Personal Finance Tips

Retirement investing through the decades

Westchester NY accountant Paul Herman of Herman & Company CPA’s is here for all your financial needs. Please contact us if you have questions, and to receive your free personal finance consultation!

By Bankrate

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Investing to grow your retirement savings is a long-term project. The earlier you begin, the better, thanks to compounding interest.

You don’t have to worry about saving a lot at first. It’s all about forming a plan you can stick to.

Here are suggestions for retirement planning through the decades.

Your 20s: Open a 401(k) and IRA

You will likely land your first job in your 20s and can begin saving money for retirement. But before doing so, make sure you have enough cash to pay for three to six months’ worth of living expenses, in case an emergency arises. If you set up a retirement account and then withdraw from it to pay for emergency expenses, you may be subject to taxes and a penalty payment.

Once you have emergency savings, start funding a 401(k) if your employer offers one, especially if the company matches some of your contributions. If you turn down the option to contribute to a 401(k) plan that matches, you’re essentially giving away free money. In 2017, you can contribute up to $18,000 in a 401(k).

You also can open an individual retirement account, or IRA. In 2017, you can contribute up to $5,500.

If you can’t save enough to maintain both a 401(k) and an IRA, go for the 401(k) because contributions are automatic, pretax and subject to matching.

Your 30s: Consider a Roth, adjust asset mix

If you open an IRA in your 20s or 30s, you’ll want to consider a Roth IRA. Unlike a regular IRA, you don’t receive a tax deduction for contributions to a Roth. But when you withdraw money from a Roth IRA during retirement, it’s all tax-free. The money you withdraw from a regular IRA is taxed as regular income.

So if your tax rate is likely to be higher when you withdraw money from your IRA than it is now, you’re better off with a Roth IRA.

When it comes to allocating your retirement investments, try to put at least 60 percent in stocks during your 20s and 30s. But it all boils down to your risk tolerance. If you are unwilling to stomach losses, don’t put everything in stocks. The worst thing you can do is buy stocks and then sell them for a big loss.

Your 40s: Stay focused on the long run

Many people purchase homes in their 30s and 40s. It’s important to remember that your house is not part of your retirement plan, says Mick Heyman, an independent financial adviser in San Diego.

“I haven’t seen too many times that somebody buys a great home, sells it at 60 and then lives off the profits,” he says. So don’t spend so much money on a home that you can’t afford to save for your retirement as well.

You also must be realistic in providing for your children. Don’t spend so excessively on your kids that you neglect your retirement savings goals. That may even mean putting retirement plans ahead of your children’s college. Tuition payments can come from many sources, but retirement funds will have to come largely from the parents.

Your 50s: Capitalize on catch-ups

The 50s are the peak earning years for most people, so it’s even more critical to save. The government gives you some assistance, allowing increased contributions to IRAs and 401(k)s through “catch-up provisions.”

For IRAs, people 50 and older can contribute an extra $1,000 this year — $6,500 in total.

For 401(k) plans, participants 50 and older can put in an extra $6,000 — $24,000 in total.

If you have children who are now out of the house, you might have enough money to finance those catch-up payments.

Your 50s are a good time to opt for more safety in your asset allocation, experts say.

“Somewhere in your 40s and 50s, you want to transfer to more conservative stocks, and make sure you aren’t all in stocks,” Heyman says. “Start having 20 to 30 percent in bonds.” He also recommends orienting your stock holdings toward dividend-paying blue chips. They offer safety and income payments that you’ll appreciate during retirement.

Your 60s: Plan an income strategy

This is the decade in which you may well retire, which means you’ll begin withdrawing from your retirement funds.

The traditional rule of thumb is that you can cash out about 4 percent of your portfolio in each year of retirement. But with low interest rates limiting the amount of income your portfolio will generate, 3 percent may be more appropriate now.

Ideally, you should have two years’ worth of living expenses in cash to avoid having to dump your investments when markets are weak.

Adjust your asset allocation so that bonds account for a larger part of your portfolio, given your need for safety and income.

