Converting funds from a tax-deferred Rollover or Traditional IRA to a tax-free Roth IRA in retirement can be a smart move for managing your total income tax bill. Often, Roth conversions can be accomplished in lower tax brackets, protecting you from possibly higher brackets in the future and minimizing the income tax bite of Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) from your Traditional/Rollover IRA in later years.
The earlier you can begin to efficiently convert funds to tax-free Roth assets the better. Doing so moves the growth of the converted portion of your tax-deferred accounts into income tax-free growth. The calculations can be daunting, so enlisting the aid of a CERTFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional or CPA will help.
But it is often wise not to convert 100% of your tax-deferred retirement money into a Roth IRA.
If you make charitable contributions on a regular basis, it would be more tax efficient to leave some money in your tax-deferred IRA to fund those contributions once you reach age 70 ½. The Qualified Charitable Distribution rules allow for income-tax free distributions to qualified charities once you reach this age. For more information on the QCD rules check out this post.
The bottom line here is if used to fund your charitable giving, a Traditional/Rollover IRA gives you a very tax friendly option. Each year you can make donations that will not appear as taxable income on a 1099-R. That means you contributed the funds on a pre-tax basis, they grew without income tax consequences, and then they are distributed income tax-free. Given that, for most-- any charitable contribution over $300 per year for individual filers and $600 per year for joint filers, gets no income tax break at all-- this is a great way to save on your income taxes and support worthy causes at the same time.
Another reason to avoid a 100% Roth conversion is simply that having no taxable income is not the most tax-efficient plan. There is always a level of income that is free of income taxes-- the amount of income covered by your standard deduction and/or other above the line deductions. For 2021, the standard deduction for single filers is $12,550 and for joint filers it is $25,100. This means that if you had no other sources of income, you could withdraw those amounts from a Traditional IRA income-tax free.
It is unlikely you would be in this situation, but if you have a tax-efficient taxable investment account and a small pension or social security benefit, you might have some leeway to withdraw funds from a tax-deferred account at a 0% tax rate. Again, the calculations can be tricky, particularly if you are in the social security tax torpedo range, so seek out qualified help in making these decisions.
Taxes are not fun to pay or to calculate. But smart income tax planning can add thousands or even hundred of thousands of dollars to your bottom line. Working with a financial expert who understands how everything fits together can be one of the best decisions you could make.
If you're age 72 or older you probably know you must begin taking distributions from your IRA -whether you want to or not. The IRS life expectancy tables determine your required minimum distribution (RMD) based on the previous years ending balance for your IRA and your attained age for the tax year.
The qualified charitable distribution rules provide those subject to RMDs an option that can help them reduce their income tax liability by having certain charitable contributions made directly to a qualified charity. Given the changes to itemized deductions and the standard deduction in the 2017 tax law update, the qualified charitable distribution rules for your IRA account becomes even more important.
If you make charitable contributions throughout the year, it would be wise to consider making those contributions directly from your IRA. Up to $100,000 of charitable distributions from each IRA owner's accounts can be excluded from your taxable income each year.
Say you plan to give $10,000 to your church or another qualified charity and you are receiving taxable distributions from your IRA. If you make the contribution to the charity directly from your IRA, your $10,000 gift will not be reported as income on your income tax return.
If you instead receive these funds as income from your IRA distribution and then send the same $10,000 to the charity it is included in your taxable income and could result in higher Medicare premiums and a higher percentage of your social security income being taxable. If you do not have itemized deductions that exceed the new $24,000 per couple or $12,000 per individual standard deduction, you could lose all the tax benefits of your generosity.
By having the distributions sent directly to the qualified charity from your IRA, you will exclude the amount from your taxable income, potentially lowering your Medicare premiums, the taxable portion of your social security benefits, and your overall income tax rate at both the federal and state level.
If you follow this strategy, be sure to let your income tax preparer know. There may be no indicator on the 1099R you receive at the end of the year that shows that part of your distribution is non-taxable, so there is a chance many people using this strategy are over-paying their income taxes each year.
WHAT’S A DONOR ADVISED FUND?
A donor advised fund (DAF) is a relatively new tool that helps both taxpayers and charities reduce taxes now while providing planned donation strategies to continue in the future. Much like a deductible IRA, assets contributed to these donor accounts produce tax savings based on specific IRS guidelines.
