Business Owners: Hiring family

One of the most common reasons individuals become business owners is to have more control over their time and financial decisions—to create and be able to drive their own vision in an environment that they choose, and hopefully enjoy.

Those decisions include, among others, what types of solutions the business will offer, how clients will be serviced, which vendors the business will use, and who the business will hire and fire.

Moreover, the IRS’s website states, “One of the advantages of operating your own business is hiring family members.” The IRS is very clear that businesses can and should hire family members. They know that at times family members are the glue that keeps small businesses functioning and often provides owners with the time needed to lead and grow their companies. Small businesses are an essential part of the US economy. The most common family members hired by small companies are spouses since the success of a small business owner is often entwined with the support they receive from their life partner. This is so common that even 401K plans for single-owned businesses include spouses. Though more common, hiring family members can go beyond the spouse and includes anyone that is related, a sibling, a parent AND even a child. [see more details on the IRS perspective on hiring family https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/family-help].

When hiring family members (either as employees or as 1099 consultants) a business owner must adhere to the same rules as for nonfamily members. From a strictly operational point of view, one clear advantage of hiring family is that a family member can provide support or services that the owner, for whatever reason, is uncomfortable having performed by a nonfamily member. This may be particularly true when the business wishes to keep its financial reports “for family eyes only” or if the business relies on sensitive proprietary information or compliance rules that could be jeopardized by employee turnover. Similarly, a family member can provide cohesion and ensure the retention of corporate knowledge when employees leave the firm – this is invaluable to many small businesses. On the other hand, owners might hire a parent or a child solely to provide them with a taxable income while they engage in work that benefits the business owner’s vision.

The business owner does have the responsibility of deciding on a fair level of compensation for all employees. To avoid potential conflicts within the firm, compensation ought to be similar to that of any regular employee performing the same function. Another more flexible option, is to hire family members as 1099 consultants. Consultants have more flexibility on the tasks they can perform and the compensation they are awarded.

Hiring family can be a straightforward way to reward family members who contribute to the success of the business. Providing spouses, siblings, children and even parents with taxable earnings while serving in roles that provide benefit to the business owner and the running of the business.

For business owners in high tax brackets, hiring family (who are in lower tax brackets) can garner meaningful tax relief. If hiring children, it also provides for “good parenting” opportunities and leadership development. The key to hiring your child is to strictly abide by standards of bona fide age-appropriate work, ensure a reasonable wage, and follow federal and state regulations relating to labor standards. Getting a handle on all of this, can feel overwhelming but it is actually fairly straight forward.

When hiring a minor (family or not) the Fair Labor Standard Act (FLSA) must be followed which has restrictive language on the type of employment for those under the age of 14. FLSA actually states the specific jobs that are permitted which include delivering papers, casual babysitting, or modeling/acting. Starting at age 14 the regulations only limit the amount of time (not the type of job) but also that the work doesn’t expose the minor to dangerous environments such as radioactive areas and working in demolitions (among others).

Hiring family as employees (rather than consultants) is a constant balancing act that requires careful consideration but can deliver financial benefits. It may be prudent, at least initially, to place hired family under the direct supervision of a trusted nonfamily employee that will have full authority over mentoring. This works well for minors but not so well with adults. The potential for unhealthy rivalries and vying for attention amongst siblings and hired staff can sour what is often an exceptional opportunity. Open communication and clear accountability is the key to success when hiring family as employees. Everyone involved must have a clear picture of where they stand, eliminating time wasted on misunderstandings and second guessing one another’s motives and intentions.

The process is a bit easier and the rules a bit more advantageous if family members have their own business (1099 reporting business) and are hired as consultants to support the business owner. In addition, as a 1099 consultant, they have the flexibility to also work outside the family business. Often their total earnings will be taxable at much lower tax brackets than they would be if it was earned by the higher earning business owner. They will also qualify for tax-deferral and social security on their net business earnings.

