Important Facts to Know About IRAs

The individual retirement account (IRA) is one of the favored ways to save money for retirement. There are two types of IRAs: the traditional IRA and the Roth IRA. The annual maximum that an individual can be contributing between the two types of IRAs is $5,500, unless the individual is 50 years of age or older, and then the maximum is increased to $6,500. The basic contribution amount is inflation adjusted annually and the amount quoted is for 2017, while the additional amount for those 50 and older is fixed at $1,000. Contributions to an IRA may or may not be tax deductible depending on the type of IRA and, in some cases, the amount of the taxpayer’s income for the contribution year and whether the taxpayer participates in an employer’s retirement plan.

Compensation – In order to contribute to either type of IRA, the taxpayer must have compensation equal to the amount of the contribution. Compensation includes wages, tips, bonuses, professional fees, commissions and net income from self-employment. Alimony recipients may treat alimony as compensation for purposes of making IRA contributions. Also, members of the military receiving excludable combat pay may count the excluded amount as compensation for IRA purposes.

Active Participation in Another Retirement Plan – When an individual is an active participant in another retirement plan, such as an employer qualified pension, profit sharing or stock bonus plan, a qualified annuity, tax-sheltered annuity, government plan or simplified employee pension plan (SEP), the deductible IRA contribution is phased out for higher-income taxpayers. For 2017, the adjusted gross income (AGI) phaseout ranges are illustrated below.

Filing Status
Single and
Head of Household
Married Joint and
Surviving Spouse
Married Filing Separate
Phaseout Range
$62,000 to $72,000
$99,000 to $119,000
$0 to $10,000

There is a special rule for those who are married and filing jointly when one spouse is not an active participant in another retirement plan. That spouse’s phase-out range is increased to AGIs between $186,000 and $196,000.

Example: Sally, age 45 and single, is employed and her only income for 2017 is W-2 wages in the amount of $67,000. She is also an active participant in her employer’s 401(k) plan. She has no adjustments to her income, so her AGI for the year is also $67,000. Since she participates in her employer’s pension plan her IRA contribution is subject to the phaseout limitations. Her AGI is halfway through the phaseout range, so her deductible IRA contribution is limited to $2,750 (1/2 of $5,500). If Sally’s AGI had been $72,000 or more, she would not be able to make a deductible IRA contribution.

These phaseout limitations only apply to the deductible amount of a traditional IRA contribution. An individual can still contribute the full amount, limited by his or her compensation, but the excess amount is treated as a nondeductible contribution to the traditional IRA and establishes a basis. Then in the future, when an IRA distribution is taken, a prorated amount of the distribution will be nontaxable.

Nondeductible Contributions – In addition to making nondeductible contributions that are ineligible for IRA deductions due to active participation and income limits, an individual can also elect to treat otherwise deductible contributions as nondeductible. However, before making nondeductible IRA contributions, an individual should first consider a Roth IRA, discussed below, as an alternative.

Spousal IRA – An often-overlooked opportunity for maximizing IRA contributions is what is referred to as a “spousal IRA.” This allows a spouse with no or very little earned income to contribute to his or her IRA as long as the other spouse has sufficient earned income to cover them both.

Example: Tony is employed and his W-2 for 2017 is $100,000. His wife, Rosa, age 45, has a small income from a part-time job totaling $900. Since her own compensation is less than the contribution limits for the year, she can base her contribution on their combined compensation of $100,900. Thus, Rosa can contribute up to $5,500 to an IRA for 2017. Without this special rule, Rosa’s contribution would be limited to $900, the amount of her own compensation.

Roth IRA – An alternative to a traditional IRA is the Roth IRA. Whereas traditional IRAs provide a tax-deductible contribution and tax-deferred accumulation, Roth IRAs provide no tax deduction but have tax-free accumulation. Thus, when retirement distributions are taken from a Roth IRA, they are tax-free. On the other hand, those taken from a traditional IRA are fully taxable except for the non-deductible contributions discussed above.

However, contributions to Roth IRAs are never tax-deductible and the allowable contribution is phased out for higher income taxpayers, regardless of whether they actively participate in an employer’s retirement plan. For 2017, the adjusted gross income (AGI) phaseout ranges for Roth IRA contributions are illustrated below.

