Borrowing From a 401(k) Plan

Dear Garden State Trust:

I’m going to buy a new car.  Can I borrow money from my 401(k) plan for this purpose?

—Trading Up

Dear Trading Up:

If you do borrow from your 401(k), you will have lots of company.  According to a new national survey from the Profit Sharing Council of America, 25.8% of plan participants had loans outstanding in the most recent reporting year (2016), a level that has held fairly steady over the last ten years.  The average reported loan per borrower has fallen somewhat in recent years, now standing at $8,042.

Whether your plan administrator will approve a loan for a new car is an open question.  Generally, such loans are supposed to be for sudden, unexpected financial needs. Still, the requirements for granting a loan are usually less stringent than for plan withdrawals.  Years ago one plan administrator told us that the number one reason for granting participant loan requests should be “because they asked for it—it’s their money, after all.”

Just because you can do it does not make it a good idea.  When you borrow money from your 401(k) account, you have less money in the market, growing to meet your retirement needs.  That deficit can be hard to overcome in future years. Most financial advisors recommend that borrowing from a 401(k) account to meet current ordinary expenses (such as a car) should be a last resort.

Do you have a question concerning wealth management or trusts?  Send your inquiry to contact@gstrustco.com

(April 2018)
© 2018 M.A. Co.  All rights reserved.

Spring Cleaning

The winter is finally over, and with spring comes new fragrances and pollens outside. To fully embrace the new season, some decide to clean their homes inside as well, moving everything and doing a full clean and assessment of what should be kept or thrown out.

We collect treasures over our lifetimes that represent memories, and letting go of those treasures can be hard.

A recent article from the Journal of Gerontology: Series B, titled “The Material Convoy after 50” discusses how people divest themselves of possessions as they age. The article can be found here.

David J. Ekerdt and Lindsey A. Baker through analysis of data from a national panel conclude that “After age 50, people are progressively less likely to divest themselves of belongings. After age 70, about 30% of persons say that they have done nothing in the past year to clean out, give away, or donate things, and over 80% have sold nothing.”

Although the authors suggest that with a larger set of possessions, “their continued keeping can be a predicament for oneself and others,” they explore many reasons why less is divested as we age.  The reasons they bring up that we find compelling are:

  1. The longer we live, the more possessions we accumulate that signify our identity and “The ongoing collection of belongings can secure continuity of the self in the face of aging and vulnerability.”
  2. As we age, we feel less up to the task of assessing value and divesting where there isn’t any: “a major reason for less possession management is the rising risk of poor health at older ages that can limit the capacity to carry out the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional tasks of divestment.”
  3. We’ve divested already: “Most obviously, people may have already divested (perhaps by having moved) and so are content with their collection of belongings.”

At Garden State Trust Company, we deal with inter-generational wealth transfer and help people make the transition easier for their beneficiaries. Here are some questions to consider when you’re deciding if something should be kept for a beneficiary:

In regard to pragmatic value: Have I used this possession in the last five years? Would any of my beneficiaries use this possession, or do they have something already that replicates it’s use they prefer?

In-Law Protection

Dear Garden State Trust:

I have two grown children, both married.  One couple is financially secure; the other is less so.  Candidly, I don’t trust the spouse of my child who is struggling.  Is there something I can do to keep that child’s inheritance from the spouse’s hands?  How do I treat the children differently without provoking a family feud?  

— Discriminating Parent

Dear Discriminating:

The best way to protect an inheritance is by using a trust, giving the beneficiary a financial resource instead of financial assets.  The trust may distribute income to the beneficiary each year but include restrictions on principal distributions.  For example, the trust might be invaded for medical or education expenses, or to purchase a home, or upon reaching certain milestones.  The trust beneficiaries may be limited to your descendants, excluding sons-in-law and daughters-in-law.

The terms of a trust are not normally made public, but are known only to the creator of the trust, the trustee and the beneficiaries.  Accordingly, if you have two trusts for your two children, you may provide different restrictions for each.  They don’t have to be told about the differences.

Do you have a question concerning wealth management or trusts?  Send your inquiry to contact@gstrustco.com

© M.A. Co.  All rights reserved.

Elusive Treasures

St. Patrick’s day brings to mind the Irish legend of the pot of gold guarded by a leprechaun at the end of the rainbow. The pot of gold is simply unreachable because its location changes as soon as the treasure hunter’s location changes to investigate. The refracted light on water droplets that creates the rainbow effect is replaced with a different rainbow effect with even a single step towards it.

