To Convert or Not Convert – Looking Beyond the Roth IRA Conversion Calculator

Jane M. Young, CFP, EA

As I mentioned in the previous article on Roth IRAs, with a Roth IRA you pay income tax now and not upon distribution. With a traditional IRA you defer taxes today and pay income taxes upon deferral. When you convert a Traditional IRA to a Roth IRA you must pay regular income taxes on the amount that is converted. The advisability of converting to a Roth depends on the length of time you have until you take distributions, your tax rate today and your anticipated tax rate upon retirement and your projected return on your investments.

When you run your numbers through one of the numerous calculators available on the internet you may or may not see a big savings in doing a Roth Conversion. However, there are several other factors that may tilt the scale toward converting some of your money to a Roth.

• Income tax rates are currently very low and there is a general consensus that they will increase considerably by the time you start taking distributions. With a Roth conversion you pay the tax now at the lower rates and take tax free distributions when the tax rates are higher.

• The stock market is still down about 25% from where it was in August of 2008. There is a lot of cash sitting on the sidelines waiting to be invested once consumer confidence is restored. You can pay taxes on money in your traditional IRA while the share prices are low and take a tax free distribution from your Roth down the road when the market has rebounded.

• You may have a sizable portion of your portfolio in tax deferred retirement accounts on which you will have to take required minimum distributions (RMD). This could put you into a much higher tax bracket. By converting some of your traditional IRA into a Roth you can get some tax diversification on your portfolio. This will lower your RMD– because there is no RMD on a Roth IRA. Diversifying your portfolio between a traditional IRA and a Roth IRA enables you to take your distributions from the most appropriate pot of money in any given year.

For more information on Roth IRAs and the new tax laws for 2010 please review the articles previously posted under Roth IRAs.

Roth IRAs – Part II – The Major Differences Between a Roth IRA and a Traditional IRA

Jane M. Young, CFP, EA

The primary difference between a Traditional IRA and a Roth IRA is when you pay income tax. A traditional IRA and a traditional retirement plan are funded with pre-tax dollars and you pay taxes on your withdrawals. A Roth IRA is funded with after tax dollars and you don’t pay taxes on your withdrawals. The decision to buy a Roth or a Traditional IRA is largely based on your current and future tax rates, your investment timeframe and your investment goals. The Roth IRA is usually the more advantageous of the two options but it depends on your individual situation.

Traditional IRA: (tax me later)

• Funded with pre-tax dollars therefore it provides a current tax deduction
• Earnings are tax deferred
• Distributions taxed at regular income tax rates, penalty if withdrawn before 59 1/2
• Required minimum distributions must be taken beginning at age 70 1/2
• Income limit on contributions begins at, if participant is in a retirement plan, $89,000 MFJ and $55,000 if single.
• Annual contribution limit is $5000 if under 50 and $6000 if over 50
• Many IRAs are created as a result of a rollover from a company retirement plan such as a 401k – very similar in tax structure.

Roth IRA: (tax me now)

• Funded with after tax dollars, does not provide a current tax deduction
• Earnings tax exempt (after five years or 59 ½)
• Contributions can be withdrawn penalty and tax free
• Earnings can be withdrawn tax free after five years or 59 1/2
• No required minimum distribution
• Income limit on contribution begins at $166,000 MFJ and $105,000 if single
• Annual contribution limit is $5000 if under 50 and $6000 if over 50

Part III of this series will address the pros and cons of converting a Roth IRA to a Traditional IRA.

Start Planning Now! Income Limits on Roth IRA Conversions to be Lifted in 2010 – Part 1

Jane M. Young, CFP, EA

Beginning in January 2010 the income limit of $100,000 AGI (adjusted gross income) on converting a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA will be lifted. This is a huge opportunity for many who have been unable to contribute to a Roth or convert to a Roth due to income restrictions. Normally, when one converts a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA the amount converted is added to gross income in the year of conversion. However, for conversions made in 2010 the government is allowing you to spread out the payment of taxes over the 2011 and 2012 tax years.

Why should you care about this now, prior to 2010? There are several things you can do to prepare for this opportunity. This is a great time to fund your traditional IRA, non-deductible traditional IRA or your 401k plan, if you are planning to retire or change companies soon, in anticipation of converting it to a Roth in 2010. You will need cash to pay the taxes associated with converting to a Roth IRA, so you should be incorporating this additional need for liquidity into your financial planning today.

This is the first in a series of postings on Roth IRAs and Roth IRA conversions.

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