Filing Status
Single and
Head of Household
Married Joint
Married Filing Separate
Phaseout Range
$118,000 to $133,000
$186,000 to $196,000
$0 to $10,000

Example: Rosa, in the previous example, can designate her IRA contribution to be either a deductible traditional IRA or a nondeductible Roth IRA because the couple’s AGI is under $186,000. Had the couple’s AGI been $191,000, Rosa’s allowable contribution to a deductible traditional or Roth IRA would have been limited to $2,750 because of the phaseout. The other $2,750 could have been contributed to a nondeductible traditional IRA.

Back-Door Roth IRAs – Those individuals whose incomes are too high to qualify for a Roth IRA contribution can make a traditional IRA contribution and then convert the contribution to a Roth IRA using an IRA conversion process, discussed later in this article, available to all taxpayers of any income level.

Contribution Timing – Because income (AGI) limitations apply to IRAs, contributions can be made after the close of the year, giving taxpayers time to accurately determine their AGIs for the year and the correct amount of their IRA contributions. The contribution must be made no later than the unextended due date for filing a return, which is April 15. However, if the due date falls on a weekend or holiday, the due date is extended to the next business day. So, 2017 contributions must be made by April 17, 2018.

Penalties – There is a 6% penalty on amounts contributed to an IRA in excess of the allowable contribution amount. This penalty continues to apply annually until the excess is corrected. There is also a 10% early distribution penalty on the taxable amount withdrawn from an IRA before reaching age 59½. However, some or all of the 10% penalty is waived under certain circumstances, such as for first-time homebuyers, to pay for higher education expenses, to pay for medical insurance by some unemployed individuals or when a taxpayer becomes disabled. For those wishing to retire early, the penalty can also be waived if distributions are a series of substantially equal payments over the taxpayer’s life and continue until the taxpayer reaches age 59½ or for a minimum of five years, whichever is later.

Rollovers – From time to time a taxpayer may need to take funds from the IRA. If they are returned within 60 days, the distribution is not taxable and the 10% early withdrawal penalty will not apply. However, this is only allowed once in any 12-month period. This restriction does not apply to direct trustee-to-trustee transfers when the IRA owner is switching trustees or investments. CAUTION: All IRA accounts are considered one, so this rule applies collectively to all IRA accounts, meaning that an individual cannot make an IRA-to-IRA rollover if he or she has made such a rollover involving any of his or her IRAs in the preceding 12-month period.

Conversions – To take advantage of the tax-free benefits of a Roth IRA, an IRA owner can convert a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA any time, but taxes must be paid on the amount of the taxable traditional IRA funds converted to a Roth IRA. Timing is key when making a conversion, because one would want to do that in a low-income year or make a series of conversions so as to spread the income over a number of years. If contemplating a conversion, it should be accomplished as early in life as possible to provide a longer period of tax-free accumulation.

If an IRA conversion is made and then the IRA owner later regrets making the conversion, the Roth IRA can be recharacterized as a traditional IRA up to the extended due date of the return, which for a 2017 return would be October 15, 2018. Typical reasons for recharacterizing include not being able to pay the tax on the conversion or if the IRA has dropped in value after the conversion. Starting in 2018, this will no longer be permitted.

Retirement Distributions – For both traditional and Roth IRAs, distributions can begin once a taxpayer reaches age 59½ without penalty. For traditional IRA owners, once they reach age 70½ they must begin taking what is referred to as a minimum required distribution (RMD) each year. The minimum amount is based upon current age and the value of the IRA account. Roth IRAs are not subject to the RMD requirement. Failing to take a distribution of the required minimum amount may result in a 50% penalty of the amount that should have been withdrawn but wasn’t. However, the IRS will waive the penalty under certain conditions. TIP: In any post-retirement year when your income is below the taxable threshold, you have an opportunity to withdraw from the IRA tax-free. You should consider doing so even if you don’t need the income. You can put it away in a savings account until you do need it.

As you can see, the rules regarding IRAs are complex, and this article has only covered the most commonly encountered ones. Please give us a call if you would like to discuss how IRAs would apply to your particular circumstances or if you are in need of assistance planning for your retirement.

Converted Your Traditional IRA to a Roth IRA? Worried You May Have Done It Too Soon if Tax Reform Passes?

When you convert a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, you have to pay the tax on the conversion. However, individuals frequently do this so they can take advantage of future tax-free accumulations. Distributions from Roth IRAs are generally tax free, including any earnings (accumulations) while the account is a Roth account.

