Getting Around the New Law That Impairs the Stretch IRA Strategy
Last December, the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act became law.
The SECURE Act was intended mainly to expand opportunities for individuals to increase their retirement savings and to simplify the administration of retirement plans. That’s the good part.
But the act also included a big unfavorable change that kneecapped the so-called stretch IRA estate planning strategy that was employed by well-off IRA owners.
The Stretch IRA Strategy
The stretch IRA strategy involves keeping as much money as possible in your traditional IRA or Roth IRA while you’re still alive and then leaving the account to your spouse or a younger beneficiary, who keeps the inherited account rolling for as long as possible and keeps collecting the tax benefits. Thus, the term “stretch IRA.”
The SECURE Act Imposes a New 10-Year Account Liquidation Rule That Seriously Injures the Stretch IRA Strategy
Unfortunately for the estate plans of well-off IRA owners and the tax situations of some of their IRA beneficiaries, the SECURE Act requires most non-spouse beneficiaries to drain inherited IRAs within 10 years after the account owner’s death.
As we just explained, the pre–SECURE Act required minimum distribution (RMD) rules allowed a non-spouse IRA beneficiary to gradually drain the substantial traditional or Roth IRA inherited from good-ole Grandpa Frank over the beneficiary’s IRS-defined life expectancy. That deal is off the table if Grandpa Frank dies in 2020 or later.
Who Is Affected by the SECURE Act Change?
The SECURE Act’s anti-taxpayer 10-year account liquidation rule doesn’t affect RMDs taken by original traditional IRA owners. They still operate under the same RMD rules as before. As under pre–SECURE Act law, original owners of Roth IRAs need not take any RMDs for as long as they live. Roth IRA owners are unaffected. Beneficiaries who want to quickly drain their inherited IRAs also are unaffected. Bottom line. The 10-year account liquidation rule affects only certain non-spouse beneficiaries who would otherwise keep inherited accounts open for as long as possible to reap the tax advantages.
Exception for Eligible Designated Beneficiaries
The SECURE Act’s 10-year account liquidation rule does not immediately affect accounts inherited by a so-called eligible designated beneficiary.
An eligible designated beneficiary is
• the surviving spouse of the deceased account owner,
• a minor child of the deceased account owner,
• a beneficiary who is no more than 10 years younger than the deceased account owner, or
• a disabled or chronically ill individual.
Under the exception for eligible designated beneficiaries, RMDs generally can be taken from the inherited account over the life expectancy of the eligible designated beneficiary, beginning with the year following the year of the account owner’s death. Other non-spouse beneficiaries, whom we will call affected beneficiaries, will be slammed by the 10-year account liquidation rule. Following the death of an eligible designated beneficiary, the account balance must be distributed within 10 years. The account balance also must be distributed within 10 years after a child of the account owner reaches the age of majority under local law.
10-Year Account Liquidation Rule Specifics
When applicable, the 10-year account liquidation rule generally applies regardless of whether you, as the original account owner, die before or after your RMD beginning date. Thanks to another SECURE Act change, the RMD rules do not kick in until age 72 if you attain age 70 1/2 after 2019. If you are in that age category, your required beginning date is April 1 of the year following the year during which you attain age 72.
And then, again thanks to the other SECURE Act change, an affected beneficiary must drain the account inherited from you by the end of the 10th calendar year following the year of your demise. Until that deadline is reached, your beneficiary can leave the account untouched.
Failure to comply with the 10-year account liquidation rule will expose the affected beneficiary to a penalty equal to 50 percent of the account balance that remains after the 10-year deadline has passed.
Reminder. As stated earlier, the SECURE Act’s 10-year account liquidation rule applies only to affected beneficiaries who inherit IRAs from original account owners who die after 2019. An IRA inherited by a non-spousal beneficiary from an original account owner who died in 2019 or earlier is unaffected, so the inherited account can still work as a stretch IRA, the same as before the SECURE Act.
The Latest on Payroll Tax Deferral
If you have employees, you must withhold their 6.2 percent share of the Social Security tax from their wages up to an annual wage ceiling ($137,700 for 2020). You must pay the money to the IRS along with your matching 6.2 percent employer share of the tax. But under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, as you likely know, employers are allowed to defer paying their 6.2 percent share of the Social Security tax on wages paid to employees through the end of 2020. Fifty percent of these deferred taxes will have to be paid during 2021 and the remainder in 2022.
Both the Trump administration and the IRS have issued orders permitting employers to defer withholding and paying the employee portion of the Social Security tax for a limited time. But the executive order on employee deferral is much more limited in scope than the CARES Act employer deferral, and it’s beset with practical problems for employers.
Which Taxes Can Be Deferred?
The deferral applies only to the employee portion of the Social Security tax due on wages paid from September 1, 2020, through December 31, 2020. No other payroll taxes can be deferred.
Which Employees Qualify for the Deferral? Only employees who earn less than $4,000 biweekly qualify for the deferral. Employees who are not paid on a biweekly basis qualify if their pay is equivalent to less than $4,000 biweekly. This would include employees who are paid less than
• $2,000 weekly,
• $4,333 semimonthly, or
• $8,666.67 monthly.
Each pay period is tested separately. An employee who earns too much during one pay period can still qualify for the deferral if he or she earns less than the ceiling amount in a later pay period.
Is the Deferral Mandatory?
IRS officials have stated that the deferral is not mandatory. Employers are not obligated to offer the deferral to their employees. This is so even if an employee requests it.
What Happens When the Deferral Period Ends?
The employee Social Security tax deferral ends on December 31, 2020. IRS guidance provides that the deferred taxes must then be paid “ratably” from wages paid from January 1, 2021, through April 30, 2021. Employers must withhold and pay the deferred taxes from employee wages paid during this period.
Thus, from January 1, 2021, through April 30, 2021, most employees will have to pay a 12.4 percent Social Security tax instead of the normal 6.2 percent. This amounts to a 6.2 percent pay cut for affected employees for four months.
What If Employees Quit or Get Fired?
If an employee quits or is fired during the four-month repayment period, there may not be enough wages paid to cover the deferred Social Security taxes. The IRS says that in this event employers can “make arrangements to otherwise collect” the deferred taxes. What form such “arrangements” could take is unclear.
Interest, penalties, and additions to taxes will begin to accrue on any unpaid deferred Social Security taxes starting May 1, 2021. Thus, if you (the employer) fail to remit the deferred monies because employees were not employed during the collection period, you are on the hook.
Due to the uncertainty involved, many employers have reportedly elected not to participate in the employee Social Security tax deferral.
About the Author
D. Steven Yahnian has been a member of the California Bar and a practicing Attorney since 1980. He has also been a California CPA since 1984. Mr. Yahnian also holds the CFP® designation.
Mr. Yahnian practices in the following areas of law through YAHNIAN LAW CORPORATION:
- Estate Planning & Administration
- Asset Protection Planning
- Tax Planning, Tax Debt Resolution and Tax Litigation
- Business & Corporate Law and Planning
- Real Property Law & Planning
As a CPA/CFP, Mr. Yahnian also has a separate accounting and tax return preparation practice called DSA ACCOUNTING.
Mr. Yahnian is a California State Bar Certified Specialist in the following
• Taxation Law and
• Estate Planning, Trust & Probate Law.
Mr. Yahnian received a B.S. degree in Accounting from USC, a J.D. from Loyola University of Los Angeles School of Law and an LL.M. in Taxation from New York University Law School. He also has a Certificate in Taxation from UCLA (with distinction). Mr. Yahnian also has an MS in Taxation* from UCLA (with Distinction).
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