You may have key IRA rollover decisions to make
By Yoke M. Allen
Are you changing jobs or retiring in the next several months? If youre like many working individuals, you may be covered by your employers 401(k) plan or other retirement plans. When you leave your job, you may have to make an important decision regarding any distribution you may receive from your employers plan. As you will see, the decision is complex, and there are many factors to consider, based upon your personal circumstances. Generally, you have two choices: deferring taxes by establishing an IRA rollover account, or taking the distribution and paying taxes on it.
Deferring taxes: An IRA rollover account has several tax advantages, including the ability to postpone paying income taxes on the IRA assets until you actually receive distributions from your IRA, making the full amount of the distribution available for investment. While they remain in your rollover account, all investment earnings, dividends and gains are tax-deferred. You pay no income taxes until you receive distributions. Over time, these tax advantages have the potential to increase the value of your assets significantly.
Paying taxes: While the tax-favored rollover choice is very attractive, the taxable alternative may meet another financial need, such as an immediate source of funds to start your own business. You may also be eligible for a favorable tax treatment associated with the taxable option, namely special tax treatment of employer securities. If your distribution includes securities of the company you work for, you may receive favorable tax treatment on these securities. You may choose to have the lower of your average cost basis or the market value (on the distribution date) of those employer securities included in your taxable income for the year you receive the distribution. The amount would be taxed as ordinary income and would become your new cost basis for these securities. This would be your only tax liability until you sold the securities.
Upon selling the securities, you would be taxed on the excess, if any, of the sale price over your cost basis. The excess, if any, up to the value of the securities on the distribution date, would be taxed as a long-term capital gain regardless of when the securities were sold. Any other gain would be taxed under the capital gain rules.
You may not apply this special tax treatment to employer securities if you roll them over to an IRA. When distributed later from an IRA, all securities are taxed as ordinary income at fair market value as of the distribution date. Also, the distribution that includes employer securities must qualify as a lump sum under federal tax law.
As you can see, the decisions you make regarding the treatment of your retirement plan distribution will have a significant impact on your current income tax, as well as your funds available for investment.
Be sure to consult your tax advisor to determine which choice is appropriate for your individual situation before making any tax-related investment decisions.
This article does not constitute tax or legal advice. Consult your tax or legal advisors before making any tax-related or legally related investment decisions. This article is published for general informational purposes and is not an offer or solicitation to sell or buy any securities or commodities. Any particular investment should be analyzed based on its terms and risks as they relate to your circumstances and objectives.
Yoke M. Allen is a financial advisor for Morgan Stanley Dean Witter and can be reached at Yoke_Allen@msdw.com.