Purchasing Power 101: Examining the Value of the US Dollar

Purchasing Power 101: Examining the Value of the US Dollar

Purchasing power is a concept used to express the amount of goods and services a consumer or business can buy with a given unit of currency. In the United States, purchasing power is directly linked to the value of the dollar.

Due to inflation, a dollar today typically won’t go as far as it did last year. And a dollar next year won’t buy the same things that it did this year. This fluctuation in US dollar purchasing power is constant, and goes unnoticed, except in times of extreme inflation.

How Does Purchasing Power Impact Investors?

Once you understand the purchasing power definition, you can start to understand its context for investing. The purchasing power of a dollar affects investors because it makes an impact on virtually every aspect of the broader economy. When the dollar buys less, it changes the shopping decisions of consumers, the hiring practices of employers, the strategic decisions of corporations, and the monetary policy of the Federal Reserve.

One way to track inflation and purchasing power of a dollar is the Consumer Price Index (CPI), a statistic compiled by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which reports the figure every month. The statistic measures the average of prices of a set of goods and services in sectors such as transportation, food, and healthcare. Economists consider it a valuable gauge of the ever-changing cost of living, though it does exclude some important spending categories, including real estate and education.

Investors, executives and policymakers use CPI as a lens through which to scrutinize other economic indicators, including sales numbers, revenues, earnings and so on. It also determines the payments made to the millions of people on Social Security, which gets adjusted for the cost of living every year, and retirees drawing a pension from the military or the Federal Civil Services.

💡 Quick Tip: Look for an online brokerage with low trading commissions as well as no account minimum. Higher fees can cut into investment returns over time.

Why Does the Value of the Dollar Change?

A number of factors drive the value of the US dollar, including large scale factors having to do with economic cycles, government politics and international relations. But the dollar has also experienced inflation for most of the last century.

Inflation rose after World War I amid increased demand for food and other raw materials, which raised prices of most consumer goods up until the Great Depression, in which the country experienced prolonged deflation.

That’s when President Franklin Roosevelt stepped in with a surprising policy decision: He banned private ownership of gold, and required people to sell their holdings to the government. That allowed the Federal Reserve to increase the money supply and stop deflation in its tracks.

Since 1933, through World War II, the Cold War, and a host of changing monetary and economic policies, the US dollar has seen various rates of inflation. It reached its peak during the late 1970s and early 1980s oil and gas shortages exacerbated existing inflation and led to a gas shortage, and an increase in the price of manufacturing and shipping of nearly every single consumer good.

Inflation rose at a more steady pace through the 1990s, falling to historically low levels in the past decade. One reason for the ongoing inflation is that the Federal Reserve continually increased the money supply via economic stimulus. The logic is simple supply and demand: If there are more dollars, then each one is worth less in terms of purchasing power.

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic and the ensuing lockdowns, the Federal Reserve injected trillions into the economy. That, along with other stimulus measures, has had many investors worried about the impact on the purchasing power of the dollar, and what that might mean for the broader economy. In 2022, inflation rose at the fastest pace in 40 years, making prices more expensive and resulting in many consumers having less money to spend.

What Purchasing Power Means for Investors

Generally, investors consider inflation a headwind for the markets, as it drives up the costs of materials and labor, boosts the cost of borrowing and tends to reduce consumer spending. That all tends to translate to lower earnings growth, which can depress stock prices.

But after decades of steady inflation, the markets have priced in a certain amount of shrinkage when it comes to the purchasing power of the dollar. Inflation has a great impact when it occurs suddenly and unexpectedly.

But inflation can have benefits for investors as well. During an economic upswing, inflation is a reliable side effect of prosperity, since economic booms produce higher profits, which drives up the markets. Historically, some experts say that the decades when the S&P 500 Index has delivered the highest returns have been when inflation has been between 2% to 3% annually.

Investors saving for long-term goals, such as retirement, must take declining purchasing power into account when determining how much they’ll need to reach those goals.

