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Accounting and Tax Planning Special Coverage

Save and SECURE

By Dan Eger

The SECURE Act, or Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act, was signed into law in December 2019. This legislation made it easier and more affordable for individuals to save for retirement by introducing new rules and incentives that promote long-term savings.

The SECURE Act also supports small businesses by making it easier for them to offer retirement plans to their employees.

Overall, the SECURE Act aimed to make retirement savings more accessible and secure for Americans of all ages and economic backgrounds.

The 2019 legislation included changes that affected traditional 401(k)s and IRAs, such as expanded eligibility for opening a Roth IRA, new requirements for minimum distributions from retirement accounts, and incentives for small businesses to offer retirement plans. The law also included provisions to benefit those who are retired or disabled, such as increasing the age at which a person must begin taking required minimum distributions from 70½ to 72.

Legislation commonly referred to SECURE 2.0 Act (the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023) was signed into law on Dec. 29, 2022. The SECURE Act 2.0 bolsters the benefits offered in 2019’s version, making it more enticing for employers to provide retirement plans and improve employees’ retirement prospects along the way.

What follows is a summary of some of the provisions, but keep in mind that the act includes more than 90 provisions that potentially affect retirement-savings plans.


Mandatory Automatic Enrollment

Effective for plans beginning after Dec. 31, 2024, new 401(k) and 403(b) plans must automatically enroll employees when eligible. Automatic deferrals start at between 3% and 10% of compensation, increasing by 1% each year to a maximum of at least 10%, but no more than 15% of compensation. Participants can still opt out.

“Overall, the SECURE Act aimed to make retirement savings more accessible and secure for Americans of all ages and economic backgrounds.”


Automatic Escalation

Beginning in 2025, for new retirement plans started after Dec. 29, 2022, contribution percentages must automatically increase by 1% on the first day of each plan year following the completion of a year of service until the contribution reaches at least 10%, but no more than 15%, of eligible wages. Governmental organizations, churches, and businesses with 10 employees or fewer, as well as employers in business for three years or fewer, are exempt from this policy.


Expanded Eligibility for Long-term, Part-time Employees

Under current law, employees with at least 1,000 hours of service in a 12-month period or 500 service hours in a three-consecutive-year period must be eligible to participate in the employer’s qualified retirement plan. SECURE 2.0 reduces that three-year rule to two years for plan years beginning after Dec. 31, 2024.


Increase in Catch-up Limits

Effective after tax year 2024, SECURE 2.0 provides a notable rise in the amount of contributions for those aged between 60 to 63. Generally, the additional catch-up limit for most plans is $10,000 and only $5,000 for SIMPLE plans. These amounts are subject to inflation adjustment just like the normal catch-up contributions. Furthermore, those more than 50 years old are eligible for increased contribution limits on their retirement plans (known as ‘catch-up contributions’). For 2023, the maximum catch-up contribution amount has been set to $7,500 for most retirement plans and will be subject to inflation adjustments.


Rothification of Catch-up Contributions for High Earners

For plans that permit catch-up contributions, high earners ($145,000 in paid wages from the employer sponsoring the plan the preceding year, indexed to inflation) can no longer enjoy the privilege of tax-deferred catch-up contributions, as their contributions need to be characterized as designated Roth contributions.


Treatment of Student-loan Payments for Matching Contributions

Starting in 2024, student-loan payments can be treated as part of your retirement contribution to qualify for employer-matched contributions in a workplace retirement account. Employers will have the flexibility to provide contributions to their retirement plan for employees who are paying off student loans instead of saving for retirement.


Emergency Savings Accounts

Starting in 2024, retirement plans will have the option of providing ‘emergency savings accounts’ that allow non-highly paid employees to make after-tax Roth contributions to a savings account within their own retirement plan. Employers may automatically opt employees into these accounts at no more than 3% of eligible wages. Employees can opt out of participation. No further contributions can be made if the savings account has reached $2,500 (indexed), or a lesser limit established by the employer. The Department of Labor and/or the Treasury Department may issue guidance on these provisions.


Withdrawals for Certain Emergency Expenses

Penalty-free distributions are allowed for “unforeseeable or immediate financial needs relating to necessary personal or family emergency expenses” up to $1,000. Only one distribution may be made every three years, or one per year if the distribution is repaid within three years. Penalty-free withdrawals are also allowed for small amounts for individuals who need the funds in cases of domestic abuse or terminal illness.


Federal Contribution Match

Starting in 2027, low-income employees can gain access to a federal matching contribution of up to $2,000 each year that will be deposited into their retirement savings account. The matching contribution is 50% of the contributions, but it decreases according to income — for example, married taxpayers filing jointly between $41,000 and $71,000, and single taxpayers between $20,500 and $35500.


