May 24

Should you retire with a Mortgage?

By Chris Chen CFP | Financial Planning , Retirement Planning

Introduction

Transitioning to retirement while holding a mortgage isn’t ideal, yet it happens more often than most people think.

An analysis from Lending Tree reported in Forbes stated that 19% of seniors in the top 50 metropolitan areas had a mortgage. And according to the Congressional Research Service, the amount of mortgage debt held by senior households has increased more than 500% over the past three decades.  So, if you are transitioning to your golden years with a mortgage in tow, you are not alone. 

Most financial planners offer the standard advice that it is not financially prudent to enter retirement with mortgage debt or any other debt for that matter. That makes sense, of course. Debt creates an additional expense burden that must be satisfied and a liability that may eventually claim an asset to be liquidated.

However,  the data above shows that it is becoming increasingly difficult to retire without a mortgage. And there are situations where it makes sense. Debt provides leverage and options to achieve goals that might be difficult to reach otherwise. 

Could it make sense?

It may sound obvious, but it bears reminding that getting a loan means that you can preserve other assets for other purposes. And many times, that makes sense.

For example, if your assets are tied in an illiquid investment, you may need the cash to buy that vacation house on Martha’s Vineyard. We don’t have to think exotic to find illiquid investments in our portfolios. Most retirement accounts, including 401(k)s and IRAs, have a form of limited liquidity. Because they are taxed at distribution, there are limits to the size of the distribution that is advisable to take in any given year. Taking too much may result in more taxes than you are comfortable with. A mortgage on your primary residence may be a solution in this kind of scenario.  

Some also have their wealth tied in other illiquid investments such as real estate or private placements. A mortgage may allow you the flexibility to enjoy life without liquidating assets.   

It also depends on the age of the mortgage. A key motivation to pay off a mortgage is to save interest payments. That is especially true at the beginning of the life of a mortgage. Then, most of the payments go to interest instead of principal. However, because mortgages amortize over time, most of the interest in the later life of a mortgage goes to the principal, with a decreasing percentage going to interest. 

Interest and Principal - Mortgage and Retirement

This doesn’t mean that you cannot save interest payments by paying early; it just means that the amount that can be saved decreases with every payment. It may be less expensive to continue mortgage payments than paying early, depending on the financial situation.

Are There Other Benefits?

In most cases, mortgage interest is fixed. If you obtained your mortgage before the rate increases of the past half-year, it is a low interest. If your income is projected to increase, then the percentage that goes to mortgage payments will decrease. Over time, the mortgage becomes a smaller part of your budget. 

Keep Your Debt Under Control

However, there are criteria to observe. The first is that the debt payments should fit within your budget. If you have such debt, you should be able to pay it comfortably out of your retirement income. 

That can be confusing because people with retirement income continue to take from their retirement savings, such as Required Minimum Distributions. The key is to make sure with your Certified Financial Planner that it fits within the plan. 

Home equity loans (HELOC) may be different in a number of ways. The first is that there is often no amortization schedule, meaning that the HELOC will not get paid off unless you make a concerted effort.

When is it Acceptable to Retire With Mortgage Debt?

Few people plan to enter retirement with a mortgage. However, it happens. 

Parents may refinance a mortgage to fund college for their teenager. But unfortunately, with the rising cost of college and parents’ sense of responsibility, many Moms and Dads end up in that situation. 

People often move before retirement, buy a new house and end up with a mortgage. That could be due to downsizing or a move to a sunnier state. In this circumstance, people often have a plan for their accumulated equity. Some of that could go to pay other debt, such as student loans or PARENT PLUS loans. Or it could go to investment, maybe even a real estate investment such as a rental or vacation home. 

In some cases, some of the equity of the house that was just sold goes to helping to fund retirement at a faster clip, i.e., spending. There are so many things that we can do with money!

As a result, there are situations in which it is perfectly acceptable to retire with mortgage debt. The key consideration is to make sure that it fits within your overall financial plan. 

Potential Benefit

There may be a long-term benefit: with a fixed interest rate, your mortgage payments will remain fixed while inflation pushes your income and the value of your home upward.  

And in today’s inflationary environment, with inflation higher than mortgage interest rates, sometimes substantially, the value of a monthly mortgage payment decreases over time simply because money devalues due to inflation. 

In plain terms, this means it gradually becomes less expensive to pay a mortgage throughout retirement as long as that debt is locked in at a fixed rate and income rises.

Mortgage and Retirement

What Not to do in the Context of Retiring With Mortgage Debt

If you feel it is prudent to pay off your mortgage as you transition to retirement, take some time to review the pros and cons. 

If you pay off the mortgage early in its life, you could be saving a lot of interest payments. Although, as noted previously, a low mortgage interest rate in a high inflation environment may well pay for itself. 

Consider the Opportunity Cost of Paying off Your Mortgage

There can be a significant opportunity cost to paying off a mortgage early. It is even greater when paying off a mortgage that has aged for years or decades. For example, suppose you are collecting Social Security, pension payments, or other income adjusted for inflation, and there are no or few liquid post-tax assets. In that case, it might not make financial sense to pay off the entirety of the mortgage in one fell swoop. 

Doing so could leave you without an emergency fund or liquidity.  

How to decide?

When in doubt, run the numbers. Meet with a Certified Financial Planner to estimate the potential returns from investments or the cost to liquidate. Then, compare those anticipated returns with the interest that accumulates from holding your mortgage debt during retirement, paying the monthly minimum as you have for years or decades. If your investment returns are likely to outpace the money lost from the mortgage interest accumulation, it may be in your financial interest to use your financial nest egg to invest rather than pay off the balance of your mortgage, keeping in mind, of course, that there are no guarantees in investment.

Don’t let Emotions Override Logic

Like most homeowners, you are yearning to own your home outright and fire the bank as a co-owner. And if you are like most retirees, having a mortgage will make you uncomfortable.

You may also be tired of paying hundreds or thousands of dollars each month simply to have a roof over your head that you can call your own. 

However, it is a mistake to let mortgage debt, or any other money issue for that matter, become an overly emotional issue. But, unfortunately, it is also hard not to. 

Instead of paying a potentially steep financial price to eliminate your mortgage just ahead of retirement or soon after retiring, take the logical approach by meeting with your Certified Financial Planner. Your financial planner will delve into the nuances of your unique financial situation and then detail the advantages and disadvantages of holding the mortgage until its term ends or paying it off as you segue into retirement.

Mar 18

Ways to Divide Parent Loans in Divorce

By Saki Kurose | Divorce Planning , Financial Planning , Student Loan Planning

Introduction

Divorce is stressful and complicated and hurts on so many emotional and financial levels. It becomes even more complex when you throw in the additional financial stress of student loans. It can be hard to deal with even after you have decided that a student loan is a marital or separate debt.

Student loans are a complex liability because there are so many different and complex methods for repayment. They come with many acronyms such as PAYE, REPAYE, IDR, and PSLF.

The borrower’s circumstances can also play a huge factor in deciding how to deal with student loans properly. For example, you might not have to repay your student loans in total if you get student loan forgiveness for various reasons. The most common are taxable long-term forgiveness or Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

How student loans are handled in a divorce is not altogether easy to understand. Depending on the laws of the State in which the divorce occurs, if one of the parties incurred student debt before the marriage, it could be considered separate property. It is especially common if the borrower’s partner received no economic benefit from the student loans or if the parties come from certain states that have community property laws (1).

