The Saxon Advisor - January 2020

Compliance Check

what you need to know


Form W-2s are due January 31, 2020. January 31 is the deadline for employers to distribute Form W-2s to employees. Large employers – employers who have more than 250 W-2s – must include the aggregate cost of health coverage.

Form 1099-Rs are due January 31, 2020. Employers must distribute Form 1099-Rs to recipients of 2019 distributions.

Form 945 Distributions. Form 945s must be distributed to plan participants by January 31, 2020, for 2019 non payroll withholding of deposits if they were not made on time and in full to pay all taxes that are due.

Section 6055/6056 Reporting. Employers must file Forms 1094-B and 1095-B, and Forms 1094-C and 1095-C with the IRS by February 28, 2020 if they are filed on paper.

Form 1099-R Paper Filing. Employers must file Form 1099-R with the IRS by February 28, 2020 if they are filed on paper.

CMS Medicare Part D Disclosure. Employers that provide prescription drug coverage must disclose to the CMS whether the plan’s prescription drug coverage is creditable or non-creditable.

Summary of Material Modifications Distribution. Employers who offer a group health plan that is subject to ERISA must distribute a SMM for plan changes that were adopted at the beginning of the year that are material reductions in plan benefits or services

In this Issue

  • Upcoming Compliance Deadlines
  • Traditional IRA, Roth IRA, 401(k), 403(b): What’s the Difference?
  • Fresh Brew Featuring Scott Langhorne
  • This month’s Saxon U: What Employers Should Know About the SECURE Act
  • #CommunityStrong: American Heart Association Heart Mini Fundraising

What Employers Should Know About the SECURE Act

Join us for this interactive and educational Saxon U seminar with Todd Yawit, Director of Employer-Sponsored Retirement Plans at Saxon Financial Services, as we discuss what the SECURE Act is and how it impacts your employer-sponsored retirement plan.

Traditional IRA, Roth IRA, 401(k), 403(b): What's the Difference?

Bringing the knowledge of our in-house advisors right to you...


If you haven’t begun saving for retirement yet, don’t be discouraged. Whether you begin through an employer sponsored plan like a 401(k) or 403(b) or you begin a Traditional or Roth IRA that will allow you to grow earnings from investments through tax deferral, it is never too late or too early to begin planning.

“A major trend we see is that if people don’t have an advisor to meet with, they tend to invest too conservatively, because they are afraid of making a mistake,” said Kevin Hagerty, a Financial Advisor at Saxon Financial.

Advice from Kevin

Fresh Brew Featuring Scott Langhorne

“Pay close attention to detail.”


This month’s Fresh Brew features Scott Langhorne, an Account Manager at Saxon.

Scott’s favorite brew is Bud Light. His favorite local spot to grab his favorite brew is wherever his friends and family are.

Scott’s favorite snack to enjoy with his brew is wings.

Learn More About Scott

This Month's #CommunityStrong:
American Heart Association Heart Mini Fundraising

This January, February & March, the Saxon team and their families will be teaming up to raise money for the American Heart Association Heart Mini! They will be hosting a Happy Hour at Fretboard Brewing Company Wednesday, January 29, from 4 p.m. - 7 p.m. to raise money.

Are you prepared for retirement?

Saxon creates strategies that are built around you and your vision for the future. The key is to take the first step of reaching out to a professional and then let us guide you along the path to a confident future.

Monthly compliance alerts, educational articles and events
- courtesy of Saxon Financial Advisors.


The Mega Backdoor Roth IRA and Other Ways to Maximize a 401(k)

Did you know: Numerous 401(k) retirement plans allow after-tax contributions. This creates financial planning opportunities that are frequently overlooked. Read this blog post for more information on maximizing your 401(k) plan.


The most popular workplace-sponsored retirement plan is far and away the 401(k) — a plan that can be both simple and complex at the same time. For some of your clients, it functions as a tax-deductible way to save for retirement. Others might see its intricacies as a way to maximize lifetime wealth, boost investments and minimize taxes. One such niche area of 401(k) planning is after-tax contributions, an often misunderstood and underutilized area of planning.

