It was Presidents’ Day yesterday, a day to reflect on the great thinkers and leaders who founded our remarkable nation and have molded its course across the centuries. I try to avoid political commentary here on this blog as my job is to help clients find financial independence so they can be able to retire one day, send their children to college, and not spend the rest of their lives worrying about money.
However, I think my clients and readers should hear about the President’s proposed 2016 budget, which contains a number of never heard before provisions that take aim directly at middle-class investors. The administration says that they are looking to close “loopholes for the rich”, but these proposals aren’t going to increase taxes for Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, or the latest hedge fund billionaire; they’re going to be funded by working professionals who are trying to make a better life for their families.
When I think about closing loopholes to raise taxes, the first thing I think about are eliminating corporate incentives and subsidies, so I was shocked that these proposals are squarely aimed at the wallets of individual investors and primarily their retirement plans. Here are some of the proposals which would impact investors like you.
- The first proposal was to eliminate 529 College Savings Plans. I’m sure there are some wealthy elderly grandparents who use 529’s to reduce their estate taxes, but most of the 529 accounts I have seen are barely enough to pay for a year or two of state school, let alone pay for 4 years of SMU, Medical School, or an MBA. But instead of suggesting that we reduce the maximum caps on 529 contributions, the proposal was to eliminate the tax benefits altogether for everyone! Luckily, after widespread outrage, the administration nixed the proposal days later.
- Another proposal is to eliminate the “Back Door Roth IRA”. This has been one of my favorite strategies since 2010 and I look for any client who might be eligible. I’ve mentioned the Back Door approach a couple of times in this blog and described it in some detail here. I believe the government should encourage people to save more for retirement, but when you start taking away benefits, it makes it even more of a challenge.
- The 2016 budget would also require investors in a Roth IRA to take Required Minimum Distributions after age 70 and 1/2. Currently, you can let a Roth account grow tax free for as long as you’d like, and even leave those assets to your spouse or heirs income tax-free. The only relief the budget provides is that if all of your retirement accounts (all types) are under $100,000, you would not have to take RMDs.
- The 2016 budget would eliminate the “Stretch IRA”. Today, if you inherit an IRA from a non-spouse (such as a parent), you can take only RMDs and continue to let the money grow. Under the proposal, the Stretch IRA (also called Beneficiary IRA or Inherited IRA) goes away, and all the money must be withdrawn within 5 years. If it’s a sizable IRA, that could be quite a tax hit, pushing an heir into a high tax bracket. It means that more of your IRA will end up with the IRS and less with your heirs. Instead of encouraging heirs to manage the inheritance as a long-term program, it will force them to take the money out quickly.
- The proposed budget would cap the tax benefit of retirement contributions to 28%. So, if your family is in the 39.6% tax bracket (actually 40.5% when you include the 0.9% Medicare surtax), you will only get a partial deduction for the money you contribute to your 401(k) or IRA.
In all, there were a dozen proposals that would impact investors in retirement accounts. And since my business is focused on retirement planning, you bet I’m concerned. You should be too. Luckily the proposed budget is little more than a wish-list or starting point. Hopefully, few of these will make it into law for 2016. If they do, investors in the future are likely to have a different mix of retirement accounts and “taxable” accounts. Luckily, we’re already skilled at creating tax-efficient investment portfolios with low-turnover ETFs and municipal bonds.
In the mean while, you can still fund a Back Door Roth for 2014 (through April 15) and 2015, or take advantage of any of the current programs. I know what I would prefer to happen with these proposals, but no matter what does occur, we will learn, adapt, and still be successful. I still believe that there is no better place on Earth to become wealthy than America.