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William Byrnes (Texas A&M) tax & compliance articles

Archive for November, 2017

Will Trump Keep His Promise that No One’s Retirement Will Be Taken Away?

Posted by William Byrnes on November 16, 2017


The 2017 Tax Reform discussion originally was, like the 1986 discussion, about whether the Internal Revenue Code should be used for incentives and subsidy in favor of a particular activity or particular group of taxpayers. Broaden the base, lower the rates, simplify the variations, exceptions, and exemptions. But the dueling Chamber proposals are now out and tax reform based on equity and on eliminating tax-incentives was dead on arrival. It the same old ‘every interest’ vying for a portion of the pie. That’s the democratic, political “Gulchi Gulch” process. What is my interest then? I work for a public research university. I have ‘a dog in this fight’ described below. Hope that the government relations staff of NTEU, of state universities, and of other government employee stakeholder groups raise their voices like the Seraphim to the Republican members of the Finance Committee that are willing to listen.

So what’s so alarmed me to divert my attention to the retirement provisions of the Senate Chair’s mark? Did not the President state that retirement would be left alone (see his tweet here)?  Appears the Senate ignored him as usual.

The Senate Finance Committee Chair slipped in (at page 178) an explosive measure for government employees that also impacts public academic institutions. The Senate Finance Committee Tax Reform Chair’s Mark under the current status (November 9, 2017) will limit public employees to one aggregate amount of $18,500 for retirement plans 403(B) and 457 as of January 1, 2018.

Finance Committee Chair Proposal: The proposal applies a single aggregate limit to contributions for an employee in a governmental section 457(b) plan and elective deferrals for the same employee under a section 401(k) plan or a 403(b) plan of the same employer. Thus, the limit for governmental section 457(b) plans is coordinated with the limit for section 401(k) and 403(b) plans in the same manner as the limits are coordinated under present law for elective deferrals to section 401(k) and section 403(b) plans.

Government, including public educational institution, employees needs to become immediately aware that this provision will critically reduce their ability to contribute to their employer retirement plan(s) by $18,500 (or $24,500 for employees 50 years and older) as of January 1, 2018.  Thus, while there is still time to make December 1st contribution changes to preserve the last year of the additional $18,000 (or $24,000 if at least 50 years of age), these employees need to arrange with their payroll officers to contribute before December 31st any difference between what is allowed in 2017 and what has actually been contributed. As of January 1, 2018, the ability to contribute is gone forever.

Hatch Amendment #2 An amendment to the catch up contribution rules for section 401(k), 403(b) and 457)(b) retirement savings plans. Description of Amendment: This amendment would require all catch up contributions to section 401(k), 403(b) and 457(b) retirement savings plans to be Roth only, and increase the $6,000 catch up contribution annual limit applicable to such plans to $9,000.

See what he’s done here to Americans trying to save for retirement? At age 50 plus, we will pay on average – say 30 percent – for each catchup retirement dollar. How many years does it take to catchup with this 30 percent loss out the door? Based on historical annual average market returns, it will require four years to break even on the 30 percent loss. Only in year five will the 50-year-old, based on historical returns, start to earn towards retirement relative to her situation today in 2017. Where does our 30 percent loss out the door go? To pay for …. an energy credit? I don’t know. The revenue raised is relatively minuscule. The damage to retirement savings – tremendous.

Lack of Impact Analysis on Retirement and Public Employees

Curiously, I have not found many informative articles about the impact to retirement from these above-mentioned changes. Why is it silence from the public university crowd that is usually quite loud although this provision will damage their ability to attract researchers, faculty, and staff from the higher compensation opportunities of private educational institutions and for-profit industry?  Are we embarrassed to appear to be lobbying to keep a tax break? Just caught by surprise?  At least the NAGDCA has sent out an alert (Government Defined Contribution Administrators) to its members.

Instead of the beneficial retirement system, government agencies and public institutions need to find more revenue to pay competitive salaries and employee benefits to replace the loss of the retirement benefits (doubtful) Senate Finance will take away. Lacking better salaries, government agencies and public institutions will experience disproportionate employee turnover of the best performing management coupled with a declining ability to attract highly accomplished professionals and researchers to replace the pool.

Is this Payback Against the IRS?

Perhaps this provision is a Republican payback to government agencies like the IRS because Republicans think that the current government management pool is biased against Republican groups or lacks service for taxpayers? But taking out the best performing managers from government service will exasperate the challenges, not remediate them. If this is a ‘payback’, then it is “cutting off one’s nose”.  Perhaps the provision is but a Machiavellian move in a contest for talent between a state university and its private counterpart (Utah v BYU comes to mind)?

