Key Individual Provisions in SECURE 2.0January 16, 2023

Secure 2.0

In late December while most practitioners and their clients were busy with other things, Congress was passing a giant omnibus budget bill. Buried within it was the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement 2.0 Act of 2022 (SECURE 2.0), which contains many retirement (and some other) changes that practitioners and their clients need to be aware of. The 2023 omnibus bill containing the following key individual provisions was signed into law by the President on December 29, 2022.

Provisions Benefiting Individuals

Tax-free rollovers from 529 accounts to Roth IRAs. After 2023, the Act permits beneficiaries of 529 college savings accounts to make up to $35,000 of direct trustee-to-trustee rollovers from a 529 account to their Roth IRA without tax or penalty. The 529 account must have been open for more than 15 years, and the rollover is limited to the amount contributed to the 529 account (and its earnings) more than five years earlier. Rollovers are subject to the Roth IRA annual contribution limits but are not limited based on the taxpayer’s AGI.

Age increased for required distributions. Under the Act, the age used to determine required distribution beginning dates for IRA owners, retired employer plan members, and active-employee 5%-owners increases, in two stages, from the current age of 72 to age 73 for those who turn age 72 after 2022, and to age 75 for those who attain age 74 in 2032.

Bigger catch-up contributions permitted. Starting in 2025, the Act increases the current elective deferral catch-up contribution limit for older employees from $7,500 for 2023 ($3,500 for SIMPLE plans) to the greater of $10,000 ($5,000 for SIMPLE plans), or 50% more than the regular catch-up amount in 2024 (2025 for SIMPLE plans) for individuals who attain ages 60-63. The dollar amounts are inflation-indexed after 2025.

More penalty-free withdrawals permitted. The Act adds an exception after 2023 to the 10% pre-age-59½ penalty tax for one distribution per year of up to $1,000 used for emergency expenses to meet unforeseeable or immediate financial needs relating to personal or family emergencies. The taxpayer has the option to repay the distribution within three years. No other emergency distributions are permissible during the three-year period unless repayment occurs.

Similarly, plans may permit participants that self-certify having experienced domestic abuse to withdraw the lesser of $10,000, indexed for inflation, or 50% of their account free from the 10% tax on early distributions. The participant has the opportunity to repay the withdrawn money from the retirement plan over three years and get a refund of income taxes on money that is repaid. Also, the additional 10% early distribution tax no longer applies to distributions to terminally ill individuals.

Beginning December 29, 2025, retirement plans may make penalty-free distributions of up to $2,500 per year for payment of premiums for high-quality coverage under certain long-term care insurance contracts.

Also, retroactive for disasters after January 25, 2021, penalty-free distributions of up to $22,000 may be made from employer retirement plans or IRAs for affected individuals. Regular tax on the distributions is taken into account as gross income over three years. Distributions can be repaid to a tax-preferred retirement account. Additionally, amounts distributed prior to the disaster to purchase a home can be recontributed, and an employer may provide for a larger amount to be borrowed from a plan by affected individuals and for additional time for repayment of plan loans owed by affected individuals.

The Act also contains an emergency savings provision that allows employers to offer non-highly compensated employees emergency savings accounts linked to individual account plans that automatically opt employees into these accounts at no more than 3% of their salary, capped at a maximum of $2,500. Employees can withdraw up to $1,000 once per year for personal or family emergencies without certain tax consequences.

Reduced penalty tax on failure to take RMDs. For tax years beginning after December 29, 2022, the Act reduces the penalty for failure to take required minimum distributions from qualified retirement plans, including IRAs, or deferred compensation plans under Code Sec. 457(b) from the current 50% to 25% of the amount by which the distribution falls short of the required amount. It reduces the penalty to 10% if the failure to take the RMD is corrected in a timely manner.

Favorable surviving spouse election. For plan years after 2023, the surviving sole spousal designated beneficiary of an employee who dies before RMDs have begun under an employer qualified retirement plan may elect to be treated as if the surviving spouse were the employee for purposes of the required minimum distribution rules. If the election is made distributions need not begin until the employee would have had to start them.

This provision allows a designated spousal beneficiary to receive a similar distribution period for lifetime distributions under an employer plan as is permitted if the surviving spouse rolled the amount into an IRA.

IRS will prescribe the time and manner of the election, which once made may not be revoked without IRS’ consent.

Employer match for student loan payments. To assist employees who may not be able to save for retirement because they are overwhelmed with student debt and are missing out on available matching contributions for retirement plans, SECURE allows them to receive matching contributions by reason of their student loan repayments. For plan years after 2023, it allows employers to make matching contributions under a 401(k) plan, 403(b) plan, or SIMPLE IRA for “qualified student loan payments.”

More qualify for ABLE programs. States may establish tax-exempt ABLE programs to assist persons with disabilities. Under current law, an individual must become disabled or blind before age 26 to be eligible to establish an ABLE account. The Act raises the age threshold from 26 to 46. The change is effective for tax years beginning after 2025.

Tax-exempt disability retirement payouts for first responders. The Act allows law enforcement officers, firefighters, paramedics, and emergency medical technicians to exclude from gross income certain service-related disability pension or annuity payments (from a 401(a), 403(a), governmental 457(b), or 403(b) plan) after they reach retirement age. The exclusion applies to amounts received for post-2026 tax years.

Telehealth exemption for HDHPs. To facilitate the use of telehealth during the COVID pandemic, the CARES Act provided that coverage for telehealth and other remote care services would be disregarded coverage, which could be provided before a High Deductible Health Plan minimum deductible was satisfied without causing a loss of Health Savings Account eligibility for plan years beginning before 2022. The Act amends the IRC to provide that the exception for telehealth and other remote care services applies to plan years beginning after 2022 and before 2025.

Return of excess contributions. The Act specifies that earnings attributable to excess IRA contributions that are returned by the taxpayer’s tax return due date (including extensions) are exempt from the 10% early withdrawal tax. The taxpayer must not claim a deduction for the distributed excess contribution. This applies to any determination of, or affecting, liability for taxes, interest, or penalties made on or after December 29, 2022.

Time limit on excess contribution excise tax. The Act provides that the statute of limitations for the assessment of excise taxes on excess contributions to tax-favored accounts and accumulations on qualified retirement plans begins to run on the filing of the taxpayer’s income tax return for the year of the violation and runs for three years (six years in the case of excess contributions). The starting point no longer depends on the plan’s filing an excise tax return.

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