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There ARE Solutions for Required Minimum Distributions! 11.15.2021

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By: Steve Pitchford, Director of Tax and Financial Planning      

Dreading a Required Minimum Distribution, or RMD, from a retirement account? No doubt, it’s because of T-A-X-E-S.

While RMDs can be an unwanted by-product of contributing to and investing in retirement accounts such as 401(k)s, IRAs, 403(b)s, etc., there are impactful and proactive tax planning strategies that can materially lessen the tax sting of an RMD.

What are RMDs, and how should an individual plan for them within the context of a tax-efficient retirement strategy? Read on to learn more about RMDs, and specifically, three actionable RMD strategies worth evaluating to better keep Uncle Sam at bay.

Required Minimum Distributions RMD taxes

What is an RMD?

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) requires that individuals begin taking annual distributions (read: withdrawals) from pre-tax qualified retirement accounts[1] when they reach age 72. These withdrawals are referred to as required minimum distributions (RMDs).

RMDs from pre-tax qualified retirement accounts are subject to ordinary income tax rates in the year in which they are taken.

Examples of pre-tax qualified retirement accounts include:

  • Regular/Traditional IRAs
  • SEP IRAs
  • SIMPLE IRAs
  • 401(k) plans[2]
  • 403(b) plans
  • 457(b) plans
  • Profit sharing plans
  • Other defined contributions plans  
  • Inherited IRAs (subject to special rules, see page six)
  • Annuities, but only when held within another qualified retirement plan

Generally, Roth IRAs are the only type of qualified retirement plan not subject to RMDs. Withdrawals from Roth IRAs are tax-free, and the IRS does not mandate distributions from these accounts, as no tax revenue is generated when taking a Roth distribution.

Why are Investors Subject to RMDs?

Pre-tax contributions to a qualified retirement account provide two important and major tax advantages:

  1. A dollar-for-dollar reduction in taxable income (read: an income tax deduction) for the contribution in the year it was made
  2. Investment earnings (interest, dividends, and capital gains) are not taxed until withdrawn from the plan[3]. The power of tax-deferred compounding is tremendous, FYI:
The Power of Tax Deferral RMD taxes

If RMDs did not exist and an individual had sufficient supplemental financial means[4] to meet their retirement spending goals and objectives, they would probably avoid distributions from a pre-tax qualified retirement plan in the interests of avoiding paying the concurrent ordinary income taxes on those distributions. Requiring these distributions ensures that the government will not lose out on valuable tax revenue, on top of the lost tax revenue from the upfront tax deduction and tax-deferred growth that retirement accounts already provide.

How are RMDs Calculated?

For most individuals, the annual RMD calculation is as follows:

  1. The individual determines the account balance as of December 31 of the year before the RMD is to be taken.[5]
  2. The account owner determines his or her “life expectancy factor” using the life expectancy tables published by the IRS.
  3. The account balance is divided by the life expectancy factor to determine that year’s RMD.

The life expectancy table used for most individuals is the following:

Required Minimum Distributions How are RMDs Calculated

*Individuals should speak with their financial advisor or tax professional to ensure that they are not subject to a different life expectancy factor, as exceptions to the above table do exist.

Investment custodians such as Charles Schwab, Fidelity, and Vanguard typically calculate RMDs on behalf of the retirement account owner. However, it is the responsibility of the owner to ensure the RMD is satisfied before year-end.[6]

Towerpoint Tip:

Withholding taxes directly from qualified retirement plan distributions is generally the most convenient way to pay the RMD taxes. However, using after-tax dollars instead to pay estimated tax payments to cover the RMD taxes may be a more tax-efficient approach.

Form 5329 | What If an Investor Misses Taking Some or All of Their RMD?

If a retirement account owner who is subject to an RMD misses taking it by December 31, the penalty is steep: 50% of the RMD shortfall.

If this happens to occur, the individual should immediately:

  1. Take corrective action and distribute the shortfall from their qualified retirement account as quickly as possible.
  2. File a Tax Form 5329.
  3. Attach a letter to the Form 5329 explaining the steps taken to correct this and why it was missed in the first place. While there is no formal guidance from the IRS regarding an error that would qualify for the penalty to be waived, three common positions taken are a change in address resulting in not getting the RMD notification, a death in the family, or an illness.

How to Effectively Plan to Decrease RMD Taxes

There are three strategies that we regularly employ for our Towerpoint Wealth clients to mitigate RMD taxes.

Strategy One: Accelerate IRA Withdrawals

Subject to certain exceptions, age 59 ½ is the first year in which an individual is able to take a distribution from a qualified retirement plan without being subject to a 10% early withdrawal tax penalty.

Consequently, the window of time between age 59 ½ and age 72 becomes an important one for proactive RMD tax planning. By strategically taking distributions from pre-tax qualified retirement accounts between these ages, an individual may be able to lessen theiroverall lifetime tax liability by reducing future RMDs (and the risk that RMDs may push them into a higher tax bracket) by reducing the retirement account balance.

This strategy becomes particularly opportune for an individual who has retired before age 72, as it often affords the individual the ability to take these taxable distributions in a uniquely low income (and lower income tax) period of time.

