Tax Free Ways to Pass on the Family Wealth

The following post is by MPFJ staff writer, Marie. You can read more of Marie’s articles over at her own blog, Family Money Values. Enjoy! 

Perhaps from the moment you left home you have been struggling with all your might to become financially independent.  Maybe you worked hard, saved well then became a real estate tycoon by buying one rental home at a time until now you own multiple apartments.  Or perhaps you started a small, but very relevant web site that grew and grew until it started drawing the big bucks.  Or maybe you inherited some money from dear old Grandpa George, invested it and made it grow.

Now you have an unfamiliar problem.  Too much money, too many assets.  You don’t want your kids to have to start all over again, but how do you get the wealth to them without it being decimated by taxes?

Taxes can take a big bite, especially in the US – even now that the annual US Federal estate taxes don’t kick in until you have at least $5.49 million. But, some states do still charge estate taxes.  The inheritor does not pay these estate taxes, the estate of the deceased person does.

Laws can change rapidly, the US national debt is huge, revenue has to come from somewhere to pay it off.  Estate tax laws may become much less favorable in the future.  It pays to be alert to possible inroads to your hard earned money.

Back in 1996, when Mom died in the US, her estate was worth around $700,000 (which would be a bit over a million dollars in 2016).  It had to pay $80,000 ($122,375 in 2016 dollars) in estate taxes.  She and Dad worked hard for those dollars and would have been appalled if they had realized the government would get them on their deaths.

Your IRA can be a double whammy after you die.  It gets counted as part of that $5.49 million, your beneficiaries may have to take all the funds out within 5 years of your death AND the distributions get added to their taxable income, probably raising their income taxes significantly.

Canadian laws might be a bit more favorable. According to Canada Inheritance Tax Laws & Information:

“Non-registered capital assets are considered to have been sold for fair market value immediately prior to death. Any resulting capital gains are 50% taxable and added to all other income of the deceased on their final return where income tax will be calculated at the applicable personal income tax rates. They are taxed at the applicable capital gains tax rates.

The fair market value of a Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) or a Registered Retirement Income Fund (RRIF) is included in the deceased person’s income and taxed at the regular applicable personal income tax rates with no special treatment for any capital gains earned within the RRSP or RRIF.”

In other words, Canadians aren’t taxed on the entire worth of their assets, just the capital gains.

Currently in the US, there are several ways to avoid being taxed on your hard earned dollars.  Some of them apply in Canada as well.

Make annual gifts.

In the US, each person can give cash or assets valued up to a certain amount (which changes each year to account for inflation) to as many people as they want.  A husband and wife can each give up to that amount.  In 2017, the amount is $14,000 per giver to EACH person they give to.  If a person gives over that amount in one year, it is added to a lifetime gift/estate take exclusion amount.  Anything left in the estate over the exclusion amount is subject to estate taxes on death.

In Canada, each person can give unlimited cash to as many people as they want.  There really isn’t a ‘gift tax’ per se.

Of course, you can’t read the future, so you have to balance the desire to avoid taxation with the potential for your future need for that money.  You should make sure you have enough to care for yourself before giving any away!

Instead of cash, in the US, a person can give assets, including shares in a business.  Establishing a family limited liability company (LLC) is one way to pass along highly valued real assets (such as a vacation home), over time, without too much hassle.  The vacation home is titled in the name of the LLC.  The operating agreement of the LLC is set up to designate a manager-member type arrangement so that the original owners retain control.  Then the original owners (which probably are the parents) can gift shares in the LLC to the members, and may be able to do so at a discounted price (since LLC member shares are not as liquid as cash).  This results in the possibility of gifting assets actually worth more than $14,000 in one year to one member.

This passing of interest in the LLC from original owner to members can continue over time until the majority of shares are owned by members.  This strategy gets that vacation home out of your estate and into your heirs without taxation.  This same concept can also be used for more liquid assets, if desired.

Open a Roth IRA or Tax Free Savings Account.

