The "stretch" feature of Inherited IRAs makes them an effective estate planning tool for many investors. However, there are currently two retirement bills being proposed by the House and Senate that call for the elimination of this popular benefit.
While some commentators are calling this the "new death tax" because of its impact on estate planning, our analysis illustrates that the effect may be far less significant than it appears.
What is a "stretch IRA"?
If your spouse dies, you can roll their IRA into your own and use Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) based on your own circumstances. But if you are a non-spousal beneficiary of an IRA—for example a grandchild of the original owner—you get to keep the tax-deferred status of the original IRA, and stretch the RMDs across your expected lifespan. This generates a larger benefit for younger beneficiaries because they are able to take smaller distributions which mean smaller tax consequences and more time to reap the benefits of tax-deferred growth.
What are the proposed changes?
While the House bill (SECURE) differs from the as-yet-unpassed Senate version (RESA), both bills call for an elimination of the stretch benefit for most stretch IRAs. The SECURE Act would mandate non-spousal beneficiaries to distribute the entire balance by the end of the 10th year following the year of the account owner's death, while RESA would mandate a 5-year distribution period for balances over USD 400,000. Each bill provides for additional exceptions for certain circumstances, such as when the beneficiary is a minor or has a disability.
What would the impact be?
To assess the potential impact of these proposed changes, we will look at three scenarios: the owner lives and continues taking their regular RMDs; the beneficiary stretches distributions as they would under current legislation; and the beneficiary takes distributions under the proposed legislation.
While both bills would allow a window where installments could be taken leading up to the distribution deadline, we'll assume a worst-case scenario where the entire IRA is distributed in the year after the owner dies. We'll also assume distributions are either spent or held in cash. Fig. 1 shows the impact of the IRA value under each scenario, assuming 6% p.a. growth of invested capital but accounting for the depletion caused by RMDs.
The "stretch IRA" strategy—by amplifying the assets' tax deferral and reducing their tax drag—allows the IRA capital to grow beyond what would have been possible if the account owner had lived. We're also assuming that the 35-year old beneficiary's distributions are taxed at a lower rate than the original owner, since they are likely at a lower tax bracket.
By the same token, this illustrates how the proposed changes would erode IRAs' ability to grow capital on a tax-deferred basis, thus eliminating their biggest advantage as a cross-generational savings vehicle. All things being equal, this would erode the value of some inheritances, but the actual impact might not be as disastrous as it appears. But while RMDs are forced distributions, they do not represent forced spending. In our view, it is more realistic to assume that investors would not change their investment or spending plans based on changes to their RMDs, in which case we should also consider the growth of the IRA capital after it is distributed, as illustrated in Fig. 3.
In this context, the impact of the proposed changes is relatively limited. Over this 50-year period, we estimate an after-tax compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.84% if the owner lived, 5.07% under the current "stretch IRA" provision, and 4.74% under the "worst-case" version of the proposed laws.
In Part 2 of this series, once the Senate and House versions are passed and reconciled, we will address strategies that families will be able to implement to account for the new law. In the meantime, we would recommend against making any drastic changes to your legacy plans until the legislation is final.
UBS Chief Investment Office's ("CIO") investment views are prepared and published by the Global Wealth Management business of UBS Switzerland AG (regulated by FINMA in Switzerland) or its affiliates ("UBS").
The investment views have been prepared in accordance with legal requirements designed to promote the independence of investment research.
Generic investment research – Risk information:
This publication is for your information only and is not intended as an offer, or a solicitation of an offer, to buy or sell any investment or other specific product. The analysis contained herein does not constitute a personal recommendation or take into account the particular investment objectives, investment strategies, financial situation and needs of any specific recipient. It is based on numerous assumptions. Different assumptions could result in materially different results. Certain services and products are subject to legal restrictions and cannot be offered worldwide on an unrestricted basis and/or may not be eligible for sale to all investors. All information and opinions expressed in this document were obtained from sources believed to be reliable and in good faith, but no representation or warranty, express or implied, is made as to its accuracy or completeness (other than disclosures relating to UBS). All information and opinions as well as any forecasts, estimates and market prices indicated are current as of the date of this report, and are subject to change without notice. Opinions expressed herein may differ or be contrary to those expressed by other business areas or divisions of UBS as a result of using different assumptions and/or criteria.
