retirement

  • Increased Retirement Account Contribution Limits for 2024

    The IRS announced new contribution limits to employer retirement accounts (401(k)s, 403(b)s, most 457(b) plans, and the Thrift Savings Plan) and individual retirement accounts (IRAs, Roth IRAs). Along with increased contribution limits, the income limits to be able to contribute to a Roth IRA and to deduct contributions to a traditional IRA are receiving a bump for 2024 as well.

    Key Points

    • 401(k)/403(b) employee contribution limits increased to $23,000 for 2024.
    • IRA and Roth IRA contribution limits also increased and are up to $7,000.
    • The income limit to be able to directly contribute to a Roth IRA ranges from $146k – $161k for single filers and  $230,000 – $240,000 for married filing jointly.
    • The total contribution limit for employer retirement accounts also grew to $69,000. This is the limit for all employee, employer, and after-tax contributions.

    2024 Employer Retirement Account Contribution Limits

    The employee contribution limit for employer retirement accounts, think 401(k)s, 403(b)s, the Thrift Savings Plan and most 457(b) plans is increasing to $23,000. A $500 bump from 2023. The total limit which includes employee and employer contributions rises to $69,000, a $3,000 boost from last year.

    The catch-up contributions available to employees who are 50 or older remains unchanged for the new year at $7,500.

    After-tax 401(k) Contribution Limits

    Once you hit the limit to what you can contribute as an employee, $23,000 for 2024, you may be able to save more in your 401(k) through after-tax contributions. That’s where the combined limit of $69,000 comes into play. If your 401(k) plan allows you can make additional after-tax contributions up to the $69,000 limit.

    Consider an example where your employer makes a flat $5,000 401(k) match and your 401(k) plan allows after-tax contributions. Once you’ve made your $23,000 contribution you can contribute an additional $41,000 of after-tax contributions.

    $23k employee contribution + $5k employer match + $41k after-tax contribution = $69k

    Your after-tax contributions will continue to grow tax-free and you will owe taxes on their withdrawal in retirement similar to traditional 401(k) contributions.

    After-tax 401(k) -> Mega Backdoor Roth

    An even better option if your 401(k) plan allows it is to do an immediate Roth conversion on your after-tax contributions. Since the contribution is made with after-tax dollars there will be no tax owed on the Roth conversion, and your converted funds will grow tax-free and can be withdrawn tax-free in retirement. You can learn more about the Mega Backdoor Roth at this link.

    2024 IRA (Individual Retirement Account) Contribution Limits

    The contribution limit on IRAs is getting a $500 increase for 2024 as well. Individuals can contribute up to $7,000 to Roth and Traditional IRAs, up from $6,500 last year. The 50 and over catch-up contribution will remain at $1,000.

    The income limits to contribute to a Roth IRA or to make a tax-deductible traditional IRA contribution are increasing as well. These limits can be a little confusing because the amount you can contribute or deduct decreases once you earn above a certain amount, and if you are married the limits also vary based on whether you or your spouse have access to an employer retirement plan like a 401(k).

    2024 Roth IRA Income Limits

    The income limits for a Roth IRA are relatively straightforward compared to the rules around the traditional IRA. For a Roth IRA in 2024 single taxpayers can make the full contribution if your income is $146,000 or less. Above $146k as you make more income the amount you can contribute is reduced until you make $161,000 at which point you can no longer directly contribute to a Roth IRA.

    Although, if your income is too high to contribute to a Roth IRA directly you can still make a backdoor Roth IRA contribution.

    The phaseout limits for married couples filing jointly contributing to a Roth IRA go from $230,000 to $240,000. Both of these limits increased $12,000 from last year, so more folks should be eligible to contribute to a Roth IRA directly in 2024.

    2024 Traditional IRA Income Limits

    Income limits to deduct contributions to a traditional IRA follow a similar pattern. There’s a range of income where your ability to deduct contributions is phased out and the actual limit depends on your tax filing status and on whether you or your spouse have access to a workplace retirement plan.

    If you are a single filer and you don’t have a workplace retirement plan, or if you are married filing jointly and neither you nor your spouse have a workplace retirement plan then there aren’t any income limits and your traditional IRA contribution will be deductible.

    Single filers with a workplace retirement plan have an income limit phaseout range from $77,000 to $87,000.

    For married filers where the spouse making the contribution has a workplace retirement plan the income limit phaseout range is $123,000 to $143,000.

    For married filers where the spouse making the contribution does not have a workplace retirement plan, but the other spouse does, the income limit phaseout range is $230,000 to $240,000.

