Thursday, April 25, 2013

Obama’s $3 Million IRA Cap

We have received several calls on the proposed $3 million cap on 401(k)s and IRAs. Some of those discussions have been spirited.

What is it? Equally important, what is it not?

The proposal comes from the White House budget. Here is some text:

The budget will also show how we can provide targeted tax relief to strengthen the economy, help middle class families and small business and pay for it by eliminating tax loopholes and make the tax system more fair. The budget will include a new proposal that prohibits individuals from accumulating over $3 million in IRAs and other tax-preferred retirement accounts. Under current rules, some wealthy individuals are able to accumulate many millions of dollars in these accounts, substantially more than is needed to fund reasonable levels of retirement saving. The budget would limit an individual’s total balance across tax-preferred accounts to an amount sufficient to finance an annuity of not more than $205,000 per person per year in retirement, or about $3 million in 2013."

Let us point out several things:

(1)    The proposal would not force monies out of an existing retirement plan. It would instead prevent new monies going into a plan.

This raises a question: should one draw enough to reduce the balance below $3 million, would one be able to again contribute to the plan?

(2)    The proposal uses the term tax “preferred” rather than tax “deferred.”  This indicates that the proposal would reach Roth IRAs. Roth IRAs are not tax deferred, as there is no tax when the funds come out. They instead are tax “preferred.”

There is some rhyme or reason to this proposal. $205,000 is the current IRC Section 415 limit on funding defined benefit (think pension) plans. The idea here is that the maximum tax deduction the IRS will allow is an amount actuarially necessary to fund today a pension of $205,000 sometime down the road. The closer one is to retirement, the higher the Section 415 amount. The farther one is, the lower the Section 415 amount. This proposal is somewhat aligning limits on contribution plans with existing limits on benefit plans.

(3)    The $3 million is an arbitrary number, and presumably it would change as interest rates and actuarial life expectancies change over time. If longevity continues to increase, for example, the $3 million may be woefully inadequate. Some planners consider it inadequate right now, at least if one is trying to secure that $205,000 annual annuity.

(4)    Would the annuity amount increase with inflation? Assuming an average inflation rate of 4.5 percent, one would lose almost three-quarters of a fixed annuity’s purchasing power over 30 years.

The frustrating thing about the proposal is that it affects very few people. The Employee Benefit Research Institute estimates that only 1% of investors have enough to be subject to this rule. This of course feeds into the perceived anti-success, anti-wealth meme of this White House.

(5)    The amount of money to be raised over a decade is also chump change for  the federal government: less than $10 billion.

Something to remember is that account balances in 401(k), SEP, SIMPLE and regular IRA accounts will be taxable eventually. IRAs are subject to minimum distribution rules, for example. The larger the balances, the more the government will take in taxes. Dying will not make the tax go away. In fact, it may serve to accelerate required distributions to a beneficiary and taxes to the government.

The budget was dead on arrival at Capitol Hill. Let us hope that less ideologically rigid minds on the Hill keep it so.

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