Are you considering converting your traditional IRA to a Roth IRA in 2017? Are you hesitant to do so because of uncertainty about the timing and specifics of the Administration’s and Congress’ proposal to cut tax rates for individuals? Have no fear, because you can convert your traditional IRA to a Roth IRA this year, and if tax reform passes with lower tax rates effective next year, you can undo the conversion for 2017 and then re-convert for 2018.

Tax law allows individuals who convert in one year to undo that conversion by a procedure referred to as recharacterization. The procedure has been used for years, primarily by individuals whose IRA funds are invested in stocks and who converted from their traditional IRA funds to a Roth IRA only to see the value of their Roth IRA decline after the conversion due to stock market fluctuations. Recharacterizations are also used by individuals who converted their traditional IRA to a Roth IRA and then found they could not or did not want to pay the conversion tax.

This same process can be used by anyone for any purpose. So, for example, if you converted your regular IRA to a Roth IRA in 2017 and tax reform is enacted effective in 2018, you can recharacterize (undo) your 2017 conversion back to a traditional IRA. However, the recharacterization must be accomplished by the extended due date of your 2017 tax return, which is October 15, 2018. If you choose to, you then can then reconvert the traditional IRA to a Roth IRA in 2018 and take advantage of the new lower tax rates.

Generally, you must wait at least 30 days to make the reconversion. However, if you make the recharacterization of the Roth IRA back to your a traditional IRA in 2017, you may not reconvert that amount from the traditional IRA to a Roth IRA before the beginning of 2018 or, if it is later, the end of the 30-day period beginning on the day on which you transferred the amount from the Roth IRA back to a traditional IRA by means of a recharacterization.

Example: For years, Jack has been making deductible traditional IRA contributions. Then, during the summer of 2017, Jack decided to convert $25,000 of those traditional IRA funds into a Roth IRA. After the conversion is completed, late in 2017, Congress passes and the president signs a tax reform bill that reduces Jack’s marginal tax rate in 2018. To take advantage of the lower tax rate, Jack recharacterizes (undoes) the conversion back to a traditional IRA for 2017 and then reconverts it back to a Roth IRA in 2018. To do that, Jack first transfers the $25,000 (plus earnings or minus losses since the original conversion) back to a traditional IRA by way of a trustee-to-trustee transfer (it’s OK for the transfer to be with the same financial institution). He could make the recharacterization as late as October 15, 2018, but chooses to do so on January 15, 2018. Then, after making the transfer back to the traditional IRA, Jack reconverts the amount back to a Roth IRA on Feb. 20, 2018.

For more information on recharacterizations and conversions, and how they might fit into your tax planning, please give us a call.

Want to Reduce Required Minimum Distributions and Extend Your Retirement Benefits?

If you are one of the boomer generation, and if you find that your required minimum distributions (RMDs) from qualified plans and IRAs are providing unneeded income (along with a high tax bill), or if you are afraid that the government’s RMD requirements will leave too little in your retirement plan for your later years, you can use a qualified longevity annuity contract (QLAC) to reduce your RMDs and extend the life of your retirement distributions.

The government allows individuals to purchase QLACs with their retirement funds, thus reducing the value of those funds (subject to the RMD rules) and in turn reducing the funds’ annual RMDs.

A QLAC is a deferred-income annuity that begins at an advanced age and that meets the stringent limitations included in the tax regulations. One benefit of a retirement-planning strategy involving QLACs is that they provide a form of longevity insurance, allowing taxpayers to use part of their retirement savings to buy an annuity that helps protect them from outliving their assets.

The tax-planning benefits of QLACs are twofold:

(1) Because the QLAC is purchased using funds from a qualified retirement plan or IRA, that plan’s year-end balance (value) is lowered. This causes the RMDs for future years to be less than they otherwise would be, as the RMD is determined by dividing the account balance (from 12/31 of the prior year) by an annuity factor that is based on the retiree’s age.

Example: Jack is age 74, and the annuity table lists his remaining distribution period as 23.8 years. The balance of his IRA account on 12/31/2016 is $400,000. Thus, his RMD for 2017 would be $16,807 ($400,000 / 23.8). However, if Jack had purchased a $100,000 QLAC with his IRA funds during 2016, his balance would have been $300,000, and his 2017 RMD would be $12,605 ($300,000 / 23.8). By purchasing the $100,000 QLAC, Jack would have reduced his RMD for 2016 by $4,202 ($16,807 – $12,605). This reduction would continue for all future years. Later, the $100,000 QLAC would provide retirement benefits, likely beginning when Jack reaches age 85.

