It’s important for divorcees to review and adjust their W-4 payroll withholding or start to make quarterly tax estimates following their divorce. Often, they are so relieved to have reached settlement, they fail to think about these housekeeping items. If divorced in 2018, this is especially important if transferring taxable spousal maintenance. The payor spouse can likely change their payroll withholding to increase their net income. The payee spouse will need to withhold additional tax dollars on their salary or make quarterly estimated tax payments, to account for taxes on the spousal maintenance payments received. If the payor spouse doesn’t adjust their W-4, they may not be able to meet their budget during the year and would probably receive a large tax refund when taxes are filed. If the payee spouse doesn’t adjust their W-4 or start quarterly estimated taxes, they could have a large tax liability when they file their return. Even if there isn’t taxable spousal maintenance, individuals still may need to adjust their withholding. Things that can impact taxes and often require an adjustment are a change in their filing status, pre- tax payroll deductions (retirement contributions, health savings account, health insurance premiums), and itemized deductions such as real estate taxes and mortgage interest. Making these adjustments now will help cash flow match what was projected during the divorce process and save the headache later of a tax surprise.
It is important to review and discuss tax planning for the year in which a divorce was completed, especially for high earning individuals who receive incentive compensation and plan to be divorced by December 31, 2018. As part of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, many tax law changes became effective in 2018. One change was to the flat tax rate that is withheld by companies on incentive income such as bonus income, commission income, exercised stock options, and vested restricted stock. As of January 2018, the federal rate changed from 25% to 22%. The Minnesota state rate remains the same at 6.25%. Most highly compensated individuals have marginal tax rates above 22%, so tax on the above income types is under-withheld. To avoid an unpleasant tax surprise come April 15th, be sure to address this potential additional tax liability and come up with a plan to handle it. Some options to consider are:
- Estimate the tax liability now and include and allocate it as part of the property division.
- Include language to share in the tax liability when return(s) are filed next year.
- Consider whether it makes sense to load-up itemized deductions from the year to the higher earning spouse to help offset liability (i.e. real estate taxes, mortgage interest, charitable contributions).
When a joint investment account is divided, the financial institute will use only one Social Security number to report the earnings and thus only one 1099 will be issued for that account. For example, following their divorce, Dick and Jane divided their joint investment account and transferred their own share into an individual investment account solely in their own name, on November 1st. If the “primary” Social Security number on the joint account is Dick’s, he will receive one 1099 for the joint account earnings earned from January 1st– October 31st and a second 1099 for the individual account earnings earned on his individual account from November 1st – December 31st. And, Jane will receive only one 1099 for the individual account earnings earned on her individual account from November 1st – December 31st. If the goal is to share the tax liability for the joint investment account earnings, this can be accomplished in a few ways.
- The tax liability is projected during the divorce process and an adjustment is worked into the property division.
- The spouse who received the 1099 adds the investment income to their tax return and language is added to the decree outlining the agreement on how to share the tax liability at tax filing time.
- The spouse who received the 1099 can “nominee”the correct portion of investment income to the other spouse by filing a 1099 and 1096 with the IRS and furnishing a 1099 to the other spouse.
Once you have completed your divorce, the list of things to figure out can be daunting. It can be easy to push off those things that don’t seem to affect your daily routine. Some of those things that you have been putting off are likely financial – a lump sum distribution from the divorce just sitting in cash, a 401(k) in need of rollover or perhaps a credit card balance that never seems to get any smaller. It’s time to make understanding your financial situation part of the process of building a new life. The longer you wait, the greater likelihood that your inaction will impact your long-term financial success. If you don’t know where to start, then it may be a good idea to seek out the assistance of a financial planner. While financial planners may have specialties, the financial planning process is fairly standard for all planners. At the core of the financial planning processes is evaluating your financial needs and goals, and helping you take steps toward meeting those needs and goals. The general steps to the financial planning process are as follows: 1. Determining your financial goals What are you looking to achieve? Do you need to invest that cash in your savings account or rollover a 401(k)? Do you need to figure out how you are going to pay for your child’s college education? Do you need to get a firm handle on your expenses and cash flow? (budgeting) 2. Gathering your information If you have recently completed your divorce, this step should be easy. For your divorce, you needed to collect all of your financial information. You can just pass this information on to a financial planner (bank, retirement, and investment statements, liabilities (credit cards, car loan, mortgage), and your income information, such as a pay stub and a tax return. A copy of your divorce decree also provides pertinent information. 3. Analyzing your information The financial planner will stitch together all of the financial documents in your life to create a picture of your financial situation. 4. Creating your financial plan A financial plan lays out your financial goals and your financial situation. From there, your financial planner will work with you to create a plan of action for meeting your financial goals, based on your financial situation. 5. Implementing your financial plan Your financial plan is going to be a little different from everyone else’s plan. Implementation of a financial plan can take many forms as well. It may involve reallocating your portfolio, setting up a program to save for college, purchasing insurance, or creating a budget. 5. Monitoring the progress of your financial plan In the stock market and life, things happen, situations change. Financial plans are not engraved in stone, never to be changed. They have to be flexible to adapt to the changes that happen in the financial markets and in life. While the financial planning process is fairly standard across the industry, the financial products and solutions recommended by financial planners are not. Much like your physical health, if you are not sure if the recommended products or plan of action are best for your financial health, seek a second opinion. You are more likely to be committed to following a financial plan if you understand the financial products in your portfolio and are certain that your financial planner has put your interests first.
