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The Perfect Crime

Everybody needs money. That’s why they call it money. Maybe that’s why the heist movie is still a Hollywood staple. It’s been a while since we thrilled to classics like Heat, or Oceans 11, or The Sting. But who can resist the heist film’s enticing promise: the coolest crew coming together to take the ultimate shortcut to the American Dream, the one huge payday that means never working again?

They say Washington is Hollywood for ugly people, so it shouldn’t surprise you that Washington likes a good heist, too. Except, in Washington, the thieves aren’t eyeing priceless art, jewels, or stacks of bearer bonds. (Why do bearer bonds even exist other than to get stolen in heist movies, anyway?) In Washington, they’re after your money — and they’re tiptoeing as carefully after it as the stealthiest cat burglar.

On May 12, the House voted 417-3 to pass the “Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement” (SECURE) Act. (Someone on the Government Office Acronym Team worked overtime on that.) Now, “SECURE Act” probably conjures up images of happy seniors sipping lemonade on the porch, watching the grandchildren frolic in the sprinkler. And the bill includes a grab-bag of provisions designed to keep Grampy and Nona smiling, like adding annuity options to defined contribution plans and pushing back the required minimum distribution age from 70½ to 72.

But the bill sneaks in one move that even Danny Ocean would admire. Under current law, your nonspousal beneficiaries can keep your retirement accounts on life support, even after your death, for as long as their own life expectancy. It’s called a “Stretch IRA,” and it can mean decades of extra tax-deferred compounding. The SECURE Act forces them to take everything out — and of course pay tax on it — over just 10 years. Maybe they should have called thatprovision the Hidden Efforts Imposing Stealth Taxes (HEIST) Act!

The SECURE Act won’t just make your beneficiaries pay tax faster. It’s probably going to make them cough up more. That’s because they’ll have to pile those forced distributions on top of their regular income. Imagine a six-figure executive or professional inheriting a significant IRA. The extra cash could easily push them into higher tax brackets at both the federal and state levels.

Had enough? It gets worse. Right now we’re enjoying the lowest tax rates in a generation, thanks to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. But those rates are scheduled to self-destruct after 2025, making SECURE Act distributions even pricier. (While we’re at it, if your grandchildren are heading to college, the extra cash could blow up their FAFSAs, too.)

Right now, the Act is stalled in the Senate. Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who’s never been afraid to irritate his colleagues if it means scoring brownie points with his base, is the roadblock. He’s holding it hostage because it doesn’t let families raid their kids’ 529 accounts to pay for home schooling costs. It’s almost a shame . . . in today’s Congress, a 417-3 agreement is more precious than the Monet Pierce Brosnan targets in The Thomas Crown Affair. Still, the Capitol Hill Bandits will probably wind up taking down the score.

The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. And just like that, your money’s gone. Good thing you’ve got us to keep an eye on Congress. So call us whether Washington gets away with this one or not — either way, we’ll have your plan!