Choosing the Proper Benchmark

What a difference a week makes in the stock market! I thought we were in a pandemic. The lessons to learn from the current economic cycle are: 1) Markets don’t function with emotional bias based on the current state of the population; and 2) You shouldn’t try to time the markets based on “one-off” instances of change in the governance of our country.

Too many offerings of unfiltered and unverified reporting of market trends, expected apocalyptic tax changes and, overall chaos, fail to consider the market makers and buyers of large numbers of trading shares who do not make decisions based on a whim. You should approach your long-term investing strategy in the same manner. Make sound decisions based on facts and evidence while clearly focusing on your future needs.

How do you know if your portfolio is performing well? One method we recommend is the use of a proxy benchmark. There are many indices to choose from, but the proper application is to utilize a benchmark that meets your ideal portfolio allocation. If you are investing your retirement savings in a 60/40 equity to bonds allocation, you will not want to use the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index (S&P 500) as the lone index. Instead you may wish to use a blended index that provides for consideration of bond performance in the same percentage as your portfolio.

Let us explore how benchmarks are constructed so that you will understand their application to your planning process. For example, the S&P 500 Index is a market-capitalization weighted index of the 500 largest U.S. publicly traded companies. This means that the companies within the index are weighted based on their market capitalization and shares traded. Another common benchmark is the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) which is a price-weighted index. To understand how the DJIA is weighted, think about the individual share prices of the thirty (30) companies included in the index and the higher priced stocks receive a greater share, or weight, of the allocation to the index. By using daily share prices, the index seeks to account for stock splits, dividends paid or corporate divestitures (spinoffs) in its performance reporting.

When reviewing the performance of an asset class such as bonds, within your portfolio, consider a broad-based benchmark such as the Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond Index (Barclays Agg). This benchmark index includes the entire universe of domestic, investment-grade, fixed-income securities traded in the United States. As a broad index including government securities, mortgage-backed securities, asset-backed securities, and corporate securities, it serves as an appropriate comparison to well-diversified bond portfolios.

There is a great deal of expertise, time and knowledge required to invest in markets. If you are concerned about the performance of your retirement assets, seek out a complimentary consultation with a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional. You may be glad you did. See you on the golf course!

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The One Secret to Retiring Successfully

We are asked many questions about the strategies to retirement and enjoyment of life. This article will reveal the secret success criteria that many of our clients have implemented over the past 20 years to change their lives. Let’s think about the word “retirement” for a moment. Too often the word has negative connotations to individuals who are ill prepared for the next phase of life. Others see the word as an opportunity to begin a new hobby, career or volunteer service life. What is your understanding of the word “retirement”?

Most of our challenges in life give us opportunities to exercise our philosophy toward the pending decision. There are many inclinations to a decision and the result you choose may have life-altering consequences. Wouldn’t you want to tip the scales of success in your favor on this type of decision? Of course! If you were to find a method of decision-making that supported greater probabilities of success, you would use that method for all decisions.

Sadly, immediate wisdom is not bestowed on us humans. No, we learn by the old-fashioned method of trial and error. However, if you were to seek out someone to assist in your resolution process that had experience and specialized training in the area of retirement planning, you could attribute that person’s wisdom as your own.

The one secret to retiring successfully is to change your philosophy of life. I know this sounds like an indomitable task, but it does not have to be. For example, there are, at least, two options for every decision in life – positive and negative. You could think like some people that hate to pay income taxes. However, when I frame it in the context of what their income had brought them in terms of life, family, charity and other aspects of their choosing, they quickly see the difference in philosophy I hold toward paying taxes. Am I saying you should throw a party because you pay a significant amount of taxes to the government? Sure, if you want. Hey, this is America! Do what you wish with you own time, talent and treasure.

Your philosophy toward investing for your future requires that you look through the lenses of potential and desire. Do not retire to simply quit working. This philosophy will produce poor long-term results. Instead think of the contributions you could make to your community, church or other civic groups that require your expertise to continue supporting constituents. 

