The Scoop on Backdoor Roth IRAs
– Evan Shear, CFP® and Dale Crossley, JD, CrossleyShear Wealth Management
If you’re in a higher-income bracket and have been saving for retirement, you likely have a traditional IRA in your portfolio. There are two types of IRAs for individual investors: traditional and Roth. Meanwhile, businesses can set up SEP IRAs or SIMPLE IRAs. However, higher-income individual investors can also set up what are called back door Roth IRAs. You may also be able to rollover your 401k into a Roth IRA.
We receive many questions about the tax advantages of the various types of IRAs. Routinely, we help our clients determine the feasibility of converting traditional IRA or 401k assets to Roth IRA assets, even if they earn more than the income limits determined by the IRS.
Only two things are guaranteed in life, and one of them is taxes.
If you're saving for retirement and looking for efficient tax strategies, traditional IRAs can be a great choice. They're a valuable tool to save money for your golden years.
If you're okay with making after-tax contributions for retirement, a Roth IRA may be a better choice.
Let's start with a quick overview of IRAs.
Traditional and Roth IRAs
According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), "An individual retirement arrangement (IRA) is a tax-favored personal savings arrangement, which allows you to set aside money for retirement." While these accounts can’t be held jointly with your spouse, your spouse can be a beneficiary in the event of your death.
- Traditional IRAs allow you to save for retirement with pre-tax funds. If you make early withdrawals, you incur fees and tax penalties.
- Roth IRAs require after-tax contributions. There are no taxes or penalties if you withdraw funds after the Roth IRA has been established for 5 years. Otherwise, you will be responsible for paying taxes and penalties. It’s important to know that the Roth five-year rule applies to the following instances: you withdraw account earnings, convert a traditional IRA to a Roth, and if a beneficiary inherits a Roth IRA.
IRAs have income limits, however, and we'll get to that in a moment.
Each system has advantages and disadvantages, depending on your tax bracket and retirement saving goals. However, both types of IRAs will likely earn better interest than a savings account and are virtually risk-free compared to other investments.
Traditional IRAs: Great for Keeping Your Taxable Income Low
The IRS strictly limits contributions to traditional IRAs. Currently, that cap is $6,000 per year if you're under 50. If you're on the cusp of a higher tax bracket and can stay in a lower bracket by opening a traditional IRA, it may be the perfect time to invest.
Roth IRAs: Retirement Savings When You Can Manage the Tax Bill
According to the IRS, contributions to a Roth IRA aren't tax-deductible. You don't report contributions on your tax return. Therefore, qualified distributions or distributions that are a return of excess contributions (and withdrawn by the tax-filing deadline in April) aren't taxed. Roth IRAs must be designated as such when they're set up.
The challenge for many high earners, though, is Roth IRA income limits. For the 2020 tax year, the government allows only married couples filing jointly with modified adjusted gross incomes below $206,000 or $139,000 for a single individual to contribute to a Roth IRA. In 2021, the limits are $208,000 / $140,000.
However, you can transfer funds from a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA! It's called a backdoor Roth IRA, and you'll need to pay some taxes to get it done.
The Scoop on Backdoor Roth IRAs
According to the IRS, "Regardless of the amount of your adjusted gross income, you may be able to convert amounts from either a traditional [IRA]into a Roth IRA."
In other words, a backdoor Roth IRA allows high-income individuals to sidestep Roth's income limits.
Here's how it works:
- You put money in a traditional IRA
- Convert contributed funds into a Roth IRA.
- Pay some taxes on those funds.
- You now have a “backdoor” Roth IRA
Even though your earnings exceed the Roth IRA income limits, this back door allows you to grow your savings tax-free!
That said, you’ll want to take steps to minimize costly mistakes and reduce your legal liabilities. Before making any major moves with your retirement savings, be sure to talk to your financial advisor as well as qualified tax professional and consider these drawbacks to backdoor IRAs:
- Don’t forget, money converted from a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA falls under a Roth five-year rule.