    These limits are also increases from last year.

    Qualified Charitable Contributions

    Along with increases to retirement contributions, the amount that you can contribute from your retirement account to charity also increased. A QCD (Qualified Charitable Distribution) allows you to roll funds directly from your IRA to a qualified charity. QCDs satisfy RMD rules and you can exclude the amount donated from your taxable income. The QCD increases by $5,000 for 2024 up to $105,000.

    Should you make any changes based on these increases?

    If you’re maxxing your 401(k) contribution you’ll want to review your planned contributions for 2024. For IRAs and Roth IRAs, compare your expected income for 2024 to the new limits and adjust any automatic contributions you already have set up.

    If you are unsure where your income will fall or if you’ll have the cash to contribute to your Roth or traditional IRA you can always wait until you file your taxes the next year to make your contributions. So, you could make 2023 IRA contributions up to tax-day 2024.

    Wrap Up

    While it doesn’t quite make up for the spike in inflation we’ve seen the past few years, it is nice to be able to stash away a few more dollars tax-free for retirement. Make sure to review your income and planned contributions for next year to take advantage of additional contribution limits especially if you’ve turned 50 and can start making catch-up contributions.

  • What are the different OSU Retirement Plans?

    When starting a new job, you often have many new things to learn and get used to: new commutes, new coworkers, different policies and procedures. Being successful in your new position requires you to get up to speed as quickly as you can. An item that’s often pushed off until later, but one that’s crucially important to achieving your long-term goals is understanding and maximizing your new retirement plan benefits.

    The governmental, non-profits, contractors, and large health systems that make up the majority of employers in the healthcare world offer a wide array of benefits and retirement plans. The variety and seeming complexity can be overwhelming to anyone, whether you are a med school grad starting your first residency or an experienced PA making a move to a different hospital.

    Ohio State University, in Columbus Ohio, provides a good example of this complexity. As a state university they employee faculty, university and hospital staff, as well as student employees. The subsequent variety of retirement plans offered can confuse even veteran healthcare workers with years of experience.

    This variety can be confusing at first, but in the end provides a great opportunity for employees to contribute and save a ton for retirement in multiple different accounts. After reading this post you should have a better idea of what’s available when it comes to choosing an OSU retirement plan.

    Key Points

    • As an OSU employee you can fully contribute to three separate retirement buckets (and in some cases even a fourth!).
    • For your “primary” retirement account employees choose between a pension version, for most staff this is OPERS the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System, or a defined contribution version the ARP the Alternative Retirement Plan, similar to a 403b.
    • All employees can also contribute to a 403(b) plan and/or a 457(b) plan.
    • Ohio State Employees don’t pay into Social Security. Your primary retirement account (OPERS, STRS, or the ARP) are meant to replace your social security benefit.

    OSU classifies three types of employees: Faculty, Staff, Student

    OSU places employees into three buckets: Faculty, Staff, and Student employees. Which bucket you fall into affects which OSU retirement plan you have access to. There are also scenarios where you could fall into multiple buckets. A surgeon at the OSU medical center would be classified as a staff employee, but if they were also teaching a course outside of their normal duties they could be classified as faculty as well.

    Staff Employee Retirement Plans

    Staff Employees will be automatically enrolled in the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS) for their primary retirement plan, or they can instead opt out of participating in OPERS and choose the Alternative Retirement Plan (ARP) for their primary OSU retirement plan.

    Staff can also contribute to a 403b and/or 457b. OSU calls these their Supplemental Retirement Accounts (SRA).

    Some staff, where their salary exceeds the IRS and Ohio retirement system limits may even be able to contribute to the Retirement Continuation Plan (RCP)/415(m).

    Faculty Employee Retirement Plans

    Faculty Employees will be automatically enrolled in the State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) for their primary retirement plan, or they can instead opt out of participating in STRS and choose the Alternative Retirement Plan (ARP) for their primary OSU retirement plan.

    Faculty can also contribute to a 403b and/or 457b. OSU calls these their Supplemental Retirement Accounts (SRA).

    Some faculty, where their salary exceeds the IRS and Ohio retirement system limits may even be able to contribute to the Retirement Continuation Plan (RCP)/415(m).

    Student Employee Plans

    We will focus mainly on the retirement plans available to OSU Faculty and Staff in this post. Student Employees have access to similar OSU retirement plans and can choose to enroll or opt out of OPERS as well as contribute to the Supplemental Retirement Accounts.