We use the term “reFIREment” to describe the next phase of your life. To us this is a new beginning with excitement and vigor. By changing your philosophy toward retirement, you will find yourself changing your investment philosophy. Think about the joys and/or challenges you wish to, or may, experience after your career. If you desire to travel, relocate to another state, start another career – all have funding needs that must be addressed during your work life. By defining your ultimate purpose in life, through a sound philosophy, you will be empowered to fund your retirement in a manner that allows you to accomplish a more rewarding life. Your outlook for the future will be much brighter and more positive when you have a plan that focuses on something other than “not working”.

Seek out help if you are unclear on how to define your future in monetary or philosophical terms that give you the greatest opportunity for success. A retirement specialist can serve many roles for your family. The best resources you will receive from a Certified Financial Planner™ professional are independent, tailored planning and honest feedback on the best approaches to reach your goals. You have far more to contribute to the world. Do not stop giving just because your work life has converted to your beach life. See you on the golf course!

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What is Risk?

So many people that I meet seek a panacea for their retirement assets. It is one of those facts of life that if anything yields a return, it also inherently contains risk. Let’s explore what risks are applicable in our everyday lives.

Market risk is most common among individuals that meet with us. People will look for a “happy median” and mitigate as much risk as possible while retaining enough risk to allow their investments to earn a targeted rate of annual return. How do you mitigate risk in the market? You have heard this word many times in this column but it is worthy to mention it again – diversification.

The distorted belief of market risk is that it is the overall risk of the market. However, we should look at the various types of risk contained in this general category of risk. For example, market risk can be further defined as currency risk, equity risk or interest rate risk depending on the type of investment you are considering. Should you wish to invest in a security that is issued from a foreign company, you may be subject to potential risks in the difference between the U.S. Dollar and the currency of the domicile country of the target investment. Again, there are measures to mitigate this risk. When we use the term “mitigate” you must understand that it does not mean the risk is eliminated, merely lessened or mollified.

Interest rate risk should be heeded when purchasing debt or bond instruments. Remember, the interest rate of a bond has a direct impact on the value of the holding. For example, bond market prices drop when interest rates rise and vice-versa. The longer the bond term to maturity will also be a consideration when looking at risk exposure.

Equity risk is the presence of risk when you invest in stocks or equity instrument shares and the value of the shares may decrease. This is the most prevalent of risks to investors. Every session the markets are open, and trading is occurring, is a day that equity risk is present. 

Concentration risk may be a new term for many people. This type of risk is explained within its name – concentration. Executives of publicly-traded companies are given shares of the company stock for incentives of compensation. Presumably the executives’ efforts to create profit, increase market share, etc. will cause the stock share price to increase which, in turn, will give the executives greater earnings from the ultimate sale of the stock. Risk is inherent in this type of compensation when the executive is ready to retire and their portfolio consists of the employer’s stock for more than half of the total value of their account. Tax ramifications and other considerations should be analyzed to determine the least costly method of diversifying the portfolio to reduce concentration risk.

Liquidity risk is a significant issue when holding shares or bonds that you can’t sell for a profit when you wish to sell. You may be required to sell your positions for a loss to meet a cash flow need of your family. 

One of my favorite quotes by Will Rogers, which seems very appropriate in an article on investment risks, is “I’m not so much interested in the return ON my money as I am the return OF my money.” Oklahoma’s Favorite Son was always reliable for a good turn of the word.

The types of risk listed above do not fully explain all risks an individual may encounter. However, with the acceptance of a certain level of risk, mitigating the presence of risk by utilizing diversification and other measures, you may feel more comfortable and confident about your future. One method of determining the current level of risk in your portfolio is to request a complimentary analysis or “stress test” from a Certified Financial Planner™ professional. I recommend that you consider a balance between risk and return not simply the elimination of all risk. By eliminating all risk, you may not achieve your goal of exceeding inflation with your investments. See you on the golf course!

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Retirement Planning and Tree Planting: Common Traits

An ancient Chinese proverb states, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” What do tree planting and retirement planning have in common? Both reward you by starting early and expecting the harvest much later in your future.

One of the “seeds” we plant in the lives of younger professionals is that the future arrives much sooner than most anticipate. I don’t mean that time speeds up but rather that life has a way of causing you to focus on many other tasks that will rob you of your future savings goals. For example, when you were graduating high school and received all of those beautiful congratulatory cards filled with checks and cash, you thought the future was so distant that you were immortal. 

