Dear Penny: Can My Husband Stop His Brother From Stealing His Inheritance?

Dear Penny,
I should note that some of the assets you mentioned, like IRAs and life insurance policies, pass through beneficiary designation rather than probate. That means whoever is listed as the beneficiary receives them regardless of what the person’s will states.
I’m also a bit confused about what role the accountant played in this situation. Typically, you’d need an attorney to draft legally binding documents, like a will or a trust.
But disputing a will is a long and expensive process. Most people who mount a challenge will lose.
Your husband can try to foster a discussion. He can try to make it as transparent as possible to avoid disputes with his brother. But ultimately, these aren’t your husband’s decisions. This is your mother-in-law’s money, not his. You and your husband will need to live with whatever choices she makes.
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Is my husband’s brother able to keep him from his half of their inheritance? His brother has made himself the executor of the will and power of attorney, or something. 

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I think your husband is most likely to be successful if he doesn’t approach the conversation from a position of entitlement. This isn’t about making sure he gets his half. The discussion should be about making sure they understand their mother’s wishes.
A better option would be for your husband to talk directly with his mother and brother about his concerns. That means your husband will have to re-establish communication with his brother. They don’t have to become best friends, but they will need to be cordial. Sometimes parents avoid discussing estate planning with their children when they know the siblings’ relationship is strained.
It’s possible to contest a will during the probate process after someone dies, but this is an uphill battle. Usually, you’d have to prove that the person lacked the mental capacity to make or change their will, or that they signed the will because of fraud or undue influence. You can also argue that the will wasn’t properly signed or witnessed in some cases.


My husband’s brother took their mother to his accountant to make sure her mutual funds, stocks and banking accounts were being taken care of and that nobody would be able to extort money from her. She is wealthy. The will stated everything was to be split equally, half and half. 
Ready to stop worrying about money?
I feel they should have gone together to the CPA. My husband won’t listen to me. Am I in the wrong? 
Source: thepennyhoarder.com
I’m not sure what you’re asking of your husband, or why you think you might be in the wrong. But I can’t imagine why your mother-in-law would leave everything to one sibling if she wanted both of her children to split things 50/50. And if your husband is counting on his brother’s goodwill to get an inheritance, he’s in for a rude awakening.
But your mother-in-law isn’t required to split everything down the middle. In fact, she doesn’t have to leave your husband anything at all. It certainly sounds like your brother-in-law is being sketchy here. But sometimes parents have good reasons for leaving one sibling a greater share of their estate. For example, if one child cared for them in their later years or one sibling has greater needs than the others, a parent may choose not to distribute things evenly.
Dear C.,
But that will be between your mother-in-law and her attorney. It’s important to understand that any attorney’s ethical obligation in this situation is to your mother-in-law. Their job isn’t to make sure your husband or his brother get the inheritance they think they deserve.
She has two homes. My husband’s brother has taken one of the homes and lets his mother-in-law reside there rent-free. 

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Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected] or chat with her in The Penny Hoarder Community.

Fixed Expense vs Variable Expense

Budgeting is the best way to get a better handle on where your money is going — which can help you get a better handle on where you’d like to see your money go.

But before you dive into the nitty-gritty of each individual line item on your ledger, you first need to understand the difference between fixed expenses and variable expenses.

As their name suggests, fixed expenses are those that are fixed, or unchanging, each month, while variable expenses are the ones with which you can expect a little more wiggle room. However, it’s possible to make cuts on items in both the fixed and variable expense category to save money toward bigger financial goals, whether that’s an epic vacation or your eventual retirement.

Let’s take a closer look.

What Is a Fixed Expense?

Fixed expenses are those costs that you pay in the same amount each month — items like your rent or mortgage payment, insurance premiums, and your gym membership. It’s all the stuff whose amounts you know ahead of time, and which don’t change.

Fixed expenses tend to make up a large percentage of a monthly budget since housing costs, typically the largest part of a household budget, are generally fixed expenses. This means that fixed expenses present a great opportunity for saving large amounts of money on a recurring basis if you can find ways to reduce their costs, though cutting costs on fixed expenses may require bigger life changes, like moving to a different apartment — or even a different city.

Keep in mind, too, that not all fixed expenses are necessities — or big budget line items. For example, an online TV streaming service subscription, which is withdrawn in the same amount every month, is a fixed expense, but it’s also a want as opposed to a need. Subscription services can seem affordable until they start accumulating and perhaps become unaffordable.

Recommended: Are Monthly Subscriptions Ruining Your Budget?

What Is a Variable Expense?

Variable expenses, on the other hand, are those whose amounts can vary each month, depending on factors like your personal choices and behaviors as well as external circumstances like the weather.
For example, in areas with cold winters, electricity or gas bills are likely to increase during the winter months because it takes more energy to keep a house comfortably warm. Grocery costs are also variable expenses since the amount you spend on groceries can vary considerably depending on what kind of items you purchase and how much you eat.

You’ll notice, though, that both of these examples of variable costs are still necessary expenses — basic utility costs and food. The amount of money you spend on other nonessential line items, like fashion or restaurant meals, is also a variable expense. In either case, variable simply means that it’s an expense that fluctuates on a month-to-month basis, as opposed to a fixed-cost bill you expect to see in the same amount each month.

