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Alexis Leondis: New retirement rule delaying withdrawals could bite

Alexis Leondis, Bloomberg Opinion on

Published in Home and Consumer News

Wealthy retirees seem to have scored big in Congress’ sweeping year-end spending package.

The legislation signed by President Joe Biden Thursday includes changes to retirement plans that will push up the age people are required to start withdrawing from their IRAs and 401(k)s to 73 next year from the current 72, and extend it to 75 in 2033.

That's a boon to those who don't need the money (retirement behemoth Vanguard estimates some 25% of its clients don't take money from retirement accounts until they’re forced), because every additional year allows those investments to continue growing tax-free.

But just because you can delay doesn't mean you should. If you’re fortunate enough to not need the money in your retirement accounts for living expenses, you should still weigh the implications for your taxes, heirs and Medicare premiums before you decide to wait until the deadline.

How much the Internal Revenue Service requires you to take out each year is based on account balances and age. Holding off will likely result in bigger required withdrawals and potentially heftier tax hits when you do finally start taking money out. (If you have a 401(k), be sure you know what your own plan requires, as employers may have different guidelines for distribution.)

For instance, the IRS would require a 72-year-old with a $1 million retirement plan to take a distribution of about $36,500 this year. Delaying the withdrawal would allow that money to stay invested and grow. But that likely means a higher account balance in future years and fewer years to spread it over — thus the minimum distribution required later would be higher.


And since those distributions are considered income, they'll affect how much you pay in Medicare premiums, potentially cranking up your insurance costs each year.

If you’re thinking about your heirs, they could be even worse off tax-wise if you delay your distributions for too long. Under changes made in 2019, non-spousal beneficiaries — meaning children who are over the age of 18 — who inherit retirement accounts have to empty them within 10 years after the original accountholder dies (for deaths after 2019).

That could mean bigger distributions for your children down the line, possibly hitting them in their highest-earning years when they would be subject to the highest tax rates.

“It’s ‘The Great Tax Crunch,’” says Jeff Levine, a certified public accountant and financial planner at Buckingham Wealth Partners. “Fewer years of forced distributions plus fewer years of possible distributions means there is the potential for a lot more income to be squeezed into a lot smaller number of years.”


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