How to Reduce IRMAA

How to Reduce IRMAA

Many retirees want to find ways to avoid or reduce IRMAA. Why do retirees hate Irma? No, not a person, IRMAA is Income Related Monthly Adjustment Amount. That means that your Medicare Part B and D premiums are increased because of your income. We are going to show how IRMAA is calculated and then share ways you can reduce IRMAA.

Medicare Part A is generally free at age 65, and most people enroll immediately. Part A provides hospital insurance for inpatient care. Part B is medical insurance for outpatient care, doctor visits, check ups, lab work, etc. And Part D is for prescription drugs. When you enroll in Parts B and D, you are required to pay a monthly premium. How much? Well, it depends on IRMAA.

IRMAA Levels for 2022

IRMAA increases your Medicare Part B and D premiums based on your income. There is a two year lag, so your 2022 Medicare premiums are based on your 2020 income tax return. Here are the 2022 premiums, based on your Modified Adjusted Gross Income, or MAGI.

2020 Single MAGI

$91,000 or less

$91,001 to $114,000

$114,001 to $142,000

$142,001 to $170,000

$170,001 to $500,000

$500,001 and higher

2020 Married/Joint MAGI

$182,000 or less

$182,001 to $228,000

$228,001 to $284,000

$284,001 to $340,000

$340,001 to $750,000

$750,001 and higher

2022 Monthly Part B / Part D

$170.10 / Plan Premium (PP)

$238.10 / PP + $12.40

$340.20 / PP + $32.10

$442.30 / PP + $51.70

$544.30 / PP + $71.30

$578.30 / PP + $77.90

How to Calculate MAGI

I have written previously about how the IRS uses a figure called Modified Adjusted Gross Income or MAGI. MAGI is not the same as AGI and does not appear anywhere on your tax return. Even more maddening, there is no one definition of MAGI. Are you calculating MAGI for IRA Eligibility, the Premium Tax Credit, or for Medicare? All three use different calculations and can vary. It’s crazy, but our government seems to like making things complex. So, here is the MAGI calculation for Medicare:

MAGI starts with the Adjusted Gross Income on your tax return. For Medicare IRMAA, you then need to add back four items, which you may or may not have:

  • Tax-exempt interest from municipal bonds
  • Interest from US Savings Bonds used for higher education expenses
  • Income earned abroad which was excluded from AGI
  • Income from US territories (Puerto Rico, Guam, etc.) which was non-taxable

Add back those items to your AGI and the new number is your MAGI for Medicare.

Why Retirees Hate IRMAA

The IRMAA levels are a “Cliff” tax. Make one dollar over these levels and your premiums jump up. Many retirees plan on a comfortable retirement and find out that their Social Security benefits are much less than they expected because of Medicare Premiums. For a married couple, if your MAGI increases from $182,000 to $228,001, you will see your premiums double. And while young people think it must be so nice to get “free” health insurance for retirees, this couple is actually paying $8,164.80 just for their Part B Premiums every year! And then there are still deductibles, co-pays, prescriptions, etc.

Sure, $228,001 in income sounds a lot for a retiree, right? Well, that amount includes pensions, 85% of Social Security, Required Minimum Distributions, capital gains from houses or stocks, interest, etc. There are a lot of retirees who do get hit with IRMAA. And this is after having paid 2.9% of every single paycheck for Medicare over your entire working career. That’s why many want to understand how to reduce IRMAA.

10 Ways to Reduce MAGI for IRMAA

The key to reducing IRMAA is to understand the income thresholds and then carefully plan out your MAGI. Here is what you need to know.

