The Diversified Blog

A wealth management blog dedicated to creating a long lasting sustainable retirement.

The Alternative Minimum Tax -- Not Just for the Wealthy

When first introduced, the alternative minimum tax (AMT) was widely acknowledged to be a rich person's 's tax -- a fallback tax for those wily taxpayers with big incomes and numerous deductions. However, as finances evolved and incomes grew, more and more people found themselves subject to the AMT, even after the introduction of automatic inflation adjustments in 2013. That's why a general understanding of how the tax works can help you avoid it and even use it to your advantage.

The Other Federal Tax

The AMT truly functions as an alternative tax system. It has its own set of rates and rules for deductions, and they are more restrictive than the regular system. Taxpayers who meet certain tests essentially have to calculate their net tax liabilities under both sets of rules, and then file using whichever calculation yields the greater tax assessment.

The AMT can be triggered by a number of different variables. Although those with higher incomes are more susceptible to the tax, factors such as the amount of your exemptions or deductions can also prompt it. Even commonplace items such as a deduction for state income tax or interest on a second mortgage can set off the AMT. To find out if you are subject to the AMT, fill out the worksheets provided with the instructions to Form 1040 or complete Form 6251, Alternative Minimum Tax -- Individuals.

AMT rates start at 26%, rising to 28% at higher income levels. This compares with regular federal tax rates, which start at 10% and step up to 39.6%. Although the AMT rates may appear to cap out at a lower rate than regular taxes, the AMT calculation allows significantly fewer deductions, making for a potentially bigger bottom-line tax bite. Unlike regular taxes, you cannot claim exemptions for yourself or other dependents, nor may you claim the standard deduction. You also cannot deduct state and local tax, property tax, and a number of other itemized deductions, including your home-equity loan interest, if the loan proceeds are not used for home improvements. Accordingly, the more exemptions and deductions you normally claim, the more likely it is that you'll have an AMT liability.

There's also an AMT credit that allows you to claim a credit on your tax return in future years for some of the extra taxes you paid under the AMT. However, you can only use the AMT credit in a year when you're not paying the AMT. To apply for the credit, you'll need to fill in yet another form, Form 8801, to see if you are eligible.



Averting Triggers for the AMT

Because large one-time gains and big deductions that trigger the AMT are sometimes controllable, you may be able to avoid or minimize the impact of the AMT by planning ahead. Here are some practical suggestions.

Time your capital gains. You may be able to delay an asset sale until after the end of the year, or spread a gain over a number of years by using an installment sale. If you're looking to liquidate an investment with a long-term gain, you should review your AMT consequences and determine what impact such a sale might have.

Time your deductible expenses. When possible, time payments of state and local taxes, home-equity loan interest (if the loan proceeds are not used for home improvements), and other miscellaneous itemized deductions to fall in years when you won't face the AMT. Since they are not AMT deductible, they will go unused in a year when you pay the AMT. The same holds true for medical deductions, which face stricter deduction rules for the AMT.

Look before you exercise. Exercising ISOs is a red flag for triggering the AMT. The AMT on ISO proceeds can be significant. Because ISO tax issues are complex, you should consult with your tax advisor before exercising ISOs.



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© 2017 DST Systems, Inc. Reproduction in whole or in part prohibited, except by permission. All rights reserved. Not responsible for any errors or omissions.


Robert J. Pyle, CFP®, CFA is president of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. (DAMI). DAMI is licensed as an investment adviser with the State of Colorado Division of Securities, and its investment advisory representatives are licensed by the State of Colorado. DAMI will only transact business in other states to the extent DAMI has made the requisite notice filings or obtained the necessary licensing in such state. No follow up or individualized responses to persons in other jurisdictions that involve either rendering or attempting to render personalized investment advice for compensation will be made absent compliance with applicable legal requirements, or an applicable exemption or exclusion. It does not constitute investment or tax advice. To contact Robert, call 303-440-2906 or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

The views, opinion, information and content provided here are solely those of the respective authors, and may not represent the views or opinions of Diversified Asset Management, Inc.  The selection of any posts or articles should not be regarded as an explicit or implicit endorsement or recommendation of any such posts or articles, or services provided or referenced and statements made by the authors of such posts or articles.  Diversified Asset Management, Inc. cannot guarantee the accuracy or currency of any such third party information or content, and does not undertake to verify or update such information or content. Any such information or other content should not be construed as investment, legal, accounting or tax advice.



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The 23 Most-Overlooked Tax Deductions

Here is a nice article provided by Kevin McCormally of Kiplinger:


Years ago, the fellow running the IRS told Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine that he figured millions of taxpayers overpaid their taxes every year by overlooking just one of the money-saving tax breaks listed here.

We’ve updated all the key details in this popular guide to the common tax deductions many filers miss to ensure that your 2016 return is a money-saving masterpiece. Cut your tax bill to the bone by claiming all the tax write-offs you deserve.

1.  State Sales Taxes

After years of uncertainty, in 2015 Congress finally made this break “permanent.” This is particularly important to you if you live in a state that does not impose a state income tax. Congress offers itemizers the choice between deducting the state income taxes or state sales taxes they paid. You choose whichever saves you the most money. So if your state doesn't have an income tax, the sales tax write-off is clearly the way to go.

In some cases, even filers who pay state income taxes can come out ahead with the sales tax choice. And, you don’t need a wheelbarrow full of receipts. The IRS has tables that show how much residents of various states can deduct, based on their income and state and local sales tax rates. But the tables aren't the last word. If you purchased a vehicle, boat or airplane, you may add the sales tax you paid on that big-ticket item to the amount shown in the IRS table for your state. The IRS even has a calculator that shows how much residents of various states can deduct, based on their income and state and local sales tax rates.

We put those quotations marks around permanent above because, as Congress takes up tax reform in 2017, one possibility is the elimination of both the sales tax and the state income tax deductions. But you’re still sure to have the choice for your 2016 return.

2.  Reinvested Dividends

This isn't a tax deduction, but it is an important subtraction that can save you a bundle. And this is the one that former IRS commissioner Fred Goldberg told Kiplinger millions of taxpayers miss . . . costing them millions in overpaid taxes.

If, like most investors, you have mutual fund dividends automatically reinvested to buy extra shares, remember that each new purchase increases your tax basis in the fund. That, in turn, reduces the taxable capital gain (or increases the tax-saving loss) when you redeem shares. Forgetting to include reinvested dividends in your basis results in double taxation of the dividends—once in the year when they were paid out and immediately reinvested and later when they're included in the proceeds of the sale.

Don't make that costly mistake.

If you're not sure what your basis is, ask the fund for help. Funds often report to investors the tax basis of shares redeemed during the year. In fact, for the sale of shares purchased in 2012 and later years, funds must report the basis to investors and to the IRS.

3.  Out-of-Pocket Charitable Deductions

It's hard to overlook the big charitable gifts you made during the year, by check or payroll deduction (check your December pay stub).

But little things add up, too, and you can write off out-of-pocket costs incurred while doing work for a charity. For example, ingredients for casseroles you prepare for a nonprofit organization's soup kitchen and stamps you buy for a school's fund-raising mailing count as charitable contributions. Keep your receipts. If your contribution totals more than $250, you'll also need an acknowledgement from the charity documenting the support you provided. If you drove your car for charity in 2016, remember to deduct 14 cents per mile, plus parking and tolls paid, in your philanthropic journeys.

