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When Are Retirement Assets Protected from Creditors?

An advisor asked: “Can you give me a refresher on the creditor protection rules for retirement plan assets at the federal and state levels?”

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 an advisor in Minnesota is representative of a common question on creditor protection for retirement plan assets.

Highlights of the Discussion
• The level of creditor protection for retirement plan assets depends on

1) the type of plan assets, and

2) whether the owner of the assets has filed for bankruptcy and, if not, the governing laws of the state with jurisdiction over the assets.

• The Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 (BAPCPA), effective October 17, 2005, clarified the level of creditor protection for retirement plan assets when the owner has filed for bankruptcy.

Bankruptcy
• BAPCPA amended Section 522 of the Bankruptcy Code to exempt from a debtor’s bankruptcy estate retirement assets that are held in

– IRC Sec. 401(a) plans (e.g., 401(k), defined contribution and defined benefit plans);
– 403(b) plans,
– Traditional IRAs (up to $1 million of contributory assets, indexed periodically),
– Roth IRAs (up to $1 million of contributory assets, indexed periodically),
– Simplified employee pension (SEP) plans,
– Savings Incentive Match Plans for Employees (SIMPLE) plans,
– Church plans,
– Governmental plans,
– Multiemployer plans,
– Eligible 457(b) plans of state and local governments and IRC Sec. 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations and
– IRC Sec. 501(a) plans of tax-exempt organizations.

• Eligible rollover distributions under IRC Sec. 402(c) retain the unlimited bankruptcy protection given to them while held in the exempt retirement plan if they are contributed to another eligible retirement plan within 60 days of distribution. Earnings on the rollover assets are protected as well.

Nonbankruptcy
• In nonbankruptcy situations, assets held in ERISA plans are fully protected under the anti-alienation provision of the law [see Section 541(c)(2) of the Bankruptcy Code pursuant to Patterson vs. Shumate, 504 U.S. 753 (1992) and Section 206(d)(1) of ERISA].
• The protection of IRA assets (including rollover amounts) from general creditors of the IRA owner in nonbankruptcy situations falls under applicable state law, with many states—but not all—providing some level of exemption. (Link to State Government Websites for more information)
• Keep in mind that any qualified retirement plan or IRA (including traditional, Roth, rollover, SIMPLE or SEP plan IRAs) may be subject to an IRS tax levy.

Conclusion
The amount of creditor protection for retirement assets depends on whether the investor has filed for bankruptcy or not, and the type of retirement savings arrangements involved. For specific situations, individuals should consult legal counsel.

 

© Copyright 2021 Retirement Learning Center, all rights reserved
new rules
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No More Age Restriction for Traditional IRA Contributions

“My client is 80 and still working. She wants to put some money aside for when she might retire; however, she doesn’t have access to a workplace retirement plan. Is an IRA an option?”

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 an advisor in New York is representative of a common question related to making traditional IRA contributions.

Highlights of Discussion

More power to your client! You bet; an IRA is a great option. Of course, the most prudent course of action is to encourage your client to discuss her contribution options with her tax advisor.

Provided your client has the right amount of earned income to support it, she could contribute to a Roth IRA or—because of a key law change—she could contribute to a traditional IRA. She could even do a combination of Roth and traditional IRA contributions as long as she doesn’t exceed the maximum contribution of $7,000 for a person > age 50 between the two accounts. And, because the IRS has granted a special delay to the usual April 15th tax filing deadline,[1] she still could make a 2020 IRA contribution (Roth or traditional) up until May 17, 2021!

Prior to 2020, once a person reached age 70 ½, he or she could not contribute to a traditional IRA any longer. That rule changed for 2020 and later years as a result of the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act of 2019 (the SECURE Act) (see TITLE I, section 107 of the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020). The SECURE Act removed the age restriction for eligibility to make a traditional IRA contribution.  Roth IRA contributions have never had a maximum age limit, but they are subject to a maximum earnings limit. Consequently, for 2020 and beyond, the only requirement to be able to make a traditional or Roth IRA relates to having modified adjust gross income (MAGI) for the year—enough to make either a traditional or Roth IRA contribution, but not too much in the case of a Roth IRA contribution.

