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/


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


What to do when your state says you need a retirement plan

Did you know: Almost 25 percent of U.S. adults lack any retirement savings. In response to these findings, many states are beginning to require employees to participate in state-sponsored retirement programs. Read the following blog post to learn what to do when your state requires you to participate in a state-sponsored retirement plan.


We’re all too aware of the looming retirement crisis. Almost 25% of adults in the United States lack any retirement savings, according to the Federal Reserve. In response, a number of states have decided to enact legislation that require employees to participate in their state-sponsored retirement program.

What does this mean for business owners not currently offering a plan?

For businesses operating in a state where legislation has been proposed, it’s very likely that they will have to make some changes in the not-so-distant future. Some state plans come with penalties for not enrolling, while others offer appealing incentives for involvement. However, the real question may not be whether you want to offer a state-sponsored plan, but rather, whether a state-sponsored plan is the right option.

Most state-sponsored plans are designated as Roth IRAs, using investments chosen by the state, and are low-cost. However, there are also benefits to creating a customized plan that works for you and your employees. Issuing your own plan allows you to:

  • Select your own investments to include the right fund variety and offer user-friendly models like target-date funds;
  • Create your own plan design so you have more control over things like company matching and eligibility rules;
  • Derive significantly greater tax benefits because a 401(k) plan allows deductions of pre-tax earnings of up to $19,000 whereas an IRA only permits deductions of up to $6,000 in earnings;
  • Borrow against your plan in times of emergency; and
  • Keep costs equally low thanks to new entrants and advanced technology that eliminates overhead.
  • While state-sponsored plans are getting the conversation started, it’s important to look at the bigger picture strategy and determine the best short- and long-term decisions.

To better understand the urgency behind any retirement plan decision, it’s worth digging deeper into the specific requirements of your state. But regardless of what state you’re in, there are many perks to offering a company-sponsored retirement plan such as tax incentives, recruitment and retention benefits, and investing in your employee’s future. And thanks to new entrants and advanced technology, many traditional inefficiencies and excess fees have been eliminated, keeping costs down.

States are putting emphasis on the retirement crisis and stepping in to help. But at the end of the day, this is about setting your employees — and yourself — up for retirement security. Look at the current proposals in your jurisdiction, think about what you’re trying to accomplish, and determine what will offer the greatest value for you and your team. Everyone deserves retirement security.

SOURCE: Brecher, A. (22 November 2019) "What to do when your state says you need a retirement plan" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/what-to-do-when-your-state-says-you-need-a-retirement-plan


IRS increases retirement contributions for 2020

Recently, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced that workers contributing to 401(k), 403(b), 457 and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plans will be able to add up to $19,500 in 2020. Read this blog post to learn more about this increase in retirement contributions.


The IRS said this week that workers contributing to 401(k), 403(b), 457 and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plans plans can add $19,500 next year, an increase from $19,000 in 2019.

The move could help workers save more for retirement, but it may be inconvenient for employers who’ve already started open enrollment, experts say. Employees are now able to set aside $500 more for retirement.

“Every penny counts when you’re saving for retirement, and the higher contribution limit is definitely going to help,” says Jacob Mattinson, partner at McDermott, Will & Emery, a Chicago-based law firm. “But since companies are in the midst of open enrollment, employers may have to go back in and change the entries for employees who want to contribute the max.”

There are about 27.1 million 401(k) plan participants using roughly 110,794 employer-sponsored 401(k) plans, the Employee Benefit Research Institute says. Ninety-three percent of employers offer a 401(k) plan, and around 74% of companies match workers’ contributions, according to data from the Society for Human Resource Management.

While the vast majority of employers do offer retirement savings plans, employees may still be struggling to sock away money. Around 70% of workers say debt has negatively impacted their ability to save for retirement, EBRI says.

“Thirty-two percent of workers with a major debt problem are not at all confident about their prospects for a financially secure retirement, compared with 5% of workers without a debt problem,” says Craig Copeland, EBRI senior research associate.

The IRS also upped contribution limits on Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees plans, or SIMPLE retirement accounts, to $13,500 from $13,000. The agency did not change the contribution limits to IRAs, which remain at $6,000 annually.