💡 Quick Tip: It’s smart to invest in a range of assets so that you’re not overly reliant on any one company or market to do well. For example, by investing in different sectors you can add diversification to your portfolio, which may help mitigate some risk factors over time.

How Does Inflation Influence Stocks?

Inflation impacts different types of stocks differently, and there are several strategies that investors can use to hedge against inflation. During periods of high inflation, growth stocks tend to underperform, simply because so much of their value is tied up in the expectation of future earnings, and inflation diminishes those expectations.

Value stocks, on the other hand, typically boast steadier earnings, and are valued in line with those earnings. As a result, value stocks, as a category, tend to hold up better during periods of high inflation.

Other investments to consider during periods of high inflation include dividend-paying utility stocks and REITs, gold and other commodities. And because periods of high inflation usually brings higher interest rates, it can be a good time to buy bonds, especially government bonds

The Takeaway

The value of the dollar, in terms of what it can buy, changes over time, but inflation isn’t always bad news for investors. Some stocks may perform better than others in an inflationary environment, and higher interest rates may be good news for bond investors and savers.

Ready to invest in your goals? It’s easy to get started when you open an investment account with SoFi Invest. You can invest in stocks, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), mutual funds, alternative funds, and more. SoFi doesn’t charge commissions, but other fees apply (full fee disclosure here).


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Getting a Mortgage in Retirement

With an abundance of Americans reaching retirement age—10,000 people will turn 65 every day for the next two decades—some of those will be looking for a new place to call home and a way to finance it.

You might think of the young and middle-aged as typical homebuyers and older people as more likely to have paid off, or nearly paid off, their homes and wanting to stay put. But with opportunity in the air and a desire to downsize—and sometimes upsize—more retirees could well be in the market for a new home.

Lenders and Age: No Legal Gray Area

Mortgage lenders look for a variety of things when qualifying a home loan applicant. What they can’t do is take age into consideration when making a lending decision.

The Equal Credit Opportunity Act bans creditors from using age to influence a loan application decision.

Retirees applying for a home loan, like people still working, generally just need to have good credit, minimal debt, and enough ongoing income to repay the mortgage.

Here are some of the main factors you need to buy a house that lenders look for:

•   Proof of income
•   Low debt-to-income ratio
•   Decent credit profile
•   Down payment
•   If it’s a primary or secondary home

Let’s take a look at each.

Proof of Income

While many retirees live on a fixed income, putting multiple sources of income together can help establish income that is “stable, predictable, and likely to continue,” as Fannie Mae instructs lenders to look for.

Social Security. The average monthly Social Security payout was $1,827 in 2023, enough to contribute to a mortgage payment. But if Social Security is an applicant’s only source of income, they may have trouble qualifying for a certain loan amount.

Investment income. Sixty-nine percent of older adults receive income from financial assets, according to the Pension Rights Center. But half of those receive less than $1,754 a year, the center says.

But for those who do receive investment income, it’s important to know that a lender generally looks at dividends and interest, based on the principal in the investment. If an applicant plans to use some of the principal for a down payment or closing costs, the lender will make calculations based on the future amount.

Lenders may view distributions from 401(k)s, IRAs, or Keogh retirement accounts as having an expiration date, as they involve depletion of an asset.

Home loan applicants who receive income from such sources must document that it is expected to continue for at least three years beyond their mortgage application.

And lenders may only use 70% of the value of those accounts to determine how many distributions remain.

Annuity income can be used to qualify, as well, as long as the annuity will continue for several years (three years is likely the minimum).

Part-time work. Retirees who earn money driving for a ride-share service, teaching, manning the pro shop, and so forth add income to the pot that a lender will parse.

Clearly, the more income a retiree can note on a mortgage application, the better the odds of a green light.


💡 Quick Tip: You deserve a more zen mortgage. Look for a mortgage lender who’s dedicated to closing your loan on time.

Debt

If your income level falls into a gray area, mortgage lenders are even more likely to focus on your debt-to-income ratio.

Debt-to-income is a straightforward proposition. It’s calculated as a percentage and it’s vetted by lenders and creditors as a percentage. Simply divide your regular monthly expenses by your total monthly gross income to get your debt-to-income ratio.

