Ask the Expert: Grand way to be tax-free

If you're a New York resident older than

If you're a New York resident older than 591/2, up to $20,000 of your annual distributions from tax-deferred retirement plans is free of state tax. (Credit: iStock)

Lynn Brenner

Lynn Brenner Lynn Brenner

Brenner answers questions about all aspects of family finance.

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In a previous column, you said that New York State doesn't collect a state income tax on the first $20,000 of annual retirement income. What if you collect $20,000 from Social Security and $20,000 from an IRA distribution? Is the entire amount free of state tax? If not, how much is untaxed?

 

In the example you've given, the entire $40,000 would be free of state tax, assuming you're at least 591/2. The IRA distribution qualifies for the $20,000 annual exclusion. And New York doesn't tax Social Security benefits at all, even if they're subject to federal tax.

The $20,000 exclusion applies to annual income from all your tax-deferred retirement accounts. If you took $8,000 from a 401(k) plan, and $12,000 from IRAs, for example, the entire $20,000 would be state tax-free. You qualify for this break as soon as you turn 591/2.

Each taxpayer qualifies for the annual exclusion as an individual. In other words, if a husband and wife each qualify for a $20,000 exclusion, together they can exclude $40,000 of retirement account distributions from state taxes. But you can only claim the exclusion on distributions from your own retirement accounts. You can't pass an unused part of your exclusion to your spouse. Distributions from inherited retirement accounts also qualify, regardless of the beneficiary's age, if the original owner was at least 591/2 when he or she died. But if there are several beneficiaries, they must share the $20,000 annual exclusion that belonged to the original retirement account owner.

The bottom line If you're a New York resident older than 591/2, up to $20,000 of your annual distributions from tax-deferred retirement plans is free of state tax.

Websites with more information NYS Department of Taxation and Finance, Publication No. 36, available at bit.ly/169iMrC.

TO ASK THE EXPERT Send questions to Ask the Expert / Act 2, Newsday Newsroom, 235 Pinelawn Rd., Melville, NY 11747-4226, or email act2@newsday.com. Include your name, address and phone number. Questions can be answered only in this column. Advice is offered as general guidance. Check with your own advisers for your specific needs.