Retirement Planning and the SECURE Act

Retirement Planning and the SECURE Act

The SECURE Act was a big deal when it was passed in December of 2019.  However, just a few short months later COVID-19 hit and the CARES Act was passed.  Most people never had a chance to incorporate the SECURE Act into your retirement plan before dealing with the pandemic and the CARES Act.  Although somewhat forgotten, the SECURE Act remains and is still significant.  This article will refresh you on some things to keep in mind.

Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) Age Raised

Prior to the SECURE Act, RMD’s were supposed to start by April 1 of the year following turning age 70.5.  Now, you are required to start by April 1 of the year following the year you turn 72.

There is no change if you were already taking RMDs (although there is a pause in 2020 as a part of the CARES Act).  This later RMD age provides a longer window to take advantage of certain tax planning strategies in retirement, namely Roth conversions.

Traditional IRA Contributions Beyond Age 70.5

While you could still make Roth IRA contributions past age 70.5 if you had earned income, you were not allowed to make traditional IRA contributions.  Now you can as long as you otherwise qualify.

Tax deductions can be crucial in retirement when planning around Social Security taxation and Medicare surcharges.  Now, an additional $7k (2020) in deductions are available to those with earned income.  This also allows high-income retirees to continue to do non-deductible IRA contributions that can be converted tax-free into a Roth IRA in the future.

Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD) Reduction

A QCD is still allowed once you turn 70.5 and can be an incredible tax strategy because many retirees don’t itemize anymore and therefore do not get a tax benefit for their charitable donations.  The QCD preserves the tax benefit, but is now reduced if you make Traditional IRA contributions.  

A Roth IRA contribution can make more sense compared to a Traditional IRA if you are pursuing the QCD strategy.

Changes to the Stretch IRA (Beneficiary Types)

Most IRA Beneficiaries used to have RMDs but could take these distributions over their own lifetime. Now, there are no RMDs but the entire account must be empty by the end of 10 years. 

Of course, there are some exceptions.  You can still use the lifetime stretch if you are a surviving spouse, minor child (of the account owner, not grandchildren), disabled, chronically ill or not more than 10 years younger than the IRA owner.

If you become a beneficiary, make sure you do proper tax planning to evaluate the best way to empty the account over the next 10 years.  

If you have IRAs and employer plans, it is time to re-evaluate your estate planning documents to make sure they still achieve your wishes in a tax-efficient manner.

If you inherited an account prior to 2020 then you can continue the stretch over your lifetime, but you don’t have to take one in 2020 due to the CARES Act.

Student Loan Expenses – For Your Kids and Grandkids

This one isn’t necessarily retirement-related, but may be crucial for someone in your family.  The SECURE Act made it possible for you to use a 529 plan to pay for student loan expenses (principal or interest).  The lifetime maximum is $10,000.  

Don’t have a 529 plan?  That’s okay because anyone can open one and contribute to it even after college.  This can make sense for those in states that offer a state tax deduction for contributions.

Be sure to coordinate this with a tax professional because not all states are on-board with this strategy even though the IRS is.  Also, the interest can’t be counted as an eligible expense if it is deducted on the tax return.


Between Tax Reform in 2018, the SECURE Act in 2019 and the CARES Act in 2020, there is a lot to revisit when it comes to your money, especially around taxes and retirement.


An earlier version of this article appeared here.