To review:

•   Fixed expenses are those that cost the same amount each month, like rent or mortgage payments, insurance premiums, and subscription services.

•   Variable expenses are those that fluctuate on a month-to-month basis, like groceries, utilities, restaurant meals, and movie theater tickets.

•   Both fixed and variable utilities can be either wants or needs — you can have fixed-expense wants, like a gym membership, and variable-expense needs, like groceries.

When budgeting, it’s possible to make cuts on both fixed and variable expenses.

Recommended: Grocery Shopping on a Budget

Benefits of Saving Money on Fixed Expenses

If you’re trying to find ways to stash some cash, finding places in your budget to make cuts is a big key. And while you can make cuts on both fixed and variable expenses, lowering your fixed expenses can pack a hefty punch, since these tend to be big line items — and since the savings automatically replicate themselves each month when that bill comes due again. (Even businesses calculate the ratio of their fixed expenses to their variable expense, for this reason, yielding a measure known as operating leverage.)

Think about it this way: if you quit your morning latte habit (a variable expense), you might save a grand total of $150 over the course of a month — not too shabby, considering its just coffee. But if you recruit a roommate or move to a less trendy neighborhood, you might slash your rent (a fixed expense) in half. Those are big savings, and savings you don’t have to think about once you’ve made the adjustment: they just automatically rack up each month.

Other ways to save money on your fixed expenses include refinancing your car (or other debt) to see if you can qualify for a lower payment… or foregoing a car entirely in favor of a bicycle if your commute allows it. Can you pare down on those multiple streaming subscriptions or hit the road for a run instead of patronizing a gym? Even small savings can add up over time when they’re consistent and effort-free — it’s like automatic savings.

Of course, orchestrating it in the first place does take effort (and sometimes considerable effort, at that — pretty much no one names moving as their favorite activity). The benefits you might reap thereafter can make it all worthwhile, though.

Saving Money on Variable Expenses

Of course, as valuable as it is to make cuts to fixed expenses, saving money on variable expenses is still useful — and depending on your habits, it could be fairly easy to make significant slashes. For example, by adjusting your grocery shopping behaviors and aiming at fresh, bulk ingredients over-packaged convenience foods, you might decrease your monthly food bill. You could even get really serious and spend a few hours each weekend scoping out the weekly flyer for sales.

If you have a spendy habit like eating out regularly or shopping for clothes frequently, it can also be possible to find places to make cuts in your variable expenses. You can also find frugal alternatives for your favorite spendy activities, whether that means DIYing your biweekly manicure to learning to whip up that gourmet pizza at home. (Or maybe you’ll find a way to save enough on fixed expenses that you won’t have to worry as much about these habits!)

The Takeaway

Fixed expenses are those costs that are in the same amount each month, whereas variable expenses can vary. Both can be trimmed if you’re trying to save money in your budget, but cutting from fixed expenses can yield bigger savings for less ongoing effort.

Great budgeting starts with a great money management platform — and a SoFi Money® cash management account can give you a bird’s-eye view that puts everything into perspective. You’ll also have access to the Vaults feature, which helps you set aside money for specific savings purposes, no matter which goals are the most important to you, all in one account.

Check out SoFi Money and how it can help you manage your financial goals.

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Solo 401(k) vs SEP IRA: Key Differences and Considerations

Self-employment has its perks but an employer-sponsored retirement plan isn’t one of them. Opening a solo 401(k) or a Simplified Employee Pension Individual Retirement Account (SEP IRA) allows the self-employed to build wealth for retirement while enjoying some tax advantages.

A solo 401(k) or one-participant 401(k) is similar to a traditional 401(k), in terms of annual contribution limits and tax treatment. A SEP IRA, meanwhile, follows the same tax rules as traditional IRAs. SEP IRAs, however, allow a higher annual contribution limit than a regular IRA.

So, which is better for you? The answer can depend largely on whether your business has employees or operates as a sole proprietorship and which plan yields more benefits, in terms of contribution limits and tax breaks.

Weighing the features of a solo 401(k) vs. SEP IRA can make it easier to decide which one is more suited to your retirement savings needs.

Investing for Your Retirement When Self-Employed

An important part of planning for your retirement is understanding your long-term goals. Whether you choose to open a solo 401(k) or make SEP IRA contributions can depend on how much you need and want to save for retirement and what kind of tax advantages you hope to enjoy along the way.

Recommended: When Can I Retire? This Formula Will Help You Know

A solo 401(k) could allow you to save more for retirement on a tax-advantaged basis compared to a SEP IRA, but not everyone can contribute to one. It’s also important to consider whether you need to give some thought to retirement planning for employees.

If you’re hoping to mirror or replicate the traditional 401(k) plan experience, then you might lean toward a solo 401(k). Whether you can contribute to one of these plans depends on your business structure. Business owners with no employees or whose only employee is their spouse can use a solo 401(k).

Meanwhile, you can establish a SEP IRA for yourself as the owner of a business as well as your eligible employees, if you have any. It’s also helpful to think about what kind of investment options you might prefer. What you can invest in through a solo 401(k) plan may be different from what a SEP IRA offers, which can affect how you grow wealth for retirement.