However, in just a short period of time, you go to your mailbox and find the ornate envelopes addressed to you. Opening the envelope, you quickly realize it is a graduation announcement from a friend’s child! “How can this be?” you say out loud. Time has a way of moving consistently forward in our lives and, if we aren’t careful to notice, passes us by without our comprehending the importance of events and people around us.

What does this have to do with retirement, you ask? Everything! We provide financial planning and counseling services to younger professionals. When we inform them of the balance needed in their lives to meet all of their lifetime goals, they are quick to point out that the amount of funds allocated to their retirement seems excessive since they are so young. I love it when this statement is said so boldly by the young person! This recognition of time being so far away from their current reality allows us to demonstrate the difference between a little invested today and the required larger amount to invest if she starts 20 years later to save for retirement.

After the calculations and graphs are reviewed with the person, you can literally see the look in their eyes as to how fast time truly passes. The key to planting the money tree needed for retirement enjoyment is today. Too often people come to our office to discuss retirement planning and leave with less confidence in reaching their goals because of the lack of time to accumulate assets properly.

To help you start today, we have produced our “Top Ten Tips for Saving Today”:

Tip #1: Elect to participate in your employer’s retirement plan. Even if the amount is small, the plan will typically match a certain percentage of your contributions which will help you grow your funds more quickly.

Tip #2: Forgo the cup of latte, double shot, no foam every other day and place these funds in your savings. You will be surprised how much you can save in a year!

Tip #3: Pay yourself first. This is our mantra when clients ask us how to save for the future. You must take advantage of the tax laws to plan for all applicable deductions possible. Invest in your future, not the government.

Tip #4: Find an accountability partner. Saving is like exercise; you must perform both on a consistent basis to see the results. When I started exercising (again) regularly, I didn’t notice results for a month or so. Then the magic came alive one day when I was putting my suit pants on – they were too big! Your saving for the future will work the same way. Find someone to hold you accountable for exercising and saving.

Tip #5: Do what wealthy people do. Budget each year and consider your savings goal as the first disbursement for your monthly funds. The key difference between the behavior of wealthy people and ordinary people is their approach to saving for their future. Wealthy people will save their desired portion of income first and spend the rest. Ordinary people will pay their bills first then save what’s left.

Tip #6: Don’t stop investing your savings in difficult market cycles. Emotions rule a lot of people. However, to be successful in saving for the future, you must be consistent in your investing. Think about the process as if you were shopping. Look for bargains that have fundamental characteristics of a good investment. These are typically found when the markets are in recession or downturns. 

Tip #7: The stock market is an auction use it to your advantage. In its simplest terms, the stock market is based on someone selling something and someone else buying it. Don’t be confused with the technicalities of the market. Consider a well-balanced portfolio and consistently fund it through good and bad markets. You may find that you are well rewarded in the long run.

Tip #8: Rent don’t buy. Before you think you know what I am referring to allow me to explain further. Don’t buy assets that are low utilization but require significant investment of time and money. One primary example is a boat or recreational vehicle for most people. Besides maintenance, insurance, storage, taxes and other costs are borne with these assets that could be alleviated by renting one when you need it. Recently, we rented a house boat for a weekend on the lake. The gas tank was full and the maintenance, as well as all the required safety equipment, was completed by the leasing company. All we did was enjoy the weekend and turn the craft back in after we were through.

Tip #9: Invest your raise in salary. Instead of increasing your monthly living expenses by the same amount of funds you received in your recent raise, consider allocating the raise to your future savings. If you have been living comfortably, why should you change your lifestyle simply because you make more money?

Tip #10: Recite often the nine tips above so that you are not easily distracted by the “bright shiny objects” that appear before you while living your dream life. One word that I have used, on purpose, throughout this article is “consistently”. Without reviewing your actions periodically, it is easy to find yourself off course and in treacherous waters. 

Seek out a professional to help you establish a plan and work the plan like your life depends on it – because it truly does! See you on the golf course. 

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Eliminating the Top Three Fears of Pre-Retirees

Retiring is a big step in life for most people. Along with this new lifestyle comes the fear of the unknown. You do not have to be subject to these fears if you simply follow the process outlined in this article.

