The majority of retirees pay no federal taxes. But taxes should be a concern for retirees who have retirement savings. That’s because the money they take out of their retirement accounts for living expenses will be treated as federal taxable income. It’s difficult enough to figure out how much money to withdraw – and when. Taxes are a separate but related issue.
In this blog, we interviewed Michael Kitces, a well-known financial adviser and partner with a Maryland financial firm, who writes the “Nerd’s Eye View” blog. He discusses the basics of navigating the tax code. The challenge facing retirees is to make tax decisions today that will minimize taxes now and in the future.
Question: Do you find that new retirees are surprised by their retirement tax situation?
Kitces: It’s usually not even on their radar screen. Pre-tax and post-tax income, different tax buckets – I don’t think most people even think about it once they’re in retirement. That’s why we’re still seeing people who are “surprised” when they turn 70½ and the required minimum distributions (RMDs) begin, and their tax bill gets a whole lot higher. They say, “Why didn’t we plan for this?” We say, “We’ve been recommending you plan for this for years!” …Learn More
Taking care of her elderly parents is Vivian Gibson’s full-time job.
The last two weeks in October weren’t so unusual. She tended to her 86-year-old father for several days in the hospital – another episode in his unending battle with ankle sores stemming from service in the Korean War. Gibson also helped her mother, age 81, get through a medical procedure and chauffeured both parents to more than a dozen doctor’s appointments and to their dentist. Her mother has been dealing with a pulled tooth, along with abnormal cells in her bladder and an abnormal EKG.
In addition to their medical needs, Gibson helps them with everything else, from cleaning and dressing her father’s wound daily to buying their groceries and cleaning up the yard. Her parents live in Bartow in central Florida, about 20 minutes from Gibson’s home in the country, and she’s always on call in case her father falls again.
Yet she remains surprisingly upbeat, unfazed by a non-existent social life and a caregiving burden made heavier by the fact she is an only child. “There is never any respite,” she said. “I have to work my doctor’s appointments in around theirs. My mother keeps telling me, ‘Don’t get sick. You can’t get sick!’ ”
To help her parents, Gibson retired from a local hospital just shy of her 59th birthday. She’s now 61 and premature retirement has strained, though not broken her financially. She drained most of her $17,000 emergency fund to meet regular expenses and reluctantly dipped into her IRAs and past employers’ retirement savings plans. Her combined balance is down to $300,000 – or about $12,000 lighter than when she retired, despite a rising stock market. Her lifeline has been a $24,000 pension from her work in state government.
“I wanted to travel,” she said – Australia, New Zealand, Canada – “but I don’t have the money – or the time – for that.” …Learn More
“The economy” was the top priority for the vast majority of American people in one poll last summer. Surely, what they were talking about was quality jobs and economic and financial security for themselves and their children.
Or as my brother, a father of three and service manager at an auto dealership outside Chicago, put it in a recent text message, “No one can afford anything anymore.”
This simple idea seemed to resound throughout the primaries and long presidential campaign. With the election over, I compiled the following wish list for working people based on what the polls and research studies reveal about what they are hoping for.
Good jobs. The disruption created by the transition from an industrial to a service economy has hollowed out the middle over three decades. Despite a remarkably low unemployment rate of 4.9 percent, middle-skill workers face a dilemma: there are a lot of jobs, but most aren’t the right jobs for them.
Consider this detail in the October jobs report. Retail employment increased by a total of 38,000 in August, September, and October. These jobs pay, on average, $553 per week. Meanwhile, 12,000 goods-producing jobs were lost during the same three months, meaning that fewer people are earning industry’s average weekly wage of $1,100. The urgent question is, what are the potential jobs that will bolster the middle class? Healthcare and telecommunications technicians for the New Economy? A related question is, what are the vocational and policy paths to securing better-paying jobs?
Cash on hand. Working Americans are severely strapped for cash. One in three surveyed by the FINRA Investor Education Foundation said they probably could not come up with $2,000 to cover an unexpected expense in the next month, and nearly half said they can’t pay off their full credit card balances every month. While working people are benefiting from the stronger economy, Finra concluded, “large segments of society continue to face financial difficulties, particularly minority populations and those without a college education.” …Learn More
Wyoming government has brought some 535 employees of the state’s executive, legislative and judicial branches into its retirement savings plan since July 2015 under a new policy of automatically enrolling each new hire.
They are free to withdraw from the plan at any time, but only 15 of the 535 have done so – “and not a complaint from anybody,” said Polly Scott, who manages the savings plan and heads employee retirement education.
This technique, borrowed from behavioral economics, addresses the inertia that prevents many people from ever signing up to save in their employer’s plan. So why wait for them to join? Instead, Wyoming uses inertia to benefit state workers: when people are automatically enrolled, research shows, they tend to stay put and save.