SOURCE: Hroncich, C. (7 November 2019) "IRS increases retirement contributions for 2020" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/irs-increases-retirement-contributions-for-2020


IRS updates rules on retirement plan hardship distributions

Recently, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) finalized updates to the hardship distribution regulations. These new regulations make the requirements more flexible and participant friendly. Read this blog post to learn more about these updated regulations.


Employers who allow for hardship distributions from their 401(k) or 403(b) plans should be aware that the Internal Revenue Service recently finalized updates to the hardship distribution regulations to reflect legislative changes. The new rules make the hardship distribution requirements more flexible and participant-friendly.

Hardship distributions are in-service distributions from 401(k) or 403(b) plans that are available only to participants with an immediate and heavy financial need. Plans are not required to offer hardship distributions. But there are certain requirements if a plan does offer hardship distributions. Generally, a hardship distribution may be made to a participant only if the participant has an immediate and heavy financial need, and the distribution is necessary and not in excess of the amount needed (plus related taxes or penalties) to satisfy that financial need.

An administrator of a 401(k) or 403(b) plan can determine whether a participant satisfies these requirements based on all of the facts and circumstances, or the administrator may rely on certain tests that the IRS has established, called safe harbors.

Over the last fifteen years, Congress has changed the laws that apply to hardship distributions. The new rules align existing IRS regulations with Congress’s legislative changes. Some of the changes are mandatory and some are optional. The new rules make the following changes. The following changes are required.

Elimination of six-month suspension.

Employers may no longer impose a six-month suspension of employee elective deferrals following the receipt of a hardship distribution.

Required certification of financial need.

Employers must now require participants to certify in writing or by other electronic means that they do not have sufficient cash or liquid assets reasonably available, in order to satisfy the financial need and qualify for a hardship distribution.

There were also some optional changes made to hardship distributions.

Removal of the requirement to take a plan loan.

Employers have the option, but are not mandated, to eliminate the requirement that participants take a plan loan before qualifying for a hardship distribution. In order to qualify for a hardship distribution, participants are still required to first take all available distributions from all of the employer’s tax-qualified and nonqualified deferred compensation plans to satisfy the participant’s immediate and heavy financial need. The optional elimination of the plan loan requirement may first apply beginning January 1, 2019.

Expanded safe harbor expenses to qualify for hardship.

The new hardship distribution regulations expand the existing list of pre-approved expenses that are deemed to be an immediate and heavy financial need. Prior to the new regulations, the list included the following expenses:

  • Expenses for deductible medical care under Section 213(d) of the Internal Revenue Code;
  • Costs related to the purchase of a principal residence;
  • Payment of tuition and related expenses for a spouse, child, or dependent;
  • Payment of amounts to prevent eviction or foreclosure related to the participant’s principal residence;
  • Payments for burial or funeral expenses for a spouse, child, or dependent; and
  • Expenses for repair of damage to a principal residence that would qualify for a casualty loss deduction under Section 165 of the Internal Revenue Code.

The new regulations expand this list of permissible expenses by adding a participant’s primary beneficiary under the plan as a person for whom medical, tuition and burial expenses can be incurred. The new regulations also clarify that the immediate and heavy financial need for principal residence repair and casualty loss expenses is not affected by recent changes to Section 165 of the Internal Revenue Code, which allows for a deduction of such expenses only if the principal residence is located in a federally declared disaster zone. Finally, the new regulations add an additional permissible financial need to the list above for expenses incurred due to federally declared disasters.

New contribution sources for hardships.

The law and regulations provide that employers may now elect to allow participants to obtain hardship distributions from safe harbor contributions that employers use to satisfy nondiscrimination requirements, qualified nonelective elective contributions (QNECS), qualified matching contributions (QMACs) and earnings on elective deferral contributions. However, 403(b) plans are not permitted to make hardship distributions from earnings on elective deferrals, and QNECS and QMACs are distributable as hardship distributions only from 403(b) plans not held in a custodial account.

As this list indicates, the new regulations make substantial changes to the hardship distribution rules.

The deadline for adopting this amendment depends on the type of plan the employer maintains and when the employer elects to apply the changes. Plan sponsors should work with their document providers and legal counsel to determine the specific deadlines for making amendments.