Maybe the silence from the government and public institutions employees is ‘heads in the sand’, and perhaps ‘those in the know’ think this provision will not survive because JCT scored it as only worth $100 million a year at least until 2021 (so why waste the political capital). Apportioned amongst all government employees in the US (being federal and state), state public academic institutions I suspect are less than 10 percent of this score, thus about $10 million a year for offset (inconsequential basically).

Can Public Institutions Be Saved?

A carve-out from this provision for public educational institutions would address the harmful issue and can be negotiated in response to the also proposed loss of the current carve-out for deferrals allowed for section 403(b) plan for at least 15 years of service to an educational organization, hospital, home health service agency, health and welfare service agency, and church. Seems to me that Republicans would prefer to incentivize via retirement doctors, nurses, social workers, and clergy to stay long-term in their public positions instead of paying higher government salaries.

Interested to learn the impact on your clients of the 2018 tax changes, and what to do about it?  Read the online version of Tax Facts.

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Why Do Republicans Want to Impose an Inflation Tax? Thought They Were for Lowering Taxes?

Posted by William Byrnes on November 15, 2017


 

Raising our Taxes and Killing Social Security via the Republican’s Proposal for an Inflation Tax in Tax Reform

This so-called “Tax Reform” is going to raise our tax burdens while killing social security.  The Republicans have proposed, and Democrats have agreed, that actual inflation should not be recognized in future years, limiting inflation adjustments of tax brackets to increase tax on persons who earn more because of inflation, and decreasing social security benefits by half over 20 years.  This Tax Reform, besides reducing retirement opportunities for public employees, imposes “Chained CPI” (also known as the inflation tax) upon social security benefits to keep them from increasing and upon tax brackets to keep them from increasing as well. But tax brackets not increasing is bad for taxpayers. Tax brackets that do not move up to account for actual inflation require a higher tax rate be paid on future income as actual inflation pushes it into the next bracket.

I thought Republicans wanted lower taxes imposed on people who sweat and toil? Or do Republicans actually want lower taxes only on idle passive investors?

What if I like organic apples?

How’s that again? “Chained CPI” is sold as the savior of Social Security (see Heritage Foundation explanation). The example employed by Heritage in favor of Chained CPI: if apples go up in price, then consumers stop eating apples and eat cheaper oranges instead. What if I prefer apples? What if I am allergic to oranges? To my actual point: it is not a ‘choice of apples versus oranges world. It’s a choice between quality and cheaper (generally imported) goods. Chained CPI over time eliminates the local farmer’s organic apples in favor of the imported, genetically modified, pesticide grown cheap apples. Chained CPI requires that we reduce lean meat (sorry vegans) in favor of affordable fast food.

Chained CPI is a system built on forcing a degrading quality of life onto retirees. 

Compounded over time, it’s a choice between affording medication and going without medication, giving up restaurant dates with my spouse in favor of TV dinners. The monthly annuity from social security, as little as it is relative to a 15.4% pay-in of salary (albeit capped, but so are benefits) over 40 years, could be cut significantly over 20 years (see New Republic explanation) in respect to what it can actually buy in today’s terms. In 20 years when my generations retirees wake up to this death by a thousand substitutions, the monthly social security annuity is so relatively inconsequential, it won’t be worth discussing any longer. Worse, over these 20 years, our tax bills will increase annually via the Chained CPI bracket creep that keeps brackets from adjusting upward as our wages hopefully increase. So inflationary tax takes away our ability to try to mitigate the loss of our catchup retirement and social security. We MUST work, if able, until we drop dead, assuming that we are not substituted for a cheaper wage worker.

Retired, Older Experience Hirer Inflation Than Younger Population  

The Congressional Research Service has published a study that finds that elderly persons actually experience higher inflation than younger ones (see CRS Research Report A Separate Consumer Price Index for the Elderly?).  Instead of going the wrong direction to a Chained CPI, the CRS suggests a CPI for the elderly spending patterns to be called CPI-E.

Follow the impact analysis of the 2018 tax updates after these pass by a team of experts who will map out how these affect your clients and what planning you need to do – TaxFacts Online.

 

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Non-Qualified Deferred Compensation: The “Substantial Risk of Forfeiture” Requirement

Posted by fhalestewart on November 14, 2017


In 2009, F. Hale Stewart, JD. LL.M. graduated magna cum laude from Thomas Jefferson School of Law’s LLM Program.  He is the author of three books: U.S. Captive Insurance LawCaptive Insurance in Plain English and The Lifetime Income Security Solution.  He also provides commentary to the Tax Analysts News Service, as well as economic analysis to TLRAnalytics and the Bonddad Blog.  He is also an investment adviser with Thompson Creek Wealth Advisors. 

