OH, THE TAX MAN
When Ed Slott talks, people listen. And wince.

That’s because Slott — a CPA, popular speaker, and author of The Retirement Savings Time Bomb...and How to Defuse It (Viking) — fills his speeches and writings with 20 years’ worth of horror stories and “boneheaded mistakes” made by people who worked hard and saved money, but failed to protect their retirement accounts against taxation.

“I want to hit people in the face with this,” says Slott of his explosive title. “People spend more time checking their supermarket receipts to see if they’ve been overcharged 30 cents than they do protecting their largest single asset.”

Slott aims his advice at the 43 million taxpayers who, according to the IRS, have some $2.7 trillion dollars stowed in various types of retirement accounts. All too typical, he says, is the New York City teacher who managed to save $800,000. Slott advised her to roll the money into a “stretch” IRA so her adult children could keep the inherited account growing tax-deferred. Alas, the teacher died in 2000 with her money still in the state’s 403(b) savings plan. More than half her nest egg was lost to taxes, including the estate tax. (She died before recent reforms were enacted.)

Slott’s five-point plan to defuse the tax time bomb includes advice on timing the required minimum distributions from IRAs, ensuring against estate taxes, using Roth IRAs, and more. Be sure beneficiary forms are properly filled out, he counsels, and review them regularly after “life events” such as births, deaths, marriages, and divorces. “This is a living, breathing document, so don’t shove it in a drawer for 20 years.”