Advice From Labib: What Is the Most Tax-Efficient Way for Me to Take a Lump-Sum Distribution?

Advice From Labib
What Is the Most Tax-Efficient Way for Me to Take a Lump-Sum Distribution?

If you receive a lump-sum distribution from a qualified retirement plan, you face many challenges - especially when it comes to your tax situation. Most people have to consider the effects of two key issues: withholding and taxes.
Paying Current Taxes
If you are so inclined, you can pay current income taxes on the distribution and then spend or invest the balance as you wish. The problem with this approach is parting with all those tax dollars. However, if you decide to pay current income taxes, you do have options.
First, you may treat your distribution as ordinary income. You simply add it to the rest of your income for the year and is taxed at your current tax rate.
Or, if you qualify, you can use special tax options that can reduce the tax bill on your distribution.
The first special option, 10-year averaging, enables you to treat the distribution as if it were received in equal installments over a 10-year period. You then calculate your tax liability using the 1986 tax tables for a single filer. Ten-year averaging gives you "10 trips up the marginal rate ladder" and may save you even more in taxes, depending on the size of your distribution.
Another option, capital gains tax treatment, allows you to have the pre-1974 portion of your distribution taxed at a flat rate of 20 percent. The balance can be taxed under 10-year averaging, if you qualify.
To qualify for these special options, you must have participated in the qualified retirement plan for at least 5 years and you must be receiving a total distribution of your retirement account. Also, you must have been born prior to 1936.
You should note that these special tax treatments are one-time propositions. Once you elect to use a special option, future distributions will be subject to regular income taxes.
The "IRA Rollover" Strategy
If you don't want to pay current taxes on your distribution, you may roll the distribution over into a traditional individual retirement account (IRA). Doing this will enable your retirement nest egg to continue compounding tax deferred. Taxes will be postponed until you take a withdrawal from the IRA.
Rollovers must be completed within 60 days of the distribution to avoid taxes and penalties. Bear in mind that if you elect to roll over a distribution, it will not be eligible for any of the special tax treatments. Also, you must begin withdrawing funds from your IRA by April 1 of the year after the year in which you reach age 701/2 to avoid stiff penalties.
The 20% Withholding Rule
If you receive a lump-sum distribution in cash, 20 percent of your distribution will be withheld and applied toward the taxes on the distribution.
Withholding can be avoided by transferring your distribution directly from your retirement plan into an IRA or another qualified plan. The transfer must be direct; the money must not pass through your hands. You can also avoid withholding by keeping the funds with your former employer, if allowed.
Before you take any action, it would be prudent to consult with a tax professional regarding your particular situation.

Alfred Labib is an Independent Financial Advisor. "Our Goal Is To Help Investors Grow And Preserve Their Wealth Through Discipline And Process." 301-766-2039, www.labibfinancial.com.