But what happens if you have Parent PLUS loans that you took out for your children? Let’s imagine a case in which a couple has been married for years, and one spouse has taken out $250,000 of Parent PLUS loans under her name to pay for their two children’s college education.

Unfortunately, this is a common situation. Arguably, because the Parent PLUS loans were taken out during the marriage for the benefit of their children, they ought to be considered marital debt (1).

$250,000 of Parent PLUS loans

Let’s take a closer look at the case of Jack and Jill. They are both 55. Jack makes $180,000 a year working for an accounting firm, and Jill makes $45,000 working for a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.

Jill has $250,000 of federal Parent PLUS loans that charge a 6% interest rate. As a result, Jack and Jill expect to pay $2,776 a month or $33,312 a year. Even with a joint income approaching $200,000, it is a significant financial burden that impairs their ability to plan for retirement and other long-term goals.

Refinancing the Parent PLUS loans

If Jack and Jill refinance at 3%, it will reduce the monthly payments to $2,414 a month. Although the $362 monthly savings are welcome, they are not a significant improvement in their situation.

Divorce has a way of making money scarce and future projections challenging. In many divorces, the division of assets and debts approaches 50%, meaning that the burden of paying for her half of the loans would be significantly greater on Jill, who only makes $45,000 a year. Even with an asymmetric division to reduce Jill’s share, it will likely not be easy to sustain (2).

Other Factors to Consider in Divorce

Jack and Jill have agreed to sell the family home as part of the divorce. They expected to net about $250,000 after expenses and mortgage repayment to be divided equally. Jack wants to use the proceeds from the sale to pay off the entire parent loan balance. Jack had heard horror stories about other parents not being able to retire because of parent loan payments, so he wanted to get rid of the balance and not worry about monthly payments that could continue into his retirement.

So, he and Jill decide to split the loans down the middle. It means that Jack will pay Jill $125,000 from the sale of their shared home since the Parent PLUS loans are in Jill’s name. With that, Jack’s share of the parent loan debt is addressed, and he believes that Jill should use her share of the sale to pay her half of the debt.

Summary of Jill’s Parent Loan Repayment Options

Here’s the thing. With the $125,000 that she would receive from Jack and her $125,000 share from the home sale, she could pay off the debt and move on to other issues. Jill was all in on the idea of each side paying half of the loans until she spoke to a Student Loan Strategist and decided to take a different route with the $250,000 of Parent PLUS loans still in her name.

Jill has always been passionate about providing support for vulnerable children worldwide. She works full-time at a local charity, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, making $45,000 a year. She loves her work and has no plans to retire for at least ten years. In this case, Jill could qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). It means that she could get her loans forgiven tax-free after she makes 120 monthly payments in an Income-Driven Repayment plan (2).

Here is a summary of Jill’s parent loan repayment options:

  1. Make a lump-sum payment of $250,000 from the sale of their marital home ($125,000 from Jack + $125,000 of Jill’s share) to pay off the entire loan balance.
  2. Keep the $250,000 proceeds and pay off the loans with the federal Standard 10-year repayment plan or private refinancing.
  3. Enroll in an Income-Driven Repayment plan and pursue PSLF.

Let’s take a look at each option in detail.

  1. Make a lump-sum payment of $250,000 from the sale of their marital home ($125,000 from Jack + $125,000 of Jill’s share) to pay off the entire loan balance.

In this case, the total cost of the parent loan is $250,000. This way, Jill can get rid of the parent loans in her name. However, Jill still needs to figure out her post-divorce life, including how to pay for her new housing and how to invest the other assets she may receive from Jack from the asset division from their divorce.

  1. Keep the $250,000 proceeds and pay off the loans with the standard federal 10-year repayment plan or private refinancing

The cost of paying off $250,000 of federal loans with 6% under the default 10-year Standard repayment plan is $2,776/mon and $333,061 total over the ten years. However, if Jill could find a private refinancing deal at 3% interest for the same 10-year term, the cost is $2,414/mon and $289,682 total, which is $362/mon and $43,379 savings in total. It may make sense for Jill to do that if she needed to use the $250,000 home sale proceeds to buy a new house to live in, and she could afford the $2,000+ per month of payments for the student loans. However, this is not an attractive option for Jill since her monthly income is $3,750, and the loan payments would absorb so much of it. Even if her divorce agreement provided for alimony, it would still be difficult.

  1. Enroll in an Income-Driven Repayment plan and pursue PSLF

Typically, federal Parent PLUS loans are only eligible for one of the Income-Driven Repayment plans called the Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR) plan even after being consolidated into a Direct Consolidation Loan.

Still, in some cases, they can be “double consolidated” (read more about this loophole strategy here) and qualify for cheaper Income-Driven Repayment plans. For example, let’s say that Jill double consolidated her parent loans, enrolled in Pay As You Earn (PAYE), and pursued Public Service Loan Forgiveness for ten years. Then, filing taxes as Single every one of those years, working for the 501(c)(3) employer and making the same level of annual income ($45,000 adjusted annually for inflation), she pays $205 to $283 monthly and a total of $29,059 over ten years.

The remaining loan balance (which happens to be $430,633 under this scenario) is forgiven tax-free under current tax rules. In this case, assuming that Jill makes the $205~$283 monthly payments out of her cash flow, she gets to keep all $250,000 from the home sale proceeds and pay off the parent loans for just under $30,000. She can use the $250,000 to buy a new home for herself or invest it in retirement, whatever she and her wealth strategist thought would work best (3).

The burden is still on the Borrower spouse

Did we mention that student loan repayment options can be complicated? Jill should ensure that she has her ducks perfectly aligned before engaging in the double consolidation/PSLF strategy. In the worst case, she could have missed something and may remain liable for the entire loan and the full payment or end up with a very large tax bill. Hence Jill should get an experienced student loan strategist to counsel her on her strategy.

If she felt inclined, she could discuss this PSLF option prior to the divorce with Jack and divide the benefit between them. However, Jill should remember that the burden is still on her because under this strategy, she has to stay in the PSLF program for ten years. That obligation is not quantified but should be considered in the asset division.

Summary

Sometimes we can find a silver lining in the worst situations. In their divorce, Jack and Jill could take advantage of a quirk of student loans and could save up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. As a result, Jill could have an additional $220,234 to support her lifestyle.

Student loan repayment strategies can be very different depending on the situation. For example, it would be an entirely different situation if Jill’s income was higher, her employment did not qualify her for PSLF, or she retired earlier than expected. There are still pitfalls ahead for her.

Solutions to student loan problems tend to be very unique and difficult to generalize. If you have federal student loans, the short and long-term costs can significantly differ depending on your income situation and the repayment plan you choose. However, as a federal student loan borrower, remember that you do not always have to pay back the entire loan balance.

Everyone’s situation is different, especially in divorce, especially with student loans. If you are unsure what to do, reach out for help. It might pay off!

Notes:

  • Consult an attorney to figure out what applies to you
  • Consult a financial professional with a specialization in student loans
  • Consult a financial planner
  • Note: The projection in the PSLF option assumes that, among other factors such as Jill’s PSLF-qualifying employment status and family size staying the same, Jill’s income grows 3% annually, which increases her monthly payment amount each year. Individual circumstances can significantly change results.
Feb 14

Do You Have To Pay Taxes in Retirement?

