How Will the SECURE Act Affect Your Retirement Savings?

Having passed the US House of Representatives and now moving quickly through the US Senate, the SECURE (Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement) Act appears to be on its way to soon becoming law. The SECURE Act will make numerous changes to how money is contributed to, and withdrawn from retirement accounts. While many of the Act’s provisions are administrative in nature, that is, they deal with the way retirement plans are administered, several provisions will directly affect retirement savings and withdrawals. Here are some of the more important ways the SECURE Act could affect your retirement savings:

First, the Act pushes back the time when retirement savers must begin taking distributions from their IRAs and other retirement accounts. Under current law, a person is required to begin taking retirement account distributions at age 70½, whether or not he or she wants to. The SECURE Act will push the age when required distributions must begin to age 72. This means that retirement savings may continue to grow untouched and untaxed for another year and a half before distributions must begin.

Next, the SECURE Act eliminates the age restrictions on IRA contributions. Americans are living and working longer. However, under current law a person may not contribute to an IRA after age 70½, even if still working. Under the SECURE Act, a person may continue to contribute to an IRA after age of 70½ if still working.

Finally, the SECURE Act changes the required minimum distribution rules with respect to IRA and other retirement account balances upon the death of the account owner. Under the Act, distributions to individuals other than the surviving spouse of the account owner, disabled or chronically ill individuals, individuals who are not more than 10 years younger than the account owner, or child of the account owner who has not reached the age of majority, are generally required to be distributed by the end of the tenth calendar year following the year of the account owner’s death.

Under current law, a non-spouse beneficiary of an IRA or defined contribution-type retirement account [such as a 401(k) or 403(b) account] may elect to “stretch” distributions from an inherited retirement account over his or her remaining life expectancy. For younger beneficiaries, this means that the remaining account balance has a longer time to grow tax deferred before being withdrawn, and the amounts withdrawn may be taxed at lower rates. The SECURE Act will accelerate distributions from inherited retirement accounts, reducing the time horizon for tax deferred growth and increasing the taxes that must be paid on the larger withdrawals.

This change will have an impact on beneficiary designations and estate plans, especially those situations in which a trust is named as a beneficiary of a retirement account.

Insofar as the SECURE Act will affect retirement saving and distributions in these and other ways, readers should plan to meet with a qualified legal or financial professional to determine the best way forward under the Act should it become law.

If you don’t have an attorney or financial planner, but would like to work with one, please give me a call. I can help.

NBI Seminar: What You Need to Know About Probate & Trust Administration

The National Business Institute (NBI) is offering a day-long seminar entitled “Probate & Trust Administration – What You Need to Know About Probate and Trust Administration,” on August 19, 2019, at the Wyndham Garden in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

(Full disclosure: I am one of the presenters.)

Program Description (From NBI):

Working through issues that arise through probate and trust administration can be daunting. Are you well-equipped with the tools you need to succeed? This insightful course will take you through steps in probate administration, including information on creditor and debt issues, tax and more. You will also get valuable insight on trust administration, including the handling of accounting, distributions and taxes. Don’t miss this opportunity to hone your probate and trust administration skills – register today!

  • Take a closer looks at the initial step for filing the estate.
  • Discuss what needs to be done to handle creditor claims and debts.
  • Make sure everything is in order for the final distribution of the estate.
  • Review what issues need to be addressed concerning taxes in probate administration.
  • Get the latest information on taxation concerns associated with trusts.
  • Explore the different types of trusts and how they are used.
  • Learn ways to manage, sell and distribute property and assets in trust administration.
  • Gain a better understanding of the distinctions between trust fiduciary accounting and income tax accounting.

This basic level seminar is designed for professionals who want to be more effective in the probate and trust administration process, such as:

  • Attorneys
  • CPAs and Accountants
  • Tax Professionals
  • Financial Planners and Wealth Managers
  • Trust Officers
  • Paralegals

Course Content:

  • Probate Process and Overview
  • Assets, Creditor Claims and Debt Considerations
  • Distributions, Final Accounting and Closing the Estate
  • Tax Issues in Probate Administration
  • Trust Taxation Issues
  • What You Need to Know About Trusts
  • Accounting/Distributions in Trust Administration
  • Ethics and Estate Administration

For more information and to register, please follow the link to:

“Probate & Trust Administration.”