Perhaps there is some gold at the end of the proverbial rainbow, just waiting to be found. In the style of uncovering and cracking a code in Dan Brown’s novels, here are two interesting treasure hunts that Americans are undertaking to find gold:

  1. The Beale Cipher. There was a pamphlet sold in 1885 containing three ciphers, with one decoded that described the treasure, including gold coins buried in Virginia (estimated value of $43 million). The other two ciphers described the location and heirs for the treasure that was allegedly buried in 1820. Many attempts have been made to break the cipher, but none with recognized success to date. Several books and TV shows have mentioned the topic. Want to try to crack the code? It can be found on Wikipedia here.

Perhaps it’s real, or perhaps a ploy to sell pamphlets to eager treasure hunters.

  1. The Fenn Treasure. Noted millionaire author Forrest Fenn allegedly has hidden a treasure box of gold coins in the Rocky Mountains worth over $1 million, with the clues to find it buried in his book, The Thrill Of The Chase. The mountains can be dangerous, and Fenn has reportedly urged caution upon seekers. He suggested that the treasure is not hidden in a dangerous place, because it must be somewhere an 80-year-old man can access. Nevertheless, four hopefuls have lost their lives since the book was published, as they have been identified by authorities to be seekers of Fenn’s treasure.

Perhaps it’s real, or perhaps a ploy to sell books to eager treasure hunters.

At Garden State Trust Company, we’ll stick with focusing on a reasoned and conservative approach to building and preserving wealth for our clients rather than chasing rainbows or buried treasure.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Roth Conversions

Dear Garden State Trust Company:

Last year I converted my traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. However, now that I see the income tax that will be due, I’m not so sure it was a great idea. Can I change my mind?

—Second Thoughts

Dear Second:

You have until October 15, 2018, to recharacterize your 2017 Roth IRA conversion, to turn it back into a traditional IRA.

But that option is not available for conversions for 2018 and later years.

The tax reform legislation enacted last December changed the rules for Roth conversions from traditional IRAs, SEPs and SIMPLE plans. After January 1, 2018, such conversions are irrevocable once made. The legislative language was ambiguous, and some exeprts were concerned that it might retroactively affect 2017 conversions as well.

In January the IRS issued a clarifying Q&A on the subject. The new law does not apply to 2017 conversions, so you are free to reverse course.

Do you have a question concerning wealth management or trusts? Send your inquiry to contact@gstrustco.com.

© 2018 M.A. Co. All rights reserved.

Think Hard Before Tapping Your 401(k) Balance

One of the features that make 401(k) plans so attractive is that your money is not completely out of reach should an emergency need arise. Most plans allow for loans that are completely tax free if repaid as agreed. (Interest payments will be required, but they will be credited to the account.)  In a major emergency, a hardship withdrawal may be permitted, subject to income tax and, usually, a 10% penalty as well.

Borrow?

At first glance 401(k) loans may look particularly appealing. After all, you make those payments of principal and interest to yourself. However, if the interest that you pay is less than your borrowed dollars would have earned in the plan, you will slow the growth of your retirement nest egg. Moreover, you pay with after-tax dollars—replacing your original tax-deferred contributions.

Loans must be repaid in no more that five years. (Fifteen-year terms are allowed for loans to purchase a home.) If you leave your job before a loan is repaid, you’ll have to pay it off, or the open balance will be considered a premature withdrawal subject to income tax and penalty.

Potentially more serious yet, the burden of loan payments may make it impossible to continue your 401(k) contributions.

Withdraw?

It’s not easy to make a hardship withdrawal from your 401(k) account. You must show an “immediate and heavy financial need” for: medical expenses not covered by insurance; the purchase of a principal residence; postsecondary tuition; or to avoid eviction from or foreclosure on a principal residence. Many plans also include funeral and child support expenses. You also must show that you have no other resources reasonably available to meet these costs. This means that you first must fail to qualify for a plan loan. Once you take a hardship withdrawal, you will be barred from contributing to your plan for at least 12 months.

