Filing Your 2013 Federal Income Tax Return
For most people, the due date for filing a 2013 federal income tax return is April 15, 2014. Here are a few things to keep in mind this filing season.
Lots of changes to consider
While most individuals will pay taxes based on the same federal income tax rate brackets that applied for 2012, a new 39.6% federal income tax rate applies for 2013 if your taxable income exceeds $400,000 ($450,000 if you're married filing jointly, $225,000 if married filing separately). If your income crosses that threshold, you'll also find that a new 20% maximum tax rate on long-term capital gain and qualifying dividends now generally applies (in prior years, the maximum rate was generally 15%).
You may also need to account for new taxes that took effect in 2013. If your wages exceeded $200,000 in 2013, you were subject to an additional 0.9% Medicare payroll tax--if the tax applied, you probably noticed the additional tax withheld from your paycheck. If you're married and file a joint tax return, the additional tax kicks in once the combined wages of you and your spouse exceed $250,000 (if you're married and file separate returns, the tax kicks in once your wages exceed $125,000). One thing to note is that the amount withheld may not accurately reflect the tax owed. That's because your employer calculates the withholding without regard to your filing status, or any other wages or self-employment income you may have received during the year. As a result, you may end up being entitled to a credit, or owing additional tax, when you do the calculations on your return.
And, if your adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeds $200,000 ($250,000 if married filing jointly, $125,000 if married filing separately), some or all of your net investment income may be subject to a 3.8% additional Medicare contribution tax on unearned income. Additionally, high-income taxpayers (e.g., individuals with AGIs greater than $250,000, married couples filing jointly with AGIs exceeding $300,000) may be surprised to see new limitations on itemized deductions, and a possible phaseout of personal and dependency exemptions.
New home office deduction rules
If you qualify to claim a home office deduction, starting with the 2013 tax year you can elect to use a new simplified calculation method. Under this optional method, instead of determining and allocating actual expenses, you simply multiply the square footage of your home office by $5. There's a cap of 300 square feet, so the maximum deduction you can claim under this method is $1,500. Not everyone can use the optional method, and there are some potential disadvantages, but for many the new simplified calculation method will be a welcome alternative.
Same-sex married couples
Same-sex couples legally married in jurisdictions that recognize same-sex marriage will be treated as married for all federal income tax purposes, even if the couple lives in a state that does not recognize same-sex marriage. If this applies to you, and you were legally married on December 31, 2013, you'll generally have to file your 2013 federal income tax return as a married couple--either married filing jointly, or married filing separately. This affects only your federal income tax return, however--make sure you understand your state's income tax filing requirements.
2013 IRA contributions--still time
You generally have until April 15 to contribute up to $5,500 ($6,500 if you're age 50 or older) to a traditional or Roth IRA for 2013. With a traditional IRA, you may be able to deduct your contribution (if you or your spouse are covered by an employer plan, your ability to deduct some or all of your contribution depends on your filing status and income). If you make contributions to a Roth IRA (your ability to contribute depends on your filing status and income) there's no immediate tax benefit, but qualified distributions you take in the future are completely free from federal income tax.
Filing for an extension
If you're not going to be able to file your federal income tax return by the due date, file for an extension using IRS Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time To File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return. Filing this extension gives you an additional six months (to October 15, 2014) to file your return. Don't make the mistake, though, of assuming that the extension gives you additional time to pay any taxes due. If you don't pay any taxes owed by April 15, 2014, you'll owe interest on the tax due, and you may owe penalties as well. Note that special rules apply if you're living outside the country or serving in the military outside the country on April 15, 2014.
2013 is the last year to take advantage of:
- Increased Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 179 expense limits ($500,000 maximum amount decreases to $25,000 in 2014) and "bonus" depreciation provisions
- The $250 above-the-line tax deduction for educator classroom expenses
- The ability to deduct mortgage insurance premiums as qualified residence interest
- The ability to deduct state and local sales tax in lieu of the itemized deduction for state and local income tax
- The deduction for qualified higher education expenses
- Qualified charitable distributions (QCDs), allowing individuals age 70½ or older to make distributions of up to $100,000 from an IRA directly to a qualified charity (distributions are excluded from income and count toward satisfying any required minimum distributions (RMDs) for the year)
Should You Roll Your 401(k) to an IRA?
If you're entitled to a distribution from your 401(k) plan (for example, because you've left your job, or you've reached age 59½), and it's rollover-eligible, you may be faced with a choice. Should you take the distribution and roll the funds over to an IRA, or should you leave your money where it is?
Across the universe
In contrast to a 401(k) plan, where your investment options are limited to those selected by your employer (typically mutual funds or employer stock), the universe of IRA investments is virtually unlimited. For example, in addition to the usual IRA mainstays (stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and CDs), an IRA can invest in real estate, options, limited partnership interests, or anything else the law (and your IRA trustee/custodian) allows.*
You can move your money among the various investments offered by your IRA trustee, and divide up your balance among as many of those investments as you want. You can also freely move your IRA dollars among different IRA trustees/custodians--there's no limit on how many direct, trustee-to-trustee IRA transfers you can do in a year. This gives you the flexibility to change trustees as often as you like if you're dissatisfied with investment performance or customer service. It also allows you to have IRA accounts with more than one institution for added diversification.
However, while IRAs typically provide more investment choices than a 401(k) plan, there may be certain investment opportunities in your employer's plan that you cannot replicate with an IRA. And also be sure to compare any fees and expenses.
