Back-Door Roth IRAs

Many individuals who are saving for retirement favor Roth IRAs over traditional IRAs because the former allows for both accumulation and post-retirement distributions to be tax-free. In comparison, contributions to traditional IRAs may be deductible, earnings are tax-deferred, and distributions are generally taxable. Anyone who is under age 70.5 and who has compensation can make a contribution to a traditional IRA (although the deduction may be limited). However, not everyone is allowed to make a Roth IRA contribution.

High-income taxpayers are limited in the annual amount they can contribute to a Roth IRA. The maximum contribution for 2016 is $5,500 ($6,500 if age 50 or older), but the allowable 2016 contribution for joint-filing taxpayers phases out at an adjustable gross income (AGI) between $184,000 and $194,000 (or an AGI between $0 and $9,999 for married taxpayers filing separately). For unmarried taxpayers, the phase-out is between $117,000 and $132,000.

However, tax law also includes a provision that allows taxpayers to convert their traditional IRA funds to Roth IRAs without any AGI restrictions. Although deductible contributions to a traditional IRA have AGI restrictions (for those who are in an employer’s plan), nondeductible contributions do not.

Thus, higher-income taxpayers can first make a nondeductible contribution to a traditional IRA and then convert that IRA to a Roth IRA. This is commonly referred to as a “back-door Roth IRA.”

BIG PITFALL: However, there is a big pitfall to back-door IRAs, and it can produce unexpected taxable income. Taxpayers and their investment advisers often overlook this pitfall, which revolves around the following rule: For distribution purposes, all of a taxpayer’s IRAs (except Roth IRAs) are considered to be one account, so distributions are considered to be taken pro rata from both the deductible and nondeductible portions of the IRA. The prorated amount of the deducted contributions is taxable. Thus, a taxpayer who is contemplating a back-door Roth IRA contribution must carefully consider and plan for the consequences of this “one IRA” rule before making the conversion.

There is a possible, although complicated, solution to this problem. Rolling over IRAs into other types of qualified retirement plans, such as employer retirement plans and 401(k) plans, is permitted tax-free. However, a rollover to a qualified plan is limited to the taxable portion of the IRA. If an employer’s plan permits, a taxpayer could roll the entire taxable portion of his or her IRA into the employer’s plan, leaving behind only nondeductible IRA contributions, which can then be converted into a Roth IRA tax-free.

Before taking any action, please call this office to discuss strategies for making Roth IRA contributions or to convert existing traditional IRAs into Roth IRAs.

Traditional to Roth IRA Conversions – Should you? Did you? Wish you Hadn’t?

The tax provision that allows taxpayers to convert a Traditional IRA to a Roth IRA is a great tax-planning tool when used properly, and timing is everything.

To make a conversion, you must pay income taxes on the amount of the traditional IRA converted to a Roth IRA. So why would one want to do that? Well, the answer is that Roth IRAs enjoy tax-free accumulation and distributions, whereas the earnings in and contributions made to a traditional IRA are fully taxable whenever they are withdrawn. (An exception is if the contributions to the traditional IRA were treated as non-deductible. In that case, each distribution is nontaxable or partly nontaxable if only some of the contributions had not been deducted.)

So, you might consider converting during a year in which your income is abnormally low or a year in which your income might even be negative due to abnormal deductions or business losses. Under such cases, you might even be able to make a conversion tax-free. Keep in mind that you do not have to convert the entire amount in the traditional IRA; rather, you can choose any amount you wish to convert to fit your circumstances, and with proper tax planning, you can substantially minimize the conversion tax and the tax on your future retirement benefits.

You might also consider a conversion at a time when the IRA value is low due to a decline in the stock market, like the dip in stock values that occurred in September this year when the Dow index dropped from the low 18,000s to close to 16,000.

Those examples demonstrate when timing might be right for a conversion. On the flip side, if you converted earlier in the year, you could end up paying taxes on an amount that has declined in value due to the market downturn and wish you hadn’t converted. Well, the good news is that you can undo a conversion.

A taxpayer who converts a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA during 2015 can back out of the conversion by recharacterizing the Roth IRA as a traditional IRA any time up to the extended due date of the 2015 return. This involves transferring the converted amount (plus earnings or minus losses) from the Roth IRA back to a traditional IRA via a direct (trustee-to-trustee) transfer.