    Ohio Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS) Plan

    • Available to Staff employees
    • Can be like a pension or a 401k/403b depending on your choice
    • Employees can opt out and choose the ARP instead

    Staff employees can choose to participate in the OPERS plan. The base version of this plan is a defined benefit plan where employees receive retirement benefits calculated using their salary and years of service.

    Employees can also participate in a member-directed version of OPERS and choose their own investments. In this version the employee assumes all of the risk and their retirement benefit is based on the growth in their investments.

    In either plan employees contribute 10% of their eligible compensation to the plan and OSU contributes 14% of their eligible compensation. In the member-directed version, not all of the 14% employer contributions ends up in the employee’s account. 7.5% goes to their OPERS account, 4% goes into their OPERS Retiree Medical Account (RMA), 2.24% goes into the OPERS Traditional Pension Plan to fund past liabilities (required by law), and 0.26% goes towards administrative expenses.

    There are also different limits on the amount that can be contributed to each of these accounts. The member-directed limit is pretty straightforward. The maximum that can be contributed each year is $66,000 combined from employer and employee contributions.

    For the OPERS pension plan, the limit on contributions is based on your salary and when you were hired. Employees hired prior to 1994 get contributions based on up to $490k in earnings, and if you were hired after 1994 you make contributions based on up to $330k of your earnings.

    State Teachers Retirement System (STRS)

    • Available to Faculty employees
    • Can be like a pension or a 401k/403b depending on your choice
    • Employees can opt out and choose the ARP instead

    The STRS retirement plan is very similar to the OPERS plan offering a defined benefit pension version and a defined contribution version, but unlike OPERS an employee can choose a combined plan that has pension and self-directed accounts.

    OSU and the employee both contribute 14% of their eligible salary to the STRS plan. In the member-directed STRS plan 11.09% of employee contributions go to your STRS account and 2.91% goes to the STRS plan to fund past liabilities (required by law).

    The total contribution limits ($66,000) and the eligible compensation limits ($490k if hired before 1994, $330k if hired after) are the same as the OPERS plan as well.

    Alternative Retirement Plan (ARP)

    • Available to both Faculty and Staff employees
    • No pension option – only a defined contribution plan like a 401k/403b

    If an employee doesn’t want to enroll in the OPERS or STRS plans they can set up an account with the Alternative Retirement Plan instead. The ARP only offers one plan type – a defined contribution plan similar to a 401k/403b.

    Contributions to this plan are very similar to what an employee would contribute to their OPERS or STRS plan. Employees contribute 14% of their pay and OSU contributes 10% for staff or 14% for faculty. A portion of your employee contribution goes to OPERS or STRS as a mitigating rate to mitigate any negative impact on the state retirement system. The total employee/employer contribution limit is $66,000.

    Additional Retirement Plans employees have access to

    Along with an employee’s primary OSU retirement plan – whether that is OPERS, STRS, or the ARP – OSU employees also have access to a few supplemental retirement accounts. This is great news for employees looking to sock away even more money for retirement accounts as these supplemental accounts exist in their own retirement buckets and you can contribute to all of them at the same time.

    Supplemental Retirement Accounts (SRA) – Traditional and Roth

    • 403b plan (Traditional and Roth versions)
    • 457b deferred compensation plan (Traditional and Roth Versions)
    • Allows an additional $45,000 in retirement contributions ($22,500 in each account), $60k for those over 50 years old due to catch-up contributions

    Along with one of the State pension plans and the ARP, employees are able to contribute to both a 403b plan and a 457b deferred compensation plan.

    A 403b, similar to a 401k is a defined contribution plan where you (the employee) make contributions and select your investments. There are no employer matching contributions for either of these plans because OSU is already contributing to your primary retirement plan.

    A 457b deferred compensation plan is another plan where you contribute your own money on a pre-tax or Roth basis and make your own investment decisions within the plan. Your contributions are technically income that you haven’t been paid yet and it’s held within a trust managed by your employer. If you want to learn more about 457b plans you can read this explainer article I wrote here.

    The great thing about these plans is that they exist as 2 distinct retirement buckets and you can make the maximum contribution ($22,500 in 2023, plus an additional $7,500 if you’re over 50) for both of them. So that’s an additional $45,000 in retirement contributions you can make in these accounts, not counting what you are already saving in your primary OSU retirement plan.

    Executive Retirement Plan – Retirement Continuation Plan (RCP)/415(m)

    • Only available to select employees
    • RCP and/or 415(m)
    • A way or employees with salary greater than retirement plan limits to save more

    The Executive Retirement Plan is only open to employees with salary and retirement savings needs higher than the retirement plan limits.

