Can I Convert My 401k to a Roth IRA?

If you don’t wish to change plans, an alternative would be converting your old account to a Roth IRA and paying taxes on both contributions and earnings, with tax-free withdrawals upon retirement.

Before making the move, be sure you have sufficient cash on hand to cover your tax bill. Furthermore, consult with a financial advisor and obtain all of the forms needed for rollover.

How Much Can I Convert?

Since 1978 when 401k plans first made their debut, trillions have been saved and invested for retirement through this revolutionary system. While traditional pensions still provide many of today’s retirees with income security during retirement, contributions made into 401k accounts can be tax deductible while earnings accrue tax-deferred for decades – offering tax-free earnings and future growth in your account.

Roth conversion is an effective strategy to pay taxes on pretax assets before retirement and enjoy tax-free income in retirement. Longer conversion periods tend to yield greater results.

Converted Roth IRA earnings are tax-free provided their owner reaches age 59 1/2 and holds it for five years after conversion; however, withdrawal before then is subject to income taxes as well as an early withdrawal penalty of 10% for owners under 59 1/2. With careful timing of conversions available today, many people who want to lower RMDs or decrease tax burden on heirs may find benefit in doing so.

Taxes on a Roth Conversion

Roth conversions are taxed as income in the year they occur, meaning you’ll need to pay taxes on every penny that moves over. This could take a large bite out of your savings account and should be carefully considered before undertaking such a conversion.

Consider future tax rates when making this decision, too. If your rates will increase after retirement, conversion may not make as much sense; furthermore, don’t forget about state income taxes which can make an impactful statement about where your priorities lie.

To reduce taxes, it’s advisable to perform the Roth conversion during a lower-income year. This helps minimize your tax liability while allowing you to stay out of retirement savings to pay taxes. As an alternative option, the IRS could withhold taxes instead – though this means your RMDs won’t be penalty free when used during retirement.

Requirements for a Roth Conversion

If you plan to convert part or all of your traditional IRA to a Roth, remember that any contributions you’ve made will increase your taxable income and potentially put you into higher tax brackets. Therefore, it would be prudent to consult your financial or tax advisor prior to taking this step.

Beach advises Roth conversion as an effective strategy if your tax rate will decrease upon retirement, since paying the lower tax rate now will be better than facing an increase when withdrawing funds from retirement accounts later on.

But, if your retirement tax bracket will likely increase substantially, converting to a Roth could actually cost more in taxes, so in this instance it may be best to leave your traditional IRA unconverted. A financial planner can assist in calculating any upfront conversion costs that might apply and help determine if conversion makes sense in your situation.

Taxes on a Roth Rollover

Your tax liability for a Roth conversion depends on your tax bracket at the time of conversion; generally speaking, it would be prudent to convert during a year in which income levels will be significantly lower than usual.

For instance, in 2022 you might pay 22% in ordinary income taxes on the entire pretax IRA balance (minus nondeductible contributions), before rolling it over into a Roth account and enjoying tax-free growth of your funds.

State income tax rates should also be taken into consideration, since almost every state imposes one of these taxes and they can be especially steep in states like California and others with high-income levels. You might want to convert part of your IRA gradually over several years in order to avoid entering into higher tax brackets which could cost thousands in lost growth over time.


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