Insurance

Updating Beneficiary Designations & Benefits of Health Savings Accounts (HSA)

The importance of updating beneficiary designations

Health Savings AccountsMost of us have more than enough to do. We’re on the go from early in the morning until well into the evening — six or seven days a week. Thus, it’s no surprise that we may let some important things slide. We know we need to get to them, but it seems like they can just as easily wait until tomorrow, the next day, or whenever.

A U.S. Supreme Court decision reminds us that sometimes “whenever” never gets here and the results can be tragic. The case involved a $400,000 employer-sponsored retirement account, owned by William, who had named his wife, Liv, as his beneficiary in 1974 shortly after they married. The couple divorced 20 years later. As part of the divorce decree, Liv waived her rights to benefits under William’s employer-sponsored retirement plans. However, William never got around to changing his beneficiary designation form with his employer.

When William died, Liv was still listed as his beneficiary. So, the plan paid the $400,000 to Liv. William’s estate sued the plan, saying that because of Liv’s waiver in the divorce decree, the funds should have been paid to the estate. The Court disagreed, ruling that the plan documents (which called for the beneficiary to be designated and changed in a specific way) trumped the divorce decree. William’s designation of Liv as his beneficiary was done in the way the plan required; Liv’s waiver was not. Thus, the plan rightfully paid $400,000 to Liv.

The tragic outcome of this case was largely controlled by its unique facts. If the facts had been slightly different (such as the plan allowing a beneficiary to be designated on a document other than the plan’s beneficiary form), the outcome could have been quite different and much less tragic. However, it still would have taken a lot of effort and expense to get there. This leads us to a couple of important points.

If you want to change the beneficiary for a life insurance policy, retirement plan, IRA, or other benefit, use the plan’s official beneficiary form rather than depending on an indirect method, such as a will or divorce decree.

It’s important to keep your beneficiary designations up to date. Whether it is because of divorce or some other life-changing event, beneficiary designations made years ago can easily become outdated.

One final thought regarding beneficiary designations: While you’re verifying that all of your beneficiary designations are current, make sure you’ve also designated secondary beneficiaries where appropriate. This is especially important with assets such as IRAs, where naming both a primary and secondary beneficiary can potentially allow payouts from the account to be stretched out over a longer period and maximize the time available for the tax deferral benefits to accrue.

The many benefits of a Health Savings Account (HSA)

A Health Savings Account (HSA) represents an opportunity for eligible individuals to lower their out-of-pocket health care costs and federal tax bill. Since most of us would like to take advantage of every available tax break, now might be a good time to consider an HSA, if eligible.

Herman & Company CPA’s proudly serves Bedford Hills NY, Chappaqua NY, Harrison NY, Scarsdale NY, White Plains NY, Mt. Kisco NY, Pound Ridge NY, Greenwich CT and beyond.

An HSA operates somewhat like a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) that employers offer to their eligible employees. An FSA permits eligible employees to defer a portion of their pay, on a pretax basis, which is used later to reimburse out-of-pocket medical expenses. However, unlike an FSA, whatever remains in the HSA at year end can be carried over to the next year and beyond. In addition, there are no income phaseout rules, so HSAs are available to high-earners and low-earners alike.

Naturally, there are a few requirements for obtaining the benefits of an HSA. The most significant requirement is that an HSA is only available to an individual who carries health insurance coverage with a relatively high annual deductible. For 2015, the individual’s health insurance coverage must come with at least a $1,300 deductible for single coverage or $2,600 for family coverage. For many self-employed individuals, small business owners, and employees of small and large companies alike, these thresholds won’t be a problem. In addition, it’s okay if the insurance plan doesn’t impose any deductible for preventive care (such as annual checkups). Other requirements for setting up an HSA are that an individual can’t be eligible for Medicare benefits or claimed as a dependent on another person’s tax return.

Individuals who meet these requirements can make tax-deductible HSA contributions in 2015 of up to $3,350 for single coverage or $6,650 for family coverage. The contribution for a particular tax year can be made as late as April 15 of the following year. The deduction is claimed in arriving at adjusted gross income (the number at the bottom of page 1 on your return). Thus, eligible individuals can benefit whether they itemize or not. Unfortunately, however, the deduction doesn’t reduce a self-employed person’s self-employment tax bill.

When an employer contributes to an employee’s HSA, the contributions are exempt from federal income, Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment taxes.

An account beneficiary who is age 55 or older by the end of the tax year for which the HSA contribution is made may make a larger deductible (or excludible) contribution. Specifically, the annual tax-deductible contribution limit is increased by $1,000.

An HSA can generally be set up at a bank, insurance company, or other institution the IRS deems suitable. The HSA must be established exclusively for the purpose of paying the account beneficiary’s qualified medical expenses. These include uninsured medical costs incurred for the account beneficiary, spouse, and dependents. However, for HSA purposes, health insurance premiums don’t qualify.

