Why DH’s retirement account sent us a check for >$3000

Shortly after DH’s company switched from a high cost retirement provider to Fidelity (which is a better choice for small companies than is Vanguard because Vanguard charges small companies pretty high fees, in case you were wondering), DH got a check in the mail from Fidelity for >$5K.  As a distribution.  Even though DH is well under any possible age for required distributions.

It wasn’t a mistake.

On the back of the statement, it said, “It has been determined that you had an excess contribution…due to your plans non-discrimination testing…”

The problem, as explained to DH by the company’s finance person and also in this post I found online is that DH’s company doesn’t compensate its less highly employees as well for retirement as it does its highly paid employees.  And the highly paid employees are contributing to retirement compared to the less highly paid employees in too high a ratio.  So they failed a non-discrimination test and send money back to highly paid employees so that the overall firm level of contribution no longer fails that test.  It is our understanding that we will pay taxes on that money as if it is income in the 2017 tax year (though it is income from 2016).

So, DH can’t put away the full 18K + employer match (which is going away for the foreseeable future anyway) each year for retirement, but some number less than that.  So it’s a good thing that I can put away large amounts in my university 403bs and 457 plans.

There is a way to make it so the company doesn’t have to pass the non-discrimination testing, but figuring that out and pushing for it didn’t seem worth looking into given the way that DH’s company is laying everybody off at the end of the month.

So, that’s one of the fun things about working for a small company.

Have you ever gotten a 401(k) distribution because your company didn’t pass non-discrimination testing?

Link love

This post of ours seems appropriate to the current insurance debate

A more formal, but animated, explanation.

So many things about the GOP house plan are so stupid.  Anyhow, in case you missed it, it’s going to cost most people more.


This title

Fundraiser for sexual assault survivors

I know you guys know this already, but protesting bigots on campus is not denying them free speech.  Not inviting noted racist and alt-factivist Charles Murray to give talks isn’t suppression of intellectual discourse.  The other day I went to a student presentation on safe spaces and was a little bemused to have them define a safe space as one where everyone’s opinion is provided without fear.  Another person in the audience pointed out that they forgot the part where students aren’t supposed to step on each other’s rights either.  So, no, a safe space isn’t a place where students can say racist things about Hispanic immigrants even if there are no Hispanic immigrants in the room.

raging grannies

In case you were wondering why when you tried to buy the rest of KJ Charles Magpie series after you finished the first one, they had all disappeared as kindle books… here’s why.  They should be back.

11 people arrested at Tuesdays with(out) Toomey protest.

They just want townhalls deep in the heart of Texas

Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson sends a cease and desist letter to a constituent

Hidden figures book vs movie and the role of social policy

Damon Jones makes some really great points about men-only AEA panels.

These are also items on my radical liberal agenda.

An interesting sleight of hand with math that changes taxes and withdrawal rates quite a bit

IRS withholding calculator.

Cursive is back

50 things to make in a muffin pan.

Turns out there’s a valid reason why I love mochas so much

Ask the grumpies: How does not wanting to retire early affect your savings decisions?

Leigh asks:

How [does] having careers, not jobs and not wanting to retire early, while still having healthy retirement savings all ties in together. How does that affect how much you put into retirement accounts vs other accounts each year, etc.?

TBH it really doesn’t. But I do think it accounts for some of the calm we wouldn’t be feeling if we weren’t in good financial shape right now.

Back tracking a bit though…

As Leigh notes, we’re working because we want to, not necessarily because we have to.  We do like our high incomes, but a lot of why we work is because we’re trying to make the world a better place and in my case partly because of ambition.  We have no plans on retiring ever, though we may change our minds in the future.  Early retirement is definitely not in our plans.

Right now we’re maxing out all of our hassle-free retirement savings.  So I’m putting away my mandatory match, my 403(b), my 457, and DH’s 401(k) (now with Fidelity and a much better deal!  Asking for change works sometimes!).  We are on an “over-saving” track for retirement at this point given our lack of desire to retire early and my relative job security (though who knows what will happen in 30-50 years!).

