Demystifying the Stretch IRA

iStock_000066493583_XXXLargeStretch IRAs are useful tools for the individual who wants to extend the life of their retirement accounts through multiple generations. Although there is often confusion surrounding stretch IRAs and how they work, the concept is straightforward. A stretch IRA is a strategy, not a product, used to “stretch” the life of Roth IRA and Traditional IRA assets by designating beneficiaries with the longest life expectancy, such as grandchildren or even great grandchildren. By selecting beneficiaries two to three generations younger than the account owner, as opposed to designating children, the IRS will have lower imposed required minimum distributions (RMDs) for the inherited IRA, leaving a greater asset base to grow and cover future distributions.

To calculate the RMD for an inherited IRA (Table 1 – IRS Single Life Expectancy Table), divide the previous year-end account balance by the divisor (beneficiary’s life expectancy) corresponding to their respective age in the year following the death. This divisor is the IRS’s actuarial-based remaining life expectancy for the beneficiary, so each year, the divisor will decrease by 1, causing an increase in the percent of the account balance taken for the RMD.

The IRS provides a list of distribution options available to inherited IRA owners. Distribution options vary depending on whether the beneficiary was a spouse or non-spouse, and also whether the IRA owner passed away before their required beginning date (RBD), which is April 1 after they turn 70½. (more…)

Stretch IRA?

Have you ever heard the term “stretch IRA”? According to the IRS, there is no such thing. What has become known as a stretch IRA is really a withdrawal strategy geared to spread the tax-deferred status of your IRA assets across multiple generations. Basically this is a provision you can add to any traditional IRA, ROTH, SEP-IRA, or SIMPLE IRA by using a beneficiary designation form.

Typically, a spouse is named as the primary beneficiary of an IRA, with children as the contingent beneficiaries. In this approach, after your death your surviving spouse rolls the balance of your IRA into his or her own IRA. This will allow your spouse to use the money from your IRA to cover his or her living expenses.

Alternatively, if your spouse will not need the assets in your IRA for living expenses in retirement, then you may consider naming your children and/or grandchildren as the primary beneficiaries. This will create the “stretch IRA.” After your death, your beneficiaries would each acquire what’s known as an inherited IRA from which he or she would have to withdraw a required minimum distribution each year thereafter. Here is an example to illustrate: