2014 brought about significant changes to the retirement planning landscape for advisors and clients alike, so that we’ve now ushered in a year that will be full of new planning opportunities — and pitfalls. Whether your client is concerned with maximizing tax-preferred account options, planning for increased longevity or using their retirement accounts as estate planning vehicles, the rules have changed for 2015. Here are some of the top retirement planning trends that your clients need to be aware of in order to maximize their retirement account values in 2015 and beyond.
1. QLACs become a reality.
While the IRS released proposed regulations introducing the qualified longevity annuity contract (QLAC) in 2012, carriers only began offering the products late in 2014, after the rules were finalized, which means that QLACs are likely to gain traction in 2015. A QLAC is a type of annuity contract that is purchased within a retirement plan (though Roth accounts are excluded) and under which payments are delayed until the purchaser reaches old age. Importantly, the value of the QLAC is excluded from the retirement account’s value when calculating the client’s required minimum distributions (RMDs) once the client reaches age 70 ½.
The annuity premium value is limited to the lesser of $125,000 (to be adjusted for inflation) or 25 percent of the account value, though the rules provide a correction procedure for clients who accidentally exceed these limits. In general, QLACs are not permitted to offer cash surrender or commutation values, but the final regulations do permit a return of premium feature so that the premiums that have been paid, but not yet received as annuity payments, will be returned to the account if the client dies before they have been received.
2. Split 401(k) rollovers maximize after-tax contribution value.
In 2015 and beyond, the IRS will now allow a distribution from an employer-sponsored retirement account to be treated as a single distribution even if it contains both pre-tax and after-tax contributions, and even if those contributions are rolled over into separate accounts, so long as the amounts are scheduled to be distributed at the same time. Therefore, the taxpayer can now allocate pre-tax and after-tax contributions among different types of accounts in order to maximize their future earnings potential.
This presents a best-of-both worlds solution for higher income clients who have sufficient funds so that they are able to make contributions in excess of the pre-tax limit. If the specific plan allows for after-tax contributions, these taxpayers now have the freedom to contribute after-tax dollars with the knowledge that those funds can be separated and rolled directly into a Roth upon exiting the employer-sponsored plan — without tax liability.
This is a marked shift from the complexities of the previously existing rules, which permitted the distribution to be rolled partly into a traditional account and partly into a Roth, but the client was required to treat the distribution as two separate distributions — meaning that the distribution to each account would be treated as coming partly from pre-tax contributions and partly from after-tax contributions.