Before we jump into after-tax contributions, we need to cover the limits and the multiple ways your clients can invest money into 401(k) plans.

Employee Salary Deferrals and Roth

The most traditional way you can contribute money to a 401(k) is by tax-deductible salary deferrals. In 2019, employees can defer up to $19,000 a year. If they’re age 50 or older, they can contribute an additional $6,000 into the plan. In 2020, these numbers for “catch-up contributions” rise to $19,500 and $6,500 respectively.

Someone age 50 or over can put up to $25,000 into a 401(k) in 2019 and $26,000 in 2020 through tax-deductible salary deferrals. Additionally, the salary deferral limits could instead be used as a Roth contribution, but with the same limits. The biggest difference is that Roth contributions are after-tax. And as long as certain requirements are met, the distributions, including investment gains, come out income tax-free, whereas tax-deferred money is taxable upon distribution.

Employer Contributions

Employers often make contributions to a 401(k), with many matching contributions. For instance, if an employee contributes 6% of their salary (up to an annual indexed limit on salary of $280,000 in 2019 and $285,000 in 2020), the company might match 50%, 75%, or 100% of the amount. For example, if an employee earns $100,000 a year and puts in $6,000 and their employer matches 100%, they will also put in $6,000, and the employee will end up with $12,000 in their 401(k). Employers can also make non-elective and profit-sharing contributions.

Annual 401(k) Contribution Cap

Regardless of how money goes into the plan, any individual account has an annual cap that includes combined employee and employer contributions. For 2019, this limit is $56,000 (or $62,000 if the $6,000 catch-up contribution is used for those age 50 and over). For 2020, this limit rises to $57,000 ($63,500 if the $6,500 catch-up contribution is used for those age 50 and over).

Inability to Max Out Accounts

If you look at the limits and how people can contribute, you might quickly realize how hard it is to max out a 401(k). If a client takes the maximum salary deferral of $19,000 and an employer matches 100% (which is rare), your client would only contribute $38,000 into the 401(k) out of the maximum of $56,000. Their employer would need to contribute more money in order to max out.

Where After-Tax Contributions Fit In

Not all plans allow employees to make after-tax contributions. If the 401(k) did allow this type of contribution, someone could add more money to the plan in the previous example that otherwise maxed out at $38,000.

After-tax contributions don’t count against the salary deferral limit of $19,000, but they do count toward the annual cap of $56,000. After-tax contributions are what they sound like — it’s money that’s included into the taxable income after taxes are paid, so the money receives all the other benefits of the 401(k) like tax-deferred investment gains and creditor protections.

With after-tax contributions, clients can put their $19,000 salary deferral into the 401(k), get the $19,000 employer match, and then fill in the $18,000 gap to max out the account at $56,000.

Mega-Roth Opportunity

If the plan allows for in-service distributions of after-tax contributions and tracks after-tax contributions and investment gains in separate accounts from salary deferral and Roth money, there’s an opportunity to do annual planning for Roth IRAs.

Clients can convert after-tax contributions from a 401(k) plan into a Roth IRA, without having to pay additional taxes. If a plan allows in-service distributions of after-tax contributions, the money can be rolled over to a Roth IRA each year. However, it’s important to note that any investment gains on the after-tax amount would still be distributed pro rata and considered taxable. Earnings on after-tax money only receive tax-deferred treatment in a 401(k); they aren’t tax free.

Clients can roll over tens of thousands of dollars a year from a 401(k) to a Roth IRA if the plan is properly set up. They can even set up a plan in such a way so the entire $56,000 limit is after-tax money that’s distributed to a Roth IRA each year with minimal tax implications. This strategy is referred to as the Mega Backdoor Roth strategy.

Complexities Upon Distribution of After-Tax Contributions

What happens to after-tax contributions in a 401(k) upon distribution? This is a complex area where you can help clients understand the role of two factors:

  1. After-tax contributions are distributed pro-rata (proportional) between tax-deferred gain and the after-tax amounts.
  2. Pre-tax money is usually considered for rollover into a new 401(k) or IRA first, leaving the after-tax attributed second. The IRS provided guidance on allocation of after-tax amounts to rollovers in Notice 2014-54.

