When you put money in an IRA, you don't have to keep the money at the same bank until you take withdrawals. For example, you might want to move your IRA to avoid high fees or poor performance, or just to take advantage of a new investment opportunity at another bank. The Internal Revenue Service allows you to use either transfers or rollovers to move the money.
A trustee-to-trustee IRA transfer occurs when the money is moved from one IRA directly to another without having the money paid out to you in the middle. For example, say you've decided that Bank A charged fees that are too high for your liking, and you'd prefer to move your IRA to Bank B. You can request that the money move straight from one account to the other, so Bank A will transfer the money from your IRA to your other IRA at Bank B.
Trustee-to-trustee transfers don't count as rollovers, so you can do an unlimited amount of them per year. If you do a rollover instead, you can only do one per account per 12-month period. For example, if you roll over money from Bank A to Bank B, you have to wait 12 months after the rollover before you roll the money from Bank B back to Bank A or to another IRA at a different bank. With a transfer, you could move the money immediately.
No Deadlines to Miss
Another advantage to using a trustee-to-trustee transfer is that you don't need to worry about missing the deadline for depositing the money. With a rollover, you have 60 days to deposit the money into a qualified retirement account. If you don't get the money redeposited before the deadline, it counts as a permanent distribution. When you use a trustee-to-trustee transfer instead, the money moves directly from one account to the other so there's no risk of missing your deadline.
Unlike rollovers, trustee-to-trustee transfers generally do not have to appear on your tax return. The only exception is when you are using a trustee-to-trustee transfer to convert from a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. In that case, you still need to report the transfer because it results in taxable income. See, unlike moving the money from one traditional IRA to another traditional IRA, when you move the money to a Roth IRA, you're moving it to an after-tax IRA. So, you've got to include the taxable portion as part of your income for the year.
Mark Kennan is a writer based in the Kansas City area, specializing in personal finance and business topics. He has been writing since 2009 and has been published by "Quicken," "TurboTax," and "The Motley Fool."