Imagine planning a cross-country road trip. In addition to looking at the most direct route to your destination, you may also look for routes that enhance your overall trip such as a stop to see Yellowstone National Park, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, or a detour to check out the largest ball of twine in Kansas.
Similar to planning a cross-country road trip, there is more than one financial route you can take to reach your goals. Like using a guidance system when driving, you likely use the general directions, but often we take a few detours or different streets along the way depending on what is best at that time (or which streets have fewer potholes).
At its highest level, wealth planning provides you with a single place to see all the moving pieces of your financial life. Our wealth planning team focuses on listening to your goals so we can help you map out a strategy to reach them in the most efficient way possible.
Consider the Becker Wealth Planning Team your Google Maps or Waze for wealth planning. We have knowledge about strategies you are already familiar with (Yellowstone), those you may have read about or heard on the news (Gateway Arch) and even some you may not be aware of (largest ball of twine?!). To that end, we’ve created a list of our Top 10 planning strategies, or roadside attractions, you should know about to enhance the journey.
- A Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD) is one of the most powerful charitable giving and tax planning tools in your arsenal. Starting at age 70 ½, you can gift up to $100,000 per year directly from your IRA to a charitable institution (501(c)3). The amount gifted from your IRA does not count as income for tax purposes so when you turn 72 and start taking Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) this tool becomes particularly useful. For example, if your RMD is $100,000 and you decide to gift $50,000 to a charity via QCD, your RMD income for tax purposes would only be $50,000 rather than the full $100,000 distributed from your IRA. It should be noted however that a Donor Advised Fund does not count as a charity for QCD purposes.
- A Donor Advised Fund (DAF) is a charitable investment account that allows you to make a charitable contribution, receive an immediate tax deduction and then distribute the funds as you see fit over your lifetime. You can choose to distribute the funds to charity in the same year you make the contribution or distribute it over a period of years, but you only receive the tax deduction in the year you complete the DAF contribution. Assets remaining in the DAF can also be invested so your charitable money can continue to grow for future distributions.
- If you are charitably inclined and have Appreciated Stock in your taxable (non-retirement) portfolio, it may be beneficial to gift this instead of cash to a charity. A charity does not incur capital gains taxes upon selling the security due to their tax-exempt status, so by gifting appreciated stock you are not incurring the taxes you otherwise would by selling the asset and gifting cash. There are limitations based on your income however, so we recommend consulting with your tax advisor beforehand.
- As the housing market continues on a hot streak, there are two tools you have at your disposal for buying a new home that you may not be aware of. The first is a Portfolio-Based Line of Credit which leverages the value of your investment portfolio as collateral for a secured loan. Many of our clients know this as a Pledged Asset Line (PAL) which is offered by Charles Schwab. The second is a margin loan, which also allows you to borrow against your portfolio but with different terms and risks compared to a portfolio-based line of credit. These strategies are similar in that if eligible, they give you the flexibility to offer cash on a home you’re trying to purchase without having to sell assets in your portfolio. While getting a PAL in place can take 3-8 weeks , putting your account on margin can be done almost immediately. Using a line of credit or margin loan can allow you to get any mortgage details finalized after the purchase, while paying interest on the loans. These strategies do come with inherent risks, and we encourage you to discuss these risks with the wealth planning team before borrowing against your portfolio.
- For parents and grandparents wanting to help their younger family members buy a house or start a business, you can avoid gift taxes by utilizing Intra Family Loans which allow family members to loan/borrow from each other at rates less than what traditional lending agencies offer. The IRS publishes “Applicable Federal Rates” informing you as a lender the minimum interest rate you are required to charge a family member for short-, medium- and long-term loans. For example, a short-term loan of less than three years and more than $10,000 has a current required minimum interest rate of only 0.59%.
- A Roth IRA is a retirement account funded with post-tax dollars, whereby all future qualified withdrawals are tax free. While similar to a traditional IRA, a Roth is less restrictive. In addition to no Required Minimum Distributions, Roth account holders can take a limited penalty-free distribution for a first-time home purchase for themselves or a family member, use the funds for education or to help pay for an adoption or birth. A Roth IRA is also an excellent estate planning tool. Under the 2020 SECURE Act, non-spouse beneficiaries of IRAs (i.e. your children) must distribute the entire account within 10 years of the inheritance. Even though a Roth IRA falls under this rule, the withdrawals are tax free, reducing the future tax burden on your beneficiaries.