  1. Watch your IRA/401(k) distributions. Avoid taking a large distribution in one year. It’s better to smooth out distributions or just take RMDs.
  2. Good news, Roth distributions are non-taxable. IRMAA is another reason that pre-retirees should be building up their Roth accounts. And there are no RMDs on Roth IRAs.
  3. Be careful of Roth Conversions. Conversions are included in MAGI and could trigger IRMAA.
  4. If you are still working, keep contributing to a Traditional IRA or 401(k) to reduce MAGI. If you are self-employed, consider a SEP or Individual 401(k). The age limit on Traditional IRAs has been eliminated.
  5. Itemized Deductions do NOT lower AGI. While State and Local Taxes, Mortgage Interest, Charitable Donations, and Medical Expenses could lower taxable income, they will not help with MAGI for IRMAA.
  6. However, if you are 70 1/2, Qualified Charitable Distributions (QCDs) do reduce MAGI. If you are younger than 70 1/2, donating appreciated securities can avoid capital gains.
  7. Avoid large capital gains from sales in any one year. Be sure to harvest losses annually in taxable accounts to reduce capital gains. Use ETFs rather than mutual funds in taxable accounts for better tax efficiency. Place income-generating investments such as bonds into tax-deferred accounts rather than taxable accounts. Consider non-qualified annuities to defer income.
  8. If you still have a high income at age 65, consider delaying Social Security benefits until age 70.
  9. Once you are 65, you cannot contribute to a Health Savings Account (HSA). However, you may be able to contribute to an FSA (Flexible Spending Account), if your employer offers one. The maximum contribution for 2022 is $2,850 and you may be able to rollover $570 in unused funds to the next year.
  10. Avoid Married filing separately. File jointly.

Life-Changing Event

Medicare does recognize that situations change and your income from two years ago may not represent your current financial situation. Under specific circumstances, you can request IRMAA be reduced or waived if you have a drop in income. This is filed using form SSA-44, as a “Life Changing Event”. Reasons for the request include:

  • Marriage, Divorce, or Death of a Spouse
  • You stopped working or reduced your hours
  • You lost income-producing property due to a disaster
  • An employer pension planned stopped or was reduced
  • You received an employer settlement due to bankruptcy or closure

Outside of the “Life-Changing Event” process, you can also appeal IRMAA within 60 days if there was an error in the calculation. For example, if you filed an amended tax return, and Social Security did not use the most recent return, that would be grounds for an appeal.

A few other tips: If you are subject to IRMAA and have Part D, Prescription Drug, coverage, consider Part C. Medicare Part C is Medicare Advantage. Many Part C plans include prescription drug coverage, so you will not need Part D. And there is no IRMAA for Part C. Lastly, while you can delay Part B if you work past 65, be sure to sign up immediately when you become eligible to avoid penalties.

IRMAA catches a lot of retirees, even though they don’t have any wages or traditional “income”. Between RMDs, capital gains, and other retirement income, it’s common for retirees to end up paying extra for their Medicare premiums. If you want to learn how to reduce IRMAA, talk with your financial advisor and analyze your individual situation. I’m here to help with these types of questions and planning for clients.

Stretch IRA Rules

Stretch IRA Rules

What are the Stretch IRA Rules? The SECURE Act changed the Stretch IRA rules as of January 1, 2020. While this was a proposal, I wrote 7 Strategies If The Stretch IRA Is Eliminated, which continues to get read numerous times every month. Today, we are going to dive into the new rules for IRA Beneficiaries. This is important because if you are leaving a large retirement account to your heirs, there could be a large tax bill! And if you don’t know these rules, you could make it even worse.

First, old Stretch IRAs are unchanged and are grandfathered under the old rules. So, for anyone who passed away by December 31, 2019, their beneficiaries could still inherit the account into a Stretch IRA. That means that they only have to take Required Minimum Distributions each year. They can leave the money invested in a tax-deferred account. For many of my clients with inherited IRAs, their Stretch IRAs have grown even though they are taking annual withdrawals!

Under the new rules, there are three classes of IRA Beneficiaries. First, there are Eligible Designated Beneficiaries (EDBs) who will still be able to use the Stretch IRA Rules. Second, there are non-Eligible Designated Beneficiaries (non-EDBs), who are now going to have to withdraw all the money within 10 years. This is called the “10 Year Rule”. Third, there could be a Non-Designated Beneficiary.

Eligible Designated Beneficiaries

There are six situations where an IRA Beneficiary today could use the old Stretch IRA rules.