Let’s say you have $5,000 in regular monthly gross income and your regular monthly debt amount is $1,000. In that scenario, your debt-to-income ratio is 20% (i.e., $1,000 is 20% of $5,000.)

By and large, the higher your DTI ratio, the higher the risk of being turned down for a mortgage loan.

If you have a spouse who also has regular income and low debt, adding that person to the mortgage application could help gain loan approval. Then again, married couples applying for a loan may want to consider how a spouse’s death would affect their ability to keep paying the mortgage.

Lenders, though, cannot address that matter in the loan application.

Recommended: 11 Work-From-Home Jobs Great for Retirees

Credit Profile

Mortgage lenders also give great weight to consumer credit scores when evaluating a home loan application. That’s understandable, as a high FICO® credit score—740 or above is considered generally quite mortgage-worthy—shows lenders that you pay your bills on time and that you’re not a big credit risk.

It might be smart to take some time before you apply for a mortgage to review your credit report, making sure all household bills are up-to-date and no errors exist that might trip you up. And it’s a good idea to limit credit inquiries on big-ticket items.

You can get a free copy of your credit scores at annualcreditreport.com and at any of the “big three” credit reporting agencies: Experian, Equifax, and Transunion.

The Property

Mortgage lenders will also take a close look at the home you wish to purchase.

In general, it’s easier to obtain a mortgage for a primary residence, as it represents the home you’ll live in long term and there’s only one mortgage to pay.

A second home, either as a vacation or investment property, is a riskier proposition, as it represents another mortgage to pay and may bring more debt to the lender’s mortgage approval score sheet.

💡 Quick Tip: Because a cash-out refi is a refinance, you’ll be dealing with one loan payment per month. Other ways of leveraging home equity (such as a home equity loan) require a second mortgage.

Down Payment

Using the asset depletion method, a lender will subtract your expected down payment from the total value of your financial assets, take 70% of the remainder (if it’s a retirement account), and divide that by 360 months.

Then the lender will add income from Social Security, any annuity or pension, and part-time work in making a decision.

For borrowers, putting at least 20% down sweetens the chances of being approved for a mortgage at a decent interest rate.

Recommended: Home Affordability Calculator

The Takeaway

As a retiree, if your income, debt-to-income ratio, and credit score are solid, you’re as likely as any other borrower to gain approval for a new home loan. Lenders cannot legally take age into consideration when making their decisions.

Looking for an affordable option for a home mortgage loan? SoFi can help: We offer low down payments (as little as 3% - 5%*) with our competitive and flexible home mortgage loans. Plus, applying is extra convenient: It's online, with access to one-on-one help.


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*SoFi requires Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) for conforming home loans with a loan-to-value (LTV) ratio greater than 80%. As little as 3% down payments are for qualifying first-time homebuyers only. 5% minimum applies to other borrowers. Other loan types may require different fees or insurance (e.g., VA funding fee, FHA Mortgage Insurance Premiums, etc.). Loan requirements may vary depending on your down payment amount, and minimum down payment varies by loan type.

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Pros & Cons of Using Retirement Funds to Pay for College

In a perfect world, all parents would have a 529 plan—or another education savings account—full of funds to cover their children’s college years. But there are many reasons why that may not be the case for you. If so, you’re likely looking into other options to pay for college.

One possibility you may be considering is dipping into your retirement funds. Depending on the type of retirement account you have, you might be able to take an early withdrawal or a loan from your retirement account, which you could use to fund your child’s education.

But using your retirement funds to pay for college isn’t always the best move. Before you decide to do it, you may want to consider both the benefits and the drawbacks, as well as some potentially less costly alternatives.

Before we jump in, it’s important that you’re aware that this article is a basic, high-level overview of some potential options when it comes to using retirement funds to pay for college. Further, because these topics (taxes and investments) are complicated, none of what’s written here should be taken as tax advice or investment guidance. Always talk to qualified tax and investment professionals with questions about your retirement accounts, and never rely on blog posts (like this one) to make important financial decisions.

