Good News! It is finally 2010 and with the new year the limit on adjusted gross income for those individuals wishing to convert their traditional IRA or 401k plan to a Roth IRA has been lifted. No longer are individuals with less than $100,000 in adjusted gross income the only ones allowed to convert. But why would anyone who has previously gotten the tax benefit of a traditional IRA or 401k want to convert?
Here’s a summary:
• Earnings within the account are tax-sheltered (as they are with a regular qualified employer plan or IRA).
• Unlike a regular qualified employer plan or IRA, withdrawals from a Roth IRA aren’t taxed if some relatively liberal conditions are satisfied.
• A Roth IRA owner does not have to commence lifetime required minimum distributions (RMDs) after he or she reaches age 70 1/2 as is generally the case with regular qualified employer plans or IRAs.
• Beneficiaries of Roth IRAs also enjoy tax-sheltered earnings (as with a regular qualified employer plan or IRA) and tax-free withdrawals (unlike with a regular qualified employer plan or IRA). They do, however, have to commence regular withdrawals from a Roth IRA after the account owner dies.
The catch, and it’s a big one, is that the rollover will be fully taxed. For example, if you are in the 28% federal tax bracket and roll over $100,000 from a regular IRA funded entirely with deductible dollars to a Roth IRA, you’ll owe $28,000 of tax. So you’ll be paying tax now for the future privilege of tax-free withdrawals, and freedom from the RMD rules.
Should you consider making the rollover to a Roth IRA? The answer may be “yes” if:
• You can pay the tax hit on the rollover with non-retirement-plan funds. Keep in mind that if you use retirement plan funds to pay the tax on the rollover, you’ll have less money building up tax-free within the account.
• You anticipate paying taxes at a higher tax rate in the future than you are paying now. Many observers believe that tax rates for upper middle income and high income individuals will trend higher in future years.
• You have a number of years to go before you might have to tap into the Roth IRA. This will give you a chance to recoup (via tax-deferred earnings and tax-deferred payouts) the tax hit you absorb on the rollover.
• You are willing to pay a tax price now for the opportunity to pass on a source of tax-free income to your beneficiaries.
You also should know that Roth rollovers made in 2010 represent a novel tax deferral opportunity and a novel choice. If you make a rollover to a Roth IRA in 2010, the tax that you’ll owe as a result of the rollover will be payable half in 2011 and half in 2012, unless you elect to pay the entire tax bill in 2010. There are some valid reasons why electing to pay the entire tax bill in 2010 may be a good idea stay tuned and I’ll go over those reasons next week.