Employers Ramping Up Retirement Plan Features

Employers are enhancing their retirement plans and increasing access to professional investment advice in an attempt to bolster employee retirement readiness.

A new study by Aon Hewitt, which polled more than 400 plan sponsors serving 10 million plan participants, revealed a number of initiatives being taken to strengthen employee ability to achieve greater financial security in retirement. Key actions include the following:

  • Boosting employer matching funds: The percentage of employers offering dollar-for-dollar matches on the first 6% of employee contributions, has nearly doubled in the past two years, from 10% in 2011 to 19% today. And virtually all employers now offer some level of matching contributions.
  • Offering immediate eligibility: Three out of four employers now allow employees to begin participating in a workplace retirement plan as of their hire date — a dramatic increase over the 45% of employers that offered immediate plan eligibility in 2001. In addition, more than half of employers also offer “day one” access to employer matching contributions.
  • Providing access to Roth-style plans: Giving plan participants the option of choosing between a standard defined contribution plan and a Roth-style plan has become a priority for more employers in the past several years. Now 50% of employers allow Roth contributions (up 11% since 2008), and of those who offer the Roth option, 27% currently allow in-plan Roth conversions. Another 16% will offer this feature within the year.
  • Offering access to a range of advisory services: One of the fastest-growing benefit trends is the availability of various types of professional guidance, which is now offered by three out of four plan sponsors. One-on-one financial counseling tops the list (with 59% of plans offering), followed by online guidance (55% of plans), and managed accounts (52% — a significant jump from just two years ago when only 29% of plans offered this feature). Target-date funds — another form of investment guidance — are well into the acceptance curve, with 86% of plan sponsors offering them.

If you have any questions about your employer retirement/benefit plans or any other fee-only fiduciary financial planning matters, please don’t hesitate to contact us or visit http://www.ydfs.com.

Source:  Aon Hewitt news release, October 30, 2013.

Should You Consider a Health Savings Account?

As health care costs continue to rise, consumers must find ways to ensure that they have the funds to pay for medical expenses not covered through their insurance. One way to save specifically for health care costs is to fund a health savings account, or HSA.

HSAs are tax-advantaged savings accounts set up in conjunction with high-deductible health insurance policies. Enrollees or their employers make tax-free (pre-tax) contributions to an HSA and typically use the funds to pay for qualified medical care until they reach their policy’s deductible. The contribution made to the health savings plan is made in addition to your health insurance premium.

HSAs are not for everyone, and it is important to understand how they work before considering them to help fund health care costs.

Understanding HSAs

You are eligible for an HSA if you meet all four of the following qualifying criteria:

  1. You are enrolled in a qualified high-deductible health insurance plan (known as an “HDHP”).
  2. You are not covered by any additional health plan(s).
  3. You are not eligible for Medicare benefits.
  4. You are not a dependent of another person for tax purposes.

HSAs are generally available through insurance companies that offer HDHPs. Many employer-sponsored health care plans also offer HSA options. Although most major insurance companies and large employers now offer an HSA option under their health plan, it’s important to remember that most health insurance policies are not considered HSA-qualified HDHPs, so you should check with your insurance company or employer to see how an HSA plan might differ from your current plan.

There are maximum contribution limits that are adjusted annually. Contributions are made on a before-tax basis, meaning they reduce your taxable income. Note that unlike IRAs and certain other tax-deferred investment vehicles, no income limits apply to HSAs.

HSAs offer investment options that differ from plan to plan, depending upon the provider, and allow users to carry account balances over from year to year. Earnings on HSAs are not subject to income taxes.

Any medical, dental, or ordinary health care expense that would qualify as a tax-deductible item under IRS rules can be covered by an HSA. A doctor’s bill, dental procedure, and most prescriptions are examples of covered items. See IRS Publication 502 for a definitive guide of covered costs. If funds are withdrawn for any purposes other than qualifying health care expenses, you will be required to pay ordinary income taxes on amounts withdrawn plus a 10% additional federal tax.

Here are some pros and cons of this product.

Pros

  • HSAs offer a significant annual tax deduction, making them particularly appealing to individuals in higher tax brackets.
  • Withdrawals for qualifying health care costs (including long-term care insurance) are tax free.
  • Investment income in HSAs also accumulates tax free.

Cons

  • Since HSAs must be tied to HDHPs, their ultimate savings must be weighed against how such plans stack up against more traditional plans, which may offer significantly better coverage.
  • HSAs may not offer the flexibility and portability that today’s mobile American family requires, especially given that health plan offerings differ significantly from employer to employer, and many smaller institutions have yet to offer an HSA option.
  • For more information on HSAs, see the U.S. Treasury’s Health Savings Account resource page.

If you have any questions about Health Savings Accounts or any other financial planning matters, please don’t hesitate to contact us or visit http://www.ydfs.com

Taking Distributions from 529 College Savings Plans

Parents looking to take advantage of the many benefits of saving for college with a 529 plan will want to know the full details of which educational expenses qualify for tax-free distribution status — and which do not.1 In Publication 970, the IRS gives detailed guidance on qualified expenses. Here are a few important points:

What’s Covered

 Tuition and fees are covered in full.