By Chris Chen CFP | Financial Planning , Retirement Planning , Tax Planning

Do You Have To Pay Taxes in Retirement?

 

Many people look forward to not having to pay income taxes in retirement. It is understandable that after a lifetime of paying taxes, retirees would feel that they deserve a break. 

Unfortunately, that is not generally how income taxes work! In this article, I categorize nine sources of income and their corresponding level of taxes. 

It may seem at times that taxes are hitting us from all directions.  However, a variety of tax rules can also give retirees, or ideally pre-retirees, opportunities to plan such that they can optimize their lifetime taxes, and avoid paying more than their fair share .

Social Security

For those filing as single with income below $25,000, or married filing jointly with income below $32,000, social security income is income tax-free. However, single filer retirees with income up to $34,000 or $44,000 for married filing jointly will find that 50% of their social security becomes taxable.  When income increases over $34,000 for single filers, or $44,000 for married filing jointly then 85% becomes taxable. 

So while it is correct that a portion of their social security income will be income tax-free, many retirees find that they will pay some taxes on their social security income

Retirement Accounts

Retirement accounts such as 401(k), 403(b), and IRAs are an important source of income for retirees.  Income from these accounts is taxed as ordinary income, as if it was being earned in a job, with tax rates ranging from 10% to 37% at the federal level. That is because the initial contribution to those accounts helped to reduce taxable income at the time.  That means that the money in these retirement accounts was never taxed. 

To complicate the matter, distributions from some accounts may be exempt from state taxes. For instance, 403(b) accounts earned in New Jersey are exempt from New Jersey state income taxes at distribution. Similarly, IRA distributions from accounts that were established by Massachusetts taxpayers are exempt from Massachusetts income taxes. These peculiarities vary from State to State. It’s important to verify how they may apply in your State rather than making an assumption.  

Pensions

Many retirees still receive pension income. Some of the more common ones include state, federal and military pensions. Although private pensions have been in decline for several decades now, many people continue to receive payments from these pensions.

Retirees are often surprised to find that their pension income is taxable as ordinary income at the federal level, just as other retirement account income. As with other retirement income sources, there may be exceptions for state taxes that vary from state to state and pension to pension.

Roth Accounts

Income from Roth accounts is not taxed in retirement.  That is because the initial contribution came from after-tax money. In other words, the income used to make the contribution was taxed on the full amount before the contribution was made. I like to say that “Roth accounts are not tax-free, they are just taxed differently“.

A key benefit of Roth accounts is that their distributions do not count toward high-income surcharges for Medicare Part B and Part D premiums. 

Retirees find that Roth accounts can be tremendously useful to optimize taxes in retirement by strategically combining income from Roth accounts with income from taxable accounts .

As a result, effective retirement planning should include considering saving in Traditional vs Roth accounts and strategically converting Traditional to Roth accounts, when appropriate.

Before jumping into making a Roth conversion, it is important to understand that the point of a Roth account contribution should not be to avoid taxes in retirement per se.  Instead, it should be to reduce lifetime taxes . It is possible that a badly timed Roth contribution would increase lifetime taxes, while also reducing retirement income taxes. A strategic plan is important to think through and implement. 

Municipal Bonds

Income received from municipal bonds is federal tax-free.  Like a Roth contribution, an investment in municipal bonds is made with after-tax money. If you own municipal bonds from the state of your residence, the interest is also state tax-free. However, if you own municipal bonds from states other than your residence, their interest is usually taxable at the state level.

People also wonder what happens when they sell their municipal bonds.  When that happens, the price of the bond can be higher or lower than the face value, known as a premium or a discount. When the price is at a premium, the difference between the premium and the face value can be taxed. That can often be an impediment to a sale as people don’t want to be taxed.  

Investments

When held for one year or longer, investments outside of retirement accounts are subject to long-term capital gains taxes. They can range from 0% to 23.8%, including potential Medicare surcharges.  In 2022, for a married couple filing jointly with taxable income up to $83,350, long-term capital gains are taxed at 0% federally ($41,675 for people filing as single).

Therefore investments can potentially be taxed less than other sources of income such as retirement accounts. Balancing distributions from investments in conjunction with Traditional retirement and Roth accounts can be a valuable tax optimization tool.

For people preparing to retire, it may make sense to divert investments from retirement accounts to brokerage accounts . Since taxes cannot be entirely avoided, it is about creating a strategy that optimizes investment vehicles to reduce lifetime taxes.

Annuities

Any income from annuities held inside qualified retirement accounts such as an IRA will be taxable as ordinary income in its entirety.

Income from annuities that are not held in qualified retirement accounts is partially taxable as ordinary income. The amount of the distribution that represents your original investment is considered tax-free as a return of capital. 

Therefore, the taxation of annuity income falls somewhat below that of the taxation of income from retirement accounts. 

Life Insurance

Loans from the cash value of an insurance policy are considered tax-free. That is because, like any loans, they are not considered income. That is a critical point made at the time that an insurance sale occurs.  It should be noted, however, that life insurance is an instance when the tax issues so dominate the sales discussion that they obscure the other costs of cash value life insurance. The loan from the policy is tax-free, but that in and of itself does not necessarily make life insurance cost-effective or appropriate for your needs.

Earned Income

Income earned in retirement is taxed as any other earned income before retirement. Some retirees continue to earn work income, from part-time jobs or from consulting gigs for example. That income is taxed as earned income as if they were not retired, including Social Security and Medicare. Unfortunately, there is no tax break for working in retirement!

The reality for most of us is that we will owe taxes in retirement. The multiplication of tax situations can make minimizing taxes difficult for a retiree.

The challenge is to plan our income situation strategically in order to minimize lifetime taxes. 

Fortunately, wealth planning done properly is a very feasible endeavor that may help you keep more of what you earned in your pockets!

Jan 20

What Financial Specialists Do You Need?

By Chris Chen CFP | Divorce Planning , Financial Planning

Should you get a financial specialist to help with your divorce? Most people start their divorces looking for a mediator or a lawyer, not a financial planner so that can be a startling question.

Yet divorce is likely to be the largest financial transaction in a person’s life. Larger than buying a house. Larger than paying for graduate school. Larger than raising a child. While marriage may have been about love, now that the flame has been extinguished, divorce is about securing the future and rebuilding a financially successful life. That is why it is crucial to make sure that the division of assets and income is fair, meets your needs and that of your children, and allows you to thrive after the divorce.  

Divorce can be complicated to navigate, and for that, you most likely need a lawyer. They are trained to help you through this complicated legal process. However, divorce contains many intricate details that can have long-term consequences on your finances and are beyond the education and horizon of lawyers.

Lawyers are important, but…

There is no question that you need a lawyer’s professional experience and skills in navigating the choppy waters of what is essentially a legal process. There are many intricacies in the way that divorce gets handled across issues such as child support, asset division, alimony, inheritances, and trusts that need the steady hand of a skilled lawyer.

Lawyers bring you to the finish line; that’s what you pay them to do. However, people divorcing have other needs to help them move on afterward. They need to make sure that the division of assets and income allows them to pursue their goals and lead fulfilling lives. And because modern life has made professional work so intricate and specialized, you have to ensure that you get the right professional for the right job.

Divorce lawyers do try to protect their client’s interests. Nevertheless, few lawyers are financial experts. It’s not part of the curriculum in law school, and financial planning is not part of the practice of the average divorce lawyer.

