Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Should you save less for retirement? Also in the news: Can student loan forgiveness happen, a new congressional proposal would require IRA/401(k) withdrawals to start at 75, and how to spot fake reviews on Amazon.

Should You Save Less For Retirement?
An extremely early retirement goal may rob you of the joy of living now. Consider a revised path and second career.

Can Student Loan Forgiveness Still Happen?
Debt forgiveness of $10,000 would cancel debt entirely for about 15 million borrowers, according to a NerdWallet analysis of federal data.

Required IRA, 401(k) withdrawals would start at age 75 under congressional proposal. Here’s who would benefit
How your retirement savings might be affected.

How to Spot Fake Reviews on Amazon
Those five stars might be bought and paid for.

Should you save less for retirement?

Gwen Merz was fresh out of college in 2014, working an information technology job she hated, when she decided early retirement was the answer. She socked away every dollar she could, saving as much as 70% of her income so that she could quit when she was 35.

Now 30, Merz thinks she may have saved too much. Her job and life goals have changed, but most of her $300,000 savings is in retirement accounts that can’t be touched without tax penalties. If she could do it over, she says she would either save less aggressively or put some of the money into a taxable investment account with less strict withdrawal rules.

“I would pay a little bit more in taxes on my salary but I would have that money available for me,” says Merz, who lives in St. Louis.

Some people save prodigious amounts so they can retire early or because they’re worried they won’t have enough for a comfortable retirement. But aggressive saving can have significant and sometimes unexpected costs. In my latest for the Associated Press, why it’s important to strike the right balance between saving for the future and living your life today.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: What to do if you save too much for retirement. Also in the news: The ins and outs of starting a car, financial pros are hanging on to stocks, and why you need multiple savings accounts.

What to Do If You Save Too Much for Retirement
Saving too much for retirement can cause problems as well as saving too little. Beware of IRS rules and penalties.

So You Think You Know How to Start a Car
It’s become much more complicated

Selling Stocks on Inflation Fears? Financial Pros Wouldn’t
The inflation sirens are wailing, but financial pros say there’s no reason to panic.

Why You Need Multiple Savings Accounts
Multiple accounts make it easier to reach your savings goals.

What to do if you save too much for retirement

Many Americans don’t save enough for retirement, but it’s entirely possible to save too much — at least according to the IRS.

Tax laws limit how much you’re allowed to contribute to retirement accounts, and excess contributions can be penalized. Uncle Sam doesn’t want you to leave the money in the account too long, either. Those who fail to take enough out of their retirement accounts also face heavy penalties.

In my latest for the Associated Press, what you need to know to stay on the right side of the IRS’ rules.

Q&A: Here’s how to pick the best retirement account

Dear Liz: Can you explain the difference between a Roth IRA and a Roth 401(k)? What are the benefits of a Roth 401(k)? My company offers it and I am considering beginning to make deferral contributions there while continuing my 401(k) contributions.

Answer: Contributions to Roth IRAs and Roth 401(k)s are after tax, which means you don’t get an upfront tax deduction as you do with traditional IRA and 401(k) accounts. But the money grows tax deferred and can be tax free in retirement.

You typically open and contribute to a Roth IRA at a brokerage, which gives you access to a wide range of investment options. Just like traditional 401(k) accounts, Roth 401(k)s are offered by an employer, usually with a limited number of investment choices.

Roth 401(k)s allow people to contribute significantly more than they could to Roth or traditional IRAs. Roth 401(k)s also allow contributions by higher earners, who might be shut out of contributing to a Roth IRA.

Roth IRA contributions are limited to $6,000 with a $1,000 catch-up contribution for people ages 50 and older. Your ability to contribute begins to phase out at certain income limits. This year, the phaseouts start at $125,000 of modified adjusted gross income for single filers and $198,000 for married couples filing jointly.

Roth 401(k)s don’t have income limits and allow you to contribute as much as $19,500 ($26,000 for those age 50 and older). That is the combined limit for elective deferrals from your paycheck. If you’re under 50 and contributing $10,000 to the pretax portion of the 401(k), for example, you could contribute a maximum of $9,500 to the Roth option.

Roth IRAs and Roth 401(k)s also have different rules for withdrawals. You can remove your contributions from a Roth IRA at any time without paying taxes or penalties. Withdrawals from a Roth 401(k) before age 59½ also can incur taxes and penalties, although you usually do have the option to take loans.

Also, you’re not required to start taking withdrawals at age 72 from a Roth IRA, as you typically are with other retirement accounts, including Roth 401(k)s. You will have the option of rolling a Roth 401(k) into a Roth IRA, typically after you leave your job, so you can avoid minimum required distributions that way.

Q&A: Does a teenager need a Roth IRA?

Dear Liz: Our 16-year-old daughter has been frugal since she started understanding money at about age 6. She works and makes a decent income for a high school student. Her savings are now quite substantial. She wants to open a Roth IRA while she is young and has no income tax liability. My wife and I have pensions and substantial savings but only one IRA. So we have no idea how to help her open a Roth. What should she do? She has enough money to maximize her contributions every year through high school and college and wants to take full advantage of 50 years of tax-free growth.

Answer: Contributing to a Roth IRA is an excellent way for young people to build wealth, and the earlier they can start, the better.

Traditional IRAs typically offer a tax deduction for contributions but withdrawals are taxable. Roth IRAs, by contrast, don’t offer an upfront tax deduction but withdrawals are tax free in retirement. Opting for a Roth over a traditional IRA makes sense when you expect your tax rate to be the same or higher in retirement.