Best Practices for Rollovers

Help your clients navigate the world of rollovers with after-tax contributions by following best practices. If a client does a full distribution from a 401(k) at retirement or separation of service, they can roll the entire pre-tax amount to a new 401(k) or IRA and separate out the after-tax contributions to roll over into a Roth IRA. The IRS Notice 2014-54 previously mentioned also provides guidance for this scenario.

You can help your clients understand after-tax contributions by envisioning after-tax money in a 401(k) as the best of three worlds. These contributions enter after taxes and give your client tax-deferred money on investment growth, allow them to save more money in their 401(k) while also giving them the opportunity to roll it over into a Roth IRA at a later date.

After-tax contributions build numerous planning options and tax diversification into retirement plans. Before your clients allocate money toward after-tax contributions, it’s important they understand what their plan allows and how it fits into their overall retirement and financial planning picture.

SOURCE: Hopkins, J. (17 December 2019) "The Mega Backdoor Roth IRA and Other Ways to Maximize a 401(k)" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.thinkadvisor.com/2019/12/17/the-mega-backdoor-roth-ira-and-other-ways-to-maximize-a-401k/


4 End-of-Life Documents and Why You Need Them?

While the majority of people would prefer not to think about the end of life, it is important to discuss the need for and understanding of end-of-life planning documents. What are these documents and why do you need them? Read this blog post to learn more.


Most of us aren’t keen to think about the end of life–especially our own. But discussing the need for and understanding end-of-life planning documents is important for all of us. So, what are these documents and why do you need them? Here’s a summary:

1: Durable power of attorney. This appoints another person to transact business, legal and financial matters for you until you die.

Why do you need it? Let's say you are incapacitated by an accident or illness, it allows the person you’ve chosen to act for you—and quickly. That can help you avoid a lot of problems, including hard-to-get guardianship and conservatorship rights. (If you are unsure of what either of these two terms means, this article makes it clear.)

2: Appoint a health-care representative. As with the first document, this allows someone to act on your behalf to make health-care decisions if you’re unable. It allows them to review health records, authorize admission to or discharge you from a hospital and make decisions about life-sustaining medical procedures.

Why do you need it? You’ll have peace of mind knowing that your wishes will be fulfilled as you intended, especially when it comes to life-sustaining medical procedures. It also helps avoid family arguments about who should have the final say.

3: Advance care directives or living will. This puts in writing the decisions you have made about your health care—instructions, if you will, for your doctor—so that your wishes are followed if you are unable to articulate them.

Why do you need it? It ensures, for example, that you receive the treatment you’ve decided on beforehand if you are terminally ill or permanently unconscious. It helps make sure that the treatments you receive in a terminal or permanently unconscious situation are in keeping with your wishes and provides guidance to your health-care representative.

4: A will or revocable living trust. This puts in writing who will inherit your assets when you die, and in what manner. These two documents can help eliminate, avoid or postpone taxes that are payable when you die. An attorney can help you decide which of these documents is better for you.

Why do you need these? If you do not have a will or a revocable living trust, basically the government will be able to decide how and to whom your assets are distributed, and it may not be to those you intended.

These legal documents require the guidance of a qualified legal advisor to ensure they meet the requirements of your state of residency, and if you already have these but have moved to a new state, they should be reviewed to ensure they comply with the laws of your state.

SOURCE: Feldman, M. (10 December 2019) "4 End-of-Life Documents and Why You Need Them?" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://lifehappens.org/blog/4-end-of-life-documents-and-why-you-need-them/


DOL updates FLSA regular rate rule

With the New Year right around the corner, it's important to know what rules are being updated. The U.S. Department of Labor has updated the "regular rate of pay" to calculate overtime pay. This standard is used to calculate overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Read this blog post for more information on this final rule.


The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has issued a final rule updating the "regular rate of pay" standard used to calculate overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), according to a notice to be published in the Federal Register Dec. 13.

