Why the IRS wants you to be careful with those IRA rollovers

Memo from the Internal Revenue Service to retirement investors: Be careful with those individual retirement account rollovers.

That’s the gist of a recent IRS ruling that puts new restrictions on the number of “indirect rollovers” from one IRA to another you can do annually. The ruling comes on the heels of a federal court decision in January in which a complex strategy involving multiple rollovers executed by a New York City tax attorney, Alvan Bobrow, and his wife, Elisa, was disallowed. They were hit with a $51,298 income tax bill and a penalty of $10,260.

The new IRS rule only affects indirect rollovers, in which money isn’t sent direct from one financial trustee to another. Until now, such rollovers were permitted once every 12 months from each IRA account that a taxpayer owns. Starting January 1, 2015, the 12-month rule applies to all IRAs a taxpayer owns collectively. (Rollovers completed in 2014 won’t be affected.)

An indirect rollover allows an investor to withdraw funds from an IRA and then take up to 60 days to reinvest the proceeds in a different IRA without incurring income tax liability or the 10 percent withdrawal penalty for investors younger than 59 1/2. The court case, Bobrow v. Commissioner, involved several large indirect rollovers (just over $65,000 apiece) in 2008.

At issue is a sophisticated strategy, allowable under the old rules, aimed at drawing what amounts to an interest-free loan through a series of indirect rollovers. It’s usually executed by financial advisers or other financial experts because the penalties for mistakes are severe. Learn more at Reuters Money.