Q. My husband and I are both 43. He is a Federal Employee. I'm self-employed in real estate and other consulting gigs. Hubby has $283,000 in the Thrift Savings Plan. He has the money in the C fund right now, but can easily move it around online when the markets get shaky. The C fund is the one that invests in the S&P 500, all stocks. He stays on top of it and follows the financial news.
We also have around $164,000 with a large brokerage firm -- $50,000 in husband's Roth, $67,000 in my Roth, and $47,000 in a traditional IRA.
We are putting the max in the TSP— 15 percent. It comes out to around $13,700 a year. We occasionally put money into our brokerage Roth accounts. For 2014, I think we contributed $2,400 each. Not much. The traditional IRA gets no contributions. I have been self-employed for a decade, so that IRA is just rollovers from earlier jobs, including some in my twenties.
We are considering moving all of our brokerage accounts over to the TSP. Putting all of our eggs in one basket makes me very nervous, so we want your input.
Our brokerage people are lovely, but they aren't on top of our account at all. My parents have a huge amount of money with them, so their adult children are given some sort of 'family plan' discount. I think our account is 'free', but it also means they don't monitor it or service us very well. —C.O., Austin, TX
A. The major brokerage firms have encouraged their brokers to focus on large accounts, generally at least $250,000 and usually $500,000 and up, so your brokers are playing “the main event” which is your parent’s account. In any case, there is no reason not to move the accounts that can be moved to the TSP to the TSP. By doing so you’ll reduce costs to the lowest possible level— 2.9 basis points or 2.9-onehundredths of one percent.
But you can’t move your accounts there, only your husband’s. The alternative is to move your accounts to low-cost accounts at discount brokerage firms.
Without knowing what your brokerage accounts are invested in I can’t tell you how much you’ll save every year, but it will most likely be 1 to 1.5 percent a year, perhaps more.
There is no reason to be concerned about consolidating accounts for your husband. Nor should you have any concern about moving your accounts to one of the major low-cost platforms— such as Vanguard, Fidelity or Schwab. At each of those firms you can find a way to virtually duplicate asset class offerings of the Thrift Savings Plan, but at a slightly higher expense, about 7 to 10 basis points.
But don’t worry about the higher costs. As I see it, the big journey is the one from losing 2 percent a year (200 basis points) in fees to about 20 basis points. Paying attention to cutting the big cost will change your retirement for the better. Obsessing over getting from 20 basis points to the 3 basis points of the TSP won’t be very productive.
Q. I'm retired and will be 70 in September 2016. How do I avoid taking 2 RMDs in one year?
The IRS required minimum distribution worksheet says the first RMD is the year I turn 70 and ½. That will be March 2017, with RMD to be done by April 1 of the following year, which will be 2018, based on the IRA balance at end of the previous year. Since I'll be 71 in Sept. 2017 this appears to require two RMDs in one year. Am I reading this correctly?
If I take my first RMD the year I turn 70 (2016), would I then be taking only one RMD the year I turn 71 (2017)? —RMD Perplexed, Chicago, IL
A. Yes, you are reading the (contorted) regulations correctly. That’s why you should take your first distribution next year, 2016, when you are 70 and another the following year, 2017, when you will turn 71. You could also take your first distribution in 2017, the year you turn 70 ½ and take a second distribution in 2018. If you delayed your first distribution to the last possible date, April 1, 2018 you would also have to take the required minimum distribution for 2018 by December 31, 2018. That means you’d be taking two distributions in a single year.** If your other sources of income in both years will be the same, it’s good to spread the distributions over two different years.
If you have good estimates of your sources of other income in both years, it may be worthwhile to ask a tax preparer to figure out the best choice. Most financial service firms also offer help with required minimum distribution decisions.
**Note: this edition has been updated from the earlier
edition to explain more fully when to make the first required minimum
distribution (RMD) and how to avoid needing to make two distributions in the
same tax year.