Monday, February 27, 2012

New Annuities Allowed Inside a Retirement Plan

On February 2, 2012 the IRS published proposed Regulations concerning QLACs – qualified longevity annuity contracts. These contracts would be purchased by and held within your 401(k), 403(b), 457 and IRA accounts.
NOTE: Roths however are not permitted to own a QLAC. Can you guess why? (The answer is below).
Longevity annuities provide life annuity payments, typically starting at age 80 or 85. In many cases, the life annuity is the only benefit the contract provides. As such, these are specialized contracts to aid against outliving your savings. The IRS requires certain bells and whistles before deeming them “qualified” to be owned inside your retirement account.
Why would someone put an annuity inside a retirement account? The IRS has given us at least one very good reason.
You can delay the minimum distribution rules (MRD) on a QLAC. Yes, you read that correctly. Normally, you have to begin taking distributions in the year you reach age 70 ½. A QLAC allows you to defer distributions until and no later than the month following your 85th birthday.   
How will the minimum distribution rules work with a QLAC? You may remember that the normal rule for an MRD is to divide the retirement account balance by an IRS-provided factor for your age. The IRS is allowing you to exclude the QLAC from the balance in the retirement account.
EXAMPLE: If your account is worth $850,000, of which $95, 0000 is a QLAC, you will compute your MRD on $755,000 ($850,000 - $95,000).
The proposed regulations provide that the only QLAC benefit permitted after death is a life annuity. If the contract provides an annuity for a term certain or for a refund of premiums, it will not qualify as a QLAC.
There are restrictions; this is the tax code, after all. Premiums you pay for a QLAC are limited to the lesser of $100,000 or 25% of your retirement account. Bad things happen if you exceed this, so do not exceed the limit.
ANSWER: So why are Roths not permitted to own QLACs? Simple. Roths have no minimum distribution requirement.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

IRS Refund Processing Delays

If you are wondering whether the IRS is taking longer to process and issue refunds, you are correct. This has been aggravated by a glitch in the “Where’s My Refund?” tool on the IRS website. The glitch occurs when you file your return electronically, wait a few days and then go to “Where’s My Refund,” which tells you that the IRS is not aware of your return. This is unnerving, of course. It is also incorrect.
What has occurred is that the IRS is tweaking its filters to counter identity fraud. Each year the IRS revises the Electronic Fraud Detection System (EFDS) to reflect fraud patterns detected the previous filing season. Last year, for example, over one million returns were flagged. The returns then go to personnel for review, and therein is the problem. There are not enough people to review the returns.  The ideal time for identity theft is early in the filing season, as the thief is trying to beat you to your refund. The IRS therefore has its fraud filters at their highest setting early in the season.
The IRS has released the customary “we are working on it” statement. It has also reinforced its commitment to getting refunds out within 21 days or less.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The President’s Budget Tax Proposals

The President delivered his proposed budget for fiscal 2013 this Monday. The budget included as one of its five tax “reform” principles the following:
  • Simplify the Internal Revenue Code
Sounds good. Here are some proposed tax “simplifications”:
  • Provide a temporary 10% tax credit for new jobs and wage increases
  • Provide additional tax credits for investment in advanced energy manufacturing
  • Provide tax credit for energy-efficient commercial building property expenditures
  • Reform and extend Build America Bonds
  • Provide for automatic enrollment in IRAs, including a small-employer tax credit
  • Expand the earned income tax credit for larger families
  • Expand the child and dependent care tax credit
  • Provide tax incentives for locating jobs and business activity in the United States
  • Provide new manufacturing communities tax credit
  • Target the domestic production deduction to domestic manufacturing activities
  • Provide a tax credit for the production of advanced technology vehicles
  • Provide a tax credit for medium- and heavy-duty alternative-fuel commercial vehicles
  • Modify certain energy incentives
  • Eliminate capital gains taxation on investments in small business stock
  • Expand the tax credit provided to qualified small employers for nonelective contributions to employee health insurance
  • Extend and modify the new markets tax credit
  • Designate growth zones
  • Provide tax incentives for transportation infrastructure
  • Modify tax-exempt bonds for Indian tribal governments
  • Allow current refundings of state and local governmental bonds
  • Reform and expand the low-income housing tax credit
  • Defer deduction of interest expense related to deferred income of foreign subsidiaries
  • Determine the foreign tax credit on a pooling basis
  • Tax currently excess returns associated with transfers of intangibles offshore
  • Limit shifting of income through intangible property transfers
  • Disallow the deduction for nontaxed reinsurance premiums paid to affiliates
  • Limit earnings stripping by expatriated entities
  • Modify tax rules for dual capacity taxpayers
  • Tax gain from the sale of a partnership interest on a lookthrough basis
  • Prevent use of leveraged distributions from related foreign corporations to avoid dividend treatment
  • Extend Sec. 338(h)(16) to certain asset acquisitions
  • Remove foreign taxes from a Sec. 902 corporation’s foreign tax pool when earnings are eliminated
  • Require a certified taxpayer identification number (TIN) from contractors and allow withholding if the contractor does not provide a TIN
  • Require e-filing by any entity that must file Schedule M-3
  • Authorize Treasury to require additional information to be included in Form 5500, Annual Return/Report of Employee Benefit Plan
  • Allow the IRS to require prospective reclassification of misclassified workers
  • Extend the statute of limitation where a state adjustment affects federal tax liability
  • Require taxpayers who prepare their returns electronically but file their returns on paper to print a 2D bar code
  • Impose a penalty on failure to comply with electronic filing requirements
Don’t worry too much about this. The Senate hasn’t passed a budget in years.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Senator Baucus Wants To End Stretch IRAs