SOURCE: Tavares, L. (01 November 2019) "IRS updates rules on retirement plan hardship distributions" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/irs-updates-rules-on-401k-403b-plan-hardship-distributions


How to Find an Old 401(k) — and What to Do With It

According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, there are more than 25 million people with money left behind in a previous employer-sponsored retirement plan. Read this blog post from NerdWallet for information on how to find an old retirement plan and what to do with it.


There are billions of dollars sitting unclaimed in ghosted workplace retirement plans. And some of it might be yours if you’ve ever left a job and forgotten to take your vested retirement savings with you.

It happens. A lot.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office reports that from 2004 through 2013, more than 25 million people with money in an employer-sponsored retirement plan like a 401(k) left at least one account behind after their last day on the job.

But no matter how long the cobwebs have been forming on your old 401(k), that money is still yours. All you have to do is find it.

Following the money

Employers will try to track down a departed employee who left money behind in an old 401(k), but their efforts are only as good as the information they have on file. Beyond providing 30 to 60 days notice of their intentions, there are no laws that say how hard they have to look or for how long.

If it’s been a while since you’ve heard from your former company, or if you’ve moved or misplaced the notices they sent, there are three main places your money could be:

  1. Right where you left it, in the old account set up by your employer.
  2. In a new account set up by the 401(k) plan administrator.
  3. In the hands of your state’s unclaimed property division.

Here’s how to start your search:

Contact your old employer

Start with your former company’s human resources department or find an old 401(k) account statement and contact the plan administrator, the financial firm that held the account and sent you updates.

"You may be allowed to leave your money in your old plan, but you might not want to."

If there was more than $5,000 in your retirement account when you left, there’s a good chance that your money is still in your workplace account. You may be allowed to leave it there for as long as you like until you’re age 70½, when the IRS requires you to start taking distributions, but you might not want to. Here’s how to decide whether to keep your money in an old 401(k).

Plan administrators have more leeway with abandoned amounts up to $5,000. If the balance is $1,000 or less, they can simply cut a check for the total and send it to your last known address, leaving you to deal with any tax consequences. For amounts more than $1,000 up to $5,000, they’re allowed to move funds into an individual retirement account without your consent. These specialty IRAs are set up at a financial institution that has been federally authorized to manage the account.

The good news if a new IRA was opened for the rollover: Your money retains its tax-protected status. The bad: You have to find the new trustee.

Look up your money’s new address

If the old plan administrator cannot tell you where your 401(k) funds went, there are several databases that can assist:

Search unclaimed property databases

If a company terminates its retirement plan, it has more options on what it’s allowed to do with the unclaimed money, no matter what the account balance.

"If your account was cashed out, you may owe the IRS."

It might be rolled into an IRA set up on your behalf, deposited at a bank or left with the state’s unclaimed property fund. Hit up missingmoney.com, run in part by the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators, to do a multistate search of state unclaimed property divisions.

Note that if a plan administrator cashed out and transferred your money to a bank account or the state, a portion of your savings may have been withheld to pay the IRS. That’s because this kind of transfer is considered a distribution (aka cashing out) and is subject to income taxes and penalties. Some 401(k) plan administrators withhold a portion of the balance to cover any potential taxes and send you and the IRS tax form 1099-R to report the income. Others don’t, which could leave you with a surprise IRS IOU to pay.

What to do with it

You might be able to leave your old 401(k) money where it is if it’s in your former employer’s plan. One reason to do so is if you have access to certain mutual funds that charge lower management fees available to institutional clients — like 401(k) plans — that aren’t available to individual investors. But you’re not allowed to contribute to the plan anymore since you no longer work there.

Reasons to move your money to an IRA or to roll it into a current employer’s plan include access to a broader range of investments, such as individual stocks and a wider selection of mutual funds, and more control over account fees.

If your money was moved into an IRA on your behalf, you don’t have to — and probably shouldn’t — leave it there. The GAO study of forced-transfer IRAs found that annual fees (up to $115) and low investment returns (0.01% to 2.05% in conservative investments dictated by the Department of Labor regulations) “can steadily decrease a comparatively small stagnant balance.”

Once you find your money, it’s easy to switch brokers and move your investments into a new IRA of your choosing without triggering any taxes.

Unless you enjoyed this little treasure hunt, the next time you switch jobs, take your retirement loot with you.

