Hidden Retirement Fees to Be Aware Of

Financial advisors commonly advise their clients to seek investments with high returns in order to maximize their retirement funds, but most investors don’t realize that high fees are eating into those earnings.

While fund fees have steadily declined in recent years, many investors don’t realize how much they’re paying in fees to begin with or how much these expenses and other investment costs are eating into their retirement savings. Remember that as your investment returns compound over time, so do the fees, which means your payments could accumulate to 2% or more.

Below are some of those hidden fees and what you can do to avoid them.

Expense Ratios

This refers to the annual fees charged by all mutual funds, index funds, and exchange-traded funds as a percentage of your investment in the fund. Expense ratios apply to all types of retirement funds, such as your 401(k), individual retirement account, or brokerage account, and they cut a percentage of your investment in the fund depending on its annual yield.

Mutual Fund Transaction Fees

This is a fee you pay a broker to buy and sell some mutual funds on your behalf, similar to a “trade commission” that a broker would charge to buy or sell stock.

Sales Load

These fees surface when a broker successfully sells a fund to you that has a sales charge or commission.

Administrative Fees

These fees are associated with maintaining your portfolio or brokerage account.

Brokerage Account Inactivity Fees

If your account allows you to buy and trade at any time, you could face an unexpected inactivity charge if you don’t trade for a few months.

To determine whether your retirement fees are too high, check the fee disclosure and look at the expense ratios on the mutual funds you are invested in. Likewise, check these fees before you invest in a mutual fund you are interested in.

To help balance your investment accounts and minimize your retirement fees, take advantage of lower-fee mutual funds if your 401(k) plan already has an expense ratio of over 1%.

Finally, be aware that fees may also be related to how much advice you’re getting and where that advice is coming from. Human advisors are more expensive than robo-advisors, and an actively managed fund will cost more than an index fund or an exchange-traded fund (ETF).

The Effect of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act on Employee Reimbursement

Are your employees reimbursed for work-related travel expenses? If not, you might want to reconsider. Changes under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act make reimbursements even more attractive to employees.

The new tax code implemented significant changes to moving and travel expenses, including business-related travel expenses incurred by employees. Under the previous law, work-related travel expenses that weren’t reimbursed were generally deductible on an employee’s individual tax return (subject to a 50% limit for meals and entertainment) as a miscellaneous itemized deduction. However, many employees weren’t able to take advantage of the deduction because they a) didn’t itemize deductions, or b) didn’t have enough miscellaneous itemized expenses to exceed the 2% of adjusted gross income (AGI) floor that applied.

With the new tax code, business travel is still entirely deductible, but not by individual taxpayers because miscellaneous itemized deductions, including employee business expenses, are no longer permitted to be claimed on individual tax returns. Instead, only businesses are able to deduct these expenses, which is why business travel expense reimbursements are now more significant to current employees and more attractive to prospective employees.

In order to be deductible, travel expenses must be valid business expenses and the reimbursements must adhere to IRS rules – either with an accountable plan or the per diem method.

Accountable Plan

Employee expenses reimbursed under an employer’s accountable plan do not contribute to the employee’s income. The accountable plan is a formal agreement to advance, reimburse or grant allowances for business expenses. To qualify as an accountable plan, it must meet the following criteria:

  • Payments must be for “ordinary and necessary” business expenses
  • Employees must substantiate these expenses (including amounts, times, and places) monthly
  • Employees must return any advance or allowances they can’t substantiate within a reasonable time, typically 120 days

Plans that fail to meet these guidelines will be treated by the IRS as “non-accountable”,

and reimbursements will be included in the employee’s gross income as taxable wages subject to withholding and employment taxes (employer and employee).

Per Diem

In some cases, the per diem method may be used. Instead of tracking actual business travel expenses, employers use IRS tables to determine reimbursements for lodging, meal, and incidental expenses. Substantiation of time, place, and amount must still be provided, and the IRS imposes heavy penalties on businesses that routinely pay employees more than the appropriate per diem amount.

If you have any questions about the TCJA’s impact on your business, please feel free to reach out to me at sreed@mkrcpas-staging.mkrhoym8-liquidwebsites.com.

How to Determine if Your Taxes Will Increase for the 2019 Tax-Filing Season

President Trump signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in December of last year, but the income tax credits, deductions, and individual tax rates aren’t applicable until the 2019 tax-filing season. Various factors, such as your tax bracket, can influence whether your taxes will increase under the new tax code. Below are some indicators that could signal an increase on your tax bill.

Do You Have a Large Family?

The new tax code eliminated personal and dependent exemption deductions, which was estimated to have been $4,150 each in 2018 under previous law. However, standard deductions were nearly doubled. For 2018-2025 the deductions are as follows:

  • $12,000 for single (previously $6,350)
  • $24,000 for joint-filing marries couples (previously $12,700)
  • $18,000 for heads of households (previously $9,350)

The elimination of dependent exemptions hurts some families and benefits others. Large families, who don’t benefit from increased standard deductions, will be hit the hardest.

Are You an Average Taxpayer?

If you have a conventional job, file a W-2, and don’t own a lot of property or foreign investments, your taxes won’t likely increase. Instead, you should see a modest decrease as a result of lower tax rates, increased standard deduction, and an increased child tax credit. Despite this, however, there are thousands of potential tax situations that could affect the average taxpayer differently (i.e. a wealthier couple with children who itemize state and local taxes would be limited to a $10,000 deduction under the new law – a loss of $20,000 in deductions – and would likely have higher taxes under the new tax code).

