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Do Women Face Greater Retirement Challenges?

June 6, 2018
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If so, how can they plan to meet those challenges?

Why are women so challenged to retire comfortably? You can cite a number of factors that can potentially impact a woman’s retirement prospects and retirement experience. A woman may spend less time in the workforce during her life than a man due to childrearing and caregiving needs, with a corresponding interruption in both wages and workplace retirement plan participation. A divorce can hugely alter a woman’s finances and financial outlook. As women live longer on average than men, they face slightly greater longevity risk – the risk of eventually outliving retirement savings. There is also the gender wage gap that is narrowing, but still evident.

What can women do to respond to these financial challenges? Several steps are worth taking.

  • Invest early & consistently. Women should realize that, on average, they may need more years of retirement income than men. Social Security will not provide all the money they need, and, in the future, it may not even pay out as much as it does today. Accumulated retirement savings will need to be tapped as an income stream. Saving and investing regularly through IRA and workplace retirement accounts is vital and the earlier the better and so is getting the employer match, if one is offered. Catch-up contributions after 50 should also be a goal.
  • Consider Roth IRA & HSA. Imagine having a source of tax-free retirement income. Imagine having a healthcare fund that allows tax-free withdrawals. A Roth IRA can potentially provide the former; a Health Savings Account, the latter. An HSA is even funded with pre-tax dollars, as opposed to a Roth IRA, which is funded with after-tax dollars – so an HSA owner can potentially get tax-deductible contributions as well as tax-free growth and tax-free withdrawals.  IRS rules must be followed to get these tax perks, but they are not hard to abide by. A Roth IRA needs to be owned for only five tax years before tax-free withdrawals may be taken (the owner does need to be older than age 59½ at that time). Those who make too much money to contribute to a Roth IRA can still convert a traditional IRA to a Roth. HSA’s have to be used in conjunction with high-deductible health plans, and HSA savings must be withdrawn to pay for qualified health expenses in order to be tax-exempt. One intriguing HSA detail worth remembering: after attaining age 65 or Medicare eligibility, an HSA owner can withdraw HSA funds for non-medical expenses (these types of withdrawals are characterized as taxable income).
  • Work longer in pursuit of greater monthly Social Security benefits. Staying in the workforce even one or two years longer means one or two years less of retirement to fund, and for each year a woman refrains from filing for Social Security after age 62, her monthly Social Security benefit rises by about 8%. Social Security also pays the same monthly benefit to men and women at the same age – unlike the typical privately funded income contract, which may pay a woman of a certain age less than her male counterpart as the payments are calculated using gender-based actuarial tables.
  • Find a method to fund eldercare. Many women are going to outlive their spouses, perhaps by a decade or longer. Their deaths (and the deaths of their spouses) may not be sudden. While many women may not eventually need months of rehabilitation, in-home care, or hospice care, many other women will.

Today, financially aware women are planning to meet retirement challenges. They are conferring with financial advisors in recognition of those tests – and they are strategizing to take greater control over their financial futures.

At HFG Wealth Management, we embrace a method of financial planning known as Financial Life Planning™. We believe this is a financially effective and personally rewarding approach to creating a practical, lasting financial plan. As financial professionals using the life planning approach, our purpose is to assist individuals and families in creating a long-term vision that is consistent with their core values. At HFG we recognize that life events and life transitions can impact your financial responsibilities and your vision of the future. We are here to provide you with tips and strategies to get you started and help you reach your financial and life goals at every stage. For more information, please visit www.hfgwm.com or call 832.585.0110.

“The information contain herein is general in nature and may not be suitable for everyone. We encourage you to give us a call, to discuss your specific situation and to help determine the appropriate course of action.”

2018 Retirement Account Limits


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How much can you contribute this year?

In 2018, you have another chance to max out your retirement accounts. Here is a rundown of yearly contribution limits for the popular retirement savings vehicles.

IRA’s. The 2018 limits are the same as in 2017: $5,500 for IRA owners who will be 49 and younger this year and $6,500 for IRA owners who will be 50 or older this year. These limits apply to both Roth and traditional IRA’s.

What if you own multiple IRA’s? This $5,500/$6,500 limit applies to your total IRA contributions for a calendar year. So, for example, should you happen to have five IRA’s, you could make an equal contribution of $1,100 (or $1,300) to each of them in 2017 or unequal contributions to them not exceeding the applicable $5,500/$6,500 limit. Keep in mind that you can fund your IRA until the federal income tax deadline. High earners may find their ability to make a full Roth IRA contribution restricted. This applies to a single filer or head of household whose adjusted gross income falls within the $120,000-135,000 range and to married couples whose AGI’s land between $189,000-199,000. If your AGI exceeds the high ends of those phase-out ranges, you may not make a 2018 Roth IRA contribution. (For tax year 2017, the respective phase-out ranges are $118,000-133,000 and $186,000-196,000.)