 

Income for tax purposes is defined in the broadest possible terms.  §61 states it as “income from whatever source derived.”[1]  The case law adds further clarification and detail.  Glenshaw Glass defined income as “undeniable accessions to wealth, clearly defined, and over which the taxpayers have complete dominion.”[2]  The latter term is central to a properly structured non-qualified deferred compensation (NQDC) plan.  If the taxpayer has any control over the plan’s income, he will have to include the total income in his annual income.

Therefore, all money in a NDQC plan must be subject to a substantial risk of forfeiture.[3]  “[E]ntitlement to the amount [must be] conditioned on the performance of substantial future services by any person or the occurrence of a condition related to a purpose of the compensation, and the possibility of forfeiture is substantial.”  The future services must be performance based, and they cannot include “any amount or portion of any amount that will be paid either regardless of performance, or based upon a level of performance that is substantially certain to be met at the time the criteria is established.”[4]  These two conditions further support the requirement that the NQDC contract must be in writing.[5]  They also strongly allude to an employment law component in which the service recipient and provider agree on a basic compensation level and an additional layer, which will be paid for through the NQDC plan.

Finally, the “substantial risk of forfeiture” element can’t be met if the service provider is the sole owner of the company.  The underlying rationale is simple: he or she will not use their management position to not pay themselves – it’s simply not going to happen.  The examples in the Treasury Regulations imply that a 20% ownership stake is the maximum amount the service provider can own of the company and still benefit from the NQDC plan.  But this same section also says the ultimate determination is based on the “facts and circumstances.”[6]

[1] 26 U.S.C. §61

[2] Comm’r v. Glenshaw Glass, 348 U.S. 426 (1955)

[3] Treas. Reg. 1.409-1(a)(d)(1)

[4] Treas. Reg. 1.409A-1(e)(1)

[5] See also Treas. Reg. 1.409(A)-1(e)(“The term performance-based compensation means compensation that amount of which, or the entitlement to which, is contingent on the satisfaction of pre-established organizational or individual performance criteria relating to a performance period of at least 12 consecutive months.”)

[6] Treas. Reg. 1.409(A)-1(d)(3)

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New Limits For Qualified Plans

Posted by fhalestewart on November 12, 2017


Code section 415 specifically defines the total benefits and contributions allowed for a “qualified” plan.    Exceeding these limits will strip a plan of its tax-deferred status.  Code section 401(b) requires the Secretary to annually adjust various amounts.  A few weeks ago, the IRS released Notice 2017-64 which contains various adjustments.  You can read the entire release at this link.

 

In 2009, F. Hale Stewart, JD. LL.M. graduated magna cum laude from Thomas Jefferson School of Law’s LLM Program.  He is the author of three books: U.S. Captive Insurance LawCaptive Insurance in Plain English and The Lifetime Income Security Solution.  He also provides commentary to the Tax Analysts News Service, as well as economic analysis to TLRAnalytics and the Bonddad Blog.  He is also an investment adviser with Thompson Creek Wealth Advisors. 

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Today’s Tax Policy Headlines

Posted by fhalestewart on November 9, 2017


Senate bill differs from House’s (NYT)

Tax bill math is getting complicated (WaPo)

House leaders rounding up votes (Politico)

Support for tax plan still positive (Politico)

Election results potentially change the tax plan (Politico)

Multinational companies lobby against 20% excise tax (BB)

In 2009, F. Hale Stewart, JD. LL.M. graduated magna cum laude from Thomas Jefferson School of Law’s LLM Program.  He is the author of three books: U.S. Captive Insurance LawCaptive Insurance in Plain English and The Lifetime Income Security Solution.  He also provides commentary to the Tax Analysts News Service, as well as economic analysis to TLRAnalytics and the Bonddad Blog.  He is also an investment adviser with Thompson Creek Wealth Advisors. 

 

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Non-Qualified Deferred Compensation: Some Additional Definitions

Posted by fhalestewart on November 6, 2017


In this post, I’ll take a look at several more definitions related to non-qualified deferred compensation (NQDC) plans, beginning with the definition of “plan:”

“The term plan includes any agreement, method, program or other arrangement, including an agreement, method, program or other arrangement that applies to one person or individual.”[1]

Here, we see the Treasury using the standard definitional tactic of using several words that, while moderately different, convey the same idea.  However, the commonplace definition of the word “plan” (“a method for achieving an end.”)[2] along with its synonyms[3] would have sufficed.

The plan must be in writing.  While not explicitly stated, it is strongly implied in the regulations.

“…a plan is established on the latest of the date on which it is adopted, the date on which it is effective, and the date on which the material terms of the plan are set forth in writing.  The material terms of the plan may be set forth in writing in one or more documents.”[4]

In addition, because of the sheer complexity of NQDC, it’s best to have a governing document.  (I googled the search term “NQDC sample plan and found several online examples, here, here and here).