Solo 401(k) vs SEP IRA Comparisons

Both solo 401(k) plans and SEP IRAs make it possible to save for retirement as a self-employed person or business owner when you don’t have access to an employer’s 401(k). You can set up either type of account if you operate as a sole proprietorship and have no employees. And both can offer a tax break if you’re able to deduct contributions each year.

In terms of differences, there are some things that set solo 401(k) plans apart from SEP IRAs. Under SEP IRA rules, for instance, neither employee nor catch-up contributions are allowed. There’s no Roth option with a SEP IRA, which you may have with a solo 401(k). Choosing a Roth solo 401(k) might appeal to you if you’d like to be able to make tax-free withdrawals in retirement.

You may also be able to take a loan from a solo 401(k) if the plan permits it. Solo 401(k) loans follow the same rules as traditional 401(k) loans. If you need to take money from a SEP IRA before age 59 ½, however, you may pay an early withdrawal penalty and owe income tax on the withdrawal.

Here’s a rundown of the main differences between a 401(k) vs. SEP IRA.

Solo 401(k) SEP IRA
Tax-Deductible Contributions Yes, for traditional solo 401(k) plans Yes
Employer Contributions Allowed Yes Yes
Employee Contributions Allowed Yes Yes
Withdrawals Taxed in Retirement Yes, for traditional solo 401(k) plans Yes
Roth Contributions Allowed Yes No
Catch-Up Contributions Allowed Yes No
Loans Allowed Yes No

What Is a Solo 401(k)?

A solo 401(k) or one-participant 401(k) plan is a traditional 401(k) that covers a business owner who has no employees or employs only their spouse. Simply, a Solo 401(k) allows you to save money for retirement from your self-employment or business income on a tax-advantaged basis.

These plans follow the same IRS rules and requirements as any other 401(k). There are specific solo 401(k) contribution limits to follow, along with rules regarding withdrawals and taxation. Regulations also govern when you can take a loan from a solo 401(k) plan.

A number of online brokerages now offer solo 401(k) plans for self-employed individuals, including those who freelance or perform gig work. You can open a retirement account online and start investing, no employer other than yourself needed.

If you use a solo 401(k) to save for retirement, you’ll also need to follow some reporting requirements. Generally, the IRS requires solo 401(k) plan owners to file a Form 5500-EZ if it has $250,000 or more in assets at the end of the year.

Solo 401(k) Contribution Limits

Just like other 401(k) plans, solo 401(k)s have annual contribution limits. You can make contributions as both an employee and an employer. Here’s how annual solo 401(k) contribution limits work for elective deferrals:

Solo 401(k) Contribution Limits by Age in 2021 (Elective Deferrals) Annual contribution in 2022
Annual Contribution Catch-Up Contribution in 2021 and 2022
Under 50 $19,500 N/a N/a
50 and Older $19,500 $6,500 $20,500

The limit on 401(k) contributions, including elective deferrals and employer nonelective contributions, is $58,000 for 2021 and $61,000 in 2022. That doesn’t include an additional $6,500 allowed for catch-up contributions if you’re 50 or older.

If you’re self-employed, the IRS requires you to make a special calculation to figure out the maximum amount of elective deferrals and employer nonelective contributions you can make for yourself. This calculation reflects on your earned income, or means your net earnings from self-employment after deducting one-half of your self-employment tax and contributions for yourself.

The IRS offers a rate table you can use to calculate your contributions. You can set up automatic deferrals to a solo 401(k), or make contributions at any point throughout the year.

What Is a SEP IRA?

A SEP IRA or Simplified Employee Pension Plan is another option to consider if you’re looking for retirement plans for those self-employed. This tax-advantaged plan is available to any size business, including sole proprietorships with no employees, and its one of the easiest retirement plan to set up and maintain. So if you’re a freelancer or a gig worker, you might consider using a SEP IRA to plan for retirement.

SEP IRAs work much like traditional IRAs, with regard to the tax treatment of withdrawals. They do, however, allow you to contribute more money toward retirement each year above the standard traditional IRA contribution limit. That means you could enjoy a bigger tax break when it’s time to deduct contributions.

If you have employees, you can make retirement plan contributions to a SEP IRA on their behalf. SEP IRA contribution limits are, for the most part, the same for both employers and employees. If you’re interested in a SEP, you can set up an IRA for yourself or for yourself and your employees through an online brokerage.

SEP IRA Contributions

SEP IRA contributions use pre-tax dollars. Amounts contributed are tax-deductible in the year you make them. All contributions are made by the employer only, which is something to remember if you have employees. Unlike a traditional 401(k) that allows elective deferrals, your employees wouldn’t be able to add money to their SEP IRA through paycheck deductions.

Here’s how SEP IRA contributions work.

SEP IRA Contributions by Age

Annual Contribution Catch-Up Contribution
Under 50 Lesser of 25% of the employee’s compensation or $58,000 in 2021 and $61,000 in 2022. N/a
50 and Older Lesser of 25% of the employee’s compensation or $58,000 and $61,000 in 2022. N/a

The IRS doesn’t allow catch-up contributions to a SEP IRA, a significant difference from solo 401(k) plans. So it’s possible you could potentially save more for retirement with a solo 401(k), depending on your age and earnings. If you’re self-employed, you’ll need to follow the same IRS rules for figuring your annual contributions that apply to solo 401(k) plans.