In the rule, DOL clarifies when certain employer benefits may be excluded when calculating overtime pay for a non-exempt employee, including bona fide meal periods, reimbursements, certain benefit plan contributions, state and local scheduling law payments and more. The rule also clarifies how employers may determine whether a bonus is discretionary or nondiscretionary.

The rule will take effect Jan. 12, 2020.

The rule will likely result in employers taking a closer look at their benefits packages, Susan Harthill, partner at Morgan Lewis, told HR Dive in an emailed statement.

A number of employer advocates that submitted comments on DOL’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), including the Society for Human Resource Management, supported excluding employee benefits like gym memberships, tuition assistance and adoption and surrogacy services from regular rate calculations. Gym memberships and tuition assistance are generally excludable, according to DOL, but the agency said only some forms of adoption assistance would be excludable and that most surrogacy assistance payments would not be​.

Employers also inquired about public transportation and childcare subsidies. In the final rule, DOL said public transportation benefits would not be excludable, noting that the agency "has long acknowledged that employer-provided parking spaces are excludable from the regular rate but commuter subsidies are not." But it did add clarifying language around childcare, saying that while "routinely-provided childcare" must be included in the regular rate, emergency childcare services — if those services are not provided as compensation for hours of employment and are not tied to the quantity or quality of work performed — may be excluded.

DOL also offered additional details about its treatment of tuition reimbursement and education-related benefits. As it stated in the NPRM, the agency said that as long as tuition programs are offered to employees regardless of hours worked or services rendered are "contingent merely on one’s being an employee," such programs qualify as "other similar payments" excludable from the regular rate. This includes payment for an employee's current coursework, online coursework, payment for an employee’s family member’s tuition and certain student-loan repayment plans, DOL said.

HR teams should respond by performing audits of the pay codes for benefits that would be impacted, Tammy McCutchen, shareholder at Littler Mendelson, told HR Dive in an interview: "This is a good time to get your calculations correct." McCutchen suggested that employers conduct audits first before deciding whether to expand benefits options in light of the rule. She added that it's an employer's responsibility to notify payroll providers of any changes to exemptions.

Employers also will need to check state laws and consult with counsel ahead of implementing changes to employees' regular rates, as those laws may differ from DOL's new rule, Harthill said. Moreover, "[t]his is an interpretive rule and it remains to be seen whether courts will defer to DOL's interpretation of the rule or if any resultant exclusions are challenged," she added.

SOURCE: Golden, R. (12 December 2019) "DOL updates FLSA regular rate rule" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.hrdive.com/news/dol-updates-flsa-regular-rate-rule/568954/


Employees want year-round benefits instead of holiday parties

Are employees willing to trade holiday celebrations for better benefits? According to research from Reward Gateway, more than half of employees would skip the parties and celebrations for rewards and bonuses. Read the following blog post from Employee Benefit News for more information.


Tis’ the season to head to the holiday party and celebrate with coworkers, but more employees are willing to swap the festivities for better benefits and year-long recognition from their employers.

More than half of employees would skip the holiday party if it meant rewards and recognition throughout the year, according to a new survey by Reward Gateway, an employee engagement platform. Additionally, 58% of recent graduates said they would give up an end-of-year bonus for more frequent rewards.

“Being the holiday season, all parts of the workforce are trying to prioritize their flexibility and collaboration and their shared purpose,” says Robert Hicks, group HR director at Reward Gateway. “Employers could do more, and there is a growing trend of more frequent benefits that align to your purpose, mission and values.”

The office holiday party has long been a mainstay of work culture, and 76% of companies plan to throw a party in 2019, up 11% from last year. Additionally, 24% of companies plan to give performance-based bonuses to select employees, while just 9.6% plan to give bonuses to all employees, according to a survey from recruiting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Employees are seeking value in a culture of recognition throughout the year instead, and want more consistent collaboration and communication with employers. Going hand-in-hand with that sentiment is financial assistance through their benefits offerings.

“This can come in two core ways, the first being perks that can help you reduce your overall spending.” Hicks says. “Employees are also looking for a really strong recognition culture, and on top of that, adding in financial rewards throughout the year.”

With unemployment at a 50-year low, the quest to attract and retain top talent should push employers to encourage a workplace that doesn’t just celebrate successes once a year.