A Few Pros of Using Retirement Funds to Pay for College

If you already have the money saved up, there can be some upsides to taking money out of your retirement funds so that your child won’t need to take out student loans.

You May Be Able to Avoid an Early Withdrawal Penalty

If you have an individual retirement account (IRA), taking an early withdrawal typically results in income taxes on the withdrawal amount plus a 10% penalty. However, if you withdraw funds for qualified higher education expenses, the 10% penalty is waived .

That said, the withdrawn funds will still be considered taxable as income. Also, this tax break does not apply to 401(k) accounts. But if you roll over your 401(k) into an IRA, then you would be able to withdraw the funds from the IRA and avoid the penalty.

You May Be Able to Avoid Taxes Altogether

If you have a Roth IRA, you can withdraw up to the amount you’ve contributed to the account over the years without any tax consequences at all.

You’re Paying Interest to Yourself With a 401(k) Loan

In addition to allowing you to take early withdrawals, some 401(k) plans also let you borrow from the amount you’ve already saved and earned over the years.

If you borrow from a 401(k) account, that money won’t be subject to taxes the way an early withdrawal would. Also, when you’re paying that loan back, the money you pay in interest goes back into your 401(k) account rather than to a lender.

A Few Drawbacks of Using Retirement Funds to Pay for College

Before you raid your retirement to pay for your child’s college tuition, here are some potentially negative aspects to consider.

There May Be Negative Tax Consequences

Even if you manage to avoid being charged a 10% early withdrawal penalty on your retirement account, some or all of the money you withdraw from a retirement account may be considered taxable income. Depending on how much it is, you could face a larger-than-usual tax bill when you file your tax return for the year.

401(k) Loan Repayment Can Be Affected by Your Job Status

If you take out a large loan from your 401(k), then leave your job, you may be required to pay the loan in full right then, regardless of your original repayment term. If you can’t repay it, it’ll likely be considered an early withdrawal and be subject to income tax and the 10% penalty.

You May Have to Work Longer

Taking money out of a retirement account lowers your balance. But it also means that the money you’ve withdrawn is no longer working for you.

Due to compounding interest, the longer you have money invested, the more time it has to grow. But even if you replace the money you’ve taken out over time, the total growth may not be as much as if you’d left the money where it was all along.

Alternatives to Using Retirement Funds to Pay for College

Can you use retirement funds to pay for college? If you have the funds, it’s generally an option. But before you go ahead, consider these alternatives.

Scholarships and Grants

One of the best ways to pay for a college education is with scholarships and grants, since you typically don’t have to pay them back.

Check first with the school that your child is planning to attend (or is already attending) to see what types of scholarships and grants are available.

Then make sure your child fills out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). The information provided in the FAFSA will help determine his or her federal aid package, which typically includes grants, federal student loans, and/or work-study.

Finally, you and your child can search millions of scholarships from private organizations on websites like Scholarships.com and Fast Web . While your child may not qualify for all of them, there may be enough relevant options to help reduce that tuition bill.

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Federal Student Loans

As mentioned above, filling out the FAFSA will give your child an opportunity to qualify for federal student loans from the U.S. Department of Education.

These loans have low fixed interest rates, plus access to some special benefits, including loan forgiveness programs and income-driven repayment plans.

With most federal student loans, there’s no credit check requirement, so you don’t have to worry about needing to cosign a loan with your child.

Parent PLUS Loans

If you’re concerned about the effect of student loan debt on your child, you can opt to apply for a federal Parent PLUS loan to help cover the costs of college.

Keep in mind that the terms aren’t usually as favorable for Parent PLUS loans as they are for federal loans for undergraduate students. The interest rates are currently higher, and you may be denied if you have certain negative items on your credit history.

Private Student Loans

If your child can’t get federal student loans, is maxed out on loans, or has pursued all other options to no avail, private student loans may be worth considering to make up the difference.

To qualify for private student loans, however, you and/or your child may need to undergo a credit check. If your child is new to credit, you may need to cosign to help them get approved by being a cosigner—or you can apply on your own.