In no circumstances may this document or any of the information (including any forecast, value, index or other calculated amount ("Values")) be used for any of the following purposes (i) valuation or accounting purposes; (ii) to determine the amounts due or payable, the price or the value of any financial instrument or financial contract; or (iii) to measure the performance of any financial instrument including, without limitation, for the purpose of tracking the return or performance of any Value or of defining the asset allocation of portfolio or of computing performance fees. By receiving this document and the information you will be deemed to represent and warrant to UBS that you will not use this document or otherwise rely on any of the information for any of the above purposes. UBS and any of its directors or employees may be entitled at any time to hold long or short positions in investment instruments referred to herein, carry out transactions involving relevantinvestment instruments in the capacity of principal or agent, or provide any other services or have officers, who serve as directors, either to/for the issuer, the investment instrument itself or to/for any company commercially or financially affiliated to such issuers. At any time, investment decisions (including whether to buy, sell or hold securities) made by UBS and its employees may differ from or be contrary to the opinions expressed in UBS research publications. Some investments may not be readily realizable since the market in the securities is illiquid and therefore valuing the investment and identifying the risk to which you are exposed may be difficult to quantify. UBS relies on information barriers to control the flow of information contained in one or more areas within UBS, into other areas, units, divisions or affiliates of UBS. Futures and options trading is not suitable for every investor as there is a substantial risk of loss, and losses in excess of an initial investment may occur.
Past performance of an investment is no guarantee for its future performance. Additional information will be made available upon request. Some investments may be subject to sudden and large falls in value and on realization you may receive back less than you invested or may be required to pay more. Changes in foreign exchange rates may have an adverse effect on the price, value or income of an investment. The analyst(s) responsible for the preparation of this report may interact with trading desk personnel, sales personnel and other constituencies for the purpose of gathering, synthesizing and interpreting market information.
Tax treatment depends on the individual circumstances and may be subject to change in the future. UBS does not provide legal or tax advice and makes no representations as to the tax treatment of assets or the investment returns thereon both in general or with reference to specific client's circumstances and needs. We are of necessity unable to take into account the particular investment objectives, financial situation and needs of our individual clients and we would recommend that you take financial and/or tax advice as to the implications (including tax) of investing in any of the products mentioned herein.
This material may not be reproduced or copies circulated without prior authority of UBS. Unless otherwise agreed in writing UBS expressly prohibits the distribution and transfer of this material to third parties for any reason. UBS accepts no liability whatsoever for any claims or lawsuits from any third parties arising from the use or distribution of this material. This report is for distribution only under such circumstances as may be permitted by applicable law. For information on the ways in which CIO manages conflicts and maintains independence of its investment views and publication offering, and research and rating methodologies, please visit www.ubs.com/research. Additional information on the relevant authors of this publication and other CIO publication(s) referenced in this report; and copies of any past reports on this topic; are available upon request from your client advisor.
Important Information about Sustainable Investing Strategies: Incorporating environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors or Sustainable Investing considerations may inhibit the portfolio manager’s ability to participate in certain investment opportunities that otherwise would be consistent with its investment objective and other principal investment strategies. The returns on a portfolio consisting primarily of ESG or sustainable investments may be lower than a portfolio where such factors are not considered by the portfolio manager. Because sustainability criteria can exclude some investments, investors may not be able to take advantage of the same opportunities or market trends as investors that do not use such criteria. Companies may not necessarily meet high performance standards on all aspects of ESG or sustainable investing issues; there is also no guarantee that any company will meet expectations in connection with corporate responsibility, sustainability, and/or impact performance.
Distributed to US persons by UBS Financial Services Inc. or UBS Securities LLC, subsidiaries of UBS AG. UBS Switzerland AG, UBS Europe SE, UBS Bank, S.A., UBS Brasil Administradora de Valores Mobiliarios Ltda, UBS Asesores Mexico, S.A. de C.V., UBS Securities Japan Co., Ltd, UBS Wealth Management Israel Ltd and UBS Menkul Degerler AS are affiliates of UBS AG. UBS Financial Services Incorporated of Puerto Rico is a subsidiary of UBS Financial Services Inc. UBS Financial Services Inc. accepts responsibility for the content of a report prepared by a non-US affiliate when it distributes reports to US persons. All transactions by a US person in the securities mentioned in this report should be effected through a US-registered broker dealer affiliated with UBS, and not through a non-US affiliate. The contents of this report have not been and will not be approved by any securities or investment authority in the United States or elsewhere. UBS Financial Services Inc. is not acting as a municipal advisor to any municipal entity or obligated person within the meaning of Section 15B of the Securities Exchange Act (the "Municipal Advisor Rule") and the opinions or views contained herein are not intended to be, and do not constitute, advice within the meaning of the Municipal Advisor Rule.
External Asset Managers / External Financial Consultants: In case this research or publication is provided to an External Asset Manager or an External Financial Consultant, UBS expressly prohibits that it is redistributed by the External Asset Manager or the External Financial Consultant and is made available to their clients and/or third parties.For country disclosures, click here.