The Three Sexiest Retirement Savings Strategies

Great retirement planning is sexy!

Start planning now to have the retirement you choose, not the one that’s forced on you.

 

I just used the words “sexy” and “retirement” in the same sentence and I’m serious! Everybody needs to save for retirement, we all know that. That’s not sexy, that’s just a fact of life. But if you can get free money or tax free income while you’re saving – well, that makes it downright sexy!

 

So what are the three sexiest retirement savings strategies? The employer match, the Roth IRA, and the solo 401(k). Let me explain why.

 

First: The Employer Match. An employer match is where your boss matches a certain amount of your 401(k) contribution. For example: let’s say you make $50,000 a year and your employer has a 3% match. Three percent of $50,000 is $1,500. Your employer will “match” what you put in, so you’ll need to contribute at least $1,500 into your 401(k) to get the $1,500 from your employer. That’s free money to you! When you contribute to your 401(k) – it’s not counted on your tax return, but you still pay social security and medicare withholding on that money. The employer match has no withholding on it. It’s a straight contribution to your retirement savings. Free money. Free money is sexy! If you work for a company with an employer matching program, you need to get in on the action!

 

Second: the Roth IRA. A Roth IRA has no up front tax benefits to it. You put the money in after you’ve already paid tax on that money. What’s sexy about the Roth is that your investment grows tax-free. And more importantly, when you retire – you take that money out tax-free! I cannot stress just how valuable being able to access tax-free income during your retirement is! The Roth is probably the most accessible of the retirement options I’m talking about, but there are limits as to who can contribute to a Roth. Here’s a link to the IRS website showing the current limitations: Roth Limitations

 

Third: The Solo 401(k).  If you’re a solo business owner, or you and your spouse own a business together, then a solo 401(k) might be the plan for you.   For one thing – you can contribute up to 100% of your earned income (up to the maximum contribution allowed) to your 401(k).  This is great for folks who are actively trying to “catch up” on their retirement savings (and also happen to have another source of income!)

 

A solo 401(k) also allows you to make an “employer match” of up to 25% of your earned income.  You see, when you work for yourself, you’re both the employer and the employee!

 

So how do those numbers work?  Let’s say you own an S Corporation and you pay yourself a wage of $50,000. You can make an elective deferral – that’s what they call your 401(k) contribution – of up to $18,000 (or $24,000 if you’re 50 or older.)   That means your W2 is going to show that you have $32,000 of taxable income.  ($50,000 minus the $18,000 that you applied towards your 401(k).  You’ll have paid social security and medicare taxes on the full $50,000 – because you still pay the FICA on your retirement savings, just like if you worked for someone else.

 

But now, you’re still allowed to make an employer match of up to 25% of your earned income – in this case, I mean wages.  So, you could contribute another $12,500 towards your 401(k) as an employer match TAX FREE!  You don’t pay regular income tax on that money because it’s a business expense, right?  So it’s deducted from your business income as an employee benefit (where you’re the employee.)   And, since it’s an employer match – you don’t pay FICA either.  How cool is that?

 

Saving for retirement is necessary for everybody, but if can manage to swing tax free savings or tax free income it makes saving much more exciting.  You might even call it sexy!

 

 

Time Value of Money and Taxes

Photo by Brian Mooney at Flickr.com

“Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it … he who doesn’t … pays it.”

-Albert Einstein

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You probably have come across time value of money in one your finance classes or at least have a basic understanding of the idea.  Time value of money, as defined by Investopedia.com, is “the idea that money available at the present time is worth more than the same amount in the future due to its potential earning capacity.”  Basically, money is worth more now than it is later.  This idea would not exist however, if there was no concept of “interest”.

 

There are two types of interest – simple and compound.  Simple interest is interest paid on a beginning principal balance only.  If you are receiving monies, the interest earned in a given period is not added back to the principal and then applied the interest rate again and appears perfectly linear on a graph.  Compound interest is interest paid on a beginning balance and any interest that has accumulated in given a period of time.  On a graph compound interest appears with a geometric (or exponential) growth pattern.

 

The present value of a future sum is the core formula for the time value of money.  All time value of money equations are based off this formula so it is extremely important to review.  It is expressed as such:

 

PV = FV / (1 + i)^n

Where

PV = Present Value
FV = Future Value
i = interest rate
n = number of periods

 

The future value of a present sum is expressed as FV = PV * (1 + i) ^n.  We won’t discuss perpetuities or annuities in this post nor will we execute any actual calculations with the TMV formulas.

 

So how can we use this time value of money concept for tax optimization and more importantly, individual wealth?

