Sunday, February 12, 2012

Senator wants to raid inherited IRAs

Bloomberg reports that Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont), chair of the Finance Committee, has proposed requiring that inherited IRAs and retirement accounts be paid out to beneficiaries within five years of the death of the participant. This would generate something in the neighborhood of $4.6 billion for the U.S. Treasury. Under current law, an IRA that is inherited by a properly-named designated beneficiary (other than the spouse) is usually paid out over the life expectancy of the beneficiary, a benefit that can significantly delay mandatory distributions of taxable income. Sen. Baucus, mischaracterizing the system that Congress created and that has been in place for many years, complains that beneficiaries are "abusing" the system by delaying distributions.  "They’re being used by some taxpayers to give tax-free benefits," he is quoted as saying. Tax-deferred, Senator, not tax-free. The money will be paid out, and tax will be paid.

Reports soon arose that Sen. Baucus was "backing off" a little bit on his proposal, but we can expect that legislators will continue to cast covetous glances at the accounts that are building wealth by keeping money out of the hands of the tax man for extended periods of time.

Update Feb 22: AdvisorOne reports that the provision, added by Sen. Baucus on February 7 during committee markup, remains in the bill. So much for backing off. The Financial Services Institute is "mobilizing" its members to press for the removal of this provision.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Scams targeting the elderly

Local news is reporting another upswing in scams targeting elderly victims, particularly the "Grandma scam". In this one, the victim receives an e-mail, purportedly from a grandchild somewhere in Europe or Mexico, saying that he has been arrested or robbed, and asking for money to be sent by wire to help him get home. The message also conveys a sense of urgency - the money has to be sent right away.

A call to a local police department or the state police can help to confirm that these requests are not legitimate.

Another precaution: If the e-mail message says that it's from Johnny, call Johnny directly, or call his parents to ask them to contact him. In many cases, this step will help to reveal that the request is a scam.

The Marquette Mining Journal reported in its Police Log in the February 2 edition:
9:54 a.m. - Client wiring money to relative in Mexico claiming to be in trouble; believed to be a scam; advised client it is a scam, but they refused to believe it; officer warned them as well, but they sent the money anyway. 600 block of West Washington Street.  
Even with intervention from an astute clerk (kudos to Check and Cash for being alert) and the local police department, it is not always possible to prevent this kind of victimization.

And the Marquette Monthly published this in its February 2012 edition:
Marquette County Sheriff’s office warns of sweepstakes scam - 
An unknown caller from a 1-888 number recently advised a Republic Township resident that she had won a million-dollar sweepstakes contest. The caller identified himself as being a representative of Publisher’s Clearing House, in Las Vegas (Nevada). He advised the resident she had won a million dollars and wanted to set a date and time for an individual to appear at her residence to be awarded the prize; all she needed was a “Money Pack” or “Money Order” for approximately $400.00.
 Publisher’s Clearing House does not notify winners via telephone and will never request payment from a winner to claim any prize. Residents are reminded to use caution when dealing with unfamiliar telephone numbers and unsolicited contacts.
Update: See and listen to Stepping Up and Stepping In for an Aging Parent on American Public Media's Marketplace (played on Saturday, February 4).