IRS Reverses Long-Standing Position on One-Rollover-Per-Year Rule
The IRS has indicated that it will follow the recent Tax Court decision in Bobrow v. Commissioner, which held that a taxpayer may make only one tax-free, 60-day rollover between IRAs within each 12-month period, regardless of how many IRAs he or she maintains. However, the IRS will not apply this new interpretation to any rollover that involves an IRA distribution occurring before January 1, 2015.
The Internal Revenue Code says that if you receive a distribution from an IRA, you can't make a tax-free (60-day) rollover into another IRA if you've already completed a tax-free rollover within the previous 12 months.
The long-standing position of the IRS, reflected in Publication 590 and proposed regulations, is that this rule applies separately to each IRA you own. Publication 590 provides the following example:
"You have two traditional IRAs,* IRA-1 and IRA-2. You make a tax-free rollover of a distribution from IRA-1 into a new traditional IRA (IRA-3). You cannot, within 1 year of the distribution from IRA-1, make a tax-free rollover of any distribution from either IRA-1 or IRA-3 into another traditional IRA. However, the rollover from IRA-1 into IRA-3 does not prevent you from making a tax-free rollover from IRA-2 into any other traditional IRA. This is because you have not, within the last year, rolled over, tax free, any distribution from IRA-2 or made a tax-free rollover into IRA-2."
Very clear. Clear, that is, until earlier this year, when the Tax Court considered the one-rollover-per-year-rule in the case of Bobrow v. Commissioner.
Bobrow v. Commissioner
In this case, Mr. Bobrow (anecdotally, a tax lawyer) did the following:
- On April 14, 2008, he withdrew $65,064 from IRA #1. On June 10, 2008, he repaid the full amount into IRA #1.
- On June 6, 2008, he withdrew $65,064 from IRA #2. On August 4, 2008, he repaid the full amount into IRA #2.
Mr. Bobrow completed each rollover within 60 days. He made only one rollover from each IRA. So, according to Publication 590 and the proposed regulations, this should have been perfectly fine. However, the IRS served Mr. Bobrow with a tax deficiency notice, and the case went to the Tax Court. The IRS argued to the Court that Mr. Bobrow violated the one-rollover-per-year rule.
The Tax Court agreed with the IRS, relying on its previous rulings, the language of the statute, and the legislative history. The Court held that regardless of how many IRAs he or she maintains, a taxpayer may make only one nontaxable rollover within each 12-month period.
The IRS response
The IRS, in Announcement 2014-15, has indicated that it will follow the Tax Court's Bobrow decision, and apply the one-rollover-per-year rule on an aggregate basis, instead of separately to each IRA you own. However, in order to give IRA trustees and custodians time to make changes in their IRA rollover procedures and disclosure documents, the IRS will not apply this new interpretation to any rollover that involves an IRA distribution that occurs before January 1, 2015.
What this means to you
For the rest of 2014 the "old" one-rollover-per-year rule in IRS Publication 590 (see above) will apply to any IRA distributions you receive. So if you have a need to use 60-day rollovers to move funds between IRAs, you have only a limited time to do so without regard to the new Bobrow interpretation.
But keep in mind that you can make unlimited direct transfers (as opposed to 60-day rollovers) between IRAs. Direct transfers between IRA trustees and custodians aren't subject to the one-rollover-per-year rule. So if you don't have a need to actually use the cash for some period of time, it's generally safer to use the direct transfer approach, and avoid this potential problem altogether. The tax consequences of making a mistake can be significant, so don't hesitate to consult a qualified professional before making multiple rollovers.
*Note: The one-rollover-per-year rule also applies--separately--to your Roth IRAs. Roth conversions don't count as rollovers for this purpose.