Take it easy
The distribution options available to you and your beneficiaries in a 401(k) plan are typically limited. And some plans require that distributions start if you've reached the plan's normal retirement age (often age 65), even if you don't yet need the funds.
With an IRA, the timing and amount of distributions is generally at your discretion. While you'll need to start taking required minimum distributions (RMDs) from your IRA after you reach age 70½ (and your beneficiary will need to take RMDs after you die), those payments can generally be spread over your (and your beneficiary's) lifetime. (You aren't required to take any distributions from a Roth IRA during your lifetime, but your beneficiary must take RMDs after your death.) A rollover to an IRA may let you and your beneficiary stretch distributions out over the maximum period the law permits, letting your nest egg enjoy the benefits of tax deferral as long as possible.
The RMD rules also apply to 401(k) plans--but a special rule allows you to postpone taking distributions until you retire if you work beyond age 70½. (You also must own no more than 5% of the company.) This deferral opportunity is not available for IRAs.
Note: Distributions from 401(k)s and IRAs may be subject to federal income tax, and a 10% early distribution penalty (unless an exception applies). (Special rules apply to Roth 401(k)s and Roth IRAs.)
Your 401(k) plan may offer better creditor protection than an IRA. Assets in most 401(k) plans receive virtually unlimited protection from creditors under a federal law known as ERISA. Your creditors cannot attach your plan funds to satisfy any of your debts and obligations, regardless of whether you've declared bankruptcy. (Note: individual (solo) 401(k) plans and certain church plans are not covered by ERISA.)
In contrast, traditional and Roth IRAs are generally protected under federal law only if you declare bankruptcy. Federal law currently protects your total IRA assets up to $1,245,475 (as of April 1, 2013)--plus any amount you roll over from your 401(k) plan. Any creditor protection your IRA may receive in cases outside of bankruptcy will generally depend on the laws of your particular state. If you're concerned about asset protection, be sure to seek the assistance of a qualified professional.
Let's stay together
Another reason to roll your 401(k) funds over to an IRA is to consolidate your retirement assets. This may make it easier for you to monitor your investments and your beneficiary designations, and to make desired changes. However, make sure you understand how Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC) limits apply if you keep all your IRA funds in one financial institution.
Fools rush in
- While some 401(k) plans provide an annuity option, most still don't. By rolling your 401(k) assets over to an IRA annuity, you can annuitize all or part of your 401(k) dollars.
- Many 401(k) plans have loan provisions, but you can't borrow from an IRA. You can only access the money in an IRA by taking a distribution, which may be subject to income tax and penalties.
Are you ready to retire?
Here are some questions to ask yourself when deciding whether or not you are ready to retire.
Is your nest egg adequate?
It's obvious, but the earlier you retire, the less time you'll have to save, and the more years you'll be living off of your retirement savings. The average American can expect to live past age 78. (Source: CDC, "Deaths: Preliminary Data for 2011") With future medical breakthroughs likely, it's not unreasonable to assume that life expectancy will continue to increase. Is your nest egg large enough to fund 20 or more years of retirement?
When will you begin receiving Social Security benefits?
You can begin receiving Social Security retirement benefits as early as age 62. However, your benefit may be 25% to 30% less than if you waited until full retirement age (66 to 67, depending on the year you were born).
How will retirement affect your IRAs and employer retirement plans?
The longer you delay retirement, the longer you can build up tax-deferred funds in your IRAs--remember that you need compensation to contribute to an IRA. You'll also have a longer period of time to contribute to employer sponsored plans like 401(k)s--and to receive any employer match or other contributions. (If you retire early, you may forfeit any employer contributions in which you're not yet fully vested.)
Will you need health insurance?
Keep in mind that Medicare generally doesn't start until you're 65. Does your employer provide post-retirement medical benefits? Are you eligible for the coverage if you retire early? If not, you may have to look into COBRA or a private individual policy--which could be an expensive proposition.
Is phasing into retirement right for you?
Retirement need not be an all-or-nothing affair. If you're not quite ready, financially or psychologically, for full retirement, consider downshifting from full-time to part-time employment. This will allow you to retain a source of income and remain active and productive.
What is asset allocation?
Each type of investment has specific strengths and weaknesses that enable it to play a specific role in your overall investing strategy. Some investments may offer growth potential. Others may provide regular income or relative safety, or simply serve as a temporary place to park your money. And some investments may even serve to fill more than one role. Because you likely have multiple needs and desires, you probably need some combination of investment types, or asset classes.
Balancing how much of each asset class should be included in your portfolio is a critical task. That balance between growth, income, and safety is called your asset allocation, and it can help you manage the level and types of risks you face.
The combination of investments you choose can be as important as your specific investments. Your mix of various asset classes, such as stocks, bonds, and cash alternatives, generally accounts for most of the ups and downs of your portfolio's returns.
Ideally, your portfolio should have an overall combination of investments that minimizes the risk you take in trying to achieve a targeted rate of return. This often means balancing more conservative investments against others that are designed to provide a higher potential return but that also involve more risk. However, asset allocation doesn't guarantee a profit or eliminate the possibility of investment losses.
Someone living on a fixed income, whose priority is having a regular stream of money coming in, will probably need a very different asset allocation than a young, well-to-do working professional whose priority is saving for a retirement that's 30 years away. Even if two people are the same age and have similar incomes, they may have very different needs and goals, and your asset allocation should be tailored to your unique circumstances.
And remember, even if your asset allocation was right for you when you chose it, it may not be right for you now. It should change as your circumstances do and as new ways to invest are introduced. A piece of clothing you wore 10 years ago may not fit now; you just might need to update your asset allocation, too.