Q&A: Where should you put your extra cash? Here are some ideas

Dear Liz: At 82, I am selling my house and moving to a senior community. For the first time in my life, I will have a substantial amount of cash. Given my age and the fact that certificates of deposit and savings accounts are currently paying more than 5% interest, does it pay for me to start investing in other ways?

Answer: How you figure out what to do with your money is mostly the same whether you’re 28 or 82.

You start with your goal and your time horizon, or how long you have until you need the money.

For example, you may have to put aside some of the home sale proceeds to pay capital gains taxes if your home has appreciated more than the $250,000 that’s normally exempted from tax. Since the tax bill will be due within months of the sale, you shouldn’t take unnecessary risks with this cash. A high-yield savings account would be a good solution for any money you need to keep safe and liquid.

You also may want to earmark some money for long-term care. This goal is much more ambiguous, because it’s impossible to predict how much you’ll need or when. You may want to consult an elder law attorney, who can discuss your options.

Once you settle on a figure, you’ll want that money to be somewhere safe and readily accessible. Certificates of deposit that mature at different times could be an option, as could the high-yield savings account mentioned above.

If you have a goal that’s many years in the future, you could consider a mix of stocks and bonds. Stocks in particular offer long-term returns that historically beat inflation.

Most working people who want to retire will need to invest in stocks to accumulate and maintain a sufficient nest egg. They can take the risk of losing money in the short term because they have many years ahead for their investments to recover.

And that’s where your situation differs from that of a 28-year-old. The average life expectancy for an 82-year-old male is about eight more years, while the average life expectancy for an 82-year-old female is around nine more years, according to the Social Security Administration.

You may have enough time left to ride out a bad market. But if you don’t have to take such risks to achieve your goals, consider playing it a bit safer.

This week’s money news

This week’s top story: Smart Money podcast on data breaches, and catching up on retirement savings. In other news: How airline elite status saved the day when airline delays and cancellations strike, which airline elite status should you go for in 2023, and how pay transparency may affect your job search or next raise.

Smart Money Podcast: Data Breaches, and Catching Up on Retirement Savings
This week’s episode starts with a primer on what to do if your data is breached.

I Flew During the FAA Fiasco — and Elite Status Got Me Home
Happily for this Nerd, airline ultra-elites get preferential treatment when delays and cancellations strike.

Which Airline Elite Status Should You Go For in 2023?
Do the math and consider personal preferences when choosing an airline elite status program in 2023.

How Pay Transparency May Affect Your Job Search or Next Raise
As states and cities add rules about disclosing salaries, job seekers and workers can put the data to use.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: What Equifax’s credit score miscalculations mean for consumers. Also in the news: 5 ways to feel richer (even if you’re not), mortgage rates to stay high in August, and who should consider a spousal IRA.

What Equifax’s Credit Score Miscalculations Mean for Consumers
Equifax, one of the three major credit bureaus, announced that a computer coding error resulted in the miscalculation of credit scores for consumers in a three-week period between March 17 and April 6.

5 Ways to Feel Richer (Even If You’re Not)
In some ways, feeling “rich” is less about how many zeroes you have in your bank account and more about knowing how to use them to get what you want out of life.

Mortgage Rates Unlikely to Cool in August
Mortgage rates will likely rise in August as the Federal Reserve continues to yank interest rates higher.

Who Should Consider a Spousal IRA, According to a Financial Planner
You should try to find new ways to save for retirement. For some people, a spousal IRA is an option.

Q&A: IRS changes on required withdrawals

Dear Liz: When informing me of my required minimum distribution for 2022, my brokerage has apparently used a distribution period that differs from the one used in past years. This results in a distribution amount that’s noticeably smaller. I recall there was some talk of revising the IRS tables, but has this been done?

Answer: Yes. The IRS has updated the life expectancy tables used to calculate how much people must withdraw from their retirement accounts to reflect longer lifespans. That’s good news for people who withdraw only the minimums each year, since their required distributions will be smaller and the rest of their balances can continue to grow tax deferred.