401(k)s, 403(b)s, and 457s. Each of these employee retirement plans have 2018 contribution limits of $18,500. The 2018 contribution limit is $24,500, however, if you will be 50 or older this year – that means you are eligible to make a “catch-up” contribution of up to $6,000 above the usual limit. Both 403(b) and 457(b) plans offer savers special catch-up contribution opportunities. If you participate in a 403(b) plan, you can also opt to take advantage of its 15-year rule: if you have 15 or more years of tenure and your average yearly contribution to the plan has been $5,000 or less, you can direct an extra $3,000 per year into the plan. If you are enrolled in a 457(b) plan sponsored by a state or local government agency, you can contribute up to double the standard annual limit each year if you are within three years of normal retirement age (as the plan defines). In 2017, that meant that you could put up to $36,000 into your 457(b) plan in that circumstance; in 2018, the limit becomes $37,000. You can make this “double contribution” and the standard catch-up contribution of up to $6,000 if you are 50 or older in 2018.

SIMPLE IRA and SEP-IRA. In 2018, the contribution limit for a SIMPLE IRA is $12,500; those who will be 50 or older this year may contribute up to $15,500. Business owners need to match these annual employee contributions to at least some degree. Self-employed individuals can contribute as an employee and employer to a SIMPLE IRA.  Business owners and the self-employed can also contribute to SEP-IRAs. All contributions to these accounts have to come from the business, and all contributions are tax deductible. The annual contribution limit on a SEP-IRA is very high – in 2018, it is either $55,000 or 25% of the business owner’s net self-employment income, whichever is lower.

At HFG Wealth Management, we embrace a method of financial planning known as Financial Life Planning™. We believe this is a financially effective and personally rewarding approach to creating a practical, lasting financial plan. As financial professionals using the life planning approach, our purpose is to assist individuals and families in creating a long-term vision that is consistent with their core values. At HFG we recognize that life events and life transitions can impact your financial responsibilities and your vision of the future. We are here to provide you with tips and strategies to get you started and help you reach your financial and life goals at every stage. For more information, please visit www.hfgwm.com or call 832.585.0110.

“The information contain herein is general in nature and may not be suitable for everyone. We encourage you to give us a call, to discuss your specific situation and to help determine the appropriate course of action.”

Are Your Beneficiary Designations Up to Date?


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Who should inherit your IRA or 401(k)? See that they do

Here’s a simple financial question: who is the beneficiary of your IRA? How about your 401(k) or annuity? You may be saying, “I’m not sure.” It is wise to periodically review your beneficiary designations.

Your choices may need to change with the times. When did you open your first IRA? When did you buy your life insurance policy? Was it back in the Nineties? Are you still living in the same home and working at the same job as you did back then? Have your priorities changed?  While your beneficiary choices may seem obvious and rock-solid when you initially make them, time has a way of altering things. In a stretch of five or ten years, some major changes can occur in your life and may warrant changes in your beneficiary decisions.

In fact, you might want to review them annually. Here’s why: companies frequently change custodians when it comes to retirement plans and insurance policies. When a new custodian comes on board, a beneficiary designation can get lost in the paper shuffle. (It has happened.) If you don’t have a designated beneficiary on your retirement accounts, those assets may go to the “default” beneficiaries when you pass away, which might throw a wrench into your estate planning. An example: under ERISA, your spouse receives your 401(k) assets if you pass away. Your spouse must waive that privilege in writing for those assets to go to your children instead.

How your choices affect your loved ones. The beneficiary of your IRA, annuity, 401(k), or life insurance policy may be your spouse, your child, maybe another loved one, or maybe even an institution. Naming a beneficiary helps to keep these assets out of probate when you pass away. Many people do not realize that beneficiary designations take priority over bequests made in a will or living trust. For example, if you long ago named a son or daughter who is now estranged from you as the beneficiary of your life insurance policy, he or she will receive the death benefit when you die, regardless of what your will states.

You may have even chosen the “smartest financial mind” in your family as your beneficiary, thinking that he or she has the knowledge to carry out your financial wishes in the event of your death. But what if this person passes away before you do? What if you change your mind about the way you want your assets distributed and are unable to communicate your intentions in time? And what if he or she inherits tax problems as a result of receiving your assets?

How your choices affect your estate. If you are naming your spouse as your beneficiary, the tax consequences are less thorny. Assets you inherit from your spouse aren’t subject to estate tax, as long as you are a U.S. citizen. When the beneficiary isn’t your spouse, things get a little more complicated – for your estate and for your beneficiary’s estate. If you name, for example, your son or your sister as the beneficiary of your retirement plan assets, the amount of those assets will be included in the value of your taxable estate. (This might mean a higher estate tax bill for your heirs.) And the problem will persist: when your non-spouse beneficiary inherits those retirement plan assets, those assets become part of their taxable estate, and their heirs might face higher estate taxes. Your non-spouse heir might also have to take required income distributions from that retirement plan someday and pay the required taxes on that income.  If you properly designate a charity or other 501(c)(3) non-profit organization as a beneficiary of your retirement account assets, the assets can pass to the charity without your estate being taxed, and the gift will be deductible for estate tax purposes.

At HFG Wealth Management, we embrace a holistic method of financial planning known as Financial Life Planning™. We believe this is a financially effective and personally rewarding approach to creating a practical, lasting financial plan. As financial professionals using the life planning approach, our purpose is to assist individuals and families in creating a long-term vision that is consistent with their core values. At HFG we recognize that life events and life transitions can impact your financial responsibilities and your vision of the future. We are here to provide you with tips and strategies to get you started and help you reach your financial and life goals at every stage. For more information, please visit www.hfgwm.com or call 832.585.0110.