In the US, people can establish a Roth Individual Retirement Account (IRA) and contribute certain amounts to it (which decline by income levels).  In Canada the Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA) is a similar vehicle.

Both provide for tax free earnings and withdrawal from the account tax free.

Soon to be changed laws in the US allowed beneficiaries of an inherited ROTH IRA to keep funds in it, withdrawing over their expected lifetime, so that the funds continued to grow tax free.  Some called this concept a STRETCH IRA – because the tax free status is stretched over multiple lifetimes. In Canada, any income following death is taxed as ordinary income.

Pay for College.

Since Canadians aren’t limited in the amount of cash they can give, this one really only applies in the US.

If you are wanting to pass along family wealth to the kids or grand-kids without using any part of the gift or estate tax exclusion amounts, you can directly pay for medial or college expenses.  You have to write the check out to the institution though and not to your child or grandchild to give to the institution.  It is important to note that this only applies to payment of tuition, not room or board or books, etc.

There are other, more complex ways of passing assets tax free (or tax reduced) to your heirs.  Estate planning is a complex topic and you should consult someone who knows the laws applicable to you and is familiar with your own situation before making decisions on what you should do.  This is especially true for those folks who have assets both at home and in other countries.

How about you all? Do you have other tax free ideas to pass on the family wealth?

Share your experiences by commenting below!

****Photo courtesy https://www.flickr.com/photos/68751915@N05/6757821397/

Gold Investments for IRA Accounts

The following is a guest post. Enjoy! 

There’s a growing trend where many people are adding precious metals, mainly gold, to their IRAs. It’s quite a literal way to turn your retirement nest egg into gold. The IRS does allow so-called “gold IRAs,” where owners can include precious metals in place of assets like stocks or bonds. Gold is, of course, included along with cash assets.

Not all gold is eligible to be included in IRAs. For example, if you come by a very rare gold coin, it may be considered precious among collectors, but is rather useless when it comes to being included in an IRA. The IRS has a strict category for types of gold that can be included in the forms of bars or coins. There are many other requirements as well.

Reasons to Add Gold to Your IRA

Before getting onto the intricacies of adding gold to an IRA, it’s important to consider why. If you have ever paid attention to gold prices, you would know that it’s extremely volatile. It may not make sense to include gold in an IRA right away. But, it’s important to consider how gold is valued. The value of gold is measured in an inversely proportional manner to paper currency. Meaning, when the price of the dollar goes up, price of gold comes down. But when the price of the dollar stumbles, gold value picks up.

Think about this scenario: In 2001, an ounce of gold cost $271. In 2010, the same ounce was worth $1,896, which is an increase of about 700 percent. That remarkable value can be attributed to the Great Recession. Assets like gold are most important during time of economic crises. When the dollar plunges as it did during the recession in 2008, physical gold can hedge an investment portfolio against devastating losses. In this sense, many people add gold to diversify their retirement investment portfolios.  No one can predict what the market will be like in decades when you retire. So, gold assets can protect your lifelong savings in case of an economic calamity.

Add Gold with a Self-Directed IRA

You can only add gold to your IRA if it is self-directed. Investments in traditional IRAs are usually made up of currency-based assets like stocks, mutual funds, and certificates of deposits. If you want to diverge from such assets and add gold, then you need to exercise a certain amount of control over your account. This is what a self-directed IRA is. The owner of a self-directed IRA can tell the bank or another trustee what to invest in. Trustees do not usually say no to gold investments as long as there are plenty of cash investments as well.

You cannot have an entirely gold IRA. That makes little financial sense. Rather, you can add a small amount of gold to your IRA to protect cash assets in case of another economic downturn. When you have gold in your IRA, you will have to keep up with gold news and price charts. It’s very important to check gold prices today on a daily basis when adding this precious metal to your IRA.

Choose a Good Trustee

You are required to entrust your IRA to a custodian or a trustee you can rely on. There are certain federal requirements these trustees have to meet. You can get a bank, an investment firm or a certified gold dealer company to be the trustee of your IRA as long as legal requirements are met. You may have to spend some time searching for a firm that allows gold in IRAs.