Pay now or pay later

To examine the effect of these options, let us compare the long-term results for Nancy Needful, a hypothetical 35-year old worker with a $30,000 balance in her 401(k) plan. Nancy contributes $150 monthly to her account. Faced with a sudden emergency need for $10,000, Nancy has three options.  Nancy can:

  1. Take a loan of $10,000 from her plan at an 8% interest rate and cease making contributions until the loan is repaid in five years, making monthly payments of $202.76, and resuming her $150 contribution after five years.
  2. Make a hardship withdrawal of $12,500 to provide the cash that she needs and cover her income tax and penalty, resuming her participation in the plan after one year.
  3. Obtain a $10,000 advance on an inheritance, continuing her participation in the plan.

Here’s how those choices will play out:

The long-range cost of raising $10,000
Reduced plan accumulations

 At age 55At age 60At age 65
Loan$199,384$310,352$470,186
Withdrawal$166,609$259,317$397,437
Advance$236,007$362,709$551,476

As we see, by taking the advance on her inheritance and continuing plan contributions, earning a moderate 8% return (high today, but average in the long term) on her investments, Nancy ends up at age 65 with 17.4% more than if she had taken the loan and fully 38.8% more than with the withdrawal.

The lesson: tapping into your retirement plan assets should be your very last resort.

© 2018 M.A. Co. All rights reserved.
Any developments occurring after January 1, 2018, are not reflected in this article.

Lavish Gifts and Sudden Wealth

Some call Valentine’s Day an excuse to spend money, and with over 15 billion dollars spent each year for the last five years, it’s not very hard to see why.

According to the National Retail Federation, the top five gifts that were planned last year were: candy, greeting cards, an evening out, flowers, and jewelry. While jewelry ranks last on that list of five in percentage of givers (19%), it ranks #1 in terms of dollars spent ($4.4 billion). Click here to see more details from their survey.

What might the affluent or very wealthy be buying? We can’t know for sure, but here’s something in each of the categories that might fit the bill:

Candy: High-priced chocolate. At www.toakchocolate.com, one might be able to have a chocolate experience like no other since they trace the lineage of their cocoa trees back 5300 years to the first that were ever domesticated. Starting at $270 for a 50 gram bar.

Greeting Cards: Sending a card could be sending a piece of art: At www.GildedAgeGreetings.com, you can do just that and order a artisan’s hand-crafted Valentines day card for your loved one. The cards have limited editions, and start at $395.

An Evening out: Elton John announced last month that he’s retiring after his final 2018-19 tour. Unfortunately none of the venues are in NJ, but one could take a sweetheart to hear Sir Elton sing “can you feel the love tonight” at Madison Square Garden in October. Ticket price at this writing was starting at $343 per ticket.

Flowers: How about real roses that will last from one Valentine’s Day to the next? Called the “Eternity DE Venus™ – Square”, these real roses will last a whole year without watering or maintenance. A small square starts at $299, has 16 roses, and can be purchased online here: https://www.venusetfleur.com

Jewelry: Though not a Valentine’s Day gift, Edward McLean and his bride Evalyn bought “The Star of the East” as a wedding present. It is a 94.8-carat diamond, which cost $11.9 million.

Speaking of huge diamonds, last month the fifth largest diamond in the world was discovered in Lesotho. Analysts’ project it could be worth over $40 million.

Not surprisingly, finding a huge diamond isn’t the most common source of sudden or new wealth. Lump sum distribution of retirement benefits, insurance settlements, inheritance, or the sale of a business or investment real estate can create large sums of money for talented people who may not have experience with wealth management.

We can provide that experience and explain whether a trust could be useful.

Timing Your Passing

It’s never a “good year” to die; however, if you live in New Jersey and made it to 2018 with a sizable estate, it’s possible your estate’s tax exposure just fell considerably.

The amount exempt from the federal estate and gift tax had been scheduled to rise to $5.6 million so as to take into account inflation since 2011. With the tax legislation signed on December 22nd 2017, the exemption doubles, to $11.2 million in 2018. Should both partners of a married couple die in 2018, the exemption potentially could shield $22.4 million. However, the higher exemption expires in 2026.

Additionally, New Jersey finished phasing out its state estate tax completely for deaths after January 1st 2018. We still have an inheritance tax, so that’s something to consider depending on the relationship the beneficiary or transferee has to the decedent.  For the most part, no tax will be due if the beneficiary will be a spouse, parent, grandparent, or child (relationship defined as Class A). However, brothers, sisters, and more distant transferees may face an inheritance tax.

Click here for a chart of what the tax rates will be for 2018.

Click here to see which class someone would belong to.

