The SECURE Act
New Spending Package Includes Sweeping Retirement Plan Changes (SECURE Act)
The $1.4 trillion spending and 1,700 page package enacted on December 20, 2019, included the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act, which had overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives in the spring of 2019, but then subsequently stalled in the Senate. The SECURE Act represents the most sweeping set of changes to retirement legislation in more than a decade. While many of the provisions offer enhanced opportunities for individuals and small business owners, there is one notable drawback for investors with significant assets in traditional IRAs and retirement plans. These individuals will likely want to revisit their estate-planning strategies to prevent their heirs from potentially facing unexpectedly high tax bills.
Our focus here is on the most significant changes to individuals. We will continue to communicate other changes that may impact you. New opportunities for businesses will be introduced separately.
All provisions have taken effect on or after January 1, 2020, unless otherwise noted.
Elimination of the "stretch IRA"
Perhaps the change requiring the most urgent attention is the elimination of longstanding provisions allowing non-spouse beneficiaries who inherit traditional IRA and retirement plan assets to spread distributions — and therefore the tax obligations associated with them — over their lifetimes. This ability to spread out taxable distributions after the death of an IRA owner or retirement plan participant, over what was potentially such a long period of time, was often referred to as the "stretch IRA" rule. The new law, however, generally requires any beneficiary who is more than 10 years younger than the account owner to liquidate the account within 10 years of the account owner's death unless the beneficiary is a spouse, a disabled or chronically ill individual, or a minor child. This shorter maximum distribution period could result in unanticipated tax bills for beneficiaries who stand to inherit high-value traditional IRAs. This is also true for IRA trust beneficiaries, which may affect estate plans that intended to use trusts to
manage inherited IRA assets.
In addition to possibly reevaluating beneficiary choices, traditional IRA owners may want to revisit how IRA dollars fit into their overall estate planning strategy. For example, it may make sense to consider the possible implications of converting traditional IRA funds to Roth IRAs, which can be inherited income tax free. Although Roth IRA conversions are taxable events, investors who spread out a series of conversions over the next several years may benefit from the lower income tax rates that are set to expire in 2026.
"Required Minimum Distribution" Age extended from 70.5 to 72
If you had not yet reached age 70.5 as of 12/31/2019, can now wait until age 72 to take required minimum distributions (RMDs) from traditional, SEP, and SIMPLE IRAs and retirement plans instead of taking them at age 70½. (Technically, RMDs must start by April 1 of the year following the year an individual reaches age 72 or, for certain employer retirement plans, the year an individual retires, if later). For those who had already attained age 70.5 by 12/31/2019, you must continue taking RMDs.
Additional Opportunities for Individuals
If you're still saving for retirement
To address increasing life expectancies, the new law repeals the prohibition on contributions to a traditional IRA by someone who has reached age 70½. Starting with 2020 contributions, the age limit has been removed, but individuals must still have earned income.
If you're adding a child to your family
Workers can now take penalty-free early withdrawals of up to $5,000 from their qualified retirement plans and IRAs to pay for expenses related to the birth or adoption of a child. (Regular income taxes still apply.)
If you're paying education expenses
Individuals with 529 college savings plans may now be able to use account funds to help pay off qualified student loans (a $10,000 lifetime limit applies per beneficiary or sibling). Account funds may also be used for qualified higher-education expenses for registered apprenticeship programs. Distributions made after December 31, 2018, may qualify.
If you're working part-time
Part-time workers who log at least 500 hours in three consecutive years must be allowed to participate in a company's elective deferral retirement plan. The previous requirement was 1,000 hours and one year of service. The new rule applies to plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2021.
As with all changes to IRA and Retirement Plan rules, there are
opportunities to benefit, but only if you prepare. It is important to discuss
these changes with your investment advisor, tax preparer and estate
attorney and to develop an Action Plan that takes the maximum advantage
of these new rules for you and your family.