Michele Clark
Clark Hourly Financial Planning - Chesterfield, MO Advisor
1415 Elbridge Payne Road, Suite 255
Chesterfield, MO 63017 USA
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Tax Planning Ideas for Year End 2016

December 20th, 2016

December 31, the window of opportunity for many tax-saving moves closes.  So it’s important to evaluate your tax situation now, while there’s still time to affect your bottom line for the 2016 tax year.

Timing is everything

Consider any opportunities you have to defer income to 2017. For example, you may be able to defer a year-end bonus, or delay the collection of business debts, rents, and payments for services. Doing so may allow you to postpone paying tax on the income until next year. If there’s a chance that you’ll be in a lower income tax bracket next year, deferring income could mean paying less tax on the income as well.

Similarly, consider ways to accelerate deductions into 2016. If you itemize deductions, you might accelerate some deductible expenses like medical expenses, qualifying interest, or state and local taxes by making payments before year-end. Or you might consider making next year’s charitable contribution this year instead.

Sometimes, however, it may make sense to take the opposite approach — accelerating income into 2016 and postponing deductible expenses to 2017. That might be the case, for example, if you can project that you’ll be in a higher tax bracket in 2017; paying taxes this year instead of next might be outweighed by the fact that the income would be taxed at a higher rate next year.

Factor in the AMT

Make sure that you factor in the alternative minimum tax (AMT). If you’re subject to the AMT, traditional year-end maneuvers, like deferring income and accelerating deductions, can have a negative effect. That’s because the AMT — essentially a separate, parallel income tax with its own rates and rules — effectively disallows a number of itemized deductions. For example, if you’re subject to the AMT in 2016, prepaying 2017 state and local taxes won’t help your 2016 tax situation, but could hurt your 2017 bottom line.

Special concerns for higher-income individuals

The top marginal tax rate (39.6%) applies if your taxable income exceeds $415,050 in 2016 ($466,950 if married filing jointly, $233,475 if married filing separately, $441,000 if head of household). And if your taxable income places you in the top 39.6% tax bracket, a maximum 20% tax rate on long-term capital gains and qualifying dividends also generally applies (individuals with lower taxable incomes are generally subject to a top rate of 15%).

If your adjusted gross income (AGI) is more than $259,400 ($311,300 if married filing jointly, $155,650 if married filing separately, $285,350 if head of household), your personal and dependency exemptions may be phased out for 2016 and your itemized deductions may be limited. If your AGI is above this threshold, be sure you understand the impact before accelerating or deferring deductible expenses.

Additionally, a 3.8% net investment income tax (unearned income Medicare contribution tax) may apply to some or all of your net investment income if your modified AGI exceeds $200,000 ($250,000 if married filing jointly, $125,000 if married filing separately).

High-income individuals are subject to an additional 0.9% Medicare (hospital insurance) payroll tax on wages exceeding $200,000 ($250,000 if married filing jointly or $125,000 if married filing separately).

IRAs and retirement plans

Take full advantage of tax-advantaged retirement savings vehicles. Traditional IRAs and employer-sponsored retirement plans such as 401(k) plans allow you to contribute funds on a deductible (if you qualify) or pre-tax basis, reducing your 2016 taxable income. Contributions to a Roth IRA (assuming you meet the income requirements) or a Roth 401(k) aren’t deductible or made with pre-tax dollars, so there’s no tax benefit for 2016, but qualified Roth distributions are completely free from federal income tax, which can make these retirement savings vehicles appealing.

For 2016, you can contribute up to $18,000 to a 401(k) plan ($24,000 if you’re age 50 or older) and up to $5,500 to a traditional IRA or Roth IRA ($6,500 if you’re age 50 or older). The window to make 2016 contributions to an employer plan typically closes at the end of the year, while you generally have until the April tax return filing deadline to make 2016 IRA contributions.

