Four Ways to Double the Power of Your Tax Refund
The IRS expects that more than 70% of taxpayers will receive a refund in 2017.¹ What you do with a tax refund is up to you, but here are some ideas that may make your refund twice as valuable.
Double your savings
Perhaps you’d like to use your tax refund to start an education fund for your children or grandchildren, contribute to a retirement savings account for yourself, or save for a rainy day. A financial concept known as the Rule of 72 can give you a rough estimate of how long it might take to double what you initially save. Simply divide 72 by the annual rate you hope that your money will earn. For example, if you invest your tax refund and it earns a 6% average annual rate of return, your investment might double in approximately 12 years (72 divided by 6 equals 12).
This hypothetical example of mathematical compounding is used for illustrative purposes only and does not represent the performance of any specific investment. Fees, expenses, and taxes are not considered and would reduce the performance shown if they were included.
Split your refund in two
If stashing your refund away in a savings account or using it to pay bills sounds unappealing, go ahead and splurge on something for yourself. But remember, you don’t necessarily have to spend it all. Instead, you could put half of it toward something practical and spend the other half on something fun.
The IRS makes splitting your refund easy. When you file your income taxes and choose direct deposit for your refund, you can decide to have it deposited among two or even three accounts, in any proportion you want. Qualified accounts include savings and checking accounts, as well as IRAs (except SIMPLE IRAs), Coverdell Education Savings Accounts, health savings accounts, Archer MSAs, and TreasuryDirect® online accounts. To split your refund, you’ll need to fill out IRS Form 8888 when you file your federal return.
Double down on your debt
Using your refund to pay down credit card debt or a loan with a high interest rate could enable you to pay it off early and save on interest charges. The time and money you’ll save depend on your balance, the interest rate, and other factors such as your monthly payment. Here’s a hypothetical example. Let’s say you have a personal loan with an $8,000 balance, a 12% fixed interest rate, and a 24-month repayment term. Your fixed monthly payment is $380. If you were to put a $4,000 refund toward paying down your principal balance, you would be able to pay off your loan in 12 months and save $780 in interest charges over the remaining loan term. Check the terms of any loan you want to prepay, though, to make sure that no prepayment penalty applies.
Be twice as nice to others
Giving to charity has its own rewards, but Uncle Sam may also reward you for gifts you make now when you file your taxes next year. If you itemize, you may be able to deduct contributions made to a qualified charity. You can also help your favorite charity or nonprofit reap double rewards by finding out whether your gift qualifies for a match. With a matching gift program, individuals, corporations, foundations, and employers offer to match gifts the charitable organization receives, usually on a dollar-for-dollar basis. Terms and conditions apply, so contact the charitable organization or your employer’s human resources department to find out more about available matching gift programs.
Converting Retirement Savings to Retirement Income
You’ve been saving diligently for years, and now it’s time to think about how to convert the money in your traditional 401(k)s (or similar workplace savings plans) into retirement income. But hold on, not so fast. You may need to take a few steps first.
Evaluate your needs
If you haven’t done so, estimate how much income you’ll need to meet your desired lifestyle in retirement. Conventional wisdom says to plan on needing 70% to 100% of your annual pre-retirement income to meet your needs in retirement; however, your specific amount will depend on your unique circumstances. First identify your non-negotiable fixed needs — such as housing, food, and medical care — to get clarity on how much it will cost to make basic ends meet. Then identify your variable wants — including travel, leisure, and entertainment. Segregating your expenses into needs and wants will help you develop an income strategy to fund both.
Assess all sources of predictable income
Next, determine how much you might expect from sources of predictable income, such as Social Security and traditional pension plans.
Social Security: At your full retirement age (which varies from 66 to 67, depending on your year of birth), you’ll be entitled to receive your full benefit. Although you can begin receiving reduced benefits as early as age 62, the longer you wait to begin (up to age 70), the more you’ll receive each month. You can estimate your retirement benefit by using the calculators on the SSA website, ssa.gov. You can also sign up for a my Social Security account to view your Social Security Statement online.
Traditional pensions: If you stand to receive a traditional pension from your current or a previous employer, be sure to familiarize yourself with its features. For example, will your benefit remain steady throughout retirement or increase with inflation? Your pension will most likely be offered as either a single life or joint-and-survivor annuity. A single-life annuity provides benefits until the worker’s death, while a joint-and-survivor annuity generally provides reduced benefits until the survivor’s death.¹
If it looks as though your Social Security and pension income will be enough to cover your fixed needs, you may be well positioned to use your other assets to fund those extra wants. On the other hand, if your predictable sources are not sufficient to cover your fixed needs, you’ll need to think carefully about how to tap your retirement savings plan assets, as they will be a necessary component of your income.