Every dollar donated to a donor advised fund reduces the donor’s taxable income dollar-for-dollar in the year of the gift. For high earners this is one of the few strategies to reduce taxable income outside employer retirement plans and benefit packages. Once in the account, the gifted assets grow tax-free until the donor decides to distribute the funds to the qualified charities they desire.
There’s great advantage in the flexibility a donor advised fund offers. Donors make contributions now to reduce taxes now, those donations then grow via investments tax-free and those appreciated assets are then are distributed at some time in the future to a qualified charity. This is a good deal for everyone involved, except Uncle Sam. Even better-- for 2020, the CARES Act allows taxpayers to contribute up to 100% of their Adjusted Gross Income to a donor advised fund.
For those in the highest tax bracket, every $1,000 donated to your donor advised fund results in a Federal and SC state tax savings of ~$440. Donating $100,000 would save that same taxpayer $44,000 in Federal & state income taxes; you can also use a DAF to avoid taxation on appreciated assets with low cost basis altogether.
GIFTING APPRECIATED STOCK TO YOUR DONOR ADVISED FUND
To really compound the tax savings inherent with a DAF, we recommend donating appreciated stock positions from your taxable accounts. You avoid capital gains taxes, get full value of the gifted equities in the form of the tax deduction and the assets grow tax-free until distributed to a qualified charity.
BUNDLING CHARITABLE DONATIONS TO OFFSET INCOME WINDFALLS
Some taxpayers may consider bundling annual contributions to their Donor Advised Fund into a single year to avoid wasted donation dollars that the newer and higher standard deductions produce.
For example, if you plan to give $50,000 a year for the next 10 years, and you know you have a big real estate sale, sales or performance based bonus, or generally know your taxable income will be irregularly elevated in a single tax year, you may want to bundle those annual amounts into a single, large donation that year. In this scenario, you’d donate $500,000 immediately but only distribute $50,000 each year out of the DAF while the remaining principle donations continue to grow tax-free via your investments; This strategy allows a taxpayer to continue their plan of gifting $50,000 annually while realizing a tax savings of ~$220,000 in the year of the windfall.
In the sector of charitable giving a new trend is emerging. This trend pools together the resources of the middle income class and has become for the second largest recipient of charitable funds in the United States behind only the Red Cross. Since the mid 1990's Donor Advised Funds have flourished into a dominant force in philanthropy and continue to grow as more money managers and investors become aware of their simplicity, flexibility, and low cost.
Donor Advised Funds (DAFs) are just that, individuals give money or assets to a charity or sponsorship organization who sets up a Donor Advised Fund account. That account is then invested in options offered by the specific organization that the donor has chosen. From this account, donors can make grants of $50 or more to specific organizations or causes that are important to them. While this seems basic, there are many choices to be made in creating, investing, and continuing this charitable account. But first, I will explain WHY you should consider setting up a DAF if you're looking to make charitable donations.
The first major advantage DAFs have over private foundations is the simplicity of setting up the fund. For donor advised funds, a simple agreement between the sponsoring organization and the donor is all that is needed to create the account. This method is much easier than applying for IRS tax-exempt status, filing all required tax reports, and maintaining compliance with all the rules that apply to charitable foundations.
Another positive aspect of the Donor Advised Fund is the low cost to create it. Needing as little as a $5,000 in initial contributions those who wish to donate even on a modest scale can get involved in charitable giving. Further, grants to individual charities can be made in increments of as little as $50.
Flexibility is the foundation of the Donor Advised Fund. When choosing a specific plan with a sponsorship organization there are many various investment options to select from. The plans range from broad investment choices, where donors are allowed to choose their own investment portfolios- to basic mutual fund choices offered by the sponsor, and finally to the option of pooling together mutual funds to invest. Only rarely are donors offered no investment choice at all but in these situations the sponsoring organization chooses and manages the investment options for the donor.
In the past most donors have contributed through private foundations often set up by the individuals themselves or through a third party. There are many benefits in doing so: up to 30% of cash contributions can be deducted and 20% of all other assets can be written off as well.
However, the up and coming DAF has joined the race and offers even more bang for your buck as well as less hassle than is involved in giving through private foundations. Offering a write off of 50% of initial cash contributions and a 30% write off of other assets contributed, the Donor Advised Fund trumps the private foundation in terms of tax breaks, as well as potentially reducing estate taxes since more of your assets are donated to the fund.