“Everybody knows it’s a really competitive market place, and your number one response needs to be what can we do to be a really great workplace for people to stay and for people to join,” Hicks says. “Organizations that prioritize listening to their people and delivering continuous rewards and recognition can create an environment where employees are more engaged and excited about where they work all year — not just during the holidays.”

SOURCE: Place, A. (13 December 2019) "Employees want year-round benefits instead of holiday parties" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/employees-want-year-round-benefits-instead-of-holiday-parties


A health insurance primer for your employees during Open Enrollment

The end of open enrollment season is quickly approaching. During open enrollment, employees have the chance to choose a benefits plan or change from the plan they currently have. Read this blog post for a few things employees should consider when choosing a plan.


Now is the time to choose the best health plan for you and your family. During open enrollment season, employers and the Health Insurance Marketplace (or Exchange) let you choose a plan or change from the plan you have. Making the right choice can impact your health and your wallet.

Even if your current coverage seems satisfactory, your employer or the Exchange may offer new options that better suit your needs. It is important to compare costs and to understand differences in benefits, networks and other rules. In some states, plans available outside the official Marketplace offer attractive, low premiums but may have dollar limits on benefits, or may not provide coverage for childbirth, mental health and other services mandatory for plans that qualify under the Affordable Care Act (the “ACA” or “Obamacare”). Review and compare such plans’ terms carefully.

The time for your decision is limited. Employers generally provide a month or more to make your selection. Open enrollment for the federal Marketplace runs only from November 1, 2019, to December 15, 2019. Exceptions may be made for life changes like the birth of a child or loss of coverage under a spouse’s plan, but if you miss open enrollment season, you will probably have to wait another year to enroll. Here are some things to think about when choosing a plan.

Costs

The first cost to consider is the premium — the payment, usually monthly, to maintain coverage. If you get your plan through your job, your employer may pay all or part of the premium. If you choose a Marketplace plan, you may qualify for a premium tax credit to reduce the premium.

Other insurance costs are known as cost sharing, because you share the cost of care with your plan. They may take the form of a copay (a fixed dollar amount for each service), coinsurance (a set percentage of the cost of a service) or a deductible (the amount you must pay before your plan starts paying for services). If you select a Marketplace plan, you may qualify for cost-sharing reductions to lower those expenses.

In principle, it would be nice if all the costs were as low as possible. But usually, low-cost sharing comes with a high premium. High-deductible health plans may offer lower premiums but you will pay more out-of-pocket before your insurance pays anything.

In shopping for a health plan, consider how high a premium you are willing to pay for the level of cost sharing you would like. For example, if you or a family member have a chronic illness, you may need regular treatment and may be at risk for hospitalization. In that case, you may be willing to pay a higher premium for low-cost sharing. But if you are a healthy, young, single adult who rarely sees a doctor, you might accept a high deductible in exchange for a low premium.

Bear in mind that if you have a high-deductible health plan, you might be eligible to set up a health savings account (HSA). An HSA provides tax savings that stretch the dollars you contribute to the account to help pay for qualified medical expenses.

Choice of Doctors

If you like your current doctors and want to keep seeing them, make sure they and their facilities belong to the network of providers who have contracted with the plan you are considering. Check the plan’s online provider directory to make sure those doctors and their facilities are listed in its network. Even if you do not have a regular doctor, make sure the network includes providers close to where you live and work.

If you want to choose freely among many providers, a plan with a broad network might be for you. That may be more expensive than a plan with a narrow network, which may cost less but has a more limited choice of providers.

Out-of-Network Coverage

As good as a plan’s network might be, you may still wish to consult providers outside the network from time to time. If so, consider a Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) or Point of Service (POS) plan; each provides out-of-network benefits. With such plans, you will still spend more for out-of-network than in-network care, but at least you will have some coverage. Two other types of plans, Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) and Exclusive Provider Organization (EPO), typically will not pay for out-of-network care except for emergencies.

Who’s in Charge of Your Care?