    Wrap up and which retirement plan is right for you

    As I said in the beginning of this post there are a lot of options to choose from when it comes to selecting your OSU retirement plan. But it really boils down to whether you’d rather have a pension and allow the state of Ohio to manage your investments for you, or if you’d like a plan where you have more control over your investments and assume more of the risk. And depending on how much you can contribute you can have both options – selecting OPERS for your primary retirement plan while also contributing to a 403b and/or a 457b plan.

    For employees that plan to work at OSU for their entire career, and for 30 years or more, choosing the OPERS plan likely makes the most sense. But for individuals know they will be transferring to another employer or just aren’t sure, then choosing the ARP might make more sense since they will be able to bring their retirement contributions with them and roll them over into another plan.

    No matter your situation, with all of the OSU retirement plan options, you are sure to find one that works for you.

  • What is a 457b Plan & How Should Physicians Use It?

    A 457b deferred compensation plan is a tax advantaged retirement plan similar to a 401k or a 403b plan. Just like those accounts a 457b allows you to save for retirement with pre-tax or after-tax (Roth) contributions. Although similar to the more widely known 401k and 403b, a 457b plan has a few differences you need to be aware of before incorporating it into your financial plan.

    Key Points

    • 457b plans are similar to 401k/403b plans. They allow you to make pre-tax contributions and invest those in a tax-advantaged plan.
    • There are two main types of 457b plans: governmental and non-governmental plans. It’s important to understand the type of 457b plan you have because non-governmental plans have additional restrictions, and can be riskier than governmental plans.
    • A 457b plan is an additional retirement account bucket you can fill up alongside your 401k/403b, providing you the opportunity to save an additional $22,500 in a tax-advantaged retirement account.
    • 457b plans can allow penalty-free early withdrawals before reaching 59 ½. There are additional tax consequences to prepare for though, so have a plan for early withdrawals.

    How is the 457b plan different from the 401k/403b

    Most people are familiar with what a 401k and 403b plan are. They are very similar plans allowing you to contribute up to $22,500 (this is the limit for 2023, this amount can increase each year based on inflation) to a tax-advantaged plan for retirement savings. The 401k is offered to employees of for-profit companies and the 403b is offered by non-profit/governmental employers.

    Within these plans you can make pre-tax or after-tax contributions, your earnings grow tax-free, and you can make withdrawals without penalty after you reach the age of 59 ½.

    A 457b plan is typically offered by an employer as an additional retirement savings account in addition to a 401k/403b. Which is great because the contributions to your 401k/403b don’t count against your 457b contributions, and vice versa. With access to a 457b plan you could contribute an additional $22,500 each year to your tax-advantaged retirement accounts.

    The key difference with a 457b plan

    One main difference between a 457b plan and a 401k/403b plan is included in its full name: The 457b Deferred Compensation Plan. The money that you contribute to your 457b plan is considered deferred compensation and belongs to your employer until you withdraw it after leaving or retiring from your employer.

    Another difference is that money can be withdrawn from a 457b plan much earlier without penalty than with 401k/403b plans. If you leave a job, and are younger than 59 ½, you have the option to begin withdrawing the funds from your 457b plan without the 10% penalty that you would face when taking an early withdrawal from a 401k/403b plan.

    You need to be aware of the tax consequences of withdrawing from a 457b plan, because the withdrawals are treated as income (hence the name deferred compensation), and plans vary in their withdrawal options. Some funds force you to take everything in a lump sum which depending on the size of your 457b could cause quite the tax headache.

    What are the two types of 457b plan?

    457b plans are offered in two flavors and there are key differences between the two: governmental and non-governmental plans.

    Governmental 457b plans

    Governmental 457b plans are typically offered to employees of state and local governments. These are seen as a “less risky” version of the 457b plan since they are backed by the government rather than an individual business.

    While you are an employee the money in your 457b is held in a trust. After leaving your employer, funds in these plans can be rolled over into an IRA or 401k, avoiding the possible tax headaches that come with distributions from a non-governmental 457b plan.

    Non-Governmental 457b plans

    Non-Governmental 457b plans are offered by non-profit employers such as hospitals, not state and local governments. These plans are considered riskier because the plans rely on your employer’s solvency, not the government.

    With a non-governmental 457b plan, rather than making contributions out of your paycheck, contributions are made by your employer and it is technically money that you haven’t earned yet, hence the name deferred compensation. Rather than sitting in a trust as with a governmental plan, the 457b in this case still belongs to your employer, not you, until you transfer or withdraw the funds.

