Why a Roth IRA Might Be the Best Retirement Account for Beginners

One of the easiest ways to start saving for retirement is through a Roth IRA, and some would say it’s the smartest move a beginner saver can make. A Roth IRA could be a better choice than a 401(k) or a traditional IRA for a few key reasons.

Roth IRA: A Primer

A Roth IRA is an individual retirement account (IRA) that permits qualified withdrawals on a tax-free basis provided specific conditions are reached. The greatest distinction between a Roth IRA and a traditional IRA is that Roth IRAs are funded with after-tax dollars. While the contributions are not tax-deductible, this account offers tax-free growth and tax-free withdrawals in retirement. As long as you have owned your Roth IRA account for 5 years and you’re age 59 ½ or older, you are allowed to withdraw your money without owing federal taxes. In 2021, you can contribute up to $6,000 to a Roth IRA ($7,000 if you are age 50 or older and eligible for catch-up contributions). This is lower than the limit for a 401(k) but it’s still a sizable amount to help keep you on track for a secure retirement.

Roth IRA Advantages

  • No RMDs. Unlike 401(k)s and traditional IRAs, which are subject to required minimum distribution (RMD) withdrawals after age 72 (and penalties if you fail to make the withdrawals), there are no RMDs with Roth IRAs, so you can withdraw funds on your own schedule.
  • No time limit. You may invest money into your account for as many years as you have earned income that qualifies. This includes wages, salaries, commissions, and bonuses from an employer. If you are self-employed or in a business partnership, this would include net earnings from your business, less any deduction authorized for contributions made to retirement plans on the individual’s behalf and further reduced by 50% of the individual’s self-employment taxes. Funds pertaining to divorce, such as alimony, child support, or in a settlement, may also be contributed.
  • No employer-plan restrictions. Regardless of whether you are covered by an employer’s retirement plan, such as a 401(k), you are still eligible to contribute the maximum annual amount to a Roth IRA as long as you don’t exceed the IRS’s income limits. For 2021, those with modified adjusted gross incomes (MAGI) below $140,000 (single filers) or $208,000 (married filing jointly) are eligible.
  • No Impact on Social Security. Whereas distributions from a 401(k) or traditional IRA contribute to determining if your Social Security benefits are taxed (that happens once income hits a certain limit), Roth IRA distributions do not. This means that your Roth IRA withdrawals will never affect your Social Security checks.
  • No taxes for heirs. You may pass your Roth IRA on to your beneficiaries, and their withdrawals will be tax-free. (If you inherit a Roth IRA, you are required to take RMDs, but they are tax-free as long as the original account owner held the account for at least 5 years.)

Before You Invest in a Roth IRA

An important element to keep in mind is the 401(k) match. If your employer matches 401(k) contributions, make sure you take full advantage of this free investment money before investing in a Roth IRA.

A Will vs. A Living Revocable Trust: What’s the Difference and Which Do You Need?

Both a will and a living revocable trust are valuable estate tools that transfer wealth to heirs—and both can work together to establish a complete estate plan—but what’s the difference between each, and which do you really need? We’ll go over this in the article below.

What is a Will?

A will is a written document that expresses what should happen to your property and assets after you die. As such, it becomes active upon your death. You can also appoint guardians for your children, name an executor, forgive debts, and specify how to pay your taxes.

What is a Living Revocable Trust?

Unlike a will, which becomes active after your death, a living trust kicks in immediately, and you are fully in charge of your trust while you are living. After your death, the person you appoint as the successor trustee will handle your affairs as you’ve outlined them in the document. There are also irrevocable trusts, which are generally created for tax purposes. Unlike revocable trusts, which can be changed at any time by the grantor, an irrevocable trust cannot be amended after it is established.