Let’s identify three fears causing the greatest concern for pre-retirees. First, most people have enjoyed a career where they receive consistent paychecks and benefits. At retirement, there is a sudden realization that the ever-flowing money and benefits immediately stop! You don’t have to feel this way if proper planning has been performed. For example, if you have saved properly in your employer retirement plan, a series of consistent payments can be established to provide you a lifestyle you desire. Proper assumptions must be considered when establishing this stream of cashflow to confidently assuage the underlying fear of “running out of money”.

Why would you work so hard all of your life to simply exist in retirement? I am pretty certain that no one listed “barely survive” as a retirement goal! Start saving for retirement early and you will reap the benefits of living a life you desire.

The second fear of pre-retirees is the unknown cash needs of other family members while the retiree is enjoying life. When planning and analyzing the needs of the potential retiree, it is critical that you consider the needs of other family members you have supported during your career. What I am referring to is the “sandwich” generation. Some individuals are not only caring for their retirement needs but the needs of their parents and/or children (hence the name, “sandwich” generation). Challenges to the traditional family structure have been monumental in the past two decades. In years prior, the retiree had only their existing household to care for during the period after employment. Now, the retiree may be called upon to assist in college funding, caring for an elderly parent, etc. The world is a different place today and these considerations should be given some thought during the planning process. 

To alleviate this fear, consider allocating a certain amount of funds to be invested in a manner that provides for these needs. Are there assets of your parents that may have considerable value but no cash flow capabilities? If so, perhaps selling the property would provide sufficient support for your parents’ futures. If not, this special fund would give you confidence that your retirement is secure while also meeting your obligations you desire to undertake for your family members.

The third and final fear of pre-retirees is the rising cost of medical care and its negative impact on their retirement assets. This is a tough one for most people. Proper medical care is necessary to allow you to enjoy the highest quality of life in retirement. However, with medical care rising approximately 6% per year for pharmaceutical and physician visits, a significant ailment could wreck your well-planned future. Consider utilizing Medicare Programs to your advantage. For example, it is critical that you consider a supplemental plan to your Medicare Parts A and B coverages. The remaining 20% of inpatient costs would be a material burden on your assets and cashflow if you were required to pay it out-of-pocket. There are many types of supplemental plans that cover various levels of support. Analyze them and consult an expert for guidance to select the proper plan for your needs.

If you are concerned about the rising cost of prescription drugs, and are enrolled in Medicare, consider the Medicare Part D Program. You may find sufficient coverage for your needs for a small premium each month. One caveat to this plan is that you will be penalized for enrolling in a period after you are initially qualified at age 65. For example, after your 65th birthday, you are eligible to enroll in Medicare Part D. 

However, your health is great and you don’t expect a costly amount of prescriptions. Then the unimaginable happens – at age 68 you experience a significant health event that requires expensive medication each month. You quickly enroll in Medicare Part D at the next enrollment period and realize that your monthly premium seems higher than you remembered at age 65. The difference in rates is the late enrollment penalty calculated at 1% of the national base beneficiary premium assessed each month from your originally qualified enrollment date to the month you enrolled in the program. In our example above, 36 months had lapsed from the date of the originally qualified enrollment date for the individual which means the monthly premium penalty would be 36%. As a result, your monthly premium for Medicare Part D coverage would be 36% higher than the national premium. As you can see, this penalty can become material rather quickly.

There are many factors to consider prior to retiring. We have a saying we use with our clients, “You retire for the first time only once. Don’t make a lifetime mistake when you do so.” Retirement planning is a process that should be addressed in advance and, to provide the greatest probability for success, consult a professional that specializes in retirement planning. Life is meant to be lived, not feared.

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Time — Your Most Powerful Savings Weapon

The most powerful factor to assist in the planning for your future is time. However, time is also the one factor of investing that you can’t control. What do you do? 

To properly unleash the power of time in the calculation of compounding interest, you must start early to invest. You have more control over your future than you know. For example, if you saved only $100 each month from the time you graduate college at age 22 until you reach 30 and invest it prudently, say at an annual return of 6%, you would accumulate $12,344.27. Not quite ready to retire at age 30, right?

