money to develop new products or improve the performance, functionality, reliability, or quality of existing products or trade processes — whether the work was done by employees or a third-party contractor.

Section 41 of the Internal Revenue Code lays out the rules and regulations surrounding the R&D tax credit. The Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act of 2015 made the credit permanent and broadened its scope to include many small to midsize businesses.

What is the benefit of the R&D tax credit?

Generally, the R&D tax credit is a nonrefundable amount that taxpayers can subtract from their federal taxable income. Typically, 6% to 8% of a company’s annual qualifying research and development expenses may be applied against the company’s federal tax liability. If your available tax credit exceeds your tax liability, you can carry your credit forward for up to 20 years. Also, in some instances the R&D tax credit may be used to offset alternative minimum tax, while in other instances, a qualifying new business may be able to apply up to $250,000 of its R&D tax credit to its payroll tax liability.

What qualifies as research and development? The

credit is a percentage of qualified research expenses (QRE) above a base amount established by the IRS in a four-part test:

  • Elimination of uncertainty. The purpose of the research must be intended to eliminate uncertainty relative to the development or improvement of a product or process.
  • Process of experimentation. The research must include experimentation or systematic trial and error to overcome technical uncertainties.
  • Technological in nature. The research must rely on “hard sciences” such as engineering, physics, and chemistry, or the life, biological, or computer sciences.
  • Qualified purpose. The research or activity must be aimed at creating a new or improved product or process, resulting in increased functionality, quality, reliability, or performance of a business component.

A tax professional can help you determine if your business is eligible for this potentially lucrative tax benefit. If you do claim the tax credit, be prepared to document and support any qualifying R&D activities.

 

 

 

Round Rock Advisors LLC is a registered investment advisor. Information in this message is for the intended recipients] only. Please visit our website www.RoundRockAdvisors.com for important disclosures.
This newsletter is intended to provide general information. It is not intended to offer or deliver tax, legal, or specific investment advice in any way. For tax or legal advice, please consult a qualified tax professional or legal counsel. Different types of investments involve varying degrees of risk. Therefore, it should not be assumed that future performance of any specific investment or investment strategy will be profitable.
Cited content on in this newsletter is based on generally-available information and is believed to be reliable. The Advisor does not guarantee the performance of any investment or the accuracy of the information contained in this newsletter. For information on the Advisor’s services and fees, please refer to the Round Rock’s Form ADV Part 2. The Advisor will provide all prospective clients with a copy of Round Rock’s Form ADV2A and applicable Form ADV 2Bs. Please contact us to request a free copy via .pdf or hardcopy.

October 2021 Newsletter

Record Consumer Complaints in 2020

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received more than 4.7 million consumer reports of illegal activity or unfair business practices in 2020, a 45% increase over the 3.2 million reports in 2019. It’s unclear why there was such a large increase, but it may be related in part to social isolation and economic stress during the pandemic. In October 2020, the FTC launched a new website for consumers to report fraud and other consumer issues that enables more efficient sharing with law-enforcement authorities: ReportFraud.ftc.gov.

Following the Inflation Debate

During the 12 months ending in June 2021, consumer prices shot up 5.4%, the highest inflation rate since 2008.1 The annual increase in the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) — often called headline inflation — was due in part to the “base effect.” This statistical term means the 12-month comparison was based on an unusual low point for prices in the second quarter of 2020, when consumer demand and inflation dropped after the onset of the pandemic.

However, some obvious inflationary pressures entered the picture in the first half of 2021. As vaccination rates climbed, pent-up consumer demand for goods and services was unleashed, fueled by stimulus payments and healthy savings accounts built by those with little opportunity to spend their earnings. Many businesses that shut down or cut back when the economy was closed could not ramp up quickly enough to meet surging demand. Supply-chain bottlenecks, along with higher costs for raw materials, fuel, and labor, resulted in some troubling price spikes.2

Monitoring Inflation

CPI-U measures the price of a fixed market basket of goods and services. As such, it is a good measure of the prices consumers pay if they buy the same items over time, but it does not reflect changes in consumer behavior and can be unduly influenced by extreme increases in one or more categories. In June 2021, for example, used-car prices increased 10.5% from the previous month and 45.2% year-over-year, accounting for more than one-third of the increase in CPI. Core CPI, which strips out volatile food and energy prices, rose 4.5% year-over-year.3

In setting economic policy, the Federal Reserve prefers a different inflation measure called the Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) Price Index, which is even broader than the CPI and adjusts for changes in consumer behavior — i.e., when consumers shift to purchase a different item because the preferred item is too expensive. More specifically, the Fed looks at core PCE, which rose 3.5% through the 12 months ending in June 2021.4

Competing Viewpoints

The perspective held by many economic policymakers, including Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, was that the spring rise in inflation was due primarily to base effects and temporary supply-and-demand mismatches, so the impact would be mostly “transitory.”5 Regardless, some prices won’t fall back to their former levels once they have risen, and even short-lived bursts of inflation can be painful for consumers.