4.  Student-Loan Interest Paid by Mom and Dad

Generally, you can deduct interest only if you are legally required to repay the debt. But if parents pay back a child's student loans, the IRS treats the transactions as if the money were given to the child, who then paid the debt. So as long as the child is no longer claimed as a dependent, he or she can deduct up to $2,500 of student-loan interest paid by Mom and Dad each year. And he or she doesn't have to itemize to use this money-saver. (Mom and Dad can't claim the interest deduction even though they actually foot the bill because they are not liable for the debt.)

5.  Job-Hunting Costs

If you're among the millions of unemployed Americans who were looking for a job in 2016, we hope you were successful . . . and that you kept track of your job-search expenses or can reconstruct them. If you were looking for a position in the same line of work as your current or most recent job, you can deduct job-hunting costs as miscellaneous expenses if you itemize. Qualifying expenses can be written off even if you didn't land a new job. But such expenses can be deducted only to the extent that your total miscellaneous expenses exceed 2% of your adjusted gross income. (Job-hunting expenses incurred while looking for your first job don't qualify.) Deductible costs include, but aren't limited to:

Transportation expenses incurred as part of the job search, including 54 cents a mile for driving your own car plus parking and tolls. (The rate falls to 53.5 cents a mile for driving in 2017.)

Food and lodging expenses if your search takes you away from home overnight

Cab fares

Employment agency fees

Costs of printing resumes, business cards, postage, and advertising.

6.  Moving Expenses to Take Your First Job

Although job-hunting expenses are not deductible when looking for your first job, moving expenses to get to that job are. And you get this write-off even if you don't itemize. To qualify for the deduction, your first job must be at least 50 miles away from your old home. If you qualify, you can deduct the cost of getting yourself and your household goods to the new area. If you drove your own car on a 2016 move, deduct 19 cents a mile, plus what you paid for parking and tolls. (The rate falls to 17 cents a mile for 2017 moves.) For a full list of deductible moving expenses, check out IRS Publication 521.

7.  Military Reservists' Travel Expenses

Members of the National Guard or military reserve may write off the cost of travel to drills or meetings. To qualify, you must travel more than 100 miles from home and be away from home overnight. If you qualify, you can deduct the cost of lodging and half the cost of your meals, plus an allowance for driving your own car to get to and from drills.

For 2016 travel, the rate is 54 cents a mile, plus what you paid for parking fees and tolls. You may claim this deduction even if you use the standard deduction rather than itemizing. (The rate falls to 53.5 cents a mile for 2017 travel.)

8.  Deduction of Medicare Premiums for the Self-Employed

Folks who continue to run their own businesses after qualifying for Medicare can deduct the premiums they pay for Medicare Part B and Medicare Part D, plus the cost of supplemental Medicare (medigap) policies or the cost of a Medicare Advantage plan.

This deduction is available whether or not you itemize and is not subject to the 7.5% of AGI test that applies to itemized medical expenses for those age 65 and older. One caveat: You can't claim this deduction if you are eligible to be covered under an employer-subsidized health plan offered by either your employer (if you have a job as well as your business) or your spouse's employer (if he or she has a job that offers family medical coverage).

9.  Child-Care Credit

A credit is so much better than a deduction; it reduces your tax bill dollar for dollar. So missing one is even more painful than missing a deduction that simply reduces the amount of income that's subject to tax. In the 25% bracket, each dollar of deductions is worth a quarter; each dollar of credits is worth a greenback.

You can qualify for a tax credit worth between 20% and 35% of what you pay for child care while you work. But if your boss offers a child care reimbursement account—which allows you to pay for the child care with pretax dollars—that’s likely to be an even better deal. If you qualify for a 20% credit but are in the 25% tax bracket, for example, the reimbursement plan is the way to go. Not only does money run through a reimbursement account avoid federal income taxes, it also is protected from the 7.65% Social Security tax. (In any case, only amounts paid for the care of children younger than age 13 count.)

You can't double dip. Expenses paid through a plan can't also be used to generate the tax credit. But get this: Although only $5,000 in expenses can be paid through a tax-favored reimbursement account, up to $6,000 for the care of two or more children can qualify for the credit. So if you run the maximum through a plan at work but spend even more for work-related child care, you can claim the credit on as much as $1,000 of additional expenses. That would cut your tax bill by at least $200.

10.  Estate Tax on Income in Respect of a Decedent

This sounds complicated, but it can save you a lot of money if you inherited an IRA from someone whose estate was big enough to be subject to the federal estate tax.

Basically, you get an income-tax deduction for the amount of estate tax paid on the IRA assets you received. Let's say you inherited a $100,000 IRA, and the fact that the money was included in your benefactor's estate added $40,000 to the estate-tax bill. You get to deduct that $40,000 on your tax returns as you withdraw the money from the IRA. If you withdraw $50,000 in one year, for example, you get to claim a $20,000 itemized deduction on Schedule A. That would save you $5,600 in the 28% bracket.

11.  State Tax Paid Last Spring

Did you owe tax when you filed your 2015 state income tax return in the spring of 2016? Then, for goodness' sake, remember to include that amount in your state-tax deduction on your 2016 federal return, along with state income taxes withheld from your paychecks or paid via quarterly estimated payments during the year.

12.  Refinancing Points

When you buy a house, you get to deduct in one fell swoop the points paid to get your mortgage. When you refinance, though, you have to deduct the points on the new loan over the life of that loan. That means you can deduct 1/30th of the points a year if it's a 30-year mortgage. That's $33 a year for each $1,000 of points you paid—not much, maybe, but don't throw it away.

Even more important, in the year you pay off the loan—because you sell the house or refinance again—you get to deduct all as-yet-undeducted points. There's one exception to this sweet rule: If you refinance a refinanced loan with the same lender, you add the points paid on the latest deal to the leftovers from the previous refinancing, then deduct that amount gradually over the life of the new loan. A pain? Yes, but at least you'll be compensated for the hassle.

13.  Jury Pay Paid to Employer

Many employers continue to pay employees' full salary while they serve on jury duty, and some impose a quid pro quo: The employees have to turn over their jury pay to the company coffers. The only problem is that the IRS demands that you report those jury fees as taxable income. To even things out, you get to deduct the amount you give to your employer.

But how do you do it? There's no line on the Form 1040 labeled “jury fees.” Instead, the write-off goes on line 36, which purports to be for simply totaling up deductions that get their own lines. Include your jury fees with your other write-offs and write "jury pay" on the dotted line.

14.  American Opportunity Credit

Unlike the Hope Credit that this one replaced, the American Opportunity Credit is good for all four years of college, not just the first two. Don't shortchange yourself by missing this critical difference. This tax credit is based on 100% of the first $2,000 spent on qualifying college expenses and 25% of the next $2,000 ... for a maximum annual credit per student of $2,500. The full credit is available to individuals whose modified adjusted gross income is $80,000 or less ($160,000 or less for married couples filing a joint return). The credit is phased out for taxpayers with incomes above those levels.