What happens when you continue saving each month but the amount is increased to $250 from age 30 until age 67, which is the age full retirement age for Social Security Benefits and assume the same annual rate of return? Of course, the amount in your savings account would be much higher if all assumptions were realized. How much would you realize in your savings account at age 67? You would have accumulated $522,896.95! Now, can you retire and live the life you choose? It depends. 

The key financial principles to learn from this illustration is that time and compounding of interest have helped you grow your account by $402,296.95 and you only invested $120,600. What if you had invested a little more each month, say $500 per month from the age of 30? You would realize a total of $932,763.11! To illustrate the power of these two financial principles, you have saved only $231,600 from your earnings and the account grew $701,163.11. 

What if we looked at this from another angle? Let’s assume that you enjoy coffee. Instead of the latte with extra espresso that costs $3.50 per day, you save this amount in your savings account each week for a total of and invest the funds to earn 6% annually. How much would you have accumulated in 45 years? $294,561.07! Now, that is a lot of coffee money.

The overall lesson to learn from these illustrative calculations is that you can save a significant amount of money for retirement if you start early in life. Time is the most powerful of element when growing money for the future. Of course, no one earns an exact 6% each year for forty-five consecutive years. However, the calculations provide you some motivation to start saving at the earliest point in your life. 

One of the best methods of accumulating money is to fund your employer retirement plan with as much as you can defer from your salary. Most plans feature a matching contribution from the employer, when coupled with your potential for growth, would help you reach your savings goals faster.

These simple concepts can work for you if you maintain discipline in the process. Too many people believe they have plenty of time to save for retirement and create a lifestyle that is too costly to allow them to save. Here is the trick to this process: do what wealthy people do. Save first and spend the rest! See you on the golf course.

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Three T’s of Successful Retirement Planning

Making a major life decision is not to be approached in a haphazard manner. Many people underestimate the impact of retirement on their lives and have “buyer’s remorse” once the process is complete. How can you experience a more positive and proactive outcome to retiring? Simply follow the “3 T’s” outlined below and you will gain tremendous confidence and control over your new phase of life.

Establish a Team

The first “T” is to establish a team. Many aspects of life allow you only one opportunity to get things right and this is one of them. Financial, estate, cash flow and tax considerations must be addressed in the process of planning to retire. Often clients come to our office for a meeting about their retirement and certain elections chosen by the individual are irrevocable. Elections in the format in which you will receive your retirement benefits, Medicare and Social Security Benefits and other critical lifestyle choices may have lifelong ramifications. You should consider assembling a team consisting of, at a minimum, a CPA, a Certified Financial Planner™ practitioner, an estate planning attorney and your spouse or significant other. Why do you wish to include your spouse/significant other? Do you know how your relationship may be changed by each of you spending the majority of your day together? It is critical that you listen and coordinate your plans for retirement with your team.

Timing

The second “T” is timing. When is the best time to retire? How can you maximize retirement income by electing benefits offered by your employer, SSA Benefits and other support income during your retirement years? The key to properly timing your approach to launch into this next phase of life is to understand the qualitative issues and work to resolve them to your benefit with similar gusto as you do your quantitative needs. Emphasis is generally given the monetary issues of retirement only to realize your plan failed to consider the importance of emotional issues about the changing lifestyle you may find yourself. Work with your wealth advisor to determine if you have addressed all facets of retirement and the timing is in your best interest.

Transition

The third and final “T” is for transition. Successful individuals that transition smoothly to and enjoy retirement are those that understand their time is more valuable than their wealth. Purpose is required of each of us to live a fulfilling life. Why would you wish to devote most of your early life to work and career only to be miserable after your leave employment? That, to me, is not success. However, the person who understands that she has talents, time and treasure to devote to others may find a more rewarding experience in the retirement phase. Consider your plans to travel, join civic groups, devote your time to education in other fields of interest, etc. You must understand that with today’s medical advancements, you may spend as many years in retirement as you did in your career. With that in your mind, wouldn’t you feel more confident knowing that you addressed the Three T’s of Retirement Planning?

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Selling the Farm? Think About This Tax-Saving Election!

You worked your entire life and a significant amount of your family’s wealth is tied to the family farm. This scenario is experienced by many families in the U.S. How do you obtain your value from the land and pay the least amount of income tax? There is a way.

