For those making mandatory withdrawals from an individual retirement account, 2010 may be the time to take out more than necessary, because tax rates may rise.
Required minimum distributions from the accounts, which are taxed as ordinary income, generally apply to people with a tax-deferred traditional IRA who are 70 and a half and older or who inherited one from a parent or spouse.
Savers who may be in a higher tax bracket next year should consider withdrawing more than the minimum in 2010, said Mark Nash, a partner in the Dallas office of the New York-based private company services practice of the accounting and advisory firm PricewaterhouseCoopers Required withdrawals are based on a formula of the account balance and the individual's age. "Pulling out a large sum in 2010 would lessen the 2011 amount, and make that year's distribution lower," said Nash, who advises high-net-worth investors.
Account holders took out an estimated $162 billion in taxable distributions from IRAs in 2008, the Internal Revenue Service said, based on data from its website. Sixty-four percent of people who took money out of their IRAs in 2008 did so because of the required distribution, according to a 2010 study by the Investment Company Institute, a Washington mutual fund trade group. IRAs held $4.2 trillion at the end of the second quarter of 2010, up about 11% from a year earlier, according to the ICI.
The U.S. government suspended required minimum distributions for tax year 2009 in response to plummeting account balances after the Standard & Poor's 500 index dropped 38% in 2008. Mandatory distributions returned in 2010 as the economy strengthened and the S&P 500 rose 23% in 2009. Roth IRAs, which are funded with post-tax dollars, are exempt from minimum withdrawal rules while the owner is alive.
President Obama has proposed allowing the top two marginal income tax rates to rise to 39.6% and 36% from 35% and 33% for individuals earning more than $200,000 and couples making more than $250,000. Congress is scheduled to take up taxes when it returns from recess in November.
"This uncertainty doesn't mean that people shouldn't be sitting down and doing their planning now," said Greg Rosica, a tax partner at the consulting firm Ernst & Young LLP in Tampa, Fla., and contributing author to the Ernst & Young Tax Guide.
Someone who may be in a lower tax bracket in 2010 because of large deductions or less income should also consider taking a bigger distribution this year to take advantage of lower rates, said Rebecca Pavese, an accountant at Palisades Hudson Financial Group's national tax practice in Atlanta. Taxpayers who aren't already taxed at top rates should make sure taking a bigger distribution won't tip them into a higher bracket, said Bill Fleming, a managing director in the Hartford, Conn., office of PwC.
Holders of multiple IRAs can take the required withdrawals in aggregate from one account, Nash said. That means they can take the distribution from an IRA with the worst-performing investments, leaving more money in accounts that are doing well, Nash said.
Those who pay estimated taxes during the year can request the account administrator withhold money from their required minimum distributions and pay income tax just once at yearend, Rosica said. That way they can hold onto their money longer and invest it without paying a penalty for underpayment, Pavese said.
The law assumes that payments are made equally throughout the year unless the taxpayer states otherwise, according to the IRS. Taxpayers can withhold funds from required distributions to cover tax that's expected on the distribution or, if they have other sources of income, withhold more to cover quarterly estimated payments, Nash said. "The IRS doesn't care as long as you get your tax liability to them either through quarterly estimated payments or through withholding," he said.
Any IRA holder can give all or part of a distribution to charity and take a deduction for the donation, said Debbie Cox, a wealth adviser in Dallas for J.P. Morgan Private Bank, which is based in New York. A provision that allowed taxpayers to roll over a distribution directly to a charity and avoid income tax expired at the end of 2009, she said.