Understand your savings plan options
A key in determining how to tap your retirement plan assets is to understand the options available to you. According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), only about one-third of 401(k) plans offer withdrawal options, such as installment payments, systematic withdrawals, and managed payout funds.² And only about a quarter offer annuities, which are insurance contracts that provide guaranteed income for a stated amount of time (typically over a set number of years or for the life expectancy of the participant or the participant and spouse).³
Plans may allow you to leave the money alone or require you to take a lump-sum distribution. You may also choose to roll over the assets to an IRA, which might offer a variety of income and investment opportunities, including the purchase of annuity contracts. If you choose to work part-time in retirement, you may be allowed to roll your assets into the new employer’s plan.
Determining the right way to tap your assets can be challenging and should take into account a number of factors. These include your tax situation, whether you have other assets you’ll use for income, and your desire to leave assets to heirs. A financial professional can help you understand your options.
¹Current law requires married couples to choose a joint-and-survivor annuity unless the spouse waives those rights.
²”401(k) Plans: DOL Could Take Steps to Improve Retirement Income Options for Plan Participants,” GAO Report to Congressional Requesters, August 2016
³Generally, annuity contracts have fees and expenses, limitations, exclusions, holding periods, termination provisions, and terms for keeping the annuity in force. Most annuities have surrender charges that are assessed if the contract owner surrenders the annuity. Qualified annuities are typically purchased with pre-tax money, so withdrawals are fully taxable as ordinary income, and withdrawals prior to age 59½ may be subject to a 10% penalty tax. Any guarantees are contingent on the claims-paying ability and financial strength of the issuing insurance company. It is important to understand that purchasing an annuity in an IRA or an employer-sponsored retirement plan provides no additional tax benefits other than those available through the tax-deferred retirement plan.
Why Diversification Matters
When investing, particularly for long-term goals, there is one concept you will likely hear about over and over again — diversification. Why is diversification so important? The simple reason is that it helps ensure that your risk of loss is spread among a number of different investments. The theory is that if some of the investments in your portfolio decline in value, others may rise or hold steady, helping to offset the losses.
Diversifying within asset classes
For example, say you wanted to invest in stocks. Rather than investing in just domestic stocks, you could diversify your portfolio by investing in foreign stocks as well. Or you could choose to include the stocks of different size companies (small-cap, mid-cap, and/or large-cap stocks).
If your primary objective is to invest in bonds for income, you could choose both government and corporate bonds to potentially take advantage of their different risk/return profiles. You might also choose bonds of different maturities, because long-term bonds tend to react more dramatically to changes in interest rates than short-term bonds. As interest rates rise, bond prices typically fall.
Investing in mutual funds
Because mutual funds invest in a mix of securities chosen by a fund manager to pursue the fund’s stated objective, they can offer a certain level of “built-in” diversification. For this reason, mutual funds may be an appropriate choice for novice investors or those wishing to take more of a hands-off approach to their portfolios. Including a variety of mutual funds with different objectives and securities in your portfolio will help diversify your holdings that much more.
Mutual funds are sold by prospectus. Please consider the investment objectives, risks, charges, and expenses carefully before investing. The prospectus, which contains this and other information about the investment company, can be obtained from your financial professional. Be sure to read the prospectus carefully before deciding whether to invest.
Diversifying among asset classes
You might also consider including a mix of different types of asset classes — stocks, bonds, and cash — in your portfolio. Asset allocation is a strategic approach to diversifying your portfolio. After carefully considering your investment goals, time horizon, and risk tolerance, you would then invest different percentages of your portfolio in targeted asset classes to pursue your goal.
Winning asset classes over time
The following table, which shows how many times during the past 30 years each asset class has come out on top in terms of performance, helps illustrate why diversifying among asset classes can be important.
|Number of winning years, 1987-2016|
Performance is from December 31, 1986, to December 31, 2016. Cash is represented by Citigroup 3-month Treasury Bill Index. Bonds are represented by the Citigroup Corporate Bond Index, an unmanaged index. Stocks are represented by the S&P 500 Composite Price Index, an unmanaged index. Foreign stocks are represented by the MSCI EAFE Price Index, an unmanaged index. Investors cannot invest directly in any index. However, these indexes are accurate reflections of the performance of the individual asset classes shown. Returns reflect past performance and should not be considered indicative of future results. The returns do not reflect taxes, fees, brokerage commissions, or other expenses typically associated with investing.