Middle Aged Man Dies Leaving Substantial IRA With No Beneficiary – What Happens Next?

A client, “Susan,” contacted me recently to help settle the affairs of her recently deceased son, “Frank.” Frank owned a traditional IRA that has a fairly substantial balance. Unfortunately, Frank did not list a beneficiary for the account. Shelly is Frank’s only living heir. Frank was 57 when he died in 2018. What are Susan’s options with regard to Frank’s IRA?

Because Frank’s IRA had no identifiable beneficiary, by default the IRA is payable to his estate. And since Frank died before age 70½, a special 5-year rule applies to the distribution of his IRA. In general, the entire balance of Frank’s IRA must be distributed by December 31 of the year containing the fifth anniversary of Frank’s death. In this case, the entire balance of Frank’s IRA must be distributed by December 31, 2023.

An estate does not have a life expectancy, so distributions cannot be “stretched” beyond the 5 years. However, the entire account balance does not have to be taken in one distribution, it can be broken up over multiple years to reduce the taxes payable as long as the entire account balance is distributed before the end of the fifth year following the year of the account owner’s death.

(Now, had Frank died after April 1 following the year he attained the age of 70½, Susan would have been able to stretch distributions from Frank’s IRA to the estate over his remaining life expectancy, avoiding the special 5-year distribution rule.)

If the entire account balance is not withdrawn by the end of the fifth year following Frank’s death, then the IRS could impose a penalty equal to 50% of the balance remaining. The penalty could be waived by the IRS if it finds there was a reasonable basis for the error.

Failing to designate a beneficiary of an IRA (or other retirement account for that matter) is one of the costliest mistakes you can make. Two problems are created: First, because distributions cannot be “stretched” beyond 5 years, there is little tax-deferred growth that can be achieved in such a short period of time. Second, since distributions from the account must be accelerated, the larger distributions create larger income tax bills.

It always pays to double check beneficiary designations on your retirement accounts (and life insurance, too). I recommend at least annually. Make sure you have beneficiaries named on all of your accounts, and to make sure those beneficiary designations are up to date. Has a beneficiary died, or is there some other reason to replace a beneficiary? If so, update your beneficiary designations immediately.

Do you have an issue concerning distributions from a retirement account, or planning for distributions from a retirement account? If so, call me, I can help.

Costly IRA Rollover Mistake – Easily Made; Impossible to Fix.

The rules governing IRA accounts are maddeningly complex, especially the rules for inherited IRAs. I was working with a client on an issue involving the control of an inherited IRA account when I was reminded of a case that shows just how easy it is to make a mistake that cannot be fixed.

Mrs. Beech was the adult beneficiary of her deceased mother’s traditional IRA. The account was managed by a professional money management firm, Citi Smith Barney. Citi made two distributions to Mrs. Beech from the IRA – one for $2,828, and the second for $35,358. The larger distribution was made on May 23, 2008, and the check was made out to Mrs. Beech.

Mrs. Beech deposited the $35,358 into the inherited IRA with American Funds in June 2008. Mrs. Beech reported both distributions on her 2008 income tax return, and reported the smaller $2,828 amount as the taxable amount of the distribution. Thereafter, the IRS issued Mrs. Beech a notice of deficiency for income taxes due in the amount of $9,212 for the $35,358 distribution, plus penalties in the amount of $1,842. The deficiency and penalties were sustained by the United States Tax Court.

Wait a second! Mrs. Beech deposited the distribution check for $35,358 into a new inherited IRA account well within 60 days from the date the check was issued by Citi. What did she do wrong?

Amounts paid or distributed from a traditional IRA are generally includible in gross income by the recipient payee. The Internal Revenue Code (the “Code”) provides that a distribution is not includible in gross income if the entire amount of the distribution received by an individual is redeposited into a qualified IRA for the benefit of that individual within 60 days of the distribution. This redeposit is known as a “rollover contribution.”

