Insights & Advice

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How the Care Act changes the rules on tax-deferred accounts

Listen up, big changes have just occurred because of the newly passed Care Act. Aside from the “free money” that 90% of Americans are expecting, important changes to your retirement accounts have been passed. These changes can save you a bundle in taxes while providing instant cash relief, if you need it.

Normally, if you need money from a retirement account, and you are under 59 ½ years old, you are required to pay a 10% penalty, plus the income tax owed on your withdrawal. There are some exceptions to the rule and the Care Act just added a big one. The federal government just eliminated that 10% penalty for any distributions from IRAs, employer-sponsored retirement plans, or a combination of both.

Individuals can withdraw up to $100,000 in 2020, as long as the withdrawal is “Coronavirus-related.” That definition leaves plenty of room for interpretation. If you or a spouse or dependent have been diagnosed with the virus, you qualify. If you or your family have been hurt financially by COVID-19 as a result of being laid off, being quarantined, or reduced working hours, you qualify.

Those who have been unable to work because you have no childcare, or if you own a business that has closed or operates under reduced hours, then you can take a distribution as well. In fact, Congress seems to be making this option available to most Americans who require some relief from the negative impact of the virus.

In addition, under normal circumstances when you take a rollover distribution from an employee-sponsored plan such as a 401(k) or a 403(b), the proceeds are subject to a mandatory withholding of 20%, but COVID-19 distributions will be exempt from this requirement. The IRS is willing to simply rely on your word that the distribution was virus-related.

There is even better news. Let’s say you take out the money, which you will need to tide you over for the next nine months. After that, the economy begins to revive. You get your old job back. If so, the government is allowing you to repay or roll the money you borrowed back into your retirement account. You will have three years to do so. You can return all, or part of what you took out and repay it in a single lump sum, or in multiple repayments.

You will still need to pay regular taxes on whatever you take out this year, but the entire tax bill doesn’t have to be paid in 2020. Let’s say you do need to take $100,000 out this year. If you normally make $75,000/year in reported income, that will put you in the 12% tax bracket if married and filing jointly.  But because of the distribution, you would be reporting $175,000. Your taxes would double. The government is allowing you to evenly split the distribution money into tax years 2020, 2021, and 2022, so you only need to pay taxes on one-third of that extra income each year.

For those who have been taking a required minimum distributions (RMD) from their tax deferred accounts each year, that requirement has been waived for this year. The provision applies to IRAs, SEP IRAs, SIMPLE IRAs, 457(b) plans and both 401(k) and 403(b) plans. Both account owners, as well as beneficiaries who are required to take stretch distributions from inherited IRA accounts, are included in the provisions.

What if you have already taken your RMD? You can return the money that was distributed to you in two ways. Simply write a check for the amount and put it back into whatever tax deferred accounts it came from, as long as you do it within sixty days of the distribution. If you took the distribution longer than sixty days ago, you could just consider it a coronavirus withdrawal and you can return the money anytime within the next three years.

There are plenty of other provisions in the Care Act that I will discuss in future columns. If, in the meantime, you have specific questions, you know how and where to contact me.

Posted in A Few Dollars More