The principal value of cash alternatives may fluctuate with market conditions. Cash alternatives are subject to liquidity and credit risks. It is possible to lose money with this type of investment.
The return and principal value of stocks may fluctuate with market conditions. Shares, when sold, may be worth more or less than their original cost.
U.S. Treasury securities are guaranteed by the federal government as to the timely payment of principal and interest, whereas corporate bonds are not. The principal value of bonds may fluctuate with market conditions. Bonds are subject to inflation, interest rate, and credit risks. Bonds redeemed prior to maturity may be worth more or less than their original cost.
The risks associated with investing on a worldwide basis include differences in financial reporting, currency exchange risk, as well as economic and political risk unique to the specific country.
Investments offering the potential for higher rates of return also involve higher risk.
How can I prepare financially for stormy weather?
Floods, tornadoes, torrential rain, lightning, and hail are common events in many parts of the country during the spring and may result in widespread damage. Severe weather often strikes with little warning, so take measures now to protect yourself and your property.
Review your insurance coverage. Make sure your homeowners and auto insurance coverage is sufficient. While standard homeowners insurance covers losses from fire, lightning, and hail, you may need to buy separate coverage for hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, and other disasters. Consult your insurer or insurance professional, who can help determine whether you have adequate coverage for the risks you face.
Create a financial emergency kit. Collect financial records and documents that may help you recover more quickly after a disaster. This kit might contain a list of key contacts and copies of important documents, including identification cards, birth and marriage certificates, insurance policies, home inventories, wills, trusts, and deeds. Make sure your kit is stored in a secure fireproof and waterproof container that is accessible and easy to carry. The Emergency Financial First Aid Kit, available online at ready.gov, offers a number of checklists and forms that may help you prepare your own kit, as well as tips to guide you through the process.
Protect your assets. Take some commonsense precautions to safeguard your home, vehicles, and other possessions against damage. For example, to prepare for a possible power outage, you might want to install an emergency generator and a sump pump with a battery backup if you have a basement or garage that is prone to flooding. Inspect your yard and make sure you have somewhere to store loose objects (e.g., grills and patio furniture) in a hurry, cut down overhanging tree limbs, and clean your gutters and down spouts. Check your home’s exterior, too, to make sure that your roof and siding are in good condition, and invest in storm windows, doors, and shutters. In addition, make sure you know how to turn off your gas, electricity, and water should an emergency arise. And if you have a garage, make sure your vehicles are parked inside when a storm is imminent.
What are some tips for creating a home inventory?
Imagine having to remember and describe every item in your home, especially after you’ve been the victim of a fire, theft, or natural disaster. Rather than relying on your memory, you may want to prepare a home inventory — a detailed record of all your personal property. This record can help substantiate an insurance claim, support a police report when items are stolen, or prove a loss to the IRS. Here are some tips to get started.
Tour your property. A simple way to complete your inventory is to make a visual record of your belongings. Take a video of the contents of each room in your home and spaces where you have items stored, such as a basement, cellar, garage, or shed. Be sure to open cabinets, closets, and drawers, and pay special attention to valuable and hard-to-replace items. You can also use the tried-and-true low-tech method of writing everything down in a notebook, or use a combination approach. Mobile inventory apps and software programs are available to guide you through the process.
Be thorough. Your home inventory should provide as many details as possible. For example, include purchase dates, estimated values, and serial and model numbers. If possible, locate receipts to support the cost of big-ticket items and attach copies of appraisals for valuables such as antiques, collectibles, and jewelry.
Keep it safe. In addition to keeping a copy of your inventory in your home where you can easily access it, store a copy elsewhere to protect it in the event that your home is damaged by a flood, fire, or other disaster. This might mean putting it in a safe deposit box, giving it to a trusted friend or family member for safekeeping, or storing it on an external storage device that you can take with you or on a cloud-based service that provides easy and secure access.
Update it periodically. When you obtain a valuable or important item, add it to your inventory as soon as possible. Review your home inventory at least once a year for accuracy. You can also share it annually with your insurance agent or representative to help determine whether your policy coverages and limits are still adequate.
IRS Circular 230 disclosure: To ensure compliance with requirements imposed by the IRS, we inform you that any tax advice contained in this communication (including any attachments) was not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of (i) avoiding tax-related penalties under the Internal Revenue Code or (ii) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any matter addressed herein.
Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2017