  1. A Spouse
  2. Minor Children (see below)
  3. Disabled Persons
  4. Chronically Ill Individuals
  5. Persons Not more than 10 years younger than the IRA owner
  6. Certain See-Through Trusts

These individuals could inherit an IRA and use the old Stretch IRA rules. For example, if you left money to your sister who is 8 years younger than you, she could do a Stretch. Or to a friend who was disabled. The old rules and benefits will still apply in these cases!

Spouses and Children

Minor Children are not given an unlimited Stretch IRA, unlike in the past. Today, Minor Children can stretch the IRA until the age of majority, 18 or 21, depending on the state. If they are a full-time college student they can stretch until age 26. When they reach that age, then the 10 Year Rule kicks in and they must withdraw the remainder of the IRA within 10 years.

Spousal beneficiaries have a choice in how they treat the inherited IRA. They can roll it into their own IRA and treat it as their own. This is helpful if they are younger than the decedent and want to have smaller RMDs. However, if they are younger than 59 1/2, they might prefer to put it into a Stretch IRA. That way they can take withdrawals now and avoid the 10% pre-mature distribution penalty. If a surviving spouse is older than the decedent, they could use the Stretch IRA so they can put off RMDs until the decedent would have been 72.

Non-Eligible Designated Beneficiaries

Any person who is not one of the six EDBs is a non-Eligible Designated Beneficiary. Non-EDBs are must withdraw their entire IRA within 10 years. This would include adult children, grandchildren, or any other relative or friend who is more than 10 years younger than the IRA owner. Most non-spouse beneficiaries will be non-EDBs.

The IRS created some confusion this year as to what the 10 Year Rule Means. One document suggested that beneficiaries would still be required to take out some of the inherited IRA annually. That turns out not to be the case, as the IRS clarified in publication 590-B, Distributions from IRAs. Under the 10 year rule, there is no RMD or annual requirement. Beneficiaries have complete choice in when they withdraw from the IRA. The only requirement is that the whole account is withdrawn in 10 years.

For most beneficiaries, you will still want to draw down a large account gradually. Taking small withdrawals each year is likely to result in lower taxes than if you wait until the 10th year. For example, it would be better to take $100,000 a year for 10 years than $1 million all at once. This does give us some room for customization. If you have a low earning year, that could be a better year to take out a larger amount. If your tax rate will go up in 2022 or 2026, you might want to accelerate withdrawals while under a lower rate.

Non-Designated Beneficiaries

The third category is Non-Designated Beneficiaries. An NDB could occur if you don’t name a beneficiary, if you name your Estate as the beneficiary, or a charity or certain trusts. NDBs have the worst outcome, the old 5-year Rule. NDBs must withdraw the entire IRA within 5 years. Many people who established Trusts prior to 2020 named their trusts as the beneficiary of their retirement accounts. This will backfire now because the Trust cannot Stretch the distributions. And with Trust tax rates higher than for individual beneficiaries, this could hurt your beneficiaries quite a bit. If you have a Trust from before 2020, it should be revisited.

It is important that we review your beneficiaries from time to time to make sure they are up to date. It is also a good idea to have contingent beneficiaries in case your primary beneficiary pre-deceases you. IRAs do not have to go through probate. But if there are no beneficiaries, then this money could be tied up from months to more than a year as the Probate Court decides how to distribute your money.

Roth IRA Stretch Rules

Roth IRAs are inherited tax-free. So, on day one, any beneficiary can withdraw the entire Roth IRA balance and owe zero taxes. However, there are some options available for Roth Beneficiaries, too. And these also changed under the SECURE Act.

First, for spouses. A spousal beneficiary of a Roth IRA could take a lump sum distribution. Or they could roll the inherited Roth into their own Roth. Third, they could roll the Roth into an Inherited Roth account. In an Inherited Roth, they have two options for distributions. They can take annual Required Minimum Distributions based on their own age. Or, they can use the 5-year rule and withdraw the entire amount in 5 years. For most spouses, rolling the inherited Roth into their own will be a good course of action.