Paul S. Herman CPA, a tax expert for individuals and businesses, is the founder of Herman & Company, CPA’s PC in White Plains, New York.  He provides guidance and strategies to improve clients’ financial well-being.

Tax bill too big to pay all at once? Sign up for an IRS payment plan

Westchester NY accountant Paul Herman of Herman & Company CPA’s is here for all your financial needs. Please contact us if you have questions, and to receive your free personal finance consultation!

By Bankrate

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Do you owe the IRS money this year? You have several options for paying your tax online. But if you can’t pay it all at once, the IRS gives you payment plan choices.

Note, however, that your first step must be to file your tax return on time. Failure to do so can result in stiff penalties.

Paying with plastic

Some taxpayers find the easiest way to pay is with a credit card. The IRS has awarded contracts to three companies to accept payments by plastic: Official Payments, Link2Gov and WorldPay. They take American Express, Discover, MasterCard, Visa or a variety of debit cards.

Each company has its own fee schedule that will add to your bill.

IRS

If you do pay a fee, make a note of it for next year’s filing. The IRS has ruled that this amount is deductible as a miscellaneous itemized expense.

Keep in mind that if you don’t pay off your credit card in full, you’ll start racking up interest charges on your account. In some cases, though, your credit card interest charges might fall below IRS penalties and interest you’d owe if you don’t pay on time.

A low-interest credit card may be a good option in this scenario.

Installment plans

If your tax bill is too large for a credit card, the IRS will take monthly payments.

Approval is not automatic unless:

  • You owe less than $10,000.
  • You have paid taxes in a timely way during the past five years without entering into an installment agreement.
  • You can pay the full amount within three years.

To get the program going, you can attach Form 9465, Installment Agreement Request, to the front of your tax return. Or, you can request an installment agreement online at the IRS website if the total amount you owe is not more than $50,000.

Taxpayers who seek an installment plan must provide detailed financial information, including data on equity assets, that the IRS will verify.

Keep in mind that paying over time, even to Uncle Sam, will cost you more.

  • Expect to pay a one-time user fee of $225, up from $120 last year.
  • The fee drops to $107 for direct-debit agreements.
  • Some lower-income taxpayers could pay a reduced fee of $43.
  • Applying online is your best bet: You pay a $149 one-time fee, or only $31 if you agree to a direct-debit plan.

You’ll be billed for any fee when the agency sends you a notice detailing your payment terms. Plus, penalties and interest continue to accrue to your unpaid tax bill. The IRS may also file a federal tax lien against you, which will be released when you pay off your installment loan.

Another way to deal with a large tax bill is with a home equity loan. That way you won’t have to pay IRS penalties and fees.

Offer in compromise

What if you can’t pay off your tax bill, in whole or part, in three years or five years or even longer? Then it might be time to negotiate.

The IRS might be willing to accept a lump-sum payment offer of less than your total tax bill if it is realistic. In these cases, the agency hopes to get some taxpayer money sooner than it would after years of costly collection efforts.

The IRS will review your financial situation and future income potential to determine whether your offer is appropriate. Be warned, however: This program was designed only for extreme cases, and few filers will qualify for the program. If you believe your situation does indeed meet the requirements, you need to file two forms: Form 656, Offer in Compromise, and Form 433-A, Collection Information Statement.

To find out whether you qualify for an offer in compromise before filling out the paperwork, use the IRS’ online pre-qualifier tool. The questionnaire format will let you know if you’re eligible, as well as help determine an acceptable preliminary offer amount.

Options for offers in compromise include:

  • Lump sum cash offer — This must be paid in five or fewer installments within five months after the offer is accepted. You must include 20 percent of the offer amount plus a $186 application fee.
  • Periodic payment offer — This is paid in six or more monthly installments within 24 months after the offer is accepted. You must produce the first proposed installment payment plus $186.

The $186 fee is waived for qualifying low-income taxpayers.

The IRS has created a special website with “what if” scenarios regarding tax and payment issues for taxpayers who are having a hard time making their payments.

Regardless of which payment plan method you choose, make your decision now. Delay will only compound your financial and tax problems since penalties and interest charges will continue to accrue. By sending in any amount when you file your return, at least you’ll ultimately reduce your interest and penalty charges.