    This can be helpful and protect you in the case of a personal bankruptcy, as your 457b funds belong to your employer and are not subject to your creditors (+ for asset protection). But the funds are also subject to your employer’s creditors in a situation where your employer goes under. This is not as big of a risk when it comes to an established hospital or company but is still something to consider.

    Another potential downside for non-governmental 457b plans has to do with their distribution or rollover options. These plans can only rollover into another non-governmental 457b plan, and only in limited situations. That means that rolling over into a 401k or IRA is not an option.

    When you leave an employer funds must be distributed within 10 years. Most 457b plans allow you to make distributions over 5-10 years, but some make you take a lump-sum distribution upon leaving your employer. A lump-sum, or even 5 years of distributions could create quite the tax headache if not planned for properly.

    457b plan is a great early retirement tool

    The 457b plan can be a great supplemental retirement savings account, but can be especially impactful for individuals pursuing early retirement. Having a 457b in addition to a 401k/403b doubles your annual contribution limit for retirement accounts, $22,500 => $45,000 in pre-tax or Roth contributions each year.

    Because of their status as deferred compensation and the lack of an early withdrawal penalty, 457b plans can build a great bridge between your early retirement years and when you turn 59 ½ and can withdraw from your 401k/403b penalty free.

    Should I contribute to my 457b, 401k, or 403b first?

    When considering which retirement plans to contribute to, and which one you should focus on first, the 457b tends to come in as an afterthought when compared to your 401k/403b and IRA/Roth IRA accounts. This makes sense, as most people haven’t even heard of a 457b before finding out they have access to one.

    The first account to fund should be whichever one is providing you an employer match. If your employer 100% matches the first 5% you put into your 401k, do that first. It’s hard to beat a 100% return on your money. After that it usually makes sense to max out your contributions to your 401k/403b before making additional contributions to your 457b.

    All of the above recommendations may vary based on the available cash flow that you can contribute to these accounts, as well as the other tax-advantaged accounts that you have access to and want to fund to meet your goals: your HSA, 529 education account, IRA/Roth IRA, etc.

    You will want to compare your available plans for any differences in investment options, fees, or vesting schedule (how long you need to remain at your company until the money is yours with no strings attached) before making your final decision.

    Another difference with 457b plans is that you have a total contribution limit of $22,500 which any employer contributions also count against. Where employer contributions to your 401k/403b count against your total $66,000 contribution limit, and you can still contribute your full $22,500. It’s a minor difference, but still one to keep in mind.

    In either case, the great thing with the 457b is that it resides in its own bucket and doesn’t impact how much you can contribute to your 401k/403b. Allowing you to contribute an additional $22,500 to a tax-advantaged retirement account.

    401k and 403b Catch-Up Contributions vs 457b Catch-Up Contributions

    401k and 403b plans allow individuals who are 50 or older to make additional catch-up contributions of $7,500 per year. The contribution limit for a 457b plan is doubled for the three years prior to the plan-specified retirement age. Based on current contribution limits you could make $45,000 in annual contributions in the three years before you retire.

    Pros and Cons of 457b plans

    Pros

    • Provides another tax-advantaged retirement account bucket for you to contribute to
    • Ability to make early withdrawals without penalty after you leave your employer
    • Can roll funds in governmental 457b plans into another retirement account (401k/IRA)
    • Allows larger catch-up contributions in the 3 years before the plan specified retirement age

    Cons

    • Riskier option compared to a 401k/403b if you are contributing to a non-governmental plan
    • Can’t rollover a non-governmental plan into another retirement account (401k/IRA)
    • Some plans have limited withdrawal options, such as requiring a lump sum withdrawal that could cause a major tax headache
    • Can (sometimes) have less investment options available for you to choose from

    Wrap up

    A 457b plan is a great retirement savings tool to have access to, providing an additional bucket of tax-advantaged savings to contribute to outside of your 401k/403b. But before you start using your 457b you need to understand the type you have: governmental or non-governmental, along with other details to make sure it fits in your financial plan correctly.

    Using a 457b plan correctly can help you turbocharge your retirement savings, and provide an income bridge for those pursuing early retirement. It’s hard to overstate the additional flexibility that a governmental 457b plan provides. With the option to early withdraw funds penalty-free or roll them over into another 401k/IRA, they are one of the best accounts out there.

  • ALL ABOUT DISABILITY INSURANCE

    It’s hard to work when you’re this banged up.

    It’s time once again for a very important exciting insurance post! Yay, I’m glad you are as excited about this as I am, because today I am writing (and you will be reading) all about:

    Disability Insurance

    Woot woot!

