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Tax Reform 2019 Explained

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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As the 2019 tax deadline approaches, many Americans will feel the impact of last year’s tax tax reform for the first time. It was the most sweeping rewrite of the tax code in more than three decades, after all.

Of importance to most tax filers is the fact that the new tax law altered the federal income tax brackets, doubled the standard deduction and changed many other tax credits and deductions.

The bill, originally known as The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, didn’t have an easy journey. It was first introduced in the House of Representatives in November 2017, and was signed into law by President Donald Trump on Dec. 22, 2017 after vigorous debate and multiple versions of the bill made their way through both the House and Senate.

With all the developments since then, you may have forgotten about these sweeping tax changes until now. But as you get ready to file your tax return this year, you should prepare for some of the changes that could affect you.

What’s changing— and what isn’t

The majority of the new tax law’s changes went into effect Jan. 1, 2018, which means people filing their 2018 taxes in 2019 will need to take these changes into consideration.

Read on or jump ahead to read about the rules you’re most interested in:

529 college savings plans

A 529 college savings plan is a tax-advantaged savings account designed to encourage saving for qualified future higher-education costs, such as tuition, fees and room and board. Your money is invested and grows tax free.

Old Rule

New Rule (Effective Jan. 1, 2018)

Previously, 529 plan savings could only be used on qualified higher education expenses.

New Rule (Effective Jan. 1, 2018)

In a major victory for wealthier families, you can now use 529 savings for private K-12 schooling.

Tax benefits are now extended to eligible education expenses for an elementary or secondary public, private, or religious school.

The new rules allow you to withdraw up to $10,000 a year per student (child) for education costs.

ACA individual mandate

The individual mandate was a key provision of the Affordable Care Act that required non-exempt U.S. citizens and noncitizens who lawfully reside in the country to have health insurance.

Old Rule

New Rule (Effective Jan. 1, 2019)

Consumers who did not qualify for an exemption and chose not to purchase insurance faced a range of tax penalties, depending on income.

New Rule (Effective Jan. 1, 2019)

The individual mandate is out.

Starting Jan. 1, 2019, consumers who do not purchase health insurance will no longer face penalties.

GOP lawmakers argue that the measure will decrease spending on the tax subsidies it offers to balance out the cost of premiums for millions of Obamacare enrollees.

However, without the mandate, experts caution that fewer healthy and young people will sign up for health coverage through the insurance marketplace, which will likely lead to increases in premium costs for those who remain the marketplace and could even induce some insurers to drop out of the market altogether. It’s a big blow to supporters of the long-embattled health care law.

Alimony

Old Rule

New Rule (Effective Jan. 1, 2019)

The individual paying alimony or maintenance payments can deduct payments from their income. The person receiving the payments includes them as income.

New Rule (Effective Jan. 1, 2019)

The person making alimony or maintenance payments does not get to deduct them, and the recipient does not claim the payments as income. This goes into effect for any divorce or separation agreement signed or modified on or after Jan. 1, 2019.

Alternative minimum tax

The individual alternative minimum tax, or AMT, often imposed on higher-income families, especially those with children, who live in high-tax states — but not necessarily the ultra rich. It requires many households or individuals to calculate their tax due under the AMT rules alongside the rules for regular income tax. They have to pay the higher amount. Whether or not a someone pays AMT depends on their alternative minimum taxable income (AMTI). AMTI is determined through a series of assessments of a taxpayer’s income and assets — the explanation of calculating AMTI takes up two pages in the tax bill, so we’re not getting into the details here.

Old Rule

New Rule (Effective Jan. 1, 2018)

The exemption amount is $84,500 for married joint-filing couples, $54,300 for single filers and $42,250 for married couples filing separately.

The AMT exemption begins to phase out at $120,700 for singles, $160,900 for married couples filing jointly and $80,450 for married couples filing separately.

New Rule (Effective Jan. 1, 2018)

The AMT is here to stay but fewer households will have to face it.

Under the new rules, which are in effect from Jan. 1, 2018 through Dec. 31, 2025, married couples filing jointly will be exempt from the alternative minimum tax starting at $109,400. Exemption starts at $70,300 for all other taxpayers (other than estates and trusts).

