The Taxation of Individual Retirement Plans: Increasing Choice for Seniors

25 Pages Posted: 18 Feb 2005

Abstract

For many senior citizens, individual retirement plans, such as IRAs and 401(k)s, are a primary saving vehicle for retirement. Along with Social Security, individual retirement plans ("IRPs") represent a major source of money for retirement. However, even though IRPs are a valuable saving vehicle for many seniors, many IRPs have one major drawback: the forced distribution of assets and the associated taxation of those assets for senior citizens at age 70-1/2 for traditional IRAs and the later of age 70-1/2 or the year in which the account holder retires for 401(k)s. This requirement forces many seniors to take distributions when they do not need them Worse, in cases of a down market, the forced distributions may require seniors to sell assets at depressed prices to pay taxes, even if investment losses have been incurred. This study addresses the minimum distribution requirement that effectively forces senior citizens to withdraw funds from IRPs or face a 50 percent excise tax, the reasoning behind the requirement, and the economic harm it can have on seniors, and some policy alternatives to this requirement that would help mitigate the bias against seniors and their retirement that this requirement creates. This study proposes several options that would either repeal or modify the minimum age requirement for forced distributions beginning at age 70-1/2. These options include: repeal, limited repeal, an increase in the minimum withdrawal age, a limited exclusion, a credit for excess withdrawals, allowing losses to be applied to other gains, and a grace period. Any of the proposals would enhance efficiency by providing seniors with the choice of determining when it is in their best interest to make a withdrawal from their IRP, how much to withdraw and subsequently pay the appropriate tax. The individual is in the best position to know when is the right time to elect to make withdrawals, not the government. Further, forcing seniors to sell assets in market conditions that have reduced their retirement plan assets may undermine the retirement security of seniors and produce less tax revenue to the government.

JEL Classification: J26, H55, H2

Suggested Citation

Fichtner, Jason J., The Taxation of Individual Retirement Plans: Increasing Choice for Seniors. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=668564 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.668564

Jason J. Fichtner (Contact Author)

Johns Hopkins University - SAIS ( email )

1717 Massachusetts Avenue NW
Washington DC, DC 20036
United States

HOME PAGE: http://https://sites.google.com/site/jasonjfichtner/

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