Life is complex enough. With so many demands on your time and attention, finding ways to simplify things is both a goal and a never-ending struggle. To help, let me give you two ways to make your financial life just a little bit easier.
For retirees who have reached age 72 – the age where required minimum distributions or RMDs enter the scene – there’s a little known trick that will help eliminate the need for having to make administratively burdensome estimated tax payments each quarter.
Just like when taxes were withheld from your paycheck during your working years, any taxes withheld directly from your IRA distribution are considered by the IRS as if they were paid evenly throughout the year. That’s the case, even if they were withheld on the very last day of the year.
This treatment turns your IRA into a convenient tax planning tool at the end of each year. In other words, if you are able to target the right tax withholding percentage for the US Treasury and State of Michigan, you can safely forget about estimated tax payments. That means you can forget writing out eight checks, rummaging through your files for eight tax vouchers, addressing eight envelopes, licking eight stamps and stop worrying about the deadlines of April 15, June 15, September 15 and January 15.
Speaking of required minimum distributions, or RMDs, another simplification move you might consider is to finally consolidate your IRAs. I’m always surprised by the number of people who have multiple IRA accounts spread across multiple brokerage firms.
While it’s a natural instinct to not put all of your proverbial eggs in one basket, the most common reason for having too many accounts in too many places is purely administrative inertia. However, that inertia results in wasteful, extra effort and risk in the long run. If you ever fail to take out your annual RMD, there is an unbelievably onerous 50% excise tax waiting in the wings.
Beyond that worry, having too many separate IRA accounts complicates your tax preparation, too. For every additional IRA you have, there is one more Form 1099-R to remember, to gather and to report to your tax preparer. And, if you use your IRA as a charitable tool, as you should, you’ll also need to track and tally up your donations from each separate IRA. Why? Because your brokerage firms won’t automatically subtract them from your Form 1099-R. That bookkeeping duty is yours.
From my experience, each added element of complexity creates the possibility of making costly mistakes. The longer I’ve been in this business, the more I seem to embrace simplicity.