I am having difficulty getting a written response from the Internal Revenue Service on the status of interest paid as part of an installment agreement for 1981 tax delinquency. Under the new tax law, is this interest deductible at the 65 percent rate? I have requested an accounting of my payments in writing, but have only received postcards promising a response in 90 days. How does a taxpayer get the IRS to respond?
First answer: Yes, the interest paid to the IRS in 1987 is "consumer" interest; 65 percent may be claimed as an itemized deduction for 1987. (The proportion drops to 40 percent in 1988, 20 percent in 1989 and 10 percent in 1990. After 1990, personal interest will not be deductible.)
The IRS has provided an answer to your last question in the form of a "Problem Resolution Office." The PRO is supposed to help taxpayers cut through bureaucratic delays; you must have made at least one attempt to resolve your problem through normal channels first. The PRO will not get into the legal merits of a dispute; it's only supposed to help you find your way through red tape and sort out administrative difficulties.
The office is listed under the Internal Revenue Service in the U.S. government section of your telephone book. When you call, have all the pertinent information -- including the dates of your earlier attempts at reaching a resolution.
Recently I read there is a limit to the number of changes a person can make with IRAs. I thought I could transfer the funds in an IRA to any other IRA at any time and as often as I wanted. I was thinking of following a "timing" newsletter's advice with my current IRA; but if the number of changes I can make is restricted, that idea is out.
There is no limit on the number of transfers you can make -- a transfer being defined as a trustee-to-trustee move of IRA funds where you don't intervene. There is a limit, however, of one-per-year-per-IRA on rollovers where the funds are transferred to you, and you redeposit the money in another account (within 60 days after receipt).
This is the reason timing specialists recommend the use of a family of mutual funds where you can direct a transfer from one of their funds to another by phone. For example, you might want to move from a growth stock fund to a money market fund when the timer you're following believes the market is going to drop.
I must tell you, however, that according to some recent studies the timers haven't done any better -- and in some cases they have done worse -- than you would do by putting your money in a couple of good funds and leaving it there. I am a retired government annuitant with an annuity plus dividends and interest for the year totaling between $35,000 and $40,000. In addition, I will have earned income of about $3,400. Is my 1987 IRA contribution of $2,000 completely tax-sheltered or only partially? If the latter, to what extent?
Because of the relatively small amount of earned income, I assume you are not covered by a retirement plan at the source of your earned income. If that is true, then the entire $2,000 IRA contribution is deductible on your 1987 tax return. (The fact that you receive an annuity has no bearing on eligibility -- that doesn't make you an "active" participant.)
If you are covered by some kind of qualified plan where you work, then there is a "means test" -- and the numbers depend on whether you file a joint return or file as a single taxpayer.
For joint returns, if either spouse is covered by a qualified retirement plan at work, they are eligible for a full IRA deduction only if adjusted gross income is less than $40,000. Deductibility starts to phase out at the rate of $200 for each $1,000 of AGI above that amount, and is gone at $50,000.
If you file as individual return, the comparable numbers are $25,000 and $35,000.
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 News, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.