By Sarah Brenner, JD
Director of Retirement Education
President Biden has declared September to be National Preparedness Month. The goal is to encourage Americans to be more prepared for natural disasters. Unfortunately, from flooding on the east coast to fires on the west coast the news headlines seem to be full of these devastating events, and an increasing number of Americans have been affected.
You may not realize that if you are the victim of a natural disaster, you may be eligible for some relief when it comes to your retirement account.
The IRS can postpone certain tax deadlines for individuals affected by federally declared disaster areas. These postponed deadlines can also apply to retirement accounts. For example, the relief includes more time to complete certain acts such as IRA rollovers or recharacterizations, correction of certain excesses, and extending the deadline for making IRA contributions.
When a deadline is postponed, the IRS will post information on its website giving the new deadline and specifying which taxpayers are affected.
Currently, victims of Hurricane Ida, flooding in Tennessee, and California wildfires are among those eligible for relief. For example, the deadline to complete certain retirement account related transactions has been extended until January 3, 2022, for victims of Hurricane Ida.
While the IRS can grant some tax relief to victims of natural disasters, its ability to do so is limited. There is some relief that that IRS does not have the power to give. For example, it cannot exempt early retirement account distributions from the 10% penalty. Such a change would require a change in the law and can only be made by Congress.
Congress has passed such legislation in the past for certain victims of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria and the California wildfires. Similar legislation was also passed back in 2005 to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina and in 2020 for persons affected by COVID-19
However, legislation giving retirement account relief to disaster victims is not always a sure thing. Unfortunately, politics can get in the way. Just ask victims of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Similar proposed legislation for victims of the superstorm that struck the Northeast stalled in Congress and never became law.
There have been proposals to make penalty-free disaster distributions a permanent part of the tax code. These proposals may gain some traction in Congress as, unfortunately, natural disasters seem to be becoming more frequent these days.