What You Need to Know About Roth IRA Conversions

by Jason on April 8, 2010

By now you’ve all heard of the opportunity for Roth IRA conversions right?

Ok, but maybe you are unsure what a Roth IRA conversion is all about.

Let’s dispel any myths about this and take a look at exactly what’s going on for this year for Roth IRA conversions.

This post will be more of a lesson in what’s happening than a post to convince you one way or the other to do it.

So let’s jump in!

What is a Roth IRA

First, let’s start with the basics.  I run into quite a few people who are unaware of what a Roth IRA even is.  Most everyone has heard of it, but are simply unsure how it works.

So,  What is a Roth IRA ?  Here’s the basics:

A Roth IRA is an Individual Retirement Arrangement that is funded with after-tax contributions; the money grows tax-deferred; and withdrawals are TAX FREE!

Think of it this way – already taxed money goes in – and comes out completely tax free.

It’s a pretty sweet deal if you qualify, meet specifications and figure that your tax rate will be be higher in retirement than it is right now!

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What is a Roth IRA Conversion

What if there was a way to take money from a fully-taxable account and put it into a tax-free account for life!?

That’s exactly what a Roth conversion is.

You are taking money from a Traditional IRA and transferring it, or converting it to a Roth IRA.

So what happens is you get money out of a position that will be taxable to you in the future and get it into an account that will never be taxed again!

Sounds like a pretty sweet deal right?

Uncle Sam Will Love You and Your Roth Conversion

The problem is that whenever you do this you have to pay taxes on the amount you withdraw from your Traditional IRA for the Roth conversion.

*Uncle Sam pumps his fists!

So let’s say you want to convert $10,000 from your Traditional IRA – you would have to tack that on to your income for the year and pay tax at whatever rate you are at.

It’s as if you earned an additional 10 large for that year!

What Changed in 2010 Regarding Roth IRA Conversions

One big change for 2010 and beyond is that anyone can convert to a Roth regardless of income level.

Previously, if you made over $100,000 you could not convert to a Roth.

Uncle Sam wants tax revenue!  So I’m surprised it’s taken this long to change that rule, but this is the first year.

The other big change for 2010 is that you have a choice to pay all of your taxes in 2010 or average the taxes owed on the Roth IRA conversion over two years ( i.e. pay in 2011 and 2012).

Uncle Sam gives you a choice on when you pay your taxes.

But don’t get fooled, the current tax law plans for higher rates in 2011 – so you’ll possibly be paying for your Roth IRA conversion at higher tax rates!

*Uncle Sam rubs his hands together with a grin!

Things to Consider for a Roth IRA Conversion

 How you will pay the taxes – you don’t want to pay out of your IRA money, so be sure you’ve got some extra cash on the side to pay for it.

Are you over age 70 1/2 – if so, there’s this not-so-little rule about Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) that must be satisfied first!

What tax bracket are you in? – Will the money you convert push you into a higher tax bracket?  Yikes – better think twice!!

Are you trying to get financial aid? – Whether it’s for you or for your kids, the Roth IRA conversion will count as income on the application!

More Insights into Roth IRA Conversions

For some good insights and varying opinions check out these articles from some fellow bloggers:

Roth IRAs can be great tools to use for retirement – but, be sure to review the rules and regulations to determine whether you should open a Roth IRA and to see if a Roth IRA conversion is right for you.

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