    Yeah, I know, totally what you wanted to hear about today, more insurance talk. But trust me, you’ll want to read all the way through on this one.

    I think most people have a decent idea of how the main types of insurance work. Health insurance helps you pay for doctor’s visits, medicine, and care for when you are ill or injured. Life insurance is meant to protect your loved ones and pays your beneficiaries when you pass away. Auto and Home insurance help pay for repairs to your home or vehicle when they are damaged or destroyed. The uses for these types of insurance seem reasonable and you probably have some of these types of insurance, especially where mandated, in the case of auto insurance, or home insurance if you have a mortgage.

    I’d argue that disability insurance is just as important as these other types of insurance, but if you’re like most of the population you don’t have it and you haven’t really thought about buying any, unless you’ve already experienced a situation where you could have really used it.

    Disability Insurance – The basics

    At the most basic level a disability insurance policy will pay you if you become injured or too ill (disabled) to work.

    How much money you receive, when, and for how long are all defined in the specific policy you purchase. As well as the types of illnesses and injuries that are covered.

    One side note: disability insurance is different from worker’s compensation insurance. Worker’s comp will pay if you get hurt or injured in a work-related accident or injury. Disability provides insurance for when you are injured or ill and can’t work due to a personal accident like and auto accident, or long-term illness such as cancer.

    Why Disability Insurance?

    So, why should you consider disability insurance? With all types of insurance, it makes sense to understand the W questions first. What exactly does this insurance cover? Who is protected and who receives a benefit by having the insurance? Why should you specifically purchase it?

    What: As we’ve discussed above, disability insurance pays you in the case you can’t work for an extended period of time due to an accident or illness.

    Who: Typically, the person who owns the plan is the person covered and the one who receives the benefit from the insurance company if they can no longer work. This is different from life insurance where the insurance company pays your beneficiary when you die.

    Why: This is the W question for which everyone’s answer is different. You need to ask yourself another series of questions or discuss them with a financial planner to understand if having disability insurance coverage is right for you.

    What would happen to you or your family if you could no longer work for an extended period of time? Are you the sole income provider in your family, or would a spouse be able to provide if you could no longer work? Do you have enough money saved or are you close enough to retirement that you would be able to live comfortably if you had to quit working today?

    The statistics on disability are pretty sobering, some estimates state that the average employee with a long-term disability or illness will miss 2.5 years of work. Another study found that of patients diagnosed with cancer, 42% depleted their life savings within 2 years. According to the Social Security Administration, almost 1 in 4 of today’s 20-year-olds will become disabled for a period of time before they reach the age of 67.

    The Two Main Types of Disability Insurance: Long Term and Short Term

    When it comes to the types of Disability Insurance it’s kind of like an old school sundae bar with two flavors, chocolate or vanilla, and a bunch of toppings you can sprinkle on top. The two flavors are long term and short term, and the toppings are the different riders that allow you to adjust the policies to best fit your situation.

    The benefit period (how long you receive payments if you become disabled) for short term disability insurance can last anywhere from 90 days up to two years, while a long-term policy can last 5-10 years or longer. And most plans are designed to be in effect until you reach the age of 65.

    Am I good if I have employer provided disability insurance?

    Some of you out there may be wondering about disability insurance you receive as part of a group plan benefit from an employer. This is great because you at least have some coverage as a benefit of employment, but there are some questions to ask and things to look out for. The first is that since it is an employer benefit which your employer pays for and provides to you, any benefits you receive will be taxed. This differs from a policy that you pay for yourself where you would receive the benefits tax free.

    If your company disability policy covers employees on their full monthly salary up to $5,000 per month, rather than receiving $5,000 dollars, you might receive around $4,000 depending on your tax rate. And that $4,000 might be enough to cover your expenses, but it pays to know that beforehand, so you aren’t relying on receiving the full $5,000 and coming up short.

    Another wrinkle to investigate with employer provided plans is what occupations they cover. Most employer plans have “any occupation” coverage rather than “own occupation” coverage. This means that as soon as you are able to work in “any occupation” you may stop receiving your disability benefits, even if you are not well enough to go back to doing the work you were doing before.

    As an example, if you were a surgeon that contracted a disease that caused hand tremors, you may be declared disabled to continue your current occupation, but the insurance company may decide that you are still able to work at another occupation where your disease would not affect your ability to do the job. If your disability coverage was “any occupation” then you could possibly be denied benefits since you could work in a job, even if it wasn’t the occupation you had before.

