The Answer to the DOL’s Final Rule on Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Investments
The Department of Labor (DOL) has issued a final rule, “Financial Factors in Selecting Plan Investments,” concerning environmental, social and governance (ESG) funds in private employer-sponsored retirement plans, such as 401(k)s. While the final rule does not prohibit these investing choices for workplace retirement plans, its goal is to provide clear regulatory guidelines for ERISA plan fiduciaries, with the suggestion that ESG investing conflicts with their fiduciary responsibilities.
ESG investments advance positive social change such as improving the environment or promoting human rights. According to the DOL, decisions about these investments are not primarily pecuniary (in other words, determined and expected to be in the plan participants’ best financial interests, with a material effect on the risk and return), so plan fiduciaries may be cautious about recommending or including them in the workplace plans.
According to DOL Secretary Eugene Scalia, rather than further social goals or policy objectives, “This rule will ensure that retirement plan fiduciaries are focused on the financial interests of plan participants and beneficiaries, rather than on other, non-pecuniary goals or policy objectives.”
Therefore, employees who are saving for retirement through a 401(k) or other workplace plan may now experience some roadblocks when it comes to including ESG funds or individual investments in their retirement plans.
ESG investments can be held in self-directed IRAs as an alternative
Self-directed IRAs allow individual investors to embrace social investing and include alternative assets that align not only with their financial goals but their values as well. For example, the self-directed IRA can invest in funds and initiatives that combat climate change, nefarious labor practices, or human trafficking; or support green energy, fair trade cooperatives, and other investments that address inequities in the economic landscape, promote sustainability, and support positive governance practices.
With a self-directed IRA, investors have access to the same types of account types as they would with a brokerage firm, such as a Traditional IRA, Roth IRA, SEP IRA, or even a Solo 401(k). Individuals with these retirement plans can include a broad array of non-publicly traded alternative assets in addition to ESG-related assets, such as real estate, private equity, hedge funds, precious metals, private lending and more.
It is unclear whether there will be a lot of pushback about this final rule or how it may be amended in the future. However, for investors who want to proactive take control of their financial futures, opening a self-directed retirement plan is a great step forward. At Next Generation, we invite you to schedule a complimentary educational session to learn more about self-direction as a retirement strategy.
Social Security Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for 2021
It was announced in mid-October that Social Security beneficiaries will see a 1.3% cost- of-living adjustment (COLA) in their monthly distribution checks, effective January 1, 2021. The Social Security Administration says this is in line with prior years’ increases, although it is slightly smaller than the 1.6% increase in 2020 and a more significant 2.8% bump to monthly checks in 2019. Looking back over a longer timeline, the COLA was zero several times (2010, 2011, 2016) and only 0.3% in 2017. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, the figures are much higher, ranging from around 6% in 1977 to 14% in 1981.
Given the financial effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on many Americans, including those receiving Social Security checks, that 1.3% increase won’t go too far in many areas of the country. According to the Social Security Administration, the average monthly benefit increase will be as follows for various categories of recipients:
- All retired workers, $20
- Aged couples who both receive benefits, $36
- Disabled workers, $16
Some other changes coming in 2021 are:
- The maximum amount of wages taxed for Social Security goes up from $137,700 now to $142,800 in 2021.
- For those of full retirement age, the maximum monthly retirement benefits are going up from $3,011 to $3,148 a month in 2021.
- In addition, the full retirement age is once again inching up based on year of birth.
The cost-of-living adjustment is based on the consumer price index for urban wage earners and clerical workers. However, this formula focuses on younger workers under age 62, who are not claiming benefits nor having Medicare payments deducted from their monthly Social Security income. Let’s not forget the rising costs of living seniors face in general, which outpace that COLA amount—food, housing, and prescription drugs among them.
There is a groundswell to change the COLA calculation to the consumer price index for the elderly instead. This is the Social Security 2100 Act, which is being put forward by Congressman John Larson of Connecticut. It expands benefits for current and future recipients, cuts taxes on the elderly, and aims to keep the Social Security Trust Fund solvent through the rest of this century.
Social Security is not so secure
Any way you slice it, relying heavily (or in many cases nationwide, solely) on Social Security for one’s retirement income does not bode well for today’s retirees —especially right now, when the fund is scheduled to be insolvent by 2033. Being more proactive about retirement saving can provide more stable financial health during one’s working and retirement years.
