What is a Roth Conversion?
According to Investopedia, “a Roth IRA conversion is a reportable movement of assets from a Traditional IRA, SEP or SIMPLE IRA to a Roth IRA, which is a taxable event. A Roth conversion can be advantageous for individuals with large traditional IRA accounts who expect their future tax bills to stay at the same level or grow at the time they plan to start withdrawing from their tax-advantaged account, as a Roth IRA allows for tax-free withdrawals of qualified distributions.”
To simplify this down, you are taking assets from a qualified account, such as the traditional IRA, paying the income taxes owed on the amount now, and moving them into a Roth IRA to capitalize on the tax-free income on eligible withdrawals.
Why would someone do this?
If someone feels that their tax liability is going to increase in the future, this provides a way for tax diversification. For example, if you are in a low tax bracket currently and have a large sum of your assets in qualified accounts, then it may make sense to convert the funds assuming you have the cash on hand to cover the tax liability.
Taking advantage of your low tax basis now (maybe even specific to the most recent tax reform) could allow you to control your RMDs (required minimum distributions) in the future or allow you to leave money more efficiently to your heirs, especially if your income tax rate is lower than theirs.
Who would be someone that would want to do this?
There are a couple different scenarios that this strategy might be useful in.
One is a retiree who is going to have no earned income and has plenty of assets for a successful retirement. If their asset base is large enough to not worry about income, chances are they may run into Required Minimum Distributions in the future. To control this, they could convert money now and limit their tax exposure during the RMD years. Additionally, if they plan to leave money to their heirs, this is an opportunity to leave it for them income tax-free.
A second scenario might include someone who is not in retirement, but perhaps they had a lower than normal income year, has a long time horizon until retirement, and has qualified assets they would rather have in a Roth. In our “younger than retirement age” scenario, their financial plan might dictate they would retire prior to the 59.5 age mark. This conversion would allow them to tap into their basis before 59.5.
In all instances, if someone has qualified assets, a lower than normal current tax environment, and the cash to complete the conversion, then it is something to be considered for financial planning purposes.
Additionally, there are some nuanced rules regarding how long someone must wait to access these funds known as the “5-year rule”. You can learn more about the finer details around that issue here: https://www.kitces.com/blog/understanding-the-two-5-year-rules-for-roth-ira-contributions-and-conversions/
How does one convert their traditional IRA funds to Roth?
This can be a tricky process since timelines and amounts might need to be tracked for the “5-year rule”, so we recommend speaking with your personal financial planner and/or accountant to make sure that this might be a good fit for you and your plan.
Overall, the Roth conversion can be a good strategy assuming that all the important variables line up in regards to tax rates, timing, and cash on hand. However, a Roth conversion should be considered on a case-by-case basis and may not be right for everyone. With it being a tricky strategy to execute, make sure you consult your financial advisor or account for a smooth process.
Cary Warren Facer, Founding Partner
Warren Street Wealth Advisors
Warren Street Wealth Advisors, a Registered Investment Advisor. The information contained herein does not involve the rendering of personalized investment advice but is limited to the dissemination of general information. A professional advisor should be consulted before implementing any of the strategies or options presented. Any investments discussed carry unique risks and should be carefully considered and reviewed by you and your financial professional. Past performance may not be indicative of future results. All investment strategies have the potential for profit or loss. Warren Street Wealth Advisors are not Certified Public Accountants and all tax-related matters should be vetted and acted on with your personal tax counsel.