If the credit exceeds your tax liability, it can trigger a refund. (Most credits are “nonrefundable,” meaning they can reduce your tax to $0, but not get you a check from the IRS.)

15.  A College Credit for Those Long Out of College

College credits aren’t just for youngsters, nor are they limited to just the first four years of college. The Lifetime Learning credit can be claimed for any number of years and can be used to offset the cost of higher education for yourself or your spouse . . . not just for your children.

The credit is worth up to $2,000 a year, based on 20% of up to $10,000 you spend for post-high-school courses that lead to new or improved job skills. Classes you take even in retirement at a vocational school or community college can count. If you brushed up on skills in 2016, this credit can help pay the bills. The right to claim this tax-saver phases out as income rises from $55,000 to $65,000 on an individual return and from $110,000 to $130,000 for couples filing jointly.

16.  Those Blasted Baggage Fees

Airlines seem to revel in driving travelers batty with extra fees for baggage, online booking and for changing travel plans. Such fees add up to billions of dollars each year. If you get burned, maybe Uncle Sam will help ease the pain. If you're self-employed and traveling on business, be sure to add those costs to your deductible travel expenses.

17.  Credits for Energy-Saving Home Improvements

Your 2016 return is the last chance to claim a tax credit for installing energy-efficient windows or making similar energy-saving home improvements. You can claim up to $500 in total tax credits for eligible improvements, based on 10% of the purchase cost (not installation) of certain insulation, windows, doors and skylights. The credit is subject to a lifetime cap, so if you’ve already pocketed the max, you’re out of luck. But there’s no such limit on the much more powerful incentive for those who install qualified residential alternative energy equipment, such as solar hot water heaters, geothermal heat pumps and wind turbines in 2016. Your credit can be 30% of the total cost (including labor) of such systems.

18.  Bonus Depreciation ... And Beefed-Up Expensing

Business owners—including those who run businesses out of their homes—have to stay on their toes to capture tax breaks for buying new equipment. The rules seem to be constantly shifting as Congress writes incentives into the law and then allows them to expire or to be cut back to save money. Take “bonus depreciation” as an example. Back in 2011, rather than write off the cost of new equipment over many years, a business could use 100% bonus depreciation to deduct the full cost in the year the equipment was put into service. For 2013, the bonus depreciation rate was 50%. The break expired at the end of 2013 and stayed expired until the end of 2014 . . . when Congress reinstated it retroactively to cover 2014 purchases. Then, the provision expired again . . . but near the end of 2015, Congress revived the break. The 50% bonus applies for property purchased in 2016 and 2017, too; the bonus drops to 40% in 2018 and 30% in 2019.

Perhaps even more valuable, though, is another break: supercharged "expensing," which basically lets you write off the full cost of qualifying assets in the year you put them into service. This break, too, has a habit of coming and going. But as part of the 2015 tax law, Congress made the expansion of expensing permanent. For 2016 and future years, businesses can expense up to $500,000 worth of assets. The half-million-dollar cap phases out dollar for dollar for firms that put more than $2 million worth of assets into service in a single year.

19.  Social Security Taxes You Pay

This doesn’t work for employees. You can’t deduct the 7.65% of pay that’s siphoned off for Social Security and Medicare. But if you’re self-employed and have to pay the full 15.3% tax yourself (instead of splitting it 50-50 with an employer), you do get to write off half of what you pay. That deduction comes on the face of Form 1040, so you don’t have to itemize to take advantage of it.

20.  Waiver of Penalty for the Newly Retired

This isn’t a deduction, but it can save you money if it protects you from a penalty. Because our tax system operates on a pay-as-you earn basis, taxpayers typically must pay 90% of what they owe during the year via withholding or estimated tax payments. If you don’t, and you owe more than $1,000 when you file your return, you can be hit with a penalty for underpayment of taxes. The penalty works like interest on a loan—as though you borrowed from the IRS the money you didn’t pay. The current rate is 3%.

There are several exceptions to the penalty, including a little-known one that can protect taxpayers age 62 and older in the year they retire and the following year. You can request a waiver of the penalty—using Form 2210—if you have reasonable cause, such as not realizing you had to shift to estimated tax payments after a lifetime of meeting your obligation via withholding from your paychecks.

21.  Amortizing Bond Premiums

If you purchased a taxable bond for more than its face value—as you might have to capture a yield higher than current market rates deliver—Uncle Sam will effectively help you pay that premium. That’s only fair, since the IRS is also going to get to tax the extra interest that the higher yield produces.

You have two choices about how to handle the premium.

You can amortize it over the life of the bond by taking each year’s share of the premium and subtracting it from the amount of taxable interest from the bond you report on your tax return. Each year you also reduce your tax basis for the bond by the amount of that year’s amortization.

Or, you can ignore the premium until you sell or redeem the bond. At that time, the full premium will be included in your tax basis so it will reduce the taxable gain or increase the taxable loss dollar for dollar.

The amortization route can be a pain, since it’s up to you to both figure how each year’s share and keep track of the declining basis. But it could be more valuable, since the interest you don’t report will avoid being taxed in your top tax bracket for the year—as high as 43.4%, while the capital gain you reduce by waiting until you sell or redeem the bond would only be taxed at 0%, 15% or 20%.

If you buy a tax-free municipal bond at a premium, you must use the amortization method and reduce your basis each year . . . but you don’t get to deduct the amount amortized. After all, the IRS doesn’t get to tax the interest.

22.  Legal Fees Paid to Secure Alimony

Although legal fees and court costs involved in a divorce are generally nondeductible personal expenses, you may be able to deduct the part of your attorney’s bill.

Since alimony is taxable income, you can deduct the part of the lawyer’s fee that is attributable to setting the amount. You can also deduct the portion of the fee that is attributable to tax advice. You must itemize to get any tax savings here, and these costs fall into the category of miscellaneous expenses that are deductible only to the extent that the total exceeds 2% of your adjusted gross income. Still, be sure your attorney provides a detailed statement that breaks down his fee so you can tell how much of it may qualify for a tax-saving deduction.

23.  Don’t Unnecessarily Report a State Income Tax Refund

There’s a line on the tax form for reporting a state income tax refund, but most people who get refunds can simply ignore it even though the state sent the IRS a copy of the 1099-G you got reporting the refund. If, like most taxpayers, you didn’t itemize deductions on your previous federal return, the state tax refund is tax-free.

Even if you did itemize, part of it might be tax-free. It’s taxable only to the extent that your deduction of state income taxes the previous year actually saved you money. If you would have itemized (rather than taking the standard deduction) even without your state tax deduction, then 100% of your refund is taxable—since 100% of your write-off reduced your taxable income. But, if part of the state tax write-off is what pushed you over the standard deduction threshold, then part of the refund is tax-free. Don’t report any more than you have to.