Congress is looking to take away a planning option for IRAs as it seeks more money to fund its spending.
The proposal was snuck into the Highway Investment, Job Creation and Economic Growth Act of 2012. The bill was heard by the Senate Finance Committee, and Chairman Max Baucus (D., Mont.) recommended a provision curtailing the use of “stretch” IRAs.
What is a “stretch” IRA? Say you leave your IRA, or part of your IRA, to your son and daughter. Upon your passing, they take over (separate) IRA accounts. They cannot wait until 70 ½ to begin distributions, as these are inherited IRAs. They have to begin distributions by December 31 of the year following your death, but they are allowed to reset the distribution period to their own life expectancy. This allows the opportunity to have the IRA compound – or “stretch” – over their much longer life expectancy.
Truthfully, the numbers can be astounding. Consider a 78 year-old grandfather passing a $100,000 IRA to his granddaughter, who, upon her passing, transfers the remaining stretch IRA to her son or daughter. This wealth compounding is a reason financial planners like to work with stretch IRAs.
It is of course unpalatable to allow one to decide how to distribute the monies in his/her IRA, so Sen. Baucus has stepped-in to decide this matter for you. Under his proposal, most nonspouse inheritors would have to withdraw the entire amount from the traditional IRA over a period of five years. There would be exceptions for beneficiaries who are disabled, chronically ill, a minor, or a beneficiary no more than 10 years younger than the IRA owner.
Roth IRAs would remain unchanged. Nonspouse beneficiaries must begin distributions from the Roth by December 31 of the year after inheriting, but they can draw these out over their own expected life expectancies.
Why are people concerned? Here is a statistic: approximately 40% of the stock market is tied-up in 401(k)s, 403(b)s, IRAs and similar vehicles. It is an attractive target.

Form 1099-K Reconciliation Cancelled

The IRS has decided that businesses will not be required to reconcile their gross receipts with merchant card transactions reported on the new 1099-K form.

Steven T. Miller, IRS deputy commissioner for services and enforcement, wrote to the National Federation of Independent Business that no reconciliation will be required on 2012 or future business tax returns. Last October the IRS had earlier said that no reconciliation would be required for only the 2011 tax returns.

In the way of history, the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 required the IRS to begin collecting a new Form 1099-K from payment-settlement entities, such as credit card companies, for merchant transactions such as credit and debit card payments. The payment settlement entity is required to issue a 1099-K to a merchant if the merchant’s business for the previous year exceeded either $20,000 or 200 transactions.

Why would businesses complain? Well, for one, if the taxpayer identification number and legal name do not match with IRS’s files, there is back-up withholding of 28% of the transaction. How is the business to account for refunds or returns? For sales taxes? How is the 1099-K to be reconciled with accounting systems which are geared to track sales by product or type, not by payment type? How will one account for fiscal years, when the 1099-K’s will all be on a calendar year? And who is going to pay for the accountant to reconcile all this nonsense?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Couples Must Now File Separate Powers of Attorney

Starting March 1, 2012 married couples will have to file separate powers of attorney for their tax representative.
It used to be that both spouses could sign one power naming a representative. You may recall that you signed near the top of page 2. That has changed because of increased sensitivity to privacy and data security.
There is another change on the power, but the change applies to tax representatives. The representative must now include his/her PTIN on the power. Tax advisors may remember that the IRS has discussed increased practitioner enforcement, including automatic referral to the Office of Professional Responsibility of a practitioner associated with a substantial understatement penalty. The PTIN is a way to identify a specific return to a specific tax preparer.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Backdoor Roth IRA