The exemption phase-out thresholds will rise to $1,000,000 for married couples filing jointly, and $500,000 for all other taxpayers.

Bicycle commuting

Old Rule

New Rule (Effective Jan. 1, 2018)

Taxpayers can exclude up to $20 a month of qualified bicycle commuting reimbursements from their gross income. That includes payments from employers for things like a bicycle purchase, bike maintenance or storage. Workers can claim the exclusion in any month they regularly use a bicycle to commute to work and do not receive other transit benefits.

New Rule (Effective Jan. 1, 2018)

The exclusion is suspended through 2025.

Child tax credit

Old Rule

New Rule (Effective Jan. 1, 2018)

The current child tax credit is $1,000 per child under the age of 17.

The credit is reduced by $50 for each $1,000 a taxpayer earns over certain thresholds. The phase-out thresholds start at a modified adjusted gross income (AGI) over $75,000 for single individuals and heads of household, $110,000 for married couples filing jointly and $55,000 for married couples filing separately.

New Rule (Effective Jan. 1, 2018)

The child tax credit doubles to $2,000 per qualifying child. Up to $1,400 of the child tax credit can be received as refundable credit (meaning it can go toward a tax refund). The new rule also includes a $500 nonrefundable credit per dependent other than a qualifying child.

The credit begins to phase out at an AGI over $200,000 — for married couples, the phase-out starts at an AGI over $400,000.

This rule is in effect through 2025.

Corporate taxes

Old Rule

New Rule (Effective Jan. 1, 2018)

Under a four-step graduated rate structure, the current top corporate tax rate is 35 percent on taxable income greater than $10 million.

New Rule (Effective Jan. 1, 2018)

Permanently cuts the top corporate tax rate to 21 percent.

Estate taxes

The estate tax, aka the “Death Tax” is a tax levied on significantly large estates that are passed down to heirs.

Old Rule

New Rule (Effective Jan. 1, 2018)

Estates up to $5.49 million in value were exempt from the tax.

The top tax rate was 40 percent.

New Rule (Effective Jan. 1, 2018)

Doubles the exemption for the estate tax.

Now, estates up to $11.2 million are exempt from the tax.

Gains made on home sales

Old Rule

New Rule (Effective Jan. 1, 2018)

Homeowners can exclude up to $250,000 (or $500,000, if married filing jointly) of gains made when selling their primary residence, as long as they owned and primarily lived in the home for at least two of the five years before the sale. The exclusion can be claimed only once in a two-year period.

New Rule (Effective Jan. 1, 2018)

Homeowners can still exclude gains up to $250,000 (or $500,000 if married filing jointly) when they sell their primary residence, but they have to have lived there longer. People who sell their homes after Dec. 31, 2017 now have to use the home as their primary residence for five of the eight years before the sale in order to claim the exclusion. It can only be claimed once in a five-year period.

The new rule expires on Dec. 31, 2025.

Medical expenses

Old Rule

New Rule

Taxpayers were previously allowed to deduct out-of-pocket medical expenses that exceed 10 percent of their adjusted gross income or 7.5 percent if they or their spouse were 65 or older.

New Rule

The threshold for all taxpayers to claim an itemized deduction for medical expenses is lowered to 7.5 percent of a filer’s adjusted gross income.

The change applies to taxable years from Dec. 31, 2016 to Jan. 1, 2019.

Miscellaneous tax deductions

Taxpayers can take the miscellaneous tax deduction if the items total more than 2 percent of their adjusted gross income. The amount that’s deductible is the amount that exceeds the 2 percent threshold. These are some of the major changes coming to the miscellaneous tax deduction.

Old Rule

New Rule (Effective Jan. 1, 2018)

Tax preparation: Taxpayers can today claim an itemized deduction of the amount of money they pay for tax-related expenses, like the person who prepares their taxes or any software purchased pr fees paid to fee to file forms electronically.

Work-related expenses: Under current law, workers can deduct unreimbursed business expense as an itemized deduction, like the cost of a home office, job-search costs, professional license fees and more.

Investment fees: Taxpayers can currently deduct fees paid to advisors and brokers to manage their money.