Robert J. Pyle, CFP®, CFA is president of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. (DAMI). DAMI is licensed as an investment adviser with the State of Colorado Division of Securities, and its investment advisory representatives are licensed by the State of Colorado. DAMI will only transact business in other states to the extent DAMI has made the requisite notice filings or obtained the necessary licensing in such state. No follow up or individualized responses to persons in other jurisdictions that involve either rendering or attempting to render personalized investment advice for compensation will be made absent compliance with applicable legal requirements, or an applicable exemption or exclusion. It does not constitute investment or tax advice. To contact Robert, call 303-440-2906 or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

The views, opinion, information and content provided here are solely those of the respective authors, and may not represent the views or opinions of Diversified Asset Management, Inc.  The selection of any posts or articles should not be regarded as an explicit or implicit endorsement or recommendation of any such posts or articles, or services provided or referenced and statements made by the authors of such posts or articles.  Diversified Asset Management, Inc. cannot guarantee the accuracy or currency of any such third party information or content, and does not undertake to verify or update such information or content. Any such information or other content should not be construed as investment, legal, accounting or tax advice.

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10 Reasons You Will Never Make $1 Million Dollars

Here is a nice article provided by Stacy Rapacon of Kiplinger:


Wealthy people usually aren't born that way. Most spend their lives amassing their fortunes by working hard, spending little, saving a lot and investing wisely. It may sound like a simple strategy, but the fact that the vast majority of Americans fall short of millionaire status proves that it's easier said than done.

Then again, 10.4 million households in the U.S. have $1 million or more in investable assets, according to market research and consulting firm Spectrem Group, and their ranks are growing. So it's not impossible.

Read on to learn what you might be doing to keep yourself out of the millionaire's club. More importantly, find out how you can change your ways and build your own seven-figure nest egg.

1.  You Picked the Wrong Profession

Accumulating wealth starts with your first paycheck, and some jobs can get you going faster than others. According to consulting firm Capgemini's World Wealth Report, many wealthy people today work in technology, finance and medicine—fields that are well represented in our list of the best jobs for the future. Positions in these areas have generous salaries and are in high demand. For example, among our top jobs is nurse practitioner, which has a median salary of more than $97,000 a year. In contrast, a door-to-door sales worker, among our worst jobs for the future, can expect to make about $20,700 a year. Of course, given enough time and the right saving and spending habits, you can build a fortune even with a small salary. But a higher income can certainly make it easier to save more, faster.

What you can do about it

If you're still in school, majoring in a promising field can put you on the path to a lucrative career and help make you a millionaire. But remember: You'll have an easier time working hard for the rest of your life if you have a legitimate interest in your chosen profession.

If you're past your college days, you can still learn some skills to advance your career and increase your earning potential with free online courses.

2.  You Fear the Stock Market

Cash stuffed under your mattress or even deposited in a savings account won't keep up with inflation, much less grow into $1 million. In order to maximize your gains, you need to invest your money wisely. In many cases, that means putting your money mostly in stocks.

Consider the math: According to Bankrate.com, the highest yield you can expect from a money market account right now is 1.26%. If you put away $10,000 in one and added nothing else, in 10 years, with monthly compounding, you'd have about $11,340 total. But if you invested that $10,000 and earned a 6% return, you'd have almost $18,200, or $6,860 more.

What you can do about it

There's no denying that the stock market can take you on a bumpy ride, so your fears are understandable. But steeling yourself and diving in is well worth it. Over the long term, stocks have marched upward and proved to be the investment of choice for expanding wealth.

Savings earmarked for retirement are particularly well suited for the stock market. With a long time horizon, you have time to recover from market dips.

3.  You Don’t Save Enough

If you don't save money, you're never going to be rich. It's hard to get around that obvious (but often ignored) principle. Even if you earn seven figures, if you spend it all, you still net zero.

What you can do about it

Begin saving as soon as possible. The sooner you start putting your money to work, the less you actually have to save. If you start saving at age 35, you'll need to put away $671 each month in order to reach $1 million by the time you turn 65, assuming you earn an 8% annual return. If you wait until you're 45 years old to start saving, you'll have to save $1,698 a month to hit $1 million in 20 years.

How can you start saving? First, you need a budget (more on budgeting later). Lay out all of your expenses to see where your money is going. Then, you can figure out where you can trim costs and save. Any little bit you can muster is a good start. And whenever you get a bonus or some extra cash—for example, after selling some belongings or getting a generous birthday gift—add it to your savings before you have time to think of ways you can spend it.

4.  You Live Beyond Your Means

Spending more than you earn can put you in a dangerous hole of debt. On the bright side, you won't be in there alone: According to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, one in three American households carries credit card debt from month to month. And among those balance-carrying households, the average credit-card debt is $16,048, according to financial research firm ValuePenguin.

What you can do about it

Again, you need to have a budget to make sure you have more money coming in than going out. With the availability of credit, it's easy to fall into thinking you can afford more than you actually can. But, as Knight Kiplinger has pointed out, "the biggest barrier to becoming rich is living like you're rich before you are."

Even once you are rich, you may still want to live like you're not. According to U.S. Trust's Insights on Wealth and Worth survey, the majority of millionaires don't actually consider themselves "wealthy." If you don't think of yourself as well off, and you maintain the same lifestyle after your income and savings increase, you can put away even more for your short- and long-term goals without losing an ounce of comfort.

5.  You overlook the value of nickels and dimes

No, we're not suggesting that you search for loose change under your sofa cushions. Rather, cutting seemingly insignificant expenses—such as baggage charges on your flights, late-payment penalties on your bills and out-of-network ATM fees on your cash withdrawals—can add up to substantial savings.

Investing fees attached to mutual funds and 401(k) plans can be especially detrimental. For example, let's assume you currently have $25,000 saved in your 401(k) and earn 7% a year, on average. If you pay fees and expenses of 0.5% a year, your account would grow to $227,000 after 35 years. But increasing the extra charges to 1.5% annually would mean your account would grow to just $163,000 over that time.

What you can do about it

More than you realize. Pay attention to the fine print, and avoid those sneaky extra charges. You can skip airline baggage fees by packing lightly and bringing only a carry-on or by flying Southwest Airlines, which allows you to check two bags free. If you make a late payment on a credit card, ask the issuer to waive the fee. Long-time customers who usually pay on time are often given a pass. For more, see How to Avoid Paying 21 Annoying Fees.

For your 401(k), you can see how it rates with other plans at www.brightscope.com. You can select low-cost mutual funds to lower your investing costs. (Check out the Kiplinger 25, a list of our favorite no-load funds.) Also consider talking to your employer about the possibility of lowering the plan's fees.

6.  You are drowning in debt

Again, debt can be a danger to your financial well-being. If you're constantly paying credit card bills and racking up interest, you won't have a chance to save any money.

But not all debt is bad. Borrowing to go to school, to get professional training or to start your own business can help boost your career and income potential. Especially in a low-interest-rate environment, the investment can be well worth it. In fact, borrowing funds is one of the most preferred funding strategies used by high-net-worth individuals with 60% opting to use bank credit before tapping their own holdings for quick cash, according to U.S. Trust.

What you can do about it

If you already have some debt troubles, be sure to devise a repayment plan. One strategy is to pay off the debt with the highest interest rate first. The sooner you clear that away, the more you save on interest. Another strategy is to pay off the smallest debt first to give yourself a psychological boost and encourage you to keep chipping away.

If you're considering taking out new loans—to go back to school or seed your business, for example—make sure you understand all the terms, including your interest rate and repayment details, so you can decide whether it's truly worth it.