However, rollover treatment is not available to a non-spouse beneficiary in the case of an inherited IRA. Any distribution from an inherited IRA is taxable if the distribution is paid to a non-spouse beneficiary. Under the Code, an IRA is treated as inherited if the individual for whose benefit the account or annuity is maintained acquired that account by reason of the death of another individual who was not his or her spouse.

In Mrs. Beech’s case, the $35,358 was paid from her mother’s IRA to Mrs. Beech as the named beneficiary. She then redeposited the funds into an inherited IRA account. Since the IRA account belonged to Mrs. Beech’s mother, it was deemed to be an inherited IRA for the benefit of Mrs. Beech and, therefore, rollover treatment was not available for the distribution.  The entire $35,358 distribution was taxable income to Mrs. Beech!

Mrs. Beech would not have been treated as having received a taxable distribution from an IRA, however, if the funds in the IRA were transferred directly from Citi to American Funds without her ever gaining control or use of the funds. This is commonly known as a “trustee-to-trustee transfer.”
A trustee-to-trustee transfer is the only way for the beneficiary of an inherited IRA to make a nontaxable transfer of funds in the IRA account.

What makes a case like Mrs. Beech’s so difficult is that there is no way in the Code for the mistake to be corrected. Once Citi issued the check, it became taxable income. Neither the tax court nor the Internal Revenue Service could grant Mrs. Beech any relief from the income taxes and penalties incurred for her mistake.

The lesson from Mrs. Beech’s mistake is that in every case where a non-spouse is the beneficiary of an IRA, a transfer should only be made via the trustee-to-trustee method to avoid income taxation of the transferred amount.

The case of Beech v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue can be read here.

IRA rules and regulations are extremely complex and costly mistakes can be easily made.  If you need help navigating the IRA rules and regulations, call me, I can help.

Year-End IRA Housekeeping

The end of the year is fast approaching, and with it several important deadlines for IRA account owners and beneficiaries. In my experience helping clients address year-end IRA matters, the following are the most problematic areas:

Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) Deadline:

December 31 is the deadline for taking RMDs from an IRA for an account owner who reached age 70½ before 2018. The RMD has to be withdrawn from the account before January 1. The account owner cannot merely request a distribution before year end. RMDs not withdrawn from the account are assessed a 50% penalty, in addition to regular income taxes. If you haven’t taken all of your RMDs yet for 2018, make sure you take them in time to avoid the 50% penalty.

RMDs for a Deceased IRA Owner:

If an IRA owner died in 2018 before all of his RMDs were taken for the year, the remaining RMDs must be paid to the account beneficiary before the end of 2018. This is not a pro-rated amount. The RMDs are calculated for the full year. This can often times be overlooked especially if the IRA owner died late in the calendar year. Undistributed RMDs from a decedent’s IRA are subject to the 50% penalty on missed distributions.

RMDs for Inherited Traditional IRAs or Roth IRAs:

A non-spouse beneficiary of an inherited IRA can elect to take annual RMDs over their remaining life expectancy. If they do, the first RMD distribution must be taken before December 31 of the year following the year of the IRA owner’s death, and then each year thereafter over their remaining life expectancy. If you are the beneficiary of an inherited IRA, you too must take an RMD before the end of 2018 if the account owner died in 2017 or earlier. Undistributed RMDs from an inherited IRA are also subject to the 50% penalty on missed distributions. This applies to the beneficiaries of Roth IRA accounts too. While a Roth IRA owner does not have to take distributions from a Roth IRA at any time, beneficiaries are subject to the same RMD rules as beneficiaries of traditional IRAs. So don’t get caught thinking you don’t have to take distributions from an inherited Roth IRA. You do!

Splitting Inherited Traditional IRAs or Roth IRAs:

If there are multiple beneficiaries of a traditional or Roth IRA account whose owner died in 2017, the account must be split into separate accounts for each beneficiary before December 31 of 2018. This is to ensure that each beneficiary gets to use his own life expectancy in determining annual RMDs for his share of the account. If the account is not split and the RMD taken before the end of 2018, the life expectancy of the oldest beneficiary will be used to calculate the annual RMDs for all of the beneficiaries. This results in younger beneficiaries paying more income taxes each year on their distribution from the account.