Private student loans don’t typically offer income-driven repayment plans or loan forgiveness programs, but if your credit and finances are strong, it may be possible to get a competitive interest rate.

Balance Your Child’s Needs and Your Own

Using retirement funds to pay for college is one way to help your child. But you probably don’t want to risk your future financial security. Take the time to help your child consider all of the options to get the money to pay for school.

If you do decide a private student loan is the right fit, SoFi is happy to help. In the spirit of complete transparency, we want you to know that we believe you should exhaust all of your federal grant and loan options before you consider SoFi as your private loan lender. That said, we do offer flexible payment options and terms, and don’t worry, there are no hidden fees.

If you’re considering a private student loan, you can find your SoFi rate today.


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Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility-criteria for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change.


Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.

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How to Choose a 401(k) Beneficiary: Rules & Options

Choosing a 401(k) beneficiary ensures that any unused funds in your account are dispersed according to your wishes after you pass away. Whether you’re married, single, or in a domestic partnership, naming a beneficiary simplifies the estate process and makes it easier for your heirs to receive the money.

There’s room on 401(k) beneficiary forms for both a primary and contingent beneficiary. Before making any decisions on a beneficiary and a backup, it can help to familiarize yourself with 401(k) beneficiary rules and options.

Why It’s Important to Name 401(k) Beneficiaries

A 401k account is a non-probate asset. That means it doesn’t have to go through the lengthy probate legal process of distributing your property and assets when you die — as long as you name a beneficiary.

If you die without a beneficiary listed on your 401(k) account, the distribution of the account may have to go through probate, which can take months.

Some plans with unnamed beneficiaries automatically default to a surviving spouse, while others do not. If that’s the case — or if there is no surviving spouse — the 401(k) account becomes part of the estate that goes through probate as part of the will review.

The amount of time it will take for your heirs to go through the probate process varies depending on the state and depends on the complexity of your assets. At a minimum, it can last months.

Another downside of having your 401(k) go to probate instead of being directly inherited by a beneficiary is that the account funds could be used to pay off creditors (if the deceased had unpaid debts that can be covered by the estate).

By naming a 401(k) beneficiary, you ensure your heirs receive the funds in full, especially if you weren’t legally married but want to insure that your domestic partner is your legal beneficiary. A beneficiary designation is currently required in order for your domestic partner to inherit your 401(k).

Having named 401(k) beneficiaries is a decision that overrides anything written in your will, as well as court orders, so it’s important to review your beneficiaries every few years, to make sure your money goes to the person or organization you choose.

What to Consider When Choosing a Beneficiary

Your 401(k) account may hold a substantial amount of your retirement savings. How you approach choosing a 401(k) beneficiary depends on your personal situation. For married individuals, it’s common to choose a spouse. Some people choose to name a domestic partner or your children as beneficiaries.

•   Your primary beneficiary is the main person or organization who you want to receive your 401(k) assets when you die.

•   The contingent beneficiary (aka the secondary beneficiary) will inherit the assets if your primary beneficiary can’t or won’t.

Another option is to choose multiple beneficiaries, like multiple children or siblings. In this scenario, you can either elect for all beneficiaries to receive equal portions of your remaining 401(k) account, or assign each individual different percentages.

Recommended: IRA vs. 401(k): What’s the Difference?

For example, you could allocate 25% to each of four children, or you could choose to leave 50% to one child, 25% to another, and 12.5% to the other two.

In addition to choosing a primary beneficiary, you must also choose a contingent beneficiary. This individual only receives your 401(k) funds if the primary beneficiary passes away or disclaims their rights to the account. If the primary beneficiary is still alive, the contingent beneficiary doesn’t receive any funds.

401(k) Beneficiary Rules and Restrictions

Really, an individual can choose anyone they want to be a 401(k) beneficiary, with a few limitations.

•   Minor children cannot be direct beneficiaries. They must have a named guardian oversee the inherited funds on their behalf, which will be chosen by a court if not specifically named. Choosing a reliable guardian helps to ensure the children’s inheritance is managed well until they reach adulthood.