We encourage you to consider hiring family members particularly if you are a business owner with high earnings and high tax liability. We strongly recommend hiring family members when we discover that family already provide unpaid assistance to the business owner and are in need of financial support or need to increase their social security income.
Let us know if you are considering including a family member (parents, spouse or children are the most common) in your business. We’ll provide a summary of the benefits to you, your family and your specific business.

Edi Alvarez, CFP®
BS, BEd, MS

www.aikapa.com

Aging gracefully―a blueprint for your future

If you could peek into the future and the final 10-20 years of your life, what would that look like? Do you see yourself traveling, healthy, energetic and excited about experiencing new challenges? Or do you have visions of illness, body pains, lethargy, disengagement and a lonely life?

What if you could manage that trajectory to a more positive future with fewer deficits and more joy? Research is churning out reports on how we can slow down the negative parts of aging and enhance the joyful aspects of our lives.

Throughout my life, I’ve met many people on both sides of aging. It is clear that our attitude drives this journey. It can turn us into victims or champions over our lives. Often it begins with our attitude each day―do we resign ourselves to a self-defeating diagnosis and settle for dissatisfaction? Or do we take daily challenges as an opportunity to remain engaged and positive? Experts in aging are in agreement that we will be much happier as we age if we are comfortable in our chosen lifestyle (that is to say, we are in the habit of doing things that give meaning and value to us) and that we don’t let our “illness” or age-related challenges define our daily lives.

As technology continues its exponential growth, the key to managing and thriving in this ever-faster moving era is our ability to adapt and remain true to ourselves. I believe equally important is to allow ourselves time to unwind and gain perspective. Unfortunately, most of us would likely skip ‘self-time’ (time for meditation or reflection) in pursuit of getting more accomplished.

Though it doesn’t take a financial windfall to have a healthy retirement, it does help tremendously not to have financial worries. Financial plans and conscious financial choices will help minimize financial anxiety and create an opportunity for a healthy retirement. Beyond this opportunity, it is up to us to build lifestyles (and needed financial resources) that give us joy today and throughout our later lives.

Research on aging recommends that we include the following:

  1. Though we are all different and choose different lifestyles, we all benefit from activities that provide us with at least a minimal level of social interactions. It is social engagement, according to these experts, that can add years and quality to our lives. In addition, volunteering has been shown to reduce pain as well as increase endorphins. Even when homebound, it is essential to be active and motivated.
  2. It is no surprise that a graceful happy retired life must also include regular and vigorous mental engagement. Your financial plan should be your guide to attain your goals, but it will be your consistent financial behaviors that will keep you mentally engaged with your money later in life. We are all aware that as we age we have a higher risk of memory loss, dementia and even Alzheimer’s. We can’t control inherited diseases (50% of those over 85 are affected with a dementia-like Alzheimer’s disease but that also means, 50% are not!) but we can rise to the challenge and keep our brains mentally active.
  3. Improving your quality of life includes addressing your physical health and diet. It is recommended that we exercise regularly, including at least 45 minutes of aerobic activity. A diet with reduced portions and elimination of processed foods appears to also be connected with healthier happier lives.
  4. Though sometimes difficult, it is essential that we be able to ‘let go’ of hate, resentment and regret that reinforces negative emotions. Though it’s never easy, experts say that ideally you’ll forgive or ‘walk away’ to attain a healthier life. I find that smiling every day makes me happier and has the added bonus that it makes others smile too.
  5. Finally, stay true to your lifestyle and decision process throughout your life. If you are comfortable in your core values and habits then even the worst challenges will be manageable.

In short, a successful blueprint for a long and rewarding life entails the intentional effort to remain active, engaged and positive.

Edi Alvarez, CFP®
BS, BEd, MS

www.aikapa.com

Ready for College? – timing & planning finances

All college applicants that need a loan, scholarship or a grant must complete a financial-aid application. The process isn’t solely for those who have low enough income to qualify for aid. If you would  like to be considered for the 2017 education financial process you will need to complete the “Free Application for Federal Student Aid” or FAFSA (www.fafsa.gov). The process begins again on October 1, 2016.