Three Questions You Need to Answer

Dealing with the immediate, potential, and future financial consequences of a divorce is where a qualified financial analyst can best help. A financial expert can help your divorce by helping you answer three critical questions:

The first question is, where are you today financially? What are your assets and your liabilities? What is the joint marital income, and what are the ongoing expenses?

Surprisingly, many people can’t answer those questions precisely. As long as the bills are paid, and the checking account balance is over the minimum, many are too busy dealing with the other issues of life to pay attention.

Diane Pappas, a veteran Certified Divorce Financial Analyst in Gloucester, MA, observes: “A lot of times when I’m working with a couple…they won’t know what they have in retirement accounts, what kind of assets they have. Sometimes they don’t even know what kind of money they’re making. So they literally have to go look at their paycheck to know what they’re getting paid.”

It’s difficult enough to go through the planning process that is required in a divorce without knowing that basic information. If you don’t even know where you are today, how will you be able to cope with all the financial changes that will occur during the upcoming split? If you don’t know where you are today, how will you figure out where you are going and how to get there?

The second question is, where will you be the day after the divorce? After answering the first question, it’s essential to navigate your negotiations to a settlement that can help you move forward. A quick example is a decision about the marital home. Should you keep it? Should you sell it? Should you sell it LATER after the children graduate? Can you afford it? Similar questions can be asked about most other financial issues. Of course, that also applies to liabilities or the debt owed on credit cards, student loans, or the remaining mortgage balance. Then there is the potential challenge of making ends meet on less income.

The third question is, where will you be 5, 10, or even 15 years down the road after the divorce? That is the measure of a successful divorce negotiation and successful post-divorce financial planning. Ignoring this question is easy because of the immediacy and stress of more immediate issues. It’s easier just to let the process move forward, however slowly, and hope for the best outcome. But without a solid answer to this question, you will not be able to provide informed consent for this largest transaction in your lifetime.

In fact, the inability to answer this question may prevent you from closing an agreement because you may not have the confidence to move forward.

Deferral or procrastination during emotional stress is human nature, especially when you are unsure what questions to ask and how to analyze the data. That is where borrowing the expertise of a knowledgeable professional can pay off. Getting the best divorce-related financial advice early in the process will pay dividends down that long road beyond the day that the divorce becomes final.

Common Financial Specialists Used In a Divorce

Bringing a financial expert into the divorce process can make the difference between making an informed decision that gives you a path forward or having to pick up the pieces later. Financial experts and advisors can play a useful role in divorce financial planning. However, it can be challenging to determine which financial specialist to pick, as they come with many different stripes and colors. Some of the major categories include:

Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) often focus on taxes. Because one of the significant challenges of a divorce is to figure out the tax consequences, it is essential to have that expertise on board. In addition, CPAs will sometimes also work on forensic accounting to help find hidden assets.

Business valuators get involved when the divorce case includes the ownership of a business. Regardless of the involvement of each spouse, the business is likely to be one of the most valuable assets of the marriage, one that is exceedingly difficult to divide. Using a business valuator will allow the parties to put a number to the business and facilitate the negotiation.

Certified Financial Planners: CFPs focus on bringing the client from the present to the future, beyond the effective date of your divorce. In a divorce situation, they do so by helping to optimize a settlement offer to take care of the now and position for the future. Some of the focus areas can include retirement planning, risk management, and investments. CFPs can bridge the gap between the attorneys’ focus on getting you to the divorce finish line, and your need for solid post-divorce planning that will lead you to financial independence. It is a skill set that is frequently overlooked or missing during divorce negotiations.

Certified Value Builders (CVBs) are a less common specialty. They help business owners increase the value of their business, often a top priority for business owners fresh out of a divorce. When the business owner and the Certified Value Builder are successful, the business owner can shore up the rest of their finances.

Certified Divorce Financial Analysts: CDFAs are financial professionals who help couples, and their lawyers arrive at a fair divorce settlement. CDFAs straddle the expertise of the tax professional with that of the Certified Financial Planner. They use their knowledge of tax law, short- and long-term financial planning, and distribution of assets to help clients reach an optimal settlement.

CDFAs often have other qualifications. Actually, CPAs and lawyers sometimes have the CDFA. But most often, it is paired with the CFP designation. This combination of CFP and CDFA can help clients ensure that their future is well analyzed.

Let’s Recap

You most likely could use a financial specialist for your divorce. The stakes are too high not to. Disentangling and splitting assets requires far more expertise than what a lawyer is trained in. Anyone involved in a divorce really should be able to answer the three basic questions of divorce: where are you financially now? Where will you be the day after the divorce? And where will you be 15 years after the divorce?

Being able to answer these questions, especially the last one, is often beyond the scope of what lawyers do. Yet the answers are critical to making sure that you know what you are getting to and how you will be financially successful after the divorce.

There are many kinds of financial experts running the gamut from tax accountants to business valuators. Many may be needed for some aspects of your divorce. But the most valuable divorce financial professionals may be the CFP/CDFA combination. They have the training and orientation to bring you to the next level: financial success after divorce.

 

Nov 15

Public Service Loan Forgiveness: limited waiver opportunity

By Saki Kurose | Student Loan Planning

PSLF waiver

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) is a loan forgiveness program offered by the government for borrowers who work for a U.S. federal, state, local, or tribal government or not-for-profit organization. Under PSLF, public service workers can get their federal student loan balance forgiven after making 120 qualifying payments while working for a qualifying employer.

The program has been plagued with issues. Many borrowers who should have qualified have not gotten their loans forgiven for reasons such as being on the wrong repayment plan, payments not being counted for unreasonable reasons, or borrowers provided with wrong information by their loan servicers.

Last month, the Department of Education announced a major change to the program that could fix some of these issues: it will “implement a Limited PSLF Waiver to count all prior payments made by student borrowers toward PSLF, regardless of loan program.”

Here’s a summary of what it means and what you have to do if you qualify.

What is the limited PSLF waiver?

For a limited time, between now and October 31, 2022, borrowers may be able to receive credit for past payments made on loans that would otherwise not qualify for PSLF. The employment requirements have not been changed. To qualify, borrowers must be employed full-time by the government, 501(c)(3) not-for-profit, or other not-for-profit organization that provides a qualifying service.

Who qualifies for the waiver?

  • borrowers with Direct Loans
  • those who have already consolidated into the Direct Loan program
  • those with other types of federal student loans who submit a Direct consolidation application while the waiver is in effect
  • students only (no parent borrowers)

Who benefits?

Students who made payments while working for qualifying employers but the loans were previously determined to be disqualified (ex: had FFEL loans instead of Direct Loans or was a wrong repayment plan like Extended Repayment instead of an IDR plan)

Who does NOT benefit?

Borrowers who:

  • already refinanced to a private loan
  • already paid loans off
  • Parent PLUS loan borrowers (will not become eligible even if consolidated before October 31, 2022)

Do this before October 31, 2022

October 31, 2022 is the deadline to qualify for the limited PSLF waiver.

Make sure to:

  • consolidate into the Direct Loan Program if you need to (borrowers with older FFEL loans from before 2010 should)
  • submit a PSLF form

What payments will count?

-payments made after October 1, 2007 (when the PSLF program was started) and on or before October 31, 2021

What to expect

Automatic adjustments will be made:

  • When/if you have consolidated your loans into the Direct Loan Program and submitted the PSLF form, you will see automatic adjustments in your account.

