Roth IRA Conversion Rules Changing – Have You Reviewed Your Tax Plan – Part IV

October 20, 2009

This is forth part of a five part series of posts related to Roth IRA Conversions and the rule changes that go into effect on January 1, 2010.  As mentioned in prior posts in this series regarding Roth IRA Conversions, I will explain the rules around Roth IRAs, as well as what the recent changes in the law means. I will also provide you with some reasons to convert, as well as some reasons not to convert. In addition, my final post will include some tax planning tips around the Roth IRA.

For other posts in this series, please visit:
Part I:  What is a Roth IRA? What is changing about Roth IRA Rules?
Part II:  Reasons to Convert to a Roth IRA.
Part III:  Reasons NOT to Convert to a Roth IRA.
Part IV:  Planning Ideas around Converting to a Roth IRA.
Part V:  Planning Ideas – What is the Pro-Rata Rule?

In this post, I will review some tax planning ideas.  It is important to keep in mind that everyone’s situation is different and that these ideas may or may not apply to you.  You should sit down with your tax professional and do proactive tax planning prior to doing anything.

Local Taxes.  Have you thought about where you plan to live when you retire?  Where you plan to retire could be a major factor in deciding whether or not to do a conversion – especially if you are close to retirement age.  If you are living in a high tax locale, such as New York, and you are planning to retire in one of the states that currently have no income tax (such as Florida), it may not make sense to convert.  If you convert while still living in the high tax state, you will have to pay a tax when you convert, when you would not be subject to that state income tax when you are in retirement.

The opposite is also true.  If you are currently living in a no state income tax-state such as Alaska, and plan to move to North Carolina for your retirement, it may make sense to convert while you are not subject to state taxation of those funds.

Of course, as stated in prior post, we can not predict what the tax laws will be in the future.  This obviously applies to the individual states the same way it does to the federal government.  As most of the states are struggling to pay for hefty state employee pensions and Medicaid programs, there is a possibility of higher taxes at the state levels – as well as the implementation of income taxes in current no state income tax states.

Future Tax Rates.  What tax bracket are you going to be in during retirement?  Many individuals expect that their income to be lower during retirement, and thus have a lower marginal tax rate.  If this is the case, it may not make sense to convert.  Why pay tax at a high tax rate now, when you can pay a lower tax rate later?

Conversely, other individuals may have higher income during retirement – especially once the required minimum distributions from retirement accounts kick in at age 70 1/2.

Over the Income Limit.  Do you currently want to fund a Roth IRA, but are over the income limits for contributing to a Roth IRA?   You can open a traditional IRA, which is not subject to the income limits that a Roth IRA is, then contribute the maximum amount allowable and convert it to a Roth IRA in 2010.  Depending upon your individual tax situation, the contributions to the traditional IRA may or may not be deductible.  Just remember that if you can not deduct the contribution now, it will not be taxable upon conversion – although any earnings would be.   Many taxpayers have been maxing out their nondeductible contributions to traditional IRAs for several years now in anticipation of converting to a Roth IRA in 2010.

Protect Yourself Against Losses.  In future tax years, you can help to protect your account from losses or at least the taxes on money that you lose.   An individual can hold two Roth IRA accounts – one that is their “new” Roth IRA and one that is their “old’” Roth IRA.   Overtime, the individual will migrate all of the assets to the “old” Roth IRA.  Each year, contribute your funds to a traditional IRA (see “Over the Income Limit” above) and then subsequently convert that traditional IRA to the “new” Roth IRA.    The reason that you want to convert it to a “new” Roth IRA instead of just combining it into your “old” Roth IRA is that the tax law allows you to recharacterize a Roth IRA as a traditional IRA within certain time limits.  By doing this, if the investments in this “new” Roth IRA suffer a loss during the first year, you can recharacterize it as a traditional IRA and eliminate the taxes due from the conversion.  You can then reconvert the assets to a Roth again, at the deflated value, which would create a lower tax due.  This eliminates the possibility that you may have to pay taxes on value that no longer exists (See IRS Publication 590 for timing details surrounding your ability to recharacterize the IRAs).  In the event that the account increases in value, you could then transfer the assets to your “old” Roth after the time to recharacterize the account to a traditional IRA expires.  You can repeat this process each year that  you plan to make contributions.

If that whole process was not enough pain for you, you can extend it even further to protect from losses in the investments.  You can open a separate Roth for each type of investment that you make with the converted money.  For instance, if you are investing the funds in three different investments, roll the funds into three separate Roth IRA accounts.  This way you can pick and choose which particular investments that you recharacterize – not just which Roth IRA account.  For example, if you had the following three investments:  Investment A that doubles in value during the year, Investment B that stays the same during the year, and Investment C that becomes worthless.    If all three of these investments were held in the same Roth IRA account, the total value would be the same and you would have to pay taxes on the converted amount as such.  If they are in separate accounts, you can pay the tax for the conversation of Investment A and Investment B, then recharacterize investment C as a traditional IRA – thus eliminating the taxes due on that portion of the conversion amount.

Estate Planning.  As discussed in Part III, Roth IRA’s do not have any required minimum distributions once they reach age 70 1/2 like they are required by traditional IRA’s.  If a retiree does not need the funds to live on, the earnings on their investments can continue to grow tax-free inside the Roth IRA.  Another advantage is that beneficiaries do not have to pay income tax on withdrawals that they make from an inherited Roth IRA.    Although, Roth IRA beneficiaries do have to take distributions across their life expectancies, Roth assets are still included in an estates value for Estate Tax purposes.

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Creativity and CPAs don’t generally go together.  Most people think of CPAs as nerdy accountants who can’t talk with people.  Well, it’s time to break that stereotype.  Lively, friendly, and knowledgeable can be a part of your relationship with your CPA as demonstrated by Donna and Chad Bordeaux.  They have over 50 years of combined experience as entrepreneurial CPAs.  They’ve owned businesses and helped business owners exceed their wildest dreams.   They have been able to help businesses earn many times more profit than the average business in the same industry and are passionate about helping industries that help families build great memories.