The Main Difference Between a Will and a Living Revocable Trust

After your death, the appointed executor of your will must work with the probate court to sort the terms of your will. This is a highly-structured process that can be drawn-out and expensive. A living trust, however, appoints a trustee to manage and distribute trust property after your death. Because the trust owns the assets and the trust hasn’t died, there is no need for probate. A living trust is a private contract between you as the grantor and the trust entity. Generally, the grantor serves as the trustee of his own revocable living trust, thus managing it during his lifetime. A successor trustee can be appointed to step in and oversee handling of the trust when the grantor dies, settling it and allocating its property to the beneficiaries named in the trust documents.

Which is Better, a Will or a Trust?

A trust simplifies the procedure of transferring an estate after your death while preventing a lengthy and possibly costly course of probate. However, if you have minor children, creating a will that names a guardian is crucial in protecting both the minors and any inheritance. The decision between a will and a trust is a personal choice, though some experts advise to have both. While a trust is typically expensive and legally complex, a will is generally less expensive and easier to establish.

Which Do You Need?

Almost everyone should have a will, but not everyone will need a living trust. If you have minor children as well as property and assets for which you would feel more settled knowing they were in a trust, then having both a will and a living revocable trust may make sense. Keep in mind that they are two separate legal documents, so one does not override the other unless issues arise, in which case a living trust will likely trump a will because a trust is its own entity.

No matter which you choose, it’s important to get your affairs in order earlier rather later. If you have minor children, establishing a will that grants guardianship should be a priority. Beyond that, making an estate plan now can save money and time later, especially for the loved ones you would be leaving behind.

Tax Breaks for Individuals Were Extended Under the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021

In late December of 2020, President Trump signed into law the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (the Act), which included the long-anticipated pandemic-related Tax Relief Act of 2020. It also included the Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Relief Act of 2020, which extends or makes permanent numerous tax provisions, including tax breaks for individuals. The following is an overview of these key tax-related provisions for individuals.

Medical Expense Deduction

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) set the threshold for itemized medical expense deductions at 7.5% of Adjusted Gross Income (AGI), but this threshold was scheduled to return to 10% of AGI as set in the Affordable Care Act. However, the expense deduction had been extended perpetually by Congress, allowing a taxpayer to continue to deduct their total qualified unreimbursed medical expenses that exceed only 7.5% of their AGI. The Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Relief Act of 2020 made this threshold permanent.

Charitable Contribution Deduction

Generally, charitable donations are tax-deductible only if you itemize your taxes, but the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act incorporated a provision that authorized individuals who don’t itemize to deduct up to $300 ($600 for married couples filing jointly) in cash donations in 2020. The Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Relief Act of 2020 extended this provision into 2021 and makes it more valuable for married couples filing jointly.

Taxpayers who do itemize their deductions are typically limited to a 60% cap (i.e., the amount of charitable donations you could deduct generally could not exceed 60% of your AGI). As in 2020, that limit has been suspended in 2021.

Mortgage Insurance Premium Deduction

The Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Relief Act of 2020 includes a one-year extension of the mortgage insurance premium deduction, so premiums paid or accrued through December 31, 2021 can be deducted on tax returns by those who itemized deductions and otherwise qualify for the mortgage insurance premium deduction.

Exclusion for Canceled Mortgage Debt

Cancelled or forgiven debt by a commercial lender can be counted as income for tax purposes. However, the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007 generally allowed for taxpayers to exclude canceled mortgage debt from their taxable income, but only for a finite number of years. The Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Relief Act of 2020 extended the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007 through 2025.

Residential Energy-Efficient Property Credit

Individuals who have implemented certain energy-efficient upgrades to their homes (i.e., solar electricity, solar water heaters, geothermal heat pumps, and small wind turbines) are eligible for the residential energy-efficient property credit. The credit had been set to phase out after 2021, but the Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Relief Act of 2020 extended it as follows:

  • Continuing the rate applicable to 2020, eligible property that is put into service in 2022 will qualify for a credit worth up to 26% of the property cost
  • Eligible property that is put into service in 2023 will qualify for a credit worth up to 22% of the property cost.

 

How to Tackle Snowball Debt After a Year of Furloughs and Layoffs

For the greater part of 2020, millions of Americans have faced furloughs and layoffs, subsequently relying on credit cards to keep their heads above water. Here’s how to get out from under those ballooning balances.