If you’ve already done all the above steps:

  • You don’t need to do anything until you receive an update/communication from Student Aid

If you have Direct Loans but haven’t applied for PSLF:

  • Submit a PSLF form to see if your current or past employers qualify for PSLF by October 31, 2022 (don’t wait- expect delays)

If you have FFEL loans or Perkins loans:

  • submit a consolidation application to get the loan into Direct Loan program
  • submit PSLF form by October 31, 2022

Don’t know what types of loans you have?

  • log into your studentaid.gov account, My Aid and see your Loan Breakdown section
  • ”FFEL” (Federal Family Education Loans) or “Perkins” must be consolidated (it becomes a Direct Consolidation loan afterwards) to qualify for this Waiver

As always, if you are not sure what to do, book a free introductory call with a student loan expert to make sure you don’t miss this opportunity!

Oct 26

Seven Year End Wealth Opportunities

By Chris Chen CFP | Financial Planning , Investment Planning , Retirement Planning , Tax Planning

As we come close to the end of the year, you still have time to make a few smart financial moves.

Maybe because of the year-end deadline, many year-end planning opportunities seem to be tax-related. However, tax moves should be made within the context of your overall long-term financial and investment plan. Hence, make sure to check in with your financial and tax advisors.

Here are seven important areas to focus your efforts on to help you make the best of the rest of your financial year.

1. Harvest your Tax Losses

As of October 22, the S&P500 is up 21%, and the Dow Jones is up 16% for the year. Unfortunately, some stocks and mutual funds are still posting a loss for the year. Therefore, it is likely that some items in your portfolio show up in red when you check the “unrealized gains and losses” column in your brokerage statement.

You could still make lemonade out of these lemons by harvesting your losses for tax purposes. It is worth remembering that the IRS individual deduction for capital losses is limited to $3,000 for 2021. In other words, if you don’t offset your losers with your winners, you may end up with a tax loss carryforward that could only be used in future years. This is not an ideal scenario!

You can also offset your losses against your gains. For example, suppose you sell some losers and accumulate $10,000 in losses. You could then also sell some winners. Then, if the gains in your winners add up to $10,000, you would have offset your gains with your losses, and you will not owe capital gain taxes on that combined trade!

Bear in mind that Wealth Strategy is not all about taxes! Tax-loss harvesting could be a great opportunity to help you rebalance your portfolio with a reduced tax impact. Beware though of the wash sale rule: if you buy back your sold positions within 30 days, you will have negated the benefit. 

2. Review your Investment Planning

Tax-loss harvesting can be used effectively for short-term advantage. However, it also provides the opportunity to focus on more fundamental issues. So, in the first place, why did you buy these securities that you just sold? At one time, they probably played an important role in your investment strategy. And now, with the cash from the sale, it’s important to be mindful when reinvesting.

You may be tempted to wait for a while to see how the market evolves. We may have been spoiled into complacency with the bull run we experienced since the Great Recession. However, we should not forget that volatility does happen.

It’s almost impossible to predict accurately when the next bear market will start if it hasn’t already. And after more than eighteen months of strong gains, it is time to reassess if you and your portfolio are positioned for a potential downturn. 

You will want to ensure that your portfolio risk is aligned with your goals and that your asset allocation is aligned with your risk target. Reach out to your Wealth Strategist to review.

3. Review your Retirement Planning

There is still time to top out your retirement account! In 2021, you can contribute up to $19,500 from your salary, including employer match, to a standard defined contribution plan such as 401(k), TSP, 403(b), or 457, subject to the terms and conditions of your plan. And if you happen to be 50 years old or older, you can contribute an additional $6,500 for this year.

If you have under contributed to your plan, there may still be time! You have until December 31 to boost your retirement planning by topping off your 2021 contributions. This will also have the benefit of reducing your 2021 taxable income if you contribute to a Traditional plan.

As an alternative, you could contribute to a Roth account if your employer offers that plan option. 

Many employers offer a Roth in their employee retirement plans. If yours does not, schedule a chat with your HR department!

Many people think of the Roth account as tax-free. However, you should bear in mind that although Roth accounts are popularly designated as “tax-free,” they are merely taxed differently since you would be contributing after-tax funds. Double-check with a Certified Financial Planner professional to determine whether choosing to defer some of your salaries on a pretax basis or post-tax to a Roth account better fits your situation.

4. Roth Conversions

Our current tax environment is especially favorable to Roth conversions. With the current TCJA law, income tax rates will be going back up in 2026. Therefore, Roth conversions could cost less in current taxes until then. Of course, Congress could vote for tax rates to go up before the end of the year. There is even the possibility that Congress will remove the ability to do a Roth conversion after 2021.

To do a Roth conversion, you withdraw money from a Traditional tax-deferred retirement account, pay income taxes on the distribution, and move the assets into a Roth account. Then the assets can grow and be distributed tax-free, provided certain other requirements are met. If you think that your tax bracket will be higher in the future than it is now, you could benefit from a Roth conversion.

5. Choosing your Health Plan 

With health insurance re-enrollment season, the annual ritual of choosing a health insurance plan is with us. With health insurance getting ever more expensive, this could be one of your more important short-term financial decisions. 

Your first decision is to decide whether to subscribe to a high deductible option or stick with a traditional plan with a “low” deductible. The high deductible option will have a cheaper premium. However, if you have a lot of health issues, it may end up costing you more. High deductible plans allow access to Health Savings Accounts (HSA).

The HSA is a special instrument. With it, you can contribute money before taxes to pay for qualified healthcare expenses tax-free. Balances in HSAs can be carried forward to future years. They can also be invested to allow for potential earnings growth. This last feature is exciting to wealth managers because, in the right situation, clients could end up saving a lot of money.

If you choose a high deductible plan, you should plan to fund your HSA to the maximum. Many employers will contribute as well to encourage their employees to pick that option. If you choose a low deductible plan instead, make sure to fund your Flexible Spending Account. FSAs are used to pay for medical expenses on a pretax basis. The unspent amount cannot be rolled over to future years, unlike HSAs.

6. Plan your RMDs

Don’t forget to take your Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) if you are past 70. The penalty for not taking your RMD is a steep 50%. Your first minimum distribution must be withdrawn by April 1 of the year following the year in which you turn 70 ½, and by December 31 for each year after.

Perhaps you don’t need the RMD? Then you may want to redirect the money to another cause. For example, you could fund a grandchild’s 529 tax-advantaged educational account. Contributions are post-tax, but growth and distributions are tax-free so long as they are used to pay for education.

7. Charitable Donations

You could also plan for a Qualified Charitable Distribution from the IRA. That distribution must go directly from the IRA to a charity. Unlike a normal RMD, it is excluded from taxable income and may count towards your RMD under certain conditions

Charitable donations can also help reduce taxable income and provide financial planning benefits. However, the Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA) has made it more complicated. A significant result of the TCJA is that standard deductions for 2021 are $12,550 for individuals and $25,100 for joint filers. In practice, it means that the first $12,550 or $25,100 of deductible items have no tax benefits. 

For example, if a married couple filing jointly (MFJ) pays $8,000 in real estate taxes and $5,000 in state income taxes for a total of $13,000 of deductions, they are better off taking the standard $25,100 deduction. The first $12,100 that they donate to charity would not yield a tax benefit. One way to go around this new situation is to bundle your donations in a given year. Another possibility, within certain limits, is to give directly from an IRA.

