tax imageIt’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.
TaxAs we move into 2019, it’s helpful to know contribution limits and Social Security changes. Individual Retirement Accounts: The annual contribution limits for traditional and Roth IRA’s have increased to $6,000, a boost of $500 over 2018 contribution limits. The catch-up contribution limit for those age 50 and older remains at $1,000. 401(k)s: The annual contribution limits for 401(k)’s, 403(b)’s, most 457 plans, and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan have increased to $19,000, a boost of $500 over 2018 contribution limits. The catch-up contribution limit for employees age 50 or older in these plans stays at $6,000 for 2019. SIMPLE IRA: The limit for SIMPLE IRA’s goes up from $12,500 in 2018 to $13,000 in 2019. The catch-up limit remains the same at $3,000 for those age 50 and older.  Health Savings Accounts: The “self-only” annual contribution limit will increase from $3,450 to $3,500 and the “family” annual contribution limit will increase from $6,900 to $7,000 in 2019. Social Security Updates:
  • Beneficiaries will see a 2.8% increase in payments
  • Maximum taxable earnings will increase to $132,900
  • Maximum benefit at full retirement age increases to $2,861 per month
clockIt 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).
Checklist and pen 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 nomineethe 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.
house for sale When divorcing, whether one spouse stays in the family home is often a pivotal decision.  For most, there are several considerations that go into deciding whether to sell or stay.  The tax impact of selling the marital home is unlikely to be at the top of that list, but with home values on the rise, it is worth understanding. The current tax rules are quite favorable to people realizing a gain on the sale of their home.  The IRS allows each taxpayer to avoid paying capital gains tax on the first $250,000 of capital gain on the sale of one’s residence. That means that a taxpayer filing “single” could exempt the first $250,000. A couple filing “married filing jointly” can avoid paying taxes on $500,000 in gains.  The capital gains tax on a $250,000 gain can range from $0 to about $75,000 so it is worth it for divorcing couple to make sure they cover this in their divorce arrangements. To qualify for the exemption, the IRS requires that the home meet the principal residence test, which is based on ownership, use and timing. For ownership, you need to have lived in the home for at least 2 years, (24 full months) in the 5 years before the sale.  These 24 months do not need to be continuous.  The use criteria require that the home be your principal residence for those 24 months.  This can be an issue if one spouse was employed in another city, where they kept a second residence. One spouse meets the use test, but the other does not.  Finally, the timing criteria requires that you have not excluded the gain on the sale of another home in the past 2 years. Tax law gives divorcing couples some leeway in these criteria. Transfer of home ownership between divorcing spouses is not considered to be a taxable event by the IRS. If ownership is not transferred during the divorce, detailing the home ownership arrangement in the divorce decree is key to minimizing taxes when selling the home later.  An ex-spouse that continues to be an owner of the home but does not live there, can still use the exclusion if there is written documentation in the decree that lays out this arrangement. Dealing with home decisions during the divorce can be a complex.  Be sure that in your home decision analysis, you are clear on your tax implications! And keep in mind that cabins, vacation homes and investment real estate generally will not meet the principal residence test, so they may have tax consequences when sold. For a comprehensive review of your personal situation, always consult with a tax or legal advisor. Neither Cetera Advisor Networks LLC nor any of its representatives may give legal or tax advice.
tightropeBeing a single parent demands so much of a person’s time and energy that taking care of longer-term financial concerns often take a back seat. So many single parents face financial restrictions that make it seem they are constantly on a financial tightrope. Getting off that tightrope and onto solid financial ground should be a priority for every single parent. Finding solid financial ground starts with determining your financial goals and monthly cash flow. Determine your financial goals  The first step on the path to a more secure financial future is to determine your financial goals. Your financial goals should include short-term, medium-term and long-term goals. Short-term goals may be to reduce spending and not rely on credit cards to make it to the next paycheck. Medium-term goals could be paying off your credit card(s) and creating an emergency fund. Long-term goals may be saving for your children’s college expenses and retirement. Figure out your cash flow  All of your financial goals require one thing – saving money. To do so, you need to figure out how much you spend and then create a budget that incorporates saving. Tracking your spending can be pretty easy these days with online account aggregators like To better understand your spending habits when using credit cards, you may need to go old school and save the receipts to review your purchases.  This is particularly helpful if much of your shopping happens at Walmart, Target or Costco, where your shopping cart could include groceries, video games and clothes. One way or another, figure out how much of your spending is essential and how much is unnecessary spur of the moment buys. Create a budget that accurately matches your essential spending and replaces most of your unnecessary spending with savings. Be mindful of not only what you buy, but also how you buy it. Using high interest credit cards are an impediment to meeting your financial goals. Paying off high interest credit cards is a financial goal that improves the odds of meeting your other financial goals. Save the tax-free way  Tax-deferred investment accounts such as Investment Retirement Accounts (IRAs) for retirement and college-funding accounts, such as 529 accounts, are a good way to meet those long-term goals. These accounts often can be opened with a couple hundred dollars. Setting up automatic monthly contributions from your bank account to these accounts can be done for amounts as low as $25. Both types of accounts grow without being taxed until the money is withdrawn. For 529 accounts, there will be no taxes if the withdrawals are spent on qualifying college expenses. Figuring out your budget shouldn’t be a chore done after the kids are in bed. It should be a family project. Developing good financial habits that lead to meeting financial goals is an essential skill that all parents should share with their children.