There are only six events that allow the plan to distribute assets:

  • separation from service as determined by the Secretary (except as provided in subparagraph (B)(i)),
  • the date the participant becomes disabled (within the meaning of subparagraph (C)),
  • death,
  • a specified time (or pursuant to a fixed schedule) specified under the plan at the date of the deferral of such compensation,
  • to the extent provided by the Secretary, a change in the ownership or effective control of the corporation, or in the ownership of a substantial portion of the assets of the corporation, or
  • the occurrence of an unforeseeable emergency.[5]

These terms are not subject to over-lawyering.  Potentially malleable terms (e.g. “disabled” or “separation from service”) are further defined in the statute or require the Secretary’s approval.  The underlying message is clear: don’t get cute.

In 2009, F. Hale Stewart, JD. LL.M. graduated magna cum laude from Thomas Jefferson School of Law’s LLM Program.  He is the author of three books: U.S. Captive Insurance LawCaptive Insurance in Plain English and The Lifetime Income Security Solution.  He also provides commentary to the Tax Analysts News Service, as well as economic analysis to TLRAnalytics and the Bonddad Blog.  He is also an investment adviser with Thompson Creek Wealth Advisors. 

 

[1] Treas. Ref. 1.409(A)(c)(1)

[2] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/plan

[3] Id (“arrangement, blueprint, design, game, game plan, ground plan, master plan, program, project, roadmap, scheme, strategy, system”)

[4] Treas. Reg. §1.409(A)(3)(i):

[5] 26 U.S.C. 409(A)(2)(i)-(vi)

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ICIJ Begins to Release the “Paradise Papers”

Posted by fhalestewart on November 5, 2017


As you may know, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists released the Luxembourg Leaks database in 2014 (which you can view here).  This showed a number of EU based tax structures based in Luxembourg.  “Luxembourg Leaks” helped to jump-start the OECD’s base erosion and profit shifting initiative.

From today’s release:

The Paradise Papers is a global investigation into the offshore activities of some of the world’s most powerful people and companies.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and 95 media partners explored 13.4 million leaked files from a combination of offshore service providers and the company registries of some of the world’s most secretive countries.

The files were obtained by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung.

The Paradise Papers documents include nearly 7 million loan agreements, financial statements, emails, trust deeds and other paperwork from nearly 50 years at Appleby, a leading offshore law firm with offices in Bermuda and beyond.

 

In 2009, F. Hale Stewart, JD. LL.M. graduated magna cum laude from Thomas Jefferson School of Law’s LLM Program.  He is the author of three books: U.S. Captive Insurance LawCaptive Insurance in Plain English and The Lifetime Income Security Solution.  He also provides commentary to the Tax Analysts News Service, as well as economic analysis to TLRAnalytics and the Bonddad Blog.  He is also an investment adviser with Thompson Creek Wealth Advisors. 

 

 

 

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Today’s Tax Policy Headlines

Posted by fhalestewart on November 3, 2017


In 2009, F. Hale Stewart, JD. LL.M. graduated magna cum laude from Thomas Jefferson School of Law’s LLM Program.  He is the author of three books: U.S. Captive Insurance LawCaptive Insurance in Plain English and The Lifetime Income Security Solution.  He also provides commentary to the Tax Analysts News Service, as well as economic analysis to TLRAnalytics and the Bonddad Blog.  He is also an investment adviser with Thompson Creek Wealth Advisors. 

 

Potential impact of the proposed changes (NYT)

Mortgage deduction change could hurt the housing industry (NYT)

Plan delivers a permanent corporate tax cut (NYT)

GOP plan is a “sensible framework,” but it still explodes the deficit (WaPo)

The hidden 465 tax bracket (Politico)

Who pays more under the GOP plan? (Politico)

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The Lastest Tax Policy News Headlines

Posted by fhalestewart on November 2, 2017


In 2009, F. Hale Stewart, JD. LL.M. graduated magna cum laude from Thomas Jefferson School of Law’s LLM Program.  He is the author of three books: U.S. Captive Insurance LawCaptive Insurance in Plain English and The Lifetime Income Security Solution.  He also provides commentary to the Tax Analysts News Service, as well as economic analysis to TLRAnalytics and the Bonddad Blog.  He is also an investment adviser with Thompson Creek Wealth Advisors.   

Republican tax plan to lower cap on mortgage interest deduction to $500,000 loans (WaPo)

Red State Dems are willing to work with Republicans on taxes (WaPo)

8 Charts of the US tax system from Wonkblog (WaPo)

Republicans release tax plan (NYTimes)

A list of the plans major changes (BB)

 

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