The main reason we’re putting this much away is to take advantage of the tax advantage and to make it more likely that schools will give our kids financial aid.  We (as of this moment in our current situation) have plenty of money leftover to spend.  But there’s not much to buy around here and we don’t really have the time or energy to go looking for things to buy.  This is the first year that we’re starting to accumulate additional money after the targeted retirement/529/mortgage/sabbatical saving is done since before we bought a house.  If the US were stable, we’d be putting it in lump 10K sums into the stock market (with a 25K donor advised fund that we may still do), but instead we did one lump and now it’s accumulating in savings waiting to see what happens with DH’s job and the political climate.

(As we’ve expressed probably ad nauseum to our regular readers– we have more than enough to live on in our current low cost of living area, but not enough to safely buy a house in Paradise, even assuming we move to Paradise for a high paying job for DH.  But there’s always the chance we’ll want to move to Paradise with only one job and will be very happy that we “over-saved” even if we can’t afford to buy a house when we get there.)

I guess if we wanted to retire early we’d spend less.  I would probably have to actually sit down and figure out what numbers we could retire at assuming different draw down rates and stock market returns etc.  Depending on how early we wanted to retire, I’d have to figure out how to ladder accounts to draw down from (probably the easiest way is just to use the 457).  And I’d probably be freaking out about money more because it would matter for our “freedom” date.  But instead I’m expecting another 30-50 years of work so it’s easier to roll with uncertainty.  There aren’t money worries on top of everything else.

If we get more tax-advantaged space to save for retirement (because of changes to tax laws), I guess we’ll use it, but at some point we’d have to think hard about when to stop maxing it out.

So right now we’re just going with the max defaults because where else are we going to put the money?

Grumpy nation:  Do you have a career or a job?  Are you aiming for early retirement, not retiring at all, or something in between?  How does that decision impact your retirement savings decisions?


  • I think I’m going through premature ovarian failure.  I had stopped showing symptoms for a while so my doctor wasn’t all that concerned at my annual check-up other than doing the usual thyroid check and a (less usual) prolactin check to rule out other stuff, but symptoms have returned.  I do not like them.
  • It’s more than a little depressing that when I ask my colleagues “Where would you move?” each one of them has an immediate answer because they’ve thought hard about which countries to go to if they had to flee.  We’re kind of in a bad situation for that given that the countries that do DH’s thing aren’t necessarily the best for me (especially since I am hopeless at German– Ich sprecke nicht!), but in an emergency, if we were able to get our savings out of the country, I think we’d be able to retire without working to Spain, which I think I could handle.  I don’t want to be an ex-pat though– I am too patriotic.  I want to save my country instead.
  • DH found my faculty ID when he was sorting stuff for taxes.  Putting off getting a replacement for >6 months for the win!
  • I want to buy a t-shirt that says, “Dismal Scientist” but I may have to make one.
  • We bought silverware at a discount kitchen place when we were grad students.  After having my spoon bend again while eating ice cream, I decided that maybe it’s time to get a grown-up set of flatware.  After reading a lot of reviews, I determined that silverware sets have gone down in price quite a bit since we last shopped for them, but mainly because they’re really bad quality.  Lots of complaints about rusting and not being dishwasher safe for things that are supposed to be made of the highest quality material.  Pieces in the same sets aren’t standardized.  Production is mainly in Vietnam, Indonesia, and China, which wouldn’t be a problem except that there’s no quality control on the finished products, even from name-brands like Oneida and Lenox.  So we’re trying out the one remaining US manufacturer which is more expensive but seems to be getting pretty rave reviews.  You can get a set of 3 factory-seconds to try out different patterns for $8 (including shipping and handling), so that’s what we’re doing.  I’ll write a full post if it works out.  (Lots of the online reviews about it are in exchange for a free place setting, ours won’t be– they don’t know we exist.)
  • DH didn’t get an oxford comma joke that I showed him.  I had to explain what the Oxford comma was.  He still didn’t get it.  Readers, it was the first time I have ever questioned our marriage.  But then he said he always puts the comma there in a list so I said we could stay together.  Whew.
  • DC1 is better at piano now than I ever was.
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How do you remember to pay bills that aren’t billed?

