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What is a stretch IRA?

“What is a stretch IRA?”

ERISA consultants at the Retirement Learning Center (RLC) Resource Desk regularly receive calls from financial advisors on a broad array of technical topics related to IRAs, qualified retirement plans and other types of retirement savings and income plans, including nonqualified plans, stock options, and Social Security and Medicare. We bring Case of the Week to you to highlight the most relevant topics affecting your business. A recent call with a financial advisor from Arkansas is representative of a common inquiry related to beneficiary payout timelines.

Highlights of the Discussion

Contrary to popular belief, a stretch IRA is not a unique type of IRA. It is simply a type of distribution strategy that allows beneficiaries, and beneficiaries of beneficiaries, to base IRA payouts on the longest life expectancy permitted under the circumstances. Any regular IRA, simplified employee pension (SEP) IRA, saving incentive match plan for employees (SIMPLE) IRA or Roth IRA can be a stretch IRA. The stretching feature is achieved by applying standard distribution rules that allow beneficiaries to prolong payouts over an applicable life expectancy.

According to Treasury regulations, following the death of an IRA owner or plan participant, typically, the beneficiary has the option to take life expectancy payments. Moreover, if the beneficiary has not exhausted the payments upon his or her death, a subsequent beneficiary may continue the payments over the course of the remaining schedule. Note that some IRA beneficiary forms allow a beneficiary to name a beneficiary, whiles others do not. Most qualified retirement plan beneficiary forms do not permit a beneficiary to name a beneficiary.

EXAMPLE

Herb, age 75, has an IRA valued at $2 million. His wife, Judith, who is 20 years his junior, is his beneficiary. The couple has a special-needs child, Richard, who is 30 years old. Herb has been taking RMDs based on the joint life expectancy of Judith and himself (because she is more than 10 years younger than he). As a result of failing health, Herb passes away. Rather than treat the IRA as her own, which would subject her to the early distribution penalty tax for any amounts taken before she reaches age 59 1/2, Judith begins life expectancy payments as a beneficiary. Because the IRA forms permitted it, Judith named Richard as the beneficiary of her inherited IRA. At age 58, Judith dies. Richard may continue distributions from the IRA over Judith’s remaining life expectancy, nonrecalculated.

The ability to do a stretch IRA may come to an end if HR 1994 Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act of 2019 (SECURE Act) is enacted into law. Section 401 of the bill would modify the required minimum distribution rules with respect to defined contribution plans and IRAs upon the death of the account owner. Under the legislation, depletion of the account would be required by the end of the 10th calendar year following the year of the employee or IRA owner’s death. A few exceptions would apply.

Conclusion

A stretch IRA is not a specific type of IRA but, rather, is a distribution strategy that allows beneficiaries, and beneficiaries of beneficiaries, to continue IRA payouts on the longest life expectancy permitted pursuant to the given circumstances. A stretch IRA is only permitted if the underlying beneficiary forms can accommodate a beneficiary naming a beneficiary. Legislative changes have been proposed that would, if enacted, eliminate stretch IRAs.

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What is 412(e) plan?

ERISA consultants at the Retirement Learning Center (RLC) Resource Desk regularly receive calls from financial advisors on a broad array of technical topics related to IRAs, qualified retirement plans and other types of retirement savings and income plans, including nonqualified plans, stock options, and Social Security and Medicare. We bring Case of the Week to you to highlight the most relevant topics affecting your business. A recent call with a financial advisor from New York is representative of a common inquiry related to a type of retirement plan.

Highlights of the Discussion

An IRC Sec. 412(e)(3) plan is a unique type of defined benefit plan that is funded exclusively by the purchase of life insurance contracts, fixed annuity contracts or a combination of the two. Because of this design, 412(e) plans do not require the services of an enrolled actuary to calculate the annual contributions. A fully insured 412(e)(3) defined benefit plan may be a plan solution for the owner of a small business or professional enterprise who desires a large current tax deduction for contributions and secure guaranteed retirement income. The most likely candidates for a 412(e) plan are small, professional businesses that want to maximize contributions for their owners. They work best for business that are small (five or fewer employees), well established, highly-profitable and have an older owner and younger employees.

IRC Sec. 412(e) plans are subject to the same qualification requirements that apply to traditional defined benefit plans, with two exceptions. First, if the insurance contracts meet the requirements of IRC Sec. 412(e)(3) and Treasury Regulation 1.412(i)-1(b)(2) as outlined below, the plan is exempt from the normal minimum funding requirements of IRC §412.

