Backdoor Roth IRA: A tax-saving strategy for some high earners
Now that April 18 has come and gone, many tax professionals are looking to offer their clients value-added planning services. One approach for many individuals to consider is a backdoor Roth IRA, which can be an important strategy to save for retirement without facing the restrictions of a Roth IRA.
The basics of a Roth IRA
A Roth IRA is a popular retirement savings account that offers tax-free growth and withdrawals. The individual contributes after-tax dollars, and if certain requirements are met, the individual can withdraw both the invested money (principal) and earnings accrued on the money tax-free in the future. It's often suggested for individuals who think they will be in a higher tax bracket when they retire, and the benefit is that it offers tax-free growth.
However, there are income limits that restrict who can contribute directly to a Roth IRA. For 2023, single filers with modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) above $138,000 and married couples filing jointly with MAGI above $218,000 are not eligible to contribute directly to a Roth IRA. Those who exceed Roth income limits may consider a backdoor Roth IRA.
Breaking down the mechanics and benefits of a backdoor Roth IRA
A backdoor IRA is a strategy that allows taxpayers to contribute to a Roth IRA even if their income exceeds the income limits for direct contributions. It involves making a non-deductible contribution to a Traditional IRA and then converting that Traditional IRA to a Roth IRA.
Unlike a Roth IRS, there are no income limits for converting Traditional IRA funds to a Roth IRA. Since there are no income limits, the backdoor Roth IRA offers a workaround for high-income individuals who otherwise wouldn't be able to contribute to a Roth IRA directly.
The potential benefits of a backdoor Roth IRA include tax-free growth on investments, tax-free withdrawals in retirement, and no required minimum distributions (RMDs) compared to a Traditional IRA.
Secure 2.0 Act of 2022 changes to backdoor Roth IRAs
Overall, the Secure 2.0 Act of 2022 (SECURE 2.0) made some changes that could make backdoor Roth IRAs less attractive for some taxpayers. However, they are still a viable option for many.
SECURE 2.0 increased the income limits for deducting traditional IRA contributions. For 2023, the income limits are $129,000 for single filers and $204,000 for married couples filing jointly.
SECURE also made it more difficult to convert a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. Under the new rules, taxpayers who have a traditional IRA with any amount of pre-tax money will have to pay taxes on any earnings that are converted to a Roth IRA.
Important considerations for backdoor Roth IRAs
It's important to consider the following before deciding if a backdoor Roth IRA is the right strategy for a client:
Current and future tax brackets. If one expects to be in a lower tax bracket in retirement, a Traditional IRA may be more tax-efficient.
The pro-rata rule. If taxpayers have pre-tax funds in any other Traditional, SEP, or SIMPLE IRAs, the pro-rata rule could significantly impact their tax liability upon conversion. This rule calculates their tax liability based on the proportion of pre-tax and after-tax amounts across all their IRAs.
Conversion timing. If the value of a taxpayer's investments in the Traditional IRA increases between the time he or she contributes and the time of conversion to a Roth IRA, the taxpayer will need to pay taxes on the gains.
The five-year rule. Taxpayers need to wait five years to access the converted Roth IRA funds without incurring penalties or taxes on earnings. Individuals should ensure that they can afford to leave their funds untouched for that period.
In short, even though the backdoor IRA strategy can be very useful for many individuals, advisors should evaluate whether the potential tax benefits of a backdoor Roth IRA outweigh each client's unique financial situation. Factors to consider include the client’s existing retirement accounts, income levels, overall financial goals, and current and future tax implications.
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