You can make SEP IRA contributions at any time until your taxes are due, in mid-April of the following year.

The Takeaway

Saving for retirement is something that you can’t afford to put off. Whether you choose a solo 401(k), SEP IRA or another savings plan, it’s important to take the first step toward growing wealth.

If you’re ready to start saving for the future, one way to get started is by opening a brokerage account on the SoFi Invest investment platform. All members get complimentary access to a financial advisor, which can help you create a plan to meet your long-term goals.

Photo credit: iStock/1001Love


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The information provided is not meant to provide investment or financial advice. Investment decisions should be based on an individual’s specific financial needs, goals and risk profile. SoFi can’t guarantee future financial performance. Advisory services offered through SoFi Wealth, LLC. SoFi Securities, LLC, member FINRA / SIPC . SoFi Invest refers to the three investment and trading platforms operated by Social Finance, Inc. and its affiliates (described below). Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of the platforms below.
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Source: sofi.com

It Still Pays to Wait to Claim Social Security

Laurence Kotlikoff is a professor of economics at Boston University and author of Money Magic: An Economist’s Secrets to More Money, Less Risk, and a Better Life. He also developed MaxiFi Planner and Maximize My Social Security—software programs designed to help users raise their living standards by getting the most out of their Social Security benefits.

In its most recent annual report, the Social Security Board of Trustees said that if nothing is done, the trust fund will be depleted by 2033, which would mean Social Security would be able to pay out only 76% of promised benefits. What do you say to people who plan to file at age 62—which results in about a 25% cut in benefits—because they’re afraid the program will run out of money? I have run through our software a benefit cut starting in 2031, and you still see a very major gain from waiting to collect. But I don’t see the politicians cutting benefits directly. I think they’re going to raise taxes on the rich. Congress could also use general revenue to finance Social Security, or they could partially index benefits for the rich. Historically, they phase in changes, so anybody who is close to retirement is quite safe—and by close I mean 55 and older.

Yet many people fear that if they postpone claiming Social Security until age 70, they’ll die before they’ll be able to take advantage of the higher benefits. What’s your response to that? They’re ignoring longevity risk. If you’re 98 and collecting a Social Security check that’s 76% higher and adjusted for inflation, that’s where you want to be. A lot of people will live that long. If you buy home insurance and your house doesn’t burn down, are you shortchanged because you paid the premium? You’re protecting yourself against catastrophic events. Financially, the catastrophic event is living to 100.

Thanks to big increases in home values, seniors have seen their housing wealth grow to a record $9.6 trillion. Are reverse mortgages, which allow seniors to tap that equity while remaining in their homes, a good source of retirement income? When the Federal Housing Administration insured most reverse mortgages, I thought, they can’t be that bad. But when I spent several weeks looking at them carefully with software, I decided that they’re way too expensive. They’ve got huge fees. You could sell your home and move into a continuing care retirement community—that’s like buying an annuity and long-term-care insurance at the same time. Or you could sell the house to the kids and write a contract in which they let you stay in it until you die. You take care of me and as soon as I die, you get the house. I die early, you win. I die late, I win. But it’s a win-win because we’re insuring each other.

What did the pandemic teach us, if anything, about the state of personal finances in the U.S.? We don’t save enough. The Chinese save 30% of their disposable income. We save very little. This is a wake-up call. The pandemic got me to think about what I was spending on housing, living in Boston. We downsized and moved to Providence, where house prices were a third as expensive. The pandemic has been a saving and spending wake-up call for us, just as the Great De­pression was for those who lived through it. We’ve realized life is much riskier than we thought. The pandemic is making us all reevaluate our finances and what really matters, which doesn’t include driving a BMW.

Source: kiplinger.com

What Is Encryption in Blockchain and Its Impact on Cryptocurrency?

Encryption is the technical process that prevents sensitive or private information from falling into the wrong hands. When it comes to cryptocurrency messages and transactions, encryption and decryption between two parties means that a third party can’t make sense of it or misuse it.

When it comes to blockchain technology, however, encryption is a bit more complicated than password-protecting a file, or adding two-factor authentication to a platform. Encryption is one of the features that makes blockchain such an exciting technology for different types of users.

Encryption is an important part of crypto transactions, and it’s helpful to have a basic understanding of how it works. Here’s what you need to know:

How Is Encryption Used in Crypto?

You may have noticed that the words “encryption” and “crypto” share a common root: “Crypt.” Instead, it relates to cryptography, or the practice of anonymizing and protecting sensitive data.

Broadly speaking, cryptocurrencies use encryption methods to make transactions anonymous and secure. Proponents of crypto cite its security as one of its major benefits.

Using blockchain cryptography, two parties can complete a transaction without sharing their own information or having to use a middle man such as a bank or government. Different types of cryptocurrencies use different types of encryption.

Recommended: A Brief History of Cryptography

What Type of Encryption Does Blockchain Use?