Non spouse beneficiaries also have an option to continue tax-free growth of a Roth. For Roth owners who passed away before 2020, beneficiaries could have elected to take RMDs. Under the new rules (owners who passed away after January 1, 2020), Roth Beneficiaries can use the 10 year rule. They have up to 10 years to take money out of their inherited Roth IRA.

Other Considerations

An inherited IRA also has a beneficiary. What happens then? Let say Mom left her IRA to her son years ago. Son has a Stretch IRA. Son passes away and leaves the inherited IRA to his wife. What now? You don’t get to Stretch twice. So the wife, in this case, is going to be under the 10-Year Rule. This is called a Successor Beneficiary.

A second example: Mom passes away in 2020 and leaves her IRA to her son. Son is under the 10-Year Rule. Son passes away in 2025 and names his wife as Successor Beneficiary. Does she get to restart the 10-Year Rule? No, the old rule applies, and she must withdraw the full account by 2030.

If you have a Beneficiary IRA, and are over age 70 1/2, you can also do Qualified Charitable Distributions. Most people don’t realize that QCDs could count towards their RMDs from an inherited IRA, too.

While I often only have one or two clients who inherit an IRA each year, every IRA owner should understand what will happen when they pass away. That’s why I am writing this somewhat technical article on the new Stretch IRA rules. By planning ahead, we can determine the best course of action for your situation. It could involve leaving a your IRA to charity, to a spouse, to children, grandchildren, or a trust. It may make sense to convert your IRA to a Roth.

For many of my clients, their largest accounts are IRAs. And there is a significant tax liability attached to those IRAs, for the owners, spouses, and heirs. If we plan well, we can help reduce those taxes!

What Percentage Should You Save

What Percentage Should You Save?

One of the key questions facing investors is “What percentage should you save of your income?” People like a quick rule of thumb, and so you will often hear “10%” as an answer. This is an easy round number, a mental shortcut, and feasible for most people. Unfortunately, it is also a sloppy, lazy, and inaccurate answer. 10% is better than nothing, but does 10% guarantee you will have a comfortable retirement?

I created a spreadsheet to show you two things. Firstly, how much you would accumulate over your working years. This is based on the years of saving, rate of return, and inflation (or how much your salary grows). Secondly, how much this portfolio could provide in retirement income and how much of your pre-retirement salary it would replace.

The fact is that there can be no one answer to the question of what percentage you should save. For example, are you starting at 25 or 45? In other words, are you saving for 40 years or 20 years? Are you earning 7% or 1%? When you change any of these inputs you will get a wildly different result.

10% from age 25

Let’s start with a base case of someone who gets a job at age 25. He or she contributes 10% of their salary to their 401(k) every year until retirement. They work for 40 years, until age 65, and then retire. Along the way, their income increases by 2.5% a year. Their 401(k) grows at 7%. All of these are assumptions, not guaranteed returns, but are possible, at least historically.

In Year 1, let’s say their salary is $50,000. At 10%, they save $5,000 into their 401(k) and have a $5,000 portfolio at the end of the year. In Year 2, we would then assume their salary has grown to $51,250. Their 401(k) grows and they contribute 10% of their new salary. Their 401(k) has $10,475 at the end of Year 2.

We continue this year by year through Year 40. At this point, their salary is $130,978, and they are still contributing 10%. At the end of the year, their 401(k) would be $1,365,488. That’s what you’d have if you save 10% of your 40 years of earnings and grow at 7% a year. Not bad! Certainly most people would feel great to have $1.3 million as their nest egg at age 65.

How much can you withdraw once you retire? 4% remains a safe answer, because you need to increase your withdrawals for inflation once you are in retirement. 4% of $1,365,488 is $54,619. How much of your salary will this replace? The answer is 41.7%. We can change the amount of your starting salary, but the answer will remain the same. With these factors (10% contributions, 2.5% wage growth, 7% rate of return, and 40 years), your portfolio would replace 41.7% of your final salary. That’s it! That could be a big cut in your lifestyle.

What percentage should you replace?

