• Casey Marx

What does the SECURE Act mean for YOU?

Sweeping legislative tax or retirement reforms typically happen only once every decade or so, but the final weeks of 2019 brought the second major piece of Congressional action in the past 24 months, as the SECURE Act (along with a series of year-end tax extenders), which was passed in the House this past summer, finally made its way through the Senate and was signed into law by the President. The legislation will have substantive repercussions as financial advisors help clients plan for their retirements for years to come.

In the context of financial advisors and the clients they serve, the first, and probably most notable change resulting from the SECURE Act, is the elimination of the so-called “stretch” provision for most (but not all) non-spouse beneficiaries of inherited IRAs and other retirement accounts. Under current law, non-spouse designated beneficiaries can take distributions over their life expectancy, but for many retirement account owners who pass away in 2020 and beyond, beneficiaries will have ‘only’ 10 years to empty the account. On the one hand, without any other distribution requirements within those 10 years, designated beneficiaries will have some flexibility around the timing of those distributions; however, certain types of “see-through” trusts that have been drafted to serve as beneficiaries of retirement accounts may find that they’re no longer able to make annual distributions to the trust under the new rules (only to suddenly have both the IRA and trust forcibly liquidated at the end of the 10-year window).

Other notable retirement planning changes under the SECURE Act include lifting the restriction on making contributions to a traditional IRA after age 70 ½ (as long as there is earned income to contribute in the first place), and an age increase for the onset of RMDs from age 70 ½ to age 72. However, as was the case with the IRS’s recent proposal to update the RMD life-expectancy tables, since only about 20% of retirees take no more than only the amount that they’re actually required to take, any changes in the rules around RMDs will have little effect on the remaining 80% who are already withdrawing more out of their accounts than the IRS requires. In addition, the SECURE Act does not change the age at which an individual can make a Qualified Charitable Distribution from their IRA, which remains at age 70 ½ and now creates a unique 1- or 2-year window where IRA distributions may qualify as charitable contributions, but not as RMDs (that haven’t yet begun).

Beyond the changing or elimination of various age-based thresholds for retirement accounts, the SECURE Act also includes an allowance for a penalty-free distribution up to $5,000 for a qualified birth or adoption, the creation of a Fiduciary Safe Harbor for selecting a “Lifetime Income Provider” (i.e., annuity company) for ERISA fiduciaries (thus assuaging at least some liability concerns around using lifetime income annuities in qualified plans), a substantial increase in the tax credit available to small businesses when establishing a retirement plan (as well as a brand new tax credit for small businesses that adopt an “auto-enroll” provision in their retirement plans), an increase in the allowable auto-enrollment “default” 401(k) plan contribution, improved access to employer plans for long-term part-time workers, and a significant reduction in the barriers to creating and maintaining Multiple Employer Retirement plans (which in theory will help to create economies of scale for lower plan costs when a group of small employers band together to provide a retirement plan)… as well as several other miscellaneous, smaller retirement provision changes.

Other notable non-retirement provisions attached to the SECURE Act include a repeal of the TCJA-introduced Kiddie Tax changes (reverting away from a requirement to use trust tax brackets and back to using the parents’ top marginal tax bracket), adjustments to the medical expense deduction threshold (back to 7.5%-of-AGI again for 2019 and 2020!), expanded provisions for 529 college savings plans to be used for Apprenticeships and (up-to-$10,000 of) student loan repayments, and a series of Tax Extenders for the mortgage insurance premium deduction and the higher education tuition and fees deduction.

Ultimately, the key point is that, although not nearly as sweeping as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, the SECURE Act of 2019 makes numerous updates to the rules around retirement plans in an effort to increase access to employer-sponsored retirement plans, and (hopefully) takes a positive step towards addressing the so-called retirement crisis. But as with other legislation in recent years, what legislation may give with one hand, it takes with the other, and in practice, many financial advisors may spend more time dealing with what is lost under the SECURE Act – in particular, the stretch IRA – than what is gained. At the very least, though, financial advisors will be busy in months ahead as they re-evaluate plans for clients impacted by the new and updated provisions introduced by the SECURE Act.

-Casey Marx

President & CEO

Crown Haven

For more information and a FREE portfolio review contact Casey and the team at Crown Haven Wealth Advisors @

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