The following question came up recently:
I make too much money to contribute to a Roth. Is there another way to make an additional contribution to my retirement savings?
How much is too much money? If you are single the upper limit is $122,000. If you are married the upper limit is $179,000. We are assuming, by the way, that you are covered by a plan – say a 401(k) - at work.
So what do you do?
Fund a nondeductible IRA. What is this? It is the third “flavor” of an IRA. We all know the regular IRA, where you put away money, deduct it on your tax return and pay tax on the monies down the road when you take the money out. For a Roth, you put away money, take no deduction but pay no tax when you take out the money. Then there is the nondeductible. You get no deduction and the money is (partially) taxable when you take it out.
For example, say that you put away $50,000 in nondeductibles which are worth $250,000 when you start drawing. The withdrawal is 20% nontaxable ($50,000/$250,000). Another way to say this is that 80% will be taxable.
Nondeductibles are the stepchild of IRAs. You want to fund a Roth (if you can) before considering a nondeductible.
Say that you are single, in your 40s and make $200,000 per year. I recommend that you fund a nondeductible IRA for $5,000, because $5,000 is the best you can do. You have to fund your IRA by April 15th under all flavors of IRA. Let April 15th pass and convert the nondeductible to a Roth. How do you do that? It may be as easy as going on the broker’s website and moving the monies between the two IRAs. Think of it as moving monies between a savings and checking account.
It used to be that one could not do this, but the tax rules have been changed to allow it.
What is the downside? There are two, and the second one can be an insurmountable hurdle to some taxpayers.
(1)    First, any income in the nondeductible becomes immediately taxable. In our example, if the $5,000 is now worth $5,450, you will have $450 of taxable income. If you do what I recommend, chances are the income will be negligible as you did not leave the monies in the nondeductible for very long.
(2)    Second, the pro rata rule. If you have monies in other IRAs, you have to use a fraction. The numerator is the amount you have in the nondeductible. The denominator is the total you have in all IRAs. For example, if you have a $5,000 nondeductible and $95,000 in a regular IRA, your ratio will be 5% ($5,000/ ($5,000 + $95,000). If you convert in this scenario, the conversion will be 95% taxable.
How do you handle issue (2)? If you have a retirement plan at work and the plan allows you to roll-in, then you would roll-in your $95,000 regular IRA. At this point the only IRA you have is the $5,000 nondeductible. Your ratio now is $5,000/$5,000, meaning that 0% is taxable.
The nice thing about a nondeductible is that there is no income limit. If you make $1 million per year, you can still contribute to a nondeductible.
How long do you let the money cool before converting? Tax advisors disagree. Some advisors recommend at least six months, whereas others say that you can do so the next day. I would recommend more than a day and not more than December 31st of the year of the conversion.
One more bit of advice. If you fund a nondeductible, put it in its own account, preferably titled “Nondeductible.” Do not commingle your IRAs. This is not Neapolitan ice cream.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Taxpayers Keep Leaving The United States

The number of expatriates continues to increase. The number for 2011 was 1,781 and represents more than a 15% increase from 2010.
Not all expatriates are wealthy and seeking to sidestep what they perceive as harsh and confiscatory government policies. The IRS itself estimates that up to seven million U.S. residents reside abroad. I have family overseas, for example, and they have no intention of returning. They must nonetheless file a U.S. tax return annually, file a FBAR and, assuming that they have not spent every nickel they ever earned, have to deal with FATCA reporting. Did you know that there are tax restrictions on a U.S. citizen marrying a non-U.S. spouse? Does that make sense to you?
The most recent assault by Treasury on non-U.S. financial institutions, such as UBS, has had the perverse effect of these institutions dropping U.S. clients – and certainly not accepting new ones. I am not condoning the uber-wealthy hiding their income and assets from the U.S., but it is a far reach to argue back that a U.K. bank should report electronically on the bank activity and balances of my family.
Here is a chart on the number of expatriates over recent years. Kudos to Andrew Mitchel for the graph. Draw your own conclusion, if a conclusion is there to be drawn.


Thursday, February 2, 2012

Paying a Fair Share Act

U.S. Senator Whitehouse (D-R.I.) has introduced a tax bill named the Paying a Fair Share Act.

This is the Buffett Rule. It would apply only to taxpayers with income over $1 million. At income levels over $2 million, there would be a flat 30% tax. At income between $1 million and $2 million there would be a phase-in to get the effective tax rate to 30%.

The bill is co-sponsored by the following:
·         Sen Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii
·         Sen Mark Begich, D-Alaska
·         Sen Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.
·         Sen Tom Harkin, D-Iowa
·         Sen Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
·         Sen Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
·         Sen Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
It is very doubtful that this bill is going anywhere.
Here is another proposal. We can call it the Biden Rule:
         Politicians who stay in Washington more than 10 years pay a 100% tax rate.