No “Still Working” Exception for Older and Still Working IRA Owners:

There is no “still working” exception to the RMD rules for traditional IRA owners who are still employed beyond age 70½. While an owner of a 401(k) account may work beyond age 70½ and delay RMDs from his 401(k) account while his employment continues, that same employee must take RMDs from his traditional IRA if he reached age 70½ before 2018. This includes owners of SEP-IRAs and SIMPLE IRAs.

While not exhaustive, these are the most common areas where mistakes are made.  Even if you’ve taken your RMDs for 2018, it won’t hurt to go back and review your situation and your math to avoid any negative consequences from unrealized errors.

The rules governing required distributions from IRAs are extremely complex.  The penalties for making a mistake can be severe.  If you need help navigating the year-end complexities of managing IRA distributions, please contact me.  I can help.

You Reached Age 70½ This Year, So When Must You Take Your First IRA Distribution?

We are approaching the end of the year and for many of you, 2017 is the first year you must begin taking a required minimum distribution from your traditional IRAs. As you may already know, the Internal Revenue Service rules require you to take a minimum distribution (known as “RMD”) from a traditional IRA each year once you reach age 70½. An RMD must be taken for the year in which you reach age 70½. The IRS rules allow you to delay that first RMD from your IRA to no later than April 1 following the year in which you reach age 70½. Thereafter, your annual RMD must be taken from the IRA no later than December 31. Let’s take a look at how these rules work in practice:

A client contacted me today with questions about taking the first RMD from his IRA. In my client’s case, he turned 70 in January of this year (2017). So he also reached age 70½ in 2017 (July). Under the applicable IRS rules, he must take an RMD for 2017 because that is the year he attained the age of 70½. While the ordinary deadline for taking the RMD from his IRA is December 31, he has the option of waiting to take the 2017 RMD until no later than April 1, 2018. There is a catch to waiting: He’ll also have to take an RMD for 2018 (before December 31, 2018), so he’ll have to take two distributions in 2018, one for his 2017 RMD and the second for the 2018 RMD. Doing so will increase his taxable income for 2018 resulting in a higher tax bill. To avoid this, he’ll have to take his 2017 RMD no later than December 31, 2017.  Fortunately, he still has time to decide whether to wait until 2018 to take the distribution.

To calculate his RMD, my client, like most IRA owners, will refer to the IRS uniform life expectancy table. To calculate his first RMD, he must also use the balance in the IRA as of December 31, 2016. He’ll use that balance even if he elects to defer taking his 2017 RMD until 2018 (remember, the distribution is for 2017). He’ll use the balance in the IRA as of December 31, 2017, to calculate his RMD for 2018.

If he fails to take his first RMD from the IRA before April 1, 2018 (or any subsequent RMD by the applicable December 31 deadline), the IRS will impose a penalty equal to 50% of the amount of the RMD that he should have taken out from his IRA for the year. Note, the RMD is the minimum that must be withdrawn from the IRA for the year, you can withdraw more than the RMD if you so choose.

The rules governing distributions from an IRA other other retirement account are extremely complex. Always work with a competent advisor.  If you are struggling with questions regarding retirement account distributions, give me a call, I can help.

Want to Dip Into Your IRA to Pay College Education Expenses? Read This First!

It’s time to get back to school for you or a family member. You may be looking for a way to pay a tuition bill and other school expenses and considering taking money out of your IRA to do so. Ordinarily you have to be over age 59½ to take a penalty free, but taxable, withdrawal from an IRA. There are exceptions to this rule, and one of those exceptions allows for penalty free withdrawals to pay for certain higher education expenses, but you have to follow the rules!

1. You can take a penalty free – but taxable – withdrawal to pay for “qualified higher education expenses.” These expenses include tuition, room and board, required books, supplies, and fees. (Computer and other technology purchases qualify, even if not required by the school.) There is no dollar limit that can be taken out of the IRA account, as long as the money is used for qualified higher education expenses. (You should maintain a record of all paid expenses, including receipts.)

