Back to Basics Part XXVI – Form 8606 – Nondeductible IRAs

Originally published in the Cedar Street Times

October 30, 2015

If you have traditional or Roth IRAs, you owe it to yourself to understand what is meant by having “basis in your IRA.”  This is especially important for people that have switched tax preparers over the years or prepared returns themselves, as they may not have transferred or tracked the amounts properly from year-to-year, or preparer-to-preparer.  Failure to understand this concept could result in oversights that cost you thousands or tens of thousands of dollars in tax when you start withdrawing and using the money from those accounts.

Having basis in your IRA means that you have made a contribution to your IRA at some point over the years for which you did not receive a tax deduction when you made the contribution.  Since you did not get a tax deduction when you contributed the money, you should not have to pay tax when you withdraw the money.  Roth contributions, by nature, are those for which you receive no tax deduction when you put the money in, so all contributions create basis.  With traditional IRAs, you create basis when contributing if your income is too high and you are therefore disallowed from taking the tax deduction.  Having high income would not prohibit you from making the contribution to the account, but you would just not be allowed to take the tax deduction on the tax returns.

If you are unfamiliar with the related calculations and forms and do not review them carefully or discuss them with your return preparer (or just plain have no interest in doing so!), you could easily assume you are getting a deduction when you are not.  Financial advisors generally have no idea if you have basis in your IRAs because they do not typically obtain copies of your tax returns and verify the deductions each year – it is just not part of their job description.  Basis to them generally means, what did you pay for the stock, bond, or mutual fund (a different concept of basis relevant for regular brokerage accounts).

And you do not really need a lot of income to be phased out from the deduction; it is not just a problem for the rich.  For tax year 2015, people filing single or head of household that also contributed to a retirement plan through their work during the year (even if a trivial amount) or were eligible for a pension, are allowed to take the deduction in full until they reach only $61,000 of income.  Then the deduction starts to phase out and is completely phased out once they have $71,000 of income.  For married couples filing jointly, the combined income (of both spouses) phase out range is only $98,000 to $118,000 when determining the deductibility of a contribution when both spouses participates in a work plan.  In situations where one spouse participates in a work plan, and the other does not, the phaseout range for the deductibility of the contribution by the spouse that does not participate in a work plan is a combined income (of both spouses) of $181,000 – $191,000.  If neither spouses participates in a work plan during the year, there is no income phase out for the deduction that year.

The other way people get basis in their IRAs is if they are inherited.  Since IRAs do not get a step-up in basis upon the death of a decedent, you receive the basis the decedent had in the IRA (if any).  So it becomes very important to make sure you know what this is and hopefully have some documentation supporting it.

When you start withdrawing money out of your IRAs, the tax preparer determines the tax free portion of your withdrawal by dividing your total historical IRA basis by the total year-end values of all your SEP, SIMPLE and Traditional IRAs and multiplying that ratio by your IRA withdrawal amount.  If you or your past preparer(s) did not carefully track and pass this basis number on over the years, then your current preparer will generally assume there is no basis.  As such you have just set yourself up to be double taxed – once when the money was put in and you did not get the deduction and now again, when you take the distributions.

Sadly, I regularly see new clients come through my doors whose basis is missing, drastically lower than it should be, or at least suspect of being low; the client often has no idea why it even matters, has not kept records, and has changed investment advisors and tax preparers several times.  It becomes time consuming and expensive to recreate, if it can be done at all, or is even noticed in the first place.  Unless a nondeductible contribution is made during the year, the Form 8606 used to track the nondeductible contributions, is not filed and therefore not part of the return you may hand to your new preparer.  That individual has to have the presence of mind to ask about these carryovers.  I see these problems mostly with do-it-yourself and discount tax service chains.  Those options certainly have a right place and serve a need, but as a consumer, you need to understand the more you have at stake, the more detrimental is a mistake.

As mentioned before, with Roth IRAs, basis is created with every contribution.  What becomes important to track with Roth IRAs is the total amount of direct contributions made to the Roth versus Roth conversions and rollovers from traditional IRAs.  If you take any distributions before reaching age 59 1/2, or are over 59 1/2 but have had a Roth IRA for less than five years, these amounts become critical in order to calculate if a portion of your distribution is taxable.  There is a specific ordering method for withdrawals which is favorable.  As with traditional IRAs, Roth IRA basis is often forgotten about over the years.

The Form 8606 – Nondeductible IRAs does several things: 1)  it is used to calculate and track nondeductible contributions to traditional IRAs, 2) it is used to calculate the taxability of SEP, SIMPLE, and traditional IRA distributions when there is basis, 3) it is used to calculate the tax on Roth conversions, and 4) it is used to calculate the any possible tax on Roth distributions.  Part I of the is used for items 1) and 2) above.  Part II of the form is used 3), above and part III of the form is used to calculate item 4).

The instructions to the form also explain how to handle recharacterizations – this is where you  contribute money to an IRA and then later for that same tax year decide you want to “recharacterize” it as a contribution to a Roth IRA instead, or vice versa – it’s like a “do-over.”  In addition the instructions explain how to handle excess contributions or a return of contributions made during the year.

Even though the taxing authorities have theoretically received all your 8606s since 1987 when nondeductible IRAs were first permitted, I have never seen them point out to a taxpayer that he had basis in the past that was overlooked.  In fact, in the instructions to the form the IRS puts the burden on the taxpayer to retain the supporting documents from inception of your IRAs until your retirement accounts are fully distributed (plus at least three years for audit possibilities).

They ask that for the purpose of proving your basis in IRAs, you keep the first page of all 1040s, keep all Form 8606s,  keep all Form 5498s from your custodian showing the amounts contributed each year, as well as all 1099-Rs showing any distributions.  Now you know why, when people ask me how long I suggest keeping tax returns, I say, “Forever.”  I actually have scans of every one of my personal tax returns dating back to when I was 16, mowing greens, raking bunkers, and driving tractors in the summer for a golf course.

If you have questions about other schedules or forms in your tax returns, prior articles in our Back to Basics series on personal tax returns are republished on my website at www.tlongcpa.com/blog .

Travis H. Long, CPA, Inc. is located at 706-B Forest Avenue, PG, 93950 and focuses on trust, estate, individual, and business taxation. He can be reached at 831-333-1041.

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