•   A waiver may be required if someone other than a spouse is designated. Accounts that are ruled by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) have 401(k) spouse beneficiary rules. A spousal waiver is required if you designate less than 50% of your account to your spouse. Your plan administrator can tell you whether or not this rule applies to your specific 401(k).

How to Name Multiple 401(k) Beneficiaries

You are allowed to have multiple 401(k) beneficiaries, both for a single account and across multiple accounts. You must name them for each account, which gives you flexibility in how you want to pass on those funds.

When naming multiple beneficiaries, it’s common practice to divide the account by percentage, since the dollar amounts may vary based on what you use during your lifetime and investment performance.

Complex Rules for Inherited 401(k)s

You may also want to consider how the rules for an inherited 401(k) may affect a beneficiary who is your spouse vs. a non-spousal beneficiary.

Spouses usually have more options available, but they differ depending on the spouse’s age, as well as the year the account holder died.

In many cases, the spouse may roll over the funds into their own IRA, sometimes called an inherited IRA. Non-spouses don’t have that option. In most cases a non-spouse beneficiary must withdraw all the funds from the account within 10 years.

A beneficiary can also take out the money as a lump sum, which will be subject to ordinary income tax. But you need to be at least age 59 ½ in order to avoid the 10% early withdrawal penalty.

Because the terms governing inherited 401(k) are so complex, it may be wise to consult a financial professional.

Recommended: Rollover IRA vs. Traditional IRA: What’s the Difference?

What to Do After Naming Beneficiaries

Once you’ve selected one or more beneficiaries, take the following steps to notify your heirs and to continually review and update your decisions as you move through various life stages.

Inform Your Beneficiaries

Naming your beneficiaries on your 401(k) plan makes sure your wishes are legally upheld, but you’ll make the inheritance process easier by telling your beneficiaries about your accounts. They’ll need to know where and how to access the account funds, especially since 401(k) accounts can be distributed outside of probate, making the process much faster than other elements of your estate plan.

For all of your accounts, including a 401(k), it’s a good idea to keep a list of financial institutions and account numbers. This makes it easier for your beneficiaries to access the funds quickly after your death.

Impact of the SECURE Act

You also need to inform beneficiaries about the pace at which the funds must be dispersed after your death.

Thanks to the terms in the SECURE Act (Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement), beneficiaries generally must withdraw all assets from an inherited 401(k) account within 10 years of the original account holder’s death. Some beneficiaries are excluded from this requirement, including:

•   Surviving spouses

•   Minor children

•   Disabled or chronically ill beneficiaries

•   Beneficiaries who are less than 10 years younger than the original account holder

Revise After Major Life Changes

Managing your 401(k) beneficiaries isn’t necessarily a one-time task. It’s important to regularly review and update your decisions, especially as major life events occur. The most common events include marriage, divorce, birth, and death.

Common Life Stages

Before you get married, you may decide to list a parent or sibling as your beneficiary. But you’ll likely want to update that to your spouse or domestic partner, should you have one. At a certain point, you may also wish to add your children, especially once they reach adulthood and can be named as direct beneficiaries.

Divorce

It’s particularly important to update your named beneficiaries if you go through a divorce. If you don’t revise your 401(k) account, your ex-spouse could end up receiving those benefits — even if your will has been changed.

Death of a Beneficiary

Should your primary beneficiary die before you do, your contingent beneficiary will receive your 401(k) funds if you pass away. Any time a major death happens in your family, take the time to see how that impacts your own estate planning wishes. If your spouse passes away, for instance, you may wish to name your children as beneficiaries.

Second Marriages and Blended Families

Also note that the spouse rules apply for second marriages as well, whether following divorce or death of your first spouse. Your 401(k) automatically goes to your spouse if no other beneficiary is named. And if you assign them less than 50%, you’ll need that spousal waiver.

Financial planning for blended families takes thought and communication, especially if you remarry later in life and want some or all of your assets to go to your children.

