With a combination of lowered 2020 tax liability, the potential for future tax increases and potentially lower portfolio values, we are in uncharted financial waters. However, all of these factors may make a Roth conversion more attractive than ever, according to the article “Covid-19 and the CARES Act enhance the Roth conversion game” from the Jacksonville Business Journal.
A quick look first at essentials of the traditional and Roth IRAs:
Tradition IRA contributions are tax deductible.
- Growth inside the account is tax-deferred,
- Qualified distributions are taxed as ordinary income, and
- Required minimum distributions must begin at age 72.
Roth IRA contributions are not tax deductible.
- Growth inside the account is tax free,
- Qualified distributions are tax free, and
- There are no required minimum distributions.
Roth IRAs are an essential part of both estate and retirement planning. Converting a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA lets you decide when you or your beneficiaries pay taxes. Convert all of your IRA to a Roth, and pay the taxes up front, based on the year the conversion is made. If you have a low-income year, and the value of your IRAs is low, that’s the time to do the conversion.
Just be mindful that making this move for a large amount of money could potentially move you into a higher tax bracket. Being strategic and moving a portion of your IRA could make more sense, especially if you expect that you’ll be in a higher tax bracket during retirement, or if you anticipate that your ultimate beneficiary may be in a higher tax bracket within ten years following their inheritance. (As a result of the SECURE Act, inherited IRA accounts must be emptied within ten years after they are received.)
You’ll also need a plan to pay the taxes on that conversion. In a perfect world, those taxes would be paid from funds outside of your retirement accounts. If the only way to pay this tax is by using funds from your IRA, you can have the funds withheld during the conversion. Be sure to run the numbers before doing the conversion. If you pull money from your IRA account to do the conversion, there will be less money to grow long-term for you, and it will be included in your taxable income for the year.
We all like something for nothing, but there are costs to Roth conversions. The five-year rule requires that a Roth needs to exist for five years, before you can take out money tax free. You’ll need to be sure that you have enough cash on hand to live on for five years after the conversion. However, that’s not all. There are a number of different variations on the five-year rule, depending on your situation. If you are under age 59½ and take a distribution of profits before the five years, you will get hit with a 10% penalty without an allowable exception on the amount you converted. An experienced estate planning attorney will be able to help you make a strategically sound decision.
Reference: Jacksonville Business Journal (July 13, 2020) “Covid-19 and the CARES Act enhance the Roth conversion game”