The Coronavirus Effect on Debt

When the stimulus checks were dispersed last spring, millions of citizens used those relief funds to pay down debt. However, a number of Americans who’ve been laid off or have had hours cut this year don’t have a financial safety net, so they’ve had to fall back on credit cards. Add to this the number of Americans who lost jobs with employer-sponsored health insurance and are now dealing with unpaid medical bills because of the pandemic, and it’s no wonder why so many Americans are struggling under the weight of debt now more than ever.

Strategies to Pay Down Credit Card Debt

If you’ve had to rely on credit cards this year, steps you can take to diminish your balance include:

Communicate with Creditors

At the start of the pandemic many credit card companies began advertising COVID-related assistance programs. Some of these have since expired, but it’s still worth looking into with each credit card company. You will most likely have to prove that you’re experiencing hardship, but most companies are willing to provide at least some short-term measures of relief, such as flexible payments or a lower interest rate.

Request a Lower Interest Rate

Credit card companies are unlikely to reduce APRs by a lot, but every little bit helps. And if you’ve improved your credit score, you have a greater chance of securing a lower rate.

Transfer Balances

By transferring the balance on a high-interest credit card to one with a low or 0% introductory interest rate, you can slash the overall interest you’ll pay on your debt. Just be sure to pay down the balance during the duration of the rate decrease, or you risk landing right where you started—a high balance coupled with a high interest rate.

Pay Off High Interest Credit Cards

If you need to pay off debt on more than one credit card, there are two conventional approaches to do it effectively.

The first is called the debt snowball, which involves paying off the card with the smallest balance first. Once that card is paid off, apply that monthly payment to the monthly payment of the card with the next highest balance. Each payoff builds momentum until you work your way to paying off the card with the largest balance.

The second strategy for paying off credit cards is called the avalanche method, which aims to tackle debts on the cards with the highest interest rates first. While the debt snowball can provide bite-sized mental victories, this method helps to better curtail interest payments over the life of your credit card debt.

 

Is Social Security Headed for Bankruptcy?

Beginning next year, for the first time in 39 years, Social Security is projected to dispense more money than it takes in, which means that the money being collected by the program will soon not be enough to cover the benefits being paid out. Does this mean that Social Security is going bankrupt?

How the Program Came to Be and How it Works

In 1935, after decades of American workers advocated for a social insurance program that could help support retired workers, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law. Social Security taxes were first collected in 1937 with payments to retired workers beginning in 1940.

A dedicated tax on earnings funds the Social Security program, and the collected money is disbursed as retirement benefits for retirees in the form of a monthly check. How much money a retired worker gets from the program is measured in “work credits”, which are based on total income earned during their career. The program also supplies survivor benefits in many cases to widowed spouses.

What Went Wrong?

Social Security was signed into law over 80 years ago, and there have been significant shifts in demographics since then. The baby-boom generation is retiring, tipping the scale on the worker-to-beneficiary ratio, but other contributing factors include:

  • growing income inequality
  • sizable decline in birth rates
  • legal immigration, which has been cut in half over the last two decades
  • Longer life expectancy as a result of modern medicine, which means people are collecting checks for more years than earlier generations

Is Bankruptcy in the Future for Social Security?

Rumors of the program’s impending bankruptcy have been circulating for years, and some people believe that Social Security funds are going to run out, leaving the workers who are paying into the system now without benefits. This is unlikely to be the case, but lawmakers rightfully continue to discuss proposals to Social Security legislation that would protect the program in coming years. While GOP lawmakers have expressed a desire to raise the minimum age at which you can begin to receive payments, Democrat lawmakers have proposed increasing the payroll tax that pays for Social Security. Neither plan is perfect. The GOP proposal would take years before any savings are realized, and the democrats’ plan to tax the rich would only put the program on borrowed time until it’s back in the same position. A bipartisan plan is needed for the future of Social Security, but how long it will take lawmakers to get there remains to be seen.