    The key is to understand the benefits and limitations of your employer provided policy so you can back it up with a policy of your own if needed.

    Key terms within Disability Insurance Policies

    The type of disability coverage you receive can vary quite a lot based on your preferences and how it is designed. These terms are defined in all policies while the riders below are options you can include if they make sense.

    Occupation Class: Insurance companies group professions into buckets based on incomes and how likely they are to make claims, similar to how they group individuals into segments based on your current health and habits for life insurance policies. The higher the occupation class, the more cost effective your disability coverage.

    Elimination Period: This is the period of time before you are able to start taking benefits. It is usually 90 days for most long-term policies.

    Benefit Period: How long you can retain coverage (typically till age 65) and how long you can receive benefits once you start (usually 5-10 years depending on the long-term policy).

    Disability Plan Riders

    There are many different riders that you can add to disability policies to adjust the terms and benefits you may receive. This is just a partial list, so make sure to do your homework on the riders available to you before purchasing a plan.

    Future Increase Option (FIO): This can give you the ability to increase the benefit based on increased earnings, without undergoing another medical exam.

    Catastrophic coverage (CAT): Long-term disability insurance will typically cover 60% of your salary, however with a catastrophic disability benefit rider you could receive up to 100% of your salary if you are unable to perform 2 or more functions of daily living (dressing, bathing yourself, etc), total and permanent loss of sight or hearing, or cognitive impairment.

    Residual/Partial: Allows a partial benefit to be paid if you are not totally disabled but are in a situation where you lose 15%+ of prior year earnings.

    Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA): Provides cost of living adjustments for claim payments to keep up with inflation.

    Own Occupation: Can be considered totally disabled if you are unable to perform the duties of your occupation, even if you are employed in another occupation.

    Retirement Protection Plans (RPP): You could receive contributions to your retirement plans in addition to the disability income benefit.

    Student Loan Protection: Benefit would pay student loan payments as well as the disability income benefit.

    Well, those are the basics on disability insurance, a less understood topic that I think more people should learn about so they can adequately protect themselves.If you would like some more guidance in this area I recommend seeking out a fee-only financial planner to help figure out if protecting yourself with long term disability insurance is the right decision for you. If you would like to talk to us at Steady Climb Financial Planning, give us a call. We are happy to help.

  • IS THE HSA THE BEST RETIREMENT ACCOUNT?

    As we head into the last quarter of the year, many of us are coming up on the time to re-enroll in our employer benefit programs. This leads nicely into a discussion of one of the best retirement accounts available. A secret retirement account, that wasn’t designed as for retirement savings in the first place. The Health Savings Account.

    Where did the HSA come from?

    The Health Savings Account (HSA) was created in 2003 as a way to help those with high deductible health insurance plans save for future healthcare costs. These plans were created for people that didn’t expect to need as much health insurance throughout the year. The health insurance company offers a less expensive plan, but the catch, is there is a higher deductible if you do get sick and need to get healthcare. The HSA is an account for someone with this type of plan to save money to use for future healthcare expenses in a tax-advantaged account.

    Retirement accounts are designed to save you on taxes, but you do have to pay them at some point. With a traditional IRA or 401(k) you get to contribute pre-tax dollars, but the withdrawals are taxed as ordinary income in retirement. With a Roth IRA or 401(k) the reverse is true, you pay taxes now and can withdraw the funds tax-free in retirement. So why is the HSA one of the best retirement accounts available?

    The beauty of the HSA is that you get to deposit pre-tax dollars into your account and as long as you have qualifying medical expenses, you can withdraw your money tax-free. This is the only account where you can both contribute and withdraw tax-free. 

    HSA basics

    • 2018 Individual Contribution limit: $3,450
    • 2018 Family Contribution limit: $6,900
    • Contributions are made with pre-tax money, and can be made by you and your employer.
    • Contribution limits apply to the money contributed by you and your employer.
    • You can open an HSA if you have a high deductible plan at any time in the year.
    • If you switch to a high deductible plan during the year, you get a prorated contribution limit. So, if you’re single and switched to a high deductible plan in September, and have it through the end of the year, your contribution limit would be $1,150 (4/12 x $3,450).
    • Money can be withdrawn tax free when used for qualifying medical expenses.
    • After the age of 59 ½ money can be withdrawn for any purpose and is taxed at ordinary income tax rates; essentially the HSA can function the same as a traditional IRA.