Required Minimum Distributions

Beginning Jan. 1, 2023, the age for required minimum distribution (RMD) from an IRA is increased to age 73. Starting in 2033, the RMD age will be 75. (IRA owners turning age 72 in 2023 would not be required to take RMDs in 2023.) Furthermore, the penalty for not taking your RMD has been decreased from 50% of what was required to be withdrawn to 25%, and even further down to 10% if corrected within two years.


Facilitation of Error Corrections

The act expands the self-corrections system, allowing more types of errors to be fixed internally without having to amend returns in the Employee Plans Compliance Resolution System.


Immediate Incentives for Participation

At this moment, employers use matching contributions as a means to motivate employees to save for their retirement. Beginning in 2023, employers can incentivize employees with gifts cards or other small monetary rewards to increase engagement, although any financial rewards should be small and cannot come from retirement-plan assets.

In summary, the SECURE Act 2.0 provides many new benefits and opportunities to save for retirement. It allows employers to offer more flexible contributions and encourages employees with incentives to become engaged in their own financial health. With reduced penalties and expanded self-correction rules, this act gives Americans more control over their retirement savings, allowing them to become better prepared for their future.

As always, it’s important to consult with your advisor for advice, as guidance and changes to provisions are expected, and everyone’s situation is unique.


Dan Eger is a tax supervisor at the Holyoke-based accounting firm Meyers Brothers Kalicka, P.C.; (413) 536-8510.

Accounting and Tax Planning

A Primer on RMDs

By Bob Suprenant, CPA, MST

Bob Suprenant, CPA, MST

With all that’s happened in the world this year, the SECURE Act, signed into law on Dec. 20, 2019, seems to have been robbed of the celebration it deserves.

Let’s give it its due and weave our way through the 2020 rules for what are known as RMDs.

First, what is an RMD, or required minimum distribution? It’s the minimum amount you must take out of your retirement plan — 401(k), IRA, 403(b), etc. — once you reach a certain age. The theory is that the amount in your retirement plan will be liquidated as you age.

To calculate the RMD, as a general rule, you divide the balance in your account at the end of the previous year — for this year, it would be Dec. 31, 2019 — by the distribution period found in the Uniform Lifetime Table. These tables currently run through age 115. Seriously.

Who Must Take an RMD?

This is where we blow the party horns and throw the confetti. These rules changed on Dec. 20, 2019. If you reached age 70½ in 2019, you were required to take your first distribution by April 1, 2020. If you reach age 70½ in 2020, you are not required to take your first distribution until April 1, 2022.

At the risk of putting a wet blanket on the fun, if you do not take the full amount of your RMD and/or you do not take it by the applicable deadline, there is a penalty. The penalty is an additional tax of 50% of the deficiency. The additional tax can be waived if due to reasonable error and you take steps to remedy the shortfall.

Did COVID-19 Change This?

Yes, the CARES Act, which was signed into law on March 27, 2020, included provisions that waived the requirement for RMDs in 2020. This also happened in 2009 when the stock market crashed. In 2020, RMDs are not required. The RMD waiver also applies to inherited IRAs.

It keeps getting better. On June 23, 2020, the IRS released Notice 2020-51, which allows those who have taken an RMD in 2020, but wish they hadn’t, to return the money to the retirement plan by Aug. 31.

There is a bit of a catch here, though. Most who take RMDs have federal and state tax withholdings on their distributions. Under this relief, the entire distribution must be returned to the retirement plan, not the distribution net of taxes.

By way of example, if you have a gross RMD of $20,000 and there is $3,000 in federal and state withholding, your net distribution is $17,000. To have none of your RMD taxed, the $20,000 must be returned to the retirement plan by Aug. 31. If you return only $17,000, you will be taxed on a $3,000 distribution.

Do I Take an RMD In 2020?

I know I don’t need to take an RMD in 2020, but should I? The answer is … it depends. And you should consult your tax advisor. Ask this individual to run projections to see what the best amount is for you to take as a distribution. For married joint filers, the 12% federal tax bracket includes taxable income up to $79,000. For amounts over $79,000, the tax bracket is at least 22%, a full 10% increase.

For many of my clients, I try to take full advantage of the lower tax bracket and get their incomes as close to the $79,000 as possible. Other clients, who use their retirement-plan distributions to make their charitable contributions (a very wise idea as you will generally save state taxes in addition to possibly saving federal taxes), should probably take a retirement-plan distribution in 2020.

Those who are aged may also want to take a distribution. Under the inherited IRA rules, your IRA beneficiaries will be required to take distributions, so consider their tax rates compared with yours.

As always, in the tax code, there are exceptions to exceptions, and this brief summary is only the cocktail hour. Be aware that you are not required to take an RMD for 2020. If you have taken an RMD, you can return it by Aug. 31. Do some tax planning to determine the best amount for your 2020 retirement-plan distribution.

Bob Suprenant, CPA, MST is a director of Special Tax Services at MP CPAs in Springfield. His focus is working with closely held businesses and their owners and identifying and implementing sophisticated corporate and business tax-planning strategies.