While Social Security benefits provide a financial safety net as per the program’s original intent, in today’s world, those benefits don’t stack up for individuals seeking to retire comfortably and maintain their accustomed lifestyle. That’s where self-directed IRAs and the nontraditional investment they allow can really shine.
Self-directed IRAs allow account owners to include a broad array of non-publicly traded, alternative assets, such as real estate, private equity, notes/loans, precious metals, and so many more. Self-directed investors can be proactive as well as nimbler about how they invest for their later years. That’s because, as individuals who make all their own investment decisions, self-directed investors can take advantage of market shifts and opportunities, and invest in many alternative assets they already know and understand, and that provide a hedge against stock market volatility.
At Next Generation, we’re all about client education. You can read more about the different types of self-directed retirement plans for individuals and business owners here. You may also schedule a complimentary educational session to get the information you need to decide whether self-direction is the right retirement strategy for you. Our helpful team is here to answer questions as well; you may contact us directly via phone at 888.857.8058 or NewAccounts@NextGenerationTrust.com.
Further Expansions to “Accredited Investor” Definition
Last month, the Securities and Exchange Commission amended its “accredited investor” definition that goes beyond income and net worth criteria; the expanded definition allows investors to qualify based on defined measures of professional knowledge, experience, or certifications. There is also an expanded list of entities that may qualify as an accredited investor, including tribal governments, family offices and certain other organizations.
This status allows individuals to participate in private placements—equity investments such as those allowed in self-directed IRAs. This amendment to the final rule aligns with self-directed investing in another way—using an investor’s knowledge or experience as a basis for participating in investment opportunities. Self-directed investors make their own investment decisions about the alternative assets they wish to include in their retirement plan, based on what they have researched, know, and understand—decisions not based solely on wealth.
The SEC’s previous rule used income or net worth as factors of financial sophistication—individuals had to meet the test of a net worth of at least $1 million excluding the value of primary residence, or income of at least $200,000 each year for the last two years (or $300,000 combined income if married). The amended rule goes beyond wealth as the criterion for purposes of the accredited investor definition.
What the amendments include
The amendments revise Rule 501(a), Rule 215, and Rule 144A of the Securities Act to:
- Include as accredited investors, with respect to investments in a private fund, natural persons who are “knowledgeable employees” of the fund
- Clarify that limited liability companies with $5 million in assets may be accredited investors
- Add SEC- and state-registered investment advisers, exempt reporting advisers and rural business investment companies (RBICs)
- Add a new category for any entity, including Indian tribes, governmental bodies, funds, and entities organized under the laws of foreign countries
- Add family offices with at least $5 million in assets under management and their “family clients,” as each term is defined under the Investment Advisers Act
- Add the term “spousal equivalent” so that spousal equivalents may pool their finances for the purpose of qualifying as accredited investors
Self-directed IRAs for investors of all kinds
Several years ago, the SEC implemented the JOBS Act in full, which opened up equity crowdfunding platforms to even more individuals, including nonaccredited investors who did not meet the income/net worth tests but wanted to take advantage of equity funding opportunities. For those who want to be angel investors in an early-stage company and/or wish to participate in equity crowdfunding platforms, a self-directed IRA is a valuable vehicle for making these types of investments. The flexibility of these retirement plans and the many non-publicly traded, alternative assets, they allow offer a great way to build a diverse retirement portfolio—and a hedge against stock market volatility with potential to earn greater returns.
At Next Generation, we’re here to help our clients understand the many options available to them as self-directed investors. If you’re wondering what types of investments you can include in a self-directed retirement plan, or have questions about how private equity/private placements can be part of your self-directed portfolio, you can sign up for a complimentary education session to learn more about this retirement wealth-building strategy. You may also contact our team directly with questions, via phone at 888.857.8058 or via email at NewAccounts@NextGenerationTrust.com.
The 2020 RMD Waiver and How it May Affect Your Retirement Plan
The CARES Act (or the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act) was an enormous piece of legislation enacted in March 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was designed to mitigate the effects that lockdown and lost business (and wages) were having on employers and employees. Its passage was preceded by the SECURE Act (Setting Every Community Up for Retirement) in late December 2019. Both brought many changes to retirement plan design, participation, and administration.
Waiving the requirement for required minimum distributions
One change concerns the 2020 required minimum distribution (RMD) that retirement account owners or participants historically had to withdraw upon reaching age 70½ .These distributions must be taken for Traditional IRAs, SIMPLE IRAs, SEP IRAs, rollover IRAs, and most 401(k) and 403(b) plans. RMDs do not apply to Roth IRAs unless it is an inherited IRA.