Once you get through all the requirements, having gold in your IRA will protect your future wealth no matter what the political climate is.

Secure Your Future Retirement By Avoiding These Missteps in Your 40s

The following post is by MPFJ staff writer, Melissa Batai.  Melissa is a freelance writer who covers topics ranging from personal finance to business to organics to food.  She blogs at Mom’s Plans where she shares her family’s journey to healthier living and paying down debt.

When you’re in your 40s, you may begin to feel a great deal of financial pressure.  Your children are growing up, and the expenses associated with that begin to pile up.  You may find yourself shelling out money for more expensive extracurricular activities, higher grocery bills thanks to your children’s endless appetites, car payments so your children can begin driving themselves, car insurance payments, and college tuition.

As if that is not enough to put a strain on your budget, this may also be the time when your aging parents need more support, both financially and physically.  You may be helping them out monetarily or helping them out physically, which may mean less time at work for you as well as less income.

This decade, more than any other, is the one where your choices can make or break your future retirement.  This is partly because if you make a mistake financially in your 40s, there is not much time to recover financially, unlike mistakes you may make in your 20s when you have four or five decades to recover before retirement.

In your 40s, be careful to avoid these financial mistakes:

 

Refinancing Your Home and Extending the Life of Your Mortgage

Refinancing your home for a significantly lower interest rate is a smart money move.  However, too often, people refinance to lower their interest rate, but then they also extend the life of the mortgage.  True, this can reduce your monthly payment, which may offer you financial relief now, but it can later wreak havoc with your finances and your target retirement date.

Let’s say you bought a house when you were 35, and you pay on the loan for 10 years.  You are now 45 and have just 20 years left on your loan; you would own the home free and clear at age 65.  This works out rather nicely as 65 is a time when many people retire.  However, if you refinance at 45 and extend the loan back to the original 30 year term to lower your payment and create some financial breathing room in your budget, your home won’t be paid off until your 75.  This can cause quite a strain in retirement.

Many people do not have enough money set aside in their retirement account to comfortably cover a house payment, especially as medical expenses typically increase as you age.

You may say that you won’t retire until the home is paid off, but you can’t always control that.  Sometimes medical issues make retirement come earlier than planned.

 

Taking Out a Home Equity Loan

When you feel a financial crunch, your first thought may be to tap the equity in your house by taking out a home equity loan.  After all, the interest rates are usually much lower than a loan you can take out at your bank or a credit card.  You can also extend repayment time, often to 10 or even 15 years, which is typically not available on a loan that you get from the bank.

However, if you’re unable to make your home equity loan payments, you can lose your house just as you could if you weren’t able to make your mortgage payment.  In addition, if your home loses value during the time you’re repaying your home equity loan, you may find yourself underwater, meaning you owe more on the house than the house is worth.  If you need to sell during this time, you would need to pay the difference between the current value of the house and what you still owe between the mortgage and the home equity loan, which is often tens of thousands of dollars.  Too often, people who are underwater are unable to even put their home on the market because they know they won’t be able to generate the money needed to pay off the house loan when they sell their house.

 

Taking Out a Student Loan for Your Child

When your child is ready to attend college, you may feel a natural instinct to help him.  College is expensive, and you may not want your child saddled with student loan debt.  However, there are plenty of alternatives to taking out student loans for your child.

First, let your children know, from the time they are in upper elementary school, that you will not be able to help pay for their college education.  (Does this sound too harsh?  Trust me, your children will be glad when you’re retirement age and have enough money to take care of yourself because you made saving for your own retirement a priority.  Your children will be glad that you are not their financial responsibility, especially when they’re just starting out.)

By letting your children know this early, they can pick local colleges that will be cheaper, they can apply for scholarships and grants, and they can save money themselves for college.

Yes, if you don’t take out loans for your children, they will probably have to take out student loans themselves.  Remember, they are the ones who may qualify for loan forgiveness based on their career.  That will never be an option when a parent holds student loans.  Also, children with student loans can choose an income-contingent based repayment plan; parents can’t.

