Knowing the Answers in an Ever-Changing Tax and IRA Landscape
By Jeffery Levine, IRA Technical Expert
Follow Me on Twitter: @IRAGuru4EdSlott
How do you become an IRA expert? You must devote substantial time and resources to a topic you are passionate about and never stop learning. That's what separates experts from those with foundational knowledge. Tax rules governing IRAs are always changing, and we make sure we know these updates and how they affect the IRA landscape as soon as possible.
Here's a few of the questions we get from financial advisors and consumers about our methods for staying on top of the IRA world.
What resources do you use to stay up to date on the latest rules?
That is a simple question with no simple answer. The short answer is "anything we can get our hands on that is even remotely IRA related." Of course, we have certain staples in our IRA information arsenal. For instance, as a company, we subscribe to numerous tax services and receive emails from each of them every day detailing the latest court cases, proposals, changes in the law, regulations, private letter rulings and other guidance. Then everyone on our technical staff scours through these emails to make sure that no pertinent information slips through the cracks and that our whole team is aware of the latest updates.
We also spend thousands of dollars each year on IRA and retirement account-related books to build out a massive library. This helps us to make sure that when we really want to dig deep on a particular issue, we have multiple resources at our disposal and can get the full picture from multiple angles. Almost all of those books, at the end of each year, get recycled, and we order the newest versions. This is, as you can imagine, incredibly expensive, especially when you consider that sometimes, in a book of 1,000 pages, only 1% or 2% has changed. That small difference, however, could be the difference between someone getting the right answer or someone getting the answer that used to be right… a difference that can have some serious tax ramifications.
The internet and social media have also become valuable resources in recent years, but they can certainly be a double-edged sword, so we tend to be very cautious of anything we read online unless it’s coming from a known reputable source.
How have you been able to learn all the rules?
First off, no one knows all the rules, but when people ask us how we’ve accumulated our collective knowledge it really comes down to a 3-step process. The first step is immersing yourself in the material you want to learn about and understand. You have to read everything and anything you can get your hands on, and then read it again… and again… and again. Once you’ve done that, then you need to write about it. Writing about something always forces you to look at it from a different point of view and often heightens your understanding of a particular subject. Finally, you need to teach it. When you teach something, you really begin to understand the topic in greater depth than you did before. Some of that can be attributed to your own development, but more often than not, it’s those that you are teaching that are responsible for your greater understanding. Through the questions that are asked and the explanations that need to be provided, you’re forced to bring your knowledge to the next level. It’s been said before – and we are believers of the idea - that if you can’t explain something to someone else, than you don’t really understand it yourself.
Is there ever an end to the learning process?
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