 

Retirement Planning:  We have all seen the example where Johnny starts an IRA at age 35 while Susie starts one at 21 and the amazing difference of the account values when they both reach age 59 and a half.  This is because Susie’s IRA endured 14 more years of compounding.  The choice between a roth and a traditional IRA has important tax implications and time value of money has some influence in the decision.  With a Roth IRA for example, the taxpayer can receive tax free distributions of earnings at age 59 and a half while with a traditional IRA, the taxpayer receives an above the line deduction on IRA contributions – given that AGI thresholds are not crossed – and is taxed on the distributions.  If your income is expected to increase as you get older and your marginal tax rate is also expected to increase, then a Roth IRA makes more sense – naturally.  Do the immediate tax savings of traditional IRA contributions outweigh Roth IRA tax free distributions?

 

Tax Planning: Accelerate deductions, postponing income recognition.  This concept goes hand in hand with the time value of money concept – money today is worth more than money tomorrow.  By accelerating deductions you essentially reduce your taxable income and end up with a bigger refund or smaller balance due.   Some examples include prepaying your home mortgage interest in a given year, making an alimony payment in December as opposed to January, and writing off an asset using section 179 expensing or bonus depreciation as opposed to depreciating it over several years.  The amount of tax savings probably doesn’t have enough compounding power for individuals to make a huge substantial presence but for well established businesses it most definitely does.  Examples of postponing income are increasing your retirement plan contributions to a 401(k) plan, legally deferring compensation, and delaying the collection of any debts you are owed.

 

Investment Planning:  Younger people can be more aggressive because they have more time to make up for their losses.  A younger person’s portfolio can afford more risky securities such as stocks.  As one gets older, the switch to dividend producing stocks and bonds usually happens because the “interest rate” is more stable.

 

With time value of money, the uncertainty of the interest variable is the most difficult to tame.  Those who can predict its patterns the best, tend to make the most money.

What Every Divorced Woman Needs to Know About Retirement: Social Security

social security benefits

Photo by SalFalko at Flickr.com

This may come as a surprise to you, but your ex-husband could turn out to be good for something after all. If you were married for at least 10 years, you may be entitled to Social Security benefits based upon your ex’s income—that is, if he’s entitled to Social Security benefits.

 

Here’s how it works: let’s say you’re thinking about retiring. You go to the Social Security website and find out what your benefits would be if you retire at 62, if you retire at your full benefit age, and if you retire at age 70. Then you call Social Security to find out what your benefits would be if you used your ex’s Social Security benefits. The number is (800) 772-1213. If you retire at 62, you can get 35% of his benefit; at full retirement age, you can get 50% of his benefit.

 

Let me show you with an example: Jane is 60 years old and she’s contemplating what she wants to do about retiring, whether to start taking benefits at 62 or hold out until later. She runs the numbers on the Social Security website ( www.ssa.gov )  and gets the following information:

 

  • Retire at 62, monthly benefit: $ 585
  • Retire at 66, monthly benefit: $ 820
  • Retire at 70, monthly benefit: $1,040

 

Those aren’t great numbers. Jane didn’t always work because she was raising a family, and when she did work, well, she didn’t make all that much money. But Jane’s ex-husband, Tom, made plenty of money. Using the Quick Retirement Calculator at ssa.gov: http://www.socialsecurity.gov/OACT/quickcalc/index.html.

 

Jane estimates Tom’s Social Security earnings will be $2,586 per month at retirement. Now she’s going to want to actually talk to the Social Security folks to get the real numbers, but the calculator will give her a rough idea.

 

So, if Jane retires at 62, she can qualify for 35% of Tom’s money which would be $905 per month. If she waits until her full retirement age, she can qualify for 50% of Tom’s money which would be $1,293. For Jane, she can make more money retiring using Tom’s benefits than she can make on her own.

 

This is really important to know:

  • Your ex-husband will not lose his Social Security benefits if you use them
  • You cannot be currently remarried and qualify for your ex’s benefits
  • If you have had more than one marriage that lasted for over 10 years; you may use the spouse that gives you the greater benefit

 

Now here’s the really sweet deal: Let’s say Jane has a job she really likes and is able to keep working past full retirement age. Jane keeps working but she claims Tom’s social security benefits when she hits her retirement age. Then, let’s say because of her working, her benefits at 70 actually go up to $1500 a month instead of the $1040 that she had calculated back when she was 60. Jane can switch back and take her own, higher, retirement benefits now. That’s so awesome!

 

This is also important: If you claim Social Security based upon your ex-husband’s benefits before you reach full retirement age you will not be able to switch back to your full benefit at age 70. You really want to think long and hard about those numbers before you retire early.

 

What you’re eligible to receive from Social Security is very personal. It’s all based upon your individual contributions, you can’t make any assumptions based upon what your friends or neighbors get. You can learn what you’re eligible for by creating your own account at the Social Security website. It only takes about 10 minutes. Finding out about benefits from an ex-spouse will take a bit longer because it involves a phone call and the hold times can be pretty long. Isn’t it worth finding out?