- There are income caps for directly contributing to a Roth IRA, which is why a Backdoor Roth or Roth Conversion are popular tools. In a Backdoor Roth, a non-deductible (after-tax) contribution is made to a traditional IRA. Once the funding has been completed, it is subsequently converted (transferred) to a Roth IRA and can be invested. Since the IRA contribution is already non-deductible, if done immediately, there are no tax implications for converting to a Roth. A word of caution, if you have existing IRA’s, the Aggregation Rule can make this technique tricky. Therefore, we recommend contacting the wealth planning team and your tax advisor to determine if this makes sense based on your individual circumstances. A Roth Conversion on the other hand occurs when assets are transferred from your pre-tax retirement accounts to a Roth IRA. There can be significant tax implications for amounts converted, therefore your Becker Wealth Planning Team works with you to determine an optimal amount to convert each tax year. While you pay taxes up front to convert the assets, you are lessening your future tax liability by reducing future RMDs and, as mentioned above, providing your non-spouse beneficiaries with the gift of tax-free mandatory withdrawals. Your CPA is also an integral part of any conversion conversation since they are the tax expert on your team.
- Many executives and employees receive Stock Options as part of their compensation. There are three main types of equity compensation: Incentive Stock Options (ISO), Non-Qualified Options (NQ) and Restricted Stock Units (RSU). Each type has different tax implications and as such, how you utilize and recognize those benefits may change depending on how the company is performing or how your tax year is shaping up. We work with our clients who have options in all forms to evaluate the most appropriate strategy for your personal situation. By utilizing a dedicated stock option platform in conjunction with tax planning software, we aide clients in making tax-efficient decisions in managing their stock options. This is another situation where we work closely with your CPA or tax planner to ensure that your entire tax picture is considered.
- A Health Savings Account (HSA) is available with a High Deductible Health Plan and lets you set aside money on a pre-tax basis to pay for qualified medical expenses. An often-overlooked benefit of an HSA is it can be invested, and the money has the potential to grow over time rather than just sit in cash. An HSA is desirable because of its triple tax savings: dollars are put into the account pre-tax, the assets grow tax free, and distributions are tax free if used for qualified medical expenses. The funds don’t expire, and your HSA goes with you even if you change health plans or employers. HSA funds can even be used to pay Medicare premiums, so it may be advantageous to keep a hands-off approach until you’re over 65.
- While we do not draft documents – we leave that to the esteemed estate planning attorney professionals – we can help get your Estate Planning ducks in a row. Or even help figure out what ducks you’re supposed to have in the first place! Things like: Should you have a will or a Trust? Are your beneficiaries up to date? If you’ve married, divorced, or had a relationship change, it’s important to review your beneficiaries and make sure your assets would transfer to the person/people/charity you intend if you pass. Do you have questions about how your assets are flowing to your heirs and what your estate taxes may be? We can model that in our dedicated estate planning platform of our financial planning software. Discussing your estate plan or goals with your Becker Team first can lead to a more meaningful conversation with your estate planning attorney where you spend less time figuring out what you want and more time implementing the best strategies to distribute your assets after your lifetime.
- Don’t be alarmed, I, a financial professional, can in fact count, but there is one more important topic to cover, so we’re going to “turn it up to 11” 1 to include College Education. Regarding saving for college, 529 Plans are a popular option since the investment account can grow and be distributed tax free if used for qualified educational purposes. Since you aren’t obligated to use the 529 plan in the state you reside, we can discuss the pros and cons of some of the best plans available and potential tax benefits of contributions. When your student is approaching college age, it’s important to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form even if you don’t think you will qualify for aid. Many colleges give scholarships for merit or academics but require a completed FAFSA form to qualify. The amount to save in a 529 versus other types of accounts, who should own those accounts and how the FAFSA calculation works are all things the wealth planning team can assist with for your specific situation.
This is just a brief overview of some important planning strategies that may be helpful for you and your family. Each scenario is nuanced and dependent on your specific situation. If you are interested in knowing more about any of the strategies listed above or think they may be beneficial to you, please reach out to your Becker Wealth Planning Team. We are happy to review wealth planning strategies with you as well as introduce you to CPAs or Estate Planning Attorneys to further assist in your planning journey.
1 “Turn it up to 11” is an idiom from the 1984 cult classic mockumentary movie “This is Spinal Tap.”