(2) Tax on the annuity will be deferred until payments commence under the annuity contract.

A deferred-income annuity must meet a number of requirements to be treated as a QLAC, including the following:

Limitation on premiums – When buying a QLAC, a taxpayer can use up to the lesser of $125,000 or 25% of his or her total non-Roth IRA balances. The dollar limitation applies to the sum of the premiums paid on all QLAC contracts.

When distributions must commence – Distributions under a QLAC must commence by a specified annuity starting date, which is no later than the first day of the month after the taxpayer’s 85th birthday.

For additional details about how QLACs might fit into your retirement strategy, please give this office a call.

Thinking of Tapping Your Retirement Savings? Read This First

If you are looking for cash for a specific purpose, your retirement savings may be a tempting source. However, if you are under age 59½ and plan to withdraw money from a traditional IRA or qualified retirement account, you will likely pay both income tax and a 10% early-distribution tax (also referred to as a penalty) on any previously untaxed money that you take out. Withdrawals you make from a SIMPLE IRA before age 59½ and those you make during the 2-year rollover restriction period after establishing the SIMPLE IRA may be subject to a 25% additional early-distribution tax instead of the normal 10%. The 2-year period is measured from the first day that contributions are deposited. These penalties are just what you’d pay on your federal return; your state may also charge an early-withdrawal penalty in addition to the regular state income tax.

Thus, before making any withdrawals from an IRA or other retirement plan, including a 401(k) plan, a 403(b) tax-sheltered annuity plan, or a self-employed retirement plan, carefully consider the resulting decrease in retirement savings and increase in taxes and penalties.

There are a number of exceptions to the 10% early-distribution tax; these depend on whether the money you withdraw is from an IRA or a retirement plan. However, even if you are not subject to the 10% penalty, you will still have to pay taxes on the distribution. The following exceptions may help you avoid the penalty:

  • Withdrawals from any retirement plan to pay medical expenses – Amounts withdrawn to pay unreimbursed medical expenses are exempt from penalty if they would be deductible on Schedule A during the year and if they exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income. This is true even if you do not itemize.
  • Withdrawals from any retirement plan as a result of a disability – You are considered disabled if you can furnish proof that you cannot perform any substantial gainful activities because of a physical or mental condition. A physician must certify your condition.
  • IRA withdrawals by unemployed individuals to pay medical insurance premiums – The amount that is exempt from penalty cannot be more than the amount you paid during the year for medical insurance for yourself, your spouse, and your dependents. You also must have received unemployment compensation for at least 12 weeks during the year.
  • IRA withdrawals to pay higher education expenses – Withdrawals made during the year for qualified higher education expenses for yourself, your spouse, or your children or grandchildren are exempt from the early-withdrawal penalty.
  • IRA withdrawals to buy, build, or rebuild a first home – Generally, you are considered a first-time homebuyer for this exception if you had no present interest in a main home during the 2-year period leading up to the date the home was acquired, and the distribution must be used to buy, build, or rebuild that home. If you are married, your spouse must also meet this no-ownership requirement. This exception applies only to the first $10,000 of withdrawals used for this purpose. If married, you and your spouse can each withdraw up to $10,000 penalty-free from your respective IRA accounts.
  • IRA withdrawals annuitized over your lifetime – To qualify, the withdrawals must continue unchanged for a minimum of 5 years, including after you reach age 59½.
  • Employer retirement plan withdrawals – To qualify, you must be separated from service and be age 55 or older in that year (the lower limit is age 50 for qualified public-service employees such as police officers and firefighters) or elect to receive the money in substantially equal periodic payments after your separation from service.

You should be aware that the information provided above is an overview of the penalty exceptions and that conditions other than those listed above may need to be met before qualifying for a particular exception. You are encouraged to contact this office before tapping your retirement funds for uses other than retirement. Distributions are most often subject to both normal taxes and other penalties, which can take a significant bite out of the distribution. However, with carefully planned distributions, both the taxes and the penalties can be minimized. Please call for assistance.

Want To Make An IRA Contribution For 2016? You Still Have Time

If you wish to make an IRA contribution for 2016, you still have time. Contributions can be made up to the unextended due date of your tax return, which for 2016 is April 18, 2017.

There are several benefits to making an IRA contribution, the most important one being that you are putting money aside for your future retirement. The following is a rundown of the rules and tax tips relating to making IRA contributions and the potential tax benefits.

