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10 Ways the Secure Act Will Impact Your Retirement Savings

February 20, 2020

ARTICLE HIGHLIGHTS:

10 Ways the Secure Act Will Impact Your Retirement Savings

With the decline of traditional pensions, most of us are now responsible for squirrelling away money for our own retirement. In today's do-it-yourself retirement savings world, we rely largely on 401(k) plans and IRAs. However, there are obviously flaws with the system because about one-fourth of working Americans have no retirement savings at all-including 13% of workers age 60 and older.

But help is on the way. On December 20, 2019, President Trump signed the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act. This new law does several things that will affect your ability to save money for retirement and influence how you use the funds over time. While some provisions are administrative in nature or intended to raise revenue, most of the changes are taxpayer-friendly measures designed to boost retirement savings. To get you up to speed, we've highlighted 10 of the most notable ways the SECURE Act affects your retirement savings. Learn them quickly, so you can start adjusting your retirement strategy right away. (Unless otherwise noted, all changes apply starting in 2020.)

RMDs Starting at Age 72

Required minimum distributions (RMDs) from 401(k) plans and traditional IRAs are a thorn in the side of many retirees. Every year, my father grumbles about having to take money out of his IRA when he really doesn't want to. Right now, RMDs generally must begin in the year you turn 70½. (If you work past age 70½, RMDs from your current employer's 401(k) aren't required until after you leave your job, unless you own at least 5% of the company.)

The SECURE Act pushes the age that triggers RMDs from 70½ to 72, which means you can let your retirement funds grow an extra 1½ years before tapping into them. That can result in a significant boost to overall retirement savings for many seniors.

No Age Restrictions on IRA Contributions

Americans are working and living longer. So why not let them contribute to an IRA longer? That's the thinking behind the SECURE Act's repeal of the rule that prohibited contributions to a traditional IRA by taxpayers age 70½ and older. Now you can continue to put away money in a traditional IRA if you work into your 70s and beyond.

As before, there are no age-based restrictions on contributions to a Roth IRA.

401(k)s for Part-Time Employees

Part-time workers need to save for retirement, too. However, employees who haven't worked at least 1,000 hours during the year typically aren't allowed to participate in their employer's 401(k) plan.

That's about to change. Starting in 2021, the new retirement law guarantees 401(k) plan eligibility for employees who have worked at least 500 hours per year for at least three consecutive years. The part-timer must also be 21 years old by the end of the three-year period. The new rule doesn't apply to collectively bargained employees, though.

Penalty-Free Withdrawals for Birth or Adoption of Child

Congratulations if you have a new baby on the way or are about to adopt a child! Right after you pass out the cigars, you'll probably start worrying about how you're going to pay for the birthing or adoption costs. If you have a 401(k), IRA or other retirement account, the new retirement law lets you take out up to $5,000 following the birth or adoption of a child without paying the usual 10% early-withdrawal penalty. (You'll still owe income tax on the distribution, though, unless you repay the funds.) If you're married, each spouse can withdraw $5,000 from his or her own account, penalty-free. Although using retirement funds for child birth or adoption expenses obviously reduces the amount of money available in retirement, lawmakers hope this new option will encourage younger workers to start funding 401(k)s and IRAs earlier.

You have one year from the date your child is born or the adoption is finalized to withdraw the funds from your retirement account without paying the 10% penalty. You can also put the money back into your retirement account at a later date. Recontributed amounts are treated as a rollover and not included in taxable income.

If you're adopting, penalty-free withdrawals are generally allowed if the adoptee is younger than 18 years old or is physically or mentally incapable of self-support. However, the penalty will still apply if you're adopting your spouse's child.

Annuity Information and Options Expanded

Knowing how much you have in your 401(k) account is one thing. Knowing how long the money is going to last is another. Currently, 401(k) plan statements provide an account balance, but that really doesn't tell you how much money you can expect to receive each month once you retire.

To help savers gain a better understanding of what their monthly income might look like when they stop working, the SECURE Act requires 401(k) plan administrators to provide annual "lifetime income disclosure statements" to plan participants. These statements will show how much money you could get each month if your total 401(k) account balance were used to purchase an annuity. (The estimated monthly payment amounts will be for illustrative purposes only.)

The new disclosure statements aren't required until one year after the IRS issues interim final rules, creates a model disclosure statement or releases assumptions that plan administrators can use to convert account balances into annuity equivalents, whichever is latest.

Speaking of annuities ... the new retirement law also makes it easier for 401(k) plan sponsors to offer annuities and other "lifetime income" options to plan participants by taking away some of the associated legal risks. These annuities are now portable, too. So, for example, if you leave your job you can roll over the 401(k) annuity you had with your former employer to another 401(k) or IRA and avoid surrender charges and fees.

Auto-Enrollment 401(k) Plans Enhanced

More companies are automatically enrolling eligible employees into their 401(k) plans. Workers can always opt out of the plan if they choose, but most don't. Automatic enrollment boosts overall participation in employer-sponsored plans and encourages workers to start saving for retirement as soon as they are eligible.

The employer sets a default contribution rate for employees participating in an auto-enrollment 401(k) plan. The employee can, however, choose to contribute at a different rate. For a common type of plan known as a "qualified automatic contribution arrangement" (QACA), the employee's default contribution rate starts at 3% of his or her annual pay and gradually increases to 6% with each year that the employee stays in the plan. However, under current law, an employer cannot set a QACA contribution rate exceeding 10% for any year.

The SECURE Act pushes the 10% cap on QACA automatic contributions up to 15%, except for a worker's first year of participation. By delaying the increase until the second year of participation, lawmakers hope to avoid having large numbers of employees opt out of these 401(k) plans because their initial contribution rates are too high. Overall, the change allows companies offering QACAs to ultimately put more money into their workers' retirement accounts while keeping the potential shock of higher initial contribution rates in check.

Help for Small Businesses Offering Retirement Plans

It's simply harder to save for retirement if your employer doesn't offer a retirement savings plan, because all the work falls to you. Although most large employers have retirement plans for their workers, the same can't be said about small businesses. That's why the SECURE Act has three provisions designed to help more small businesses offer retirement plans for their employees.

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Copyright © 2019
The Kiplinger Washington Editors
All rights reserved.
Distributed by Financial Media Exchange.




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