Small Business Affordable Care Act Reporting Responsibilities

Small business obamacare reporting

Extended deadlines, confusing terms for business sizes and hiccups in the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) Marketplace may have small business owners dreading the next steps for IRS forms and coverage reporting. Fortunately, only 4% of small businesses are subject to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) reporting requirements or the employer responsibility provision.

The good news is that reporting for the 2014 calendar year is entirely voluntary, and there will be no negative impact or tax liability for either employers or employees, if small business owners decide to report for this year.

Defining Small Business Sizes:

Small Employer: Generally businesses with fewer than 50 full-time employees.

Large Employer: 50 or more full time or full time equivalent employees.

Not sure how many full time employees or full time equivalent (FTE) employees you have? Head over to the healthcare.gov FTE calculator.

Reporting Start Dates:

100 or more employees: Minimal Essential Coverage (MEC) must start January 1, 2015, with mandatory reporting filed no later than February 29th, 2016 or March 31, 2016 if e-filing.

50 or more employees: While MEC is not required until January 1, 2016, reporting for the 2015 calendar year is required.

25 or less: Reporting is encouraged, but not mandatory. However, small businesses of this size may be eligible for tax credits and other benefits if they voluntarily file reports for 2014 or 2015. Learn more about these tax credits at the IRS website.

What is Reported

Small businesses must report about the coverage (if any) offered, per month, to their full-time employees. This information, reported per employee, must include the lowest cost of self-only coverage offered to employees.

Forms, Forms and More Forms

The IRS has, in an effort to streamline the reporting process for businesses, created single, combined form for information reporting. The forms created (6055 & 6056) will be used by employers to report to both the IRS and to furnish employees with information about their offered coverage.

Simplified Reporting Options

Employers that offer a qualifying offer – minimal value coverage for a full time employee that costs the employee no more than $1,100 and also offers an option family coverage – have an even simpler way to report for 2015. Business owners must inform employees that they may be eligible for premium tax credits and provide standard statements for all reporting.

If the employee receives a qualifying year-round offer, the employer needs to report only that they received the qualifying offer 12 months out of the year and the name, address, and taxpayer identification number of said employee. A copy of this or a statement of the same information must be furnished to the employee.

If the employee receives this qualifying offer for fewer than 12 months out of the year, the IRS accepts reporting that simply indicates an offer was made with a code entered for each month the offer was made.

These simplified options were brought about in a response to feedback from stakeholders, and are the results of the IRS trying to make a difficult and often costly change in the way small businesses are run a little easier on business owners.

W-2 Reporting

If an employer provides coverage under a group health plan, they must report the value of the healthcare provided on employee W-2 forms in Box 12 using the code DD to identify the amount. Find out more about W-2 reporting from the IRS page that also provided a chart on W-2 reporting.

While the IRS has instituted a policy of leniency for employers throughout this transition period, it is always a good idea to find webinars online, local workshops, or work with a small business accountant to better understand the responsibilities of a small business owner.

If you feel overwhelmed or would like more information, contact Paul Herman for a consultation, (914) 400-0300.

Additional 0.9% Medicare Tax

Westchester accountant Paul Herman of Herman & Company CPA’s has all the answers to your personal finance questions! Individuals must pay an additional 0.9% Medicare tax on earned income above certain thresholds. The employee portion of the Medicare tax is increased from 1.45% to 2.35% on wages received in a calendar year in excess of $200,000 ($250,000 for married couples filing jointly; $125,000 for married filing separately). Healthcare tax update from westchester ny accountantEmployers must withhold and remit the increased employee portion of the Medicare tax for each employee whose wages for Medicare tax purposes from the employer are greater than $200,000.

There is no employer match for this additional Medicare tax. Therefore, the employer’s Medicare tax rate continues to be 1.45% on all Medicare wages. An employee is responsible for paying any of the additional 0.9% Medicare tax that is not withheld by an employer. The additional tax will be reported on the individual’s federal income tax return.

Because the additional 0.9% Medicare tax applies at different income levels depending on the employee’s marital and filing status, some employees may have the additional Medicare tax withheld when it will not apply to them (e.g., the employee earns more than $200,000, is married, filing jointly, and total annual compensation for both spouses is $250,000 or less). In such a situation, the additional tax will be treated as additional income tax withholding that is credited against the total tax liability shown on the individual’s income tax return.