Age Rules – You must be under age 70 ½ at the end of the tax year to contribute to a traditional IRA. There is no age limit to contribute to a Roth IRA.

Compensation Rules – You must have taxable compensation to contribute to an IRA. This includes income from wages and salaries and net self-employment income. It also includes tips, commissions, bonuses and alimony. If you are married and file a joint tax return, only one spouse needs to have compensation in most cases.

When to Contribute – You can contribute to an IRA at any time during the year. For the contribution to count for 2016, you must contribute by the due date of your tax return. This does not include extensions. This means most people must contribute by April 18, 2017. If you contribute between January 1 and April 18 of 2017 for 2016, make sure your plan sponsor designates it as a 2016 contribution.

Contribution Limits – In general, the most you can contribute to your IRA for 2016 is the smaller of either your taxable compensation for the year or $5,500. If you were age 50 or older at the end of 2016, the maximum you can contribute increases to $6,500. If you contribute more than these limits, an additional tax will apply. The additional tax is six percent of the excess amount contributed that is in your account at the end of the year.

Deductibility – Contributions to a Traditional IRA are generally tax deductible, but the deductible amount phases out for taxpayers who are active participants in their employer’s retirement plan. (Box 13 on your W-2 form from your employer will be checked if you are an active participant in your employer’s plan.) A higher phaseout threshold applies to unemployed spouses who make contributions based on the other spouse’s income. For 2016, the adjusted gross income (AGI) phaseout range is:

Filing Status Phaseout Threshold Fully Phased Out
Unmarried
$61,000
$71,000
Married Filing Jointly
$98,000
$118,000
Married Filing Separately
$0
$10,000
Spousal IRA
$184,000
$194,000

If you can deduct the Traditional IRA contribution, it will lower your AGI, taxable income and tax liability. The amount of your AGI is used to limit certain other deductions and tax credits. So deductible IRA contributions are a way to reduce your AGI and potentially increase other deductions and credits. For example, if you are obtaining your health insurance from a Government Marketplace, lowering your AGI could actually increase the amount of your premium tax credit that helps to pay for your insurance.

Saver’s Credit – For lower income taxpayers, there is a tax credit that helps you pay for your IRA contribution. The credit is a percentage of your IRA contribution ranging from 50% to 10% of your first $2,000 of IRA contributions. If you are married, it applies to each spouse individually. For 2016, the credit applies to married taxpayers with an AGI less than $61,500, single taxpayers under $30,750 and head of household filers under $46,125.

Choosing Between Traditional & Roth IRAs – Generally distributions (except for non-deductible contributions) from Traditional IRAs are taxable, while distributions from Roth IRAs are tax-free.

For more details on how an IRA contribution will impact your 2016 tax return, please give this office a call. We can also determine the effect at your tax appointment.

Little-Known Tactic Increases Child Care Credit

When both spouses in a married couple are jointly involved in the operation of an unincorporated business (generally a Schedule C), it is fairly common – but incorrect – for all of that business’s income to be reported as just one spouse’s income, even when they both work in the business.

In such cases, the spouse not taking credit for his or her portion of the earned income loses out on the chance to accumulate his or her own eligibility for Social Security benefits. In addition, to claim a child care credit, both spouses on a joint return must have earned income (or imputed income if one of the spouses is a full-time student or is disabled), so unless the spouse not including a portion of the income from the joint business has another source of earned income, the couple will not be allowed a child care credit.

There are ways to remedy this situation, however. One option is to file a partnership return for the activity, in which case each spouse will receive a K-1 that reports his or her share of the net profit. An approach that avoids the necessity of filing a partnership return, and that is probably less complicated, is a qualified joint-venture election, in which each spouse elects to file a separate Schedule C for his or her respective share of the business. This gives them both self-employed income for the purposes of the self-employment tax and for claiming the child care credit.

A qualified joint venture refers to any joint venture involving the conduct of a trade or business if:

(1) The only members of the joint venture are husband and wife,
(2) Both spouses materially participate in the trade or business, and
(3) Both spouses elect to apply this rule.

Generally, to meet the material participation requirement, each spouse will have to participate in the activity for 500 hours or more during the tax year.

If the net income from the business exceeds the annual cap on income subject to the Social Security tax, the combined self-employment tax for the spouses with split Schedule Cs will exceed what a single spouse would have paid if he or she had filed a single Schedule C.

An additional benefit when filing split Schedule Cs is the opportunity for both spouses to participate in IRAs and self-employed retirement plans.

