Q. I don’t know whether you respond to individuals via e-mail or strictly via your newspaper column. I am retired – first from federal employment, and then in 2013 from a job with state government.
My age is 73. I have two annuities and Social Security. My dear wife passed away in 2013. She was a federal employee and was very close to retirement. I have this year begun to receive my late wife's retirement annuity.
One question that I have is: would consulting a "financial-adviser" help me in avoiding a big tax bite when April 15th comes around? Another question is: Should I pay off the mortgage on my home? I am in a position to do that. —R.G., Austin, TX
A. I respond to a lot more emails than appear in the newspaper column— but I still can’t respond to all of them.
Sadly, the psychological side of being widowed is often made worse by the financial changes. One of the big changes is the shift from filing a joint return to filing a single return with the IRS. While your income may have declined, the tax rate applied to that income increases.
Unfortunately, there is next to nothing that you can do about that, particularly if your income is pretty much set by Social Security, pensions and/or annuities. So visiting a financial advisor wouldn’t be very useful.
The change in tax rates, however, cuts both ways. If your tax rate on income is higher and your standard deduction and personal exemptions are lower, the interest and real estate tax deductions you have from home ownership become more valuable because each dollar of deduction will save more in taxes.
Here are some examples. A single filer starts paying at a 15 percent rate when taxable income exceeds $9,225 and at a 25 percent rate when taxable income exceeds $37,450. A married couple doesn’t pay at the 15 percent rate until taxable income is $18,450. They pay at a 25 percent rate when taxable income exceeds $74,900. Similarly, you’ll lose a personal exemption of $3,950 and your standard deduction will decline from the $12,600 a couple can deduct to $6,300 for a single.
All that said, don’t get too excited about those interest and real estate deductions.
Why? Because you’ll only benefit by the amount that your itemized deductions exceed your new $6,300 standard deduction. Equally important, paying off the mortgage from your investments will reduce your taxable income. And it will reduce your monthly spending need by even more, substantially more if you have an old mortgage that is mostly principal payment.
So unless paying off the mortgage requires cleaning out your available savings and leaving you with no emergency fund, having no mortgage is the way to go.
Q. I read, heard or was told of a Treasury site that allows first-time investors to invest up to $5,500 each year for three years. It is supposed to be a site that is a safe and without fees. I have forgotten where the site is so, and I’d like to tell my son about it. Can you help me and direct to this site? —L.B., by email
A. The site you are looking for is http://www.myRA.gov. Go there and you are on your way: myRA accounts allow you to invest in the Government Securities Fund, or G Fund. This fund is part of the Thrift Savings Plan offered to government employees. The fund invests in government securities that are specially issued to the TSP. It is guaranteed not to decline.
The return in 2014 was 2.31 percent. That may not sound like much— unless you are familiar with yields on certificates of deposit and Treasury obligations. Recently, for instance, Treasury obligations maturing in 10 years were priced to yield 2.12 percent. So you’re getting the yield of a 10-year security without any risk. Indeed, it is such a good deal that some of our dear friends in Congress want to end it.
These accounts operate under the general rules of Roth IRA accounts so they have a current annual contribution limit of $5,500 for those under 50 and $6,500 for those 50 and over. Contributions are from after-tax income and can be withdrawn, without penalty. Taxes and penalties may be applied to any interest earnings, however.