41.7% sounds like a really low number, but you don’t necessarily have to replace 100% of your pre-retirement income. To get a more accurate number of what you need, we would subtract the following savings:

  • You weren’t spending the 10% you saved each year to your 401(k)
  • 7.65% saved on FICA taxes versus wage income
  • Some percentage saved on income taxes, depending on your pre- and post-retirement income.
  • Your Social Security Benefit and/or Pension Income
  • Have you paid off your mortgage, or have other expenses that will be eliminated in retirement?

Many people will only need 75% to 80% of their final salary in retirement income to maintain the same standard of living. If their Social Security benefit covers another 20%, then they would only need a replacement rate of 55% to 60% from their 401(k).

Time Value of Money

The biggest factor in compounding is time. In our original example of 40 years of accumulation, the final portfolio amount was $1,365,488. However, what if you only save for 30 years? Maybe you didn’t start investing until 35. Perhaps you want to retire at age 55 and not 65? Either way, at the 30 year mark, the portfolio would have grown to $666,122. By saving for another 10 years, your accumulation will more than double to $1.365 million.

Here’s a chart that is perhaps a more useful answer to the question of what percentage you should save. It depends on how many years you will save and what percentage of your income you want to replace.

Income Replacement50%60%70%
in 40 Years12.0%14.4%16.8%
in 35 Years15.7%18.8%22.0%
in 30 Years20.9%25.1%29.2%
in 25 Years28.5%34.2%39.9%
in 20 Years40.3%48.4%56.4%

How do you read this? If you want to replace 50% of your income in 40 years from now, starting at zero dollars, you need to save 12% of your income. Actually, this is pretty close to the 10% rule of thumb. But no one says “If you are starting at age 25 and are planning to save for the next 40 years, 10% is a good rule of thumb”. What if you are starting later? Or, what if you want to have your portfolio replace more than 50% of your income.

As you reduce the accumulation period, you need a higher contribution rate. For example, at the 50% replacement level, your required contribution increases from 12% to 15.7% to 20.9% as you go from 40 to 35 to 30 Years. And if you are planning to retire in 20 years and have not started, you would need to save 40.3%.

Similarly, if you want your portfolio to replace more than 50% of your income, the percent to contribute increases as you stretch to 60% or 70%. These figures are quite daunting, and admittedly unrealistic. But one thing that may help slightly will be a company match. If you contribute 10% and your company matches 4% of your salary, you are actually at 14%. Don’t forget to include that amount!

What can you do?

We’ve made some conservative assumptions and perhaps things will go even better than we calculated. For example, if you achieve an 8% return instead of 7%, these contribution requirements would be lower. Or if the inflation rate is lower than 2.5%. Or if you can withdraw more than 4% in retirement. All of those “levers” would move the contribution rate lower. Of course, this cuts both ways. The required contribution rate could be higher (even worse), if your return is less than 7%, inflation higher than 2.5%, or safe withdrawal rate less than 4%.

If you want to consider these factors in more detail, please read the following articles:

If you’d like to play around with the spreadsheet, drop me an email (scott@goodlifewealth.com) and I’ll send it to you, no charge. Then you can enter your own income and other inputs and see how it might work for you. While our example is based on someone who is starting from zero, hopefully, you are not! You can also change the portfolio starting value to today’s figures on the spreadsheet.

The key is this: Begin with the End in Mind. The question of What percentage should you save depends on how long you will accumulate and what percent of income you want to replace in retirement. Saving 10% is not a goal – it’s an input rather than an outcome. Having $1.3 million in 40 years or $2.4 million in 35 years is a tangible goal. Then we can calculate how much to save and what rate of return is necessary to achieve that goal. That’s the start of a real plan.

You don’t have to try to figure this out on your own. I can help. Here’s my calendar. You are invited to schedule a free 30 minute call to discuss your situation in more detail. After that, you can determine if you’d like to work with me as your financial advisor. Sometimes, it isn’t the right fit or the right time, and that’s fine too. I am still happy to chat, answer your questions, and share whatever value or information I can. But don’t use a Rule of Thumb, get an answer that is right for your personal situation.

retirement buckets

Retirement Buckets

Our fifth and final installment of our series on retirement income will cover the strategy of five-year retirement buckets. It is a very simple approach: you maintain two buckets within your portfolio. Bucket 1 consists of cash and bonds sufficient for five years of income needs. Bucket 2 is a long-term growth portfolio (stocks).