Ideally, you will work closely with someone that is immersed in this process and aware of the 2015 changes enacted by President Obama. These changes will sync the timing of funding with college decisions for the 2017-2018 academic year. Though this timing is for federal financial calculations, individual institutions agreed to match up with the process for the 2017 school year. Even so, always double check with the specific college that is under consideration.

The process will now be based on 2015 year-end taxes (even if extended) for the 2017-18 school-year. There will no longer be estimating and re-adjusting as in past years. Parents and working students are encouraged to file taxes by the summer and to defer income (as much as possible) during college funding years.

Controlling the recognition of income (for both parent and student) will make it easier for students to obtain loans that have reasonable terms of repayment. In some cases, it is not possible and other ways of paying for higher education will be needed. Year-end tax planning should have a high priority starting two years before the intended college start.

So how does the 529 College Savings Plan affect your ability to receive loans or aid from the FAFSA system?  If the 529 plan is owned by the parent or dependent student it is an asset in the application (FAFSA) process, BUT qualifying distributions are not counted as income (i.e., tax free). Though grandparent owned 529 are not counted as part of the FAFSA calculation, distributions to pay for a student’s education does count as child’s income (but it is tax-free). The best way to handle grandparents’ distributions from 529 plans for students is to hold back distributing from grandparents until the last two years of a student’s college education.  So, keep in mind, it is best to take 529 distributions (from parent and student owned 529s) during the first two years and grandparent funded 529 during the last two years.

Though 529 plans are useful if your child has more than three years to go before college, they are not really effective as a short-term strategy. If you’ve little money saved and your child is to attend college within 3 years you need to consider other strategies. Consider paying the tuition yourself directly – you are allowed without tax consequences (but also no tax benefit) to pay for  higher education tuition costs directly without triggering gift tax (gift tax is triggered if you gift more than $14K in 2016). These tax-free gifts will not count as a student asset or income for financial aid purposes. This strategy works well for grandparents who can pay directly for a grandchild’s tuition and/or provide annually a gift towards expenses not exceeding the limit that year (limit of $14K in 2016).

Another strategy often quoted is gifting of appreciated assets which can be a double-edged sword since it can cause a student’s income/assets to exceed the FAFSA limits and result in the loss of access to loans or aid awards. We recommend close and careful monitoring and it is best if these tactics are reserved for the last two years of college so that there is little to no impact on the FAFSA annual calculation.

Sometimes parents have purchased Uniform Gifts to Minors Act (UGMA)/ or Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA) assets since they can be used for pre and post college funding, BUT these accounts are considered part of a student’s assets in the FAFSA application and have a significant impact on the availability of loans or aid. We recommend transferring to a 529 account, BUT this is not always a good strategy since it triggers capital gains taxes. The best strategy is to spend the account two years prior to college. These accounts have a much looser definition of how they must be used. Any expense that benefits the child other than those that a parent is required to pay are permitted. Ways we’ve seen these accounts used include: summer camp, highschool tuition, an electronic device (laptop or Smartphone) and academic tutoring.

The most important take away is that you must plan for a college account distribution two years before your student will attend college. The new rules do simplify the application process but it also means that your tax planning needs to be ahead of the student’s decision on higher education.

Finally, (like any complex financial decision) college planning can frankly add a level of discomfort and conflict to the family. But, it can also provide an opportunity. The experience, if inclusive, can be part of a shared life experience, an educational moment, and an opportunity to fulfill your goals. It is a chance to learn how to make financial decisions and feel good about them.

Stay connected with your financial advisor and discuss how to best deploy your available resources to benefit both you and the student.

