Retirement will be here before you know it. Whether you’re just starting out or are getting closer to your golden years, here are 11 tips to help you save, maximize tax incentives and put you squarely on the road to the retirement of your dreams.
1. Pick out the retirement savings vehicle for you.
This is one of the most important actions anyone can take, and it leads to all the other tips. Consider maxing out your 401(k) contributions, including allowable catch-ups, or maxing out your pension plan contributions. The tax laws in certain cases allow you to defer taxes on up to 100% of your annual income. It’s great to do this if you have other assets, coming from money that’s already been taxed that you can live on while your income grows tax- deferred. Doing this requires designing an individual retirement plan, in conjunction with your adviser. This should start during your first conversation with your adviser, depending on your age or circumstances. Possibilities include a company 401(k), a solo 401(k) if you’re a small-business owner, a 401(k) with profit-sharing, a cash balance pension plan, or a Roth IRA to take advantage of all legal ways to minimize your tax bill when you retire.
2. Take out a Qualified Longevity Annuity Contract (QLAC).
The tax code allows you to put up to $125,000 in a Quality Longevity Annuity Contract, which charges no fees and protects your money against taxes that will be charged when you turn 70½ and are required to take a certain percentage of your IRA or 401(k) money. Required Minimum Distributions can be deferred until age 85 using the QLA. It protects you from running out of money, as the QLAC will give you an income for life and—bonus—keeps a chunk of your money out of your taxable income. This is one of many things you can do now to make life richer when you retire.
3. Consider life insurance.
Yes, boring old vanilla life insurance, not universal life, not term life. These are policies that pay dividends and are issued by mutual companies, which mean they are owned by their policyholders. That means they are very conservative in how they manage your money. Most people do not realize that insurance companies diversify your money using the most elite bond-management firms in the world. Your adviser should shop at least three different policies for you to make sure you are getting the best deal. A life insurance policy is a great way to hedge not only the volatility of the market but also the uncertainty of rising taxes now and in retirement. If you have a portfolio divided 60% in stocks and 40% in bonds, you could take the 40% that’s in bonds and buy life insurance. You get a comparable rate of return as some bond funds, but you also get principal protection (the face value never goes down), money goes tax-free to your heirs when you die, and the IRS doesn’t care about this money. It also has an added benefit that few people consider: for most policies, the insurance company will pay your premiums if you become disabled through what is called the Waiver of Premium rider.
4. Incorporate yourself.
Let’s say you’re nearing retirement, ready to leave that 9-to-5 job. The tax code allows you a key benefit, the creation of your Limited Liability Corporation, or LLC. There are ads all over TV for websites that offer to form one for you. Your legal adviser can do it in less than an hour. It just means incorporating yourself to do something you enjoy: freelance writing, being a travel agent if you enjoy traveling, being a horticultural adviser if you like gardening. Under the recently passed tax rules, certain LLCs can legally avoid taxes on 20% of their income through what is called a pass-through. Consult your adviser on this one: rules can change quickly.
5. Form a C-Corp.
This is a variation of forming an LLC. A C-Corporation is simply a normal company, taxed separately from you as the owner. It can be your hobby yarn business or your consulting company, or virtually anything else. One of the main reasons to do this, instead of doing the LLC mentioned above, is that in many cases the company can pay for your long-term-care insurance and write this off as a business expense. It’s worth asking your adviser whether it’s a good idea for you. If it is, you can save a lot of money while getting future health expenses covered.
6. Buy an IRA condo using cost segregation.
Let’s say you’ve always wanted to buy that second house and you’re approaching retirement but still working. You could pull money out of your IRA to buy an investment property through something called cost segregation. Any adviser can show you how to do this. One strategy is to take a distribution from your personal IRA, normally taxable, and then loan that money to your LLC. Your LLC can then use those funds to buy a property, maybe a mixed-use multi- family dwelling, or a building occupied by your small business, or even a vacation home. The rules allow you to potentially use cost segregation to write off 20% to 30% of the purchase price of that home. Say you take out a $500,000 mortgage at 4% interest. That $20,000 of interest may get you only a $10,000 deduction under new tax rules, but you get to use or rent out the second house.
7. Take advantage of the Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD).
This one comes into its own once you’ve reached age 70½ and must take the Required Minimum Distributions from your 401(k) or IRA. Since these are taxable, they can easily bump you into a higher bracket if you’ve got Social Security (also taxable) or dividend or interest earnings, the total of which can also affect things like how much you pay for Medicare. Virtually every retiree I see gripes about this requirement, and many take out the money, put it in their checking account, and pay taxes on the full amount on April 15. But there is a legal way to avoid part or all of this tax. One way is the Qualified Charitable Deduction. Under a QCD, you direct your IRA custodian (for example, Fidelity) to send your Required Minimum Distributions to the charity of your choice directly from your IRA in the amount of the Required Minimum Distribution. You get the tax deduction, and since the income never reaches you, you don’t owe any taxes on it. It’s fiddly, but important. As the ads for prescription drugs declare on TV, ask your adviser if this is right for you.
8. Get a part-time job at a charity.
If you’ve already retired and love volunteering at the library, food pantry, or church, consider proposing that they employ you part time. This can be a tax-efficient use of the funds the charity might get from donors or the government, and it can also make tax sense for you. It involves a type of retirement savings plan called a 403(b). Say you get a $24,000 yearly salary from the charity. You can put part or all of this directly into a 403(b) plan that works just like a 401(k). You don’t pay any tax until you take it out.
9. Create a Charitable Remainder Unitrust (CRUT).
Say that you were prescient enough to buy 10,000 shares of Apple AAPL, +0.27% stock at $5 a share in the early 1990s. Say you were also smart enough to just hold on to it. That stock is now worth about $180 a share, or about $1.8 million. Great. Happy retirement. But you don’t really want to pay income tax on a $1.8 million capital gain, do you? One solution for a highly appreciated asset, like that Apple stock, is to create a Charitable Remainder Unitrust. This involves setting up a trust for a charity, depositing the asset, and getting, say, a 5% to 7% payout a year for life. You’d pay taxes on the income, but you also get a whopping tax deduction based on the full value of the asset. It works for paintings, jewelry, antique cars, or stocks and funds that have gone way up in value since you bought or inherited it. As always, have your adviser explain this carefully to you before he or she sets it up.
10. Manage your Required Minimum Distribution (RMD).
The QCD is a good way to handle your required IRA distributions, but there are others. The required amount of money that you have to distribute from your 401(k) or IRA can be put into a cash-value life insurance policy, a long-term care policy, municipal bonds, or no-dividend stocks (think stocks like Berkshire BRK.A, +0.29% BRK.B, +0.12% that don’t pay a dividend). That way you are not paying taxes twice on money you’ve already paid taxes on.
11. Turn a hobby into a business.
Paul and Tammy are a couple I know who are in the highest tax bracket of their life. They get pensions, Social Security, dividend, and annuity income. They have no child deduction, no mortgage deduction, and they don’t own their convenience store anymore. What they love to do is make lamps and to travel. They set up an LLC for their lamp-making business, created a nice website, and now travel all over the country exploring and living it up, from Long Beach, Calif., to Long Beach Island, N.J., delivering lamps. It’s a useful $25,000 yearly income and a great tax deduction. They can deduct expenses for lamp-making supplies, their home workshop, and car and hotel expenses on the road. They are happily seeing the USA on Uncle Sam’s dime.
Josh Jalinski is president of Advisory Group and author of “Retirement Reality Check: How to Spend Your Money and Still Leave an Amazing Legacy.” Jalinksi is the host of the Financial Quarterback radio show.