Q&A: Different Roths, different rules

Dear Liz: I have a Roth 401(k). Are withdrawals from it the same as from a Roth IRA? And how do I move it to a Roth IRA?

Answer: Roth 401(k)s are a type of workplace retirement plan that, like Roth IRAs, allow tax-free withdrawals. But the rules for Roth 401(k)s are somewhat different from those governing Roth IRAs.

For example, a Roth IRA allows you to withdraw an amount equal to your contributions free of taxes and penalties anytime, regardless of your age. Earnings can be withdrawn from a Roth IRA tax- and penalty-free once you’re 59½ and the account is at least 5 years old. The clock starts on Jan. 1 of the year you make your first contribution.

To withdraw money tax- and penalty-free from a Roth 401(k), you typically must be 59½ or older and the account must be at least 5 years old.

In addition, Roth 401(k)s — like regular 401(k)s and traditional IRAs — are subject to required minimum distribution rules that require you to start taking money out at age 72. Roth IRAs aren’t subject to those rules.

Many people roll their Roth 401(k)s into Roth IRAs to avoid the required minimum distribution rules or to have more investment choices. Such a rollover resets the five-year clock that determines whether a withdrawal incurs taxes and penalties, however. If you wait until you retire to roll over your Roth 401(k) and need access to the money, that waiting period could be problematic.

You can roll over your Roth 401(k) after leaving the employer that offers the plan. But you also could ask if your plan allows “in service” rollovers — in other words, rollovers while you’re still working for the employer. Some Roth 401(k)s allow these, although they may be restricted to people 59½ and older.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: A Roth IRA could help you avoid taxes like the ultrawealthy. Also in the news: How one DUI can nearly double your car insurance, the Child Tax Credit scam, and flying first class for cheap(er) right now.

A Roth IRA Could Help You Avoid Taxes Like the Ultrawealthy
You, too, could lower your tax burden with the right investment account.

One DUI Can Nearly Double Your Car Insurance — Here’s How to Save
On average, auto insurance rates skyrocket 96% after a DUI, our 2021 rate analysis found.

Scam Alert: Child Tax Credit Is Automatic; No Need to Apply
The IRS won’t call, text or email you so beware of unsolicited communications.

You Can Fly First Class for Cheap(er) Right Now
Luxury travel is a bit more accessible.

Q&A: What to consider before taking a lump sum

Dear Liz: I had a pension from a previous employer that was going to pay me $759 per month at 65. They offered me a lump-sum buyout about five years ago of around $65,000. I ran the numbers and decided that was definitely not enough money and declined.

Then last year they upped the offer and the new lump sum amount was $125,000. I ran the numbers again and this time decided to grab the money and roll it into an IRA. I’m 63 and plan to retire at 70. I can hopefully grow that $125,000 to $250,000 by that time, which would give me that much more to live on, plus it gives me more discretion on using that money than just getting the monthly payment the pension would have paid me.

After reading one of your latest columns, I am now questioning whether I made the right decision to take the lump sum.

Answer: There are a number of good reasons for opting for a lump sum versus an annuity. For example, people with large pensions may not be fully protected by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. if their pension fund fails. Others may need more flexibility than an annuity offers.
But a pension is typically money that’s guaranteed for life, in good markets and bad. If you’re choosing the lump sum just because you think you can earn better returns, you need to consider how you’ll protect yourself and your spouse from fraud, bad decisions and bad markets.

Bull markets can lull people into thinking they’re good investors, but markets can go down and stay down for extended periods. That poses a special risk to retirees, who are at increased risk of running out of money when they draw from a shrinking pool of investments. Even a short bear market can cause problems, while an extended one can be disastrous.

You’ll also want to consider how you’ll manage when your cognitive abilities begin to decline. Our financial decision-making abilities peak in our 50s, but our confidence in our abilities tends to remain high even as our cognition slips. That can lead to bad investment decisions and increased vulnerability to fraud.

Finally, consider your spouse. If you die first, will your spouse be comfortable managing these investments? If not, is there someone in place who can help?

A fee-only financial planner could discuss these issues with you and help you create a plan to deal with them.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How the pandemic has shaken up retirement. Also in the news: 6 steps for financial spring cleaning, what to know if you’re listing your home in 2021, and how to avoid having to pay back the $3600 child tax credit.

How the Pandemic Has Shaken Up Retirement
When to retire isn’t always in our control, but too early an exit can bring financial instability.

6 Steps for Financial Spring Cleaning, Pandemic-Style
This year, spring cleaning includes reevaluating your budget, updating insurance and setting new goals.

Listing Your Home in 2021? Here’s What to Know
Roughly 1 in 6 (17%) homeowners plan on selling their home in the next 18 months.

How To Avoid Having to Pay Back the $3,600 Child Tax Credit
Find out how the credit works.