Edi Alvarez, CFP®
BS, BEd, MS

www.aikapa.com

Money Battles and the pitfalls of financial infidelity

Let’s face it, making important financial decisions can be stressful at the best of times. When life partners fail to see eye-to-eye on finances it can lead to discord if they don’t have a way of working through their differences. It’s no secret, when compared to other types of marital disagreements, arguments over finance are the strongest predictors of divorce.  Financial decisions get even harder to make as we grow older—the habits of the past increasingly difficult to break. Add a touch of procrastination to the mix and you’ve got the potential for real trouble. It’s no wonder then, how easily decisions affecting retirement can turn into a battle over money, when so much is at stake. The best way to avoid unpleasant (and generally unnecessary) confrontations over money is to have a process in place. Let me explain . . .

Ideally, couples will create a money decision-making process early enough in their relationship that it becomes almost second nature—ensuring financial discussions are honest, frank, frequent and cordial. Both partners must be kept up-to-date on the family’s financial dealings and how those dealings align with understood and accepted goals. From our experience, monthly or at least quarterly meetings to discuss/review finances are invaluable.

This isn’t to say, every penny must be accounted for. Each partner must feel that they have reasonable autonomy and freedom to act within an allotted budget, BUT both must be clear that there are boundaries. Some couples set a specific dollar amount above which they must check with their partner and/or reach out to their financial advisor when especially tough financial decisions arise. For example, couples are well advised to discuss in detail funding a child’s college education, their retirement budget, or when to cease working.

Fights over money can be avoided if both partners have a handle on household finances, and moreover, feel their voice is included in all financial decisions.

If one partner pays all the bills and takes care of all the investments, the other partner over the long-term will begin to feel they are not a full participant in the relationship (or at least, they ought to feel that way). To counter this possibility, some choose to exchange roles for part of the year. Others have a regular monthly meeting to be sure that both are indeed aware of the family’s finances. AT A MINIMUM, all couples should go over how to access the family’s financial information (bank accounts, retirement plans, insurance, and investment accounts, etc.) AT LEAST ONCE PER YEAR.

When one partner takes on the financial responsibility for the family the inequity can (unintendedly or not) lead to “financial infidelity.” Financial infidelity occurs when one partner hides their spending on things they feel strongly about despite a clear agreement to the contrary by the couple. As an example, one partner might secretly fund their child’s business venture. I’m aware of one case where this actually happened. The situation was not revealed until the death of the offending life partner. The surviving partner’s betrayal was made all the worse by the fact that their retirement assets were depleted without his/her knowledge. The child that benefited from the covert funding, moreover, was not in a position to repay the surviving parent.

To avoid or at least reduce the likelihood of conflict over money, here are a few helpful guidelines:

  1. Communicate on expenses early, frankly, openly and honestly
  2. Meet regularly to review finances
  3. Update goals and ensure all parties are on the same page

When speaking of goals, articulate them out loud (i.e., verbally or in writing) and be sure to include your goals for both the present and the future.

The decision-making process itself should be reviewed as part of your conversation. For example, how do you determine your life-style budget, your savings goals, and what happens when you encounter expenses that fall outside of your budget for some reason?

As large financial decisions approach (such as retirement funding), the reality will undoubtedly generate much needed discussion. This conversation can turn into conflict if one side of a partnership is not in touch with family finances and family goals. Those who opt to avoid financial conversations will invariably find themselves in “money battles” that can seriously erode trust and faith in the relationship.

Facing major financial decisions, such as when, how and where to retire, needn’t be a source of discomfort or conflict. Far from it. If there is a reasonable process in place, the experience can be part of a shared life experience, an opportunity for optimism and mutual support.

I should add, in closing, that being single and unattached, doesn’t make you less susceptible to the stress imposed by major financial decisions like those discussed above. In fact, the “internal conflict” may be worse without someone to bounce things off of. If you are on your own, the same guidelines apply, but your “partner” in this is your trusted financial advisor.

Edi Alvarez, CFP®
BS, BEd, MS

www.aikapa.com

Start of the Year Planning

I’m often asked “how do I make sure that I (and my family) stay on track with
our finances?” Following are a few pointers to start the New Year off right.
Keep in mind, this isn’t about making resolutions (we all know how that goes), but
rather, building sound financial habits that will set you, and your family, in
good stead, now and in the future.