The government takes very seriously defaulting on student loans and will recoup their money if you stop paying.  “Federal payments to borrowers who have not made scheduled loan repayments can be withheld to repay the loan, including tax refunds and Social Security retirement or disability benefits” (US News).

Finally, if you don’t take out student loans for your children and you’re doing well financially and saving enough for retirement, you can always choose to help your children pay down their student loans faster.

Simply put—don’t take out student loans for your children.  Just don’t do it.  You and your child will be glad you didn’t twenty years from now.

 

Raiding Your Retirement Account

Once you start to amass a fair amount in your retirement account, you may be tempted to tap into that account when you hit a financial bind, which is likely in your forties.  However, there are significant drawbacks to raiding your retirement fund.

First, you lose the ability for the money you withdraw to continue generating interest and growing your nest egg further.

Second, you’ll need to pay a 10% penalty for withdrawing the money if you’re under the allowable age.

Third, the money that you withdraw will count as taxable income on your tax returns, so you’ll also need to pay taxes in addition to the 10% penalty.

Your 40s can be the time when you secure your retirement funding and can begin to plan for a relaxing, enjoyable retirement.  However, as you face dual financial stress in your 40s from increased financial needs from your growing children and your aging parents, you may feel pressure to find more money to infuse in the budget.  This pressure can lead to any of the above unwise financial decisions that can derail your retirement plans and lead you to a difficult financial position in your 60s and 70s.

How about you all? What financial moves do you suggest people in their 40s avoid to keep their future retirement secure?

Helping Kids Prepare Financially for Driving and Car Ownership

The following post is by MPFJ staff writer, Laurie Blank.  Laurie is a wife, mother to 4 and homesteader who blogs about personal finance, self-sufficiency and life in general over at The Frugal Farmer. Part witty, part introspective and part silly, her goal in blogging is to help others find their way to financial freedom and to a simpler, more peaceful life.

One of the biggest parenting – and child – milestones is when your child becomes old enough to start driving on their own. Driving and car ownership are big responsibilities in many ways. Along with the responsibility to drive safely on the road, kids need to be taught the financial costs of driving and car ownership as well. Here are some tips on how you can prepare your kids for the financial impact of owning and driving a vehicle.

Calculate the Costs with Them

It’s important to teach your children a good deal ahead of when they get their license that driving and vehicle ownership costs money. When they become old enough to get their learners permit, sit down with them and start having discussions about what kind of car they want to drive, the costs of purchasing the car, purchasing gas, the cost of car maintenance and repair and the cost of insurance.

Since you’re spend-tracking (you are spend-tracking, right?), go over your own transportation costs with them so they can get a real-life idea that driving and car ownership costs money.

Don’t Pay for Everything

This is just my personal opinion, but I’m a huge believer in having kids pay for at least part of their transportation costs, even while they’re still under eighteen. Kids tend to hold more respect for that which they’ve worked hard to pay for.

Whether it’s a car, a college education or whatever, there can be a lack of understanding with kids regarding the work that it took to be able to pay for those things. When you give some or all of the responsibility for paying for car costs to your child, you help them to appreciate the privilege of driving, to learn real-life lessons about how the world works and you help them prepare for the transition to independent adult.

Set Rules for Driving Preparedness

It’s helpful when kids and parents have a mutual understanding of how vehicle ownership and driving responsibilities will work in your home. For instance, if your child wants to have their own car, show them how to set some money aside for a car maintenance/repair fund. Make sure they have enough money saved for an insurance deductible in case of an accident.

If your child will drive a family car, set clear rules about when they can use the car, when they can’t, and who will pay for what portion of gas, insurance, etc. It’s important too to have a clear discussion about what the consequences will be if the house driving rules are broken, who will pay the fine if your child gets a ticket and so on. When your child knows clearly how the rules work beforehand, there will be less pushback when a consequence needs to be administered or when they’re handed the bill for the increased insurance premiums due to getting a speeding ticket.

