How to Get a $200 million IRA (no joke)

When Mitt Romney ran for President in 2012, he was required to disclose information about his net worth, which was around $250 million. The most interesting element to me, though, was that he had more than $100 million in his IRA.

IRAs are an important element of our clients IRAs and some have large balances, but nothing, obviously, like Romney’s. I don’t begrudge Romney and have no interest in getting political, but I was curious about how he was able to accumulate so much in an account that limits contributions.

Thank goodness for the government’s General Accountability Office (GAO), who released a report recently explaining how a small group of people have figured out clever ways to stash vast fortunes in tax-sheltered accounts, all of which are perfectly legal (here is a link to the report).

The GAO showed how a key employee of a private equity firm (read: Mitt Romney of Bain Capital) could contribute $500,000 into an IRA in such a way that would allow him to earn five percent of the management fees earned on his private equity firm (more specifically, the carried interest) into the IRA that would allow the value to increase to $24 million after 10 years.

But that ‘private equity executive’ looks like a chump compared to an entrepreneur that founded a dot-com and put his founder’s shares into a Roth IRA. This person, believed to be 39-year old Max Levchin of Yelp!, put stock worth $5,000 at the time into his Roth IRA that ultimately turned into nearly $200 million.

Poor Mitt Romney is going to have to take Required Minimum Distributions (RMD) in just a few years that could be $3.75 million or more that will be taxed at the top ordinary income tax bracket. Levchin, on the other hand, won’t be required to take any RMDs when he turns 70 ½ (in 35 years).

The GAO reports that only between 100-650 Americans have IRAs worth over $25 million, but they are still recommending changes to Congress that would disallow such valuable IRAs.

They suggested disallowing certain types of investments (like carried interest units and founders shares) and requiring immediate distributions if balances grow larger than a certain, though still undetermined, value.

If they set the ceiling at $1 million, for example, it would at least 600,000 Americans, which is a relatively small number of voters.

Given the recent mid-term election results, though, changes of this kind seem unlikely at this point, but if you’ve got tens of millions of dollars coming your way, get the money sheltered before Congress acts!