New Rule (Effective Jan. 1, 2018)

Tax preparation: Taxpayers may not claim tax-preparation expenses as an itemized deduction through 2025.

Work-related expenses: The bill suspends work-related expenses as an itemized deduction through 2025.

Investment fees: Under the new rules, the investment fee deduction is suspended until 2025.

Mortgage and home equity loan interest deduction

Old Rule

New Rule (Effective Jan. 1, 2018)

Currently homeowners are allowed to deduct interest paid on mortgages valued up to $1 million on a taxpayer’s principal residence and one other qualified residence.

They can also deduct interest paid on a home equity loan or home equity line of credit no greater than $100,000. These are itemized deductions.

New Rule (Effective Jan. 1, 2018)

New homeowners can include mortgage interest paid on up to $750,000 of principal value on a new home in their itemized deductions.

The old, $1 million caps continues to apply to current homeowners (those who took out their mortgages on or before Dec. 15, 2017), as well as refinancing on mortgages taken out on or before Dec. 15, 2017, as long as new mortgage amount does not exceed the amount of debt being refinanced.

Homeowners CAN deduct interest paid on a home equity line of credit or home equity loan, so long as the loan was used to buy, build or substantially improve your home.

These changes are set to expire after 2025.

Moving expenses

Old Rule

New Rule (Effective Jan. 1, 2018)

Current law allows taxpayers to deduct moving expenses as long as the move is of a certain distance from the taxpayer’s previous home and the job in the new location is full-time.

New Rule (Effective Jan. 1, 2018)

The new tax bill suspends the moving expense deduction through 2025. Until then, taxpayers are not permitted to deduct moving expenses.

Moving-related deductions and exclusions remain in place for members of the military.

Pass-through businesses

Pass-through businesses are generally small businesses (also some big firms) that don’t pay the corporate income tax. Instead, the owners report the corporate profits as their own income and pay taxes based on the individual tax rates along with their regular personal income tax.

Some of the common types of pass-through businesses are partnerships, LLCs (limited liability companies), S corporations and sole proprietorships.

Old Rule

New Rule (Effective Jan. 1, 2018)

All pass-through business owners’ income was previously subject to regular personal income tax.

New Rule (Effective Jan. 1, 2018)

Under the new laws, pass-through business owners can deduct up to 20 percent of their qualified business income from a partnership, S corporation or sole proprietorship.

Individuals earning $157,500 and married couples earning $315,000 are eligible for the fullest deduction.

Personal casualty or theft

Old Rule

New Rule (Effective Jan. 1, 2018)

Under current tax law individuals can deduct uninsured losses above $100 when property is lost to a fire, shipwreck, flood, storm, earthquake or other natural disaster. The deduction is allowed as long as the total loss amounts to greater than 10 percent of the taxpayer’s adjusted gross income.

New Rule (Effective Jan. 1, 2018)

The new tax bill only allows taxpayers to claim the deduction if the loss occurred during a federally declared disaster, through 2025.

Personal exemptions

Old Rule

New Rule (Effective Jan. 1, 2018)

Taxpayers can reduce their adjusted gross income by claiming personal exemptions — generally for the taxpayer, their spouse and their dependents.

Taxpayers could deduct $4,050 per exemption in 2017, though the deduction is phased out for taxpayers earning more than certain AGI thresholds. The phase out begins at an AGI over $313,800 for married couples filing jointly, $287,650 for heads of household, $156,900 for married couples filing separately and $261,500 for all other taxpayers.

New Rule (Effective Jan. 1, 2018)

Personal exemptions have been suspended through 2025.

Standard deductions

Old Rule

New Rule (Effective Jan. 1, 2018)

Taxpayers who do not itemize can claim the current standard deduction of $6,350 for single individuals, $9,350 for heads of household or $12,700 for married couples filing jointly

New Rule (Effective Jan. 1, 2018)

Standard deductions for all nearly double under the new rules.

Individuals see standard deductions rise to $12,000; forlim heads of household, it rises to $18,000; and for married couples filing jointly the standard deduction increases to $24,000.

State and local tax (SALT) deduction

Old Rule

New Rule (Effective Jan. 1, 2018)

Taxpayers may include state and local property, income and sales taxes as itemized deductions.