Is a High-Deductible Health Plan Right for You?

In 2020, 31% of U.S. workers with employer-sponsored health insurance had a high-deductible health plan (HDHP), up from 24% in 2015.1 These plans are also available outside the workplace through private insurers and the Health Insurance Marketplace.

Although HDHP participation has grown rapidly, the most common plan — covering almost half of U.S. workers — is a traditional preferred provider organization (PPO).2 If you are thinking about enrolling in an HDHP or already enrolled in one, here are some factors to consider when comparing an HDHP to a PPO.

Up-Front Savings

The average annual employee premium for HDHP family coverage in 2020 was $4,852 versus $6,017 for a PPO, a savings of $1,165 per year.3 In addition, many employers contribute to a health savings account (HSA) for the employee, and contributions by the employer or the employee are tax advantaged (see below). Taken together, these features could add up to substantial savings that can be used to pay for current and future medical expenses.

Pay As You Go

In return for lower premiums, you pay more out of pocket for medical services with an HDHP until you reach the annual deductible.

Deductible. An HDHP has a higher deductible than a PPO, but PPO deductibles have been rising, so consider the difference between plan deductibles and whether the deductible is per person or per family. PPOs may have a separate deductible (or no deductible) for prescription drugs, but the HDHP deductible will apply to all covered medical spending.

Copays. PPOs typically have copays that allow you to obtain certain services and prescription drugs with a defined payment before meeting your deductible. With an HDHP, you pay out of pocket until you meet your deductible, but costs may be reduced through the insurer’s negotiated rate. Consider the difference between the copay and the negotiated rate for a typical service such as a doctor visit. Certain types of preventive care and preventive medicines may be provided at no cost under both types of plans.

Maximums. Most health insurance plans have annual and lifetime out-of-pocket maximums above which the insurer pays all medical expenses. HDHP maximums may be the same or similar to that of PPO plans.

(Some PPO plans have a separate annual maximum for prescription drugs.) If you have high medical costs that exceed the annual maximum, your total out-of-pocket costs for that year would typically be lower for an HDHP with the savings on premiums.

Your Choices and Preferences

Both PPOs and HDHPs offer incentives to use health-care providers within a network, and the network may be exactly the same if the plans are offered by the same insurance company. Make sure your preferred doctors are included in the network before enrolling.

Also consider whether you are comfortable using the HDHP structure. Although it may save money over the course of a year, you might be hesitant to obtain appropriate care because of the higher out-of-pocket expense at the time of service.

HSA Contribution Limits

Annual contributions can be made up to the April tax filing deadline of the following year. Any employer contributions must be considered as part of the annual limit.

Health Savings Accounts

High-deductible health plans are designed to be paired with a tax-advantaged health savings account (HSA) that can be used to pay medical expenses incurred after the HSA is established. HSA contributions are typically made through pre-tax payroll deductions, but in most cases they can also be made as tax-deductible contributions directly to the HSA provider. HSA funds, including any earnings if the account has an investment option, can be withdrawn free of federal income tax and penalties as long as the money is spent on qualified health-care expenses. (Some states do not follow federal tax rules on HSAs.)

The assets in an HSA can be retained in the account or rolled over to a new HSA if you change employers or retire. Unspent HSA balances can be used to pay future medical expenses whether you are enrolled in an HDHP or not; however, you must be enrolled in an HDHP to establish and contribute to an HSA.

1-3) Kaiser Family Foundation, 2020

Net Price Calculators Help Gauge College Affordability

Fall is the time when many high school seniors narrow their college lists and start applying to colleges. One question that is often front and center on the minds of families is “how much will it cost?” To help answer that question, you can use a net price calculator, which is available on every college website.

How a net price calculator works. A net price calculator can help families measure a specific college’s true cost by providing an estimate of how much grant aid a student might expect based on his or her financial information and academic profile. A college’s sticker price minus grant aid equals a student’s net price, or out-of-pocket cost.

