Planning to retire? Contemplating a rollover? Here are three ways NOT to do it.
1. Get a check from the company
Of course, this is just foolish. The company must withhold 20% from the payment, so that a person with a $100,000 account will have $20,000 withheld, and will receive a check for $80,000. In order to complete a tax-free rollover, the taxpayer must deposit that $80,000 in an IRA plus $20,000 from their pocket to complete a tax-free $100,000 rollover. The taxpayer may eventually get the $20,000 withheld as a tax refund the following year, but that will not help their cash flow, as they need to complete their IRA rollover within 60 days of receiving the check from their qualified plan. The bottom line is that people should never touch their qualified funds. The only sensible way to move funds is a direct transfer from the qualified plan to the IRA custodian and avoid withholding.
2. Rollover company stock
Shares of employer stock get special tax treatment, and in many cases, it may be fine to ignore this special status and roll the shares to an IRA. This would be true when the amount of employer stock is small, or the basis of the shares is high relative to the current market value. However, in the case of large amounts of shares or low basis, it would be a very costly mistake not to use the Net Unrealized Appreciation (NUA) Rules.
If your company retirement account includes highly appreciated company stock, an option is to withdraw the stock, pay tax on it now, and roll the balance of the plan assets to an IRA. This way you will pay no current tax on the Net Unrealized Appreciation (NUA), or on the amount rolled over to the IRA. The only tax you pay now would be on the cost of the stock (the basis) when acquired by the plan. If you withdraw the stock and are under 55 years old, you have to pay a 10% penalty (the penalty is only applied to the amount that is taxable). IRA owners can then defer the tax on the NUA until they sell the stock. When you do sell, you will only pay tax at the current capital gains rate. To qualify for the tax deferral on NUA, the distribution must be a lump-sum distribution, meaning that all of the employer’s stock in your plan account must be distributed.
3. Rollover after-tax dollars
Sometimes, qualified plan accounts contain after-tax dollars. At the time of rollover, it is preferable to remove these after-tax dollars, and not roll them to an IRA. That way, if the account owner chooses to use the after-tax dollars, he will have total liquidity to do so. You can take out all of the after-tax contributions, tax-free, before rolling the qualified plan dollars to an IRA. You also have the option to rollover pre-tax and after-tax funds from a qualified plan to an IRA and allow all the money to continue to grow tax-deferred. The big question is, “will you need the money soon?” If so, it probably will not pay to rollover the after-tax money to an IRA, because once you roll over after-tax money to an IRA, you cannot withdraw it tax-free. The after-tax funds become part of the IRA, and any withdrawals from the IRA are subject to the “Pro Rata Rule.”