7.  You neglect your health

You need to work to make money, and you need to be healthy in order to work. The rich understand that, and 98% of millionaires consider good health to be their most important personal asset, according to U.S. Trust.

What you can do about it

Take care of yourself—and do it on the cheap. You can take advantage of free wellness programs offered by your employer, as well as free preventive-care services guaranteed by federal law, such as blood pressure screenings, mammograms for women older than 40 and routine vaccinations for children. Also try to quit any bad health habits, such as smoking or excessive drinking, that can cost you dearly.

8.  You don't have a budget

Without a budget, it's easy to lose track of how much you're spending and live beyond your means. Working toward financial goals, such as saving for a vacation, buying a house or funding your retirement, can also prove difficult if you don't have a well-thought-out plan.

What you can do about it

Do what the majority of millionaires do: Establish a budget. Knowing where your money is going helps you identify ways to keep more in your pocket. Break out the pencil, paper and calculator to lay out your income and expenses.

Or go digital with your finances by using a budgeting Web site such as Mint or BudgetPulse to help you track your spending. With Mint, you provide your usernames and passwords for bank accounts, credit cards and other financial accounts, and the site organizes your money movement for you. Your bank or credit card issuer might offer similar tools to help you analyze your spending habits.

9.  You pay too much in taxes

Did you get a tax refund this year? Receiving that lump-sum payment from Uncle Sam may seem like a good thing. But it actually means that you've loaned the government money without earning any interest.

What you can do about it

Adjust your tax withholding. You can use our tax-withholding calculator to see how much you can fatten your paycheck by doing so. If you got a $3,000 refund (about average for 2015), claiming an additional three allowances on your Form W-4 can boost your monthly take-home pay by $250. The extra money, which can be invested in stocks or deposited in an interest-bearing account, should start showing up in your next paycheck.

Such a sum may not lend itself to millionaire status on its own, but being mindful of taxes is important to increasing—and keeping—your wealth. Indeed, 55% of high-net-worth investors prioritize minimizing taxes when it comes to investment decisions. A couple of smart tax-planning strategies you should consider: picking the right tax-deferred retirement savings accounts and holding investments long enough to qualify for the lower, long-term capital gains tax. Even choosing the right state to live in can have a big impact on your finances when it comes to taxes.

10.  You lack purpose in your life

There's more to life than money, and wealthy people know it. According to U.S. Trust, 94% of millionaires say they have a clear sense of purpose in their lives. "Whatever that purpose or direction happens to be—whether it's their family, their family legacy, philanthropy or stewardship of a business—[knowing their purpose means] they have the emotional maturity to focus on it and make decisions in the context of what's most important to them," says Paul Stavig, managing director and wealth strategist of U.S. Trust.

What you can do about it

Entire religions and philosophies are dedicated to helping people figure out what they're meant to do in this life. We won't try to compete. But we will note that a clear purpose can help motivate you to make and save more. Indeed, 76% of millionaires recognize that money can give you the opportunity to create change and fulfill your life's purpose.


Robert J. Pyle, CFP®, CFA is president of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. (DAMI). DAMI is licensed as an investment adviser with the State of Colorado Division of Securities, and its investment advisory representatives are licensed by the State of Colorado. DAMI will only transact business in other states to the extent DAMI has made the requisite notice filings or obtained the necessary licensing in such state. No follow up or individualized responses to persons in other jurisdictions that involve either rendering or attempting to render personalized investment advice for compensation will be made absent compliance with applicable legal requirements, or an applicable exemption or exclusion. It does not constitute investment or tax advice. To contact Robert, call 303-440-2906 or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

The views, opinion, information and content provided here are solely those of the respective authors, and may not represent the views or opinions of Diversified Asset Management, Inc.  The selection of any posts or articles should not be regarded as an explicit or implicit endorsement or recommendation of any such posts or articles, or services provided or referenced and statements made by the authors of such posts or articles.  Diversified Asset Management, Inc. cannot guarantee the accuracy or currency of any such third party information or content, and does not undertake to verify or update such information or content. Any such information or other content should not be construed as investment, legal, accounting or tax advice.

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9 IRS Audit Red Flags for Retirees

Here is a nice article provided by Joy Taylor of Kiplinger:


In 2015, the Internal Revenue Service audited only 0.84% of all individual tax returns. So the odds are generally pretty low that your return will be picked for review.

That said, your chances of being audited or otherwise hearing from the IRS escalate depending on various factors. Math errors may draw an IRS inquiry, but they’ll rarely lead to a full-blown exam. Whether you're filing your 2015 return in October after getting an extension or looking ahead to filing your 2016 return early next year, check out these red flags that could increase the chances that the IRS will give the return of a retired taxpayer special, and probably unwelcome, attention.

1.  Making a Lot of Money

Although the overall individual audit rate is only about one in 119, the odds increase dramatically as your income goes up, as it might if you sell a valuable piece of property or get a big payout from a retirement plan.

IRS statistics show that people with incomes of $200,000 or higher had an audit rate of 2.61%, or one out of every 38 returns. Report $1 million or more of income? There's a one-in-13 chance your return will be audited. The audit rate drops significantly for filers reporting less than $200,000: Only 0.76% (one out of 132) of such returns were audited, and the vast majority of these exams were conducted by mail.

We're not saying you should try to make less money—everyone wants to be a millionaire. Just understand that the more income shown on your return, the more likely it is that you'll be hearing from the IRS.

2.  Failing to Report All Taxable Income

The IRS gets copies of all 1099s and W-2s you receive. This includes the 1099-R (reporting payouts from retirement plans, such as pensions, 401(k)s and IRAs) and 1099-SSA (reporting Social Security benefits).

Make sure you report all required income on your return. IRS computers are pretty good at matching the numbers on the forms with the income shown on your return. A mismatch sends up a red flag and causes the IRS computers to spit out a bill. If you receive a tax form showing income that isn't yours or listing incorrect income, get the issuer to file a correct form with the IRS.

3.  Taking Higher-Than-Average Deductions

If deductions on your return are disproportionately large compared with your income, the IRS may pull your return for review. A large medical expense could send up a red flag, for example. But if you have the proper documentation for your deduction, don't be afraid to claim it. There's no reason to ever pay the IRS more tax than you actually owe.

4.  Claiming Large Charitable Deductions

We all know that charitable contributions are a great write-off and help you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. However, if your charitable deductions are disproportionately large compared with your income, it raises a red flag.

That's because the IRS knows what the average charitable donation is for folks at your income level. Also, if you don't get an appraisal for donations of valuable property, or if you fail to file Form 8283 for non-cash donations over $500, you become an even bigger audit target. And if you've donated a conservation or facade easement to a charity, chances are good that you'll hear from the IRS.


Be sure to keep all your supporting documents, including receipts for cash and property contributions made during the year.

5.  Not Taking Required Minimum Distributions

The IRS wants to be sure that owners of IRAs and participants in 401(k)s and other workplace retirement plans are properly taking and reporting required minimum distributions. The agency knows that some folks age 70½ and older aren’t taking their annual RMDs, and it’s looking at this closely.