Accounting and Tax Planning

This Measure Changes the Retirement Landscape in Several Ways

It’s called the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act, and it was signed into law just a few weeks ago and took effect on Jan. 1. It is making an impact on taxpayers already, and individuals should know and understand its many provisions.

By Ian Coddington and Gabriel Jacobson

Signed into law Dec. 20, 2019, the SECURE Act, or Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act, has changed the retirement landscape for Americans retiring or planning to retire in the future.

The prominent components of the SECURE Act remove the maximum age for Traditional IRA contributions, increase the age for required minimum distributions, change how IRA benefits are received after death, and expand the types of expenses applicable to education savings funds. This law offsets some of the spending included in the budget bill by accelerating distribution of tax-deferred accounts.

Ian Coddington

Gabriel Jacobson

Due to the timing of this new legislation, there will be many questions from tax filers regarding the new rules and what changes apply to their plans. We hope this article will provide a starting point for understanding the changes that will impact us come tax time.

A Traditional IRA, or Traditional Individual Retirement Account, can be opened at most financial institutions.

Unless your income is above a certain threshold, every dollar of earned income from wages or self-employment contributed to the account by an individual reduces your annual taxable income dollar for dollar. This assumes you do not contribute above the annual limit into one or more tax-deferred retirement accounts.

Due to increasing life expectancy, the SECURE Act has eliminated the maximum age limit that an individual may contribute to a Traditional IRA. Prior to 2020, the maximum age was 70½.

The SECURE Act also raises the age that an individual with investments held in a Traditional IRA or other tax-deferred retirement account, such as a 401(k), must take distributions from 70½ to 72. These required minimum distributions, or RMDs, serve as the government’s way of collecting on tax-deferred income and are taxed at the individual’s income-tax rates, so no special investment-tax rates apply.

Each year, the distribution must equal a certain fraction of the year-end balance of an individual’s tax-deferred retirement account. The tax penalty for omitting all or a portion of your annual RMD is 50% of the amount of the RMD not withdrawn. The fraction is known as the life-expectancy factor and is based on the individual’s age.

The SECURE Act did not change the life-expectancy factors for 2020, but a change is expected for 2021. Unfortunately, RMDs for individuals who reached 70½ by Dec. 31, 2019 are not delayed. Such individuals must continue to take their RMDs under the same rules as prior to passage of the SECURE Act.

“With the SECURE Act going into effect Jan. 1, 2020, the law is making an impact on taxpayers now. The effects of this will continue over the next few years, as death benefits for beneficiaries and minimum distributions will not affect all retirees immediately.”

Individuals who inherit Traditional or Roth IRAs during or after Jan. 1, 2020 are now subject to a shorter time frame for RMDs pursuant to the SECURE Act. Prior to passage of the SECURE Act, individuals were able to withdraw funds from their IRAs over various schedules. The longest schedule was based on the beneficiary’s life expectancy and could last the majority of the individual’s life.

This allowed those who inherited Traditional IRAs to stretch the tax liabilities on those RMDs discussed previously over a longer period, reducing the annual tax burden. Under the current law, distributions to most non-spouse beneficiaries are required to be distributed within 10 years following the plan participant’s or IRA owner’s death (the 10-year rule). This may increase the size of RMD payments and push an individual to a higher tax bracket.

Exceptions to the 10-year rule are allowed for distributions to the following recipients: the surviving spouse, who receives the account value as if they were the owner of the IRA; an IRA owner’s child who has not yet reached majority; a chronically ill individual; and any other individual who is not more than 10 years younger than the IRA owner. Those beneficiaries who qualify under this exception may continue to take their distributions through the predefined life-expectancy rules.

Section 529 plans have also been expanded by the SECURE Act. These plans can be opened at most financial institutions and are established by a state or educational institution.

These 529 plans use post-tax contributions to generate tax-free earnings to pay for qualified educational expenses. As long as the distributions pay for these expenses, they will be tax-free. Qualified distributions include tuition, fees, books, and supplies. Previously, distributions were only tax-free if paid toward qualified education expenses for public and private institutions; now, they will include registered apprenticeships and repayment of certain student loans.

This will expand the qualified distributions to include equipment needed to complete apprenticeships and technical classes and training. For repayment of student loans, an individual is able to pay the principal or interest on qualified education loans of the beneficiary, up to $10,000. This can also include a sibling of the beneficiary, if the account holder has multiple children.

With the SECURE Act going into effect Jan. 1, 2020, the law is making an impact on taxpayers now. The effects of this will continue over the next few years, as death benefits for beneficiaries and minimum distributions will not affect all retirees immediately.

This article does not qualify as legal advice. Seek your tax professional or retirement advisor with additional questions on the impact this will have in your individual situation.

Ian Coddington and Gabriel Jacobson are associates with Holyoke-based public accounting firm Meyers Brothers Kalicka, P.C.; [email protected]; [email protected]