Manage Your Account Well

Keep your 401(k) beneficiaries in mind as you manage your account over the years. While it is possible to borrow from your 401(k), this can cause issues if you pass away with an outstanding balance. The loan principal will likely be deducted from your estate, which can limit how much your heirs actually receive.

Also try to streamline multiple 401(k) accounts as you change jobs and open new employer-sponsored plans. There are several ways to roll over your 401(k), which makes it easier for you to track and update your beneficiaries. It also simplifies things for your heirs after you pass away, because they don’t have to track down multiple accounts.

How to Update 401(k) Beneficiaries

Check with your 401(k) plan administrator to find out how to update your beneficiary information. Usually you’ll need to just fill out a form or log into your online retirement account.

Typically, you need the following information for each beneficiary:

•   Type of beneficiary

•   Full name

•   Birth date

•   You may also need their Social Security number

Although your named beneficiaries on the account supersede anything written in your will, it’s still smart to update that document as well. This can help circumvent legal challenges for your heirs after you pass away.

The Takeaway

A financial plan at any age should include how to distribute your assets should you pass away. The best way to manage your 401(k) is to formally name one or more beneficiaries on the account. This helps speed up the process by avoiding probate.

A named beneficiary trumps anything stated in your will. That’s why it’s so important to regularly review these designations to make sure the right people are identified to inherit your 401(k) assets.

It’s true that you will likely use your 401(k) funds yourself, for your retirement. But because an inherited 401(k) can be a significant asset, beneficiaries will likely face certain income and/or tax consequences when they inherit it. Thus, it’s best to inform the people whom you’re choosing.

Ready to invest for your retirement? It’s easy to get started when you open a traditional or Roth IRA with SoFi. SoFi doesn’t charge commissions, but other fees apply (full fee disclosure here).


Help grow your nest egg with a SoFi IRA.


SoFi Invest®

INVESTMENTS ARE NOT FDIC INSURED • ARE NOT BANK GUARANTEED • MAY LOSE VALUE

SoFi Invest encompasses two distinct companies, with various products and services offered to investors as described below: Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of these platforms.
1) Automated Investing and advisory services are provided by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC-registered investment adviser (“SoFi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC.
2) Active Investing and brokerage services are provided by SoFi Securities LLC, Member FINRA (www.finra.org)/SIPC(www.sipc.org). Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above please visit 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.

Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

This article is not intended to be legal advice. Please consult an attorney for advice.

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IRA Basis: Guide to Tracking It for Traditional and Roth IRAs

Investing money in an individual retirement account (IRA) can be an important part of saving for retirement. Among the types of IRAs you may have are Traditional IRAs and Roth IRAs. With a Traditional IRA, you can often deduct your contributions in the year you make them and pay tax on your withdrawals. A Roth IRA works in the opposite way — contributions are generally not tax-deductible and your earnings and withdrawals can be tax-free.

Because of the way that withdrawals from IRAs can be tax-free, it’s important to be aware of your IRA basis. When you withdraw money from a Traditional or Roth IRA, you may only need to pay tax on withdrawals that exceed your basis.

What Is a Roth IRA Basis?

The total amount that you’ve contributed to your Roth IRA over the years is considered your Roth IRA basis. Because Roth IRA contributions are not deductible in the year that you contribute them, you can withdraw your contributions at any time without tax or penalty.

Is a Roth IRA Basis Different From a Traditional IRA Basis?

Calculating your Traditional IRA basis is a bit different than calculating your Roth IRA basis. Understanding these differences in large part comes down to understanding what an IRA is and how various types of IRAs work.

When calculating your Roth IRA basis, you add up all of the contributions you make. This is because no Roth IRA contributions are tax-deductible.

With a Traditional IRA, on the other hand, some contributions are deductible in the year that you make them. So your Traditional IRA basis only includes contributions that were not tax-deductible in the year that you made them.

What Are the Rules of a Roth IRA Basis?

Contributing to a Roth IRA can be a great way to invest and save for retirement, because your earnings and withdrawals are tax-free, as long as you make qualified distributions. Your Roth IRA basis is easy to calculate, since it’s the net total of any contributions that you make, minus any distributions.