 

Paying for College Can Be a Family Affair

May 23, 2018
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College planning isn’t for parents only. It’s an investment that should involve the whole family and offer students their first taste of financial planning. It’s a time for parents to be realistic about what they can afford and for students to give serious thought to the value of a college education and where it will get them in life. Most important, an in-depth discussion requires families to sit down at the kitchen table and talk about money.

The psychological barriers to this discussion can be huge. Parents who think it’s their obligation to pay for their children’s college education (because their parents paid for theirs) are feeling guilty because they haven’t saved enough. Children who never had to worry about paying for things before and who want to preserve their childhood a little longer don’t think they should have to worry about where the money will come from. None of these attitudes will help get the FAFSA form filled out. Better to face the realities of college head-on now and use the experience as a lesson in financial planning.

Lesson 1: Goal Setting
Most families scrambling to pay for college may now regret not having set college goals earlier. Families will, however, need to adjust the goal-setting process to account for the fact that college is upon them and no longer a vague event some 18 years in the future. Once a child gets to high school, goal-setting needs to be practical and realistic. No pie-in-the-sky dreams about obtaining multiple degrees at private colleges. And it needs to involve the child.

Moreover, it should go beyond the four years of college to include career plans, income targets, and lifestyle goals to determine how much debt the student feels comfortable taking on. Will an elite private school pay for itself in higher postgraduate earnings? Or would the child prefer a less expensive school in order not to be burdened with debt and therefore free to pursue a lower paying career such as teaching?

The goal-setting process at this stage requires the student to think beyond college majors and freshman year beer busts and do some real life planning. While the choices may be difficult, the process is invaluable. The younger a person is when life-planning and goal-setting skills are developed, the more empowered that individual will feel throughout life.

Lesson 2: Tax-Deferred Compounding
Regrets often provide the greatest life lessons. It’s too late now for the parents of a high school senior to compound savings over 18 years, but they may be able to use this missed opportunity as a lesson in saving for their own retirement. And you can bet that a child with no college savings is determined never to come up short again, making this a perfect time to discuss some finance basics: save 10% of your income; max out your IRA; save up for what you want rather than going into debt.

Let’s not forget the compounding lesson, which paradoxically, is sometimes made more difficult by the large end-dollar amounts promised. For example, a young person can accumulate over $1 million in 50 years by saving just $150 per month at 8%. The financial services industry often holds these large amounts out as a carrot to motivate people to save, but they just make the monthly savings amount seem too pitiful to make a difference. One might as well blow it on the latest indulgence. But that $150 is the crucial seed that gets the whole ball rolling. In time, the earnings will represent a larger share of the whole, but only if the seed money is invested first. Perhaps the compounding lesson should focus on the amount going into the account, not the pot of gold at the end.

Lesson 3: Budgeting and Cash Flow
College is the perfect time to introduce young people to the essentials of budgeting. Even if credit cards, payment plans and parents help smooth out the cash flow, students should not go off to college without knowing how much everything will cost. The College Board breaks down college expenses into five categories: tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, personal expenses, and travel. If college is a few years away, families can use the average costs listed in the College Board’s “Trends in College Pricing” (http://trends. collegeboard.org/college pricing) to develop a preliminary budget and make basic decisions about which type of college to go to, private vs. public, instate or out, and so on.

Even so, families will need to consider their own individual circumstances. Will parents visit the school several times throughout the year? (Add airfare and hotel/meal costs.) Will the child have a car at school? (Add insurance, gas, parking, and maintenance costs.) Will the child go to Miami for spring break? (Not exactly a college expense, but it should be part of the budget.) Even if parents are able and willing to pay for everything, the off-to-college budgeting exercise is a meaningful way to prepare kids for the financial responsibilities of life. And no matter how tight or loose the budget is, it never hurts to look for ways to reduce college costs.

Lesson 4: Debt Management
Any child who has ever borrowed money from his parents has had some experience with debt. But it probably didn’t involve interest or fees and it certainly didn’t introduce the child to the nation’s most unforgiving lender, Uncle Sam. Student loans seem so magnanimous at first—no payments till after graduation and forbearances relatively easy to obtain—but once the money is borrowed, the debt must be managed with care, because default is not an option.
The principles of debt management seem obvious to adults, but children swept up in the financial aid game need to learn them: don’t borrow more than you can afford to repay, shop around for the best rates and terms, and understand the full cost of the loan over the entire payment period. Loan consolidation, for example, may seem like a good deal until you calculate the total interest over the life of the loan. Students will need to be reminded that many of those nice student aid people who are helping them obtain money for college are really in the business of selling loans and may not have students’ best interests at heart.

Next to retirement, college planning is one of the most serious aspects of financial planning, because it influences a young adult’s total lifetime earnings. The type of degree, where it comes from, and the people the student meets in college all help shape the career direction and opportunities the student will have in life. The planning process may be considered an important part of the student’s education, as it prepares the student for the many financial- and life-planning issues that will come up in the years ahead.