(1) TAKE STOCK. If you haven’t done so already, the first place to start is to
take stock of what was actually accomplished in 2015. This will be easier if you combine it with your preparations for filing your income tax. As a family, tally all of your statements (we send you a summary of the investments we manage but we’re willing to help you summarize your other assets as long as you send a year-end statement). This shouldn’t just be one person’s job – the point is to use the opportunity to enhance everyone’s awareness of how the money was earned and spent last year. It is also a time to see how well the reality matched the goals set at the start of 2015. Before you move forward you need to take stock of those items you can control. Don’t get too hung up on performance—the markets behave as they will and you’ll come out ahead as long as you have a low cost, high quality, diversified portfolio. Once you have such a portfolio, it is MORE important to determine how well you enjoyed the year than just
analyzing your spending habits.

Was this a good year for you? If so, what made it good or what made it less
enjoyable? As a family, what would you keep and what would you avoid
earning/spending if you had a choice? Life is about learning from what we do
and what we value but it should be based on your reality and your values.
Come away knowing how the year met with your expectations for a good life.

(2) DON’T GO IT ALONE. Think about how you can include others in this
process. This is particularly important in families where one person takes a
larger share of the family’s financial responsibilities. This “Start of the
Year” planning is an opportunity to develop closer communication
with anyone who is important to your financial future. First share
what was accomplished in 2015 and then decide what the family might want
or need in 2016. Do not forget that once you have set your goals you might
want to include financial professional(s) to ensure that you maximize and
implement all that is available. The power of building a strong financial
rapport over years will become evident during annual planning and when life
reveals unusual financial challenges.

You might also want to use this opportunity to share relevant annual decisions
and your process with any dependents so that they become participants in
helping the family attain goals for each year. For children this can be an
excellent learning experience and evidence of how finances are discussed and
handled in a family.

(3) GET BUY IN AND ACCOUNTABILITY. It is best to commit to
writing what was accomplished in 2015 and what you are targeting
in 2016. You should set a quarterly check-in to be sure that everyone is
committed throughout the year to what is decided at the start (this is most
important for the first couple of years and until this process becomes habit). The aim is to keep everyone on track and to determine if the goals and objectives are indeed
attainable.

(4) TRACK YOUR PROGRESS. Ideally you’ll let us help you track your
progress throughout the year by checking in with us, but we also encourage
you to make it a habit in your home.
Making financial decisions can be challenging at the best of times, if only
because they tend to have a ripple effect that isn’t always predictable.
Remember—when taking stock and making plans, it helps to keep the lines of
communication open, control what you can and target those things you value.

Edi Alvarez, CFP®
BS, BEd, MS

www.aikapa.com

Caregiving for a Parent or Elder Can be Rewarding

As I read the latest survey which found Americans unprepared for the complex and unpredictable realities of longevity and caregiving, I thought about my own experience. In my case, planning with parents for their wishes has allowed for open and frank conversations that helped to develop trust and understanding. It provided a chance to resolve and express unspoken sentiments and a time to see parents/in-laws as peers. It was also a time for them to share life enriching experiences. In the process of helping them plan for their lifestyle choices and care, I learned something more about them, myself and my family. In my situation it allowed me to recognize how much value I place on having intellectual and meaningful activities.

It was interesting to read, in the survey of caregivers, (called C.A.R.E.—Costs, Accountabilities, Realities, and Expectations) that 60% said caring for two aging parents can be more demanding than caring for two children (ages 3-5). It also found that 66% said that the extra costs involved would have a large financial impact on them, and, perhaps more significantly, 38% said they had not planned for these costs. Most respondents believe the shortfall would be offset from cuts to discretionary living expenses, retirement savings, or from another source of income.