Q&A: How contribution rules differ for IRA and 401(k) accounts

Dear Liz: I recently changed jobs. Typically I max out my 401(k) contributions each year. I contributed $20,700 to my previous company’s plan before quitting. Eligibility for my new company’s 401(k) doesn’t kick in until after 12 months of continuous employment, so I won’t be able to access this benefit until 2023. Can I set up an IRA or Roth IRA to reach the $27,500 limit for people 50 and older? I am married, filing jointly and our combined income exceeds $214,000.

Answer: Please talk to your company about fixing this outmoded requirement, which is costing its workers enormously in lost matching funds and compounded returns. Most companies have much shorter waiting periods, and the most enlightened employers enroll workers immediately. It’s hard enough to save adequately for retirement without an arbitrary yearlong delay.

The limits for contributing to workplace plans are separate from those for IRAs and Roth IRAs. For 2022, the limits for 401(k)s are $20,500 for people under 50 and $27,500 for people 50 and older. The contribution limits for IRAs (regular or Roth) are $6,000 for people under 50 and $7,000 for people 50 and older.

If you had access to a workplace plan at any point during the year, your ability to deduct your contribution would phase out with modified adjusted gross income between $109,000 and $129,000 if you are married filing jointly, said Mark Luscombe, principal analyst for Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting. The phaseout is between $68,000 and $78,000 for single taxpayers.

Normally when you can’t deduct an IRA contribution, you’re better off contributing to a Roth IRA. Contributions to a Roth aren’t deductible but withdrawals are tax-free in retirement.

However, the ability to contribute to a Roth IRA phases out with modified adjusted gross incomes between $204,000 and $214,000 for married joint filers and between $129,000 and $144,000 for single filers.

If you can’t contribute directly to a Roth, you could consider what’s called a “back door” Roth contribution, in which you contribute to a regular IRA and then convert the money to a Roth. Although direct Roth contributions have income limits, Roth conversions do not. However, you are required to pay income taxes on a typical conversion, so this maneuver works best if you don’t already have a large pretax IRA.

Q&A: The rules have changed on inherited IRAs. Here’s what you need to know

Dear Liz: My husband and I have a combination of traditional and Roth IRAs naming our children and grandchildren as beneficiaries. With the passage of the Secure Act requiring distribution of inherited IRAs within 10 years, we want to revise our plan of leaving all of the investments to our children, as such inherited income would affect their tax bracket also. Do you have recommendations to alter the inherited IRAs to avoid this issue? Our annual fixed income puts us at the top of our tax bracket, meaning we usually cannot manage a traditional IRA to Roth conversion.

Answer: The Secure Act dramatically limited “stretch IRAs,” which allowed people to draw down an inherited IRA over their lifetimes. Now most non-spouse inheritors must empty the accounts within 10 years if they inherited the IRA in 2020 or later.

There are some exceptions if an heir is disabled, chronically ill or not more than 10 years younger than the IRA owner, says Mark Luscombe, principal analyst for Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting. These “eligible designated beneficiaries” can use the old stretch rules, as can spouses. Minor children of the IRA owner can put off withdrawals until age 21. At that point, the 10-year rule applies.

If you had a potential heir who qualifies, you could consider naming them as the beneficiary of a traditional IRA and leaving the Roth money to the other heirs. (The IRA withdrawals will be taxable while the Roth withdrawals won’t.) Or you could leave the IRA to the children in lower tax brackets and the Roth to those in higher tax brackets.

If you’re trying to divide your estate equally, though, these approaches could vastly complicate matters because the balances in the various accounts could be quite different. Plus, predicting anyone’s future tax brackets can be tough.

Another approach is to name your children along with your spouse as the primary beneficiary of your IRA. That way, the children would get 10 years to spend down this first chunk of your IRA money after you die. When your survivor dies, they would get another 10 years to spend down the remainder, giving them 20 years of tax-deferred growth.

Alternately, you could focus on spending down the IRA to preserve other assets for your kids. The stretch IRA rules encouraged people to preserve their IRAs, but now it may make more sense to focus on passing down assets such as stock or real estate that would get a valuable “step up” in tax basis at your death.

Converting IRAs to Roths is another potential strategy for those willing and able. In essence, you’re paying the tax bill now so your heirs won’t have to pay taxes later (although they’ll still have to drain the account within 10 years). It may be possible to do partial conversions over several years to avoid getting pushed into the next tax bracket.