At HFG Wealth Management, we embrace a holistic method of financial planning known as Financial Life Planning™. We believe this is a financially effective and personally rewarding approach to creating a practical, lasting financial plan. As financial professionals using the life planning approach, our purpose is to assist individuals and families in creating a long-term vision that is consistent with their core values. At HFG we recognize that life events and life transitions can impact your financial responsibilities and your vision of the future. We are here to provide you with tips and strategies to get you started and help you reach your financial and life goals at every stage. For more information, please visit www.hfgwm.com or call 832.585.0110.

Teaching Your College-Age Child about Money


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When your child first started school, you doled out the change for milk and a snack on a daily basis. But now that your kindergartner has grown up, it’s a great reminder to ensure your college student has enough financial knowledge to manage money at college.

Lesson 1: Budgeting 101

Perhaps your child already understands the basics of budgeting from having to handle an allowance or wages from a part-time job during high school. But now that your child is in college, he or she may need to draft a “real world” budget, especially if he or she lives off-campus and is responsible for paying for rent and utilities. Here are some ways you can help your child plan and stick to a realistic budget:

  • Help your child figure out what income there will be (money from home, financial aid, a part-time job) and when it will be coming in (at the beginning of each semester, once a month, or every week).
  • Make sure your child understands the difference between needs and wants. For instance, when considering expenses, point out that buying groceries is a need and eating out is a want. Your child should understand how important it is to cover the needs first.
  • Determine together how you and your child will split responsibility for expenses. For instance, you may decide that you’ll pay for your child’s trips home, but that your child will need to pay for art supplies or other miscellaneous expenses.
  • Warn your child not to spend too much too soon, particularly when money that has to last all semester arrives at the beginning of a term. Too many evenings out in September eating surf and turf could lead to a December of too many evenings in eating cold cereal.
  • Acknowledge that college isn’t all about studying, but explain that splurging this week will mean scrimping next week. While you should include entertainment expenses in the budget, encourage your child to stick closely to the limit you agree upon.
  • Show your child how to track expenses by saving receipts and keeping an expense log. Knowing where the money is going will help your child stay on track. Reallocation of resources may sometimes be necessary, but help your child understand that spending more in one area means spending less in another.
  • Encourage your child to plan ahead for big expenses (the annual auto insurance bill or the trip over spring break) by instead setting aside money for them on a regular basis.
  • Caution your child to monitor spending patterns to avoid excessive spending, and ask him or her to come to you for advice at the first sign of financial trouble.

You should also help your child understand that a budget should remain flexible; as financial goals change, a budget must change to accommodate them. Still, your child’s ultimate goal is to make sure that what goes out is always less than what comes in.

Lesson 2: Getting credit

If your child is age 21 or older, he or she may be able to independently obtain a credit card. But if your child is younger, the credit card company will require you, or another adult, to cosign the credit card application, unless your child can prove that he or she has the financial resources to repay the credit card debt. A credit card can provide security in a financial emergency and, if used properly, can help your child build a good credit history. But the temptation to use a credit card can be seductive, and it’s not uncommon for students to find themselves over their heads in debt before they’ve declared their majors. Unfortunately, a poor credit history can make it difficult for your child to rent an apartment, get a car loan, or even find a job for years after earning a degree. And if you’ve cosigned your child’s credit card application, you’ll be on the hook for your child’s unpaid credit card debt, and your own credit history could suffer.

Here are some tips to help your child learn to use credit responsibly:

  • Advise your child to get a credit card with a low credit limit to keep credit card balances down.
  • Explain to your child that a credit card isn’t an income supplement; what gets charged is what’s owed (and then some, given the high interest rates). If your child continually has trouble meeting expenses, he or she should review and revise the budget instead of pulling out the plastic.
  • Teach your child to review each credit card bill and make the payment by the due date. Otherwise, late fees may be charged, the interest rate may go up if the account falls 60 days past due, and your child’s credit history (or yours, if you’ve cosigned) may be damaged.
  • If your child can’t pay the bill in full each month, encourage him or her to pay as much as possible. An undergraduate student making only the minimum payments due each month on a credit card could finish a post-doctorate program before paying off the balance.
  • Make sure your child notifies the card issuer of any address changes so that he or she will continue to receive statements.
  • Tell your child that when it comes to creditors, students don’t get summers off! Your child will need to continue to make payments every month, and if there’s a credit card balance carried over from the school year, your child may want to use summer earnings to pay it off in order to start the next school year with a clean slate.

Finally, remind your child that life after college often involves student loan payments and maybe even car or mortgage payments. The less debt your child graduates with, the better off he or she will be. When it comes to the plastic variety, extra credit is the last thing a college student wants to accumulate!

At HFG Wealth Management, we embrace a holistic method of financial planning known as Financial Life Planning™. We believe this is a financially effective and personally rewarding approach to creating a practical, lasting financial plan. As financial professionals using the life planning approach, our purpose is to assist individuals and families in creating a long-term vision that is consistent with their core values. At HFG we recognize that life events and life transitions can impact your financial responsibilities and your vision of the future. We are here to provide you with tips and strategies to get you started and help you reach your financial and life goals at every stage. For more information, please visit www.hfgwm.com or call 832.585.0110. “The information contain herein is general in nature and may not be suitable for everyone. We encourage you to give us a call, to discuss your specific situation and to help determine the appropriate course of action.”