As an example, if you plan to give in 2021 as well as 2022, bundling your donations and giving just in 2021 could result in a deduction and the accompanying reduced tax. 

If your thinking wheels are turning after reading this article, check in with your Wealth Strategist or financial planner: there may be other techniques that you could or should do before the end of the year!

 

Jun 29

New Graduates’ Guide to Paying Off Student Loans

By Saki Kurose | Financial Planning , Student Loan Planning

Congratulations on finishing your degree! Now it’s time to study up on the best way to pay off your student debt. You have a lot of options, so choose your strategy wisely.

If you have recently graduated from college or graduate school with student loans, you might be wondering what to do about your loans. How long will it take to pay off the debt? How much would you have to pay monthly? When do you start the repayment?

Those are just some of the questions you may have as you are getting ready to start a new chapter of your life after school. This article will guide you through some of the terms you will need to know, concepts that are unique to student loans, and actions you can take to take control of your student loans.

I’m done with school. Now what?

Before you pick a student loan repayment plan from a list of acronyms you do not really understand, assess your current financial situation and think about your career and goals . You cannot get to your destination if you do not know where you are starting.

First, you need to know what happens when you graduate, leave or drop below half-time enrollment from your college or graduate or professional school. If you have federal loans (such as Stafford loans), you may have a grace period or a deferment period, which is typically six months, before you have to start making payments. If you cannot make the payments, you may apply for forbearance. You are not required to make payments during the grace period, deferment or forbearance. However, be aware that interest may continue to accrue during the period of non-payment.

Take an inventory of your loans

Use this period of time to take an inventory of all the loans you have taken out during the course of your studies.  If you have federal loans, log into or create your studentaid.gov account. You will see all of your federal loans listed there. If you have private student loans, you can get a free credit report to see all of your loans. You can get one from any one of the three credit bureaus or a site like annualcreditreport.com.  If you only have private loans, you can skip to the section titled “Strategy #1: Paying your loans off as fast as possible to minimize interest.”

Federal student loans are unique and complicated

Federal student loans are different from other types of loans because they come with benefits such as flexible payments, forgiveness, and forbearance or deferment. This plethora of options was put in place to make repayment easier for borrowers, but too many choices can be intimidating and it is easy to get overwhelmed.

The most important thing to know is that you do not always have to pay back the full amount of the loans you took out. For federal loans, when you repay under the standard 10-year plan or the extended and graduated repayment plans, you pay back the entire loan including the principal and interest over a set period of time. However, if you enroll in one of the Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) plans, you pay a percentage of your income for a set period of time and then the remaining balance is forgiven. This type of loan forgiveness can either be tax-free or taxable, meaning that the forgiven dollar amount is either counted as part of your income or not in the year it is forgiven.

Special considerations for Income-Driven Repayment plans

Pursuing loan forgiveness in an IDR plan can be quite complex and therefore, it is important to know how the system works and have a strategy to navigate through it if you want to save money. If you are enrolled in an IDR plan, you should know that:

  1. You must verify your income every year to recalculate your monthly payments.
  2. If you are married and file your taxes as Married Filing Separately instead of Jointly, your monthly payment is lower in all but one IDR plan (the one exception is the Revised Pay As You Earn plan) because only your income is used to calculate the payment amount.
  3. Loans paid under an IDR plan qualify for forgiveness if there is a balance remaining at the end of the term.

Loan Servicers

Also, look for communications from your loan servicer. They handle the administrative tasks relating to your student loans, such as billing, at no cost to you.  However, do not rely on the servicers to choose your repayment plan or strategy because the servicers are not trained finance professionals. There are short- and long-term implications for any student loan repayment option you pick, and they can be significant. Depending on the repayment plan you choose, you can save or lose thousands (or even hundreds of thousands) of dollars. YOU need to know what strategy is best for you!

Beware of scammers

There are a lot of third-party companies that take advantage of borrowers who are confused by the federal options. Some may offer to consolidate your federal loans for a fee, or even worse, offer discounted repayment options that do not exist. There are no fees for changing repayment plans or consolidating within the federal system, and the government will never contact you to offer a “discount” or a “deal” for your student loans . If you get such an offer, ignore them. These scammers often sound professional and knowledgeable. DO NOT, under any circumstances, give out your personal information, such as your Social Security number or your studentaid.gov login information.

Prioritize your career and goals: What’s most important to you?

When you know how much you owe and know what to expect after you graduate, you must assess where you are financially at the moment and where you think you will be and want to be in the short term and long term.  If you have a job, what is your income right now? How do you expect your income to change in the next five, 10, or 20 years?  What are your career plans and goals? And perhaps more importantly, what is most important to you? Do you want to be debt-free and financially independent as quickly as you can and want to live frugally to achieve that goal? Or do you want to get married, buy a house, and enjoy time with your family while you manage your loans long-term?

There is no right or wrong answer. When you have the big picture of your financial situation and goals, you can start strategizing.

Strategizing based on your goals

If you want to prioritize saving money, there are two main loan repayment strategies:

  1. Pay your debt off as fast as possible and minimize interest.
  2. Pay as little as possible and maximize forgiveness.

Strategy #1: Paying your loans off as fast as possible to minimize interest

By paying off the entire balance of your loans as fast as you can, you can save money because you are minimizing the interest accruing on the loans. You can also reduce the interest rate by refinancing your loans to get a lower interest rate as shown in my blog article: “Private Student Loans: Should I Refinance a Federal Student Loan?

You can save a lot of money by shopping around for good rates, and it is often a good idea to refinance multiple times if you can save money. However, if you have federal loans and you are considering refinancing, it’s important to know that you will permanently remove your loans from the federal system, which means that your loans will no longer be eligible for benefits such as IDR plans and loan forgiveness.

Strategy #2: Paying as little as possible in IDR and maximizing forgiveness

A lot of us are taught to get rid of debt, so this may seem counterintuitive, but if you pursue student loan forgiveness, you can save more money by paying into your loans as little as possible. Those who pursue this strategy should explore all of the planning strategies used to lower their monthly IDR plan payments and make sure they are doing everything correctly to be on track for forgiveness. (To see an example of how IDR plans and forgiveness programs work together, you can take a look at the case studies in this blog article: “The Best Way to Pay Off $250,000 in Student Loans.”)

An alternative strategy: Keeping your loans in the federal system

There is another strategy that is less commonly pursued because it might not necessarily save you money. Let’s call this the “federal insurance” strategy. With the federal insurance strategy, you keep your loans in the federal system even if it costs you more, but you would be protected from any unexpected events, such as losing your income. Think about how federal borrowers who lost their jobs during the pandemic benefitted from the 0% interest and the payment freeze that was put in place in March 2020. This is a good strategy if you are expecting or experiencing big life changes, such as a growing family or job changes, and your cash flow is not stable.

Conclusion

Student loans can be intimidating. You may hear terms such as refinancing, consolidation, income-driven repayment plans and their confusing acronyms and wonder if you should also do whatever it was that your friend did. But questions like “Should I refinance?” or “Should I consolidate?” are not the questions you should be asking first. They are simply tools for managing your finances to live the kind of life you want. If you are not sure about what to do with your student loans, schedule a free 15-minute call with us to find out how you can benefit from working with a Certified Student Loan Professional to get a customized student loan repayment plan!

 

*A version of this article has also been published on kiplinger.com. Read the article here.

May 14

Should Your Spouse Join You in a Divorce Workshop?