  1. The plan must be funded exclusively by the purchase of individual annuity or individual insurance contracts, or a combination thereof from a U.S. insurance company or companies. The purchase may be made either directly by the employer or through the use of a custodial account or trust.
  2. The individual annuity or individual insurance contracts issued under the plan must provide for level annual, or more frequent, premium payments to be paid under the plan for the period commencing with the date each individual participating in the plan became a participant, and ending not later than the normal retirement age for that individual or, if earlier, the date the individual ceases participation in the plan.
  3. The benefits provided by the plan for each individual participant must be equal to the benefits provided under his or her individual contracts at normal retirement age under the plan provisions.
  4. The benefits provided by the plan for each individual participant must be guaranteed by the life insurance company.
  5. All premiums payable for the plan year, and for all prior plan years, under the insurance or annuity contracts must have been paid before lapse.
  6. No rights under the individual contracts may have been subject to a security interest at any time during the plan year. This subdivision shall not apply to contracts which have been distributed to participants if the security interest is created after the date of distribution.
  7. No policy loans, including loans to individual participants, on any of the individual contracts may be outstanding at any time during the plan year. This subdivision shall not apply to contracts which have been distributed to participants if the loan is made after the date of distribution.

Second, a 412(e) plan will automatically satisfy the accrued benefit test if the plan satisfies items 1 through 4 above, plus provides that an employee’s accrued benefit at any time is not less than what the cash surrender value of his/her insurance contracts would be if all premiums due are paid, no rights under the contracts have been subject to a security interest at any time, and no policy loans are outstanding at any time during the year.

Note that the IRS has identified certain abusive sales practices involving 412(e)(3) plans funded only with life insurance rather than a combination of life insurance and annuities. Therefore, such plans will invite greater scrutiny by the IRS. (See EP Abusive Tax Transactions – Deductions for Excess Life Insurance in a Section 412(i)[1] or Other Defined Benefit Plan for specific guidance.)

Conclusion

A 412(e)(3) plan is a niche defined benefit retirement plan that allows for higher than usual tax deductible contributions. It is most suitable for businesses that are owner-only, or have fewer than five employees where the owner is materially older than the employees. Business owners should consult with a tax professional or attorney to determine whether a 412(e)(3) plan is the right choice for their firms.

[1] 412(e) plans were formerly know as 412(i) plans. The Pension Protection Act of 2006 renumbered the code section.

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IRS exams and Form 872

“My client is going through an IRS examination of his company’s retirement plan, and he has been asked to sign a Form 872. What is the purpose of this form?”

ERISA consultants at the Retirement Learning Center (RLC) Resource Desk regularly receive calls from financial advisors on a broad array of technical topics related to IRAs, qualified retirement plans and other types of retirement savings and income plans, including nonqualified plans, stock options, and Social Security and Medicare. We bring Case of the Week to you to highlight the most relevant topics affecting your business.

A recent call with a financial advisor from California is representative of a common inquiry related to an IRS examination.

Highlights of the Discussion

To ensure timely examination of tax returns, the law prescribes a deadline, or statute of limitations, for assessing taxes, making refunds or crediting taxes related to a particular tax return. By law, the IRS has the authority to extend the period of time for which it may assess a tax on a taxpayer [IRC Sec. 6501(c)(4)]. However, a taxpayer must consent to the extension in order for it to be valid; that’s where IRS Form 872, Consent to Extend the Time to Assess Tax comes in.

The assessment statute of limitations generally limits the time the IRS has to make tax assessments to within three years after a return is due or filed, whichever is later. In certain limited circumstances, the IRS examiner may identify tax returns under examination for which the statutory period for assessment is about to expire and may request that the taxpayer (in this case, the plan sponsor) extend the assessment statute of limitations.

It is the policy of the IRS to secure consents to extend the period of time to assess tax only in cases involving unusual circumstances (see Revenue Procedure 57-6 text reprinted below). Two common reasons are 1) the limitation period for a taxable year under examination will expire within 180 days and there is insufficient time to complete the examination and the administrative processing of the case; or 2) the statute of limitations for the taxable year under examination requires extension so the case can go through an appeals process. For a broader list of potential reasons for an extension see the IRS examination manual at 25.6.22.2.1.

How can a plan sponsor respond to an assessment extension request? There are four options:

  1. Consent to an extension;
  2. Refuse to extend the period of time for assessment;
  3. Request that the extension be limited to particular issues; or
  4. Request that the period for assessment be limited to a particular period of time, for example, to a specific date.

For additional information and guidance, see IRS Publication 1035, Extending the Tax Assessment Period.

What benefit could the plan sponsor receive from an assessment extension? The statute of limitations also limits the time a taxpayer has to file a claim for credit or refund. The IRS is legally prohibited from making a refund or credit for a claim if it is filed after the time for filing has expired under the statute of limitations. Also, if a taxpayer were to disagree with the IRS’s examination findings, the IRS cannot provide the taxpayer with an administrative appeal unless sufficient time remains on the statute of limitations.