How Parent & Child Assets Impact Financial Aid Packages

May 16, 2018
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Parents with investments and home equity generally find it harder to get financial aid for their college-bound children. But if you understand how assets are assessed on the FAFSA and CSS Financial Aid PROFILE, you can improve your chances for getting the best financial aid package possible. Do you know how your investments might reduce your chances for financial aid?  And what about the role that your family’s home equity plays in determining whether your child will receive financial help from a college?  When children are little, parents often feel virtuous about saving for college, but when the college years are approaching, they often begin to view their college accounts and other investments as if they were time bombs with short fuses. Parents frequently assume that their assets will wreck their chances for financial aid. But parental fears about their investments are usually worse than the reality behind the role that assets play in their financial aid determinations.

Assets and financial aid applications
Whether your assets will hurt your financial aid prospects depends in part on what financial aid application(s) each school uses. There are the two main applications:

  • The free application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). All colleges and universities use the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine if a student qualifies for federal and/or state financial aid. Most schools also use FAFSA to decide if a student qualifies for financial help from their own institutions. Nearly all public institutions and many private colleges find it sufficient to rely solely on the FAFSA.
  • CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE. Roughly 260 colleges and universities (nearly all of them private) require families seeking financial aid to complete an additional aid application called the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE. Highly selective schools, such as the Ivy League, Stanford, MIT, and Amherst, use the PROFILE.

How FAFSA treats assets

Let’s first take a look at how assets fare under the FAFSA aid calculations. Many families will be pleasantly surprised that with the FAFSA, their investments make little or no impact on their children’s chances for need-based help. That’s because FAFSA ignores some assets, including the two biggest for many families: home equity and qualified retirement accounts.

Here are the assets that FAFSA ignores and parents do not need to include in their application:

  • Equity in a primary home
  • Qualified retirement assets, including: Traditional and rollover IRAs
  • Roth IRAs
  • SEP-IRAs
  • 401(k), 403(b), 457(b)
  • SIMPLE
  • KEOGH
  • Pension plans
  • Annuities (qualified and nonqualified)
  • Cash value in life insurance

While retirement accounts are safe, other assets are not. The following are those assets FAFSA does assess in determining eligibility for financial aid: All taxable accounts including:

  • Certificates of deposit
  • Savings and checking accounts
  • Commodities
  • Equity in property other than primary residence
  • College Accounts 529 college plans
  • Coverdell Education Savings Accounts
  • UGMA/UTMA custodial accounts (considered children’s assets)
  • Stocks
  • Bonds
  • Mutual Funds

How parents vs. children’s assets are assessed
The FAFSA formula assesses relevant parent assets at a maximum of 5.64%. The federal formula assesses child assets, which would include all custodial accounts as well as a child’s own savings/ checking, at 20%. The federal formula treats child assets more harshly because students are expected to contribute more of their money to pay for their college years.  For financial aid purposes, it could possibly be better to have money held in the parents’ names rather than the child’s. However, the child assets shouldn’t pose a problem if a family isn’t going to qualify for need-based aid because of high parental assets and income. It’s also always important to look for schools that provide merit scholarships for high-income students—and luckily most do.

At HFG Wealth Management, we embrace a method of financial planning known as Financial Life Planning™. We believe this is a financially effective and personally rewarding approach to creating a practical, lasting financial plan. As financial professionals using the life planning approach, our purpose is to assist individuals and families in creating a long-term vision that is consistent with their core values. At HFG we recognize that life events and life transitions can impact your financial responsibilities and your vision of the future. We are here to provide you with tips and strategies to get you started and help you reach your financial and life goals at every stage. For more information, please visit www.hfgwm.com or call 832.585.0110.

“The information contain herein is general in nature and may not be suitable for everyone. We encourage you to give us a call, to discuss your specific situation and to help determine the appropriate course of action.”

Financing a College Education


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A primer for parents and grandparents

A university education can often require financing and assuming debt. If your student fills out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and does not qualify for a Pell Grant or other kinds of help, and has no scholarship offers, what do you do? You probably search for a student loan.

A federal loan may make much more sense than a private loan. Federal student loans tend to offer kinder repayment terms and lower interest rates than private loans, so for many students, they are a clear first choice. The interest rate on a standard federal direct loan is 4.45%. Subsidized direct loans, which undergraduates who demonstrate financial need can arrange, have no interest so long as the student maintains at least half-time college enrollment.

Still, federal loans have borrowing limits, and those limits may seem too low. A freshman receiving financial support from parents may only borrow up to $5,500 via a federal student loan, and an undergrad getting no financial assistance may be lent a maximum of $57,500 before receiving a bachelor’s degree. (That ceiling falls to $23,000 for subsidized direct loans.) So, some families take out private loans as supplements to federal loans, even though it is hard to alter payment terms of private loans in a financial pinch.

You can use a student loan calculator to gauge what the monthly payments may be. There are dozens of them available online. A standard college loan has a 10-year repayment period, meaning 120 monthly payments. A 10-year, $30,000 federal direct loan with a 4% interest rate presents your student with a monthly payment of $304 and eventual total payments of $36,448 given interest. The same loan, at a 6% interest rate, leaves your student with a $333 monthly payment and total payments of $39,967. (The minimum monthly payment on a standard student loan, if you are wondering, is typically $50.)