Paul S. Herman CPA, a tax expert for individuals and businesses, is the founder of Herman & Company, CPA’s PC in White Plains, New York.  He provides guidance and strategies to improve clients’ financial well-being.

Beware the costly, complicated AMT, or alternative minimum tax

Westchester NY accountant Paul Herman of Herman & Company CPA’s is here for all your financial needs. Please contact us if you have questions, and to receive your free personal finance consultation!

By Bankrate

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The alternative minimum tax, or AMT, is widely unpopular and has been a perennial punching bag whenever tax reform is discussed. President Donald Trump has vowed to kill the AMT, which cost him $31 million on his 2005 tax return.

This parallel tax calculation method has been around since 1969 to ensure that wealthy taxpayers didn’t use loopholes to escape paying their fair share of taxes. The original target was 155 filers with the then-exorbitant income of $200,000 who avoided paying any federal taxes.

For many decades the AMT wasn’t indexed for inflation, so more and more middle-income taxpayers were subject to the tax. A 2013 law fixed that, so the AMT is now adjusted each year to reflect inflation.

What exactly is the alternative minimum tax?

The alternative minimum tax, commonly referred to as the AMT, has its own set of rates (26 percent and 28 percent) and requires a separate computation that could substantially boost your tax bill.

Basically, it’s the difference between your regular tax bill, figured using ordinary income tax rates, and your AMT bill, figured by filling out more IRS paperwork. When there’s a difference, you must pay that amount, the AMT, in addition to your regular tax.

Common tax breaks disallowed

The AMT rejects or reduces many common tax breaks used every year by individual taxpayers to lower their IRS bills.

For example, under the AMT:

  • You cannot deduct state and local taxes.
  • If you are 65 or older, have lots of itemized medical deductions and fall into the AMT, you’ll lose some of those write-offs.
  • Miscellaneous itemized deductions, which must exceed 2 percent of your adjusted gross income under the regular tax system, are disallowed under the AMT.
  • Personal exemptions may be disqualified.
  • While mortgage interest on your main and second home is still AMT-deductible, home equity loan interest is restricted. It can’t be deducted unless the money is used solely to pay for home improvements.
  • Real estate property taxes also are disallowed as deductions under the AMT.
  • Some tax credits that reduce your regular tax liability do not reduce what you owe under the AMT. Once you add back these disallowed credits and run the numbers, you might be subject to a bigger IRS bill if your taxable income exceeds the annual AMT exemption amount for your filing status.

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Many of the tax breaks not allowed under the AMT system do affect predominantly wealthy individuals or businesses with complicated tax circumstances. These include:

  • Incentive stock options.
  • Intangible drilling costs.
  • Tax-exempt interest from certain private activity bonds.
  • Depletion and accelerated depreciation on certain leased personal or real property.

Considering making a real estate investment?

Do more to pay more

To help sort through the AMT mess, some taxpayers turn to computer software packages, most of which include AMT computation, or hire professional help.

For the past couple of years, the IRS has provided some free AMT calculation assistance. AMT Assistant is an online tool that helps taxpayers determine whether they owe the tax. You just answer a few questions about entries on your draft 1040 and the system does the rest. Based on your entries, the calculator will tell you that either you do not owe the AMT or that you must go further by filling out Form 6251 to find out how much you owe.

But the IRS plans to retire the tool after the close of this filing season. Fewer people need it since it’s easy to figure out whether you owe the tax by using tax preparation software, including through the IRS’ Free File, which automatically calculates any tax owed.

If you find you must pay the AMT, the extra money you owe is never welcome. But dealing with it now is better than the alternative: letting the IRS discover that you should have paid it. Then you’ll owe interest and penalties, too.

Paul S. Herman CPA, a tax expert for individuals and businesses, is the founder of Herman & Company, CPA’s PC in White Plains, New York.  He provides guidance and strategies to improve clients’ financial well-being.

Any U.S. tax advice contained in the body of this website is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by the recipient for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed under the Internal Revenue Code or applicable state or local tax law provisions.