By Chris Chen CFP | Divorce Planning , Financial Planning , Retirement Planning

Should Your Spouse Join You in a Divorce Workshop?

Should Your Spouse Join You in a Divorce Workshop? As a Financial Planner, I participate in many different types of workshops, including divorce. Pandemic obliging, these days they are usually webinars.   Divorce is no exception. Should you suggest to your spouse that they should join you in a divorce workshop? Or do you want to keep the information that you got in a divorce workshop to yourself?

As a Certified Financial Planner, I often answer complicated questions with “it depends.” However, for this question, I will just say, “Heck, yes, bring him or her along”! I recently recommended to a divorce workshop attendee that she come back to other workshops and bring her husband along. As it happens,  they are still talking, and my workshops are still Zooming. So, she might be able to get him there. The primary benefit of bringing your spouse to a divorce workshop is that you will start to get him on the same level of understanding about divorce issues.

The first step is understanding that divorce is emotionally difficult to negotiate for both sides. It is even more challenging if the two sides start from different vantage points. Just remember how you felt the last time you dealt with someone with a completely different perspective.  For example, think of the last time you tried to persuade your toddler to eat his or her vegetables. You and your spouse cannot have all your questions answered in one workshop or a dozen. Divorce is way too complex for that. But you will both learn something. And most importantly, you will both hear the same information and may learn the same thing. And that can form the basis for a productive negotiation and path forward.

If you and your spouse do go to the same divorce workshop, take it a step further and ask the questions on the points you disagree about. At the workshop, you will get a neutral expert opinion that may be helpful. Is it about planning for retirement with a lot fewer assets? Or whether you should keep your inheritance as separate property? The challenge of introducing the “D” word to the kids? The difficulties of comparing pensions to other assets? The potential for a creative solution? It doesn’t matter what the areas of disagreement are. You will both hear the same answer and have a starting point to move forward.

In war, you want to keep to yourself all the advantages that you can. Divorce may be war, but it is different in at least one respect: it pays to make sure that your spouse is as informed as you are because that reduces your legal bills and gets you closer to the finish line. Heck, it is also worth it to find out that your position might be wrong. That too can form the basis for moving on. You should note that what you hear in a divorce workshop can be great information, but it is not “advice.” Because every situation is unique, you will have to go back to a professional for objective advice. However, all journeys start with one step forward. Getting on the same page can be that important first step.

Apr 14

Ways to pay off Parent PLUS loans

By Saki Kurose | Financial Planning , Student Loan Planning

Ways to pay off Parent PLUS loans

Ways to pay off Parent PLUS loans

Introduction

Young adults are not the only ones saddled with the obligation to pay back massive amounts of student loan debt.  Many parents take out loans in their names to help their children pay for college, and in many cases, these loans are getting in their way of achieving their goals like saving for retirement.  Under the federal student loan system, parents can take out Parent PLUS loans for their dependent undergraduate students. One of the major differences between Parent PLUS loans and the loans that the students take out themselves is that there are fewer repayment options available for Parent PLUS borrowers. Parent PLUS loans are only eligible for the Standard Repayment Plan, the Graduated Repayment Plan, and the Extended Repayment Plan.  However, there are strategies for managing Parent PLUS debt.  When consolidated into a Direct Consolidation Loan, Parent PLUS loans can become eligible for the Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR) plan, in which borrowers pay 20% of their discretionary income for up to 25 years.  Currently, ICR is the only income-driven repayment plan that consolidated loans repaying Parent PLUS loans are eligible for.  However, when a parent borrower consolidates two Direct Consolidation Loans together, the parent can potentially qualify for an even better repayment plan and further reduce the monthly payments.  

Nate, the public school math teacher

Let’s take a look at Nate, age 55, as an example to see how a parent can manage Parent PLUS loans and still retire the way he or she wants. 

Nate is a public school teacher who makes $60,000 a year and just got remarried to Nancy, who is also a teacher.  Nate took out $130,000 of Direct Parent PLUS loans with an average interest rate of 6% to help Jack and Jill, his two kids from a previous marriage, attend their dream colleges. Nate does not want Nancy to be responsible for these loans if anything happens to him, and he is also worried that he would not be able to retire in 10 years as he had planned!

If Nate tried to pay off his entire loan balance in 10 years under the federal system, his monthly payment would be $1,443.  Even if he refinanced privately at today’s historically low rates, his payments would be around $1,200, which Nate decides is too much for him to handle every month.  Also, since Nate’s federal loans are in his name only, they could be discharged if Nate dies or gets permanently disabled.  Therefore, it is a good idea to keep these loans in the federal system so that Nancy would not be responsible for these loans.  

In a case like this, when it is difficult for a federal borrower to afford monthly payments on a standard repayment plan, it’s a good idea to see if loan forgiveness using Income-Drive Repayment plans is an option .  In Nate’s case, his Parent PLUS loans can become eligible for the Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR) plan if he consolidates them into one or more Direct Consolidation Loans.  If Nate enrolls in ICR, he would be required to pay 20% of his discretionary income, or $709 a month.  Compared to the standard 10-year plan, Nate can cut his monthly burden in half by consolidating and enrolling in ICR!

Double Consolidation

For Nate, there is another strategy worth pursuing called a double consolidation. This strategy takes at least three student loan consolidations over several months and works in the following way.  Let’s say that Nate has 16 federal loans (one for each semester of Jack and Jill’s respective colleges).  If Nate consolidates eight of his loans, he ends up with a Direct Consolidation Loan #1.  If he consolidates his eight remaining loans, he ends up with another Direct Consolidation Loan #2.  When he consolidates the Direct Consolidation Loans #1 and #2, he ends up with a single Direct Consolidation Loan #3.  Since Direct Consolidation Loan #3 repays Direct Consolidation loans #1 and 2, it is no longer subject to the rule restricting consolidated loans repaying Parent PLUS loans to only be eligible for ICR.  Direct Consolidation Loan #3 could be eligible for some of the other Income-Driven Repayment plans like IBR, PAYE, or REPAYE, in which Nate would pay 10 or 15% of his discretionary income. 

Reducing the monthly payments 

For example, if Nate qualifies for PAYE and Nate and Nancy file their taxes as Married Filing Separately, only Nate’s $60,000 income is used to calculate his monthly payment.  His monthly payment would be $282. If he had chosen REPAYE, he must include Nancy’s annual income of $60,000 for the monthly payment calculation after marriage regardless of how they file their taxes, so his payment would have been $782.  Double consolidation can be quite an arduous process, but Nate decides to do it to reduce his monthly payment from $1,443 to $282.  

Parent PLUS borrowers qualify for forgiveness

Since Nate is a public school teacher, he would qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) and he would get his remaining loans forgiven tax-free after making 120 qualifying payments.  

Since Nate is pursuing student loan forgiveness, there is one more important thing he can do to further reduce his monthly payments.  Nate can contribute more to his employer’s retirement plan.  If Nate contributed 10% of his income, or $500 a month, into his 403(b) plan, the amount of taxable annual income used to calculate his monthly payment is reduced, which reduces his monthly payments to $232.  