As to the question of deductibility, since your client does not participate in a workplace retirement plan—any traditional IRA contribution she may choose to make would be tax deductible, potentially. Active participation in a retirement plan can affect whether a traditional IRA contribution is tax deductible.  For details, please see a prior case: Active Participation May Affect IRA Deductibility

Conclusion

Recognizing that more people are working passed their 70s and may want to continue to save for retirement, the Administration saw fit to do away with the age limit for making traditional IRA contributions, effective for 2020 and beyond.

[1] Tax Day for individuals extended to May 17

 

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IRA
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How to Make a Legit $28,000 IRA Contribution

A colleague of mine said a 60-year-old couple who is a client of his just made a $28,000 IRA contribution. Is this some kind of new rule? I thought the maximum annual contribution was $6,000, with a potential additional $1,000 catch-up contribution for someone age 50 and over?

Highlights of Recommendations

  • A $28,000 IRA contribution for the couple is possible, courtesy of a combination of several IRS rules covering
  1. carry-back and current year contributions,
  2. spousal contributions and
  3. catch-up contributions.
  • From January 1, 2021 to May 17, 2021[1], it is potentially possible for a traditional or Roth IRA owner age 50 and over to make a $14,000 contribution: $7,000 as a 2020 carry-back contribution and $7,000 as a 2021 current-year contribution. That means a married couple filing a joint tax return could potentially make a $28,000 IRA contribution, with $14,000 going to each spouse’s respective IRA (either Roth or Traditional).
  • When making the contributions it is important to clearly designate to the IRA administrator that a portion is a carry-back contribution for 2020 and a portion is a 2021 current-year contribution in order to avoid having the full amount treated as a current-year contribution and, subsequently, an excess contribution for 2021.
  • Such a large combined contribution would only be possible if
    • The couple had not previously made a 2020 contribution to a traditional or Roth IRA,
    • Each spouse was age 50 or older as of 12/31/2020,
    • The couple has earned income for 2020 and 2021 to support the contributions, and
    • For a Roth IRA contribution, the couple’s income is under the modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) limits for Roth IRA contribution eligibility (see below).
  • Whether the traditional IRA contributions would be tax deductible depends upon “active participation” of either spouse in a workplace retirement plan[2] and the couple’s MAGI.
  • Please see the applicable MAGI ranges in the following chart.
Traditional IRA Eligibility for Deductible Contributions
Taxpayer Category 2021 MAGI Phase-Out Ranges 2020 MAGI Phase-Out Ranges
Married active participant filing a joint income tax return $105,000-$125,000 $104,000-$124,000
Single active participant $66,000-$76,000 $65,000-$75,000
Married active participant filing separate income tax return $0-$10,000 $0-$10,000
Spouse of an active participant $198,000-$208,000 $196,000-$206,000

Roth IRA Contribution Eligibility

Taxpayer Category 2021 MAGI Phase-Out Ranges 2020 MAGI Phase-Out Ranges
Married filing a joint income tax return $198,000-$208,000 $196,000-$206,000
Single individuals $125,000-$140,000 $124,000-$139,000
Married filing separate income tax return $0-$10,000 $0-$10,000

 

Conclusion

The deadline for making 2020 traditional or Roth IRA contributions is May 17, 2021. That means there is a window of opportunity that allows eligible couples to double up on IRA contributions (for 2020 as a carry-back contribution and one for 2021 as a current-year contribution) to the tune of $28,000.

 

 

[1] Usually, April 15th, but the IRS extended the 2020 tax filing deadline to May 17, 2021

[2] See Active Plan Participant and IRA Contributions

 

© Copyright 2021 Retirement Learning Center, all rights reserved
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State-sponsored retirement plans for private-sector workers

“Which states, if any, have enacted or proposed legislation that would enable them to offer retirement savings programs to private-sector workers?”

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 Illinois is representative of a common inquiry related to states and retirement plans.

Highlights of the Discussion

As of October 6, 2020, 12 states have succeeded in enacting laws creating retirement savings programs for private-sector workers. [1] One city—Seattle, WA—has also enacted an auto IRA program.[2] The following represents a high-level overview of the various plans.