When must your student start repaying the loan? Good question. Both federal and private student loans offer borrowers a 6-month grace period before the repayment phase begins. The grace period, however, does not necessarily start at graduation. If a student with a federal loan does not maintain at least half-time enrollment, the grace period for the loan will begin. (Perkins loans have a 9-month grace period; the grace period for Stafford loans resets once the student resumes half-time enrollment.) Grace periods on private loans begin once a student graduates or drops below half-time enrollment, with no reset permitted.

What if your student cannot pay the money back once the grace period ends? If you have a private student loan, you have a problem – and a very tough, and perhaps fruitless, negotiation ahead of you. If you have a federal student loan, you may have a chance to delay or lower those loan repayments.  An unemployed borrower can request deferment of federal student loan payments. A borrower can also request forbearance, a deferral due to financial emergencies or hardships. Interest keeps building up on the loan balance during a forbearance, though.

At the moment, federal student loans can be forgiven through two avenues. The first, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PLSF) program, requires at least 10 years of public service, government, or non-profit employment, or at least 120 student loan payments already made from the individual. The second avenue, income-driven repayment plans, first lowers the monthly payment and extends the payment timeline based on what the borrower earns. If the balance is finally forgiven, the loan forgiveness is seen by the Internal Revenue Service as taxable income. (If you have student loan debt forgiven via the PLSF, no taxes have to be paid on the amount.)

Consult financial aid officers and high school guidance counselors before you borrow. Get to know them; request their knowledge and insight. They have helped other families through the process, and they are ready to try and help yours.

Lastly, avoid draining the Bank of Mom & Dad. If your student needs to finance a college education, remember that this financial need should come second to your need to save for retirement. Your student has a chance to arrange a college loan; you do not have a chance to arrange a retirement loan.

At HFG Wealth Management, we embrace a method of financial planning known as FinancialLife Planning™. We believe this is a financially effective and personally rewarding approach to creating a practical, lasting financial plan. As financial professionals using the life planning approach, our purpose is to assist individuals and families in creating a long-term vision that is consistent with their core values. At HFG we recognize that life events and life transitions can impact your financial responsibilities and your vision of the future. We are here to provide you with tips and strategies to get you started and help you reach your financial and life goals at every stage. For more information, please visit www.hfgwm.com or call 832.585.0110.

“The information contain herein is general in nature and may not be suitable for everyone. We encourage you to give us a call, to discuss your specific situation and to help determine the appropriate course of action.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Using a Roth IRA as a College Savings Tool


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A tax-advantaged option too many families overlook.

At first glance, a Roth IRA might seem an unusual college savings vehicle; however, upon further examination, it may look be a particularly smart choice.

A Roth IRA allows you to save for college without the constraints of a college fund. This is an important distinction, because you cannot predict everything about your child’s educational future. What if you contribute to a 529 plan or a Coverdell ESA and then your child decides not to go to college? Or, what if you save for years through one of these plans with the goal of paying tuition at an elite school and then a great university steps forward to offer your child a major scholarship or a full ride?   If you take funds out of a Coverdell ESA or 529 college savings plan and use them for anything but qualified education expenses, an income tax bill will result, plus a 10% Internal Revenue Service penalty on account earnings. (The 10% penalty is waived for 529 plan beneficiaries who get scholarships.)

You gain flexibility when you save for college using a Roth IRA. If your child gets a scholarship, elects not to attend college, or goes to a cheaper college than you anticipated, you still have an invested, tax-advantaged account left to use for your retirement, with the potential to withdraw 100% of it, tax free.

You can withdraw Roth IRA contributions at any time, for any reason, without incurring taxes or penalties. When you are an original owner of a Roth IRA and you are age 59½ or older, you can withdraw your Roth IRA’s earnings, tax free, so long as the IRA has existed for five years. From a college savings standpoint, all this is great: parents 60 and older who have owned a Roth for at least five years may draw it down without any of that money being taxed, and younger parents may withdraw at least part of the money in a Roth IRA, tax free.  You probably know that the I.R.S. discourages withdrawals of Roth IRA earnings before age 59½ with a 10% early withdrawal penalty. This penalty is not assessed, however, if the early withdrawal is used for qualified higher education expenses. Occasionally, parents roll over money from workplace retirement plans into Roth IRAs to take advantage of this exemption. 

With a Roth IRA, your investment options are broad. In contrast, many 529 college savings plans give you only limited investment choices.

You can even save for college with a Roth IRA before your child is born. No doing that with a 529 plan – you can only start one after your child has a Social Security Number.

Admittedly, a Roth IRA is not a perfect college savings vehicle. It has some drawbacks, and the big one is the annual contribution limit. You can currently contribute up to $5,500 to a Roth IRA per year, $6,500 per year if you are 50 or older. That pales next to the limits for 529 college savings plans (though it certainly exceeds the yearly limit for Coverdell ESAs).    