Back in the day, like a month or two ago, I would write out the check for daycare when I was writing out the mortgage check, generally sometime after we got DH’s second payroll of the month but before I got my monthly pay.  It was a nice system.  I’d also do the piano lesson monthly check and the violin lesson check at the same time (both music lessons are supposed to bill us via email, but they don’t always get around to it before daycare is due).  Most of our other bills auto-bill to the credit card which makes life a lot easier.

Our credit card bills, although they get taken out of checking sometime in the second week of the month, actually come at a time that is completely inappropriate for trying to remember to pay the kids’ bills.  I don’t really want to change when we get them because that would also change when they take money out of the account, and I like when they’re situated right now.

So now I have to have some way of remembering that it’s the first of the month and we need to pay these bills.   This month what happened was on the 2nd of the month I dropped DC2 off at daycare (normally DH’s job) and as I walked out the door I noticed a sign reminding us to pay for the month (and that this month is silly sock Fridays).  Sadly, DH never looks at these signs even though he’s the most likely to see them.

DH did put a reminder on his phone google calendar as a back-up plan.  I might also do that on my work calendar, but I usually only look at that at work where I don’t have my checkbook, so it would just add to my mental clutter.

As for me, I need to pin the paying the daycare event to some other event.  It can’t be “I get paid” because that doesn’t happen during the summer (though that’s probably what I’ll be doing in the absence of other cues).  It can’t be “DH gets paid” because his first paycheck is too late and his second is way too early.  This month I’ll be looking for other end of the month/first of the month cues to see if paying the daycare can be added as a new habit.

I am strongly tempted to just prepay for the rest of the year, except that last time I did that the daycare went out of business.

How do you remember to pay bills that aren’t actually billed?

Sure are a lot of late link loves these days…

Keep fighting, everybody.  We can’t become complacent!  Share any activism thoughts in the comments.

Sessions needs to resign.  Al Franken for president.

Scott Pruitt lied under oath about using private email for state business.

Media’s response to the state of the union was ridiculous.  Apparently they have amnesia.  So ridiculous.  Seriously, just the previous day he suggested that Jews were calling in threats to JCC daycare centers and destroying their own centers as a false flag operation.

And the guy tapped to take Sessions seat is being bribed to stop investigating.  Because… the right wing is ultra-corrupt at every level, I guess.

Because of course he did

Trump’s ties to Russia in list form.  It is a long list.  So many people “going rogue

The female of the species is sometimes a male (or something else)…

Mike Pence used an AOL email account for state business and it got hacked.  Some of the emails contained information too sensitive to be released to the public.

Married to a citizen, father of citizens, deported without a hearing

Rob Portman is preventing democrats from attending his events

Two minute activism from AAUW

Stop salary histories. Pay equity.

The history of New Philadelphia, Illinois.

More on this in a future post…

Breakfast club social media

I think Megan is going to scoop me on that one.

Really cool jstor feature

Keeping up with the kattarshians


Ask the Grumpies: When to use a tax professional?

Linda asks:

I’m trying to decide if I should continue working with a tax professional for my 2016 filing year. I’ve been working with a tax pro for nearly 20 years now, but I feel like I do much of the grunt work of taxes by pulling all the data together and organizing it. If I just went one step further and filled out the forms, I could be done with the process and cut out the additional cost. If I’m guided by a good tax program, I shouldn’t miss any potential deductions or credits.

But I’m not sure if this is a good idea or a bad idea. So my questions to the grumpy nation are: What works for you: tax pro or personal preparation? Why do you choose to prepare your own taxes? Or, why do you choose to use a professional? If you prepare them yourself, do you use a tax program? Which one do you recommend?

#1’s family does not use a tax professional exactly for the reasons you say– pulling the data together and organizing it is the biggest time-sink and tax programs are pretty good these days.  We do make mistakes from time to time (previously mistakes have been on state taxes back when we lived in a state with complicated taxes), but we’re not sure that a tax professional would have been any better.