    How to use an HSA as a retirement account

    If the HSA was created for healthcare expenses how do you use it as a retirement account? The key lies in a little bit of planning ahead. With an HSA you are allowed to withdraw money from the account to pay for qualifying healthcare expenses. You can withdraw the money any time after the expense occurs and you don’t have to withdraw it in the same calendar year or within a period of time after the expense occurs.

    You can allow the money in your HSA to grow by paying for healthcare expenses with after-tax dollars today, and reimbursing yourself from the HSA in the future.

    By paying out of pocket, you allow your HSA contributions to continue to grow tax-free until you withdraw them. That could be another 30-40 years of tax free growth! 

    Example

    Let’s say I have a high deductible health plan for my family. That means I can contribute $6,900 into an HSA for the year. I estimate that my healthcare expenses that aren’t covered by insurance are around $500 per year. I can pay those costs with after-tax dollars and keep that $500 in my HSA to keep growing tax free. I just have to keep track of my healthcare expense receipts to withdraw the money at a later date.

    If you happen to lead an exceptionally healthy life and don’t need to spend much on medical expenses, your HSA turns into a quasi-IRA after you turn 59 ½. You can withdraw your money tax-free for healthcare expenses as before, or you can withdraw it and pay income tax as you would with a traditional IRA. 

    Your HSA always belongs to you, not your employer. Even if you decide to switch away from a high deductible plan, you can still use your HSA for medical expenses and the money you contributed can continue to grow.

    Don’t forget!

    There are a few things to keep in mind when researching your HSA. More employers are starting to contribute to employee HSA’s so take that into consideration when deciding whether and how much to contribute. Most HSA’s require you have a certain balance in the account before you can allocate funds to investments. The amount varies, but is typically around $1,000.  Some HSA providers don’t offer the option of investing in low-cost index or mutual funds, so do your research on the available investments before opening an account. The fees vary between HSA’s and some employers will cover the cost. If you leave an employer or they decide to switch to a new HSA provider be sure to check on the fees, it may make sense to open an account with another provider.

    What do you think? Is the HSA is the best retirement account available?

  • HOW CAN A FINANCIAL ADVISOR HELP

    Need a hand with your finances?

    Starting out your initial financial decisions are relatively simple. Try to save more than you spend, set aside a sensible amount for emergencies, and invest the rest for longer term goals. As you grow and advance in your career the decisions tend to become more complicated. As you near retirement the decisions become even more important, and delaying major decisions can have huge consequences down the road.

    Balancing saving for education and family vacations, choosing between different health and life insurance plans, and managing tax and estate planning issues are just a few of the issues to tackle.

    A qualified financial advisor can provide support and guidance as your financial situation becomes more complicated. Building a financial plan, providing answers to challenging financial questions and helping you implement the action steps in your plan are three key ways that a financial advisor can help. 

    Building Your Financial Plan

    One of the top benefits of working with a financial planner is creating a written financial plan. Most of us have a general sense of our goals and what we are doing to achieve them, but taking the time to clearly define and write down what we want and how we will achieve is an extremely worthwhile exercise, but it can be a challenging task to do on your own. 

    Building a financial plan involves analyzing your financial situation (job, savings, investing, debts) and your goals (family, home, travel, retirement) to create a to-do list to make your goals a reality. The process of creating a written plan helps reduce the anxiety that comes from having a hazy picture of your finances and wondering if you are on track or not. Creating an accurate map of your current situation is the best way to identify the next step on your financial journey.

    Answering Challenging Financial Questions

    An advisor can provide answers to the questions that often paralyze us into indecision: 

    • Am I saving enough for retirement?
    • Can I afford college tuition for my kids?
    • Should I pay off my mortgage early?
    • Am I on the right track?
    • Can I afford to start a family?
    • How do I manage my student loans while still investing?
    • How much insurance do I need? 

    If you have any of these questions or concerns you could benefit from meeting with a qualified financial advisor. During the process of creating a financial plan an advisor can provide guidance and answers to these questions as well as other important life decisions.

    Implement the Plan and Adjusting Along the Way

    Creating a written financial plan is a great first step that can help you gain a clear understanding of your current situation and the actions you need to take. Just as important, is following through and accomplishing the tasks identified in the plan, as well as making adjustments when things change.

    Having regular check-ins with a financial advisor can ensure you remain on track towards your goals. Providing ongoing guidance when new situations pop up such as the birth of another child, an unexpected career move or any of the other things that life might throw your way. An advisor can help you make the necessary adjustments so that these changes don’t derail your plan.

    Would you benefit from having professional advice when it comes to planning and achieving your financial goals? A financial advisor can guide you along the path to grow and protect your assets, and secure your future.