If you have questions about how splitting the business income between spouses might apply to your specific situation, please contact this office.

Taking Advantage of Back-Door Roth IRAs

If you are a high-income taxpayer who cannot contribute to a Roth IRA due to income limitations, there is a work-around that will allow you to fund a Roth IRA.

High-income taxpayers are limited in the annual amount they can contribute to a Roth IRA. In 2016, the allowable contribution phases out for joint-filing taxpayers with an AGI between $184,000 and $194,000 (or an AGI between $0 and $9,999 for married taxpayers filing separately). For unmarried taxpayers, the phaseout is between $117,000 and $132,000. Once the upper end of the range is reached, no contribution is allowed for the year.

However, those AGI limitations can be circumvented by what is frequently referred to as a back-door Roth IRA. Here’s how it works:

  1. First, you contribute to a traditional IRA. For higher-income taxpayers who participate in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, a traditional IRA is allowed but is not deductible. Even if all or some portion is deductible, the contribution can be designated as not deductible.
  2. Then, since the law allows an individual to convert a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA without any income limitations, you now convert the non-deductible Traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. Since the Traditional IRA was non-deductible, the only tax related to the conversion would be on any appreciation in value of the Traditional IRA before the conversion is completed.

Potential Pitfall — There is a potential pitfall to the back-door Roth IRA that is often overlooked, that could result in an unexpected taxable event upon conversion. For distribution or conversion purposes, all of your IRAs (except Roth IRAs) are considered as one account and any distribution or converted amounts are deemed taken ratably from the deductible and non-deductible portions of the traditional IRA, and the portion that comes from the deductible contributions would be taxable.

This may or not may affect your decision to use the back-door method but does need to be considered prior to making the conversion.

There is a possible, although complicated, solution. Taxpayers are allowed to roll over or make a trustee-to-trustee transfer of IRA funds into employer qualified plans if the employer’s plan permits. When permitted, such rollovers or transfers are limited to the taxable portion of the IRA account, leaving behind the non-taxable contributions, which can then be converted to a Roth IRA without any taxability.

Please call this office if you need assistance with your Roth IRA strategies or in planning traditional-to-Roth IRA conversions.

Time for Baby Boomers to Pay Up

All you baby boomers who have been stashing away tax-deferred retirement savings, take note: it is getting close to the time to start withdrawing funds from those accounts and, of course, paying taxes on those withdrawals. This includes distributions from traditional IRAs and 401(k)s.

The same Internal Revenue Code that allowed you to save tax dollars when you contributed to those tax-deferred retirement plans also generally requires you to begin withdrawals on the year you reach age 70½. These distributions are called required minimum distributions (RMDs) and are based on annuity tables. Generally, most individuals will utilize the single life table, but the joint life annuity tables are used if the individual’s spouse is more than 10 years younger.

Keep in mind that you can always take as much as you wish from your tax-deferred retirement accounts, but you must take the RMD amount each year, beginning with the year you turn age 70½, or you will be subject to a very severe penalty, which we will discuss later. One exception is that you can delay the payout for the year you become 70½ until no later than April 1 of the following year. However, since you will also need to make an RMD for that following year, you will end up with two years’ worth of distributions being taxed in one year if you use the delayed distribution option.

The following is an abbreviated single life table. The actual table goes to age 111.

Age 70 71 72 73 74 75
Distribution Period (Years) 27.4 26.5 24.7 24.7 23.8 22.9

Required Minimum Distribution – To determine an RMD, first determine the distribution period (life expectancy) based on your current age. So, for the year you turn 70½, the distribution period would be 27.4 years. Next, determine the retirement account’s balance on December 31 of the prior year. The account balance divided by the distribution period equals the RMD. For example, say you will turn age 70½ in 2016 and your tax-deferred retirement account had a balance of $500,000 on December 31, 2015. Your 2016 RMD would be $18,248 ($500,000/27.4).

Failure to Take an RMD Penalty – When the full amount of an RMD is not taken, the penalty is 50% of the amount you didn’t withdraw. Luckily, the IRS is very lenient on this penalty and will generally waive it when an under-distribution is inadvertent or due to ignorance of the law, provided that the RMD amounts are made up as soon as possible once the error is discovered. Avoid RMD problems by having your account custodian or trustee determine the RMD annually and then transfer the distribution directly to your checking, savings or non-retirement plan brokerage account.