New Rule (Effective Jan. 1, 2018)

Taxpayers are limited to claiming an itemized deduction of $10,000 in combined state and local income, sales and property taxes, starting in 2018 through 2025.

Taxpayers cannot get around these limits by prepaying 2018 state and local income taxes while it is still 2017. The bill says nothing about prepaying 2018 property taxes.

Student loan debt discharge

Old Rule

New Rule (Effective Jan. 1, 2018)

Currently, student loan debt discharged due to death or disability is taxed as income.

New Rule (Effective Jan. 1, 2018)

Under the new tax bill, student loan debt discharged due to death or disability after Dec. 31, 2017, will not be taxed as income. The rule lasts through 2025.

Tax brackets and income taxes

Old Rule

New Rule (Effective Jan. 1, 2018)

There are currently seven tax brackets.

The rate on the highest earners is 39.6 percent for taxpayers earning above $418,400 for individuals and $470,700 for married couples filing taxes jointly.

New Rule (Effective Jan. 1, 2018)

The new rules retain seven tax brackets, but the brackets have been modified to lower most individual income tax rates. The new brackets expire in 2027.

Top income earners — above $500,000 for individuals and above $600,000 for married couples filing jointly — falls from 39.6 percent to 37 percent.

The majority of individual income tax changes would be temporary, expiring after Dec.
31, 2025.

2017 Tax Brackets

New Tax Brackets (Effective Jan. 1, 2018)

Single Individuals

Taxable Income

Tax Bracket

Taxable Income

Tax Bracket

$9,325 or less

10%

$9,525 or less

10%

$9,326-$37,950

15%

$9,526-$38,700

12%

$37,951-$91,900

25%

$38,701-$82,500

22%

$91,901-$191,650

28%

$82,501-$157,500

24%

$191,651-$416,700

33%

$157,501-$200,000

32%

$416,701-$418,400

35%

$200,001-$500,000

35%

Over $418,400

39.60%

Over $500,000

37%

Married Individuals Filing Joint Returns and Surviving Spouses

Taxable Income

Tax Bracket

Taxable Income

Tax Bracket

$18,650 or less

10%

$19,050 or less

10%

$18,651-$75,900

15%

$19,051-$77,400

12%

$75,901-$153,100

25%

$77,401-$165,000

22%

$153,101-$233,350

28%

$165,001-$315,000

24%

$233,351-$416,700

33%

$315,001-$400,000

32%

$416,701-$470,700

35%

$400,001-$600,000

35%

Over $470,700

39.60%

Over $600,000

37%

Heads of Households

Taxable Income

Tax Bracket

Taxable Income

Tax Bracket

$13,350 or less

10%

$13,600 or less

10%

$13,351-$50,800

15%

$13,601-$51,800

12%

$50,801-$131,200

25%

$51,801-$82,500

22%

$131,201-$212,500

28%

$82,501-$157,500

24%

$212,501-$416,700

33%

$157,501-$200,000

32%

$416,701-$444,550

35%

$200,001-$500,000

35%

Over $444,550

39.60%

Over $500,000

37%

Married Individuals Filing Separate Returns

Taxable Income

Tax Bracket

Taxable Income

Tax Bracket

$9,325 or less

10%

Not over $9,525

10%

$9,326-$37,950

15%

$9,525-$38,700

12%

$37,951-$76,550

25%

$38,701-$82,500

22%

$76,551-$116,675

28%

$82,501-$157,500

24%

$116,676- $208,350

33%

$157,501-$200,000

32%

$208,351-$235,350

35%

$200,001-$300,000

35%

Over $235,350

39.60%

Over $300,000

37%

Tax deductions that won’t be changing

Teacher deduction

Teachers can deduct up to $250 for unreimbursed expenses for classroom supplies or school materials from their taxable income.

Electric cars

Electric car owners who bought a vehicle after 2010 may be given tax credit of up to $7,500, depending on the battery capacity.

Adoption assistance

Adoptive parents are allowed a tax credit and employer-provided benefits up to $13,570 per eligible child in 2017.