A $6,000 contribution at age 26 can grow to about $105,000 by retirement age, assuming 7% average annual returns. (That’s a reasonable average for a multi-decade investment in a diversified stock portfolio.)

Make the same contribution at age 16, and the money could grow to over $210,000 by age 67. The extra 10 years of compounded gains effectively doubles the total.

To contribute to an IRA or Roth IRA, people must have earned income such as wages, salary or self-employment income.

They’re allowed to contribute 100% of their earnings during the tax year or $6,000, whichever is less. (People 50 and older can make an additional $1,000 catch-up contribution.) If your daughter earned $4,000 this year, for example, that’s the maximum she could contribute to a Roth for 2021.

Your daughter typically can’t open her own account until she’s 18, so you would need to find a brokerage that offers custodial Roth IRAs. She would be the account owner and you would be the custodian until she turns 18. Fidelity, Schwab and Vanguard are among the discount brokerages that offer custodial Roth IRAs without requiring minimum investments or charging maintenance fees.

Q&A: Why you might want a Roth IRA

Dear Liz: I never understood Roth IRAs. They don’t offer a tax break for contributions, so they cause you to pay taxes on your money when you’re working and in a higher tax bracket. With a regular IRA, you get a tax break upfront when you’re in the higher tax bracket and then you pay taxes on withdrawals when you’re retired and in a lower tax bracket. What am I missing?

Answer: Not everyone will be in a lower tax bracket in retirement. Some will be in the same bracket or a higher one when it’s time to withdraw the money. People in their 20s, for example, may be in the lowest tax bracket they’ll ever see. People who expect tax rates in general to rise also may wish to hedge their bets by having at least some money in a Roth.

A Roth also can make more sense if you don’t get a tax break for your IRA contributions. That could be the case if you have access to a workplace plan and your income is above certain limits, or if your income is so low that you owe little or no income tax.

Roth IRAs have a few other advantages. Having a pot of tax-free money in retirement can give you some flexibility in managing your tax bill. If a big bill comes up, for example, a withdrawal from your IRA could push you into a higher tax bracket while a withdrawal from your Roth would not.

Roths also don’t require you to take withdrawals in retirement, unlike regular IRAs. You can hang on to the money until you need it, perhaps to pay for late-in-life costs such as long-term care, or you can pass it on to your heirs.

Roths are more flexible in another way: You can always withdraw the amount you contributed to a Roth without tax consequences. Withdrawals from IRAs before retirement typically incur both taxes and penalties.

Q&A: A 401(k) versus an IRA: Which one wins this smackdown?

Dear Liz: I am a 27-year-old with a big investment question. The company I work for matches 401(k) contributions up to 9%, which is all well and fine since I contribute enough to receive the company match. I have just about $60,000 in my 401(k) and I have a Roth IRA on the side as well as a brokerage account for stocks. I would like to roll over my 401(k) into another IRA since the investment choices in the 401(k) are rather limited. I’m a big fan of investment diversification with different funds. Is this a good option to choose or is this a silly idea with no merit? I understand the tax implications involved but am willing to bite the bullet for more investment options.

Answer: Good for you for being so diligent about saving for retirement. Your early start should give you a lot of options when you’re older.

For now, your question has an easy answer. Typically, you can’t roll a 401(k) account into an IRA while you’re still working for the employer that provides the 401(k).

There are a few exceptions. Once you turn 59½, some plans do allow such rollovers. Also, a few plans offer “mega backdoor Roths” that allow you to contribute after-tax money to a 401(k) and then do an “in service” conversion to a Roth IRA. This option helps high-income people get around the income limitation that would otherwise prevent them from contributing to a Roth IRA.

You will have the option of rolling your money into an IRA once you leave your job, but don’t assume such a rollover is always the right choice.

Most 401(k)s offer enough options to give you plenty of diversification, plus you may have access to low-cost institutional funds that wouldn’t be available in an IRA. You’re also protected by federal law that requires the companies offering 401(k)s to act as fiduciaries — in other words, they must put your best interests first. You often have the option of rolling your 401(k) balance into a new employer’s plan, which means you would be able to take loans from the plan. That’s not an option with an IRA.

There are no tax implications for rolling over a 401(k), by the way. Only if you convert the money to a Roth IRA will you owe taxes. A conversion may make sense, but you’ll want to talk to a tax pro first.

Q&A: IRA intricacies when one spouse isn’t working

Dear Liz: Due to the pandemic, I did not work during 2020. Can I contribute to a spousal IRA for 2020 since my husband still has an income and will be contributing to his Roth IRA? Does it need to be a separate account from my existing IRAs?

Answer: As long as your husband has earned income, you can contribute to your IRA. You don’t need to set up a separate account to make this spousal contribution.

Whether or not your contribution is deductible will depend on your income and whether your husband is covered by a workplace retirement plan such as a 401(k). If he’s not, your spousal contribution is fully deductible. If he is covered, then your ability to deduct your contribution phases out for a modified adjusted gross income of $196,000 to $206,000.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Will you really run out of money in retirement? Also in the news: What to do if your mortgage forbearance is ending, 5 home remodeling trends to watch for 2021, and how to pay your medical bills without crowdfunding.

Will You Really Run Out of Money in Retirement?
Most people adjust spending to stretch their resources, but you can proactively get help now to ease your worries.

The Property Line: Mortgage Forbearance Ending? Here Are Your Options
When your mortgage forbearance ends, options will include extension, repayment or deferment, and will vary by loan type.

5 Home Remodeling Trends to Watch for in 2021
Say goodbye to neutrals and open floor plans and hello to mood-lifting color and a place for everyone.

How to Pay Your Medical Bills Without Crowdfunding
The limits of crowdfunding.