Multiple Retirement Accounts – When you have multiple accounts, the question often is, “Which account should I take the RMD from?” All traditional IRAs are treated as one for distribution purposes. So, you can take the RMD for the IRA accounts from any combination of the accounts that you choose. However, that may cause a problem with a trustee of the IRA account(s) from which you didn’t take a distribution, who may think you didn’t take your RMD for the year. So, it is less problematic to take a distribution from each account.

You may wish to simplify the RMD distributions by transferring all of your traditional IRAs into one account, if you have several traditional IRAs. This is best done by having the trustees make direct transfers to the target IRA, rather than you receiving the distributions and then rolling over the funds, since you are only allowed one IRA rollover each twelve months (trustee-to-trustee transfers don’t count as rollovers). Note that spouses must maintain their accounts separately and cannot combine their accounts with yours when figuring RMDs.

If you have a 401(k) account, the RMD for it must be figured separately from any IRA accounts you also have. And, if you have multiple 401(k)s, each 401(k) account’s RMD is figured separately from those of your other 401(k) plans.

Non-Taxable Amounts – If your tax deduction for the contribution was limited when you made your traditional IRA contribution because you were a high-income taxpayer, you would have created a non-taxable basis in your IRA. If this is true, then that non-taxable basis is recovered tax-free in proportion to your distribution.

Roth Conversions – The ability of individuals to convert amounts of their traditional IRAs to Roth IRAs gives rise to some possible tax-saving moves in the years leading up to the RMD age. Things to consider are:

  • Is you tax bracket lower now than it will be after retirement? If so, you might consider converting some portion of your traditional IRA to a Roth IRA now. You will pay tax on the traditional IRA distribution in the year of the conversion, but when you withdraw it from the Roth IRA, it will be tax-free.
  • If you have a low-income year for some reason, and if you are age 59½ or older, it might be appropriate to take a distribution in that year and pay little or no tax. You won’t get a credit against a future RMD by doing so but you will be lowering the balance in the account for the eventual calculation of RMDs.

These types of strategies require careful planning, and you should consult this office first.

Effect on Taxable Income Once RMDs Start – Your taxable income may be increased by more than just the amount of the RMD. Adding your RMD to your income that is already taxed will increase your adjusted gross income (AGI); as a result, the amount of your Social Security benefits that is taxed may also increase. In addition, since the AGI is the amount on which the phaseout or reduction of many tax deductions is based, you may also find that you are getting less tax benefit from such items as medical expenses, charitable contributions, and investment-related expenses – all of which means your tax bill will go up by more than it otherwise would by just adding the RMD to your income.

Plan for Additional Withholding or Estimated Tax – Once you start taking distributions from your IRA or 401(k), and to avoid a potential underpayment of tax penalty, you will likely need to increase your tax prepayments, either by having federal (and possibly state) income taxes withheld from the distributions or by making quarterly estimated tax payments. If you already make estimated tax payments, you may need to increase the installment amounts.

If You Don’t Need the RMD – If you simply don’t need the retirement distribution, after reaching age 70½, you can donate up to $100,000 of IRA funds per year to a qualified charity without having to include the distribution in your income, and it will still count towards your RMD. If you are married and your spouse has an IRA and is also 70½ or older, he or she may also make a charitable IRA distribution of up to $100,000. So, if you are someone who gives substantial amounts to charity each year, this is a distribution strategy you may want to consider after reaching RMD age. CAUTION: To qualify under this provision, the funds must be directly transferred from the IRA account to the charity.

RMD issues can be quite complicated, and it is highly suggested that you consult with this office for pre-RMD planning, determining the correct RMD amounts, and analyzing your withholding and/or estimated tax obligations.

Back-Door Roth IRAs

Many individuals who are saving for retirement favor Roth IRAs over traditional IRAs because the former allows for both accumulation and post-retirement distributions to be tax-free. In comparison, contributions to traditional IRAs may be deductible, earnings are tax-deferred, and distributions are generally taxable. Anyone who is under age 70.5 and who has compensation can make a contribution to a traditional IRA (although the deduction may be limited). However, not everyone is allowed to make a Roth IRA contribution.

High-income taxpayers are limited in the annual amount they can contribute to a Roth IRA. The maximum contribution for 2016 is $5,500 ($6,500 if age 50 or older), but the allowable 2016 contribution for joint-filing taxpayers phases out at an adjustable gross income (AGI) between $184,000 and $194,000 (or an AGI between $0 and $9,999 for married taxpayers filing separately). For unmarried taxpayers, the phase-out is between $117,000 and $132,000.

