Motherhood by the Numbers
While mothers deserve appreciation every day of the year, Mother’s Day offers a special opportunity to celebrate them. In honor of mothers everywhere, here are some facts about motherhood that might surprise you.
How Well Do You Understand Retirement Plan Rules?
Qualified retirement plans, such as IRAs and 401(k)s, have many rules, and some of them can be quite complicated. Take the following quiz to see how well you understand some of the finer points.
- You can make an unlimited number of retirement plan rollovers per year.
C. It depends
2. If you roll money from a Roth 401(k) to a Roth IRA, you can take a tax-free distribution from the Roth IRA immediately as long as you have reached age 591/2.
C. It depends
3. You can withdraw money penalty-free from both your 401(k) and IRA (Roth or traditional) to help pay for your children’s college tuition or to pay for health insurance in the event of a layoff.
C. It depends
4. If you retire or otherwise leave your employer after age 55, you can take penalty-free distributions from your 401(k) plan. You can’t do that if you roll 401(k) assets into an IRA.
C. It depends
- C. It depends. Rollovers can be made in two ways — through a direct rollover, also known as a trustee-to-trustee transfer, in which you authorize the funds to be transferred directly from one account or institution to another, or through an indirect rollover, in which you receive a check in your name (less a required tax withholding) and then reinvest the full amount (including the amount withheld) in a tax-deferred account within 60 days. If the full amount is not reinvested, the outstanding amounts will be considered a distribution and taxed accordingly, including any applicable penalty. Generally, individuals can make an unlimited number of rollovers in a 12-month period, either direct or indirect, involving employer-sponsored plans, as well as an unlimited number of direct rollovers between IRAs; however, only one indirect (60-day) rollover between two IRAs is permitted within a 12-month period.
- C. It depends. Beware of the five-year rule as it applies to Roth IRAs. If you establish your first Roth IRA with your Roth 401(k) rollover dollars, you will have to wait five years to make a qualified withdrawal from the Roth IRA, regardless of how long you’ve held the money in your Roth 401(k) account, even if you are over 59½. However, if you have already met the five-year holding requirement with any Roth IRA, you may take a tax-free, qualified withdrawal.
- B. False. You can take penalty-free withdrawals from an IRA, but not from a 401(k) plan, to pay for a child’s qualifying education expenses or to pay for health insurance premiums in the event of a job loss. Note that ordinary income taxes will still apply to the taxable portion of the distribution, unless it’s from a Roth account that is otherwise qualified for tax-free withdrawals.
- A. True. If you leave your employer after you reach age 55, you may want to consider carefully whether to roll your money into an IRA. Although IRAs may offer some advantages over employer-sponsored plans — such as a potentially broader offering of investment vehicles — you generally cannot take penalty-free distributions from an IRA between age 55 and 59½, as you can from a 401(k) plan if you separate from service. If you might need to access funds before age 59½, you could leave at least some of your money in your employer plan, if allowed. When leaving an employer, you generally have several options for your 401(k) plan dollars. In addition to rolling money into an IRA and leaving the money in your current plan (if the plan balance is more than $5,000), you may be able to roll the money into a new employer’s plan or take a cash distribution, which could result in a 10% tax penalty (in addition to ordinary income taxes) on the taxable portion, unless an exception applies.
Buying a home is a long-term commitment, so it’s not surprising that older Americans are much more likely than younger people to own their homes “free and clear” (see chart). If you have paid off your mortgage or anticipate doing so by the time you retire, congratulations! Owning your home outright can help provide financial flexibility and stability during your retirement years.
Even if you still make mortgage payments, the equity in your home is a valuable asset. And current low interest rates might give you an opportunity to pay off your home more quickly. Here are some ideas to consider.
Enjoy Lower Expenses
If you are happy with your home and don’t need to tap the equity, living free of a monthly mortgage could make a big difference in stretching your retirement dollars. It’s almost as if you had saved enough extra to provide a monthly income equal to your mortgage. You still have to pay property taxes and homeowners insurance, but these expenses are typically smaller than a mortgage payment.
If you sell your home and purchase another one outright with cash to spare, the additional funds could boost your savings and provide additional income. On the other hand, if you take out a new mortgage, you may set yourself back financially. Keep in mind that condominiums, retirement communities, and other planned communities typically have monthly homeowners association dues. On the plus side, these dues generally pay for maintenance services and amenities that could make retirement more enjoyable.
Borrow on Equity
If you stay in your home and want money for a specific purpose, such as remodeling the kitchen or fixing the roof, you might take out a home-equity loan. If instead you’ll need to access funds over several years, such as to pay for college or medical expenses, you may prefer a home-equity line of credit (HELOC).
Home-equity financing typically has favorable interest rates because your home secures the loan. However, you are taking on another monthly payment, and the lender can foreclose on your home if you fail to repay the loan. In addition, you may have to pay closing costs and other fees to obtain the loan. Interest on home-equity loans and HELOCs is typically tax deductible if the proceeds are used to buy, build, or substantially improve your main home, but is not tax deductible if the proceeds are used for other expenses.
With mortgage rates near historic lows, you might consider refinancing your home at a lower interest rate. Refinancing may allow you to take some of the equity out as part of the loan, but of course that increases the amount you borrow. While a refi loan may have a lower interest rate than a home-equity loan or HELOC, it might have higher costs that could take some time to recoup. And a new loan comes with a new amortization schedule, so even with lower rates, a larger portion of your payment may be applied to interest in the early years of the loan. Refinancing might be a wise move if the lower rate enables you to pay off a new mortgage faster than your current mortgage.
New Changes to College Financial Aid and Education Tax Benefits
In late December 2020, Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, another relief package in response to the pandemic. The bill included several provisions related to education, including $22.7 billion for colleges and universities. Here are some key highlights.
The bill accomplishes the long-held bipartisan objective of simplifying the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, starting with the 2023-2024 school year. For example, the legislation significantly reduces the number of overall questions (including eliminating questions about drug convictions and Selective Service status); makes the income protection allowance more favorable for parents and students, which will allow more income to be shielded from the formula; increases the income threshold (from $50,000 to $60,000) to qualify for the simplified needs test, an expedited formula in the FAFSA that doesn’t count family assets; and widens the net of students eligible for a Pell Grant.
However, the FAFSA will no longer divide a parent’s assessment by the number of children in college at the same time. This change has the potential to significantly reduce the amount of financial aid offered to middle- and high-income families who have multiple children in college at the same time.
Goodbye EFC terminology. In the future, the expected family contribution (EFC) will be referred to as the student aid index, or SAI, in an attempt to more accurately reflect what this number represents: a yardstick for aid eligibility rather than a guarantee of what families will pay (families often pay more than their EFC amount).
Employer help with student loan repayment. The bill extended a provision allowing employers to pay up to $5,250 of employees’ student loans on a tax-free basis for another five years. This provision, included in the Consolidated Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, would have expired at the end of 2020.Expanded Lifetime Learning credit. The bill increased the income limits necessary to qualify for the Lifetime Learning credit, an education tax credit worth up to $2,000 per year for courses taken throughout one’s lifetime to acquire or improve job skills. Starting in 2021, a full credit will be available to single filers with a modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) below $80,000 and joint filers with a MAGI below $160,000 (the credit phases out for single filers with incomes between $80,000 and $90,000 and joint filers with incomes between $160,000 and $180,000). These are the same income limits used for the American Opportunity credit. To accommodate an expanded Lifetime Learning credit, Congress repealed the deduction for qualified college tuition and fees for 2021 and beyond
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