Alternatively, an individual’s wages may not be greater than $200,000, but when combined with a spouse’s wages, total annual wages exceed the $250,000 threshold. When a portion of an individual’s wages will be subject to the additional tax, but earnings from a particular employer do not exceed the $200,000 threshold for withholding of the tax by the employer, the employee is responsible for calculating and paying the additional 0.9% Medicare tax. The employee cannot request that the additional 0.9% Medicare tax be withheld from wages that are under the $200,000 threshold. However, he or she can make quarterly estimated tax payments or submit a new Form W-4 requesting additional income tax withholding that can offset the additional Medicare tax calculated and reported on the employee’s personal income tax return.

For self-employed individuals, the effect of the new additional 0.9% Medicare tax is in the form of a higher self-employment (SE) tax. The maximum rate for the Medicare tax component of the SE tax is 3.8% (2.9% + 0.9%). Self-employed individuals should include this additional tax when calculating estimated tax payments due for the year. Any tax not paid during the year (either through federal income tax withholding from an employer or estimated tax payments) is subject to an underpayment penalty.

The additional 0.9% Medicare tax is not deductible for income tax purposes as part of the SE tax deduction. Also, it is not taken into account in calculating the deduction used for determining the amount of income subject to SE taxes.

Individual is responsible for paying the additional 0.9% Medicare tax

Josh and Anna are married. Josh’s salary is $180,000, and Anna’s wages are $150,000. Assume they have no other wage or investment income. Their total combined wage income is $330,000 ($180,000 + $150,000). Since this amount is over the $250,000 threshold, they owe the additional 0.9% Medicare tax on $80,000 ($330,000 -$250,000). The additional tax due is $720 ($80,000 × .009). Neither Josh’s nor Anna’s employer is liable for withholding and remitting the additional tax because neither of them met the $200,000 wage threshold. Either Josh or Anna (or both) can submit a new Form W-4 to their employer that will result in additional income tax withholding to ensure the $720 is properly paid during the year. Alternatively, they could make quarterly estimated tax payments. If the amount is not paid until their federal income tax return is filed, they may be responsible for the estimated tax penalty on any underpayment amount (whether the underpayment is actually income taxes or the additional Medicare taxes).

Westchester NY accountant Paul Herman of Herman & Company CPA’s is here for all your financial needs. Please contact us if you have questions about these provisions or any other tax compliance/planning issues, and to receive your free personal finance consultation!

Herman and Company CPA’s proudly serves Rye Brook NY, Larchmont NY, Scarsdale NY, Purchase NY, Pound Ridge NY, Mamaroneck NY, Stamford CT and beyond.

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Life Insurance: FAQs

Scarsdale accountant Paul Herman has all the answers to your personal finance questions! The following are frequently asked questions our Westchester CPA firm receives regarding life insurance. Get to know these important facts, as well as our previous life insurance discussion, to make sure you choose the best possible life insurance for you!

▼ How are people classified for rate purposes?

To ensure that you receive the best rate possible it is useful to understand how these premiums are calculated by insurers. Firstly insurers will place people into four main categories:

  • Preferred
  • Standard
  • Substandard
  • Uninsurable

Someone who has a semi-serious illness such as diabetes or heart disease can be insured but will pay a higher premium. People with a chronic illness will be placed in the substandard category. Someone with a terminal illness will be rendered uninsurable.

People with high risk jobs or hobbies will be considered substandard as well.

The premiums that you are charged will correlate with the category that you are placed in.

Life Insurance FAQs from Scarsdale CPA

Life insurance can be a real life-saver for your dependents!

Since the categorizing is not an exact science, one company may place you in a different category than another, thus drastically changing the prices of your premiums.

Once you are approved for coverage from a company, they cannot deny you coverage for any reason unless you cease payment.

 What should I be on the lookout for when I am purchasing life insurance?

First of all, beware that many insurance salespeople work on a commission basis, and may want to persuade you to purchase the policy that brings them the largest commission, rather than getting you the policy that makes the most sense for you.

Most of all, be sure that the company you are buying from will be in existence when you need them. Make sure that you check the insurer’s rating before you consider doing business with them.

Always review the costs of any recommended policy. The commissions will be stated, and you can see exactly where the money that you contribute will go.

Ask the insurance agent to explain the different policies and why the one you agree on is the best for you considering your circumstances.

▼ How can I easily compare prices between insurance companies?

In most states there will be a set of rules laid down by a group of insurance regulators. Agents may be required to calculate two different types of indexes to aid in price shopping.

  • Net payment index
  • Surrender cost index

The net payment index calculates the cost of carrying the policy for ten to twenty years. This can be judged easily by remembering that the lower this number is, the more inexpensive the policy is. This is most helpful if you are more concerned with the death payout than the investment.

On the other hand, the surrender cost index is more useful to those who are concerned with the cash value of the investment. The lower this number is, the better.

The cash surrender value is what you will receive in return if you were to surrender the policy, which is different than the cash accumulation value. If you are checking the prices of universal life policies, if the policies have different premiums and death benefits, the policy with the higher cash surrender value would be the better investment.

