Why a $2 Trillion Tax Bill Is Coming Due for Baby Boomers

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The oldest boomers turn 70½ on July 1, triggering required withdrawals.

Uncle Sam has been waiting a long time for this big tax payoff. It starts this year, as the oldest baby boomers hit age 70½ on July 1 and begin taking money out of their tax-advantaged savings accounts as required by law—and paying the income tax that has been deferred, in some cases for decades.

Boomers were the first generation to build their retirement plans around traditional IRAs, 401(k) plans and other tax-deferred savings vehicles. These were introduced in the mid 1970s and came into broad circulation in the 1980s, as part of the seismic shift to employer-sponsored defined contribution plans from defined benefit plans.

Traditional IRAs and 401(k) plans now hold more than $14 trillion. Even if that money comes out at the relatively low marginal income tax rate of 15%, this figure represents more than $2 trillion for the federal government. Of course, it will come out over many years. And the windfall actually began to take shape 11 years ago, when these same leading edge boomers turned 59½ and became eligible to begin tapping their tax-deferred accounts.

But most investors tend to leave their retirement savings untouched to grow tax deferred in order to get the maximum benefit. For millions of retirees, that deferral is coming to an end. The oldest boomers—those born the first six months of 1946—are now subject to annual required minimum distributions (RMDs) from their pre-tax savings. The penalty for not taking an RMD is a stiff 50% of the amount you were obligated to withdraw.

Posted in Columns on June, 2016

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Dan Kadlec is the founder and editor of Right About Money, a media platform that powers financial literacy. Right About Money informs global thought leaders, policymakers, and educators about trends in financial education, and advances their understanding of how best to boost personal money skills. At Right About Money, we...

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