SOURCE: Yochim, D. (27 February 2019) "How to Find an Old 401(k) — and What to Do With It" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/investing/how-to-find-an-old-401k-and-what-to-do-with-it/


DOL proposes rule on digital 401(k) disclosures

A new rule has been proposed by the Department of Labor (DOL) that is meant to encourage employers to issue retirement plan disclosures electronically. This rule would allow plan sponsors of 401(k)s and other defined-contribution plans to default participants with a valid email address to receive plan disclosures electronically. Read the following blog post to learn more.


The Department of Labor proposed a rule Tuesday that's meant to encourage more employers to issue retirement plan disclosures electronically to plan participants.

The rule would allow sponsors of 401(k)s and other defined-contribution plans to default participants with valid email addresses into receiving all their retirement plan disclosures — such as fee disclosure statements and summary plan descriptions — digitally instead of on paper, as has been the traditional route.

Participants can opt-out of e-delivery if they prefer paper notices. The proposed rule covers the roughly 700,000 retirement plans subject to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974.

"DOL rules have largely relied on a paper default," said Will Hansen, chief government affairs officer for the American Retirement Association. "Everything had to be paper, unless they opted into electronic default. This rule is changing the current standing."

Proponents of digital delivery believe it will save employers money and increase participants' retirement savings. The DOL also believes digital delivery will increase the effectiveness of the disclosures.

Plan sponsors are responsible for the costs associated with furnishing participant notices, and many small and large plans pass those costs on to plan participants, Mr. Hansen said. The DOL estimates its proposal will save retirement plans $2.4 billion over the next 10 years through the reduction of materials, printing and mailing costs for paper disclosures.

Opponents of digital delivery maintain that paper delivery should remain the default option. They have noted that participants are more likely to receive and open disclosures if they come by mail, and claim that print is a more readable medium for financial disclosures that helps participants better retain the information.

"We are reviewing the proposal carefully and look forward to providing comments to the Department of Labor, but we already know that in a world of information overload, many people prefer to get important financial information delivered on paper, not electronically," said Cristina Martin Firvida, vice president of financial security and consumer affairs at AARP. "The reality is missed emails, misplaced passwords and difficulties reading complex information on a screen mean that most people do not visit their retirement plan website on a regular basis."

President Donald J. Trump issued an executive order on August 2018 calling on the federal government to strengthen U.S. retirement security. In that order, Mr. Trump directed the Labor secretary to examine how the agency could improve the effectiveness of plan notices and disclosures and reduce their cost.

The DOL proposal, called Default Electronic Disclosure by Employee Pension Benefit Plans under ERISA, is structured as a safe harbor, which offers legal protections to employers that follow the guidelines laid out in the rule.

Retirement plans would satisfy their obligation by making the disclosure information available online and sending participants and beneficiaries a notice of internet availability of the disclosures. That notice must be sent each time a plan disclosure is posted to the website.

A digital default can't occur without first notifying participants by paper that disclosures will be sent electronically to the participant's email address.

The 30-day comment period on the proposal starts Wednesday. In addition, the DOL issued a request for information on other measures it could take to improve the effectiveness of ERISA disclosures.

SOURCE: Lacurci, G. (22 October 2019) "DOL proposes rule on digital 401(k) disclosures" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.investmentnews.com/article/20191022/FREE/191029985/dol-proposes-rule-on-digital-401-k-disclosures


Do I Still Need Life Insurance Once I Retire? Your Questions Answered

Do you still need life insurance after you retire? Going into retirement doesn't necessarily mean that you are financially sound. Read this blog post for more answers to your questions regarding life insurance after retirement.


Do I need life insurance once I retire? Just because you’re retired doesn’t necessarily mean you’re financially sound.

Think of all the different scenarios that may still be applicable: You may have been required to retire early; you may have had investments that have gone sour and haven’t had time to rebuild your nest egg. Additionally, there may be a need to cover final expenses, you may have children still at home who depend on you, or you may have a family member like an aging parent or special-needs sibling that you provide financial support for.

The bottom line is this: If you owe someone, love someone, or someone depends on you financially, you need life insurance. And just because you’re retired or old doesn’t mean those three things go away.

Do I need the same amount of life insurance coverage as I did before? If you bought the life insurance to replace income and have built up your investments, maybe not.