- So, if you need that money soon and can’t wait five years to withdraw it, you may owe taxes and a 10% penalty.
- The withdrawal may push you into a higher tax bracket. You want to avoid that, so only convert enough funds to keep you below that threshold.
In addition, if you're thinking of using money from your withdrawal to pay the required taxes, don’t. You'll be sacrificing any interest your money could be earning. There's also a risk if you're under 59-½: you may incur a 10% early withdrawal penalty.
Rollover your 401k into a Roth IRA
In addition, you may be able to rollover your 401k directly into a Roth IRA if you meet certain requirements.
- You separate from your employer, retire, or in some cases, if you are 59-½.
- Depending on your current employers’ rules, they may permit an in-service rollover, but it’s best to discuss the pros and cons of this option with your financial advisor.
Like the traditional IRA conversion, you’ll owe taxes, so it’s important to carefully review this strategy with your financial advisor as well as qualified tax professional to determine whether paying taxes now, to reduce the burden later, is truly the best option for you.
At CrossleyShear Wealth Management, we know you've worked hard to plan for a retirement you'll enjoy. If you'd like to learn more about whether a backdoor Roth IRA, 401k rollover or traditional IRA is the best financial strategy for you, we're here to help. Schedule an appointment today.
The information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. Any opinions are those of the author and not necessarily those of Raymond James. Expressions of opinion are as of this date and are subject to change without notice. There is no guarantee that these statements, opinions or forecasts provided herein will prove to be correct. Any information is not a complete summary or statement of all available data necessary for making an investment decision and does not constitute a recommendation. Investing involves risk and you may incur a profit or loss regardless of strategy selected. Past performance does not guarantee future results.
Contributions to a traditional IRA may be tax-deductible depending on the taxpayer's income, tax-filing status, and other factors. Withdrawal of pre-tax contributions and/or earnings will be subject to ordinary income tax and, if taken prior to age 59 1/2, may be subject to a 10% federal tax penalty.
Like Traditional IRAs, contribution limits apply to Roth IRAs. In addition, with a Roth IRA, your allowable contribution may be reduced or eliminated if your annual income exceeds certain limits. Contributions to a Roth IRA are never tax deductible, but if certain conditions are met, distributions will be completely income tax free.
Unless certain criteria are met, Roth IRA owners must be 59½ or older and have held the IRA for five years before tax-free withdrawals are permitted. Additionally, each converted amount may be subject to its own five-year holding period. Converting a traditional IRA into a Roth IRA has tax implications. Investors should consult a tax advisor before deciding to do a conversion.
While we are familiar with the tax provisions of the issues presented herein, as Financial Advisors of RJFS, we are not qualified to render advice on tax or legal matters. You should discuss tax or legal matters with the appropriate professional.
Any opinions are those of the author and not necessarily those of Raymond James. Expressions of opinion are as of this date and are subject to change without notice. There is no guarantee that these statements, opinions or forecasts provided herein will prove to be correct. Any information is not a complete summary or statement of all available data necessary for making an investment decision and does not constitute a recommendation. Investing involves risk and you may incur a profit or loss regardless of strategy selected. Past performance does not guarantee future results.
*Trust services offered through Raymond James Trust, N.A., a subsidiary of Raymond James Financial, Inc. CrossleyShear Wealth Management and CSsports are not registered broker dealers and are independent of Raymond James Financial Services. Securities offered through Raymond James Financial Services, Inc. Member FINRA/SIPC.
Investment advisory services are offered through Raymond James Financial Services Advisors, Inc. Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. owns the certification marks CFP®, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, CFP® (with plaque design) and CFP® (with flame design) in the U.S., which it awards to individuals who successfully complete CFP Board’s initial and ongoing certification requirements.
Securities are offered through Raymond James Financial Services, Inc., member FINRA/SIPC. Investment advisory services offered through Raymond James Financial Services Advisors, Inc. CrossleyShear Wealth Management is not a registered broker/dealer and is independent of Raymond James Financial Services.