What Are the Rules of a Traditional IRA Basis?

If you open a Traditional IRA, you’ll want to make sure that you’re familiar with the rules of a Traditional IRA basis. Your basis in a Traditional IRA is the total of all of any non-deductible contributions you made, as well as any non-taxable amounts included in rollovers, minus all of your non-taxable distributions.

How Is IRA Basis Calculated?

When you start saving for retirement, you’ll want to make sure that you are accurately calculating your IRA basis. The exact formula for calculating your IRA basis varies slightly based on whether you have a Traditional or Roth IRA.

💡 Recommended: When Should You Start Saving for Retirement?

Roth IRA Basis Formula

Contributions to a Roth IRA are never tax-deductible. That means that you will use the sum of all of your contributions to calculate your Roth IRA basis.

Traditional IRA Basis Formula

Calculating your Traditional IRA basis works in a slightly different fashion. Because many contributions to Traditional IRAs are tax-deductible in the year you make them, you don’t include all of your contributions when calculating your basis. Instead, you will only use the contributions that are NOT tax-deductible when calculating your Traditional IRA basis. If all of your Traditional IRA contributions are tax-deductible, then your basis will be $0.

Why Is Knowing Your IRA Basis Important?

Not knowing your IRA basis is a retirement mistake you can easily avoid. You want to know what your IRA basis is, because it represents the amount of money that you can withdraw from your IRA without tax or penalty.

Generally, any withdrawals up to your tax basis are tax and penalty-free, while withdrawals above your tax basis may be subject to income tax and/or a 10% penalty. While it is usually not a good idea to withdraw money from your retirement accounts, knowing your basis can help you make an informed decision.

💡 Recommended: How to Open an IRA

Starting an IRA With SoFi

Understanding your IRA basis is an important part of investing and planning for your retirement. At its simplest, you can calculate your IRA basis by adding up all of your non-tax-deductible contributions and subtracting any previous distributions. For your Roth IRA basis, you can use all of your contributions, while for Traditional IRAs you can only use the value of any contributions that you did not deduct from your taxes. Your IRA basis is the amount that you can typically withdraw from your account without having to pay income tax and/or a penalty.

Opening an IRA online with SoFi can be a great way to start saving for retirement. Starting a Traditional IRA may allow you to lower your taxable income this year, while contributing to a Roth IRA your retirement by allowing your retirement contributions to grow tax-free. It can be a smart financial decision to use one of these accounts to make sure you have enough money put aside for your retirement.

Help grow your nest egg with a SoFi IRA.

FAQ

Do I have an IRA basis?

Everyone with an IRA has an IRA basis, although it’s possible that your IRA basis is $0. Your IRA basis is the net total of your non-tax-deductible contributions minus any distributions. For a Roth IRA, you use the value of all your contributions, while with a Traditional IRA, it’s only the contributions that were not tax-deductible.

How do I find my IRA basis?

Your IRA basis is the sum of any non-tax-deductible contributions that you make to an IRA minus any distributions that you take from your account. Your IRA basis is not generally reported anywhere. So if you don’t know your basis, you will need to calculate it based on your historical contributions and distribution amounts.

Who keeps track of your IRA basis?

The IRS does not generally keep track of your IRA basis — you are responsible for making sure your IRA basis is accurately calculated. If you use an accountant, they may calculate and track your IRA basis. You’ll want to make sure that you are accurately tracking your basis so that you can correctly pay any taxes you owe on IRA distributions.


Photo credit: iStock/Eva-Katalin

SoFi Invest®

INVESTMENTS ARE NOT FDIC INSURED • ARE NOT BANK GUARANTEED • MAY LOSE VALUE

SoFi Invest encompasses two distinct companies, with various products and services offered to investors as described below: Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of these platforms.
1) Automated Investing and advisory services are provided by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC-registered investment adviser (“SoFi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC.
2) Active Investing and brokerage services are provided by SoFi Securities LLC, Member FINRA (www.finra.org)/SIPC(www.sipc.org). Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above please visit 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.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.

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