How the pandemic has shaken up retirement

Pandemic-related job losses forced many older Americans out of the workplace i n the past year, perhaps permanently. But the COVID-19 crisis also seems to have delayed some retirements.

Remote work eliminated commutes and often allowed more flexible schedules with fewer interruptions. At the same time, the pandemic restricted many traditional retirement activities, including travel and visits with family. While some employed older workers look forward to retiring when restrictions ease, others say teleworking has made staying on the job more tenable.

in my latest for the Associated Press, a look at how the pandemic has shaken up retirement in both good and bad ways for Americans.

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.

Will you really run out of money in retirement?

Many U.S. households retire without enough money to maintain their pre-retirement standard of living. Once retired, though, people often reduce their spending enough to make their money last, according to a recent study by David Blanchett, head of retirement research at Morningstar, and Warren Cormier, executive director of the Defined Contribution Institutional Investment Association’s Retirement Research Center.

“People are finding a way to make it work,” Blanchett says.

The findings challenge a common financial planning assumption that retirees’ spending will increase at the rate of inflation each year. But the research also indicates many people retire without a realistic understanding of how much they can safely spend. In my latest for the Associated Press, a look at running out vs. running short.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to reclaim money lost to COVID disruptions. Also in the news: How phone calls can save you money, start early to get your house retirement-ready, and which states have extended their tax deadlines.

It’s Not Too Late to Reclaim Money ‘Lost’ to COVID Disruptions
A chargeback can be a helpful tool, particularly if the pandemic has affected the delivery of a good or service. But there are rules and limits to be aware of.

Deep Breath and Dial: How Phone Calls Can Save You Money
It’ll take a little patience.

Start Early to Get Your House Retirement-Ready
Most homes aren’t ready for “aging in place,” but you could take steps now to make your home better for retirement.

Which States Have Extended Their Tax Deadlines?
See if yours is on the list.

Start early to get your house retirement-ready

Many people want to remain in their homes after they retire rather than move to a senior living facility or community. Unfortunately, most homes aren’t set up to help us age safely and affordably.

If your goal is to “age in place,” some advance preparation could help make that possible — or point to better alternatives.

“Somewhere in your 50s, hopefully, you’re starting to think seriously about are you going to be able to stay in the house you’re in? Or are you going to need to make changes?” says DeDe Jones, a certified financial planner in Denver.

In my latest for the Associated Press, changes you need to consider to get your house retirement ready.

Q&A: They paid off the mortgage rather than save for retirement. Now what?

Dear Liz: My wife and I aggressively paid down our mortgage and now have it paid off, but we don’t have much saved for retirement. I make about $90,000 a year and will receive a teacher’s pension that will replace between 30% and 60% of that (depending on what option we choose) when I retire in about 10 years. It probably won’t be enough to live on. We will receive no Social Security benefits. We have no other debts, and we would like to make up for lost time as best we can on retirement preparation. What is your best advice for people like us who have diligently paid off their mortgage but have not diligently put money away for retirement?

Answer: The older you get, the harder it is to make up for lost time with retirement savings. You probably can’t do it if retirement is just a few years away.

This is not to make you feel bad, but to serve as a warning for others tempted to prioritize paying off a mortgage over saving for retirement.

If you’re in your 50s, you’d typically need to save nearly half your income to equal what you could have accumulated had you put aside just 10% of your pay starting in your 20s. The miracle of compounding means even small contributions have decades to grow into considerable sums. Without the benefit of time, your contributions can’t grow as much so you have to put aside more.

But you can certainly save aggressively and consider a few alternatives for your later years.

Once you hit 50, you can benefit from the ability to make “catch up” contributions. For example, if you have a workplace retirement plan such as a 403(b), you can contribute as much as $26,000 — the $19,500 regular limit plus a $6,500 additional contribution for those 50 and older.

You and your spouse also can contribute as much as $7,000 each to an IRA; whether those contributions are deductible depends on your income and whether you’re covered by a workplace plan. If you’re covered, your ability to deduct your contribution phases out with a modified adjusted gross income of $105,000 to $125,000 for married couples filing jointly. If your spouse isn’t covered by a workplace plan but you are, her ability to deduct her contribution phases out with a modified adjusted gross income of $198,000 to $208,000. (All figures are for 2021.)

If you can’t deduct the contribution, consider putting the money into a Roth IRA instead because withdrawals from a Roth are tax free in retirement. The ability to contribute to a Roth IRA phases out with modified adjusted gross incomes between $198,000 and $208,000 for married couples filing jointly.

If possible, a part-time job in retirement could be extremely helpful in making ends meet. So could downsizing or tapping your home equity with a reverse mortgage. A fee-only financial planner could help you sort through your options, as well as help you figure out the best way to take your pension when the time comes.