There are a few other approaches that involve costs and tradeoffs, such as setting up a charitable remainder trust that can provide beneficiaries with income. These are best discussed with an estate planning attorney who can assess your situation and give you individualized advice.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 3 steps to breaking unhealthy financial habits. Also in the news: Another $400 in free college aid, 4 retirement savings strategies for family caregivers, and what to know about the trend in buying “vacation homes” before a regular “starter home.”

3 Steps to Breaking Unhealthy Financial Habits
How do you know if you have unhealthy financial habits, and what can you do to build better ones?

Another $400 in Free College Aid Could Be Coming Your Way
The 2022 federal budget increases the annual Pell Grant limit, and students could receive more aid as a result.

4 Retirement Savings Strategies for Family Caregivers
Providing care for a family member can put a dent in retirement savings, but there are ways to get your finances on track.

Should You Buy a Vacation Home Before a Starter Home?
Why millennials are buying a “second” before their first.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 4 ways to tame financial stress and save for retirement. Also in the news: Is room service dead, how to handle awkward money situations on a group trip, and are unused travel card benefits actually a bad thing?

4 Ways to Tame Financial Stress and Save for Retirement
Financial stress can set back your retirement goals, but these strategies can help you get on track.

Is Room Service Dead? Replacements Could Be Better, Cheaper
With the advent of delivery apps and smart vending machines, room service may have seen its day.

How to Handle Awkward Money Situations on a Group Trip
Compromise and communication are key to budgetary harmony on any group trip.

Are Unused Travel Card Benefits Actually a Bad Thing?
Wringing every last cent of value out of your travel card might not be the best move.

Q&A: Here’s a strategy to avoid going broke in retirement

Dear Liz: A lot has been written about how much can safely be withdrawn from a balanced investment portfolio so that it will last a lifetime. A popular strategy is to withdraw a percentage, say 4%, in the first year and then increase that withdrawal each subsequent year by the rate of inflation.

What are your thoughts on an alternate strategy of withdrawing a fixed percentage, say 4%, at the beginning of each year? This has the disadvantage of providing a more variable income stream year to year but has the advantages of simplicity and it can never deplete the portfolio to zero.

Answer: Many retirees would find it hard to cope with incomes that swing wildly from one year to the next. One way to address that volatility is to ensure that retirees have enough guaranteed income — through Social Security, pensions and annuities — to cover their basic, must-have expenses. Retirement plan withdrawals then would provide for their “wants,” such as travel, meals out and so on.

Cutting back on the nice-to-haves isn’t easy, but it’s better than not having enough money to pay the mortgage or buy groceries.

This approach is the core of the “Spend Safely in Retirement Strategy,” created by retirement researchers Wade Pfau, Joe Tomlinson and Steve Vernon with the help of the Society of Actuaries and the Stanford Center on Longevity.

The strategy suggests maximizing Social Security and basing withdrawals on the IRS’ required minimum distribution percentages. Reports detailing the strategy and the research behind it are available on both organizations’ websites, and Vernon’s book “Don’t Go Broke in Retirement” explains the strategy in detail.

Of course, trying to eliminate any possibility of running short means that you may die with a whole lot of unspent money. That may be great news for your heirs, but sad for you if you denied yourself excessively while you were alive. Finding the right balance between security and spending is tough, to say the least.

Q&A: Where to park cash?

Dear Liz: I turned 72 in December and took my first required minimum distribution. With the goal of purchasing property next year, should I put the funds — $6,000 — in my Roth IRA or just put it in my bank savings account? Also, should I convert my traditional IRA to a Roth or just leave it alone?

Answer: To contribute to an IRA or Roth IRA, you must have earned income such as wages, salary or self-employment income. If you don’t have earned income, your contribution would be considered an excess contribution that could incur a 6% penalty for each year the money remained in the account.

You don’t have to be working to convert a traditional IRA to a Roth, but there’s typically not much reason to do so at this point unless you intend the money to go to your heirs and want to pay the income taxes rather than have them do so. Even then, you should run this idea past a tax pro or a financial planner since conversions can create other problems, such as higher Medicare premiums.