Roth conversions

Year-end is a good time to evaluate whether it makes sense to convert a tax-deferred savings vehicle like a traditional IRA or a 401(k) account to a Roth account. When you convert a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, or a traditional 401(k) account to a Roth 401(k) account, the converted funds are generally subject to federal income tax in the year that you make the conversion (except to the extent that the funds represent nondeductible after-tax contributions). If a Roth conversion does make sense, you’ll want to give some thought to the timing of the conversion. For example, if you believe that you’ll be in a better tax situation this year than next (e.g., you would pay tax on the converted funds at a lower rate this year), you might think about acting now rather than waiting. (Whether a Roth conversion is appropriate for you depends on many factors, including your current and projected future income tax rates.)

If you convert a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA and it turns out to be the wrong decision (things don’t go the way you planned and you realize that you would have been better off waiting to convert), you can recharacterize (i.e., “undo”) the conversion. You’ll generally have until October 16, 2017, to recharacterize a 2016 Roth IRA conversion — effectively treating the conversion as if it never happened for federal income tax purposes. You can’t undo an in-plan Roth 401(k) conversion, however.

Changes to note

If you didn’t have qualifying health insurance coverage in 2016, you are generally responsible for the “individual shared responsibility payment” (unless you qualified for an exemption). The maximum individual shared responsibility payment for 2016 increased to 2.5% of household income with a family maximum of $2,085 for 2016, up from 2% of household income for 2015. After 2016, the individual shared responsibility payment will be based on the 2016 dollar amounts, adjusted for inflation.

Since 2013, individuals who itemize deductions on Schedule A of IRS Form 1040 have been able to deduct unreimbursed medical expenses to the extent that the total expenses exceed 10% of AGI. However, a lower 7.5% AGI threshold has applied to those age 65 or older (the lower threshold applied if either you or your spouse turned age 65 before the end of the taxable year). Starting in 2017, the 10% threshold will apply to all individuals, regardless of age. This is something that you may want to factor in if you’re considering accelerating (or delaying) deductible medical expenses.

Expiring provisions

Legislation signed into law in December 2015 retroactively extended a host of popular tax provisions — frequently referred to as “tax extenders” — that had already expired. Many of the tax extender provisions were made permanent, but others were only temporarily extended. The following provisions are among those scheduled to expire at the end of 2016.

  • Above-the-line deduction for qualified higher-education expenses
  • Ability to deduct qualified mortgage insurance premiums as deductible interest on Schedule A of IRS Form 1040
  • Ability to exclude from income amounts resulting from the forgiveness of debt on a qualified principal residence
  • Nonbusiness energy property credit, which allowed individuals to offset some of the cost of energy-efficient qualified home improvements (subject to a $500 lifetime cap)

Talk to a professional

When it comes to year-end tax planning, there’s always a lot to think about. A tax professional can help you evaluate your situation, keep you apprised of any legislative changes, and determine whether any year-end moves make sense for you.

Article Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2016

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2017 IRA and Retirement Plan Limits Announced

November 8th, 2016

The 2017 figures have been announced for IRA and employer plan contribution limits.

IRA contribution limits

  • The maximum amount you can contribute to a traditional IRA or Roth IRA in 2017 is $5,500 (or 100% of your earned income, which ever is less), unchanged from 2016.
  • The maximum catch-up contribution for those age 50 or older remains at $1,000. (You can contribute to both a traditional and Roth IRA in 2017, but your total contributions can’t exceed these annual limits.)

Traditional IRA deduction limits for 2017

The income limits for determining the deductibility of traditional IRA contributions in 2017 have increased.

