q) For several years prior to 1987 I contributed $2,000 each year to an IRA, deferring taxes on both principal and interest. Under the new law I do not qualify for a tax-deferred contribution, but may defer taxes on the interest. In January 1987 I added $2,000 to an existing IRA, thus comingling two kinds of IRAs -- or at least IRAs that will have to be treated differently for tax purposes. When this IRA (a CD) matures this month, I plan to separate the funds into two different accounts; the financial institution assures me they will be able to compute the earnings of the 1987 IRA separately, so the two accounts can be differentiated. This arrangement will be for my own convenience, but are there any tax or IRA requirements that I should be aware of?
a) As far as tax and IRA laws are concerned, there is no problem with comingling tax-deferred and after-tax IRA contributions in the same account, as long as you keep track of the total of the two kinds of deposits. There is no need -- in fact, no point -- to tracking earnings on those after-tax contributions separately, since they have the same tax-deferred status as earnings on your earlier IRA contributions.
I don't know what personal convenience you expect from separating the two kinds of IRAs. The rule on withdrawals requires that you consider all IRAs as a single account at that time. The ratio between tax-deferred and after-tax contributions determines how much of each withdrawal is exempt and how much is taxable.
That's why it's so important to keep track of your contributions of each type. It doesn't matter whether or not you keep your after-tax contributions in a separate account, since you have to consider the total of all accounts whenever you withdraw funds from any one of them.
q) I have some stocks in my brokerage account with strong growth potential; some haven't gone anywhere yet, others have already gone up as much as 75 percent. I would like to give some of these shares to my sister for her retirement in about 10 years. Should I do this now? Or make it part of my estate?
a)If these stocks are not generating income and you're holding them only for the growth, it won't make much difference to you which way you go unless your net taxable estate (after any marital bequest) is liable to exceed $600,000. If they are producing income, a gift now would transfer the income tax liability on the dividends from you to your sister.
And if your net taxable estate is likely to exceed the $600,000 ceiling (the point at which estate tax kicks in), then gifts up to the $10,000 annual ceiling will serve to reduce the size of the eventual estate.
But how you handle this could have an impact on your sister's tax situation. If you transfer the stocks to her as a gift, she gets the shares with the same basis as you had (usually your cost). But if they go to her as a bequest, her basis for figuring gain or loss on a later sale will be the fair market value on the date of your death -- likely to be considerably higher for growth stocks. Thus she has a potential tax saving if you leave her the shares as part of your estate.
Are you thinking about taking a home equity loan? Are you confused by all the media ads and home mailings you've been seeing? The Consumer Bankers Association has some help for you.They have published a little brochure that explains what a home equity line of credit is and how it works, including some guidelines on its use and a list of questions to ask before signing up.
You can get a free copy by writing to Home Equity Brochure, Consumer Bankers Association, 1300 N. 17th St., Suite 1200, Arlington, Va. 22209, and asking for "What You Should Know about a Home Equity Line of Credit." The Consumer Bankers Association represents about 700 federally insured banks, savings and loans and credit unions that hold more than 80 percent of all consumer deposits and more than 70 percent of all consumer credit held by commercial institutions.Abramson is a family financial counselor and tax adviser. Questions of general interest on tax matters, insurance, investments, estate planning and other aspects of family finances will be answered in this column. Advice cannot be given on an individual basis. Address all questions to E.M. Abramson, The Washington Post, Business & Finance News, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.