However, for 2020, the CARES Act waives RMDs. Even if you’d already been taking this distribution, you no longer have to do so in 2020 (which enables you to keep those funds in a tax-advantaged retirement plan for continued investment and growth).
Here are some other updates regarding RMD regulations:
- RMDs are also waived in 2020 for inherited IRAs.
- This waiver is temporary; account owners and participants must resume or start RMD payments in 2021.
- The waiver also applies to people who turned 70½ in 2019 and did not take their first RMD before January 1 of this year. (One usually has a three-month extension until April 1 of the following year to take the very first RMD; otherwise, the deadline is always December 31 of the tax year.)
Additional RMD updates:
- The SECURE Act increased the age at which an individual must begin taking RMDs to 72 beginning in 2020. Therefore, investors who haven’t yet crossed that 70½-year-old mark now have more time to allow their retirement funds to be invested and grow in a tax-advantaged retirement plan.
- Since any distribution in 2020 is no longer seen as an RMD, it can be converted to a Roth IRA, which was prohibited before COVID-19.
- Eligible individuals who took a distribution this year that was not treated as an RMD (due to the waiver) may roll over those funds to another eligible retirement plan or to an IRA within 60 days of the distribution.
- The IRS has extended the 60-day rollover deadline to allow most individuals until July 15, 2020 to do so.
- For beneficiaries taking distributions over a five-year period, 2020 is disregarded and one year is added to the remaining period to distribute inherited assets.
As with any retirement plan and investment, individuals are encouraged to consult their trusted advisor or tax professional to work out the best way to handle their required minimum distributions—whether to take advantage of this year’s waiver, do a rollover, or wait until age 72 to begin, depending on your age and situation. If you have a qualified retirement plan through work, check with the plan administrator about your options.
RMDs and self-directed retirement plans
The RMD waivers and updated provisions concerning these distributions apply to self-directed retirement plans as well. And, with the age increase for taking these distributions, self-directed investors with alternative assets within their plans have the potential to accrue more retirement income from real estate, precious metals, private equity, and many more nontraditional investments these plans allow. There is also now a longer time horizon for using self-directed funds for unsecured or secured loans, which are other popular ways to invest through a self-directed IRA.
The professionals at Next Generation are available to help you calculate your RMD when you’re ready—whether in 2020 or in the future—and will handle all the tax reporting and administration associated with your self-directed IRA. If you have questions about RMDs or about self-direction as a retirement wealth-building strategy, you can schedule a complimentary educational session. To connect with our team directly, call Next Generation at 888.857.8058 or email us at NewAccounts@NextGenerationTrust.com.
Amid Stock Market Downturn, Consider Self-Directed IRAs
Many investors are dealing with yet another stock market downturn, which is in reaction to current events such as global concerns about the Coronavirus and U.S. politics during an election year. These and other factors—from geopolitics to macroeconomics, trade issues to plant closings to a company’s profitability and earnings—can influence a stock market downturn.
Stocks by nature are volatile, which is why many investors look to alternative assets to build their retirement savings and avoid stock market downturns that are often hard to predict. That means looking at self-directed IRAs, which allow individuals to include a variety of nontraditional investments and build a more diverse retirement portfolio based on assets they already know and understand.
Look at it this way: unless they work there, many people are not experts on what a Blue Chip or Fortune 500 company produces or sells, and they certainly cannot control what those companies do in the marketplace. However, many people know a lot about investing in real estate, precious metals, or private equity. Others like the idea of including secured or unsecured loans in their retirement plan, with terms they determine with the borrower. All of these investment types can be included in a self-directed IRA, where investors build retirement wealth with alternative assets—and have better control over their earnings.
A self-directed IRA has the same tax advantages as regular retirement plans with the added bonus of being a great hedge against stock market volatility. For those who are comfortable making their own investment decisions and conducting their due diligence, self-direction is a powerful retirement strategy.
Typical retirement plans offered by brokerage houses or banks limit investors to publicly traded stocks, bonds, certificates of deposit, and mutual or exchange-traded funds. But a self-directed IRA allows you to hold the alternative investments noted above plus notes, private placements, limited partnerships, tax lien certificates and more.
Our whitepaper library has a lot of great information about self-directed IRAs and our helpful team is here to answer your questions about self-direction. To find out more about self-direction, you may call us at 888.857.8058 or send an email to NewAccounts@NextGenerationTrust.com. Alternatively, you can sign up for a complimentary educational session with one of our knowledgeable representatives.