Question: I keep reading that the money in an IRA grows faster because the income isn't taxed. I don't see anything special in my IRA statements. Where does the extra money show up.?
Answer: Let's say that on the first of the year you put the maximum $1,500 into a mutual fund for your 1980 IRA and that over the course of the following 12 months the fund pays $180 in regular dividends.
The $180 is reinvested in your fund account as it is paid (probably quarterly). Since it is an IRA, income tax liability on the $180 is deferred until you retire and start drawing from the account.
Since there is no current tax liability, the entire $180 can remain in the account to earn future dividends instead of being reduced by a tax liability of, say, $60, assuming you have other interest and dividends that use up your $200 exclusion.
The problem is that this is a very neat theoretical exercise used to promote the various IRA and Keogh vehicles -- perpetuated by financial counselors like me because the theory makes a very pat and easy explanation that few people question.
But in fact, it doesn't square with the real world. Very few investors actually segregate their mutual fund dividends to determine the applicable tax liability created by those dividends alone.
Mutual fund dividends generally are included along with other income, where they either reduce the tax refund the investor should otherwise get or increase the amount owed to Uncle Sam.
People simply do not sell or redeem shares of their mutual fund to provide the relatively small amount of cash needed to pay the income tax attributable to "non-IRA" dividends earned. In most cases, the extra tax is absorbed in current operation expenses.
So as a practical matter of a non-IRA mutual fund will grow just as fast as an IRA or Keogh account in the same fund.
Now this is not to say there's no tax benefit from an IRA. Of course there is, and I heartily recommend an IRA or Keogh plan for everyone who is eligible.
But for most people that tax benefit comes in the form of a lower annual tax bill and more current spending money rather than faster growth of the IRA itself, and you won't actually see the tax savings reflected in the account. Q: My husband and I would like your opinion on a disagreement. We were married in November 1980. I was living in New York at the time, and he was in D.C. My husband says we can file separate returns as single persons for 1980. I have two questions: Can we legally file as my husband suggests? Does the IRS know we got married in 1980?
A: No, you can't legally file as single individuals for 1980. If you were married on Dec. 31, 1980, for tax purposes you're considered to have been married for the entire year. You have a choice between filing a joint return or married filing separately, but not as two singles.
The IRS doesn't review marriage license records all over the county; it is unlikely they would know about your marriage. But the information might pop up later, perhaps in connection with an audit of your 1980 or later return. IRS examination is not limited to three years for a return in which fraud is involved.
You might never be caught, but it is still against the law. My advice is to file a joint return and consider the extra tax expense just a part of the cost of being married.
Then write to your representatives in Congress and urge them to support elimination or at least reduction of the marriage tax penalty.
Your state returns present a different problem. You'll have to file a part-year return in New York for the period preceding your marriage, then a part-year return in D.C. for the rest of the year. Your husband should file only a separate full-year D.C. return. See the state instruction booklets for details.
Here's a tax tip you might overlook. If you got your job in D.C. (either with the same or a different employer) before you moved from New York, you may be eligible to claim moving expenses. The fact that your marriage prompted the move is not a bar to the deduction if you meet all the rules.