There are a few ways that a system might encrypt data: Symmetric encryption, asymmetric encryption, and hashing.

Symmetric Encryption

If the users employ the same key for both encrypting and decrypting the data then the system uses symmetric encryption. This is also sometimes referred to as “secret-key encryption.”

The key used in this sort of cryptographic system may be called a “common key,” as it’s used to both encrypt and decrypt data. Such a system, however, has greater potential for a security breach.

Asymmetric Encryption

Conversely, an asymmetric system uses two keys — a public key, and a private key. The Bitcoin network is an asymmetric system, since it issues users a private key which then generates a public key. It may also be called “public-key encryption.”

The way that an asymmetric encryption system would work then, is that the public key can be used for encrypting or encoding data, but the users would need a private key to decrypt or decode the data. In other words, the public key turns plaintext into ciphertext, but a user’s private key turns the ciphertext back into plaintext.

Hashing

Hashing does not utilize keys at all. Instead it uses an algorithm that generates a “hash value” based on the plaintext input. Hash functions are very secure, and the hash value generated often makes it difficult, if not impossible, for users to recover the plaintext to once encrypted.

The actual technical process behind hashing is fairly complicated, and because of that, can be used as a method of mining for some cryptocurrencies. The computational resources being expended on a network to contribute to the hashing process is referred to as the hash rate, and a good hash rate generally means that the network is secure.

The Importance of Plaintext and Ciphertext in Blockchain Encryption

Blockchain encryption is the process of securing and obscuring data, systems, or networks, making it difficult for unauthorized parties to gain access. The technical process behind encrypting data usually requires a crypto algorithm to convert “plaintext” into “ciphertext.”

What Is Plaintext?

Plaintext is what you type into your phone when you send a text or even the words that you’re reading right now. Plaintext is found everywhere and can contain sensitive information — like the password to your crypto wallet.

What Is Ciphertext?

Ciphertext is encrypted text. The encryption process converts into ciphertext — it’s turned into a code, in other words — by a program or algorithm called a cipher. In order to decrypt a message in ciphertext, a second party needs an algorithm or cipher to turn ciphertext back into plaintext. Decrypting is the opposite of encrypting.

The Role of Blockchain Encryption Algorithms and Keys

As mentioned, systems and networks that incorporate encryption use algorithms, and sometimes keys to do it. For instance, the Bitcoin encryption issues users a private key or a seed phrase, which generates a public key, too. That public key is like a Bitcoin address, and anyone can access it. It is what you would give to other people in order to execute a Bitcoin transaction.

Recommended: What Is a Bitcoin Seed Phrase?

Many cryptocurrencies use asymmetric encryption to ensure that the transactions on their network are secure. So, those “keys” are a user’s encryption tool — they can encode or decode encrypted data. Again, a network (like Bitcoin) may incorporate both public and private keys, so that transactions can occur, and so that users can ensure that their holdings remain secure (by never sharing their private key).

Algorithms do the actual encrypting and decrypting. There are several methods through which this can occur, but on a basic level, cryptographic algorithms scramble data or information, turning plaintext into ciphertext. Users then employ keys to turn unreadable or scrambled data back into something readable.

The Takeaway

The technical side of cryptocurrency networks — including encryption and security — can be a lot to digest. There are numerous methods to encrypt data, and different blockchain networks may incorporate different types of cryptography, which are more or less secure than others.

When you start buying crypto through SoFi Invest, the app takes care of the security on your behalf. That way, you can focus on building a portfolio that includes cryptocurrency, stocks, and exchange-traded funds.

Photo credit: iStock/Olemedia


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The information provided is not meant to provide investment or financial advice. Investment decisions should be based on an individual’s specific financial needs, goals and risk profile. SoFi can’t guarantee future financial performance. Advisory services offered through SoFi Wealth, LLC. SoFi Securities, LLC, member FINRA / SIPC . SoFi Invest refers to the three investment and trading platforms operated by Social Finance, Inc. and its affiliates (described below). Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of the platforms below.
1) Automated Investing—The Automated Investing platform is owned by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Advisor (“Sofi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC, an affiliated SEC registered broker dealer and member FINRA/SIPC, (“Sofi Securities).

2) Active Investing—The Active Investing platform is owned by SoFi Securities LLC. Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.

3) Cryptocurrency is offered by SoFi Digital Assets, LLC, a FinCEN registered Money Service Business.

For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above, including state licensure of Sofi Digital Assets, LLC, please visit www.sofi.com/legal.
Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform. Information related to lending products contained herein should not be construed as an offer or pre-qualification for any loan product offered by SoFi Lending Corp and/or its affiliates.
Crypto: Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies aren’t endorsed or guaranteed by any government, are volatile, and involve a high degree of risk. Consumer protection and securities laws don’t regulate cryptocurrencies to the same degree as traditional brokerage and investment products. Research and knowledge are essential prerequisites before engaging with any cryptocurrency. US regulators, including FINRA , the SEC , and the CFPB , have issued public advisories concerning digital asset risk. Cryptocurrency purchases should not be made with funds drawn from financial products including student loans, personal loans, mortgage refinancing, savings, retirement funds or traditional investments. Limitations apply to trading certain crypto assets and may not be available to residents of all states.
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Source: sofi.com

The Basics of Required Minimum Distributions: 12 Things You Must Know About RMDs

After decades of squirreling away money in tax-advantaged retirement accounts, investors entering their 70s have to flip the script. Starting at age 72, Uncle Sam requires taxpayers to draw down their retirement account savings through annual required minimum distributions. Not only do you need to calculate how much must be withdrawn each year, you must pay the tax on the distributions.