The numbers quoted by a college net price calculator are not a guarantee of grant aid, but the estimates are meant to be close. By completing a net price calculator for several colleges before officially submitting an application, students can get an idea of what their out-of-pocket cost would be at specific schools and rank colleges based on affordability.

What information it asks for. A net price calculator typically asks for the following information: parent income and assets, student income and assets, a student’s general academic record, and family size, including number of dependents. A net price calculator might also ask more detailed questions; for example, a student’s class rank and test scores, the amount parents contributed to their employer retirement plans in the last year, current home equity, or how much parents expect to pay in health-care costs in the coming year. Every college has its own net price calculator, so there may be slight variations in the questions that are asked.

A net price calculator takes about 10 to 15 minutes to complete. Typing “net price calculator” in the search bar of a college’s website should direct you to it.

Results can vary. Keep in mind that colleges have different sticker prices and criteria for determining how much grant aid they offer, so calculator results can vary, even when the same financial information is being entered. For example, after entering identical financial information on three different calculators, families might find that College A has a net price of $25,000 per year, College B a net price of $30,000, and College C a net price of $40,000. Running a net price calculator for colleges that are similar in terms of selectivity and sticker price can help families compare the generosity of colleges in a similar peer group.

Consider filing the FAFSA. The FAFSA for the 2022-2023 school year opens on October 1,2021. Families should consider submitting it even if they don’t expect their child to qualify for need-based federal aid, because some colleges may require the FAFSA as a prerequisite for college-provided need-based and/or merit-based grants and scholarships.

 

Round Rock Advisors LLC is a registered investment advisor. Information in this message is for the intended recipients] only. Please visit our website www.RoundRockAdvisors.com for important disclosures.
This newsletter is intended to provide general information. It is not intended to offer or deliver tax, legal, or specific investment advice in any way. For tax or legal advice, please consult a qualified tax professional or legal counsel. Different types of investments involve varying degrees of risk. Therefore, it should not be assumed that future performance of any specific investment or investment strategy will be profitable.
Cited content on in this newsletter is based on generally-available information and is believed to be reliable. The Advisor does not guarantee the performance of any investment or the accuracy of the information contained in this newsletter. For information on the Advisor’s services and fees, please refer to the Round Rock’s Form ADV Part 2. The Advisor will provide all prospective clients with a copy of Round Rock’s Form ADV2A and applicable Form ADV 2Bs. Please contact us to request a free copy via .pdf or hardcopy.

September 2021 Newsletter

State Income Tax: Depends on Where You Live or Work

Eight states have no state income tax. Of the 42 states with a state income tax (and the District of Columbia), the top marginal income tax rate ranges from 2.9% to 13.3%. Most states (and D.C.) with an income tax have multiple tax brackets with graduated rates; nine states have only a single tax rate.

 

Four Reasons to Review Your Life Insurance Needs

You may have purchased life insurance years ago and never gave it a second thought. Or perhaps you don’t have life insurance at all and now you need it. When your life circumstances change, you have a fresh opportunity to make sure the people you love are protected.

 

Marriage

When you were single, life insurance might have seemed like an unnecessary expense, but now someone else is depending on your income. If something happens to you, your spouse will likely need to rely on life insurance benefits to meet expenses and pay off debts.

The amount of life insurance coverage you need depends on your income, your debts and assets, your financial goals, and other personal factors. Even if you have some low-cost life insurance through work, this might not be enough. Buying life insurance coverage through a private insurer could help fill the gap.

 

Parenthood

When children arrive, revisiting your life insurance needs could help you protect your growing family’s financial security. Life insurance proceeds might help your family meet both their current obligations, such as a mortgage, child care, or car payments, and future expenses, including a child’s college education. Even if you already have life insurance, children are among the most important reasons to review your policy limits and beneficiary designations.

 

Retirement

As you prepare to leave the workforce, reevaluate your need for life insurance. You might think that you can do without it if you’ve paid off all of your debts and feel financially secure. But if you’re like some retirees, your financial picture may not be so rosy, especially if you’re still saddled with mortgage payments, student loan bills, and other obligations. Life insurance protection could still be important if you haven’t accumulated sufficient assets to provide for your family, or you want to replace retirement income lost when you are no longer around.

Life insurance can also be an important tool to help you transfer wealth to the next generation. Or perhaps you’re looking for a way to pay your estate tax bill or leave something to charity. You may need to keep some of your life insurance in force or buy a different type of coverage.

 

Health Changes

A common concern is that life insurance coverage will end if your insurer finds out that your health has declined. But if you’ve been paying your premiums, changes to your health will not matter.