Other Driving and Vehicle Ownership Suggestions

There are other responsibilities that go along with driving besides the financial ones. For instance, one of our house rules is that we don’t push our kids to get their license right at the legal age of sixteen, instead allowing them to determine when they’re emotionally ready for the responsibility. It’s important to teach your children these rules as well:

  • Never talk, text or browse on your phone will driving. Pull over in a safe place if you have to make a call or text
  • Obey all traffic and driving laws at all times (this will be easier for kids if they see their parents doing the same)
  • The better you take care of your car, the less it will cost you
  • Make sure to insist that those who ride in your car wear seat belts at all times and stay calm while on the road so that they don’t distract you as you drive
  • Always be attentive, cautious and defensive when you drive, watching out for other drivers who may be distracted or aggressive
  • Avoid confrontations with other drivers by being polite on the road and heading to the nearest police station if there’s trouble
  • For tips on what to do if your vehicle breaks down on the road, check out this AAA Auto Checklist.

Driving and car ownership are big responsibilities, both financially and otherwise. The more you can teach your kids ahead of time on how to be prepared for those responsibilities, the better they’ll be able to handle all of the tenets of driving.

How about you all? What other suggestions do you have for teaching your kids about driving responsibilities?

Share your experiences by commenting below!

***Photo courtesy https://www.flickr.com/photos/statefarm/7979445278/

Office Work Hacks

The following post is by MPFJ staff writer, Marie. You can read more of Marie’s articles over at her own blog, Family Money Values. Enjoy! 

Getting along and getting ahead in the office involve age old problems.  Here are some problems with ideas on solutions.

Inability to focus is causing you to be less productive.

You head into the office each day refreshed and ready, but once you get logged in to your applications, the next thing you know it’s lunch time and you haven’t accomplished anything!

Hack: Downsize distractions and focus on priorities.

You can’t control your office environment, but you can change its effect on you.  If the guy in the next cube has a constant stream of visitors, talks to himself out loud, plays loud music or just otherwise distracts you – put on your headphones (they will discourage visitors from approaching and can block the noise).  Reduce clutter in your area so that you aren’t distracted by it.  If you are in a high traffic area, see if the company will put up some noise and sight protection in the form of higher cube walls, signs or other preventative measures.

Focus on priorities by writing down the very most important things that you accomplish each day, and listing tomorrow’s priority tasks.  Check in once in a while with the boss or project leader to make sure you are on track.  Avoid diverting phone calls, emails, text messages, and non-essential or less important project tasks so that you have laser like focus on the priority items.  BUT, if you get stuck working on priority items, it is OK to switch off temporarily to work other items – as long as you get back on track fast.

You feel invisible to the boss.

A boss or mentor higher in the corporate chain of command is an important ally when trying to advance your career.  He or she can steer special projects to you, make you known to other executives, put you in for a raise or bonus, push your ideas, save you from a general layoff, or help in a myriad of other ways.

Hack:  Go face to face

Electronic or phone communication is fine, but your boss is inundated with it day in, day out.  Get to know the boss by going face to face on select topics.  You won’t be invisible long – but take care to be visible in a positive way!

Here are some ways to to meet person to person with your boss.

If he assigned a task or deliverable to you and you finish it successfully, try hand delivering it with a very short verbal reminder of what it is and when it was requested.

If your boss does an annual evaluation, request a touch base meeting once a quarter or twice a year to ‘verify that I’m on track’ with what is needed.

Ask around to see what your boss’s outside interests are, and if you have similar ones, strike up a conversation in the lunch line, bathroom or break-room about the topic.

Volunteer for special projects or activities in which your boss is also involved.   Working directly together on a project will allow you to directly demonstrate your ability, creativity and productivity.

If your boss is not at the same location as you are, try using the phone, video calls or attempting to schedule a visit to his or her location for a special meeting on something important to the boss.

Your work performance suffers due to co-worker or staff member office socialization.