Conclusion

Some plan sponsors facing a plan examination from the IRS may be asked to sign a Form 872, but that should only be in situations with unusual circumstances.

Rev. Proc. 57-6 (reprinted)

It is the policy of the Internal Revenue Service to secure a consent, extending the statutory period of limitation upon assessment of income and profits tax, only in a case involving unusual circum­stances. It is the purpose of the Service to keep to an absolute minimum the number of consents obtained from taxpayers.

The Internal Revenue Service has been asked to state its policy and issue a guide for taxpayers and practitioners regarding the circum­stances under which the securing of a waiver or consent provided for by. section 6501 (c) (4) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954, to extend the period of limitation upon assessment of income and profits tax, is appropriate.

It has been the long-established policy of the Service to secure a consent, extending the statutory period of limitation, only in a case involving unusual circumstances. An examining officer must have the approval of his group supervisor prior to requesting a consent. Approval will not be granted in any case where previous contact with the taxpayer has not been made, except where compelling reasons exist.

It is the policy and purpose of the Service to keep to an absolute minimum the number of consents obtained from taxpayers. The audit program of the Service is set up to obtain the completion of the examination of returns within the present statutory period of limi­tation wherever possible. Nevertheless, situations arise which make it impossible for the examining officers to complete some of their examinations within the statutory period. As an example, an issue involved in a particular taxpayer’s case may be similar to an issue in litigation in the case of another taxpayer or the same issue may be pending decision by the courts with reference to some other year of the same taxpayer. Obviously, in an instance of this nature, the examination cannot be satisfactorily completed until such time as the court’s decision has been rendered and the issue resolved.

Similarly, where disagreement exists regarding some complex or intricate question of fact or doubtful issues of law and sufficient time does not remain within the statutory period to permit the taxpayer to gather the necessary data to support his contentions and to avail himself of his conference and appellate rights, there is no alternative, in the interest of a practical administration of the tax laws, but to request a consent from the taxpayer, extending the statutory period of limitation, in order to arrive at an equitable solution to the problem involved.

Also, where a net operating loss is to be applied as a carry back, sufficient time may not remain to complete the necessary audit action within the regular period and, accordingly, an extension of the period of limitation is obtained, an action of mutual benefit to the taxpayer and the Government. In these examples, and in other instances, the possibility exists that an additional or renewal consent may be found necessary. However, it is the policy of the Service to restrict addi­tional consents to such cases as were the circumstances are, ordinarily, beyond the control of the Service and a further extension is fully justified in the opinion of the supervisory officials concerned, after a thor­ough review of all the facts present in the case.

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CalSavers Sign Up Begins

“The CalSavers program has been in the news. What is it?”

ERISA consultants at the Retirement Learning Center (RLC) Resource Desk regularly receive calls from financial advisors on a broad array of technical topics related to IRAs, qualified retirement plans and other types of retirement savings and income plans, including nonqualified plans, stock options, and Social Security and Medicare. We bring Case of the Week to you to highlight the most relevant topics affecting your business. A recent call with a financial advisor from California is representative of a common inquiry related to types of retirement plans.

Highlights of the Discussion

The CalSavers Retirement Savings Program (CalSavers) is a mandatory retirement savings program run by the state of California for private sector workers of California. California state law requires employers to either offer their own retirement plan[1] or register to facilitate CalSavers. On threat of penalty,[2] the employer is required to register with the state for CalSavers if the business

  • Has at least five California-based employees, at least one of whom is age 18, and
  • Does not sponsor a qualified retirement plan.

July 1, 2019, marked the opening for registration. There are staggered compliance deadlines depending on the size of employer. For eligible employers with

  • More than 100 employees, the deadline to participate is June 30, 2020;
  • More than 50 employees, the deadline to participate is June 30, 2021; and
  • With five or more employees, the deadline to participate is June 30, 2022.

Employer Involvement

An eligible employer is responsible for registering for the program, providing basic employee roster information to the state for eligible employees (i.e., name, date of birth, Social Security Number or ITIN, and contact information), and facilitating by payroll deduction the appropriate contributions each pay cycle.

Employee Involvement

Covered employees are automatically enrolled in CalSavers, and the state will contact employees directly to make them aware of the program and inform them of their ability to opt-out or customize their contributions. The default contribution is five percent of an employee’s gross salary, with an automatic one percent increase each year up to a maximum of eight percent. Currently, the CalSavers Program uses after-tax Roth IRAs, but is working on adding a Traditional IRA choice in late 2019 or early 2020. For 2019, the contribution limit is $6,000 for those under age 50 and $7,000 for those ages 50 and over. Note that this limit applies to all of an individual’s IRAs in aggregate—including a CalSavers account. Standard Roth IRA distribution rules apply. Unless an employee selects another investment option, the first $1,000 in contributions will be invested in the CalSavers Money Market Fund and subsequent contributions will be invested in a target retirement date fund based on the individual’s age. Employees can decide at any time whether to keep their investments in these funds or choose from a menu of other investment options. That’s just the top of the waves. The CalSavers website contains a wealth of information for employers and savers.