There’s no time like the present to get up to speed on the RMD rules. Once you know the basic rules, you can use smart strategies to minimize taxable distributions and make the most of the money that you must withdraw.

Here are 12 things you should consider regarding required minimum withdrawals.

When You Must Start Taking RMDs

The SECURE Act changed when you must start taking RMDs. Under the 2019 legislation, if you turned 70 ½ in 2019, then you should have taken your first RMD by April 1, 2020. If you turned 70 ½ in 2020 or later, you should take your first RMD by April 1 of the year after you turn 72. All subsequent ones must be taken by December 31 of each year.

This generally applies to the original owner of a traditional IRA, SIMPLE IRA, SEP IRA or a retirement plan, such as a 401(k) or 403(b). Roth IRAs do not have RMDs.

The RMD is taxed as ordinary income, with a top tax rate of 37% for 2021 and 2022.

An account owner who delays the first RMD will have to take two distributions in one year. For instance, a taxpayer who turns 72 in March 2021 has until April 1, 2022, to take his first RMD. But he’ll have to take his second RMD by December 31, 2022.

Taking two RMDs in one year can have important tax implications. This could push you into a higher tax bracket, meaning a larger portion of your Social Security income could be subject to taxes, or you could also end up paying more for Medicare Part B or Part D.

To determine the best time to take your first RMD, compare your tax bills under two scenarios: taking the first RMD in the year you hit 72, and delaying until the following year and doubling up RMDs.

How to Calculate RMDs

To calculate your RMD, divide your year-end account balance from the previous year by the IRS life-expectancy factor based on your birthday in the current year. 

If you own multiple IRAs, you need to calculate the RMD for each account, but you can take the total RMD from just one IRA or any combination of IRAs. For instance, if you have an IRA that’s smaller than your total RMD, you can empty out the small IRA and take the remainder of the RMD from a larger IRA.

A retiree who owns 401(k)s at age 72 is subject to RMDs on those accounts, too. But unlike IRAs, if you own multiple 401(k)s, you must calculate and take each 401(k)’s RMD separately.

You can take your annual RMD in a lump sum or piecemeal, perhaps in monthly or quarterly payments. Delaying the RMD until year-end, however, gives your money more time to grow tax-deferred. Either way, be sure to withdraw the total amount by the deadline.

Penalties for Missing RMD Deadlines

What happens if you miss the deadline? You could get hit with one of Uncle Sam’s harshest penalties—50% of the shortfall. If you were supposed to take out $15,000 but only took $11,000, for example, you’d owe a $2,000 penalty plus income tax on the shortfall.

But this harshest of penalties may be forgiven—if you ask for relief—and the IRS is known to be relatively lenient in these situations. You can request relief by filing Form 5329, with a letter of explanation including the action you took to fix the mistake.

One way to avoid forgetting: Ask your IRA custodian to automatically withdraw RMDs.

Work Waiver for RMDs

There are a number of instances where you can reduce RMDs—or avoid them altogether. If you are still working beyond age 72 and don’t own 5% or more of the company, you can avoid taking RMDs from your current employer’s 401(k) until you retire.

However, you would still need to take RMDs from old 401(k)s you own. But there is a workaround for that. If your current employer’s 401(k) allows for money to be rolled into the plan, you could do that. Doing that means you won’t need to take an RMD from a 401(k) until you actually retire. (You would still need to take RMDs from any traditional IRAs.)

Rollover to a Roth Account to Avoid RMDs

For those who own Roth 401(k)s, there’s a no-brainer RMD solution: Roll the money into a Roth IRA, which has no RMDs for the original owner. Assuming you are 59½ or older and have owned at least one Roth IRA for at least five years, the money rolled to the Roth IRA can be tapped tax-free.

Another solution to avoid RMDs would be to convert traditional IRA money to a Roth IRA. You will owe tax on the conversion at your ordinary income tax rate. But lowering your traditional IRA balance reduces its future RMDs, and the money in the Roth IRA can stay put as long as you like.

Converting IRA money to a Roth is a great strategy to start early, but you can do conversions even after you turn 72, though you must take your RMD first. Then you can convert all or part of the remaining balance to a Roth IRA. You can smooth out the conversion tax bill by converting smaller amounts over a number of years.

This can help you prevent paying more in taxes in the future. For instance, while traditional IRA distributions count when calculating taxation of Social Security benefits and Medicare premium surcharges for high-income taxpayers, Roth IRA distributions do not. And if you need extra income unexpectedly, tapping your Roth won’t increase your taxable income.