Yes, you are part of a group.  Yes, the group is important.  Some socialization is good for the group and good for productivity, but too much is just a waste of time.  Creativity can be spawned by some group socialization, but so can negative, hurtful gossip that distracts you from the job at hand.   If your good friend in the next department makes a habit of stopping by for a chat each day, and ends up talking for half an hour, the benefit of inter-department communication is outweighed by the loss of work time from both of you.

Hack: Turn the talk back to work subjects.

Don’t be a jerk, do visit for a few minutes, but then gently turn the talk back to what is going on with the project, or a new idea you had to make things better, or a discussion of how to go about the next steps you both need to take.  Don’t get me wrong, managers can gain a lot of good perspective by being open to informal communication with their staff and peers, but perspective on who will take the Superbowl may not be all that beneficial.

Use off hours (such as breaks, lunch and after work time) to really socialize with co-workers.

Meetings suck your office time, then you have to stay late to get your actual work done.

As a manager, I attended and ran a lot of meetings.  There were very good reasons to hold many of the meetings, but often the purpose was not realized.  Sometimes (actually many times) the meeting participants are unprepared to fully participate in what could be a great meeting. Sometimes the meeting organizer isn’t aware of other work that should be happening in the meeting time frame.  Meetings don’t equal work done (usually), but can be beneficial in some cases.

Hack:  Make your meetings meaningful.

When you attend a meeting:

  • Understand its purpose.

Question the meeting purpose it doesn’t make sense or if a meeting is not the way to achieve that purpose, but question in private.

  • Make sure you should be attending – are you an interested party, can you contribute? Check in with the meeting organizer or your boss if you are unsure why you are attending and then:
  • Participate fully.

As the meeting organizer:

  • Make sure you have a purpose.

Consider carefully whether a meeting is the very best way to achieve that purpose.

  • Verify that each and every meeting participant is required.
  • Hold the meeting for the shortest possible time, with the tightest possible agenda.
  • Lead efficiently.
  • If you hold a lot of meetings, get training on how to lead effective ones and how to accomplish things without meetings.

Any meeting where the leader talks and everyone else sits around fidgeting is a failure!

Work sucks but you don’t feel like you can do anything to change the way things are.

When we lack seniority, we often don’t feel empowered to put our own imprint on our work place.  If we try, sometimes we are told “This is the way we do it – it’s always been done this way”.  Yet you do know of a better way – or at least think you do.

Hack: Figure out how your company solicits or allows input. 

Most companies have implemented multiple ways for employee ideas to trickle up to higher levels of management.  Many companies long for the great employee suggestions and go to great lengths to make sure they are heard.  You just need to figure out what those currently are.

A few methods I have seen at various employers include:

Company wiki’s with sections for various parts of the company – where anyone can post an idea.

Ongoing braintrust meetings – open invites for certain departments, levels or mixes of employees gather to present and discuss ideas for new products, process improvements and etc.

Awards – formal channels to submit written proposals to an award committee to review and get implemented.

Third party award systems – third parties sometimes are hired to come in and solicit money saving suggestions from the folks closest to the work.  These usually come with some pretty significant ‘prizes’.

Special calls to action – a director or vice-president is on a special mission and requests ideas on how to accomplish that mission.

Company Strategic mission committees – most companies have a mission, with goals, strategies and tactics to get to them.  Ask around to find out who is eligible to work on these committees, offer up strategies and tactics or be on the projects to implement them.

Brainstorming meetings – typically held around one particular topic.

Once you understand the change procedures, explore the particular item you want to change.  Learn the history of how and why the process came to be.  What was tried before, would it fail again now?  Was your idea previously suggested?  How could it be implemented differently to be more effective?

Of course, you can always just talk it over with the boss or your other co-workers.  Building support for your change can give its chances of adoption a big boost.

The above work hacks are based on my own work experience and may not necessarily work for you.  It’s always good to get the lay of the land before diving in head first on some of these things.

How about you all? What work hacks have you seen?  Are there issues in your workplace interfering with your productivity?

Share your experiences by commenting below!

***Photo courtesy https://www.flickr.com/photos/83532250@N06/7650804342/