104626001-hand-operating-paper-shredder-gettyimagesIt will really help your efforts to organize your financial affairs if you know how long you need to keep statements or documents. A survey by Consumer Reports showed that only 40% of respondents thought that they could find a document at a moment’s notice. Only a slightly larger percentage (49%) thought they could find it after looking for a while. An organized and efficient filing system that only holds the necessary documents will go a long way toward removing the stress of keeping track of your financial assets. There are certain essential documents that you should hold onto for the rest of your life – birth certificate, death certificates, marriage license, divorce decree, adoption agreement, military service records and social security card all fall into this category. You should keep the originals for these important documents in a safe place. A safety deposit box tops the list for safety, but is not always the most practical option. Documents that you may use often, such as your social security card, would best be kept elsewhere (in your wallet though is the least desirable location). The best option if you don’t have a safety deposit box, is to purchase a water-proof, fire-proof lockbox or small safe. Other documents that deserve storing in a safety deposit box or lockbox include your most recent estate documents (wills, power of attorney and trust documents), titles to property, savings bonds, and an inventory (with photos) of your significant household assets. Make sure that you make a list of the documents in your safety deposit box or lock box, along with instructions on how to get access to those documents. Give the list and instructions to those who are responsible for taking care of your affairs if something happens to you. Keep your tax returns for 7 years. Keep any documents that are connected to your tax return for the same period, such as the bill of sale for property listed on the return. Also keep your year-end investment statements for as long as you own the investments, and then for 3 additional years after the investments have been sold. Keep the year-end reports from banks and credit card companies for 5 years, and then for 3 additional years after closing the account. The only reason to keep monthly bill statements or credit card bills after paying them is to help you keep track of your budget. Most of this information can be found online if needed also. Shredding is the best way to dispose of statements and make sure that your personal information does not fall into the hands of identity thieves. Properly securing essential documents in a safe place, creating files for property and tax related documents and shredding nonessential documents will go a long way towards clearing the clutter that is blocking you from gaining control over your financial situation.
As part of organizing your financial affairs following a divorce, you should also make preparations for your financial affairs after your death. Planning your estate is an essential part of getting one’s financial matters in order at any point in life, but divorce opens up some interesting issues with estate planning. Minnesota state law has dealt with divorce and the validity of estate documents made while married in an interesting manner. Minnesota statutes Section 524.2-804 states that if a divorced person’s most current will was completed while still married it will be applied as if the ex-spouse died immediately prior to the divorce.  The ramifications are that a will remaining from a failed marriage will be applied as if both ex-spouses have died.  The property then passes on to the contingent beneficiaries, such as children and siblings.  Furthermore, the Minnesota statutes state that the dissolution of marriage also revokes any assignment of fiduciary or representative capacity on the ex-spouse, such as serving as executor, trustee, conservator or guardian. Minnesota lawmakers appreciated the importance of estate planning. The approach these statutes take is to recognize the divorce, but keep the estate documents partially in-force. Nonetheless, while Minnesota law has stepped in to ensure that your ex-spouse does not inherit your property, it has left your estate plan with a lot of question marks. If your ex-spouse is not your executor who is? That is why it is imperative to create a new set of estate documents soon after your divorce, which revokes the estate documents made while you were married.  There is a good chance that there are other people besides your ex-spouse named in the estate documents from your marriage, that you would prefer to change. Do you really want your ex-spouse’s brother handling your financial affairs? So many people delay estate planning because they don’t want to think about their death. The fact is, estate planning is more about your assets, your family and your friends. It is an opportunity to think about how you would like your assets distributed to reflect the new you and your wishes.  There is also peace-of-mind that comes from knowing you have made arrangements so that your death doesn’t cause your family any more stress than it has to.  In coming blogs, we will discuss the important aspects of estate planning in more depth, so that you can tackle the process with an appreciation of the gift this can be for your loved ones.