  • Room and board, if the student is enrolled at least half time. But such expense must be not more than the greater of (1) the allowance for room and board, as determined by the school, that was included in the cost of attendance; or (2) the actual amount charged if the student is residing in housing owned or operated by the school.
  • Food. If you spend a certain amount for a meal plan, that entire amount can be deducted, even if used for coffee or ice cream and not a full meal. Weekend meals can also be included if the dining halls are not open.
  • Books and supplies. Any fees associated with purchasing school textbooks are considered qualified, as are required equipment or supplies such as notebooks and writing tools.
  • Computers/laptops, but only if required by the school. If required, Internet fees and PDAs or “smartphones” may also qualify. The Savings Enhancement for Education in College Act (H.R. 529) that is currently being considered by Congress would expand this definition to apply to all computer technology used by the student.
  • Special needs services required by special-needs students that are incurred in connection with enrollment or attendance at school.

 What’s Not Covered

 Student loans. Interest on or repayment of student loans is not considered a qualified expense by the IRS.

  • Insurance, sports or club activity fees, and many other types of fees that may be charged to students but are not required as a condition of enrollment.
  • Transportation to and from school.
  • Concert tickets or other entertainment costs, unless attendance is requisite to a course or curriculum.
  • Note that expenses must apply to a qualified college, university, or vocational school for post-secondary educational expenses. Also keep in mind that taxes and a possible 10% additional federal tax will apply to all distributions that are not considered qualified educational expenses by the IRS, so be sure to check first.

If you have any questions about saving and investing for college, please don’t hesitate to contact us or visit http://www.ydfs.com

1By investing in a 529 plan outside of the state in which you pay taxes, you may lose the tax benefits offered by that state’s plan. Withdrawals used for qualified expenses are federally tax free. Tax treatment at the state level may vary.

Would You Pay Less Taxes in Another Country?

Tax day has passed in the U.S., along with the usual complaints about the complexity and financial burden that federal and state taxes (and FICA) impose on our lives. But have you ever wondered how U.S. taxes compare with what citizens in other countries have to pay?

Recently, the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers calculated the tax burden, for tax year 2013, for people living in 19 of the G20 nations (the 20th member is the European Union, which has a variety of tax regimes). The report looked first at people who are in the upper-income levels–a person with a salary equivalent of $400,000, with a home mortgage of $1.2 million. After all income tax rates and Social Security (or equivalent) contributions have been taken out, what percentage of his/her income would this person have left over?

The people we should have the most sympathy for on our annual tax day live in Italy, where this person would get to keep $202,360 of that $400,000 income–or 50.59%. A comparable person living in India would keep 54.9%, while someone living in the United Kingdom would keep 57.28%.

Here’s the full list. Notice that the U.S. is about in the middle of the pack:

19. Italy – 50.59%
18. India – 54.90%
17. United Kingdom – 57.28%
16. France – 58.10%
15. Canada – 58.13%
14. Japan – 58.68%
13. Australia – 59.30%
12. United States – 60.45%
11. Germany – 60.61%
10. South Africa – 61.78%
9. China – 62.05%
8. Argentina – 64.02%
7. Turkey – 64.64%
6. South Korea – 65.75%
5. Indonesia – 69.78%
4. Mexico – 70.60%
3. Brazil – 73.32%
2. Russia – 87%
1. Saudi Arabia – 96.86%

Before you conclude that the U.S. is below average on this list, you should know that PricewaterhouseCoopers applied New York state (13.3%) and New York city (maximum 3.9%) taxes on the American calculation. If it had used Texas or Florida state tax rates instead, the U.S. would easily have ranked somewhere in the top ten.

And this list is somewhat skewed because so many European countries are left off, because they are lumped into the EU. It also doesn’t include Canada, which imposes a 29% top federal tax rate on its citizens, and then tacks on a maximum 25.75% rate at the province level.

PricewaterhouseCoopers did include many of the EU countries when it calculated the tax burdens on people with average incomes, and here the list looks somewhat different. The accounting firm assumed that a hypothetical married couple, with two children, earned the average income in each nation, and then calculated the overall tax rate the family would have to pay.

Denmark – 34.8%
Austria – 31.9%
Belgium – 31.8%
Finland – 29.4%
Netherlands – 28.7%
Greece – 26.7%
United Kingdom – 24.9%
Germany – 21.3%
United States – 10.4%
South Korea – 10.2%
Slovak Republic – 10%
Mexico – 9.5%
Chile – 7%
Czech Republic – 5.6%
(China, Russia, South Korea, Indonesia and Brazil would assess 0% taxes on this hypothetical family)

Does this mean that the U.S. tax system is fair? Or equitable? It depends on your perspective. Tax rates in the U.S. have been as high as 94% on all income over $200,000 (1944-45), and as low as 28% (1988-1990), with the bulk of years coming in between 40% and 70%. Meanwhile, some countries assess more taxes from corporations than from their citizens, while some have it the other way around. And some nations are evolving. At the beginning of World War II, individuals and families paid 38% of the total federal tax burden, and corporations picked up the other 62%. Today, thanks to aggressive lobbying, corporations have turned that around and then some. Individuals and families pay 82% of today’s total federal income tax haul, and corporations pay 18%.

We should also remember that high taxes don’t necessarily correlate with economic misery or poverty. Consistently, Belgium, which had the highest tax burden on average wage-earners (and imposes a top 50% rate on upper-income citizens) also consistently scores as one of the happiest countries in the world.

Sources:

http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-26327114

http://billmoyers.com/2013/10/03/the-us-has-low-taxes-so-why-do-people-feel-ripped-off/

http://www.tax.ny.gov/pdf/current_forms/it/nyc_tax_rate_schedule.pdf

http://www.ntu.org/tax-basics/history-of-federal-individual-1.html