In HMO and POS plans, you choose a primary care physician (PCP) who acts as a form of “gatekeeper” for your care. Unless it is an emergency, when you need medical treatment, you go to the PCP first. The PCP either treats you personally or refers you to specialists in your network. If you like having a PCP’s guidance, this arrangement might work for you. But if you prefer choosing specialists directly, you might opt for a PPO or EPO.

ACA-Compliant versus Association and Short-Term Plans

Whatever plan you choose, it is important to consider whether it covers all the types of healthcare you might need and whether it limits the dollar amount of your coverage. Plans that comply with the ACA are comprehensive because they have to cover 10 essential health benefits. Short-term, limited-duration (STLD) health plans, do not have to cover all those benefits. They may, for example, not cover childbirth, mental health or prescription drugs. If you end up needing care that is not covered, you will have to pay the whole cost yourself.

AHPs and STLD plans differ from ACA-compliant plans in other ways. For example, STLD plans can impose annual or lifetime dollar limits on coverage. If your care costs more than those limits, you have to pay the excess amount.

SOURCE: Gelburd, R. (5 December 2019) "A health insurance primer for your employees during Open Enrollment" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/a-health-insurance-primer-for-your-employees-during-open-enrollment


Why employers should consider adding volunteer time off benefits

Employers are being pushed to become savvier with social responsibility causes and their benefit offerings with the strong job market. This is giving rise to volunteer time off benefits. Read this blog post from Employee Benefits News for more on why employers should consider adding volunteer time off benefits.


The strong job market is pushing employers to become more savvy about socially responsible causes. This is giving rise to volunteer time off benefits as one popular strategy for employers seeking unique ways to attract and retain talent.

Indeed, 65% of companies offered paid time volunteer programs in 2018, according to data from the organization Chief Executives for Corporate Purpose, which looks to help companies transform their social strategy. That figure represents a 4% rise from 2017.

Organizations that offer employees paid days off to volunteer their time and support the nonprofit causes they care about are going to be more attractive to job seekers.

“Offering VTO as a benefit for employees is one of the best ways to engage employees with their local communities through volunteering and donations,” says Jeff Fraley, vice president of corporate engagement at United Way of the National Capital Area, an organization that provides relief of social problems affecting the community. “It encourages employees to participate in social good and helps to foster meaningful relationships within a community and the company itself.”

About 75% of millennials expect their employer to participate in social good, either with donations or through volunteering, according to a Glassdoor survey. Additionally, 51% of workers expect their employers to allocate work time and resources for their employees to volunteer for social causes.

United Way took a look at VTO benefits across the country in an effort to better understand these programs from an employer/employee perspective. The survey looked at the demographics of 49 large U.S. companies that offer VTO in order to get a sense of the types of workplaces offering this benefit. What it found was that the majority of companies that offer VTO are headquartered in New York, and in or around Silicon Valley.

Additionally, of the 49 companies studied, 12 were in the professional services industry, 12 were in the information technology industry, and nine companies were in the financial services and insurance industries. The survey also uncovered that the maximum number of volunteer hours offered per year to each employee is 20 hours, which amounts to about two and a half days of volunteer time off.

If the company with the largest revenue headquartered in each state implemented one day of VTO, the projection of total volunteer hours in the U.S. would be over 75 million hours, or nine million days, according to United Way. It would cost companies, on average, $27.4 million to implement an annual eight hour VTO policy.

“VTO is just one option if you're looking to expand your impact in the community,” Fraley says. “An employer can also sponsor a nonprofit, match employee donations, or other philanthropic initiatives. What’s important is to think about some sort of incorporation of corporate social responsibility as we're seeing that it's an increasingly important criterion of employers for millennials.”

SOURCE: Schiavo, A. (2 December 2019) "Why employers should consider adding volunteer time off benefits" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/why-employers-should-consider-adding-volunteer-time-off-benefits


IRA spousal contributions can mitigate the high cost of women’s work breaks in retirement plans

According to a November 2018 study, women who took a year off from work in a 15-year period had 39 percent lower average annual earnings than women who worked continuously through that time. Read this blog post for more on how spousal contributions can mitigate the high cost of work breaks in retirement plans.