Some families earn too much money to open a Roth IRA. Joint filers, for example, cannot contribute to a Roth if they make in excess of $198,999 in 2018. There is a potential move around this obstacle: the so-called “backdoor Roth IRA.” You create a “backdoor Roth IRA” by rolling over assets from a traditional IRA into a Roth. That action has tax consequences, and once the rollover is made, you are prohibited from putting the assets back into the traditional IRA. Lastly, there is a bit of an impact on financial aid prospects. When funds are distributed from a Roth IRA and used to pay for college costs, those distributions are defined as untaxed income on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Fortunately, the total asset value of the Roth IRA is not reported on the FAFSA.

Roth IRAs may help families who want to save for retirement and college. If you already have a good start on retirement savings and want to open one with the intention of using it as a college fund, it may be a superb idea. If you like the potential of having tax-free retirement income and may need a little more college funding for your kids, it may be a good idea as well.

At HFG Wealth Management, we embrace a method of financial planning known as Financial Life Planning™. We believe this is a financially effective and personally rewarding approach to creating a practical, lasting financial plan. As financial professionals using the life planning approach, our purpose is to assist individuals and families in creating a long-term vision that is consistent with their core values. At HFG we recognize that life events and life transitions can impact your financial responsibilities and your vision of the future. We are here to provide you with tips and strategies to get you started and help you reach your financial and life goals at every stage. For more information, please visit www.hfgwm.com or call 832.585.0110.

“The information contain herein is general in nature and may not be suitable for everyone. We encourage you to give us a call, to discuss your specific situation and to help determine the appropriate course of action.”

 

Tax Tips: Health Insurance

April 20, 2018
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Your health insurance coverage probably came in handy several times over the past year. It all seemed so simple at the time–you paid a deductible, and your insurance usually kicked in the rest. But what do you do at tax time? Just what are you taxed on, and what can you deduct on your federal income tax return?

Your income taxes may be affected by two aspects of your health insurance plan–the premiums and the benefits. Here’s what you need to know.

You don’t include employer-paid premiums in your income
For tax purposes, you can generally exclude from your income any health insurance premiums (including Medicare) paid by your employer. The premiums can be for insurance covering you, your spouse, and any dependents. It doesn’t matter whether the premiums paid for an employer-sponsored group policy or an individual policy. You can even exclude premiums that your employer pays when you are laid off from your job.

What if your employer reimburses you for your premiums?
If you pay the premiums on your health insurance policy and receive a reimbursement from your employer for those premiums, the amount of the reimbursement is not taxable income. However, if your employer simply pays you a lump sum that may be used to pay health insurance premiums but is not required to be used for this purpose, that amount is taxable.

In most cases, you won’t be able to deduct the premiums you pay
The deductibility of health insurance premiums follows the rules for deducting medical expenses. Usually, the premiums you pay on an individual health insurance policy won’t be deductible. However, if you itemize deductions on Schedule A, and your unreimbursed medical expenses exceed 10 percent of your adjusted gross income (AGI) in any tax year, you may be able to take a deduction. You can deduct the amount by which your unreimbursed medical expenses exceed this 10 percent threshold.

Note: The threshold for the medical expense deduction is 7.5 percent of AGI for those age 65 and older until 2017 at which time it increases to 10 percent.

For example, if your AGI is $100,000, then 10 percent of your AGI is $10,000. If your unreimbursed medical expenses amount to $11,000 and you itemize deductions, you’ll be able to deduct $1,000 worth of your expenses.

Unreimbursed medical expenses include premiums paid for major medical, hospital, surgical, and physician’s expense insurance, and amounts paid out of your pocket for treatment not covered by your health insurance.

If you’re self-employed, special deduction rules may apply
In addition to the general rule of deducting premiums as medical expenses, self-employed individuals can deduct a percentage of their health insurance premiums as business expenses. These deductions aren’t limited to amounts over 10 percent of AGI, as are medical expense deductions. They are limited, though, to amounts less than an individual’s earned income. The definition of self-employed individuals includes sole proprietors, partners, and 2 percent S corporation shareholders.

If you qualify, you can deduct 100 percent of the cost of health insurance that you provide for yourself, your spouse, and your dependents. This deduction is taken on the front of your federal Form 1040; the portion of your health insurance premiums that is not deductible there can be added to your total medical expenses itemized in Schedule A.

Your health insurance benefits typically aren’t taxable
Whether we’re talking about an employer-sponsored group plan or a health insurance policy you bought on your own, you generally aren’t taxed on the health insurance benefits you receive.

What about reimbursements for medical care? You can generally exclude from income reimbursements for hospital, surgical, or medical expenses that you receive from your employer’s health insurance plan. These reimbursements can be for your own expenses or for those of your spouse or dependents. The exclusion applies regardless of whether your employer provides group or individual insurance, or serves as a self-insurer. The reimbursements can be for actual medical care or for insurance premiums on your own health insurance.

Note that there is no dollar limit on the amount of tax-free medical reimbursements you can receive in a year. However, if your total reimbursements for the year exceed your actual expenses, and your employer pays for all or part of your health insurance premiums, you may have to include some of the excess in your income.

At HFG Wealth Management, we embrace a method of financial planning known as Financial Life Planning™. We believe this is a financially effective and personally rewarding approach to creating a practical, lasting financial plan. As financial professionals using the life planning approach, our purpose is to assist individuals and families in creating a long-term vision that is consistent with their core values. At HFG we recognize that life events and life transitions can impact your financial responsibilities and your vision of the future. We are here to provide you with tips and strategies to get you started and help you reach your financial and life goals at every stage. For more information, please visit www.hfgwm.com or call 832.585.0110.