2. The qualified higher education expenses must be incurred at an “eligible educational institution.” An eligible educational institution is any college, university, vocational school or other post-secondary educational institution eligible to participate in the federal student aid program. This includes all accredited public, private, nonprofit and proprietary post-secondary institutions. Expenses related to elementary or high school, public or private, are not eligible.

3. The IRA distribution may be used for qualified education expenses of the IRA owner, the owner’s spouse, or any child or grandchild of the owner or the owner’s spouse.

4. The education expenses must be incurred in the year you take the IRA distribution. So, you can’t take a distribution from your IRA in 2018 to cover an expense incurred in 2017. This is an important rule that trips up a lot of people.

5. The exception to the early distribution penalty for higher education expenses only applies to distributions from your IRA account. The exception does not apply to distributions from an employer plan. [401(k), 403(b), etc.]

6. You can take a distribution from your IRA to pay eligible higher education expenses, but should you? That is the bigger issue here. Your IRA is not a piggy bank. That money is for your retirement. I generally do not recommend taking any preretirement distributions from any retirement account to pay expenses or a debt for a couple of reasons.  First, even though the distribution escapes the 10% early withdrawal penalty, income taxes must be paid on the entire distribution. Second,  you lose the advantage of the tax deferred growth on the funds withdrawn from the IRA.  You simply won’t make that up even if you are able to replace the funds withdrawn later on. If you have other options available to pay college expenses, you should explore them first, even loans, before taking a distribution from an IRA.

There are other exceptions to the 10% penalty on pre-age 59½ IRA distributions.  We’ll explore those in a future post.

Transferring Company Stock From a 401(k) to an IRA? Don’t Forget The NUA!

So, you are newly retired and thinking about what to do with your employer sponsored 401(k) account.  The stock market has gone up quite a bit recently and you’re pleased with the value of your 401(k) (or other employer sponsored account) – especially the value of the company stock in your account. You may be thinking about transferring your 401(k) to an IRA for greater investment flexibility. Before you do, you may want to consider a nifty strategy to potentially save a bundle on income taxes.

The strategy involves the net unrealized appreciation (NUA) on the company stock in your 401(k). In a nutshell, NUA is the difference between the current market value of the company stock and the price originally paid for the stock (cost basis). This NUA may be eligible for favorable capital gains tax treatment when the company stock is sold.

If you roll over your 401(k) account, including the company stock, to an IRA, and then later take distributions from the IRA, the entire distribution (including any company stock) will be subject to income tax at your ordinary income tax rate. That rate could be as high as 39.6% just for federal income taxes depending upon your tax situation.

If, instead of transferring your account balance (including the company stock) to an IRA, you take a lump-sum distribution of the entire account balance, including the company stock (sometimes called an “in-kind” distribution), the distribution of the stock will be subject to income taxes, but you will only pay long term capital gains taxes (from 0% to 20%) on the NUA when the stock is sold (you’ll pay taxes at ordinary tax rates on the cost basis portion). If you are able to complete a tax-free rollover of the remainder of the distribution (less the company stock) to an IRA, the amount rolled over escapes income taxation. The NUA strategy will not work if the stock is liquidated inside the 401(k), or rolled over to an IRA.

In order to make the strategy work, you must take an in-kind distribution of the company stock from your company retirement account as part of a lump-sum distribution of the entire account balance.  The lump sum distribution must follow a “triggering event,” such as retirement or other separation from service, attainment of age 59½, death [yes, the beneficiary of an inherited 401(k) or other employer plan account can take advantage of NUA], or disability.  The entire balance of the account must be distributed – you can’t just take an in-kind distribution of the company stock.

For those with appreciated company stock in their 401(k) or other employer-sponsored account, taking advantage of the NUA rules can help save on income taxes when the stock is sold. But like any other income tax saving strategy, especially involving retirement plan distributions, it’s complicated, and it may not work in every situation. So, before you go ahead and transfer your 401(k) account with the company stock to an IRA, sit down and consult with a qualified professional who can help you determine whether the NUA strategy is right for you.

Think the NUA strategy may work for you? Give me a call, I can help.