Those who fail to take the proper amount can be hit with a penalty equal to 50% of the shortfall. Also on the IRS’s radar are early retirees or others who take payouts before reaching age 59½ and who don’t qualify for an exception to the 10% penalty on these early distributions.

Individuals age 70½ and older must take RMDs from their retirement accounts by the end of each year. However, there’s a grace period for the year in which you turn 70½: You can delay the payout until April 1 of the following year. A special rule applies to those still employed at age 70½ or older: You can delay taking RMDs from your current employer’s 401(k) until after you retire (this rule doesn’t apply to IRAs). The amount you have to take each year is based on the balance in each of your accounts as of December 31 of a prior year and a life-expectancy factor found in IRS Publication 590-B.

6.  Claiming Rental Losses

Claiming a large rental loss can command the IRS’s attention. Normally, the passive loss rules prevent the deduction of rental real estate losses. But there are two important exceptions. If you actively participate in the renting of your property, you can deduct up to $25,000 of loss against your other income. This $25,000 allowance phases out at higher income levels. A second exception applies to real estate professionals who spend more than 50% of their working hours and more than 750 hours each year materially participating in real estate as developers, brokers, landlords or the like. They can write off losses without limitation.

The IRS is actively scrutinizing rental real estate losses. If you’re managing properties in your retirement, you may qualify under the second exception. Or, if you sell a rental property that produced suspended passive losses, the sale opens the door for you to deduct the losses. Just be ready to explain things if a big rental loss prompts questions from the IRS.

7.  Failing to Report Gambling Winnings or Claiming Big Losses

Whether you’re playing the slots or betting on the horses, one sure thing you can count on is that Uncle Sam wants his cut. Recreational gamblers must report winnings as other income on the front page of the 1040 form. Professional gamblers show their winnings on Schedule C. Failure to report gambling winnings can draw IRS attention, especially because the casino or other venue likely reported the amounts on Form W-2G.

Claiming large gambling losses can also be risky. You can deduct these only to the extent that you report gambling winnings. And the costs of lodging, meals and other gambling-related expenses can only be written off by professional gamblers. Writing off gambling losses but not reporting gambling income is sure to invite scrutiny. Also, taxpayers who report large losses from their gambling-related activity on Schedule C get an extra look from IRS examiners, who want to make sure that these folks really are gaming for a living.

8.  Writing Off a Loss for a Hobby

Your chances of "winning" the audit lottery increase if you file a Schedule C with large losses from an activity that might be a hobby—dog breeding, jewelry making, coin and stamp collecting, and the like. Agents are specially trained to sniff out those who improperly deduct hobby losses. So be careful if your retirement pursuits include trying to convert a hobby into a moneymaking venture.

You must report any income from a hobby, and you can deduct expenses up to the level of that income. But the law bans writing off losses from a hobby.

To be eligible to deduct a loss, you must be running the activity in a business-like manner and have a reasonable expectation of making a profit. If your activity generates profit three out of every five years (or two out of seven years for horse breeding), the law presumes that you're in business to make a profit, unless the IRS establishes otherwise. If you're audited, the IRS is going to make you prove you have a legitimate business and not a hobby. Be sure to keep supporting documents for all expenses.

9.  Neglecting to Report a Foreign Bank Account

Just because you may be traveling more in retirement, be careful about sending your money abroad. The IRS is intensely interested in people with money stashed outside the U.S., and U.S. authorities have had lots of success getting foreign banks to disclose account information. The IRS also uses voluntary compliance programs to encourage folks with undisclosed foreign accounts to come clean—in exchange for reduced penalties. The IRS has learned a lot from these amnesty programs and has been collecting a boatload of money (we’re talking billions of dollars). It’s scrutinizing information from amnesty seekers and is targeting the banks that they used to get names of even more U.S. owners of foreign accounts.

Failure to report a foreign bank account can lead to severe penalties. Make sure that if you have any such accounts, you properly report them.


Robert J. Pyle, CFP®, CFA is president of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. (DAMI). DAMI is licensed as an investment adviser with the State of Colorado Division of Securities, and its investment advisory representatives are licensed by the State of Colorado. DAMI will only transact business in other states to the extent DAMI has made the requisite notice filings or obtained the necessary licensing in such state. No follow up or individualized responses to persons in other jurisdictions that involve either rendering or attempting to render personalized investment advice for compensation will be made absent compliance with applicable legal requirements, or an applicable exemption or exclusion. It does not constitute investment or tax advice. To contact Robert, call 303-440-2906 or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

The views, opinion, information and content provided here are solely those of the respective authors, and may not represent the views or opinions of Diversified Asset Management, Inc.  The selection of any posts or articles should not be regarded as an explicit or implicit endorsement or recommendation of any such posts or articles, or services provided or referenced and statements made by the authors of such posts or articles.  Diversified Asset Management, Inc. cannot guarantee the accuracy or currency of any such third party information or content, and does not undertake to verify or update such information or content. Any such information or other content should not be construed as investment, legal, accounting or tax advice.

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15 Worst States to Live in During Retirement

Here is a nice article provided by Stacy Rapacon of Kiplinger:


Number crunching alone can't tell you where to retire. That's a choice you'll ultimately need to make on your own. But identifying the places that hold the lowest appeal for retirees can at least help narrow your search.

We rated all 50 states based on quantifiable factors that are important to many retirees. Our rankings penalized states with high living expenses—especially taxes and health care costs—and rewarded states with relatively prosperous populations of residents age 65 and up. We also ranked states lower if their populations are medically unhealthy, or if the state has fiscal health problems (red ink in state budgets could lead to tax hikes and program spending cuts for seniors).

Using our methodology, the following 15 states rank as the least attractive for retirees. That doesn't make them terrible places to live. They might, indeed, be great states in which to work or raise a family. You might even choose to stick around in retirement simply to be close to your grandchildren. But in dollars-and-practical-sense terms, retirees might be better off looking to settle elsewhere.

The average health care cost in retirement of $387,731 we cite is a lifetime cost for a 65-year-old couple who are expected to live to 87 (husband) and 89 (wife). For a complete explanation of our methodology and our data sources, see the Methodology slide at the end of this slide show.

15.  Minnesota

Population: 5.4 million

Share of population 65+: 13.6% (U.S.: 14.5%)

Cost of living: 2% above the U.S. average

Average income for 65+ households: $43,623 (U.S.: $50,291)

Average health care costs for a retired couple: About average at $387,007 (U.S.: $387,731)

Minnesota's tax rating for retirees: Least Tax Friendly

The Land of 10,000 Lakes is a hard place for retirees to stay afloat. Above-average living expenses and below-average incomes can equate to imbalanced budgets in retirement. Plus, the tax situation adds an extra burden. One of the 10 Worst States for Taxes on Retirees, Minnesota taxes Social Security benefits the same as the feds. Most other retirement income, including military, government and private pensions, is also taxable. And the state's sales and income taxes are high.

On the other hand, Minnesota is a great place for health-focused retirees. The state is the third-healthiest in the country for seniors, according to the United Health Foundation rankings, which are based on people's behaviors, such as physical activity, as well as community support and clinical care provided. In fact, Rochester, home of the renowned Mayo Clinic, ranks seventh among the best small metro areas for successful aging, according to the Milken Institute, in part due to its abundance of health care providers.