This survey is particularly worthwhile because it reveals a disconnect between the perception and the reality of caring for an elder. The perception is that caregiving is mostly about grocery shopping, cooking and laundry. Whereas, experienced caregivers know that although chores and emotional support play a large part, it is financial support and personal hygiene that are the most stressful and anxiety building aspects of caregiving. The lesson here is that you can best assist your parent or elder by pointing out this disconnect—help with chores is fine and may be necessary, but thinking through how caregiving will be financed and how their physical needs will be met is paramount to avoiding serious challenges.

As they plan their caregiving you should encourage them to agree on the signs that will be used to indicate it is time to seek further assistance with their finances and physical care. It is during these caring conversations about their wishes that you can volunteer ways in which you are willing and able to be of help (but only after you’ve examined your own retirement plan).

As the off-spring of a parent that raised a family, that may have managed a firm and made countless complicated decisions during their careers, it can be difficult to envision your mother or father sometime down the road when logging onto the Internet or even frying an egg seem onerous tasks. A key ingredient to helping them along is to examine honestly what lies ahead and plan accordingly. Encourage them to remain connected to family (they will benefit from increased meaningful contact with a loved one) and to build a fiduciary team for their physical, mental and financial wellbeing. With the right type of built-in support along the way, their retirement can truly be the “golden years,” an immensely satisfying and productive time.

Edi Alvarez, CFP®
BS, BEd, MS

www.aikapa.com

A Closer Look at Funding College Education

College costs continue to rise at a fast pace (5%). For the 2014-15 year tuition plus room and board averaged $43K for private four-year colleges; $33K for out-of-state public colleges; and $19K per-year for in-state public four-year colleges. These numbers are higher for private university programs in California.

When parents, students, relatives or other benefactors ask us how they can help fund a college education we normally outline three conventional ways and also suggest two other ways. The conventional ways are to use a 529 plan (either college savings or pre-paid tuition), a Coverdell Educational Savings Account (ESA), and a Uniform Trust for Minors (either UTMA or UGMA). To cover the non-qualifying expenses we recommend a taxable brokerage account. Finally, once a child has their own earnings (however small) we also recommend a Roth IRA since it can grow tax free. Even so, the most common plan is the 529 plan because it has the highest contributions and no earning limits.

You are mistaken if you think that paying for college is as simple as just buying a tax advantage plan (such as 529 college savings plan) and letting it grow. If you want simplicity you’ll forgo any tax advantage. The complexity arises when you distribute the money to pay for the various types of college expenses.

College expenses can be paid directly to the institution, to the beneficiary student, or to the owner of the 529 plan. The best way is to pay the institution directly but often tracking these types of payments can be difficult. The more common way is to send the money directly to the beneficiary (student) but there would need to be assurances that the payment goes towards “qualifying” expenses or tax reporting penalties and taxes may apply. Last is to distribute the money to the owners (parents, grandparents, or other benefactors). In this scenario, the owners will need to keep records to demonstrate that each distribution has matching beneficiary (student) qualifying expenses.

So, here are some tips to consider when you are ready to pay for college from a 529 plan:

The key to distributing from a 529 plan is that the educational expense must be “qualifying”. To be eligible to withdraw from a college savings 529 plan without incurring the 10% penalty and taxes the beneficiary (student) must be enrolled in a qualified institution. Traditional qualifying expenses include tuition, “qualifying” room and board and expenses directly linked to course requirements. If not qualified the penalty plus taxes on the gain will apply.

We need to be clear that paying off educational loans is not considered a “qualified higher-education expense”. Also be clear that the list of “qualifying” expenses gets continually updated, albeit rather slowly. Only this year are they willing to approve computers as part of “qualifying” educational expense (but do first check that it applies to your plan).

New 529 rules may finally eliminate the penalties if funds are returned to the 529 plan within 60 days (this happens when a student is forced to unexpectedly drop out of college and no longer qualifies to draw from the 529 plan).

