"Basis" in a retirement plan is also called
"cost" or "contribution". In a word, it is the amount of
after-tax dollars that the taxpayer contributed to the retirement plan over the
years while he/she was employed.
When the taxpayer retires, then the pension or annuity from the retirement
plan begins. As the payments are made to you, each payment consists of a little
bit of that "basis" and a lot of the money that the company is
You don't owe tax on the "basis" that is paid to you each period,
because the "basis" is after-tax dollars that you contributed - and
you don't get taxed twice on the same money.
The employer's contribution is, of course, taxable. This means, for example,
that if a taxpayer received $12,000 in pension payments, that perhaps only
$11,600 might be taxable if $400 of the payments were the return of the
There is a Simplified Method that determines the amount of "basis"
that is included in each periodic payment, so that the return of the
"basis" to the taxpayer is spread out over an actuarial life span.
If the taxpayer didn't make any after-tax contributions to the retirement
plan (as is often the case), then the "basis" is zero, and each
distribution from the retirement plan is 100% taxable.
If you believe that you did make
after-tax contributions to the retirement plan, then you should contact the
retirement plan administrator and ask if they know the taxpayer cost in the
plan. Once you get this number, keep it in your tax records, because you are
responsible for remembering it (because plan administrators may change and they
don't necessarily transfer this information).
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