Women employees face special retirement savings challenges compared with their male counterparts. On average, they earn less and log fewer years of earned income compared to men. That’s because, in part, because women take multiple breaks from work, turn down work or decline promotions because of family care obligations.

The cost of a career break can be high. A November 2018 study by the Washington-based Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that women who took just one year off from work in a 15-year period had 39% lower average annual earnings than women who worked continuously through that time. The study also showed that the number of women taking at least one year off of work during a 15-year period was nearly twice the rate of men — 43% of women compared to 23% of men.

As a result, women are less likely to set aside money in a savings arrangement or to contribute to an employer-sponsored retirement plan.

Spousal advantage

Married women (and men) who take work breaks may stay on track with their retirement savings goals by making IRA (traditional or Roth) contributions based on their working spouse’s income — if they meet these requirements.

  • The couple must file a joint federal income tax return
  • The working spouse must have enough earned income to make any IRA contributions on behalf of the nonworking spouse, or, if both spouses are contributing, enough income to support both spouses’ contributions
  • Assuming enough earned income, each spouse can contribute up to $6,000 (plus $1,000 if turning age 50) for 2019. This limit applies to traditional and Roth IRA contributions combined
  • The spouse receiving a traditional IRA contribution must be under age 70 ½ for the entire year
  • To be eligible for Roth IRA contributions, the couple must also satisfy income requirements.

Roth IRA income restrictions

The amount that an individual is eligible to contribute to a Roth IRA depends on the amount of the couple’s modified adjusted gross income (MAGI). If the couple’s joint MAGI for a tax year is less than the IRS phase-out range, each spouse can make the maximum Roth IRA contribution allowed for that tax year (assuming enough MAGI to support both spouse’s contributions). If it’s above the phase-out range, neither spouse is eligible to contribute to a Roth IRA. Keep in mind that they could still contribute to a traditional IRA, if under age 70 ½. If the couple’s joint MAGI falls within the phase-out range, their maximum contribution amount is reduced. The MAGI phase-out range is subject to cost-of-living adjustments each year.

Traditional IRA income tax deductions

Note that separate MAGI phase-out ranges apply to traditional IRA contribution deductions — another way for non-working married individuals to potentially benefit when saving for retirement with an IRA. The ability to take a federal income tax deduction for a traditional IRA contribution — if eligible — appeals to many savers. But deduction eligibility depends on whether either spouse is an “active participant” in an employer-sponsored retirement plan. An active participant is generally making or receiving contributions to her retirement plan accounts for the applicable year. Because active participants have access to a workplace retirement plan, the IRS uses its MAGI to determine whether each spouse can take a full deduction, a partial deduction or no deduction at all.

No minimum required

Regardless of which IRA a couple chooses to, the main thing is to contribute — even if it’s a small amount. There is no minimum amount that must be contributed to either type of IRA. Couples can contribute whatever they’re comfortable with, up to the previously described limit. For those concerned about not having enough to set aside in an IRA during a career break, contributing even just $500 or $1,000 for the year will still make a difference.

It certainly beats not saving at all.

SOURCE: Van Zomeren, B. (9 December 2019) "IRA spousal contributions can mitigate the high cost of women’s work breaks in retirement plans" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/ira-spousal-contributions-can-mitigate-cost-of-womens-work-breaks-in-retirement


How to maximize employee participation in HSA plans

According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI), 96 percent of HSA account holders do not invest any portion of their contributions. Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) offer account holders the option to invest and investments are not subject to taxation. Read this blog post to learn more about maximizing employee participation in HSA plans.


High-deductible health plans (HDHPs) not only offer employees the opportunity to save on their premium contributions, they also provide access to what are commonly touted as triple-tax-advantaged health savings accounts (HSAs).

HSA users can put away money tax-free, and account distributions for eligible healthcare costs aren’t subject to federal income tax. Plus, these accounts offer users the option to invest and any investment returns aren’t subject to taxation. Not even the storied 401(k) promises this much bang for the proverbial buck. In fact, HSAs offer the best of pre-tax 401(k) and Roth contributions.