This is one piece of a larger effort to educate government workers about what’s required to properly prepare for retirement – and nudge them to do it. The 457 retirement savings plan is crucial. Wyoming’s retired state workers receive Social Security, but the inflation adjustment in their traditional defined benefit pension has virtually been eliminated for the near future. The 457 plan “is voluntary, but it’s not optional if you want a secure retirement,” Scott said.
The heart of the state’s education efforts is a website titled “Your Whole Story” that is on point and explains in clear language likely to benefit employees. Employees are encouraged to increase how much they’re already saving, resist the temptation to withdraw their savings prematurely, and prepare themselves for a long time in retirement in an era of increasing life expectancy.
This initiative is based on a campaign sponsored by the National Association of Government Defined Contribution Administrators (NAGDA) – Scott was NAGDA’s president last year – and designed by the National Association of Retirement Plan Participants. Other states use some version of “Your Whole Story,” including the Missouri State Employees’ Retirement System and Montana Public Employee Retirement Administration.
One problem Wyoming is tackling is young adults who hurt their retirement prospects by withdrawing money from their 457 plans when they leave their state jobs, which “means they’re spending it,” Scott said. Another issue is that more older workers are rolling 457 savings over to private IRAs, which can have higher fees. …Learn More
This blog is for a part-time Macy’s saleswoman and immigrant whom I met in a hospital waiting room – she’d never heard of Social Security.
It is also for a 22-year-old contingent worker I know who lacks steady employment and isn’t regularly accruing credit toward the Social Security pension he will probably need when he retires.
And it is for a 62-year-old eager to claim his benefit right away, possibly short-changing his retirement.
A substantial share of retirees would fall into poverty were it not for the Social Security program passed during the Great Depression. It’s especially important for two groups of people to understand how Social Security calculates their pension benefits: young adults making employment decisions that will impact them decades from now and older people figuring out when to retire.
Yet research shows that many people do not know the basic workings of a program that is crucial to their financial security.
Steve Richardson, a Social Security official in Boston, holds regular seminars to explain the pension program to the public. “The first thing I ask is – before I say my name – ‘How many people in this room know how many years Social Security looks at to determine your pension payment?’
“Not many of them know it’s your high 35 years of earnings.”
To qualify for a pension benefit at all, a person must work full- or part-time for 40 quarters – a total of 10 years. That’s not a difficult hurdle for most to clear during decades in the labor force. What’s central is the size of your future benefit check, which is determined by your highest 35 years of indexed earnings, Richardson said – and that brings us to the math thing. …Learn More
Here’s just some of the evidence of the enormity of the challenge of caring for our elderly parents:
One in three baby boomer women cares for an elderly parent.
Even if they work, these caregivers devote anywhere from eight to 30 hours per week to that parent.
The estimated value of informal senior care provided by family members approaches $500 billion in this country – or double the amount spent on formal, paid care.
Caring for an elderly parent is usually done with love or out of a feeling of familial obligation. But there are real costs to taking on this responsibility, which most often lands squarely on a daughter’s shoulders. These costs could come in the form of lost wages and employer health insurance or in sacrifices of future pay raises or promotions. It’s also more difficult for older women to find a new job if they drop out of the labor force to help an ailing parent.
According to preliminary findings in a new study that used 20 years of data, taking care of a parent does significantly reduce the chances that women in their early 50s to early 60s are working. Interestingly, the number of hours devoted to caring for a family member do not seem to affect women’s decisions about whether or not to work (though the researchers plan to revisit this finding).
But Sean Fahle of the State University of New York in Buffalo and Kathleen McGarry of UCLA said caregivers “may simply leave a job in order to provide care.” Their paper was part of a series presented at the National Bureau of Economic Research this summer. … Learn More
Wives like to retire around the same time as their older husbands – so they can play. But what a difference the baby boom generation has made.
For boomer wives, as members of the first generation of women to enter the U.S. labor force en masse, there can be a steep cost to leaving the labor force at a relatively young age to retire with an older husband. New research by Nicole Maestas of the Harvard Medical School bears out this logic.
It’s obvious that working wives can increase their earnings from work by resisting the urge to retire at a relatively young age. And married women generally earn much more, relative to their husbands, than in the past.
But, more often than their mothers and grandmothers, boomer wives can increase their own Social Security benefits by continuing to work.
To understand how this works, compare boomers with their grandmothers. Their grandmothers were probably housewives for most of their lives and worked sporadically or part-time. As a result, their husbands’ earnings determined the size of the spousal retirement benefits they received from Social Security.
The situation is very different for boomer wives, who often have worked enough to earn their own benefits and wouldn’t qualify for a spousal benefit. Social Security calculates their benefits, as they do for all workers, using the average of her highest 35 years of earnings. But here’s the rub: many boomer mothers still haven’t accumulated 35 years of substantial earnings, because they took some time off or worked part-time to raise children. … Learn More