That said, #1 has a friend who has a much easier tax return but uses H&R block anyway because she wants their protection if a mistake is made or she’s audited.  For the risk averse, that makes sense.

#2 uses TurboTax

#1 used to use Turbo Tax but then there was that year where they messed up something that would have forced us to spend more money on a different package of their software for something small and stupid, so we switched to TaxAct.

Both our partners do the taxes instead of us.  Because doing taxes stresses #1 out and #2’s DH has weird stock whatevers that only he understands.

What are we reading

scandal by the ton:  none of the characters are particularly sympathetic, and the author isn’t big on authenticity, but this book was still pretty funny

Elizabeth Cole’s zodiac series– These are really good, and as of this typing, the first one is free!

life is too short to waste it reading about heroes who kiss unconscious strangers.  Lack of consent is Not romantic.  (Skipping too many books here.)

how to marry a royal Highlander by Vanessa Kelly was fun and amusing.

Fan Art by Sarah Tregay adorably reminiscent of Boy Meets Boy

Scot in the Dark by Sarah MacLean was just bad.  It started out with a promising first two chapters and then became boring and repetitious.  Heroine yells at hero.  Hero thinks to himself he’s not good enough for her because he’s just a sexy hunk of man-meat.  They do something stupid.  Rinse, lather, repeat.  Either this needed to be a novella or she needs a MUCH better editor because she doesn’t seem to realize she’s already had characters have that exact same conversation in a previous chapter.   It had a lot of potential.  They could have gotten together earlier on without the angst and had half the book be a heist… this would have been in line with some of her fallen angel series.  But no.  BORING boring boring with two characters who don’t seem to like each other except for each other’s bodies.  I am so glad the library had this and I didn’t make the mistake of buying it.

Kay Michaels has a series called the alphabet Regency Romances.  These are none of them great and are of varying quality.  The Tenacious Miss Tamerlane, The Playful Lady Penelope, and The Haunted Miss Hampshire all share a mildly amusing side character who only talks in quotations.  None of these have particularly sympathetic characters– you would not want to be stuck at any of the house parties or be raised by any of the couples, and everybody is pretty two-dimensional, but they’re still somewhat amusing.  Oddly, the Wagered Miss Winslow was actually pretty good with sympathetic characters and a reasonable plot.  I almost skipped it entirely because I hate wagered women books, but in this case she’s not actually wagered… it’s more complicated than that and completely reasonable.  Also, after reading Scot in the Dark it really hit the spot as the couple does get together (mentally and emotionally as well as physically) before the end of the book and spends the rest of it working together for a common goal.  The Belligerent Miss Boynton is worth skipping.  The best parts of it are stolen whole cloth from Heyer and the rest is kind of like Taming of the Shrew and the heroine’s agency is pretty much taken away and then she seems just fine with it for no good reason and then an ex-mistress becomes murderous for no good reason.  So meh.  The Lurid Lady Lockport was surprisingly good.  It’s a forced marriage book and is a bit questionable in terms of the husband’s beliefs about consent (the heroine is never assaulted, but he thinks about it) but the plot and puzzle mystery and side characters were remarkably interesting.  I found myself wanting to know what happened next and stayed up a bit too late finding out.  The rambunctious lady royston was an imitation of one of the worse Heyers with a bored 30-something getting together with a TSTL 17 year old.  Only with even less likable characters than in the original Heyer (where at least the heroine was sympathetic).  The mischievous Miss Murphy also worth giving a miss.  The hero is a jerk and there’s way too much focus on virginity as a woman’s source of value and power.

Kasey Michaels has later work as well, which is more modern–sort of balogh with a sense of humor, and a little suspense.  I really liked Then Comes Marriage, the third in a trilogy, and it is worth reading the second just in order to get the full enjoyment of this third book.  I skipped the first due to feeling meh about the plot and ratings (update:  read it, it was fun, but not necessary to enjoy the first two– a good library read).

Enjoyed Unspoken though it ends on a cliffhanger.  (#1 notes:  It is a trilogy and the third book gets mixed reviews– we haven’t read the next two books yet.)