▼ Why should I have life insurance? Do I really need it?

The main reason that people purchase life insurance is to know that in the event of their passing, their children and loved ones will be taken care of. Life insurance can also help with the distribution of your estate. Your payout could go to family, charity, or wherever you choose to distribute it.

The main reasons to buy life insurance would be because you have dependents that would be put in a tough position without you providing for them. For example, if you have a spouse, a child, or a parent who is dependent on your income, you should have life insurance.

If you have a spouse and young children, you will need more insurance than someone with older children, because they will be dependents for a longer amount of time than older children. If you are in a position where you and your spouse both earn for the family, then you should both be insured in proportion to the incomes that you garner.

If you have a spouse and older children or no children, you will still want to have life insurance, but you won’t need the same level of insurance as in the first example, just enough to ensure that your spouse will be provided for, to cover your burial expenses, and to settle the debts that you have accumulated.

If you don’t have children or a spouse, you will only need enough insurance to make sure that your burial expenses are covered, unless you would like to have an insurance policy in order to help in the distribution of your estate.

 What amount of life insurance should I have?

In order to figure out how much insurance you need, you will need to explore your current household expenses, debts, assets, and streams of income. If you need assistance in this, consult either your accountant or financial advisor.

The amount of money that you want to leave behind for your dependents should allow them to use some of the money to maintain their current standard of living, then reinvest another lump sum to ensure that they will be well off in the future.

When attempting to calculate the amount of money that you need to leave behind, be extremely meticulous. If you err low, your family may not receive the help that they need from the insurance company, and if you err the other way, you will be spending more than necessary in insurance premiums.

Our Scarsdale tax preparers here at Herman & Company CPA’s are here for all your financial needs. Please contact us for all inquiries and to receive your free personal finance consultation!

Herman and Company CPA’s proudly serves Bedford Hills NY, Bronxville NY, Harrison NY, Mt. Kisco NY, Larchmont NY, Scarsdale NY, Rye Brook NY, Stamford CT and beyond.

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Which Type of Life Insurance Fits Me Best?

Scarsdale CPA Paul Herman has all the answers to your personal finance questions! As we pass lifetime milestones such as getting married, having children and starting a business, the need for life insurance grows increasingly important. However, choosing a specific type of life insurance can be a tricky process. Discover which type of life insurance is the best match for you:

There are 7 major types of life insurance:

  • Term
  • Renewable
  • Re-entry
  • Level
  • Decreasing
  • Cash Value
  • Whole Life
  • Universal Life
  • Variable Universal
  • Variable Whole Life
▼ Term

Term insurance is best described as a policy for which you pay over a specific amount of time. In the event that you die within that period of time, your beneficiaries will receive a payoff.

Types of Life Insurance from Scarsdale Tax Preparers

Get to know the different types of life insurance available to determine the best match for you.

People that are under the age of 40 will find this package less costly than a whole life policy. These policies generally do not build in cash value. However, they can convert over to a whole life policy without a mandatory physical.

▼ Renewable

The policy which is bought most frequently is the Renewable Term Policy. This policy renews every year without you having to do anything, and there is no need to input any new information or take physicals. This can continue every year until you are in your 70s. The policy will increase incrementally every year, along with your age.

▼ Re-entry

With this life insurance policy, you will have to periodically take physicals for the company to judge your rate of risk. If you don’t, you will be subject to paying an extra premium.

▼ Level

In the Level Term policies, you will be locked into a given rate of premium and you will stay there during a certain period (although not necessarily during the entire period of coverage).

▼ Decreasing

A Decreasing policy is one which decreases in face value with time while the premium remains the same.

▼ Whole Life

Whole Life is the most traditional policy given; this has a cash-value build up, sometimes offers dividends, and provides death benefits. This is not a policy that needs to be renewed constantly, as long as the payments are made, the policy will continue until death.

▼ Universal Life

This policy is similar to the whole life policy. However, it offers more flexibility in many ways; you will have different options in cash value growth and the payment of premiums.

 Variable Universal

Variable Universal policies will give you the option to choose the investments for your cash value. This is more risky, but simultaneously gives you more control over where this money is invested.

 Variable Whole Life

This is the same as the previous in regards to control over the investments that are made. The difference between these two is the same as the difference between Whole Life and Variable.

Our Scarsdale tax preparers here at Herman & Company CPA’s are here for all your financial needs. Please contact us for all inquiries and to receive your free personal finance consultation!

Herman and Company CPA’s proudly serves Armonk NY, Bedford NY, Harrison NY, Scarsdale NY, Bronxville NY, Mamaroneck NY, Greenwich CT and beyond.

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Any U.S. tax advice contained in the body of this website is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by the recipient for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed under the Internal Revenue Code or applicable state or local tax law provisions.