Additional issues arise if the child actually qualifies for financial aid. A student with financial aid needs to be particularly careful when they access any nonparental funded 529 plan. The non-parent 529 plans are not part of a student’s financial aid application until the first distribution is made. We recommend that any non-parental 529 be accessed last. If not, a student’s income will be increased by the distribution and will affect the next year’s financial aid by as much as 20%. Parental 529 plans, on the other hand, impact aid by just over 5.5%.

If there are remaining assets in the 529 when the beneficiary ends their education (undergrad and graduate school) then parents need to transfer the named beneficiary to a close relative (who still needs college education funds) or they may transfer ownership to the student if they are likely to be in a lower tax bracket (but they can’t avoid the 10% penalty if they use the funds for non-qualifying expenses).

Finally, funding a child’s college education is important BUT it should never be at the expense of an adult’s own retirement or personal needs. Paying for college has to be in balance with your own financial plan. In addition, a 529 plan requires careful monitoring and reporting. It is a great financial learning opportunity for a student to annually track the 529 budget and file taxes.

Edi Alvarez, CFP®
BS, BEd, MS

www.aikapa.com

Weighing in on WHO will make decisions for you: Trustees

Trustees:  Consideration for selecting those who will make decisions for you.

A trust or power of attorneys or will are all documents that at their best do what you would do at a time when you’re not available.  The situations can be death or injury or disease.  We can plan for potential contingencies but what we can do best is to choose the right person for those unexpected, undocumented life events.  The trustee or agent is themselves subject to life so how will your choice make your decisions in the midst of their lives.

  1. The ultimate success of your trust’s mission will depend in large part on how your trustee carries out your intentions, making the selection of a trustee one of the most important elements of trust design.
  2. The ideal trustee should possess or have ready access to legal, tax, investment, and administrative expertise, as well as the wisdom to invoke that expertise when needed. The ideal trustee should also be able to deliver that expertise loyally, decisively, and impartially.
  3. Personal confidants, relatives, lawyers, accountants, and banks are all commonly used as trustees. Family members, friends, and business associates are often the most knowledgeable about your intentions and your beneficiaries’ needs, but may have less than optimal skills or temperament for the job. Professionals may offer a stronger skill set but can lack important personal connections to your family. Professionals may also be held to a higher standard of performance than lay trustees by probate judges and executors.

The considerations are many but zero in on a personal contact or a professional representative.  You can opt for a personal confidant or relative in whom you have strong faith, such as a business associate, sibling, or spouse. You can select a professional practitioner whose skills might be especially useful to your purposes, such as a lawyer, planner, or accountant. Or you can designate a bank or trust company to act as a corporate trustee. Each option presents a unique balance of benefits and concerns.The choices in each group are many and only you can make this final critical decision.  Think through scenarios of how your potential representative will handle decisions.

Ideally they will have a well-established relationship with your intended beneficiaries and a detailed knowledge of the unique circumstances in your bequest or life principles. That familiarity can provide the context needed to interpret your wishes in your absence most effectively. It can also lay the groundwork for a strong long-term relationship between the trustee and the beneficiaries. However, someone chosen solely on the strength of personal relationships and intimate knowledge may lack the training or skills needed to act impartially in the face of duress or emotional entanglement. What’s more, a friend or relative acting as a trustee might have a conflict of interest or be unable to devote sufficient time to the duties of trusteeship, and these potential deficiencies may not become readily apparent for some time.  The biggest obstacles is lack of organization and ability to delegate to a professional when needed.

A professional practitioner who has had significant involvement in your family’s affairs may offer many of the same advantages as a personal associate, such as personal relationships with beneficiaries and historical knowledge of unusual situations and special needs. They may also have the professional distance needed to remain dispassionate under difficult circumstances. However, like a lay trustee, an individual professional’s tenure may be subject to their own life and may ultimately be unavailable at some critical future juncture.

Edi Alvarez, CFP®
BS, BEd, MS

www.aikapa.com

 

 

Tax Season and the Retiree

Tax Season and the Retiree

There are a lot to contemplate when considering the state in which to retire. Most want to be close to family and friends, the weather to be suitable for them, and what they hope to do in terms of activities.  A consideration this time of year are taxes — one of life’s two certainties and, one often a large expense in retirement.  It is never a good idea to seek out a retirement state based solely on tax burden but it is good to be aware which states fit your plans best for retiement.