Consider gifting

A program of tax-free annual gifts (up to $15,000 per beneficiary in 2018, $30,000 per couple) can be an easy and effective method for reducing future estate taxes. For example, grandparents with three children and seven grandchildren can give up to $300,000 to their descendants every year, or $1.5 million in just five years.

If the transferees or beneficiary are not as closely related, so that they would fall into class C, or class D, a gifting strategy could help avoid the New Jersey inheritance tax, but only if the gifts are not “death-bed gifts”. Under New Jersey law, any gift made within three years of death is presumed made “in contemplation of death”, and would have the inheritance tax applied as a death-bed gift. So this strategy should be started early on.

Should you worry?

It’s been estimated that perhaps only 1,000 estates nationwide will pay the federal estate tax in 2018. However, the higher exemption expires in 2026, and some politicians already have announced an intention to reduce the exemption should they come into power.

Estate plans will need to remain flexible as tax laws change.

The greatest reason to have an estate plan is still to decrease hardship for the beneficiaries, reduce arguments and fights, and clarify your preferences for how your property should be distributed.

Our Professionals at Garden State Trust Company

We have experience dealing with the problems and pitfalls of families’ wealth management and transfer. Our staff is sensitive to the types of issues that could arise, and would be glad to speak with you about how to best achieve your goals.

Click here to schedule a meeting.

Review Estate Plans in 2018

Dear Garden State Trust Company:

I heard that the exemption from the federal estate tax has doubled. What does this mean for my estate plans?

—Following Up

Dear Following:

Whenever there is a major change in the federal taxation of estates and gifts, that moment is a good one for the review of estate plans already in place. In most cases, nothing will need to be changed, but sometimes adjustments will be in order.

The amount exempt from federal estate tax is now $11.2 million per taxpayer (so $22.4 million for a married couple). That means the federal estate tax becomes a remote concern for the overwhelming majority of Americans. However, this increase expires in 2026, when we go back to something in the $5+ million neighborhood (depending upon inflation).

Families with fortunes that may be vulnerable to the federal estate tax will want to look into lifetime transfers to capture the enlarged exemption from federal gift tax.

Families whose fortune never is likely to cross the $5 million line still will need to answer these questions:

Do you live in a state that still imposes death taxes (that is, estate or inheritance tax)? If so, the taxable threshold is likely far below the federal one.

Does your will or trust include a formula clause that refers to the amount exempt from federal estate tax? If so, the interpretation of that clause has now been called into question.

Have there been any changes of circumstances that render your estate plan less than optimal? Have there been any births, or any deaths or divorces, that should be taken into account? Have any asset values changed dramatically, so that specific bequests no longer match earlier intentions?

Are the beneficiary designations on nonprobate property (life insurance, retirement plans and the like) correct? Neglected beneficiary designations have been the source of many a lawsuit over an estate.

You should plan to meet with your estate planning advisors in the first quarter of 2018.

Do you have a question concerning wealth management or trusts? Send your inquiry to contact@gstrustco.com.

© 2018 M.A. Co. All rights reserved.

Dow 24000

Dear Garden State Trust Company:

Wow, the DJIA crossed 24000! No one told me to expect that when the year started. How much higher can the stock market go?

—Nervous Investor

Dear Nervous:

Monty Python famously said, “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.” In much the same way, no one will ever predict a 20% rise in the stock market, even when they are optimistic. Surprises on the upside are pleasant ones, so prognosticators are happy to make such a mistake.

We can’t know how much farther this bull has to run, but at the moment the economic indicators are positive. Consumer spending jumped 0.9% in September, followed by a 0.3% rise in October. Gross Domestic Product grew 3.1% in the second quarter and 3.3% in the third. Most estimates for the fourth quarter are between 2.5% and 3.0%. New home sales in October reached a 10-year high, and consumer confidence is at a 17-year high, the highest in this century, according to the Conference Board.

These indicators suggest that this economic expansion has plenty of life left in it. On the other hand, it’s been a long time since the last stock market correction (a price drop of 10% or more), and market tops are impossible to predict. If inflation heats up, the Federal Reserve Board may act more aggressively to increase interest rates, and that action could, in turn, bring the rise in stock prices to an end.

Does that answer your question?

Do you have a question concerning wealth management or trusts? Send your inquiry to contact@gstrustco.com.

© 2017 M.A. Co. All rights reserved.