Then again, if you have built up your investments over the years, there may be some state or federal inheritance tax that will have to be paid upon your death. And even if there is no federal tax, there may still be significant state inheritance tax. There are also things like probate costs, administration costs; there might be final debt or a mortgage on house, too. So as long as there is some type of financial exposure, you need life insurance to match up with that.

If I don’t have one, is it still possible to buy a policy in retirement? Absolutely. Just because you’re old or older doesn’t mean you’re uninsurable.

I just got a call from someone doing planning for the family patriarch who’s 85 years old. They realized that right now, the estate is worth more than the combined amount of federal exemption and that there will be tax to pay. That’s where life insurance comes in, at less than a dollar for each dollar of tax.

Another reason to have the coverage is if someone has taken 100% pay-out on their pension, with no survivorship provision. If that person dies, no money gets paid out to the surviving spouse. This is more common than you think. Nor is it unusual to hear that someone remarries and forgets to change the pension beneficiary. Life insurance can ensure that the spouse is taken care of.

What else should I know about having life insurance in retirement? People don’t often talk about the living benefits of life insurance.

Let’s say you no longer need the death benefit, but are living with a lingering, terminal illness and may not have sufficient cash to pay medical expenses. The accelerated death benefit provision means you can go to the insurance company and pull down money from the policy to absorb the costs of that illness and avoid bankruptcy.

A permanent life insurance policy is also a place to put money aside that gives you a better rate of return than a low pay-out CD or putting money in a safety deposit box. It’s a way to have some safe money invested at no risk—it’s just there for when you need it.

SOURCE: Feldman, M. (9 January 2019) "Do I Still Need Life Insurance Once I Retire? Your Questions Answered" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://lifehappens.org/blog/do-i-still-need-life-insurance-once-i-retire-your-questions-answered/


How 401(k) Taxes Work and How to Minimize the Tax Bill

Are you familiar with how 401(k) taxes work? Most 401(k) plans are tax-deferred, meaning that you won't pay income taxes until you withdraw the money you've put into your 401(k). Read this blog post for an overview of how these taxes work.


Most 401(k) plans are tax-deferred, which means you don’t pay income tax on the money you put into the account until you withdraw it. That makes the 401(k) not just a way to save for retirement; it’s also a great way to cut your tax bill. But there are a few rules about 401(k) taxes to know, as well as a few strategies that can get your tax bill even lower.

Here’s an overview of how 401(k) taxes work and how to pay less tax when the IRS asks for a cut of your retirement savings.

How do 401(k) taxes on contributions work?

Contributions to a traditional 401(k) plan come out of your paycheck before the IRS takes its cut. So if you earn $1,000 before taxes at work and you contribute $200 of it to your 401(k), that’s $200 less that you’ll be taxed on. When you file your tax return, you’d report $800 rather than $1,000.

  • If your employer offers a Roth 401(k), that means you contribute after-tax money instead of pre-tax money as with the traditional 401(k). This has a few advantages (see the section about withdrawals).
  • You still have to pay Medicare and Social Security taxes on your payroll contributions to a 401(k).
  • In 2019, you can contribute up to $19,000 a year to a 401(k) plan, which means you can shield $19,000 a year from income taxes. If you’re 50 or older, you can contribute $25,000 in 2019.
  • The annual contribution limit is per person, and it applies to all of your traditional or Roth 401(k) contributions in total.
  • Your employer will send you a W-2 in January that shows how much it paid you during the previous calendar year, as well as how much you contributed to your 401(k) and how much withholding tax you paid.

Do 401(k) taxes apply while your money is in the account?

While money is in a traditional 401(k), you pay no taxes on investment gains, interest or dividends.  This is true for a Roth 401(k), as well.

Roth 401(k) vs. Traditional 401(k)

Traditional 401(k) Roth 401(k)
Tax treatment of contributions Contributions are made pre-tax, which reduces your current adjusted gross income. Contributions are made after taxes, with no effect on current adjusted gross income. Employer matching dollars must go into a pre-tax account and are taxed when distributed.
Tax treatment of withdrawals Distributions in retirement are taxed as ordinary income. No taxes on qualified distributions in retirement.
Withdrawal rules Withdrawals of contributions and earnings are taxed. Distributions may be penalized if taken before age 59½, unless you meet one of the IRS exceptions. Withdrawals of contributions and earnings are not taxed as long as the distribution is considered qualified by the IRS: The account has been held for five years or more and the distribution is:

  • Due to disability or death
  • On or after age 59½

Unlike a Roth IRA, you cannot withdraw contributions at any time.

