How often should I review my estate plan?

Although there is no hard-and-fast rule about when you should review your estate plan, the following suggestions may help:

  • You should review your estate plan immediately after a major life event.
  • You’ll probably want to do a quick review each year because changes in the economy and in the tax code often occur on a yearly basis.
  • You’ll want to do a more thorough review every five years.
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How can I crack down on robocalls?

You may not mind a robocall if it provides a helpful announcement from your child’s school or an appointment reminder from a doctor’s office. But sadly, criminals often use robocalls to collect consumers’ personal information and/or conduct various scams. Newer “spoofing” technology displays fake numbers to make it look as though calls are local, rather than coming from overseas. This can trick more people into answering the phone.

Robocalls have been illegal since 2009 (unless the telemarketer has the consumer’s prior consent). In mid-2017, federal agencies announced they are ramping up enforcement by fining violators and encouraging blocking technologies. What should you do if you want to help put an end to this nuisance?

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Charitable Contributions from IRAs

When planning your IRA withdrawal strategy, you may want to consider supporting a favorite charity with tax-free contributions from your IRA. These contributions are known as qualified charitable distributions (QCDs) or charitable IRA rollovers.

How QCDs Work

You must be 70½ or older in order to make QCDs. You direct your IRA trustee to make a distribution directly from your IRA (other than SEP and SIMPLE IRAs) to a qualified charity. The distribution must be one that would otherwise be taxable to you.

You can exclude up to $100,000 of QCDs from your gross income in 2018. If you file a joint return, your spouse can exclude an additional $100,000 of QCDs in 2018.

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What are catch-up contributions?

If you are 50 or older, or you will reach age 50 by the end of the year, you may be able to make contributions to your IRA or employer-sponsored retirement plan above the normal contribution limit. Catch-up contributions are designed to help you make up any retirement savings shortfall by bumping up the amount you can save in the years leading up to retirement.

Catch-up contributions can be made to traditional and Roth IRAs, as well as to 401(k) plans and certain other employer-sponsored retirement plans. But if you participate in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, check plan rules – not all plans allow catch-up contributions.

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Are 529 college savings plans a good way to save for college?

Yes, they can be an excellent way to save for college. College savings plans are established by states and typically managed by an experienced financial institution designated by the state. Each plan has slightly different features.

A 529 college savings plan lets you save money for college in an individual investment account that offers federal tax advantages. You (or anyone else) can open an account in your child’s name and thereafter contribute as much money as you wish, subject to the plan’s limit.

The state’s selected money manager takes your contribution and invests it in one or more of the plan’s pre-established investment portfolios, which typically consist of mutual funds. Some plans automatically place your contribution in a portfolio that’s tailored to the age of your child. (The younger your child, the more aggressive the percentage of stocks. As your child grows older, the portfolio gradually shifts to more conservative investments.) Other plans let you choose the portfolio you want at the time you join the plan, without regard to your child’s age. This lets you take into account your risk tolerance and other factors that may be important to you.

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Caring for Your Aging Parents

Caring for your aging parents is something you hope you can handle when the time comes, but something you probably hope you never have to do. Caring for your aging parents means helping them plan for the future, and this can be overwhelming, both physically and emotionally. When the time comes for you to take care of your parents, you may be certain of only two things: Your parents need you, and you need help.

Start planning

Talk to your parents about the future. Start caring for your aging parents by talking with them about their needs and wishes if they are able. In some cases, however, they may not be willing to talk to you about their future, either because they are afraid to face it or because they resent your interference. If this is the case, you may need to do as much planning as you can without them, or, if their safety or health is in danger, step in as caregiver anyway.

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IRA and Retirement Plan Limits for 2018

IRA contribution limits
The maximum amount you can contribute to a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA in 2018 is $5,500 (or 100 percent of your earned income, if less), unchanged from 2017. The maximum catch-up contribution for those age 50 or older remains at $1,000. You can contribute to both a traditional IRA and a Roth IRA in 2018, but your total contributions can’t exceed these annual limits.

Traditional IRA income limits
The income limits for determining the deductibility of traditional IRA contributions in 2018 have increased. If your filing status is single or head of household, you can fully deduct your IRA contribution up to $5,500 in 2018 if your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is $63,000 or less (up from $62,000 in 2017). If you’re married and filing a joint return, you can fully deduct up to $5,500 in 2018 if your MAGI is $101,000 or less (up from $99,000 in 2017). Note that these figures assume you are covered by a retirement plan at work.

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Will I have to pay tax on my investment income?

The taxation of your investment income depends on several factors, including the type of investment income you have (e.g., tax exempt, ordinary, capital gain, or tax deferred).

If you have municipal bonds, the interest they generate is typically exempt from federal taxation and state taxation in the state the bonds are issued. The interest may or may not be subject to state income tax in the state of your residence, if different from the state of issue. U.S. Treasury bills and certain types of government savings bonds generate interest that is typically subject to federal tax, but not state tax.

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Tax Moves to Review Before Ringing in the New Year

Here are 10 things to consider as you weigh potential tax moves between now and the end of the year.

1. Reserve time to plan.
Effective planning requires that you have a good understanding of your current tax situation, as well as a reasonable estimate of how your circumstances might change next year. There’s a real opportunity for tax savings if you’ll be paying taxes at a lower rate in one year than in the other. However, the window for most tax-saving moves closes on December 31, so don’t procrastinate.

2. Defer income to next year.
Consider opportunities to defer income to 2018, particularly if you think you may be in a lower tax bracket then. For example, you may be able to defer a year-end bonus or delay the collection of business debts, rents, and payments for services. Doing so may enable you to postpone payment of tax on the income until next year.

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