IRA Conversion Issues

Everyone’s financial circumstances are unique and other issues to consider are:

  • Are there enough years before retirement to recoup the conversion tax dollars through tax-free accumulation?
  • Will you be in a lower or higher tax bracket in the future?
  • Where would the money to pay the conversion tax come from? Generally, it must be from separate funds. If it is taken from the IRA being converted, for individuals under age 59½, the funds withdrawn to pay the tax will also be subject to the 10% early-distribution penalty in addition to being taxed.
  • It might be appropriate for you to design your own custom conversion plan over a number of years rather than converting everything at once.

Conversions can be tricky! If you are considering a conversion, it might be appropriate to call 212-697-8540 for an appointment so that we can help you properly analyze your conversion options.

Retirement Savings: the Earlier, the Better

Generally, teenagers and young adults do not consider the long-term benefits of retirement savings. Their priorities for their earnings are more for today than that distant and rarely considered retirement. Yet contributions to a retirement plan early in life can enjoy years of growth and provide a substantial nest egg at retirement.

Due to its long-term benefits of tax-free accumulation, a nondeductible Roth IRA may be the best option. During most individuals’ early working years, their income is usually at its lowest, allowing them to qualify for a Roth IRA at a time where the need for a tax deduction offered by other retirement plans is not important.

Because retirement will not be their focus at that age, young adults may balk at having to give up their earnings. Parents, grandparents, or other individuals might consider funding all or part of the child’s Roth contribution. It could even be in the form of a birthday or holiday gift. Take, for example, a 17-year-old who has a summer job and earns $1,500. Although the child is not likely to make the contribution from his or her earnings, a parent could contribute any amount up to $1,500 to a Roth IRA for the child.*

But keep in mind that young adults, like anyone else, must have earned income to establish a Roth IRA. Generally, earned income is income received from working, not through an investment vehicle. It can include income from full-time employment, income from a part-time job while attending school, summer employment, or even babysitting or yard work. The amount that can be contributed annually to an IRA is limited to the lesser of earned income or the current maximum of $5,500.

Parents or other individuals who contribute the funds need to keep in mind that once the funds are in the child’s IRA account, the funds belong to the child. The child will be free to withdraw part or all of the funds at any time. If the child withdraws funds from the Roth IRA, the child will be liable for any early withdrawal tax liability.

Consider what the value of a Roth IRA at age 65 would be for a 17-year-old who has funds contributed to his or her IRA every year through age 26 (a period of 10 years). The table below shows what the value will be at age 65 at various investment rates of return.

 

Value of a Roth IRA—Annual Contributions of $1,000
for 10 years beginning at age 17
Investment Rate of Return
2%
4%
6%
8%
Value at Age 65
$23,703
$55,449
$127,900
$291,401

 

What may seem insignificant now can mean a lot at retirement. Individuals who are financially able to do so should consider making a gift that will last a lifetime. It could mean a comfortable retirement for your child, grandchild, favorite niece or nephew, or even an unrelated person who deserves the kind gesture.

*Amounts contributed to an IRA on behalf of another person are nondeductible gifts by the donor and are counted toward the donor’s annual $14,000 (2014 and 2015 gift exclusion per done).

If you would like more information about Roth IRAs or gifting contributions to a Roth on behalf of someone else, please contact this office.

Beware of the One-per-12-Month IRA Rollover Limitation Beginning in 2015

The tax code allows an individual to take a distribution from his or her IRA account and avoid the tax and early distribution penalties if the distribution is redeposited to an IRA account owned by the taxpayer within 60 days of receiving the distribution.

Early in 2014, in a tax court case, the court ruled that taxpayers could only have one IRA rollover per 12-month period. This was contrary to the IRS’s long-standing one rollover per every IRA account every 12 months. This far more liberal position was also included in published IRS guidance. However, contrary to general public opinion, guidance provided by the IRS in their publications is not citable, carries no weight in audit or court, and only represents the IRS’ interpretation of tax law.

As a result, the IRS has adopted the Court’s more restrictive position, but will not apply the new interpretation until 2015, giving taxpayers time to become aware of the new restrictions. The IRS is modifying its published 2015 guidance to reflect this new position.

The IRS announced in November that the one-per-12-month-period rollover rule also applies to Simplified Employer Pension Plans (SEPs) and SIMPLE plans. Included in the November announcement, the IRS indicated it would not count a distribution taken in 2014 and rolled over in 2015 (within the 60-day limit) as a 2015 rollover.

Not counted towards the one-per-12-month rule are traditional to Roth IRA conversions or trustee-to-trustee IRA transfers where the funds are directly transferred from one IRA trustee to another.

Please call this office if you are planning an IRA distribution and subsequent rollover and are not positive it falls within the one-per-12-month limit.