Top IRA Trouble Spots

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) now hold more assets than any other retirement savings vehicles, but many people do not understand how they work and many IRA owners make critical mistakes that can cost them money. Here are some ways you can ensure that your IRA works for you.

1. Begin your required minimum distributions on time. Regardless of whether you are still working, you must begin taking an annual minimum required distribution from your traditional IRA no later than April 1 following the year you turn 70 1/2. You have much more flexibility with a Roth IRA and are not required to take distributions. However, for a Traditional IRA you will have still penalties if you don’t withdraw enough or you don’t withdraw it on time. You will owe up to 50 percent of the difference between the amount you took out and the amount you should have taken out. Why is the IRS so strict about taking distributions from a Traditional IRA and not a Roth IRA? The IRS wants your tax dollars. You must pay taxes on your distributions from a Traditional IRA while distributions from Roth IRAs are generally tax-free.

2. Don’t wait until the last moment. Don’t wait until the April 1 deadline to take out your initial minimum withdrawal. Don’t forget that you’ll have to make another withdrawal by December 31 of the same year. Watch out because these withdrawals in the same year could bump you into a higher tax bracket and increase your tax liability. Don’t let this happen.

3. Name a “real” beneficiary. One of the biggest mistakes is not naming a real (human) beneficiary. If you do not name a person, your assets will most likely go to your estate and this will cost you more money. That’s because if you hadn’t already started taking distributions yourself by the time of your death, the IRA assets must be distributed to your estate’s heirs within five years of death. Or if you had started, distributions must be paid out to the heirs over what would have been your remaining life expectancy. Either way, leaving your IRA to your estate deprives your heirs from “stretching out” the tax-deferred assets over their own lives and creates a bigger tax bill.

4. Name a contingent beneficiary. This allows the primary beneficiary to “disclaim” (reject) the IRA inheritance if he or she doesn’t need the money so that it automatically passes to the contingent, who typically is younger and can stretch out the inheritance longer.

5. Name the right beneficiary. Your spouse or parent isn’t always the best choice to name as the primary IRA beneficiary. An adult child might be a better choice. If you choose a young child you will want to consult a professional to find out if you need to set up a trust in their name to control the assets and distributions.

6. Changing your beneficiary. Don’t forget to change, in writing, your beneficiary in the event of a marriage, divorce, birth of a child, death of a beneficiary or similar circumstances.

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Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

Stacy Francis is the Founder, CEO and President of Francis Financial, Inc., a Wealth Management and Financial Planning firm. With over 18 years of experience in the financial industry, she is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ (CFP®), a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst™ (CDFA™), and a Certified Estate Planning Specialist (CES™). She is the Co-Director of the Association of Divorce Financial Planners’ (ADFP) Greater New York Metro Chapter and a member of the Women Presidents’ Organization (WPO) and an honoree member of the Private Risk Management Association (PRMA). A nationally recognized financial expert, Stacy has appeared on ABC News, CNBC, CNN, PBS Nightly Business Report, The Today Show, Good Morning America, Fine Living Network, and The O’Reilly Factor. Stacy attended the New York University Center for Finance, Law and Taxation.

Why You Need a Roth IRA

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

I met with a new client last week; a woman in her early thirties eager to get started on her nest egg. A discussion of her financial goals and priorities revealed that she hoped the not-so-distant future would bring her not only a home of her own, but a few children as well. When I recommended a Roth IRA, she was all frowns. What's the point? she wondered.

This is such a common question; it deserves a blog of its own. After all, why would you make your contributions on an after-tax basis, when you could just as easily open a traditional IRA and cash in on your tax breaks right away? In this day and age, what could possibly beat the magic of instant gratification?

  1. With a traditional IRA, the withdrawals you make in your golden years are taxable, at your current rate. With a Roth IRA, once you’ve made your contributions, you never pay tax on the capital again (provided, of course, that you play by the rules). Since the amount you'll withdraw from the account will be much larger than the amount you put into the Roth, in most cases, your total tax bill will be considerably smaller with a Roth IRA. Remember? You don't retire off the money you set aside - but off the money you make off the money you set aside.

  2. If, like my client, you are aching to buy a home and start a family, note that you can withdraw money from a Roth IRA without becoming subject to the penalty tax, to pay for a first home or college tuition for yourself, your spouse or your children. No such exceptions apply for traditional IRAs.

  3. A Roth IRA is typically more beneficial for your heirs, should you kick the bucket.

Note, however, that there are strict income limits for contributions to Roth IRAs. Singles needs to make between $5,000 and $101,000 per year (phase-out between $101,000 and $116,000), while married couples must have an annual income of less than $159,000 (phase-out between $159,000 and $169,000). As long as you fulfill this requirement, chances are, a Roth IRA is a great option for you.

Recommended Reading: Jump-Start Your IRA!

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Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

Stacy Francis is the Founder, CEO and President of Francis Financial, Inc., a Wealth Management and Financial Planning firm. With over 18 years of experience in the financial industry, she is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ (CFP®), a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst™ (CDFA™), and a Certified Estate Planning Specialist (CES™). She is the Co-Director of the Association of Divorce Financial Planners’ (ADFP) Greater New York Metro Chapter and a member of the Women Presidents’ Organization (WPO) and an honoree member of the Private Risk Management Association (PRMA). A nationally recognized financial expert, Stacy has appeared on ABC News, CNBC, CNN, PBS Nightly Business Report, The Today Show, Good Morning America, Fine Living Network, and The O’Reilly Factor. Stacy attended the New York University Center for Finance, Law and Taxation.