5 Ways to Put Your Tax Refund to Good Use This Year.

Expecting a big, fat refund from the government this year? Rather than spending it on something frivolous, put it to a good long term use. Here are 5 effective ways to use your tax refund to improve your financial health:

1. Pay off a credit card. A tax refund can jump-start a debt repayment plan. If you carry a balance on a high interest (or any) credit card, use the refund to pay it off! And then use the money freed up every month to pay off another card balance. If you have no other credit card debt, then start paying yourself by banking the monthly savings.

2. Start an emergency fund. Many people live paycheck-to-paycheck with no financial cushion in case of an emergency. If you are one of them, it’s time to create an emergency fund – your own stash – for “just in case.” Who knows when the transmission on your car will need repair, or if you’ll have a medical emergency. These things happen when we least expect, or can afford them. An emergency fund will give you peace of mind and protect you should the unexpected occur.

3. Save for retirement. It’s never too late to start saving for your retirement. Use your refund to open an IRA (traditional or Roth), or consider upping your contribution to your 401(k) or other employer provided plan. Your refund can help make up the difference in your take home pay.

4. Start a college fund. If you have a child, consider starting a college savings account through a state-sponsored 529 college education savings plan. The money grows tax free, and when your child starts college, withdrawals used for qualifying education expenses are tax free. (Bonus – Michigan allows its residents a tax deduction for contributions to accounts under its program.)

5. Make a long neglected home repair. Roof worn out, furnace on its last leg, windows leaking or drafty?   Use the refund to make necessary home repairs.  Repairs can save you money in the long run in lower energy costs, improve your home’s livability, and even boost its market value.

December 31 Deadline Approaches For Mandatory Distributions From IRAs.

The December 31 deadline for taking required minimum distributions (RMDs) from individual retirement accounts is approaching.  One either takes the mandatory RMD from their IRA by year end or suffers the 50% excess accumulations penalty (plus interest!) on any required withdrawals that aren’t taken.

Generally, an IRA owner who is at least age 70½ must take an RMD from an IRA by December 31, 2014, with one exception. If the IRA owner happened to reach age 70½ in 2014, he can delay taking the 2014 RMD until April 1, 2015. But remember, if the distribution is delayed to next year, the IRA owner will have to take two distributions in 2015. (For those with substantial taxable income, delaying the 2014 distribution may have a significant impact on their income taxes for 2015, so proper planning is a must.)

So, who has to take an RMD from an IRA before year end? Let’s take a look at some of the more common situations:

If the owner of a traditional IRA is at least age 70½ by December 31, he must take a distribution. (But, if he did reach age 70½ this year, he can delay taking this year’s RMD until April 1, 2015.) (Roth IRA owners do not have to take RMDs – a prime benefit of a Roth IRA.)

For a non-spouse beneficiary of a traditional IRA, an RMD must be taken by year end – regardless of her age – if the account owner died before 2014.

For the surviving spouse who is the sole beneficiary of a traditional IRA, an RMD must be taken in 2014 if the deceased account owner would have reached age 70½ this year. If the account owner died in 2014 and he was age 70½ or older, the spouse beneficiary will have to take an RMD in 2015, the year after the account owner’s death.

If a taxpayer is under age 59½ and has set up a §72(t) distribution plan (“Series of Substantially Equal Periodic Payments”) from her IRA, she must take her full distribution by year end.

If an IRA owner died after April 1, 2014, and he was at least age 70½ at the time of death, he will have an RMD for 2014. The RMD must be taken by the account beneficiary if a beneficiary was designated. If no beneficiary was designated, the RMD is payable to the IRA owner’s estate.

We have focused only on traditional IRA accounts in this post. Special rules apply with regard to RMDs from multiple IRA accounts, and RMDs from other types of retirement accounts such as 401(k) and 403(b) accounts, which simply cannot be addressed here in a single post.

The rules governing required minimum distributions from IRAs and other retirement accounts are many, complex, and tricky.  If you are not sure whether you must take an RMD from an IRA or other type of retirement account this year, or how much to take out if you do, please consult with your tax advisor, or give me a call. I can help.