Conclusion

Registration is now officially open for the California-run CalSavers Retirement Savings Program—a automatic Roth IRA program for California workers who do not have access to a workplace retirement plan.

[1] Qualified retirement plans include pension plans; 401(k) plans; 403(a) plans; 403(b) plans; Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) plans; Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees (SIMPLE) plans; or Payroll deduction IRAs with automatic enrollment.

[2] A penalty of $250 per eligible employee applies if noncompliance extends 90 days or more after notice, and if found to be in noncompliance 180 days or more after notice, an additional penalty of $500 per eligible employee will apply.

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De-villainizing Backdoor Roth IRAs

“Backdoor Roth IRAs sound bad. Are they?”  

ERISA consultants at the Retirement Learning Center (RLC) Resource Desk regularly receive calls from financial advisors on a broad array of technical topics related to IRAs, qualified retirement plans and other types of retirement savings and income plans, including nonqualified plans, stock options, and Social Security and Medicare. We bring Case of the Week to you to highlight the most relevant topics affecting your business.

A recent call with a financial advisor from California is representative of a common inquiry related to Roth IRA conversions.

Highlights of the Discussion

You won’t find the phrase backdoor Roth IRA in the Internal Revenue Code or Treasury regulations. Nor is it a specific product, but the industry has known about the phenomena for years.  A backdoor Roth IRA is merely a series of transactions or steps an individual can take to have a Roth IRA—regardless of income level.

The ability to make a 2019 Roth IRA contribution is phased out and eliminated for single tax filers with income between $122,000-$137,000; and for joint tax filers with income between $193,000-$203,000. Consequently, if a person earns too much, he or she cannot make a Roth IRA contribution directly (i.e., through the front door). But, many can still take another route—through a traditional IRA.

For traditional IRA contributions, there are modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) thresholds that apply above which individuals are prevented from making deductible contributions.[1] However, anyone under the age of 70½ with earned income can make a nondeductible contribution to a traditional IRA, regardless of income level.  Anyone with a traditional IRA can convert it to a Roth IRA regardless of income level. The traditional-IRA-to-Roth-IRA conversion is another route to having a Roth IRA—what has become known as the backdoor Roth.

IRA technicians through the years have raised the specter of the Step Transaction Doctrine to cast a shadow over the efficacy of the backdoor Roth IRA. The Step Transaction Doctrine is a broad application tax law policy in which the IRS may view a series of separate but related transactions as a single transaction and apply any tax liability based on that transaction rather than the individual transactions in the series.

A traditional-IRA-to-Roth-IRA conversion is a taxable event to the extent a person converts pre-tax dollars. There are ways to maximize the tax efficiency of the transaction, for example, by rolling over IRA pre-tax dollars first to a qualified retirement plan. Those strategies are beyond the scope of this writing, but the consultants at RLC’s Resource Desk would be happy to have those discussions.

Informal guidance from the IRS and Congress from a year ago seems to have put to rest the concerns about backdoor Roth IRAs and the Step Transaction Doctrine. First, Congress made reference to the legitimacy of the traditional-IRA-to-Roth-IRA conversion in its conference report for the Tax Cut and Jobs Act (see page 289).

Although an individual with AGI exceeding certain limits is not permitted to make a contribution directly to a Roth IRA, the individual can make a contribution to a traditional IRA and convert the traditional IRA to a Roth IRA.

Second, in a July 10, 2018, Tax Talk Today, Donald Kieffer Jr., a tax law specialist in employee plans rulings and agreements with the IRS Tax-Exempt and Government Entities Division, said the backdoor Roth is allowed under the law. Mr. Kieffer stated: “I think the IRS’s only caution would be whenever we see words like ‘backdoor’ or ‘workaround’ or other step transactions that are putatively enabling a way to get around limits – especially statutory contribution limits – you generally find the IRS is not happy and prepared to challenge those. But in this one that we’re talking about, it’s allowed under the law.”

Conclusion

According to IRS and Congressional guidance, “backdoor” is no longer a cue for a potentially illicit tax activity when linked to Roth IRA. Therefore, it’s time to de-villainize the transaction.

[1] If filing a joint return and covered by a workplace retirement plan $103,000,-$123,000; Single or head of household $64,000-$74,000; and Joint return with spouse not covered by a workplace plan $193,000-$203,000

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