14.  West Virginia

Population: 1.9 million

Share of population 65+: 16.8%

Cost of living: 3% below the U.S. average

Average income for 65+ households: $38,917

Average health care costs for a retired couple: Below average at $370,403

West Virginia's tax rating for retirees: Tax Friendly

Despite its below-average living costs and positive tax rating, the Mountain State offers some rocky terrain for retirees. According to a recent report from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, West Virginia ranks as the eighth-worst state in terms of fiscal soundness, indicating low confidence that it can keep up with short-term expenses and long-term financial obligations.

The state also scores poorly for the health of its 65-and-over population, ranking 45th in the country, according to the United Health Foundation. While 41.8% of older adults nationwide enjoy excellent or very good health, only 29.5% of those in West Virginia can say the same.

13.  Maine

Population: 1.3 million

Share of population 65+: 17.0%

Cost of living: 6% above the U.S. average

Average income for 65+ households: $38,504

Average health care costs for a retired couple: Below average at $367,832

Maine's tax rating for retirees: Not Tax Friendly

The Pine Tree State can be a bit prickly when it comes to its retirees. While Social Security benefits are not subject to state taxes, most other retirement income is taxable. There's even an estate tax. Plus, the Mercatus Center at George Mason University ranks Maine as the ninth-worst state in the country in terms of fiscal soundness.

Individuals in the state may have an equally difficult time balancing their own budgets. With below-average household incomes, retirees may struggle to cover Maine's above-average living costs.

12.  Kentucky

Population: 4.4 million

Share of population 65+: 14.0%

Cost of living: 9% below the U.S. average

Average income for 65+ households: $39,935

Average health care costs for a retired couple: About average at $384,317

Kentucky's tax rating for retirees: Tax Friendly

Kentucky seniors suffer the third-worst state of health in the country, according to the United Health Foundation's rankings. Among its challenges are a high rate of smoking, limited access to low-cost, nutritious food, and a low number of quality nursing homes. Also, physical inactivity among residents age 65 and up has increased to 40.2% over the past two years, compared with a national rate of 33.1%.

The Bluegrass State does offer low living costs, as well as a number of tax breaks for retirees. Social Security benefits, as well as up to $41,110 of other retirement income, are exempt from state taxes. However, with a low ranking of 45th in the country for fiscal soundness, those tax benefits may not be very secure. Also, despite the state's overall affordability, plenty of older residents struggle to make ends meet: 11.4% of those age 65 and older are living in poverty, compared with 9.4% for the U.S. as a whole.

11.  Indiana

Population: 6.5 million

Share of population 65+: 13.6%

Cost of living: 4% below the U.S. average

Average income for 65+ households: $39,260

Average health care costs for a retired couple: About average at $388,954

Indiana's tax rating for retirees: Not Tax Friendly

With its below-average living expenses, Indiana might seem like a winner for retirees. But when you consider the well-below-average household income, the older residents of the Hoosier State start looking more like underdogs. And the tax situation doesn't help their cause much. Most retirement income other than Social Security benefits is taxable at ordinary rates.

The state's health ranking is also among the 10 worst in the country. Some of the challenges Indiana's older residents face are high rates of obesity, physical inactivity and premature deaths, according to the United Health Foundation.

10.  Wisconsin

Population: 5.7 million

Share of population 65+: 14.4%

Cost of living: 10% above the U.S. average

Average income for 65+ households: $37,673

Average health care costs for a retired couple: About average at $387,705

Wisconsin's tax rating for retirees: Mixed

High living costs and low average incomes can put a yoke on retirees in Wisconsin. In fact, the state's average household income for seniors is the second-lowest in the country, behind only Montana. The tax situation in the Badger State doesn't help, either. Social Security benefits are exempt from state taxes, but most other retirement income is subject to taxation (though there are some breaks for low-income residents).

If you can afford it, though, the state capital of Madison holds its charms for retirees, offering an abundance of quality health care facilities, as well as plenty of museums, libraries and the University of Wisconsin.

9.  Vermont

Population: 626,358

Share of population 65+: 15.7%

Cost of living: 19% above the U.S. average

Average income for 65+ households: $42,599

Average health care costs for a retired couple: Below average at $373,830

Vermont's tax rating for retirees: Least Tax Friendly

It's not easy being retired in the Green Mountain State. Exorbitantly high living costs and taxes weigh heavily on below-average incomes. Social Security benefits, as well as most other forms of retirement income, are subject to state taxes, and the top income tax rate is a steep 8.95% (which kicks in at $411,500 for both single and married filers).

On a positive note, Vermont boasts the healthiest seniors in the country, according to the United Health Foundation's rankings. Burlington, a small city on the shores of Lake Champlain, rates as a great place to retire thanks to beautiful surroundings that surely help boost physical activity and overall health among the locals.

8.  Montana

Population: 1.0 million

Share of population 65+: 15.7%

Cost of living: 1% above the U.S. average

Average income for 65+ households: $36,933

Average health care costs for a retired couple: Below average at $377,877

Montana's tax rating for retirees: Least Tax Friendly

Despite its Treasure State nickname, it can be hard to hold onto your fortune in Montana. Living costs are about average, but incomes are well below the norm. In fact, the average household income for residents age 65 and up is the lowest in the country. The tax situation certainly doesn't help. One of the 10 Worst States for Taxes on Retirees, Montana taxes most forms of retirement income, and the top rate of 6.9% kicks in once taxable income tops just $17,000.

Still, Big Sky Country seems to retain a large number of retirement-age folks: The state's 65-and-older population is 15.7%, compared with 14.5% for the U.S. The great (albeit cold) outdoors, including Yellowstone and Glacier national parks, may be what trumps the state's drawbacks for adventurous retirees. Great Falls, on the high plains of Montana's Rocky Mountain Front Range, proves particularly popular with the over-65 crowd, which makes up 16.1% of the metro area's population.

7.  Rhode Island

Population: 1.1 million

Share of population 65+: 15.1%

Cost of living: 13% above the U.S. average

Average income for 65+ households: $55,802

Average health care costs for a retired couple: Above average at $392,592

Rhode Island's tax rating for retirees: Least Tax Friendly

Tiny Rhode Island packs in big bills for older folks. On top of the above-average living costs, it's one of the 10 Worst States for Taxes on Retirees, taxing virtually all sources of retirement income at ordinary rates. (Note: Starting in 2016, the state will begin to give residents a break on Social Security taxes.) The state sales tax is 7%.

On the bright side, the above-average incomes for older residents can make those burdensome costs a bit more bearable.

6.  Massachusetts

Population: 6.7 million

Share of population 65+: 14.4%

Cost of living: 17% above the U.S. average

Average income for 65+ households: $61,436

Average health care costs for a retired couple: Above average at $413,007

Massachusetts's tax rating for retirees: Not Tax Friendly

The Bay State harbors some heavy costs for retirees. On top of the high overall living costs, the total a couple can expect to pay for health care throughout their retirement is the second-highest in the country, trailing only Alaska.

And though the average household income for seniors is high, taxes can take a big bite out of those earnings. Social Security benefits are exempt, but effective in 2016 most other retirement income is taxed at the state's flat rate of 5.1%.