Consider a Qualified Longevity Annuity Contract

A qualified longevity annuity contract, or QLAC, is an option to lower RMDs and defer the related taxes. You can carve out up to $130,000 or 25% of your retirement account balance, whichever is less, and invest that money in this special type of deferred income annuity. Compared with an immediate annuity, a QLAC requires a smaller upfront investment for larger payouts that start years later. The money invested in the QLAC is no longer included in the IRA balance and is not subject to RMDs. Payments from the QLAC will be taxable, but because it is longevity insurance, those payments won’t kick in until about age 85.

Another carve-out strategy applies to 401(k)s. If your 401(k) holds company stock, you could take advantage of a tax-saving opportunity known as net unrealized appreciation. You roll all the money out of the 401(k) to a traditional IRA, but move the employer stock to a taxable account. You will immediately pay ordinary income tax on the cost basis of the employer stock. You will also still have RMDs from the traditional IRA, but they will be lower since you removed the company stock from the mix. And any profit from selling the shares in the taxable account now qualifies for lower long-term capital-gains tax rates.

The Younger Spouse Rule

In the beginning of this story, we gave you the standard RMD calculation that most original owners will use—but original owners with younger spouses can trim their RMDs. If you are married to someone who is more than 10 years younger, divide your year-end account balance by the IRS life-expectancy factor at the intersection of your age and your spouse’s age in Table II of IRS Publication 590-B. 

Pro Rata Payout for RMDs

If you can’t reduce your RMD, you may be able to reduce the tax bill on the RMD—that is, if you have made and kept records of nondeductible contributions to your traditional IRA. In that case, a portion of the RMD can be considered as coming from those nondeductible contributions—and will therefore be tax-free.

Figure the ratio of your nondeductible contributions to your entire IRA balance. For example, if your IRA holds $200,000 with $20,000 of nondeductible contributions, 10% of a distribution from the IRA will be tax-free. Each time you take a distribution, you’ll need to recalculate the tax-free portion until all the nondeductible contributions have been accounted for.

Reinvest Your RMD

If you can’t reduce or avoid your RMD, look for ways to make the most of that required distribution. You can build the RMD into your cash flow as an income source. But if your expenses are covered with other sources, such as Social Security benefits and pension payouts, put those distributions to work for you.

While you can’t reinvest the RMD in a tax-advantaged retirement account, you can stash it in a deposit account or reinvest it in a taxable brokerage account. If your liquid cash cushion is sufficient, consider tax-efficient investing options, such as municipal bonds. Index funds don’t throw off a lot of capital gains and can help keep your future tax bills in check.

Make an In-Kind Transfer of Your RMD

Remember that the RMD doesn’t have to be in cash. You can ask your IRA custodian to transfer shares to a taxable brokerage account. So you could move $10,000 worth of shares over to a brokerage account to satisfy a $10,000 RMD. Be sure the value of the shares on the date of the transfer covers the RMD amount. The date of transfer value serves as the shares’ cost basis in the taxable account.

The in-kind transfer strategy is particularly useful when the market is down. You avoid locking in a loss on an investment that may be suffering a temporary price decline. But the strategy is also useful when the market is in positive territory if you feel the investment will continue to grow in value in the future, or if it’s an investment that you just can’t bear to sell. In any case, if the investment falls in value while in the taxable account, you could harvest a tax loss.

Donate Your RMD to Charity

If you are charitably inclined, consider a qualified charitable distribution, or QCD. This move allows IRA owners age 70½ or older to transfer up to $100,000 directly to charity each year. The QCD can count as some or all of the owner’s RMD, and the QCD amount won’t show up in adjusted gross income.

The QCD is a particularly smart move for those who take the standard deduction and would miss out on writing off charitable contributions. But even itemizers can benefit from a QCD. Lower adjusted gross income makes it easier to take advantage of certain deductions, such as the write-off for medical expenses that exceed 7.5% of AGI in 2020. Because the QCD’s taxable amount is zero, the move can help any taxpayer mitigate tax on Social Security or surcharges on Medicare premiums.

Say your RMD is $20,000. You could transfer the whole $20,000 to charity and satisfy your RMD while adding $0 to your AGI. Or you could do a nontaxable QCD of $15,000 and then take a taxable $5,000 distribution to satisfy the RMD.

The first dollars out of an IRA are considered to be the RMD until that amount is met. If you want to do a QCD of $10,000 that will count toward a $20,000 RMD, be sure to make the QCD move before taking the full RMD out.

Of course, you can do QCDs in excess of your RMD up to that $100,000 limit per year.

Use Your RMD to Pay Your Taxes

You can also use your RMD to simplify tax payments. With the “RMD solution,” you can ask your IRA custodian to withhold enough money from your RMD to pay your entire tax bill on all your income sources for the year. That saves you the hassle of making quarterly estimated tax payments and can help you avoid underpayment penalties.

Because withholding is considered to be evenly paid throughout the year, this strategy works even if you wait to take your RMD in December. By waiting until later in the year to take the RMD, you’ll have a better estimate of your actual tax bill and can fine-tune how much to withhold to cover that bill.

Source: kiplinger.com

What Is a Blockchain Explorer? Guide to Block Explorers

A blockchain is a public ledger of transactions. Whenever someone sends Bitcoin or another cryptocurrency from one wallet to another, the transaction is recorded on the ledger.

But how does anyone view the transaction? The simplest way is by using something called a block explorer.

