Retirement Distributions and the CARES Act

Tax rules prevent you from stashing away your pre-tax retirement money indefinitely to avoid paying taxes. Some of the rules about pre-tax retirement accounts have changed multiple times, making it a real challenge to keep up. Age and distribution rule changes for annual Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) from traditional Individual Retirement Account (IRA) and other pre-tax retirement plan distributions are particularly head-spinning.

An RMD is just what it sounds like – a required distribution that is calculated and paid annually based on the taxpayer’s age and pre-tax retirement plan balances. The RMD amount is included in taxable income. The good news – there are online tables to help to calculate the RMD amount that must be taken every year. The bad news – a 50% penalty is assessed by the IRS if the minimum RMD is not taken by the deadline (e.g., April 1, 2020, for tax year 2019). Quite a strong incentive to follow the RMD rules.

Back in December 2019, the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act (aka “SECURE Act”) was signed into law. The SECURE Act changed several important aspects of distributions from traditional (pre-tax) IRAs, 401(k) plans, 403(b) plans, and other pre-tax retirement plans. For example, the age when RMDs must start increased from 70½ to 72. See my December 11, 2019, blog post http://www.searlebzllc.com/2019/12/ for details about SECURE Act changes.

Well, because of COVID-19, portions of the December 2019, the law related to RMDs didn’t stand for long. On June 23, 2020, the IRS announced that, per the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, known as the CARES Act, the RMD is waived for 2020. Taxpayers over 72 who had already taken her or his RMD for 2020 from a pre-tax retirement account has until August 31, 2020, to roll the funds back into the account. Ordinarily, RMD rollbacks need to be done within 60 days of the distribution.

The IRS is also giving taxpayers a couple of other breaks by not counting the RMD repayment toward the rule that prohibits more than one rollover per 12-month period and the restriction on rollovers for inherited IRAs. Nice breaks but more to track. 

Some of the rules about pre-tax retirement accounts have changed multiple times, like RMDs from pre-tax retirement plans that changed twice in less than a year! Keeping up can be hard. Sure, you can hire a tax professional to help you out, but you don’t have to. The best place for all the latest tax information is free and always available – www.irs.gov!

New Rules for IRAs

A few weeks ago, I blogged about the IRS rules for Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) from traditional IRAs, 401(k) plans and other pre-tax retirement plans. Well, throw that one out. On December 20, 2019, the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act (aka “Secure Act”) was signed into law. The Secure Act changed several important aspects of IRA distributions and contributions.

One thing hasn’t changed. The new tax law still doesn’t allow untaxed retirement money to remain untaxed indefinitely. RMDs, inherited IRAs and other distribution rules are intended to make sure that Uncle Sam gets his share of taxpayers’ pre-tax retirement savings. The Secure Act changes the timing of when Uncle Sam gets his share.

Here are three major changes from the Secure Act that should you know, even if you aren’t close to retirement age:

  • Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) Age Increase

Under prior tax law, RMDs had to begin no later than April 1 following the year in which a person turned age 70½. For taxpayers who were not already age 70½ by December 31, 2019, the age to start taking RMDs is extended to 72. Distributions don’t have to be postponed to 72; it’s just an option. What’s better – waiting or not – depends on individual circumstances.

  • Contribution Age Restrictions Repealed 

Before the Secure Act, workers over age 70½ were not eligible to make contributions to an IRA. That contribution age limit has been eliminated. Yea! Slight damper on that celebration, though – the same rules about who can and cannot deduct a traditional IRA contribution apply, regardless of age. 

  • Inherited IRA “Stretch Distributions” Eliminated for Non-Spouses

Traditional IRAs that are inherited by someone other than the owner’s spouse can no longer be distributed over the life of the beneficiary. Distributions now must be taken within a ten-year period after inheritance. This new rule eliminates the options for non-spouse beneficiaries to use inherited traditional IRAs as part of his or her own retirement planning.

Tax rules are always changing. The December 2019 Secure Act changed several rules about taking distributions from traditional IRAs, 401(k) plans and other pre-tax retirement plans. Sure¸ taxpayers still can’t allow untaxed retirement money to remain untaxed indefinitely. Conversely, the repeal of the age limit on IRA contributions and other changes could positively impact how retirement distributions are taxed.

Need help figuring out the new rules? Get detailed tax advice that fits your situation from a qualified tax professional. You can find one near you at https://www.irs.gov/tax-professionals/choosing-a-tax-professional.