Summary of Nate’s options:  

  1. With the standard 10-year repayment plan, Nate would have to pay $1,443 every month for 10 years for a total of $173,191.  
  2. With a consolidation, enrolling in ICR, filing taxes Married Filing Separately, and PSLF, he would start with $709 monthly payments and pay a total of around $99,000 in 10 years.*
  3. With double consolidation, enrolling in PAYE, filing taxes Married Filing Separately, and PSLF, his monthly payment starts at $282 and his total for 10 years would be around $40,000.
  4. For maximum savings: with double consolidation, enrolling in PAYE, filing taxes Married Filing Separately, PSLF, and making a $10% contribution to his employer retirement account for 10 years, Nate’s monthly payment starts at $232 and his total payment would be just over $33,000.  He would have contributed over $60,000 to his 403(b) account in 10 years, which could have grown to $86,000 with a 7% annual return.  Comparing this option with the first option, Nate pays $140,000 less in total, plus he could potentially grow his retirement savings by $86,000.

*The projections in Options 2 through 4 assume that, among other factors such as Nate’s PSLF-qualifying employment status and family size staying the same, Nate’s income grows 3% annually which increases his monthly payment amount each year.  Individual circumstances can significantly change results.

As you can see, there are options and strategies available for parent borrowers of federal student loans .  Some of the basic concepts applied in these strategies may work for student loans held by the students themselves as well.  An important thing to remember if you are an older borrower of federal student loans is that paying back the entire loan balance might not be the only option you have.  In particular, if you qualify for an Income-Driven Repayment plan and are close to retirement, you can kill two birds with one stone by contributing as much as you can to your retirement account.  Also, since federal student loans are dischargeable at death, it can be a strategic move to minimize your payments as much as possible and get them discharged at your death .

Also, direct loan consolidation can be beneficial as it was in this example, but if you had made progress toward loan forgiveness with your loans prior to the consolidation, you lose all of your progress!  As always, every situation is unique, so if you are not sure about what to do with your student loans, contact us for a student loan consultation!

*A version of this article was also published in Kiplinger.  Read it here.

Apr 14

How You Can Plan to Pay for Long Term Care

By Chris Chen CFP | Financial Planning , Retirement Planning

How You Can Plan to Pay for Long Term Care

Introduction

You need a plan to pay for Long Term Care (LTC). About 70% of us will end up needing LTC, making it a high probability event with a potentially large and uncertain cost. For many of us, LTC may well end up as the single most significant expense of our retirement.

Aware of the potential impact of the cost of LTC, Jill wanted to know if she should purchase a long-term care insurance policy or put her assets in a Medicaid trust. She reasoned that with the first option, the insurance policy would cover her costs up to the coverage limit. However, Jill balked at the cost of the policy. With the Medicaid trust option, all of her expenses would be potentially paid for by Medicaid, but she would have to put all of her assets into an irrevocable trust. She found that unattractive as well.

Fiduciary Advice

Caught between two unattractive options, Jill decided that she needed clarity so she could make a decision based on facts and not emotions. She thought she would check in with a fiduciary fee-only Certified Financial Planner professional. Jill found a planner easily enough. She was a little shocked at the cost of a consultation. She was not used to paying directly for financial advice. For example, she never paid her insurance sales representative, Jason, any money, at least directly. After taking a big breath, she agreed to the cost, scheduled a Zoom consultation, and asked her daughter Kim to join.

LTC is unpredictable

Oddly, she was comforted when her planner confirmed that it is difficult to predict the cost of LTC. First, it was not certain that she would need it: about 30% of us end up not needing it. Because Long Term Care can range anywhere from a few hours of home care a day to years in an assisted living facility or a nursing home, it was not easy to calculate how much it might eventually cost. 

After thinking a little, Kim suggested that Jill needed to understand what her resources were. Jill owned her own home with about $600,000 in equity using the Zillow valuation as a benchmark. She also had somewhat over $900,000 in retirement assets and other financial assets worth about $150,000. Jill had always thought that if she did not have LTCi, she would have to use her assets to pay for the cost. She was concerned that there would not be enough and that she may not be able to leave anything for Kim and her brother. Kim rolled her eyes slightly.

The planner pointed out that Jill was making a reasonable income. That took her by surprise because somehow, it had escaped her mind that her resources also included her income. Jill received about $35,000 annually in Social Security and $25,000 from the QDRO of her ex-husband’s pension. Also, she had her own pension that paid about $10,000. In total, she had a little over $70,000 in income. Realizing that, Jill smiled.  

What about the house?

It dawned on Jill that if she had to move into assisted living, many of her current expenses would go away. That would liberate cash flow to pay for the assisted living facility costs. She realized suddenly that she might also be able to sell her house, cut the related expenses, and use the proceeds. Kim confirmed that she and her brother would not want to keep the house after Jill passed away. 

Jill thought about how she might feel about selling the house. She remembered that her aunt went to assisted living, thinking that she would need the house to come back to. Jill knew that she might change her mind and, like her aunt, refuse to sell. But for now, it was an assumption she was willing to make.

Jill could afford LTC

Based on her current income, she could afford to move into assisted living at current rates. Not that she wanted to!

The planner also pointed out that Jill’s income and costs would likely diverge because of inflation, with expenses growing faster than income. Although Social Security has an annual Cost of Living Adjustment, Jill’s pensions did not. At the same time, the cost of assisted living regularly increases, sometimes faster than inflation. However, at first blush, it looked like she could pull through when the time came.

Kim asked how to deal with the increasing cost of living and whether it made sense to continue Jill’s very conservative investment allocation. Excellent question! The planner explained that Jill’s money needed to continue working for her. If she kept it too conservative, her nest egg would lose ground against inflation. To address her safety concerns, Jill would need to differentiate between money that she would need in the relatively short term and money that she would not need for a while. Jill could keep the first pot in a conservative allocation to insulate it from market fluctuations. She could reach for more return with the second pot, thus balancing the need for safety and growth.

The planner made a point to insist that this was all preliminary, that he needed to go fire up his spreadsheets to give Jill a more definite answer. However, Jill and Kim were excited because they could see that Jill could probably afford long-term care, leave something for her children, and maybe even spend a little more on herself. Kim was relieved because she could feel the fear of her expected financial burden dissipate.  

Jill and Kim came back a week later to see what their planner had cooked up. He showed them potential cost projections depending on how long Jill might need long-term care. He showed them a range of projections that would capture many of the possibilities. They decided together the range of options that would make Jill feel comfortable.

He also showed them how changing her investment plan would allow her to be secure and potentially increase her assets, thereby aligning better with her Life Plan. Jill felt a little concerned. She asked what if all these projections and assumptions were wrong and all the money went “poof.” However, being one step removed from her Mom’s emotions, Kim saw the logic. 

Finally, the planner suggested that Jill should consider purchasing a hybrid life insurance policy that would convert into a long-term care policy if needed. Should the need arise, the insurance policy could serve as a cushion and cover some long-term care costs. If not required, Kim and her brother would benefit from a death benefit free of income tax. The thought of a “death benefit” made Kim a little uncomfortable. However, Jill felt better about using some insurance in her plan. The planner reminded them that he would not get a commission if Jill purchased the policy as a fee-only fiduciary.

Jill trusted the planner. She was grateful for the clarity that he provided. Most importantly, Jill felt more confident about the future. She decided to take the weekend to think about it. 

On the following Monday, Jill called the planner and asked if he would continue planning for her. She wanted her modified investment plan implemented. Jill knew that it had to be updated regularly and that she would need help with that. She also needed help aligning her taxes and estate plan to her new perspective. Jill was pleased that her new financial plan fitted better with her Life Plan. 

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