5.  Illinois

Population: 12.9 million

Share of population 65+: 13.2%

Cost of living: 4% above the U.S. average

Average income for 65+ households: $51,079

Average health care costs for a retired couple: Above average at $398,927

Illinois's tax rating for retirees: Mixed

The Prairie State's fiscal standing has been sliding downward for years. Illinois has weighty long-term debts, large unfunded pension liabilities and big budget imbalances. All this puts it squarely at the bottom of the state rankings for fiscal soundness, according to George Mason University's Mercatus Center. In October 2015, ratings agency Fitch downgraded the state's credit rating to near-junk status.

On the plus side, the state doesn't tax distributions from a variety of retirement income sources, including 401(k) plans and individual retirement accounts. For now, that is. Given such a poor fiscal state, tax breaks are hardly assured, and higher taxes are on the table. Already, state and local sales taxes rise above a combined 10% in some areas, and they will be even higher effective July 1, 2016.

4.  Connecticut

Population: 3.6 million

Share of population 65+: 14.8%

Cost of living: 29% above the U.S. average

Average income for 65+ households: $63,726

Average health care costs for a retired couple: Above average at $402,594

Connecticut's tax rating for retirees: Least Tax Friendly

The Constitution State does little to promote the general welfare of its resident retirees. In fact, Connecticut ranks among the 10 tax-unfriendliest states for retirees. Real estate taxes are the second-highest in the country. Some residents face taxes on Social Security benefits, and most other retirement income is fully taxed, with no exemptions or tax credits to ease the burden. Because Connecticut ranks 47th out of all states for fiscal soundness, state taxes are not likely to go down any time soon.

All those taxes come on top of high living costs, the second-highest in the country, tied with New York and behind only Hawaii. One plus: Connecticut residents can often afford the costs. The state's average household income for seniors is the fourth-highest in the U.S., and its poverty rate for residents age 65 and older is a low 7.1%, compared with 9.4% for the U.S.

3.  California

Population: 38.1 million

Share of population 65+: 12.1%

Cost of living: 15% above the U.S. average

Average income for 65+ households: $62,003

Average health care costs for a retired couple: Above average at $394,831

California's tax rating for retirees: Least Tax Friendly

Another one of the 10 Worst States for Taxes on Retirees, the Golden State could be fool's gold as a retirement choice. Except for Social Security benefits, retirement income is fully taxed, and California imposes the highest state income tax rates in the nation (the top rate is 13.3% for single filers with $1 million incomes and joint filers with incomes above $1,039,374). The state sales tax combined with additional local levies can reach as high as 10%.

Everything seems bigger in California, including high living expenses. Indeed, plenty of older residents are unable to bear it: 1 in 10 Californians age 65 and over are living in poverty.

2.  New Jersey

Population: 8.9 million

Share of population 65+: 14.1%

Cost of living: 22% above the U.S. average

Average income for 65+ households: $66,409

Average health care costs for a retired couple: Above average at $403,420

New Jersey's tax rating for retirees: Least Tax Friendly

Retirees planning to plant themselves in the Garden State might want to reconsider. Both living costs and taxes in New Jersey take a big bite out of retirement nest eggs. The combined state and local tax burden is the second-highest in the nation. And it doesn't ease up after you die—the money you leave behind is subject to both an estate tax and inheritance tax (though there are exemptions for spouses and some others). Plus, with the second-worst ranking for fiscal soundness, behind only Illinois, the tax picture is unlikely to improve soon.

More bad news: New Jersey's living costs are the fourth-highest in the country, with retiree health care costs ranking third-highest in the nation. Still, residents seem to bear the burden well. The average income for 65-and-up residents is the third-highest in the U.S., and the poverty rate for the age group is a low 7.9%.

1.  New York

Population: 19.6 million

Share of population 65+: 14.1%

Cost of living: 29% above the U.S. average

Average income for 65+ households: $63,174

Average health care costs for a retired couple: Above average at $397,107

New York's tax rating for retirees: Least Tax Friendly

One (pricey) Big Apple spoils the entire Empire State. Manhattan reigns as the most expensive place to live in the U.S., with costs soaring 127.4% above the national average, according to the Council for Community and Economic Research. New York sports the second-highest living costs of any state, behind only Hawaii.

Despite boasting an average income for residents age 65 and older that's among the top five in the country, the same age group suffers a poverty rate of 11.4%, worse than the national 9.4% rate.

Worst States for Retirement 2016

Our Methodology

To rank all 50 states, we weighed a number of factors:

Taxes on retirees, based on Kiplinger's Retiree Tax Map, which divides states into five categories: Most Tax Friendly, Tax Friendly, Mixed, Not Tax Friendly and Least Tax Friendly.

Cost-of-living, with data provided by FindTheData.com.

Average health care costs in retirement are from HealthView Services and include Medicare, supplemental insurance, dental insurance and out-of-pocket costs for a 65-year-old couple who are both retired and are expected to live to 87 (husband) and 89 (wife). With a national average of $387,731, the average couple can expect to spend about $8,400 per person per year in retirement on health care costs. Note: Some of the worst states for retirees have less than average costs in this category, a positive factor for most retirees, but other factors drove the lower rankings.

Rankings of each state's economic health are provided by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and are based on various factors including state governments' revenue sources, debts, budgets and abilities to fund pensions, health-care benefits and other services.

Rankings of the health of each state's population of residents 65 and over are from the United Health Foundation and are based on 35 factors ranging from residents' bad habits (smoking and excessive drinking) to the quality of hospital and nursing home care available in the state.

Household incomes and poverty rates are from the U.S. Census Bureau. While many of the worst states for retirees in our rankings have above-average household incomes, high average living costs in those states tend to offset the higher incomes.

Final note: Population data, including the percentage of the population that is age 65 and older, is also provided by the Census data. They are highlighted in these rankings, but were not a factor in our methodology for ranking the states. We provided this additional information for readers to decide for themselves whether they are important factors. Some retirees may want to live in states with higher-than-average retiree populations. For others, this isn't important.


Robert J. Pyle, CFP®, CFA is president of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. (DAMI). DAMI is licensed as an investment adviser with the State of Colorado Division of Securities, and its investment advisory representatives are licensed by the State of Colorado. DAMI will only transact business in other states to the extent DAMI has made the requisite notice filings or obtained the necessary licensing in such state. No follow up or individualized responses to persons in other jurisdictions that involve either rendering or attempting to render personalized investment advice for compensation will be made absent compliance with applicable legal requirements, or an applicable exemption or exclusion. It does not constitute investment or tax advice. To contact Robert, call 303-440-2906 or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

The views, opinion, information and content provided here are solely those of the respective authors, and may not represent the views or opinions of Diversified Asset Management, Inc.  The selection of any posts or articles should not be regarded as an explicit or implicit endorsement or recommendation of any such posts or articles, or services provided or referenced and statements made by the authors of such posts or articles.  Diversified Asset Management, Inc. cannot guarantee the accuracy or currency of any such third party information or content, and does not undertake to verify or update such information or content. Any such information or other content should not be construed as investment, legal, accounting or tax advice.

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