Student loan interest deduction

Student loan borrowers may deduct up to $2,500 on the interest paid for student loans every year.

FAQ: Tax filing tips for 2019

Taxes for tax year 2018 are due to the IRS by April 15, 2019.  Some filers may face an unwelcome surprise this year if they end up owing more taxes than usual, while others may receive a nice refund they weren’t expecting.

What if I owe taxes due to tax reform?

You might have been overpaying or underpaying on your taxes in 2018, which could mean a tax bill or bigger-than-expected tax refund this time around.

To avoid confusion, consult a tax professional and consider adjusting your allowances on your W-4.

If you end up owing taxes, you’ll need to pay your bill by April 15th or contact the IRS to sign up for a payment plan. Late payments will result in penalties and additional fees.

When can I expect my tax refund?

The IRS typically sends out tax refunds within 21 days of receiving your filing. It can take longer in some occasions, depending on your situation. If you file your return electronically, you can check the status of your refund after 24 hours from filing, through the IRS’ Where’s My Refund? tool. If you mail in your return, you can check the status four weeks after mailing. You can also use your smartphone to download the IRS2Go app to check your refund status.

How should I spend my tax refund?

It’s certainly tempting to use the money to book your next much-deserved vacation. But treating yourself isn’t necessarily the best way to spend your tax refund. Instead, consider stashing it away inside a savings vehicle and forgetting you even had extra cash to spend. An easy option is to boost your emergency savings by depositing your refund in a high-yield online savings account. That will grow your refund efficiently over time and can save you some financial grief in the future. Here are some of the best savings accounts with high rates:

Institution
APY
Minimum Account Balance to Earn APY
Citizens Access
Online Savings Account from Citizens Access

0.25%

$0.01

LEARN MORE Secured

on Citizens Access’s secure website

Member FDIC

Advertiser Disclosure.

We'll receive a referral fee if you click here. This does not impact our rankings or recommendations
Synchrony Bank
High Yield Savings from Synchrony Bank

2.15%

$0

LEARN MORE Secured

on Synchrony Bank’s secure website

Member FDIC

Advertiser Disclosure.

We'll receive a referral fee if you click here. This does not impact our rankings or recommendations
A savings account can be easily accessed in case you need the funds in a pinch, unlike with a high-rate certificate of deposit. A CD works better if you need to save towards a longer-term goal, like making a down payment on a house in a few years. Once you make your deposit into a CD, it grows undisturbed for the length of its term. In exchange for leaving your deposit untouched with the bank, you get to grow your CD funds at high interest rates, resulting in some solid savings growth when the term ends. Here are some of the best one-year CD rates:

Institution
APY
Minimum Account Balance to Earn APY
Synchrony Bank
12 Month CD from Synchrony Bank

2.40%

$2000

LEARN MORE Secured

on Synchrony Bank’s secure website

Member FDIC

Ally Bank
High Yield 12 Month CD from Ally Bank

2.40%

$0

LEARN MORE Secured

on Ally Bank’s secure website

Member FDIC

Advertiser Disclosure.

We'll receive a referral fee if you click here. This does not impact our rankings or recommendations.

Other options include using your refund to expand your investment portfolio or placing the funds in an IRA. Investing your refund can be a riskier way to grow your money since your returns depend on the market instead of an APY. And of course, saving in an IRA is a smart way to invest in your retirement future. The IRS even allows you to split your refund between multiple accounts when you sign up for direct deposit. This makes it easy for you to save your refund in various ways.

Brittney Laryea and Shen Lu contributed to this article. 

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Lauren Perez
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Lauren Perez is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Lauren here

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How to Save on Back-to-School Shopping

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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Parents often revel in the calm and quiet that comes when kids head back to school, but they aren’t likely to enjoy the excess spending that also accompanies the back-to-school season. According to the National Retail Federation, parents will set a record in 2019, spending an average of $696.70 per household on children in elementary school through high school.

 

“It was interesting to see the across-the-board increases in spending levels,” said Mark Mathews, vice president for research development and industry analysis with the NRF. “Elevated levels of consumer sentiment, healthy household balance sheets, low inflation and recent wage gains all seem to be contributing to a confident consumer who is willing to spend money on back-to-school supplies.”