How do 401(k) taxes apply to withdrawals?

In technical terms, your contributions and the investment growth in a traditional 401(k) are tax-deferred — that is, you don’t pay taxes on the money until you make withdrawals from the account. At that point, you’ll owe income taxes to Uncle Sam. If you’re in a Roth 401(k), in most cases you won’t owe any taxes at all when you withdraw the money because you will have already paid the taxes upfront.

401(k) taxes if you withdraw the money in retirement

  • For traditional 401(k)s, the money you withdraw is taxable as regular income — like income from a job — in the year you take the distribution (remember, you didn’t pay income taxes on it back when you put it in the account; now it’s time to pay the piper).
  • For Roth 401(k)s, the money you withdraw is not taxable (you already paid the income taxes on it back when you put the money in the account).
  • You can begin withdrawing money from your traditional 401(k) without penalty when you turn age 59½.
  • You can begin withdrawing money from your Roth 401(k) without penalty once you’ve held the account for at least five years and you’re at least 59½.
  • If you’ve retired, you have to start taking required minimum distributions from your account starting on April 1 of the year following the year in which you turn 70½.
  • If you’re still working at age 70½, you can put off taking distributions from your traditional 401(k).
  • If you don’t take the required minimum distribution when you’re supposed to, the IRS can assess a penalty of 50% of the amount not distributed.
  • You can withdraw more than the minimum.

401(k) taxes if you withdraw the money early

For traditional 401(k)s, there are three big consequences of an early withdrawal or cashing out before age 59½:

  1. Taxes will be withheld. The IRS generally requires automatic withholding of 20% of a 401(k) early withdrawal for taxes. So if you withdraw the $10,000 in your 401(k) at age 40, you may get only about $8,000.
  2. The IRS will penalize you. If you withdraw money from your 401(k) before you’re 59½, the IRS usually assesses a 10% penalty when you file your tax return. That could mean giving the government another $1,000 of that $10,000 withdrawal.
  3. You may have less money for later, especially if the market is down when you start making withdrawals. That could have long-term consequences.

There are a lot of exceptions. This article has more details, but in a nutshell, you might be able to escape the IRS’s 10% penalty for early withdrawals from a traditional 401(k) if you:

  • Receive the payout over time.
  • Qualify for a hardship distribution with the plan administrator.
  • Leave your job and are over a certain age.
  • Are getting divorced.
  • Are or become disabled.
  • Put the money in another retirement account.
  • Use the money to pay an IRS levy.
  • Use the money to pay certain medical expenses.
  • Were a disaster victim.
  • Overcontributed to your 401(k).
  • Were in the military.
  • Die.

You can withdraw money from a Roth 401(k) early if you’ve held the account for at least five years and need the money due to disability or death.

7 quick tips to minimize 401(k) taxes

  1. Wait as long as you can to take money out of your account. Withdrawals are what can trigger taxes.
  2. If you must make an early withdrawal from a 401(k), see if you qualify for an exception that will help you avoid paying an early withdrawal penalty.
  3. See if you qualify for the Saver’s Credit on your contributions.
  4. Be careful with how you roll over your account. Rolling an old 401(k) account into another 401(k) or into an IRA usually won’t trigger taxes — if you get the money into the new account within 60 days. Otherwise, the IRS might consider the move a distribution, triggering taxes and maybe even a penalty.
  5. Borrow from your 401(k) instead of making an early withdrawal. Not all 401(k) plans offer loans, though. Also, in most circumstances you’ll need to repay the loan within five years and make regular payments. Check with your plan administrator for the rules.
  6. Use tax-loss harvesting. You might be able to offset the taxes on your 401(k) withdrawal by selling underperforming securities at a loss in some other regular investment account you might have. Those losses can offset some or all of the taxes on your 401(k) withdrawal.
  7. See a tax professional. There are other ways to minimize your 401(k) taxes, too, so find a qualified tax pro and discuss your options.

SOURCE: Orem, T. (19 September 2019) "How 401(k) Taxes Work and How to Minimize the Tax Bill" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/taxes/401k-taxes/