However, tax law also includes a provision that allows taxpayers to convert their traditional IRA funds to Roth IRAs without any AGI restrictions. Although deductible contributions to a traditional IRA have AGI restrictions (for those who are in an employer’s plan), nondeductible contributions do not.

Thus, higher-income taxpayers can first make a nondeductible contribution to a traditional IRA and then convert that IRA to a Roth IRA. This is commonly referred to as a “back-door Roth IRA.”

BIG PITFALL: However, there is a big pitfall to back-door IRAs, and it can produce unexpected taxable income. Taxpayers and their investment advisers often overlook this pitfall, which revolves around the following rule: For distribution purposes, all of a taxpayer’s IRAs (except Roth IRAs) are considered to be one account, so distributions are considered to be taken pro rata from both the deductible and nondeductible portions of the IRA. The prorated amount of the deducted contributions is taxable. Thus, a taxpayer who is contemplating a back-door Roth IRA contribution must carefully consider and plan for the consequences of this “one IRA” rule before making the conversion.

There is a possible, although complicated, solution to this problem. Rolling over IRAs into other types of qualified retirement plans, such as employer retirement plans and 401(k) plans, is permitted tax-free. However, a rollover to a qualified plan is limited to the taxable portion of the IRA. If an employer’s plan permits, a taxpayer could roll the entire taxable portion of his or her IRA into the employer’s plan, leaving behind only nondeductible IRA contributions, which can then be converted into a Roth IRA tax-free.

Before taking any action, please call this office to discuss strategies for making Roth IRA contributions or to convert existing traditional IRAs into Roth IRAs.

Don’t Have a Retirement Plan? Maybe a SEP Is the Answer

If you are like many small business owners, you probably find the year-end period to be a very busy time. You can’t close your books and determine your business’s profit until after the close of the year, and if this has been a good year, you may want to establish a retirement plan and make a contribution for 2015.

There are a number of retirement plan options available, including Keogh plans and 401(k)s. However, a simplified employee pension plan (SEP) may be your best option. Unlike with a Keogh plan, you don’t have to scramble to get a SEP established before year-end.

The reason a SEP is “simplified” is that its retirement contributions are deposited into an IRA account under the control of the SEP participant, thus eliminating most of the employer’s administrative duties. That is why these plans are sometimes referred to as SEP-IRAs.

Simplified Retirement Plan

SEPs function much like Keogh plans, and they allow tax-deductible contributions for both employees and self-employed individuals. For an employee, the maximum contribution for 2015 is the lesser of 25% of that employee’s compensation or $53,000. These contributions are excluded from the employees’ wages and are not subject to withholding for income tax or FICA. A self-employed person can contribute 25% of his or her compensation after deducting the employer’s contribution, which boils down to the smallest of 20% of the business’ net profit or $53,000. Each year, the employer can specify a compensation amount between zero and 25% (not exceeding the maximums for the year).

SEPs are a great option for startups and other small businesses that have unpredictable income and that may be leery of the long-term contribution matches required with other types of retirement plans. SEPs are also a great option for self-employed individuals with no employees, as the contributions are based upon net profits, allowing the business owner to select the maximum percentage while knowing that the required contribution will be small in low-income years.

Except for when employees are covered by collective bargaining agreements, an employer that elects to make a SEP contribution for the year must contribute to an employee’s retirement account if the employee is at least 21 years of age, has worked for the employer in at least three of the prior five calendar years, and has compensation for the year of at least $600.

Another advantage of SEP plans is that contributions are allowed after the account owner has reached the age of 70½—the age limit for traditional, non-SEP IRA contributions. This is true even though individuals must begin the required minimum distributions (RMDs) from the SEP once age 70½ is reached.

As with all traditional IRAs and qualified plans, distributions from a SEP are taxable and subject to a 10% early withdrawal penalty if withdrawn before age 59½.

To set up a SEP plan, you can adopt the IRS model plan by using Form 5305-SEP. This form is completed and retained for your records (not filed with the IRS). You can also open one with a financial institution. It may be prudent to adopt whatever plan is offered by the financial institution you’ll be dealing with to ensure that all plan requirements are met. If using a financial institution’s plan, be sure to discuss the plan’s fees.

A SEP may be the best option for your business’s retirement fund. Please call this office for more information on how a SEP plan might work for your particular business structure or to determine whether other options should be considered.