State/City Plan Name Type of Plan
1.     California California Secure Choice Retirement Savings Program Automatic Roth IRA
2.     Colorado Colorado Secure Savings Program Automatic Traditional IRA
3.     Connecticut Connecticut Retirement Security Program Automatic Traditional or Roth IRA
4.     Illinois Illinois Secure Choice Savings Program Automatic Roth IRA
5.     Maryland Maryland Small Business Retirement Savings Program Automatic Traditional IRA
6.     Massachusetts Massachusetts Defined Contribution CORE Plan

 

A multiple employer plan that is a pre-tax and post-tax 401(k) savings plan developed for employees of eligible small nonprofit organizations.
7.     New Jersey New Jersey Small Business Retirement Marketplace

 

A marketplace for diverse retirement plans, including, at least, life insurance plans, Savings Incentive Match Plans for Employees (SIMPLE) IRAs and payroll-deduction IRAs.
8.     New Mexico The New Mexico Work and Save Act

 

Voluntary Payroll Deduction Roth IRA
9.     New York New York State Secure Choice Savings Program Voluntary Payroll Deduction Roth IRA
10.  Oregon OregonSaves

 

Automatic Roth IRA
11.  Vermont Vermont Green Mountain Secure Retirement Plan

 

A multiple employer plan that is a tax-deferred, pre-tax 401(k) savings plan with optional future employer contributions
12.  Washington Washington’s Small Business Retirement Marketplace

 

A marketplace where qualified financial services firms offer low-cost retirement savings plans to businesses and individuals
13.  Seattle, WA Seattle Retirement Savings Plan

 

Automatic Traditional or Roth IRA

Additionally, another 21 states have introduced legislation on this topic that is still under consideration. Those states include: Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Nebraska,  North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

For additional information, please see State-Administered IRA Programs: Overview and Considerations for Congress from the Congressional Research Service.

Conclusion

Concerned with the retirement security of their workers, some state legislatures have enacted laws that create state-sponsored retirement savings plans for private-sector workers. Many other states are considering similar action. The industry can expect more activity in this area in the coming months.

 

[1] AARP Public Policy Institute, State Retirement Savings Resource Center, October 2020

[2] Chapter 14.36, Seattle Retirement Savings Program

 

 

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State-sponsored retirement plans for private-sector workers

“Which states, if any, have enacted or proposed legislation that would enable them to offer retirement savings programs to private-sector workers?”

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 Illinois is representative of a common inquiry related to states and retirement plans.

Highlights of the Discussion

As of August 20, 2019, 10 states have succeeded in enacting laws creating retirement savings programs for private-sector workers. [1]

State Plan Name Type of Plan
1.     California California Secure Choice Retirement Savings Program Automatic Roth IRA
2.     Connecticut Connecticut Retirement Security Program Automatic Traditional or Roth IRA
3.     Illinois Illinois Secure Choice Savings Program Automatic Roth IRA
4.     Maryland Maryland Small Business Retirement Savings Program Automatic Traditional IRA
5.     Massachusetts Massachusetts Defined Contribution CORE Plan

 

A multiple employer plan that is a pre-tax and post-tax 401(k) savings plan developed for employees of eligible small nonprofit organizations.
6.     New Jersey New Jersey Small Business Retirement Marketplace

 

A marketplace for diverse retirement plans, including, at least, life insurance plans, Savings Incentive Match Plans for Employees (SIMPLE) IRAs and payroll-deduction IRAs.
7.     New York New York State Secure Choice Savings Program Payroll Deduction Roth IRA
8.     Oregon OregonSaves

 

Automatic Roth IRA
9.     Vermont Vermont Green Mountain Secure Retirement Plan

 

A multiple employer plan that is a tax-deferred, pre-tax 401(k) savings plan with optional future employer contributions
10.  Washington Washington’s Small Business Retirement Marketplace

 

A marketplace where qualified financial services firms offer low-cost retirement savings plans to businesses and individuals

Another 24 states have introduced legislation on this topic that is still under consideration: Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

Conclusion

Considering that federal legislation to address the retirement security of American works has progressed at a snail’s pace, some state legislatures have taken on the task and enacted laws that create state-sponsored retirement savings plans for private-sector workers. Many other states are considering similar action.

[1] AARP Public Policy Institute, State Retirement Savings Resource Center, August 2019

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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.

© Copyright 2021 Retirement Learning Center, all rights reserved
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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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