 

Consumers Understand the Value of Life Insurance

Source: 2021 Insurance Barometer Study, Life Happens and LIMRA

 

Some life insurance policies even offer accelerated (living) benefits that you can access in the event of a serious or long-term illness.

You may be able to buy additional life insurance if you need it, especially if you purchase group insurance through your employer during an open enrollment period. Purchasing an individual policy might be more difficult and more expensive, but check with your insurance representative to explore your options.

Of course, it’s also possible that your health has improved. For example, perhaps you’ve stopped smoking or lost a significant amount of weight. If so, you may now qualify for a lower premium.

The cost and availability of life insurance depend on factors such as age, health, and the type and amount of insurance purchased. Before implementing a strategy involving life insurance, it would be prudent to make sure that you are insurable. As with most financial decisions, there are expenses associated with the purchase of life insurance. Policies commonly have mortality and expense charges. Any guarantees are contingent on the financial strength and claims-paying ability of the issuing insurance company. Optional benefits are available for an additional cost and are subject to contractual terms, conditions, and limitations.

 

Grandparent 529 Plans Get a Boost Under New FAFSA Rules

529 plans are a favored way to save for college due to the tax benefits and other advantages they offer when funds are used to pay a beneficiary’s qualified college expenses. Up until now, the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) treated grandparent-owned 529 plans more harshly than parent-owned 529 plans. This will change thanks to the FAFSA Simplification Act that was enacted in December 2020. The new law streamlines the FAFSA and makes changes to the formula that’s used to calculate financial aid eligibility.

 

Current FAFSA Rules

Under current rules, parent-owned 529 plans are listed on the FAFSA as a parent asset. Parent assets are counted at a rate of 5.64%, which means 5.64% of the value of the 529 account is deemed available to pay for college. Later, when distributions are made to pay college expenses, the funds aren’t counted at all; the FAFSA ignores distributions from a parent 529 plan.

 

By contrast, grandparent-owned 529 plans do not need to be listed as an asset on the FAFSA. This sounds like a benefit. However, the catch is that any withdrawals from a grandparent-owned 529 plan are counted as untaxed student income in the following year and assessed at 50%. This can have a negative impact on federal financial aid eligibility.

 

Example: Ben is the beneficiary of two 529 plans: a parent-owned 529 plan with a value of $25,000 and a grandparent-owned 529 plan worth $50,000. In Year 1, Ben’s parents file the FAFSA. They must list their 529 account as a parent asset but do not need to list the grandparent 529 account. The FAFSA formula counts $1,410 of the parent 529 account as available for college costs ($25,000 x 5.64%). Ben’s parents then withdraw $10,000 from their account, and Ben’s grandparents withdraw $10,000 from their account to pay college costs in Year 1.

In Year 2, Ben’s parents file a renewal FAFSA. Again, they must list their 529 account as a parent asset. Let’s assume the value is now $15,000, so the formula will count $846 as available for college costs ($15,000 x 5.64%). In addition, Ben’s parents must also list the $10,000 distribution from the grandparent 529 account as untaxed student income, and the formula will count $5,000 as available for college costs ($10,000 x 50%). In general, the higher Ben’s available resources, the less financial need he is deemed to have.

 

New FAFSA Rules

Under the new FAFSA rules, grandparent-owned 529 plans still do not need to be listed as an asset, and distributions will no longer be counted as untaxed student income. In addition, the new FAFSA will no longer include a question asking about cash gifts from grandparents. This means that grandparents will be able to help with their grandchild’s college expenses (either with a 529 plan or with other funds) with no negative implications for federal financial aid.

However, there’s a caveat: Grandparent-owned 529 plans and cash gifts will likely continue to be counted by the CSS Profile, an additional aid form typically used by private colleges when distributing their own institutional aid. Even then it’s not one-size-fits-all — individual colleges can personalize the CSS Profile with their own questions, so the way they treat grandparent 529 plans can differ.

Source: ISS Market Intelligence, 529 Market Highlights, 2019 and 2020

 

When Does the New FAFSA Take Effect?

The new, simplified FAFSA opens on October 1, 2022, and will take effect for the 2023-2024 school year. However, grandparents can start taking advantage of the new 529 plan rules in 2021. That’s because 2021 is the “base year” for income purposes for the 2023-2024 FAFSA, and under the new FAFSA a student’s income will consist only of data reported on the student’s federal income tax return. Because any distributions taken in 2021 from a grandparent 529 account won’t be reported on the student’s 2021 tax return, they won’t need to be reported as student income on the 2023-2024 FAFSA.