If you’re planning a trip to the store before classes start, there are a few ways to curb the spending and save some bucks.

Plan ahead

No parent should set foot out the door for back-to-school shopping without first taking stock of what they already have. Plenty of old supplies from previous years might still be usable, especially arts and crafts items like crayons, pencils and pens, as well as more expensive things like backpacks, lunch boxes and calculators.

Crossing a few items off your list is a good first step when it comes to saving, but learning how to budget is also important. It’s tempting to run down the back-to-school aisle and grab every colorful notebook and snazzy pencil case in sight, but it doesn’t make a lot of financial sense. Create a realistic budget based on the items you actually need, and try your best to stick to it. If possible, do most of your shopping online, since it’s easier to keep a running tally of how much you’re spending as you shop.

Be smart about sales

Although you’re bound to run into many back-to-school sales this time of year, you don’t need to buy 12 notebooks just because they’re cheaper right now. In fact, you shouldn’t assume the sales price is the best price at all, said consumer savings expert Andrea Woroch. Instead, always comparison shop.

“Run a quick Google search online or on your phone to see if another store is selling the same or a similar item for less,” she said. “Most big box stores will price match, so you won’t even have to drive to another store to get the better deal.” For example, Target,Staples and Walmart all have price matching policies.

Clip coupons and shop discount stores

Coupons have definitely made a digital comeback, with countless apps and websites dedicated to listing all your options in one place. “Spending a few minutes looking for coupons can help you get a better discount,” Woroch said. “Use apps like CouponSherpa, for instance. Or, use the Honey browser tool, which automatically searches and applies relevant coupons to your online order.”

Many stores also offer discounts to valued customers who sign up for their rewards program, like Walgreens and CVS, while craft stores like Michaels regularly offer discounts. Don’t knock purchasing basics like paper and writing supplies from the Dollar Tree, either — you might be surprised by what you find, and those types of items are often the same quality wherever you buy them.

Tax advantage of tax-free holidays

On select dates throughout the year, different states offer state sales tax holidays, or days where you can purchase items without having to pay sales tax on them. You can find a full list of the 2019 state sales tax holidays here, but some upcoming ones include:

  • August 18-24: Connecticut, clothing and footwear
  • August 17-18: Massachusetts, specific items costing less than $2,500 per item

Split bulk purchases

You can usually save money by buying certain items — like construction paper, pens, pencils and folders — in bulk, but you can save even more by splitting those bulk items with other families. Not only is this a great way to share savings, Woroch said, but you can earn rewards faster by charging everything on your card and then having the families pay you back.

Redeem your rewards

If you have a cash back credit card, now’s the time to use it. “Most credit cards give you the best redemption value when you opt for statement credit or have the cash rewards deposited into your bank,” Woroch said. “You can set this money aside for back-to-school shopping.”

Alternatively, Woroch suggested checking to see if your particular card allows you to redeem points for gift cards to retailers where you plan to shop.

Use discounted gift cards

Besides redeeming credit card points for retailer gift cards, you can also scour the web for cheap gift cards online. Planning a trip to Target? Scan websites like Raise,Cardpool and CardCash first. These sites buy and sell unused gift cards at a discount, meaning you can save on purchases you were planning to make anyway.

Consider having your kids contribute

Depending on your child’s age, back-to-school shopping might be the perfect time to start having them contribute to their own goods, especially if they earn an allowance or have a job. Talking to your kids about money at a young age — whether about budgeting, saving or spending — will help them develop solid money habits that will pay off in the future.

Parents already seem to be catching on to this idea. “It was surprising to see how much of their own money kids are contributing towards the back-to-school bills,” Mathews said. “Teens and pre-teens will be spending $63 of their own money, which works out to $1.5 billion overall. This is significantly higher than the levels we saw a decade ago.”

Although the news about increased spending on back-to-school supplies may be alarming, these days there are more ways than ever to save. A little ingenuity, resourcefulness and research can go a long way.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Cheryl Lock
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Cheryl Lock is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Cheryl at [email protected]

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Survey: Most Americans Have Raided Their Retirement Savings

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Successfully saving for retirement requires dedication and self-restraint, but more than half the country admits to robbing their future selves in order to satisfy today’s spending needs, according to a new survey by MagnifyMoney. While the economic pressures bearing down on workers today make their actions understandable, the hard truth is that many Americans are turning an already-difficult task that much harder by tapping into their retirement savings early.

