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Beware the Limits on IRA Rollovers

An IRA can be one of the best investments you make, but watch out: moving your money around too often may cost you.

You can tap your IRA and put the money back into an IRA within 60 days without incurring a tax bill. But try doing that a second time within 12 months and Uncle Sam will come calling.

You can only do one 60-day IRA rollover in a 12-month period, regardless of how many IRAs you own. Before 2015, the one-per-12-month rule could be applied to each IRA you owned.

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Failing to heed the limited rollover rule triggers some costly consequences. The distribution you intended to put back into the tax shelter will instead become taxable. And you’ll incur tax penalties for excess contributions as long as the disallowed money remains in the IRA.

One big misunderstanding several IRA owners have had about the change is not realizing that all their IRAs are included, even SEP IRAs and Roth IRAs, says Mark Struthers, founder of Sona Financial, in Chanhassen, Minn. “It is easy to make a mistake,” he says.

Although this rule has been in effect for a while, not everyone is aware of the change nor an easy solution that can mitigate the risk of getting snared by it, says Cheryl Costa, principal with Woodside Wealth Management, in Framingham, Mass. If you need to move IRA money between financial firms, make the switch through a direct trustee-to-trustee transfer. That type of transfer can be done any number of times in a year.

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Costa says she advises clients to always do a trustee-to-trustee rollover. Some custodians still send a check to the account holder for forwarding, she says. If that happens, be sure the check is made out to the custodian “for benefit of” the account holder.

For IRA owners who invest in certificates of deposit, there’s another solution: Use brokered CDs instead of direct CDs. In chasing the best CD interest rates, you could run afoul of this IRA rule limiting rollovers if you move CD money from bank to bank yourself more than once in 12 months. But because you can keep multiple brokered CDs in one brokerage account, you can eliminate a potential tax headache while scoring the best available interest rate on your cash in an IRA.

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