The income tax laws, referred to as the Internal Revenue Code in the United States, provides for families to retire from the farm without paying current income taxes on the transaction. As you can imagine, there are a few caveats and requirements to performing such a transaction. This type of land transfer is known as a “like-kind exchange”. In recent years the regulations governing this type of transaction have been refined to allow property held for productive use or investment (i.e., the farmland) to be exchanged with other investment property to defer the tax on the potential gain in the land.

Think about this approach. Mr. Jones has a farm which consists of 640 acres of pastureland. He purchased the land 40 years ago. His basis in the land is $100 per acre or $64,000 for the total parcel. However, Mr. Jones is ready to retire and decides he wants to sell the property. Today, the land is worth $1,000 per acre or $640,000 for the total parcel. Mr. Jones visits his CPA to discuss his decision to retire and sell his land. The good news is that Mr. Jones is retiring. The bad news is that his federal tax bill on the sale of the could be as much $128,000! 

To defer the tax bill to its latest due date, Mr. Jones’ CPA informs him of a structure that allows Mr. Jones to exchange his farm land for other land that is held for investment. Perhaps Mr. Jones would desire to own rental properties that would generate cash flow to supplement his retirement?

This area of law is very specific but can provide significant benefit to taxpayers. Two important timelines are required to be met to treat the property received in the exchange as “like-kind” property: 1) The property to be received must be identified within 45 days after the taxpayer’s property is relinquished in the exchange; 2) The property transaction shall be closed within 180 days after the relinquished property is transferred to the other party.

Additional parties are involved in this type of transaction. A qualified intermediary is utilized to transfer the deeds, hold the deposits and to execute the transaction on behalf of the two exchange parties.

Before you simply decide to sell your farm, think about other opportunities to mitigate the tax bill. You will be glad you did. 

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IRA Law Changes That Affect You Now!

If you are receiving required minimum distributions from an IRA, you may have an opportunity to lower your tax burden for 2020! The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act includes a waiver for required minimum distributions for 2020. This provides immediate relief to taxpayers who were being forced to pay tax on the distribution but had no economic need. Another reasoning for this provision of the Act was to allow investors to retain their investments within their IRAs during a time our economy was contracting. Further, the required minimum distribution is based on the balance of the account at December 31, 2019. The markets were much higher than they are currently. The waiver applies to traditional and Roth inherited IRAs, too.

To provide immediate tax reduction, individuals under the age of 59½, who need funds to continue their lifestyle, may receive up to $100,000 of IRA premature distributions in 2020 and the 10% penalty for early distribution will be waived. However, the distribution is taxable. Good news for these individuals is that the tax due on the distributions may be evenly spread over three (3) tax years to be repaid.

If you are in the process of preparing and filing your 2019 individual income tax returns, you may contribute to your 2019 IRA up to July 15, 2020. This contribution would normally be allowed only to the date of April 15. By providing taxpayers the opportunity to build additional cash flow for their households, the extension of time to fund an IRA may allow investors to open or fund an IRA that otherwise would not be feasible.

Limits for IRA contributions for 2019 remain at $6,000 for Roth and Traditional IRAs. For those age 50 or older, an additional “catch-up” contribution of $1,000 is allowed. If you or your spouse, as married filing joint tax filers, wish to contribute to an IRA for 2019, your modified adjusted gross income must be $103,000 or less. If you are a single filer, your modified adjusted gross income must be $63,000 or less to contribute the full amount allowed in a Traditional or Roth IRA. The limit for IRA contributions for the 2020 tax year are the same as those in 2019.

Earnings limits for contributions to an IRA, while participating in an employer plan, are increased to $65,000 for single filers and $104,000 for married filing joint filers. The preceding amounts of modified adjusted gross income allow the taxpayer(s) to fully deduct their IRA contributions.

Lastly, one of the better changes to the IRA rules, for 2020, is the allowance of contributions to an IRA by individuals older than 70½. There is no age limit to make contributions to a Traditional or Roth IRA in 2020. This is a big bonus for many individuals who are savers. A tax deduction that you get to keep in your own account!?!? Welcome to the crazy world of taxation in the United States. See you on the golf course! 

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