But, no matter how sweet a tax deal this is, for most of the over 25 million account holders, investing takes a back seat to current healthcare needs. According to EBRI, 96% of account holders don’t invest any portion of their balance, which leaves just 4% taking advantage of all three tax-advantaged components of the HSA. Instead, HSA users fall into two distinct categories: spenders and savers, with spenders representing over three-quarters of account holders.

In 2017, the average deductible for employee-only coverage was $2,447 and almost a quarter of employees covered under one of these plans had a deductible of $3,000 or more.

Let’s imagine it’s 2017, and our sample employee — let’s call her Emily — has a $2,500 deductible. Emily funded her HSA to the 2017 maximum of $3,400. If Emily had healthcare costs that totally eroded her deductible and she used her HSA dollars to fund them, at the end of the year Emily would have $900 left in her account ($3,400 maximum minus $2,500 to cover her deductible). That assumes no additional cost-sharing or eligible expenses.

However, Emily is in the minority. Only 13% of employees are fully funding their accounts, rendering an investment threshold potentially out of reach for most people, especially when they are using their HSA dollars for out-of-pocket healthcare costs.

With such a small percentage of HSA owners taking advantage of investment opportunities, finding effective ways to support the spending or saving habits of the majority of users seems to be tantamount. So is helping them address their concerns about deductible risk. As employers help people become smarter consumers, they may be able to build their accounts over time and ultimately pull the investment lever.

So, how can employers support these spenders and savers?

Encourage people to contribute, or to contribute moreEBRI found that only half of account holders put anything in their HSA in 2017, and just under 40% of accounts received no contributions — including employer dollars. Employer contributions can help overcome employees’ reluctance to enroll in an HDHP, but the way they are designed matters. Matching contributions act as a strong incentive for employees to save while also protecting the most vulnerable employees from having to shoulder the entire burden of out-of-pocket healthcare costs.

Another technique to help address employees’ anxiety around a high deductible is to pre-fund out-of-pocket costs by allowing employees to borrow from future contributions. If the employee incurs costs but doesn’t have enough HSA dollars to cover them, they can use future contributions as an advance against current out-of-pocket expenses. The employer provides the funds up front and the employee pays back those funds through payroll deductions. This acts as a safety net for new account holders or those without substantive balances.

Drive people toward the maximum contribution. With fewer than 20% of employees fully funding their HSA, there’s certainly room to move the needle. While additional contributions may not be possible for all employees, reinforcing the tax advantages and the portability of the HSA may help people divert more dollars to insulate themselves against healthcare costs.

Highlight ways to save on healthcare costs. When employees are funding their care before meeting a high deductible, help them spend those HSA dollars wisely. Promote telehealth if you offer it and remind employees about the most appropriate places to get care (for example, urgent care versus the emergency room). Reinforce the preventive aspects of your healthcare plan, including physicals, screenings and routine immunizations. If you have a wellness program that includes bloodwork and biometric testing, make sure you tie this into your healthcare consumerism messaging. There’s generally a lot of care employees can get at no cost, and it helps when you remind them.

Don’t lose contributors to an over-emphasis on investing. The tax advantages of investing in an HSA are undeniable, but most people are just not there yet. When we describe HSAs as a long-term retirement savings vehicle, we may inadvertently be messaging to non-participants that these accounts aren’t for them. Speak to the majority with messaging around funding near-term healthcare costs on a tax-advantaged basis and the flexibility to use HSA dollars for a wide variety of expenses beyond just doctor and pharmacy costs. Investing information should be included, but it shouldn’t be the primary focus.

HSAs are gaining in popularity, and the majority of account holders are using them to self-fund their healthcare, which is a good thing. A small but growing number are taking advantage of their plans’ investment options. Employees eventually may become investors as their accounts grow and they better understand the opportunity to grow their assets and save for the longer term. For now, however, the educational and engagement focus for HSA plan sponsors should primarily be around participation, maximizing contributions and spending HSA dollars wisely.

SOURCE: Cosgray, B. (6 December 2019) "How to maximize employee participation in HSA plans" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/how-to-maximize-employee-participation-in-hsa-plans