Are You Withholding Enough from Your Paycheck?

The IRS changed the tax withholding tables back in February. The tables are calculated by how much income you earn and the number of allowances you claim. If you aren’t withholding enough from your paycheck, you could end up owing taxes. Check the tax withholding tables on IRS.gov to determine how much income tax should be withheld from your paycheck.

Do You Have Older Children?

The new tax code increases the child tax credit from $1,000 to $2,000 per child under the age of 17. Taxpayers with children over 17 only receive a $500 tax credit.

Do You Have High Property Taxes?

Under prior law you could claim an itemized deduction for an unlimited amount of personal state and local income and property taxes. So, a big property tax bill could be completely deducted if you itemized. However, under the new tax code, itemized deductions for personal state and local property taxes and personal state and local income taxes are capped at $10,000 ($5,000 if you use married filing separate status).

Even considering the above factors, with the myriad of potential tax circumstances and the complexity of the changes implemented by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, it’s difficult to predict how your taxes will be affected until you run the numbers.

If you have any questions about how to plan for your 2018 tax return, please feel free to contact me at jmiller@mkrcpas-staging.mkrhoym8-liquidwebsites.com.

How to Avoid the Alternative Minimum Tax

Congress originally designed the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) to make sure wealthy taxpayers who take advantage of multiple tax breaks and itemized deductions would still pay their fair share in federal income taxes each year. The AMT produces around $60 billion a year in federal taxes from the top one percent of taxpayers. However, because the AMT wasn’t tied to inflation, the tax has extended down to a growing number of middle-income taxpayers. Here’s what to do about it.

AMT Primer

It’s called the Alternative Minimum Tax because it is a mandatory alternative to the standard income tax. If you are a high-income earner, you are required to calculate your taxes twice – once under standard tax rules and again under the stricter AMT rules (the AMT disallows many deductions, such as state and local tax, childcare credits, and property taxes). Ultimately, you are required to pay the higher amount.

Are You at Risk?

First, be aware of the triggers for AMT, as earning a higher income isn’t the only factor. For example, it can also affect those who are married and file jointly, have a large family (more than four dependents), enjoy profits from stock options, or live in a high-tax state. Therefore, any move that reduces your adjusted gross income (AGI) – like upping your contributions to qualified retirement accounts such as IRAs, 401(k)s, and health savings accounts – might help avoid the AMT. Additionally, aim to reduce your itemized deductions and increase your charitable contributions. Finally, pay attention to long-term capital gains – when you sell a home or other investments for a profit. These are taxed at the same rate under both the standard income tax and the AMT, but capital gains could put you over the threshold for AMT, thereby triggering it and disqualifying you from deducting state income taxes paid on the capital gains.
If you practice careful year-round preparation while being mindful of the above triggers, you’ll have a better chance of avoiding the AMT.

Here’s How Medicare for All Could Affect Americans

According to CNBC, 70% of Americans support Medicare for all, but the term is still murky for Americans. What does it actually mean and how could it affect Americans?

Implemented in its most historical meaning, Medicare-for-all would completely wipe out private coverage and replace it with a single-payer health insurance – a national government-run program that would cover every American. Under such a plan, deductibles, premiums, and co-payments would likely be things of the past. The government would deal directly with drug makers, which would lower prescription costs and streamline the administration process. Reuters defines it as “a publicly financed, privately delivered system with all Americans enrolled and all medically necessary services covered.”

How Much Would it Cost?

A study recently released by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University found that Sen. Bernie Sanders’ plan for universal healthcare, which is the highest-profile plan for Medicare-for-all, would increase government healthcare spending by $32.6 trillion during its first 10 years.

What Opponents Say

Supporters of Medicare-for-all are typically quick to point to Canada, which has successfully implemented a single-payer system, though Canadian citizens pay more in taxes than American citizens. Opponents argue that even as taxes and federal costs for health care rise, expenses for individuals and companies would drop, potentially canceling each other out. They’re also likely to refer to the Mercatus study for a different reason: the report suggests that national health expenditures – which include all national health spending (i.e. state Medicaid programs and private employees), not just government spending – could decline by $2 trillion over the first 10 years of implementation, though the author of the study admits that this is an unreliable number because it depends on too many variables.

What Critics Say

In 2016, the Urban Institute, a nonprofit research organization, came up with roughly the same number as the Mercatus study: $32.6 trillion over a 10-year period. Assuming both studies are correct, this would create an overwhelming financial burden on the federal government, requiring unprecedented tax hikes. Critics are also quick to liken Medicare-for-all to Medicaid rather than Medicare, claiming that if America is forced into a one-size-fits-all government program, patients will likely face long lines and delays in treatment. Moreover, the Mercatus study found that virtually any savings accrued from a single-payer plan would vanish if doctors and hospitals, who would be paid at least 10% less, wouldn’t agree to accept lower fees for patients who are now privately insured.

Healthcare reform is complicated, and the associated costs of Medicare for all have proven to be a stumbling block. Though Sanders’ plan is the most popular among Medicare-for-all advocates, he has yet to release a financing plan, so the potential impact on Americans and the healthcare industry as a whole is still uncertain.