Thursday, January 19, 2012
Wall Street Journal, Romney's Unorthodox IRA:
Like many Americans, Mitt Romney has an individual retirement account. Unlike most Americans, Mr. Romney has between $20.7 million and $101.6 million in it, a big chunk of his fortune.
Experts on estate planning said it is highly unusual to accumulate such a considerable sum in an IRA, an investment vehicle restricted by annual contribution limits. It appears that Mr. Romney's grew so large mostly because it holds investments in Bain Capital, the private-equity firm he helped start.
Under federal law, Mr. Romney isn't required to pay annual taxes on the account's investment gains, and the bulk of his contributions to the fund are likely to have been pretax dollars, IRA experts say. As such, the Romney IRA has enabled the current Republican front-runner to defer paying taxes on a sizable portion of his wealth—although he could face high tax bills when he eventually withdraws the money.
Several estate-planning experts said they know of others with IRAs of more than $100 million, but they are rare. Typically, they said, that occurs when founders of companies invest in their own shares, which then take off.
Jonathan Rikoon, a lawyer at New York's Debevoise & Plimpton LLP who advises private-equity-fund executives on estate planning, said Mr. Romney's reliance on a tax-deferred retirement plan for so much of his wealth could end up costing him. An IRA allows a small immediate tax savings, plus deferral of taxes, he explains. But income from the account, when eventually withdrawn, will be taxed at the higher ordinary-income rate, not the lower capital-gains rate that might have applied if Mr. Romney had held the investments outside ...The Wall Street Journal analyzed Mr. Romney's latest federal financial-disclosure report, filed in August, to glean clues about his tax strategy. ...Mr. Romney's retirement account wasn't a Roth IRA, on which he would already have paid taxes, according to the campaign aide. He is required by law to begin withdrawing funds from his account beginning in 2017, when he reaches age 70½. Those withdrawals will be treated as ordinary income, which currently is taxed at a maximum federal rate of 35%. (For most Americans, IRAs make sense because their savings are so modest their retirement income won't likely trigger high tax rates.)
Mr. Romney's aide said that the candidate "accumulated his IRA holdings through annual contributions, rollovers of sums in other retirement plans, and successful investments."
Under current tax law, anybody investing an IRA in a private-equity fund, as Mr. Romney did, would likely incur a hefty special tax on "unrelated business income," also known as UBIT. This tax, assessed at a maximum 35% rate, is meant to discourage tax-exempt entities such as an IRA, pension plan or endowment fund from unfairly competing with for-profit, taxpaying entities by operating a business without paying taxes on it. Investing in a partnership that uses debt to buy companies would trigger the tax, experts said.
It isn't known whether Mr. Romney paid UBIT. His filings suggest use of a strategy involving offshore funds sometimes employed to avoid it, according to several experts.
One method used by tax lawyers is to have the IRA invest through an offshore affiliate of the private-equity firm, known as an offshore blocker corporation, which in turn invests the same money in the private-equity partnership. The tax is avoided because the IRA technically is investing in the offshore corporation, not in a private-equity partnership.
Tax experts say that might explain why Mr. Romney's IRA includes holdings in Bain entities based in offshore locations, including one Cayman Islands entity that Mr. Romney listed as having a value between $5 million and $25 million. Michael Knoll, a University of Pennsylvania law professor, said using offshore blocker corporations to avoid UBIT "is a form of tax planning that happens all the time."