“The information contain herein is general in nature and may not be suitable for everyone. We encourage you to give us a call, to discuss your specific situation and to help determine the appropriate course of action.”

 

Tax Deductions Gone in 2018


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What standbys did tax reforms eliminate?  

Are the days of itemizing over? Not quite, but now that H.R. 1 (popularly called the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act) is the law, all kinds of itemized federal tax deductions have vanished.  

Early drafts of H.R. 1 left only two itemized deductions in the Internal Revenue Code – one for home loan interest, the other for charitable donations. The final bill left many more standing, but plenty of others fell. Here is a partial list of the itemized deductions unavailable this year.

Moving expenses. Last year, you could deduct such costs if you made a job-related move that had you resettling at least 50 miles away from your previous address. You could even take this deduction without itemizing. Now, only military service members can take this deduction.

Casualty, disaster, and theft losses. This deduction is not totally gone. If you incur such losses during 2018-25 due to a federally declared disaster (that is, the President declares your area a disaster area), you are still eligible to take a federal tax deduction for these personal losses.

Home office use. Employee business expense deductions (such as this one) are now gone from the Internal Revenue Code, which is unfortunate for people who work remotely.

Unreimbursed travel and mileage. Previously, unreimbursed travel expenses related to work started becoming deductible for a taxpayer once his or her total miscellaneous deductions surpassed 2% of adjusted gross income. No more. 

Miscellaneous unreimbursed job expenses. Continuing education costs, union dues, medical tests required by an employer, regulatory and license fees for which an employee was not compensated, out-of-pocket expenses paid by workers for tools, supplies, and uniforms – these were all expenses that were deductible once a taxpayer’s total miscellaneous deductions exceeded 2% of his or her AGI. That does not apply now. 

Job search expenses. Unreimbursed expenses related to a job hunt are no longer deductible. That includes payments for classes and courses taken to improve career or professional knowledge or skills as well as and job search services (such as the premium service offered by LinkedIn).

Subsidized employee parking and transit passes. Last year, there was a corporate deduction for this; a worker could receive as much as $255 monthly from an employer to help pay for bus or rail passes or parking fees linked to a commute. The subsidy did not count as employee income. The absence of the employer deduction could mean such subsidies will be much harder to come by for workers this year.

Home equity loan interest. While the ceiling on the home mortgage interest deduction fell to $750,000 for mortgages taken out starting December 15, 2017, the deduction for home equity loan interest disappears entirely this year with no such grandfathering.

Investment fees and expenses. This deduction has been repealed, and it should also be noted that the cost of investment newsletters and safe deposit boxes fees are no longer deductible.  In some situations, investors may want to deduct these fees from their account balances (i.e., pre-tax savings) rather than pay them by check (after-tax dollars).

Tax preparation fees. Individual taxpayers are now unable to deduct payments to CPAs, tax prep firms, and tax software companies.

Legal fees. This is something of a gray area: while it appears hourly legal fees and contingent, attorney fees may no longer be deductible this year, other legal expenses may be deductible.

Convenience fees for debit and credit card use for federal tax payments. Have you ever paid your federal taxes this way? If you do this in 2018, such fees cannot be deducted.

An important note for business owners. All the vanished deductions for unreimbursed employee expenses noted above pertain to Schedule A. If you are a sole proprietor and routinely file a Schedule C with your 1040 form, your business-linked deductions are unaltered by the new tax reforms.

An important note for teachers. One miscellaneous unreimbursed job expense deduction was retained amid the wave of reforms: classroom teachers who pay for school supplies out-of-pocket can still claim a deduction of up to $250 for such costs.

The tax reforms aimed to simplify the federal tax code, among other objectives. In addition to eliminating many itemized deductions, the personal exemption is gone. The individual standard deduction, though, has climbed to $12,000. (It is $18,000 for heads of household and $24,000 for married couples filing jointly.) For some taxpayers used to filling out Schedule A, the larger standard deduction may make up for the absence of most itemized deductions.   

At HFG Wealth Management, we embrace a method of financial planning known as Financial Life Planning™. We believe this is a financially effective and personally rewarding approach to creating a practical, lasting financial plan. As financial professionals using the life planning approach, our purpose is to assist individuals and families in creating a long-term vision that is consistent with their core values. At HFG we recognize that life events and life transitions can impact your financial responsibilities and your vision of the future. We are here to provide you with tips and strategies to get you started and help you reach your financial and life goals at every stage. For more information, please visit www.hfgwm.com or call 832.585.0110. 

“The information contain herein is general in nature and may not be suitable for everyone. We encourage you to give us a call, to discuss your specific situation and to help determine the appropriate course of action.”

 

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Copyright © 2017. HFG Wealth Management, LLC. Investment advisory services offered through HFG Wealth Management, LLC – An independent Registered Investment Advisory firm registered with the SEC. Investing involves risk including the potential loss of principal. No investment strategy can guarantee a profit or protect against loss in periods of declining values. Therefore, any information presented here should only be relied upon when coordinated with individual professional advice. [ more disclosures ]