At Towerpoint Wealth, we utilize BNA Income Tax Planner, a robust piece of tax planning software, to evaluate these types of tax planning opportunities, helping our clients optimize this decision-making process.

Towerpoint Tip:

Don’t forget Social Security! Leveraging distributions taken from qualified retirement accounts to serve as a retirement income “bridge” is an important consideration when strategically planning how and when to receive Social Security benefits. Oftentimes, it is advisable to take distributions from qualified retirement accounts to meet retirement spending goals and objectives and delay filing for Social Security benefits until age 68, 69, or even 70.

Why? Each year Social Security benefits are deferred, starting at the first eligible filing year of age 62, until age 70, the monthly benefit amount increases by a guaranteed 8%! 

Strategy Two: Execute a Roth Conversion

A Roth conversion is a retirement and tax planning strategy whereby an individual transfers, or “converts,” some or all of their pre-tax qualified retirement plan assets from a Traditional IRA into a tax-free Roth IRA.

While ordinary income taxes are owed on any amounts of tax-deferred contributions and earnings that are converted, a Roth conversion, when utilized properly, is a powerful tax planning strategy to reduce a future IRA RMD, as Roth assets are not subject to RMDs. Further, Roth conversions 1) maximize the tax-free growth within a taxpayer’s investment portfolio, 2) provide a hedge against possible future tax-rate increases (as Roth retirement accounts are tax-free), and 3) leave a greater tax-free financial legacy to heirs.

Roth IRAs IRA RMD

For both strategies #1 and #2: Consider executing these strategies for the older spouse first, as this individual will be subject to an IRA RMD earlier. For this same reason, it is often advisable to contribute to the younger spouse’s pre-tax qualified retirement plan first.

Towerpoint Tip:

At Towerpoint Wealth, pairing a Roth conversion with the “frontloading” of a Donor-Advised Fund (DAF) has been a powerful tax planning strategy, allowing our clients to convert additional assets “over” to tax-free Roth assets at lower tax rates, while also allowing taxpayers who would not ordinarily itemize deductions to “hurdle” the standard deduction. This ensures that they receive at least a partial tax deduction for their charitable contribution to a DAF.

Strategy Three: Use the IRA RMD to Make Qualified Charitable Distributions

When an individual becomes subject to an IRA RMD, in lieu of having the IRA distributions go to them, they may consider facilitating a direct transfer from their IRA to one, or more, 501(c)3 charitable organizations (up to $100K annually). This is known as a Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD).

As long as these distributions are made directly to the charity, they 1) satisfy the RMD and 2) are excluded from taxable income.

This strategy, when executed property, results in a dollar-for-dollar income reduction compared to a “normal” RMD.

Required Minimum Distributions Charitable Distributions

What Is an Inherited IRA, and Are They Subject to RMDs?

An Inherited IRA, also commonly known as a Beneficiary IRA, is a qualified retirement account that is opened on behalf of the beneficiary(ies) of the original owner’s qualified retirement account after the death of this owner. While the rules surrounding RMDs for Inherited IRAs can be complicated, Inherited IRAs are subject to mandatory distribution schedules.

For most individuals, the RMD on Inherited IRAs is levied as follows:

            RMD on Inherited IRA for an owner who passed before December 31, 2019

Subject to a life expectancy table similar to those for regular RMDs. These RMDs begin the year following the death of the owner.

            RMD on Inherited IRA for an owner who passed after December 31, 2019

Subject to the “10-Year Rule” where all funds need to be distributed ten years after the year of the owner’s death. How and when funds are distributed within this ten-year time horizon is up to the owner of the Inherited IRA.

Towerpoint Tip:

The “10-Year Rule” is making Inherited IRA tax planning more important than ever. Although the flexibility of how and when to withdraw funds within this period may be helpful, the window of distribution is more compressed (for most individuals) compared to the “old” rules.

Individuals should consider a Roth conversion if they are concerned about their inheritors paying taxes on future distributions. While Inherited Roth IRAs are subject to the same RMD rules as Inherited IRAs, the distributions are tax-free. A Roth conversion, within this context, is an estate planning strategy to transfer tax liability to the original account owner and away from the future inheritor(s).

How Can We Help?

At Towerpoint Wealth, we are a fiduciary to you, and embrace the legal obligation we have to work 100% in your best interests. We are here to serve you and will work with you to formulate a comprehensive and tax-efficient retirement strategy. If you would like to discuss further, we encourage you to call, 916-405-9166, or email spitchford@towerpointwealth.com to open an objective dialogue.


[1] A retirement plan that provides tax advantages relative to nonqualified plans. Most employer-sponsored plans are qualified retirement plans.

[2] Less than 5% owners can defer RMDs until they leave the company or retire.

[3] Taxable investment accounts, such as a brokerage account or trust account, are subject to taxes based on annual earnings. Investors receive a Form 1099 each year showing the income to be reported on tax returns.

[4] Pension income, Social Security benefits, taxable investment assets, etc.

[5] For example, a 2021 RMD is calculated using the account balance as of December 31, 2020.

