HSA: Save it for Retirement

Wishing on a Star: Investors Pour Billions in to SPACs

Real Estate Opportunities in 2021

New Rules and Ways to Use HSAs/FSAs

Roth Conversion in 2021?

The Impact of COVID on Life Insurance

While Many Suffer Financially, Some Manage to Profit off Pandemic

Billionaires in CovidThe Federal Reserve recently reported that the 50 richest people in the United States increased their net worth by $339 billion during the first half of 2020. There are two primary contributors to this near-unprecedented level of growth. The first is that many either owned or were heavily invested in tech companies that thrived during the pandemic. Increased technology demands for remote work, online shopping, streaming entertainment, and socially-distanced socializing created a lucrative COVID-19 economy in some sectors.

Another reason is that the U.S. Treasury and Federal Reserve proactively infused the economy with stimulus capital. That helped mitigate long-term market disruption that might have otherwise occurred.

The short explanation of how to leverage assets for greater wealth during a pandemic is to be well-capitalized and invested in the stock market. To wit, over 88 percent of the equity in corporations and in mutual fund shares is owned by the wealthiest 10 percent of Americans. In other words, they’re not sitting on their cash; it is continually working for them.

In fact, nearly every tragedy has some form of silver lining investment opportunity. For example, hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, and earthquakes are good for the construction and contracting industries. The pandemic is interesting because it has large and almost exclusively benefited technology companies – in as much as they serve other industries.

The obvious pandemic winners are streaming services such as Amazon and Netflix, but also consider the proliferation of video conference technologies, online financial services, and telemedicine. All of these innovations existed before COVID-19, but it took a global pandemic for them to become mainstream services. Moreover, it is unlikely that their popularity will wane once the virus is contained. After all, we love convenience, and few things are more convenient than being able to conduct daily activities – such as work and doctor’s appointments – from the comfort of your own home.

But just as the coronavirus boosted fortunes in many market sectors, it depressed others, such as cruise lines, movie theaters, and airline stocks, as well as oil prices. Unless you have a crystal ball, it’s always a good idea to diversify your portfolio across a variety of asset classes and market sectors. That way losses in some investments are likely to be offset by gains in others.

In recent years, the wealthy also have benefited from generous tax breaks provided by the Tax Cut and Jobs Act. To diversify gains achieved during the pandemic, they may take advantage of provisions from this legislation, such as the conservation easement charitable deduction. This can be claimed when purchasing land with strong development potential and then donating it to a land trust or government agency. This might create a higher tax deduction based on the appraised value. A similar approach can be used with the Opportunity Zone tax break. This eliminates taxes on capital gains earned from long-term investments in businesses or developments in specific low-income areas of the country.

Rest assured, while vaccines will lead the way to recovery from the pandemic, other crises will follow – as will opportunities to make money on them. Some of them are even easy to predict. After all, the exacerbation of climate change is evident in the increase and severity of extreme weather events. This offers two avenues for an investment opportunity. The first is reactive, such as rebuilding what has been damaged or destroyed. The second is preventive, which means investing in renewable energy resources that reduce carbon emissions, such as solar, wind, hydro, tidal, geothermal, and biomass energy solutions.

It is important to recognize, however, that we can’t always predict what type of crisis will happen next. Therefore, it is inadvisable to try to time the market for investments, particularly when saving for a long-term goal such as retirement. Instead, consider aligning your assets with investments that help build a stronger society, such as sustainable energy, technology advances, and healthcare innovation.

The biggest takeaway here is that the key to crisis opportunism is to be well-capitalized with liquid assets that can repositioned quickly. It is no accident that economic declines are often most advantageous to the extremely wealthy. If you were able to save more money during the pandemic due to less opportunity to travel or spend on other indulgences, consider using this windfall to position your investment portfolio for crisis opportunism in the future.

What To Know About Filing For Bankruptcy

Tips for Retiring in the Next 10 Years

The stock market continues to perform with relative resilience, despite the current economic decline. But to be clear, without 100 percent participation in the economy – in terms of small business job creation, consumer spending, and company growth and expansion – the stock market is apt to reposition prices to reflect slower growth. With no containment or control of the pandemic on the horizon, there is plenty of uncertainty associated with future financial planning.

Anyone looking to retire in the next 10 years or so may want to take a fresh look at their current retirement income plan. In fact, they might need a Plan A, B, and C in order to stay flexible – with C being the option to continue working longer. The following are portfolio tips to consider for a 10-year time frame until retirement.

Emergency Fund

If there was one financial tip worth following pre-pandemic, it was to have liquid cash savings of six months to a year’s worth of expenses available. Workers who did are probably pretty relieved about now if they lost their job or had hours reduced. Having substantial cash available can save you from raiding retirement accounts and/or your investment portfolio.

In preparation for retirement, that cash buffer is even more important. Some advisors recommend a liquid savings fund to cover one to three years’ worth of expenses. That’s because once you’re on a fixed income, you’re not likely to replenish that account. What it can do is supplement variable retirement income that is reliant on the markets. Having a cash buffer gives investments time to recover from temporary losses so you don’t have to plunder your principal.

Status of Social Security

While you may know what your benefit level is for retirement at a certain date, be aware that your benefit could change – even after you’ve retired. Recent research has found that thanks to the loss of FICA revenues resulting from COVID-19, the Social Security Trust Fund might run out of money four years earlier than predicted: as early as 2032. You may want to consider other forms of reliable income in case your benefits are reduced in the future.

