Q: I am leaving my job. How can I transfer the money in my 401(k) plan to another tax-deferred savings account without paying any penalties? I would be interested in an individual retirement account. I was told I could "store" this money in an IRA until I had a special need, such as buying my first home. Then, I was told, I could withdraw the money without paying any penalties. Is this true?
A: Not entirely. You may roll over the funds in your 401(k) tax-deferred savings plan to an individual retirement account without being assessed any taxes or penalties. The only qualification is that the transaction must be completed within 60 days of receiving your 401(k) account proceeds. Once the funds are in an IRA, you may - if you want - switch them again into a qualified pension plan offered by your new employer. Or you may just leave them in the IRA until you are eligible to withdraw them.The minute you withdraw any funds from your IRA for your personal use, you are subject both to taxes on the withdrawal as well as a possible penalty of 10 percent of the principal. The penalty is assessed if the withdrawal is made before you turn age 591/2. The only way a person under age 591/2 can avoid the 10 percent penalty is to withdraw the funds in annual increments according to the Internal Revenue Service's disbursement schedule, which is based on estimates of life expectancy.
There have been several proposals in Congress to allow "younger" IRA account holders to use their funds for a down payment on their first house. The theory is that account holders, particularly young people frozen out of the home market for lack of a down payment, should be given access to their retirement savings without having to pay a penalty. So far, however, the proposals have not moved beyond the discussion phase.
Still, some experts argue that it may be worth your while to withdraw your IRA account funds - and pay the penalty and taxes - to make the down payment on your house. According to this theory, you basically use the interest that your IRA has accumulated on a tax-deferred basis to pay the penalty, leaving you - more or less - with the principal you contributed to the account. Although you've wiped out the interest, you still have the principal, which may be just what you need to buy that house.
Q: I am a college professor and must pay a monthly fee of $27 to park on campus. I am also charged $12 per month to belong to our Faculty Club dining room.
A: The Internal Revenue Service says that your monthly parking fee and your faculty club dues are considered personal expenses and are not deductible on your income taxes.