[6] RMDs may be taken all at once or throughout the year.

Matt Regan No Comments

Funding a “Backdoor” Roth IRA

Do you have the enviable problem of NOT being able to contribute to a tax free Roth IRA every year because you make too much money?

Click to watch the video below from our Wealth Advisor, Matt Regan, to learn how you can go through the back door and still fund a *tax-free* Roth every year!

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One Minute Tax Tips – Roth IRA conversions

Wealth advisor Matt Regan, with the first in a weekly series, One Minute Tax Tips, discussing Roth IRA conversions.

In today’s low (and possibly temporary) current income tax environment, considering paying some tax *this year*, in 2020, to do a partial Roth conversion and gain the benefit of having sheltered additional money in a tax free Roth IRA may make sense.

Watch Matt’s 60 second video to better understand what this strategy entails, and email us at info@towerpointwealth.com to discuss if this strategy may make sense for you.

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No Outcome? No Surprise. No Problem!

We expected it to be this way, right? Historically, the market has always gotten a bit crazy both before, and after, the election:

Since Election Day on Tuesday, the S&P 500 has rallied 4%, and has enjoyed its best start to the month of November ever, up 7.4% in four days.

At Towerpoint Wealth, we believe there are a few reasons for this big jump:

  1. While investors do expect a fiscal stimulus package out of Washington D.C. in the near future, perhaps before January, the size of a deal reached in a divided Congress is likely to be much smaller than it would be under a Democratic-controlled Congress. However, sometimes bad news equals good news on Wall Street, and this had led investors to believe that more pressure will be on the U.S. Federal Reserve (“the Fed”) to pump more funds into the financial system, theoretically supporting stock prices. Just yesterday, Fed Chair Jerome Powell said more stimulus is “absolutely essential” to economic recovery.
  2. Assuming Republicans hold the Senate, the likelihood of significant increases in both regulations and income taxes is significantly decreased.
  3. Interest rate and inflation expectations have recently dropped:
         Interest Rates       
Inflation

Additionally, as the Chart of the Week towards the bottom of this newsletter indicates, gridlock has historically been good for the equity markets. And while ballots are still being tallied, and Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, and Pennsylvania remaining in focus, it does appear that Joe Biden is on the brink of victory, and that we are much closer to having a clear winner, possibly by tomorrow or Sunday. The betting markets on the Presidency sure seem to agree:

There are many reasons for us here at Towerpoint Wealth to be paying close attention to events out of our control, but no reason to be reactionary to any of them. In addition to the recent interest rate and inflation-expectation adjustments, some of the other post-election, split-Congress items bearing scrutiny include:

  1. Renewed weakness in the financial sector
  2. Growth stocks outperforming value stocks
  3. Industrial and materials sector stocks lagging
  4. The volatility of the U.S. dollar
  5. Strengthening emerging market stocks
  6. Continued strengthening of technology sector stocks
  7. Potential weakness in tax-free municipal bond prices
  8. Weakness in healthcare sector stocks
  9. Weakness in renewable energy stocks


All of these moving parts and variables can make it tempting to consider second-guessing your investment strategy and philosophy. The constant struggle between the desire for growth and protection is natural, and the goal of managing a well-diversified portfolio is to be prepared for any market environment or political change.


Ultimately, when we put aside all of those “uncontrollables,” we keep the following graph in focus (hopefully the trend is an obvious one):

What’s Happening at TPW?

The Towerpoint Wealth family enjoyed an afternoon of teambuilding and camaraderie on the Sacramento river earlier this week, taking a quick voyage on the Sacramento Brew Boat up and back to the iconic Virgin Sturgeon restaurant for lunch.

While on their adventure, they also helped our newest family member and wealth advisor, Matt Regan, celebrate his birthday!

TPW Service Highlight – Morningstar Portfolio “Instant X-Ray”

Often enough, clients ask us what stocks they have exposure to within the various mutual funds and exchange traded funds (ETFs) that comprise their portfolio. We now have a sophisticated tool available to us that not only does a deep-dive in evaluating your specific asset allocation and sector weightings, but also the actual individual underlying holdings you have exposure to.

Think you are properly diversified? There is only one way to find out for sure – ask us to run a Morningstar portfolio Instant X-Ray report, and we will dissect your portfolio to uncover concentrated positions, areas of unexpected overlap, and provide detailed insights into your portfolio’s diversification, illuminating what is truly driving your portfolio’s risk and performance.

Chart of the Week

The odds right now seem to favor a Biden presidency, a Republican Senate, and a Democrat House. The chart below, from LPL Financial Research, shows how a split Congress has been historically good for the stock market.

As always, we sincerely value our relationships and partnerships with each of you, as well as your trust and confidence in us here at Towerpoint Wealth. We encourage you to reach out to us at any time (916-405-9140, info@towerpointwealth.com) with any questions, concerns, or needs you may have. The world continues to be an extremely complicated place, and we are here to help you properly plan for and make sense of it.

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– Steve, Jonathan, Lori, Joseph, Raquel, Nathan, and Matt

Towerpoint Wealth Our Team Sacramento Wealth