Guaranteed Income

Speaking of reliable income, Olivia Mitchell, executive director of the Wharton School’s Pension Research Council, recommends that an annuity option become a staple in employer-sponsored retirement plans. Annuities generally offer an option for issuer-guaranteed income for life. With 10 years until retirement, allocating money to an annuity can help build a separate income stream to supplement Social Security benefits. Even if your employer doesn’t offer an annuity option in your 401(k) plan, you can purchase one separately using other assets.

Employer-Sponsored Retirement Plans

Speaking of the 401(k), consider that when this plan was first established in 1980, the marginal federal income tax rate was 43 percent. Today’s tax rates are historically quite low, so for the time being you might want to consider allocating more savings into a Roth IRA. This means you’ll pay taxes on that money at today’s low rates, but going forward it can grow tax-deferred and be withdrawn tax-free. But don’t leave money on the table if your employer offers a matching 401(k) contribution. Roth IRA contributions are limited to $7,000 (2020) and some deferred income can help reduce your taxes today – so plan accordingly.

Roth Conversion

By the same token, you may want to take advantage of today’s lower tax rates by converting at least some traditional IRA funds to a Roth or by making backdoor Roth IRA contributions. Be aware, however, that you must pay taxes on converted funds, so consider a gradual transition over multiple years to help you stay in a lower tax bracket.

Investor Portfolio

Some market analysts are predicting a “new normal” going forward, which could provide some interesting investment opportunities. Ideas include new operating business models based on a largely remote workforce, population spread as people move out of cities into more affordable rural areas, and innovations borne out of newly created demand. While a buy-and-hold strategy is a common advice for equities, it’s important to stay flexible. As long as you remain within your customized asset allocation strategy, you might want to use your equity portion to explore new ideas that could offer higher return opportunities over the next decade.

Borrowing From Your Retirement Plan: New CARES Act Rules

It’s been nearly half a year since Americans first became widely aware of the coronavirus contagion within the United States. While for a brief month it looked as if we had the virus in hand, since then it has spread wildly out of control in many areas.

People who did not suffer dramatic financial consequences in the early stages of the pandemic could see some hard days ahead. For this reason, it’s a good idea to become familiar with the new relaxed rules associated with withdrawals from tax-advantaged retirement plans.

In late March, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). This bill offered provisions related to distributions from retirement accounts such as an IRA or 401(k). One of the key goals was to enable workers to make penalty-free withdrawals from a retirement plan to help sustain them while out of work due to the coronavirus.

To be eligible to make penalty-free withdrawals, plan participants must meet one of the following criteria:

  • The account owner, spouse or a dependent is diagnosed with COVID-19
  • The account owner experiences one of the following financial consequences due to the virus:
    • Furloughed
    • Laid-off
    • Work hours reduced or place of business closed (including for self-employed)
    • No access to childcare
    • Quarantined

The Act stipulates that workers can self-certify that they meet at least one of the criteria. Be aware, however, that if it is later discovered that the account owner did not meet the criteria for a coronavirus-related distribution, he might be required to pay the early withdrawal penalty.

Also note that while this penalty is waived for qualified workers, they must still pay income taxes on the amount withdrawn. However, there are a few ways to mitigate the income tax burden on those withdrawals. The first is to through a regular distribution. These are the parameters:

  •  You have up until Dec. 30, 2020, to make a distribution
  • The total aggregate limit is $100,000 from all plans and IRAs
  • The distribution waives the 20 percent income tax withholding requirement
  • Income taxes will be due when filing a 2020 tax return
  • Retirement account owners who no longer work for an employer are free to take a distribution
  • Current employees may take a distribution only if the employer plan allows for a hardship or in-service distribution (note that the CARES Act permits employers to amend plan documents to allow coronavirus-related distributions)

While a retirement plan distribution does trigger income taxes for the tax year withdrawn, you can spread the tax burden out over three years. For example, let’s say you withdraw $18,000 this year. You may report the full amount as income on your 2020 tax return; or you can claim $6,000 a year on your 2020, 2021 and 2022 returns. This strategy reduces the chances of bumping your income into a higher tax bracket.

The second way to is to pay the distributed amount back into your retirement plan. Initially, you will have to pay income taxes on the amount withdrawn. However, if you pay it back within three years, you can file to get the taxes you paid refunded. One caveat with this plan is that eligible retirement plans will treat repayment of this type of distribution as a rollover event for tax purposes. Be aware that if the retirement plan does not accept rollover contributions, it is not required to change its terms for this purpose.

Your third option is to withdraw money as a loan if your employer permits loans from the retirement plan. This is another scenario in which you must repay that money within a specified time period. You do not have to pay income taxes on the loan, but you do have to pay interest on the amount borrowed. The good news is that the interest you pay also goes into your account.

Under normal circumstances, retirement account loans are limited to $50,000 or 50 percent of the account balance, whichever is less. But for a coronavirus loan, you may borrow up to 100 percent of your vested balance or $100,000, whichever is less. You will need to repay that loan within the plan’s stated repayment period, although the CARES Act gives 2020 borrowers an additional year to repay this type of loan from an eligible retirement plan. Be aware though that you’ll owe both income taxes on the outstanding balance and the penalty for withdrawals made before age 59½ if you do not repay that loan in time.

Note that these CARES Act provisions are available only for the first 180 days after the Act was passed, which was on March 27, 2020. As Congress debates new legislation to aid struggling Americans suffering from the pandemic, this provision could be extended.