So, find out how each state taxes your income and plan accordingly. Also consider how the state taxes your property and your consumption and you might want to consider how it taxes your estate.  That should give you a state tax burden that you’ll need to cover during retirement.

Older Americans who planned for retirement often generate income from several sources during retirement, including income from wages or self-employment; Social Security; pensions; and personal assets, including taxable and tax-deferred accounts. Taxes on those sources of income, mean less money for your care and enjoyment.  But don’t forget state and local property taxes, state and local sales and use taxes. You might pay plenty in property taxes and sales taxes.

Remember, what you save on income taxes in one state you might pay in property taxes or sales taxes. And vice versa. What you save on property and sales taxes in one state you might pay in income taxes – so calculate for your specific retirement situation.

One more note, for those who itemize deductions, there are five types of deductible non-business taxes, including state, local and foreign income taxes; state, local and foreign real estate taxes; state, and local personal property taxes; state and local sales taxes, and qualified motor vehicle taxes.

Your specific tax burden, will depend on whether you can take advantage of these deductions.

The states are listed in order of tax friendliness from an overall tax burden point of view:

1. Alaska:  Alaska doesn’t tax personal income, including Social Security benefits and pension income. And, there’s no state-imposed sales tax. This is not to say that you won’t pay any taxes in Alaska – You’ll pay other types of taxes, such as property taxes.

2. Nevada: This state doesn’t tax income, Social Security benefits or pension income. And its property taxes are reasonable, too. Its sales tax, however, is higher than the national average.

3. South Dakota: The state doesn’t tax individual income, Social Security benefits or pension income. And the overall tax burden is among the lowest in the nation.

4. Wyoming: There’s no individual income tax on Social Security benefits or pension income in Wyoming but property taxes and sales taxes tend to be higher than the national average.

5. Texas: In Texas, there’s no individual income tax. But property and sales taxes tend to be higher than the rest of the nation.

6. Florida: There are plenty of reasons why people choose to retire to the Sunshine state, the low tax burden being among those reasons. There’s no individual income tax on Social Security benefits or pension income with high property and sales taxes.

7. Washington: There’s no individual income tax on Social Security benefits or pension income. But if you plan on spending lots money while in retirement watch out for the high sales tax.

Edi Alvarez, CFP®
BS, BEd, MS

www.aikapa.com

IRS Audit rates for the wealthy

The Internal Revenue Service in 2011 (2010 tax year filings) overall audit rate stayed constant for individual taxpayers at 1.1%. For those earning between $200-500K it is at 2.66%. Of note since 2009 has been the significant increase in audits for the following groups:

–> an increase in audits of 29.9% for taxpayers with $10 million in income (in 2010 it was 18.3% and 10.6% in 2009).This is a group that consists of 0.01 percent of taxpayers. In addition, the IRS has implemented a more a more intense IRS task force audit that is more time consuming and costly.

–> an increase of 20.75% (from 11.55%) for those with Adjusted Gross Incomes (AGI) of $5-10 million.

Interestingly many tax prepares claim that the IRS is quicker to audit individual returns than in the past, sometimes contacting people within months of their return being filed. In some cases, “correspondence audits” are the norm, where the IRS will send a letter asking a taxpayer to verify a specific item on the return such as charitable deductions.

This change started in 2009 when the IRS created a special unit to examine the tax returns of high-wealth individuals. “We will take a unified look at the entire web of business entities controlled by a high-wealth individual, which will enable us to better assess the risk such arrangements pose to tax compliance and the integrity of our tax system,” IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman said in a December 2009 speech. “We want to better understand the entire economic picture of the enterprise controlled by the wealthy individual and to assess the tax compliance of that overall enterprise.”

=============== March 23, 2012 – Credit: Bloomberg News online