In our March 7, 2012 blog post, we discussed a tax preparation and tax planning strategy whereby individuals who desire to make a Roth IRA contribution but cannot do so because of the amount of income they earned or because they are covered by their employer’s retirement plan can contribute to the individual’s traditional IRA and then convert the traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. We suggest you read the March 7 blog posting for the full details.
At a national tax conference, a practitioner mentioned that the IRS is challenging this tax strategy for one of his clients under IRS audit. The IRS argument for disallowing the conversion is that the conversion is in violation of the “step-transaction” doctrine.
The step-transaction doctrine is when the courts look past the transactions’ technical form and taxes the transactions based on their underlying substance. In other words, the courts render the individual tax significance of each step irrelevant when, considered as a whole, they all amount to no more than a single transaction. In its more simplistic form, if a taxpayer is precluded from going from point A to point B in a tax-free transaction, when the taxpayer goes from point A to point C and then to point D and eventually goes to point B and the combination of those steps results in a tax-free transaction, the IRS and the courts will not recognize these progressive steps as a tax-free transaction. The reasoning of the courts is that the substance of the transaction and not the form prevails, and since the taxpayer has merely gone from point A to point B, it remains a taxable transaction.
It will be interesting to see if this audit adjustment is pursued by the IRS and if the issue is litigated. While the IRS argument may have merit, the IRS is ignoring the fact that taxpayers are allowed by law to convert traditional IRAs to Roth IRAs. Whereas most traditional IRA conversions to Roth IRAs result in the immediate recognition of tax to the taxpayer, the strategy discussed in the March 7 post usually results in no or little tax being paid.
If you want to learn more about your personal tax strategies, we invite you to call 610-594-2601 today to make an appointment at our Exton PA CPA office to discuss your situation. You can also schedule a consultation at Click Here.