We could start with up to a 5% withdrawal rate. Let’s consider an example. On a $1 million portfolio, we would place $250,000 in Bucket 1. That is enough to cover $50,000 in withdrawals for five years. Bucket 1 would be kept in cash and bonds, for safety and income. Each year, you would take withdrawals from Bucket 1.

Bucket 2, with $750,000, is your stock portfolio. The goal is to let this money grow so that it can refill Bucket 1 over time. In years when Bucket 2 is up, we can refill Bucket 1 and bring it back up to five years worth of money. At $750,000, a 6 2/3% annual return would provide the $50,000 a year needed to refill Bucket 1.

Addressing Market Volatility

When the market is flat or down, we do not take a withdrawal from Bucket 2. This addresses the big risk of retirement income, having to sell your stocks when they are down. Instead, by having five years of cash in Bucket 1, we can wait until the market recovers before having to sell stocks. That way, you are not selling stocks during a time like March of 2020, or March of 2009! Instead, we hold on and wait for better times to sell.

Historically, most Bear Markets are just for a year or two, and then the market begins to recover. Sometimes, like this year, the recovery is quite fast. The goal with our Retirement Buckets is to never have to sell during a down year. And while it is always possible that the stock market could be down five years in a row, that has never happened historically.

Retirement Buckets is different from our other withdrawal strategies, such as the 4% rule or the Guardrails strategy. Those strategies tend to have a fixed asset allocation and rebalance annually. The Retirement Buckets Strategy starts with a 75/25 allocation, but that allocation will change over time. Our goal is not to maintain exactly 25% in the cash/bonds bucket, but rather to target the fixed amount of $250,000. If the market is down for two years, we may spend Bucket 1 down to $150,000.

Stocks for Growth

For most people, having five years of cash and bonds in reserve should be sufficiently comfortable. However, if you wanted to increase this to 7 years, a 65/35 initial allocation, that would also work. But, I would suggest starting with at least a 60% allocation to stocks. That’s because when Bucket 2 is smaller, you need an even higher return to refill the $50,000 a year. If you started with 60/40 ($600,000 in Bucket 2), for example, you’d need a return of 8 1/3%.

Retirement Buckets can work because you are creating flexibility around when you are going to sell stocks. When you maintain any fixed allocation, you run into the problem of selling stocks when they are down. Rebalancing is good when you are in accumulation – it means you are buying stocks when they are low. But for retirement income strategies, selling stocks when they are down is likely going to be a bad idea.

Selling Bonds First

Somewhat related to a Buckets Strategy is another income strategy, the Rising Equity Glidepath. In this approach, you sell your bonds first. So, if you started with a 60/40 allocation at retirement and withdraw 4% a year, your bonds would last you 10 years (actually a little longer, with interest). If you avoid touching your stocks for 10 years, they are likely to have doubled in value, historically, with just a 7% annual return. I see the Rising Equity Glidepath as being related to the buckets strategy because both approaches focus on not selling stocks. This reduces the Sequence of Returns risk that market losses impact your initial retirement years.

However, most investors become more conservative as they age, so they aren’t going to like the Rising Equity Glidepath. If they retire at 65, that puts them on track to be at 100% equities at age 75. That’s not what most want. So, even though the strategy looks good in theory, it’s not going to make sense in practice.

What’s Your Plan?

The Retirement Buckets approach can provide a strategy that is logical and easily understood by investors. We maintain five years of cash and bonds, and can replenish the cash bucket when the market is up. This gives you a flexible process for how you are going to fund your retirement and respond to market volatility.

I hope you’ve enjoyed our series on retirement income approaches. It is so important to understand how to create sustainable withdrawals from your portfolio. Whether you are already retired or have many years to go, we are here to help you find the right strategy for you.