  • If your filing status is single or head of household, you can fully deduct your IRA contribution up to $5,500 in 2017 if your MAGI is $62,000 or less (up from $61,000 in 2016).
  • If you’re married and filing a joint return, you can fully deduct up to $5,500 in 2017 if your MAGI is $99,000 or less (up from $98,000 in 2016).
  • And if you’re not covered by an employer plan but your spouse is, and you file a joint return, you can fully deduct up to $5,500 in 2017 if your MAGI is $186,000 or less (up from $184,000 in 2016).
If your 2017 federal income tax filing status is: Your IRA deduction is limited if your MAGI is between: Your deduction is eliminated if your MAGI is:
Single or head of household $62,000 and $72,000 $72,000 or more
Married filing jointly or qualifying widow(er)* $99,000 and $119,000 (combined) $119,000 or more (combined)
Married filing separately $0 and $10,000 $10,000 or more

*If you’re not covered by an employer plan but your spouse is, your deduction is limited if your MAGI is $186,000 to $196,000, and eliminated if your MAGI exceeds $196,000.

Roth IRA contribution limits for 2017

The income limits for determining how much you can contribute to a Roth IRA have also increased for 2017.

  • If your filing status is single or head of household, you can contribute the full $5,500 to a Roth IRA in 2017 if your MAGI is $118,000 or less (up from $117,000 in 2016).
  • And if you’re married and filing a joint return, you can make a full contribution in 2017 if your MAGI is $186,000 or less (up from $184,000 in 2016). (Again, contributions can’t exceed 100% of your earned income.)
If your 2017 federal income tax filing status is: Your Roth IRA contribution is limited if your MAGI is: You cannot contribute to a Roth IRA if your MAGI is:
Single or head of household More than $118,000 but less than $133,000 $133,000 or more
Married filing jointly or qualifying widow(er) More than $186,000 but less than $196,000 (combined) $196,000 or more (combined)
Married filing separately More than $0 but less than $10,000 $10,000 or more

Employer retirement plans

  • Most of the significant employer retirement plan limits for 2017 remain unchanged from 2016.
  • The maximum amount you can contribute (your “elective deferrals”) to a 401(k) plan in 2017 is $18,000. This limit also applies to 403(b), 457(b), and SAR-SEP plans, as well as the Federal Thrift Plan.
  • If you’re age 50 or older, you can also make catch-up contributions of up to $6,000 to these plans in 2017. [Special catch-up limits apply to certain participants in 403(b) and 457(b) plans.]
  • If you participate in more than one retirement plan, your total elective deferrals can’t exceed the annual limit ($18,000 in 2017 plus any applicable catch-up contribution). Deferrals to 401(k) plans, 403(b) plans, SIMPLE plans, and SAR-SEPs are included in this aggregate limit, but deferrals to Section 457(b) plans are not. For example, if you participate in both a 403(b) plan and a 457(b) plan, you can defer the full dollar limit to each plan—a total of $36,000 in 2017 (plus any catch-up contributions).
  • The amount you can contribute to a SIMPLE IRA or SIMPLE 401(k) plan in 2017 is $12,500, and the catch-up limit for those age 50 or older remains at $3,000.
Plan type: Annual dollar limit: Catch-up limit:
401(k), 403(b), governmental 457(b), SAR-SEP, Federal Thrift Plan $18,000 $6,000
SIMPLE plans $12,500 $3,000

Note: Contributions can’t exceed 100% of your income.

  • The maximum amount that can be allocated to your account in a defined contribution plan [for example, a 401(k) plan or profit-sharing plan] in 2017 is $54,000, up from $53,000 in 2016, plus age 50 catch-up contributions. (This includes both your contributions and your employer’s contributions. Special rules apply if your employer sponsors more than one retirement plan.)
  • Finally, the maximum amount of compensation that can be taken into account in determining benefits for most plans in 2017 is $270,000 (up from $265,000 in 2016), and the dollar threshold for determining highly compensated employees (when 2017 is the look-back year) is $120,000, unchanged from 2016.

Based on an article Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2016

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Michele Clark Quoted in the News: LearnVest article about saving for retirement

February 27th, 2015

In the LearnVest article online this week “30 or Bust?  What Retirement Really Looks Like When You Put Off Saving” the article discusses the advantages of starting retirement saving in your 20s, and ways to ramp up your savings if you are starting in your 30s.

