“The Boomer” is a column written for adults nearing retirement age and those already in their “golden years.” It will also promote reader interaction by posting e-mail responses and answering reader questions. E-mail your questions or topic ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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We all make New Year’s resolutions with the best of intentions. But come spring, many of these pledges have long been forgotten or overlooked because of busy schedules and other priorities.
The political landscape in 2012 has left many Americans feeling uncertain and uneasy of their future—and for good reason. Washington started the new year with a bruising deadline fight to avert falling off the fiscal cliff and triggering steep tax hikes and spending cuts. While a last-minute deal was struck, lawmaker delayed spending cuts leaving the country at risk of defaulting.
These political uncertainties, coupled with the economic instability have many baby boomers worried about their financial future and retirement. Certified Public Accountant Sharon Lechter, who wrote Save Wisely, Spend Happily offers the following tips for boomers on how to manage our money in this intimidating environment, what tax changes we should take into account and what financial resolutions we should make—and keep--in the new year.
Boomer: What new Medicare surtaxes might be placed on high earners in 2013?
Lechter: Under the Affordable Care Act, a 0.9% Medicare tax is imposed on wages paid to employees in excess of $200,000 in a calendar year. The additional 0.9% Medicare tax must be withheld by employers in the pay period in which the employee’s wages exceed the $200,000 threshold. Only employees pay the 0.9% Medicare tax; employers do not pay a share of the additional Medicare tax.
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Also as part of the health-care law, a 3.8% Medicare tax kicks in on unearned net investment income this year for certain high-income taxpayers. (This is a tax on income to help finance Medicare and is commonly referred to as the “3.8% Medicare tax.”)
Married couples may owe the 3.8% tax and yet never have any withholdings taken out. If each spouse earns less than $200,000, but together earn $250,000 or more, they will owe the tax on earnings in excess of $250,000. These employees can request added withholdings or will be assessed the tax when filing their tax returns.
BoomeHowr: could Social Security taxes impact baby boomers’ take-home pay this year?
Lechter: Congress did not extend the 2% Social Security tax reduction as part of the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, so for employees, the Social Security tax this year returns to 6.2%. For workers earning $50,000 a year, will take home about $1,000 less this year. For people earnings $100,000, they will see about $2,000 less.
On Jan. 3, 2013, the IRS announced that “employers should…begin withholding Social Security tax at the rate of 6.2 percent of wages paid following the expiration of the temporary two-percentage-point payroll tax cut in effect for 2011 and 2012.”
Boomer: For boomers that itemize their tax returns, what should they look out for with medical expense deductions?
Lechter: Under the Affordable Care Act, for the coming year or returns filed next year, for employees under age 65 the Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) limit for medical expenses increases to 10% of AGI from 7.5% of AGI. If you are over 65, it remains at 7.5% after 2016.
Boomer: What’s happened to the estate gift tax exemption that could affect boomers in 2013?
Lechter: Under the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, signed into law on Jan. 2 by President Obama, the estate and gift tax exemption amount will stay at $5 million, indexed for inflation. The indexed amount for 2012 is $5.12 million. That means most Americans will not pay any estate tax when they die if their estate and gifts are below $5 million.
Boomer: What financial resolutions would you advise baby boomers to make for 2013 to keep their retirement goals on track?
Lechter: The American Institute of CPAs recently did a survey that showed nearly two-thirds, 61%, of American adults lack a formal budget. What’s more, only 36% of adults planned to set a financial goal as a New Year’s resolution this year.
So that’s where boomers need to start: get focused and develop a budget. In our book, we have national averages for expenses in various categories. Boomers should take into account the following when creating their budget: How much are you spending on food, housing and other items? How do you compare? Where can you make changes to bring yourself in line?
This is a more critical exercise this year because boomers will see less money in their take-home pay thanks to the expiration of the payroll tax holiday. For someone who earns $50,000, that’s about $1,000 less in their paycheck. You need to make changes now to ensure you don’t end the year with a shortfall.
On the specifics of retirement planning, boomers might want to reassess how they’re saving for retirement. The fiscal cliff deal eliminated some limits and made it possible to more easily convert retirement savings from a 401(k) to a Roth 401(k). This has the advantage of letting your savings grow tax free, and might be an area worth exploring.
The real key is mindful planning and boomers shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help. That same AICPA survey found just 13% of U.S. adults consult a financial professional for advice. In fact, that’s one of the reasons we published this book. It captures the insight of 125 CPAs from across the country and represents more than 1,000 years of financial know-how. If you had medical questions, you would most likely turn to a trained medical professional for help. You should do the same with your finances, which underpin so many of your goals, dreams and ambitions. The book can be a great place to start. There’s no hidden agenda or upsells and all of the proceeds go toward financial education programs.