What Is a Block Explorer?

A cryptocurrency block explorer is an online blockchain browser that can show the details of all transactions that have ever happened on a blockchain network.

There are block explorers for Bitcoin and also for individual altcoins. Some block explorers can be used on multiple different networks, while others are only for one specific blockchain. A BTC block explorer, for example, would only be able to find information from the Bitcoin network, such as when someone is sending Bitcoin to another wallet.

A block explorer can be used to find any specific transaction or view the recent history of the chain more generally.

What Can You Do With a Blockchain Explorer?

A blockchain explorer allows users to view blockchain activity. Users might use block explorers to track the status of a pending transaction (technically referred to as exploring Mempool status, since the transaction has not yet been recorded in a block and added to the chain) or to view the balance of a wallet they hold without having to use the crypto wallet itself.

Beyond these types of tasks, block explorers can also be used to:

•   Examine the history of any wallet address, including all transactions sent to and from that address.

•   Explore change addresses, which are transaction outputs that return coins to the spender in an effort to prevent too much of the input value being spent on transaction fees.

•   View blocks that aren’t attached to the main blockchain and whose parent blockchain is unknown. These are called “orphaned blocks.”

•   Explore the largest transaction that was sent in the last 24 hours.

•   Explore the number of double-spend transactions happening in a blockchain.

•   Discover the individual or mining pool who mined a specific block.

•   Explore the genesis block, or the first block that was ever mined on a given chain.

•   See other information specific to a blockchain, such as average transaction fees, hash rate, mining difficulty, and other data.

There are also more advanced use cases for block explorers, but these are mostly utilized by companies that create sophisticated software to track criminal activity or try to predict cryptocurrency prices.

How Do Blockchain Explorers Work?

An explorer is basically a blockchain search engine. It can be used to search for just about any information pertaining to the state of a specific blockchain that someone might want to know. The details of every crypto wallet and all of its transactions and more can all be found using a blockchain explorer.

Before we get into the step-by-step of this process, there are a few key terms worth knowing.

•   Rational Database: Allows for the storage of data in a table in terms of how each piece of data is related to others. Rather than having one giant block table with all details for each block, entries can be organized according to their type and relation to similar entries, for example.

•   Structured Query Language (SQL): A protocol for searching a database, or giving a query. Software of this nature can create a table in a database, insert records into that table, search for a given term, then create a new table with relevant results and present them on a web page.

•   Application Programming Interface (API): A protocol that makes it possible for users to communicate with computers through software. APIs define the formatting details for responses that are sent and received by the software being used.

How a Blockchain Explorer Works, Step by Step

From a technical perspective, here’s what it looks like:

1.    Blockchain explorers use application programming interfaces (APIs), rational databases, and SQL databases alongside a blockchain node to retrieve information from a network.

2.    The software organizes this information into a database and displays things in a searchable format.

3.    The explorer can then be used to perform searches through an organized table in response to user demands through a simple user interface (think: search engine) that allows people to conduct searches.

4.    The explorer server creates a web page through which it can interact with users.

5.    An API also allows the explorer to interface with other computers.

6.    Search requests are sent to the backend server, which then responds to the user interface.

7.    Finally, the user interface and API sends web pages in HTML format to the user’s browser so the results can be read in a manner that is easy to understand.

Examples of Blockchain Explorers

What follows are some of the most popular blockchain explorers. There are different explorers for different types of cryptocurrency, though some explorers can be used to search multiple chains.

Blockchain.org

Blockchain.org, formerly known as Blockchain.com, is a popular Bitcoin block explorer. It allows users to search the Bitcoin blockchain by transaction, address, or block. Many Bitcoin users have probably used Blockchain.org at some point to monitor or record their Bitcoin transactions.

Blockchair

While most block explorers work on only one blockchain, Blockchair can be used to search multiple chains. This explorer allows for searches on the Ethereum, Bitcoin Cash, and Bitcoin blockchains. Users can look up words, mining difficulty, Mempool size, and nodes.

Tokenview

Tokenview also allows for searches to be conducted on multiple blockchains — more than 20 of them, in fact. This explorer is based in China and was launched in 2018.

Etherscan

Etherscan might be the most popular blockchain explorer for the Ethereum network. It allows users to conduct searches for ETH addresses, wallet balances, transactions, smart contracts, and more.

The Takeaway

A block explorer can be thought of as a search engine for a blockchain — allowing a user to find lots of different information about that blockchain.

To use a block explorer, you simply visit its website and enter the information you’re looking for. To look up a pending transaction currently stored in the Mempool, for example, you could enter the transaction hash ID provided by your wallet or exchange.

Or, those curious about blockchain technology could just use the block explorer to “explore” the blockchain in general and look at things like the largest transactions, the most recently mined block, or hash rate.

Looking to invest in cryptocurrency? With a SoFi Invest® brokerage account, investors can trade more than two dozen cryptocurrencies, including Chainlink, Bitcoin, Ethereum, Dogecoin, Solana, Bitcoin, Litecoin, Cardano, and Enjin Coin.

Find out how to get started with SoFi Invest.

Photo credit: iStock/solidcolours


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Source: sofi.com