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Roth Conversions: What You Need to Know

When opening a retirement savings account, you’re typically presented with the option of choosing between a traditional or Roth IRA. And fortunately, many are presented with this same choice when enrolling in their employer-provided 401(k).

While you may have stuck with a traditional IRA for the initial tax savings, it’s possible you could change your mind and opt for tax-free retirement income instead. Making this switch is called a Roth conversion.

Is a Roth Conversion Right For You?

Should you consider a conversion, or are you better off sticking to your current savings strategy? Be sure to talk with your financial advisor before making any big decisions, but here are a few things you’ll need to consider.

What Are Roth Conversions?

A Roth conversion refers to the act of converting a traditional IRA account into a Roth IRA account. A traditional IRA account is created using pre-tax dollars, meaning the distributions you take in retirement are taxable income. A Roth IRA is created using after-tax dollars, meaning the distributions you take are tax-free (because tax has already been paid).

Additionally, a Roth IRA can be an appealing option because it does not include a required minimum distribution age.

Considerations to Make Before Doing a Roth Conversion

Roth Conversions can be a great option for some, it can be a costly mistake for others. That’s why we’ve outlined some of the important considerations to make before speaking with your advisor about converting your traditional IRA into a Roth account.

Your Timeline to Retirement

If you’re retiring within the next few years, you may want to forego a Roth conversion. Why? Because the money you convert into a Roth IRA must stay there for a five-year holding period. If withdraws are made before the five years is up, you could be hit with a 10% penalty and/or additional income taxes.

Tax Obligations

When considering  Roth conversions, you simply can’t ignore the tax implications associated with this move. While your aim may be tax-free income in retirement, you will have to pay taxes on that planned-for income at some point.

You need to be prepared to pay the taxes on this additional income, which could very well push you up into a higher tax bracket. While it’s possible to cover the difference using a portion of the distribution itself, this is typically not advised for two reasons: (1) you’d be robbing your future retirement of income and (2) you may be subject to a 10% penalty for taking the funds.

A trusted CPA can help you navigate the details.

Your Future Tax Bracket

One of the main reasons an individual chooses to do a Roth conversion is for the advantage of tax-free withdrawals in retirement. With that in mind, you’ll want to take into consideration whether your tax bracket will be higher or lower in the future when you anticipate withdrawing the funds.

If you believe you’ll be in a lower tax bracket come retirement, it may be worth waiting to withdraw the funds then. On the other hand, if you’ve experienced a year of interrupted or lowered income (lost a job, missed out on a bonus, etc.), you may be in a lower tax bracket now than you would when entering retirement.

How Much to Convert and When

If you’re on the cusp of a higher tax bracket, but still want to do a Roth conversion, you do have the option to convert a portion at a time. By spreading the conversion across several years (as opposed to one lump sum), you can lower your yearly tax obligation.

How to Make a Roth Conversion

The IRS offers three possible ways for an individual to convert funds from a traditional IRA into a Roth IRA account. These methods include:

  • Rollover: You are given the funds and must put the funds into a Roth IRA account within 60 days.
  • Trustee-to-trustee transfer: The institution currently housing your traditional IRA transfers the distribution to a different institution where it’ll be held in a Roth IRA.
  • Same trustee transfer: The institution currently housing your traditional IRA can also house your Roth IRA, and they roll the account over for you.1

Being able to withdraw income tax-free in retirement is an appealing option for many. And it’s good to know that while you may have chosen to open a traditional IRA years ago that you have the option to convert it at any time.

Before making any moves to your retirement savings account, make sure to speak with your financial advisor first. Together, you can go over these important considerations in regard to your unique financial situation.

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This content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information, and provided by Twenty Over Ten. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information, and should not be considered a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security.