Friday, March 22, 2013

Retirement plan loans as a source of ready cash—the pros and cons

Although it is generally not considered prudent to withdraw funds from a retirement savings account until retirement, sometimes it may appear that life leaves no other option. However, borrowing from certain qualified retirement savings account rather than taking an outright distribution might prove the best solution to getting you through a difficult period. If borrowing from a 401(k) plan or other retirement savings plan becomes necessary, for example to pay emergency medical expenses or for a replacement vehicle essential to getting to work, you should be aware that there is a right way and a number of wrong ways to go about it.
When a plan loan is not a taxable distribution
In general, a loan from a qualified employer plan, such as a 401(a) or 401(k) account, must be treated as a taxable distribution unless you can meet certain requirements with respect to amount, repayment period, and repayment method.
First, however, the terms of the employer-plan must allow for plan loans. Due to administrative costs and other considerations, plan loans are made optional for employer plans. If permitted, however, loans must be made available to all employees.
A loan to a participant or beneficiary is generally not treated as a taxable distribution if:
  • The loan is evidenced by a legally enforceable written agreement that specifies the amount and term of the loan and the repayment schedule;
  • The amount of the loan does not exceed $50,000 or half of the participant's vested accrued benefit under the plan (whichever is less);
  • The loan, by its terms, requires repayment within five years, except for certain home loans; and
  • The loan is amortized in level installments over the term of the loan.
Plan loans may be made only from employer-based plans. Individual retirement accounts (IRAs) cannot be used as collateral for a loan, nor can a direct loan be made from the IRA to the account holder.
Calculating the amount of the plan loan
In addition to the $50,000 or 50-percent vested benefit rule, several other provisions apply to the amount of the plan loan. First, a plan participant may take out a loan of up to $10,000, even if that $10,000 is more than one-half of the present value of his vested accrued benefit. Second, if a plan participant decides to take out another plan loan, the new maximum amount of the total plan loans will be determined by the following method:
($50,000 − (highest outstanding loan balance during the preceding 12-month period − outstanding balance on the date of the new loan)) = new plan loan maximum.
That new plan maximum must be reduced further by any outstanding loan balance.
Repayment period
Participants must repay a loan within five years. There is one exception, however, for a loan used to make a purchase of a first-time home that is a principal residence. The loan term may then be as long as 30 years.
If a participant defaults on a loan payment, the entire principal may become due under the terms of the plan. In addition, most plan terms require that you repay the loan within 60 days if you leave or lose your job. If you cannot repay at that time, the balance of the loan is usually considered a taxable distribution deducted from your remaining retirement plan account balance. That deemed distribution may also incur a 10 percent early distribution penalty.
Repayment method
Loan repayments must be made at least every quarter, and are generally deducted automatically from a participant’s paycheck. Defaulting on a loan causes the IRS to treat the entire outstanding loan balance as a premature (and therefore a taxable) distribution from the employer plan. A deemed distribution occurs at the time of the failure to pay an installment, but the plan administrator can allow a grace period. The deemed distribution then becomes subject to both income tax and the 10-percent early withdrawal penalty.
There are benefits to borrowing from an employer retirement plan, such as providing a ready-made source of credit and the benefit of returning interest paid back into the plan account rather than into the pockets of a third-party lender. There are also many drawbacks to taking out a plan loan. To learn more, please contact our offices.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Careful Planning For Implementation of The Affordable Care Act

When Congress passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and its companion bill, the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act (collectively known as the Affordable Care Act) in 2010, lawmakers staggered the effective dates of various provisions.  The most well-known provision, the so-called individual mandate, is scheduled to take effect in 2014.  A number of other provisions are scheduled to take effect in 2013. All of these require careful planning.
Two important changes to the Medicare tax are scheduled for 2013.  For tax years beginning after December 31, 2012, an additional 0.9 percent Medicare tax is imposed on individuals with wages/self-employment income in excess of $200,000 ($250,000 in the case of a joint return and $125,000 in the case of a married taxpayer filing separately). Moreover, and also effective for tax years beginning after December 31, 2012, a 3.8 percent Medicare tax is imposed on the lesser of an individual's net investment income for the tax year or modified adjusted gross income in excess of $200,000 ($250,000 in the case of a joint return and $125,000 in the case of a married taxpayer filing separately).
The Affordable Care Act sets out the basic parameters of the new Medicare taxes but the details will be supplied by the IRS in regulations.  To date, the IRS has not issued regulations or other official guidance about the new Medicare taxes (although the IRS did post some general frequently asked questions about the Affordable Care Act's changes to Medicare on its web site).   As soon as the IRS issues regulations or other official guidance, our office will advise you. In the meantime, please contact our office if you have any questions about the new Medicare taxes.
Also in 2013, the Affordable Care Act limits annual salary reduction contributions to a health flexible spending arrangement (health FSA) under a cafeteria plan to $2,500.  If the plan would allow salary reductions in excess of $2,500, the employee will be subject to tax on distributions from the health FSA.  The $2,500 amount will be adjusted for inflation after 2013.
Additionally, the Affordable Care Act also increases the medical expense deduction threshold in 2013.  Under current law, the threshold to claim an itemized deduction for unreimbursed medical expenses is 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income.  Effective for tax years beginning after December 31, 2012, the threshold will be 10 percent.  However, the Affordable Care Act temporarily exempts individuals age 65 and older from the increase.
The Affordable Care Act's individual mandate generally requires individuals to make a shared responsibility payment if they do not carry minimum essential health insurance for themselves and their dependents.  The requirement begins in 2014. 
To understand who is covered by the individual mandate, it is easier to describe who is excluded.  Generally, individuals who have employer-provided health insurance coverage are excluded, so long as that coverage is deemed minimum essential coverage and is affordable.  If the coverage is treated as not affordable, the employee could qualify for a tax credit to help offset the cost of coverage.  Individuals covered by Medicare and Medicaid also are excluded from the individual mandate.  Additionally, undocumented aliens, incarcerated persons, individuals with a religious conscience exemption, and people who have short lapses of minimum essential coverage are excluded from the individual mandate.
The individual mandate was at the heart of the legal challenges to the Affordable Care Act after its passage.  These legal challenges reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which in June 2012, held that the individual mandate is a valid exercise of Congress' taxing power.
Like the new Medicare taxes, the Affordable Care Act sets out the parameters of the individual mandate.  The IRS is expected to issue regulations and other official guidance before 2014.  Our office will keep you posted of developments.
2014 will also bring a new shared responsibility payment for employers.  Large employers (generally employers with 50 or more full-time employees but subject to certain limitations) will be liable for a penalty if they fail to offer employees the opportunity to enroll in minimum essential coverage.  Large employers may also be subject to a penalty if they offer coverage but one or more employees receive a premium assistance tax credit.
The employer shared responsibility payment provisions are among the most complex in the Affordable Care Act.  The IRS has requested comments from employers on how to implement the provisions.  In good news for employers, the IRS has indicated may develop a safe harbor to help clarify who is a full-time employee for purposes of the employer shared responsibility payment.
If you have any questions about the provisions in the Affordable Care Act we have discussed, please contact our office.