Key Findings

  • Approximately 52% of respondents admit to tapping their retirement savings account early for a purpose other than retiring: 23% have done so to pay off debt, 17% for a down payment on a home, 11% for college tuition, 9% for medical expenses, and 3% for some other reason.
  • About 29% say there are some scenarios where it is a good idea to withdraw money early from a retirement savings account.
  • Around 60% of respondents do not know exactly how much they have saved for retirement. Just 40% know the exact amount, while 45% have a rough idea, and 15% have no clue.
  • Almost 25% are unhappy with their retirement savings. 47% are happy with the amount saved, and about 28% are neither happy nor unhappy.
  • Finally, 27% have never thought about how much money they’ll need in retirement.

Why are Americans tapping their retirement savings early?

The two main reasons respondents cited for withdrawing money from their retirement savings are as American as apple pie: home ownership and personal debt. According to the survey, 23% of those making an early withdrawal did so to help pay down non-medical debt, while 17% needed the money for a down payment on a home.

Although the housing market appears to be cooling off compared to just a few years ago, a down payment on a home still requires a significant chunk of change — experts recommend a down payment equaling 20% of the total mortgage to optimize your mortgage payments.

Personal debt, from credit cards to student loans, remains a fixture of everyday economic reality for millions of Americans. In other words, the stressors that cause workers to raid their retirement funds don’t look like they will decrease appreciably in the foreseeable future.

Which Americans are withdrawing money the most?

Breaking down the demographics, older savers are less likely to withdraw money from their retirement fund than younger savers. 54% of millennial savers say they’ve taken an early withdrawal from a retirement savings account, compared with 50% of Gen Xers and 43% of baby boomers. This stands to reason considering that many millennials have now entered the stage of life where they are getting mortgages, starting families and taking on bigger financial obligations while also being decades away from the traditional retirement age. Millennials are also more likely to say that raiding your retirement fund is justified under certain circumstances, as seen in the chart below:

Just one of many bad retirement savings habits

Tapping into retirement funds — whether an employer-sponsored 401(k) or a traditional IRA — before the appropriate age almost always comes with a financial penalty in the form of additional taxes and fees. What is more, you’re diminishing the principle that fuels the compound interest you need to meet your retirement savings goals.

Unfortunately the survey reveals early withdrawals are just one of the many bad habits Americans engage in when it comes to retirement savings. This list of less-than-ideal practices includes:

  • 35% of Americans are not currently saving for retirement. Of those who are, 37% started saving at age 30 or above, and 12% started saving when they were older than 40.
  • 60% of Americans do not know exactly how much they have saved for retirement. Just 40% know the exact amount, while 45% have a rough idea and 15% have no clue.
  • Nearly 1 in 5 Americans don’t contribute enough to their employer-sponsored retirement account to get the maximum company match. Maximizing a company match is one of  your best ways to maximize your retirement savings. Among those with an employer-sponsored retirement savings plan, just 17% of respondents contribute 10% or more of their take-home pay. Almost 5% contribute nothing at all, and nearly 6% are unclear about how much they contribute.

  • Approximately 42% of respondents have made the mistake of withdrawing their entire balance from an employer-sponsored retirement plan when changing jobs without rolling it over – and nearly 15% have done so more than once. A little more than 47% of millennials admit to this faux pas.

The most damning finding of all is that 27% of those surveyed have never thought about how much they’ll need in retirement. And while “ignorance is bliss” may hold true when it comes to some things in life, this expression should not apply to your retirement plans.

Methodology

MagnifyMoney by LendingTree commissioned Qualtrics to conduct an online survey of 1,029 Americans, with the sample base proportioned to represent the general population. The survey was fielded June 24-27, 2019.

Generations are defined as:

  • Millennials are ages 22-37
  • Generation Xers are ages 38-53
  • Baby boomers are ages 54-72

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James Ellis
James Ellis |

James Ellis is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email James here