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Tax Tip: What Happens in Your IRA Stays in Your IRA

Editor's Note: This article is part of our 2013 Tax Tips series. Robert Flach is an expert with almost 40 years of experience as a tax professional and also blogs as The Wandering Tax Pro.

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — We’ve all heard the slogan "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas." When it comes to an IRA, the same rule applies for income tax reporting: What happens in your IRA stays in your IRA.

It's the same with any employer or self-employed pension plan. Clients have often told me, “I lost $50,000” or “I lost $200,000” in an IRA or 401(k). But other than sympathize with their plight there is nothing I can do about it on their 1040.

An IRA, or any retirement account, is a separate legal entity — a tax-exempt trust. While the activity of the account may need to be reported to the IRS or others by the trustee, “beneficiaries” of the trust do not report the account activity on their individual federal or state income tax returns.

I don’t need to know if clients bought or sold investments in their IRA, what they earned in interest and dividends in the IRA, or if the account lost or made money. While I do want to know the details of what has happened in “normal” brokerage or mutual fund accounts, I do not care what has happened in IRA accounts. I only need to know if they contributed to an IRA or if they took money out.

There is a way to get a tax benefit for losses in an IRA, but only if you have a “tax basis” in your IRA investments and you withdraw all the amounts from all of your traditional IRA accounts.

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