There's nothing like April 15 to focus us on reducing our tax bills. There are no secret tricks to avoiding tax. But a Roth account, which is essentially tax-free, is worth serious consideration by many tax payers. It's not for everyone, but it has real advantages.
First, a reminder. A Roth IRA or Roth 401(k) is a unique retirement account. Like a traditional IRA or 401(k), investment income within the account is not taxed. That includes dividends, interest and capital gain.
Roth accounts are different from traditional retirement accounts in three principal ways:
- When you contribute to a Roth, there is no immediate tax deferral.
- When you take money out of a Roth, there is no tax payable.
- There is no required distribution from a Roth during the owner's lifetime.
We'll call a Roth account "the land of no tax".
There are two ways to get money into a Roth account.
Option 1: Contributing, up to certain modest limits. For a Roth IRA, you can contribute $6,000 annually ($7,000 if you are 50 or older) -- but only below certain income levels. (There's more here.) If your company has a Roth 401k, you can contribute up to $20,500 annually ($27,000 if you are 50). So, building a large balance in a Roth takes years. But if your tax bracket is not high, a Roth contribution may make sense.
Option 2: Roth conversions. Here's how you can contribute large amounts -- but at a cost. At any time, you can "convert" (move) an unlimited amount from a traditional retirement account to a Roth. The downside: the amount converted is fully taxable that year as ordinary income. The upside: it will never be taxed again.
There are a number of situations where a Roth contribution or conversion may make sense. We have created a 3-page paper. Email me and I'll send it to you.
Here are two examples:
- You are retired but yet to start distributions from your retirement accounts, required from age 72. If you have a few years with low projected taxable income, doing a Roth conversion creates tax in a low bracket. Otherwise, you will distribute it later from your traditional retirement accounts at what may be a higher bracket.
- Your tax rate is eventually headed higher and the stock market has swooned. Moving 1,000 shares of stock into a Roth when the shares have fallen 25% costs you 25% less tax. Then you wait for the market to eventually rebound. All of that appreciation is tax-free.
Getting a significant balance into a Roth account is not easy. It takes time, inflates your tax bill, or both. But, once assets are within a Roth account, they will never be taxed again. If you think your tax rate may be higher in the future, think about loading up a Roth.