The majority of the reading audience is self-directed investors that are looking for financial education, probably not going to hire an advisor, and definitely need to know how to best help themselves. She asked me when she interviewed me if I thought that people should use online retirement calculators.  I told her, “yes!”  They should use everyone one of them that they could get their hands on.  I told her that in the online calculators that I have seen, there are usually one or two assumptions that I don’t like, but if you can do several of them that would give you a better picture than not doing planning or doing just one.

One challenge that I have as a professional financial advisor is that the majority of clients that come to me for retirement planning are coming to me in their 50s or sometimes in their 60s and they have never estimated how much they need for retirement.  Therefore some of the plans I do require some kind of adjustment in expectations:

1) saving more between now and retirement than they thought they needed to or

2) retire a little later than they hoped or

3) spend less than they had imagined they would,

or a combination of the three.

Which work out fine, and clients go away feeling relived to know what needs to happen to be on track.  But if they pulled up calculators when they were 20 or 30 and did some preliminary estimates, wow!  The results would be terrific.  And I am seeing more 20 and 30 year olds coming to see me for help with balancing financial goals.

I was so thrilled to participate in this article.  Financial journalists reach so many more investors than financial advisors ever could.  I am so glad that this message can get out.  Saving early has a big impact!

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Financial Resolutions

December 28th, 2012

I believe that just about everyone has some sort of financially related To Do item sitting on their To Do list.  And they have every intention of taking care of it.  However, so many other more time critical things seem to keep the financial items from getting to the top spot of the list.

If you are going to resolve to get some of your financial To Dos To Done, what actually matters – how it got done or that it got done?  I will come back to that thought in a minute.

When people come to see me they have accumulated a list of tasks, and it is so easy to see how  that happens in our busy lives.

You take a new job – a nice jump up the career ladder.  Something needs to be done with that old 401(k).  But what?   You’re busy with the new job right now.   So you put it on The To Do List.

Your income is higher now with the new job, should you have more life insurance?  Or is the life insurance at work enough?  You did buy some whole life from that guy that came to the house when you first got married.  Is that still the right policy for you or not?  So you put that on The To Do List.

Your kids are getting older, and you haven’t saved as much as you had intended for college.  How much can you afford to put away for their college vs. how much should you be saving for our own retirement?  Well, the kids are in middle school, you have a couple more years, so you put it on The To Do List.

At work they keep changing your investment choices and you don’t know what to pick.  You don’t have the tools to see all of your investments together and create a diversified portfolio that incorporates all of your accounts, but you know that you need to do it one day.  But you don’t have the time right now.  So you put that on The To Do List.

Sometimes when potential clients meet with me in the free Get Acquainted meeting they tell me that they feel bad about not taking care of these things themselves.  I stress to them, that I do not want them to feel that way.  I tell them that when I have electrical problems at the house, I call an electrician.  And when I have serious plumbing problems I call a plumber.  I have had a handy man come to the house a few times to work though lists of little things that were annoyances.  Sometimes you call in a professional to help you with your list.  And it feels great to work on that list.

So if you are making a resolution to get your financial To Do items To Done, make a plan to either do them yourself, or to contact a professional to help you do them.  Because when you mark them off the list, what actually matters – how it got done, or that it got done?

Resolve to take action today!

Have a Wonderful New Year!

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Michele Clark in the News: US News and World Report “Your Retirement Benefits”

December 12th, 2012

US News and World Report quoted me in their article “Your Retirement Benefits: What to Expect in 2013” on their website this week.

I shared my thoughts on 401(k) fee disclosures.  401(k) providers are required to disclose the fees for the plan.  All things being equal, if two funds are simlar but one has lower fees than the other, choosing the fund with lower fees will allow the investor to keep more of their money invested for their future.

The article is full of information on a variety of topics.  It covers information about changes to contribution limits, the Roth IRA income limit increase, the saver’s credit, the pension insurance limit for 2013, the increase in Social Security taxes (expiration of the tax cut), and Medicare premiums and coverage.

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