Monday, December 14, 2009

Required Minimum Distribution Rules Change After This Year
NEW YORK, NY, December 7, 2009 -- "The 2008 tax legislation to give senior citizens a reprieve from the requirement to take 2009 required minimum distributions (RMDs) from employer-sponsored tax-qualified retirement plans and IRAs was a relief to many," says Lesli Laffie, tax analyst for the Tax & Accounting business of Thomson Reuters. "… However, there may be sound tax reasons to either take or stop taking RMDs before 2009 ends," she advises. "And, seniors who are well-off and charitably inclined may want to consider transferring up to $100,000 of IRA funds directly to charity before 2010."
The RMD Quandary
… In years other than 2009, the failure to take an RMD could trigger a 50 percent penalty on the undistributed RMD. The 2009 RMD 'holiday' is available to taxpayers who own or are beneficiaries of retirement plan accounts (generally, 401k, 403(b), or 457(b) plans), or who are traditional IRA owners or beneficiaries, or Roth IRA beneficiaries. The holiday means they can withdraw less than 100 percent of their RMDs for 2009, without incurring the penalty. The suspension without penalty applies only to RMDs otherwise required for 2009, not to RMDs for 2008 that had to be taken by April 1, 2009. Taxpayers who turned 70 1/2 in 2009 still must take an RMD by Dec. 31, 2010.
"There are a number of issues to bear in mind when deciding whether or not to withdraw in 2009," says Laffie. "For those who have inherited Roth IRAs, withdrawals are tax free, so the only decision for those beneficiaries is whether to leave or withdraw account assets."
Consider taking RMDs before 2009 ends if:
  • Your tax rate may be lower in 2009 than in 2010. … Rates are always subject to change, "but if a taxpayer believes he will be in a higher tax bracket in 2010 (due to higher income and/or fewer deductions), he may want to take RMDs in 2009 to incur tax at the lower rate," advises Laffie. In addition, a 2009 RMD would lessen the amount of future RMDs. "If a taxpayer anticipates that tax rates will go up in the future, acceleration of RMDs into 2009 may be an appropriate strategy."
  • You have offsetting deductions. Taxpayers with high 2009 deductions relative to income, such as medical expenses, may be able to offset an RMD, but will lose the part of the medical deduction that equals 7.5 percent of their adjusted gross income (AGI). A taxpayer with a charitable contribution deduction carryover that will expire soon, or with a net operating loss, may also be able to offset the increase in income from an RMD.
  • You receive social security. A taxpayer whose Modified AGI (MAGI) is below the level requiring taxability of social security payments should consider taking an RMD to the extent those payments will continue to escape taxation…
  • You decide to roll over the distribution into a Roth IRA. Because RMDs are not required for 2009, a 2009 withdrawal is not considered to be an RMD. Therefore, it can be rolled over into a Roth IRA (as long as MAGI does not exceed $100,000 or you are not married filing separately). …"In 2010, more lenient rules take effect in rolling over a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, but they won't apply to RMDs," notes Laffie.
Consider taking the RMD holiday (i.e., suspending RMDs) for 2009 if:
  • More of your social security payments will become taxable. Taxpayers receiving social security, but whose payments have not yet triggered 85 percent taxability (joint filers with MAGI under $44,000, or under $34,000 for singles and HOHs), should consider forgoing RMDs. …
  • Your income is high. If taking an RMD would subject you to a phaseout of itemized deductions and/or personal exemptions, it is probably beneficial to skip the RMD.
  • You have other sources of income to pay bills, and therefore do not need the RMD. …
"Skipping or taking the RMD holiday, or taking only partial RMDs, is an individual decision requiring analysis of various factors," advises Laffie. "Before 2009 ends, taxpayers should take a look at their overall tax picture and make the decision that's optimal for them."
Donating IRA Funds to Charity
Until the end of 2009, those age 70 1/2 and older can contribute up to $100,000 from their IRAs directly to one or more charities. This transfer is not included as income on the federal tax return. But you do not get a charitable deduction, and the withdrawal does not count as an RMD because RMDs are not required for 2009.
So why consider such a donation now? "For those who are very charitably inclined, the technique may hold appeal, in part because these donors won't reach the ceiling on charitable deductions," observes Laffie. "Also, by using IRA money to make the donation, a taxpayer retains more of his other savings for his own use. In addition, because the amount transferred isn't included as income on the federal return, it won't trigger deduction and/or exemption phaseouts. Finally, it may be a good strategy for people who don't itemize, because they are not losing out on a charitable deduction."
"While the RMD holiday and the ability to transfer IRA funds directly to charities end when 2009 ends, it's possible one or both of these tax breaks could be extended into 2010 or beyond," says Laffie.
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