Stocks, bonds, mutual funds, annuities, chances are you own a couple of these financial instruments and possibly all of them in your portfolio. Wouldn’t it be nice if someone clearly explained what they are and why you should invest in them? Let’s see if we can get the basics of stocks straight in less than 5 minutes. Stocks When you own stock in a company you are a part owner of that company. Stock (also called equities) are sold in units called shares. Each share of stock in a company represents a fractional ownership in that company. Since most well-known companies have issued millions of shares their stock, each share represents a very small fraction of the overall ownership in that company. An owner of stock (called a stockholder or shareholder) is entitled to a portion of the company’s profits if the company’s board of directors decides to distribute them. Profits that are distributed are called dividends. Dividends tend to be distributed on a quarterly basis. Not all companies distribute their profits to the stockholders. Young fast growing companies, in particular, usually choose to reinvest their profits in expanding business operations. Older established companies with few opportunities to grow their business, utility companies for example, tend to distribute a large portion of their profits in the form of dividends. In situations where the company is sold or liquidated, shareholders will receive a cut of the net sale proceeds. All the company’s creditors get paid before this happens including employees, suppliers, creditors and even Uncle Sam when taxes are owed. The chance that there will be nothing left after everyone else gets paid is one of the intrinsic risks to stock ownership. There are two ways to make money from owning stock – the cash flow from dividends and capital gains. If a stockholder sells their shares for more than the purchase price they make a profit called a capital gain. The value of a company’s stock rises and falls based on the performance of the company and the outlook for the economy as a whole. If a company is successful, such that its business is expanding then people will want to buy its stock to get in on the growth potential. If the overall economy is expected to grow, this is expected to benefit many companies as well. Companies tend to report on the performance of their business on a quarterly basis which can greatly impact the stock value. In between those quarterly reports the stock value is more influenced by the constant stream of reports about the state of the economy. Companies are limited by the government as to how much and how often they can issue stock. Once they issue a share of stock, that stock is bought and sold on a stock exchanges such as the New York Stock Exchange or the NASDAQ Stock Exchange. Actual physical stock is rarely exchanged anymore; brokerage accounts are electronically credited or debited for the purchase or sale of stock. Companies contract with a transfer agent to keep track of the constant changes in the ownership of their stock. Five minutes are almost up so let me just say that stock ownership is a good way to grow wealth but it must be done with a view to the long term. Stocks prices can fluctuate greatly in times of economic upheaval so it is not a place for putting saving for a near-term purchase. Over the long term though, stocks have always rebounded and rewarded the patient investor.
For many, a significant portion of their post-divorce assets consist of a part of their former spouse’s company-sponsored retirement account. In order to split a company retirement account, the plan administrator of the pension, 401(k), 403(b) or other company retirement account requires a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) or Domestic Relations Order (DRO). A QDRO or DRO is typically drafted by an attorney and signed by a judge. It directs the retirement plan administrator to divide the retirement account between you and your former spouse, in the manner specified by your divorce decree. Once the QDRO has been approved by the plan administrator, they will transfer your portion of the retirement account into a new account in your name, within the same plan. You will also receive information on how to cash out the account and have a check sent to you (a taxable event) or rollover the account into an Individual Retirement Plan (IRA) or another retirement plan in your name (a non-taxable event). A QDRO differs from a DRO in that it contains specific wording that is required under Internal Revenue Code and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) to divide a retirement account such as a 401(k) and 403(b). It is advisable to contact the plan administrator to obtain their QDRO model language before your attorney drafts the QDRO. Most company retirement plans have a template containing the language required to be included in a QDRO. DROs are more generic and do not contain the specific wording of a QDRO. Certain retirement plans (referred to as non-qualified plans), that do not fall under the ERISA jurisdiction, can be divided with a DRO. Note that a non-company IRA (e.g. Traditional IRA, Roth IRA, SEP IRA) does not require a DRO or a QDRO to be divided, but will require a letter of instruction detailing how the account is to be divided, along with a certified copy of the divorce decree. Typically, if you draw money out of a retirement account covered by ERISA early (prior to age 55 for a 401(k) or 59.5 for a 403(b)), you will be required to pay taxes AND a 10% penalty. However, in a divorce situation, if you were awarded money via a QDRO, you have the opportunity to take money out of a company retirement plan covered by ERISA, without the 10% penalty. Note that this withdrawal is considered taxable income and thus is subject to a mandatory 20% withholding for federal taxes and possibly state taxes too. It is very important to follow the process carefully when doing this; I highly suggest working closely with your financial planner or tax advisor. Lastly, keep in mind that dividing a company retirement account takes time. The QDRO model language needs to be obtained from the retirement plan administrator, forwarded to an attorney to draft the QDRO, which is then submitted to the retirement plan administrator for approval and division.