Question: Does it really make such a big difference over the years if I wait until next April to deposit my 1983 IRA money rather than putting it in early? I've heard some pretty big numbers thrown around.
Answer: Shortly after getting your question I received a press release on this very subject from the Investment Company Institute (the trade association for the mutual fund industry).
They've worked out some pretty interesting numbers. For instance, a $2,000-a-year IRA invested every year on June 1 will produce after 20 years (at 10 percent a year) $10,285 more than the same money invested on April 15 of each succeeding year. Given the same 10 percent rate, investing on Jan. 1 each year for 30 years will generate $32,898 more than a Dec. 31 payment.
Sounds pretty impressive--but I don't think it's a fair comparison. It assumes that you don't have the money to invest until the date they use each year; and if you don't, then you really have no choice, so do the best you can and don't worry about it.
On the other hand, if you do have the money available and do have a choice of investment dates, then to be fair, you should add to the total return the interest the $2,000 will earn in some alternative investment while you're waiting to make your IRA deposit.
There will still be a difference, because of the deferred tax liability. That is, the sooner you put your $2,000 into the IRA the sooner you can defer tax liability on the earnings. For that reason, I recommend making your IRA deposit as early in the year as you can. Even if you count all of the earnings, the early IRA deposit method will still come out ahead--but the difference is not as dramatic as some surveyors of IRA plans make it out to be.
Question: I have just made one of my daughters a joint owner on several savings and checking accounts. I will state in my will that upon my death the money in those accounts is to be divided equally with my other children. I cannot forsee any trouble she might have, but having just gone through the trauma of a relative leaving no will, I thought I would check with you.
Answer: Death--like life--is never that simple. When you named your daughter joint owner on your bank accounts you removed the money in those accounts beyond the control of your will.
On your death, any property on which there is a joint owner will go automatically to the surviving owner. You cannot change to a different distribution by any specification in your will.
The daughter whom you have named on these accounts may very well agree to share the proceeds with her sisters and brothers at the appropriate time, but she is under no legal obligation to do so. And even if she does follow your wishes, if the amount of money involved is substantial she may run into gift tax complications.
Although the naming of a joint owner will remove the assets from the probate process, the money will still be included in your estate for estate tax purposes.
Although joint ownership may well have a place in an estate plan, it should not be used as a substitute for a properly drawn will.
Question: In The Washington Post of July 11 you answered the question of how shares of stock purchased by reinvestment of dividends were to be treated on Schedule D of the tax return. I have a further question: Do those reinvested dividends have to be separated into long-term and short-term investments, if the original stock has been owned for several years?
Answer: Yes--and I should have pointed that out in the original answer. The sale of the original shares, plus all reinvested dividends received more than a year before the date of the sale, should be reported as longterm. The figures for all dividends received within a year or less prior to the sale should be computed separately and reported in the short-term section of Schedule D.
Questions of general interest on tax matters, insurance, investments, estate planning and other aspects of family finances will be answered in this column.