You may have missed the news – buried in a much bigger spending bill and passed in the thick of the holiday season—but after months of nearly bringing it to the finish line, it’s now official: on Friday, December 20, 2019, the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act was signed into law.
The SECURE Act provides a mixed bag of incentives and obligations for retirement savers and service providers alike. Its intent is to make it easier for families to save more for retirement.
That said, “easier” doesn’t necessarily mean less complicated and we’re here to help you make sense of it all. To jump-start the conversation, here is an overview of the most significant changes we’re evaluating as the SECURE Act starts rolling out in 2020.
As you might expect, all the points below come with detailed exceptions and disclaimers that may influence how they apply to you. Before proceeding, please consult with us, as well as with other appropriate professionals, such as your accountant and/or estate planning attorney.
Tax-Favorable Retirement Saving
Compared to previous generations, more Americans are living longer, remaining employed into their 70s, and shouldering more of the duty to fund their own retirement. As such, the SECURE Act includes several incentives to start saving sooner and keep saving longer.
- Initial RMD increases to age 72 – Until now, you had to start taking Required Minimum Distribution (RMDs) out of your traditional IRA at age 70 ½. Now, you don’t need to begin taking RMDs until age 72. Rules for qualified charitable distributions (QCDs) and Roth IRA withdrawals remain unchanged.
- IRA contributions for as long as you’re employed – If you work past age 70 ½, you can now continue to contribute to either a Roth or a traditional IRA. Before, you could only contribute to a Roth IRA after age 70 ½.
- Expanded participation for long-term, part-time employees – Even if you’re a part-time employee, you may now be able to participate in your employer’s 401(k) plan.
Expanded 529 Plan Possibilities
Making it easier to pay off student debt is also expected to benefit your retirement saving efforts.
- Student loans –You and your kiddos (or grand-kiddos) can now use 529 college savings plan distributions to pay off up to $10,000 in student loans per plan beneficiary and their siblings. For example, if you have one 529 plan account but two children, you can use that account to repay up to $10,000 of each child’s student loans ($20,000 total) out of the single account. Again, check the fine print; there are some procedural details and tax ramifications to navigate.
- Apprenticeships – You can now use 529 plan distributions for expenses related to a qualified apprenticeship program.
Retirement Plan Restructuring
Even if you are not a business owner, it’s worth being aware that employers in general – and small businesses in particular – are being recruited to help employees save for retirement.
- Higher auto-enroll percentages –The SECURE Act allows employers to auto-enroll you in their plan and automatically increase your contributions to up to 15% of your pay after the first year (versus a prior 10% cap). You can proactively remove or change your contributions to whatever you’d like, but we often recommend contributing the maximum allowed.
- More MEPs – Until now, only businesses who shared a common interest could establish a multiple-employer plan (MEP). As described in this Kiplinger report, “Starting in 2021, the new law allows completely unrelated employers to participate in a [MEP] and have a ‘pooled plan provider’ administer it.” This means small businesses should now have more ways to offer more cost-effective retirement plans, with the savings passed on to employees who participate in the plan.
An Estate Planning Limitation: Non-Spouse Stretch IRAs Mostly Go Away
So far, we’ve been covering the “carrots” meant to encourage retirement saving. There’s also an important “stick.” It’s presumably to offset the expected reduction in federal income tax collections, due to increasing the RMD age to 72. The SECURE Act eliminates the use of stretch IRAs for most non-spouse beneficiaries, which could impact your current or future estate planning.
To be clear, a stretch IRA is not a formal account type. It’s a practice, that enabled you to bequeath your IRA assets to your heirs, who could then keep the inherited account intact and tax-sheltered, essentially throughout their lifetime. With some exceptions, heirs will now be required to move assets out of inherited IRA accounts within a decade after receiving them, thus having to pay taxes on the proceeds much earlier than under the old law.
Investment Management: An Annuity in Your Retirement Plan?
Several articles in the SECURE Act try to help you not only save for retirement but feel more confident you won’t run out of money once you get there. As such, the Act is making it easier for employers to add lifetime income annuities to their plans as a distribution option for employee participants. It also establishes new reporting requirements for employers that make it easier for you to envision how much of a lifetime income stream you can expect, if you decide to annuitize your accumulated retirement plan assets.
Bottom line, we applaud the overall idea of creating a secure retirement, but there are many ways to go about achieving it. If you are considering annuitizing some of your retirement assets today or in the future, we hope you’ll be in touch so we can explore the possibilities with you in the context of your own circumstances.
Retirement plan access
There are quite a few other components to the SECURE Act. Some of them manage access to your retirement savings for pre-retirement spending needs. For example, the SECURE Act now allows parents to withdraw up to $5,000 from their IRA without penalty (but with potential income taxes) for birth or adoption events.
Planning for Your Secure Retirement
What can we expect moving forward? Not every component in the SECURE Act is effective immediately. Some may continue to come into sharper focus over time. As such, we may recommend some changes to your financial planning sooner, while other steps may be required or desired over time.
This is to be expected, given the number of reforms enacted in this sweeping bill. Come what may, we look forward to being by your side throughout. As we embark into 2020 together, we will be connecting with our clients, to ensure that your retirement planning complies with and takes optimal advantage of the SECURE Act of 2019.