200150399-001As another tax season comes to a close, there are people all over the country digging through shoe boxes and file cabinets trying to meet their tax accountants’ request for cost basis information on an investment they sold last year. Hundreds of thousands of tax returns are moments away from being filed if only the taxpayer could find that elusive cost basis information. So what is cost basis, why is it so important, and why can’t anyone ever find it? At its simplest, cost basis is the purchase price you paid for an investment or piece of property. More than that, it also includes the expenses that went directly into the purchase including commissions, trade fees, appraisal and legal expenses. Cost basis can also grow over time due to reinvested dividends on mutual funds or if you made significant improvements to your property. When you sell an investment or property, cost basis is vital for figuring out if you made or lost money on the sale. The IRS wants to know your gain on the sale and expects you to pay taxes on it. If you lost money on an investment, it is important to report that as well. The loss will almost always be subtracted from your gains on other investment sales thereby lowering your tax bill. The IRS puts the responsibility for keeping track of cost basis on the owner of the investment or property. Maintaining good records on investments in particular seems to be impossible for all but the most organized. With the blizzard of paperwork that the investment company sends aren’t they keeping track of this? Yes and no. Prior to 2011, the investment companies kept track of your cost basis but they were under no obligation to transfer that information if you transferred your assets to a new investment company. Statements at your new investment company would only reflect the cost basis of investments purchased through them. As of 2011, all investment companies are required to transfer the cost basis information when transferring assets. Unfortunately, if an account has been moved a couple times prior to 2011, the cost basis of some assets is only known if the owner still has the records of the original purchase. Anyone one with a brokerage account (not an IRA which gets taxed differently) or investment properties needs to keep good records of their purchases and related expenses. While investment companies are finally doing their part, it will be years before all the investments purchased before 2011 with missing cost basis information are sold and people can throw out those shoeboxes of old statements. For anyone splitting up assets in a divorce, it is important to get the cost basis information during the divorce process. Make sure to get a statement of any investment account being split. Also make sure to get all the expense receipts for any investment properties that are being transferred. If you get this information during the divorce, you don’t have to go asking for it later only to find that the statements got thrown out during moving or mysteriously “disappeared”.
116029268-charity-donation-form-gettyimagesThe holiday season is when many people do a significant portion of their charitable giving for the year. Once you have decided which charitable organization to support and how much, you should also consider how to give that support. What I am getting at is that you can be charitable and tax-savvy by donating highly appreciated stock. Donating a highly appreciated stock or mutual fund is a great strategy for getting rid of an investment that you have been holding because you do not want to pay the capital gains tax. The beauty of donating “in-kind” some or all of a security holding is that you get the full charitable deduction without paying the capital gains tax. “In-kind” means that the investment is not sold, but is transferred as-is to the charity instead. This way you do not have to pay the capital gains tax, because you did not sell the investment. The charity will likely sell the investment to meet their funding needs, but as a non-profit organization, they pay no tax on the sale. The catch is that you have to have owned highly appreciated investment for more than one year. If you transfer an investment that you have owned for less than one year, you can only deduct your original cost in the investment and not the appreciation! Of course this strategy is a bit more complicated than writing a check. You will need to obtain account information from the charity as to where to transfer the highly appreciated investment. You will then need to contact you investment broker and direct them to transfer the investment to the charity’s account. It is not difficult though; most charities are more than happy to help and it is something that investment brokers handle for their client on a regular basis. The transfer has to occur by December 31st to qualify as a current year contribution. You cannot donate investments that have lost value and deduct their higher original cost. If your donation totals more than $250, the donation must be recorded – meaning that the charity must send you a written statement describing the donation and its value. You or your tax preparer will also need to fill out and include Form 8283 Noncash Charitable Contributions in your tax return, listing information about the charity and investment contributed. Despite the extra work, donating highly appreciated stocks or mutual funds can be a win-win for you and the charity. This holiday season think about sharing some of your investment success with your favorite charity instead of with the IRS in April.