Which Is Better the Traditional or the Roth IRA

Retire Secure! Third Edition, A Guide To Making The Most Out Of What You've Got, James Lange
A theme which appears consistently throughout the third edition of Retire Secure! is the question of which is better – the traditional or Roth IRA. Changes in the law since Edition Two was written, as well as additional changes that our current administration is pressing for, make it the million dollar question.

In order to answer the question, we dedicated Chapter 2 to comparing the pros and cons of each type of account as they exist under the current law. If you are not familiar with the rules of each IRA account, it is probably worth your time to read this chapter. Subsequent chapters address the proposed changes to the rules, and how they might affect your decision when reviewing your retirement plan options. And, due to popular demand, I’ve added a section about the IRS ordering rules, which explains how to avoid tax and penalty if you need to withdraw money from a Roth account before five years has passed.

The IRA illustrations were calculated using a 6% rate of return, and the maximum contribution amount as established by the IRS. We also ran an illustration that shows, for those who don’t have a lot of time left to save, the difference in the accounts when contributions are made for a very limited number of years.

A final note about tax brackets: when Edition Two was written, the maximum tax rate was 35%. Subsequent changes in the tax laws increased the maximum rate to 39.6%. This difference of almost 5% is more significant than you might think. The impact of the increased tax brackets is discussed in detail in subsequent chapters, but the concept is first introduced in Chapter 2.

Check back soon for an update on Chapter 3!

Jim

Jim Lange A nationally recognized IRA, Roth IRA conversion, and 401(k) expert, he is a regular speaker to both consumers and professional organizations. Jim is the creator of the Lange Cascading Beneficiary Plan™, a benchmark in retirement planning with the flexibility and control it offers the surviving spouse, and the founder of The Roth IRA Institute, created to train and educate financial advisors.

Jim’s strategies have been endorsed by The Wall Street Journal (33 times), Newsweek, Money Magazine, Smart Money, Reader’s Digest, Bottom Line, and Kiplinger’s. His articles have appeared in Bottom Line, Trusts and Estates Magazine, Financial Planning, The Tax Adviser, Journal of Retirement Planning, and The Pennsylvania Lawyer magazine.

Jim is the best-selling author of Retire Secure! (Wiley, 2006 and 2009), endorsed by Charles Schwab, Larry King, Ed Slott, Jane Bryant Quinn, Roger Ibbotson and The Roth Revolution, Pay Taxes Once and Never Again endorsed by Ed Slott, Natalie Choate and Bob Keebler.

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Beware of the Pro Rata Rule for Roth Conversions

What is the Pro Rata rule for Roth conversions?

The Pro Rata rule for Roth conversions states that if you have any other deductible IRAs (i.e. a previous 401k that you’ve rolled over), the conversion of any contributions becomes a taxable event that you’ll need to pay taxes on upfront.

The Pro Rata rule for Roth conversions determines whether or not your conversion will be taxable! For taxation purposes, the IRS will look at your entire IRA holdings (even if they are in different accounts), not just the traditional IRA you are converting to a Roth IRA, and will determine what your tax bill will be based upon a ratio of IRA assets that have already been taxed to those IRA assets in total.

The IRS determines the tax on this conversion based on the value of all of your IRA assets. For example Jane, a high income earner, already has $94,500 in an IRA account, all of which has never been taxed.  She decides on January 2nd to put $5,500 into a new traditional IRA. The next day she converts the new traditional non-deductible IRA to a Roth IRA.  Jane’s income is too high for her to make a direct contribution into a Roth IRA, but there’s no income limit on conversions.  Unlike Bill she has $94,500 in other IRAs (previously non-taxed), so her total IRA assets are now $100,000. When she converts $5,500 to a Roth IRA, the IRS pro-rates her tax basis on the previous taxation of her total IRA assets, therefore making this conversion 94.5% taxable ($94,500/100,000 = 94.5%).

So if you plan on using this backdoor IRA strategy, you want to be clear as to whether or not you have any other IRAs. As you can see, this can be a confusing area and this is where we can help.  If you are a high income earner we would be happy to review your situation to determine if this strategy is in your best interest.

Also, please remember that your spouse’s IRA is separate from yours.

Stay tuned for my next blog post, Benefits of a Roth IRA!

Want to learn more? Give us a call at 412-521-2732.

– James Lange

Some things to consider about your Retirement Plan

In 2013, the maximum 401(k) contribution is $17,500 (plus a $5,500 catch-up contribution for those 50 or older by the end of the year). If you are self-employed, you have other retirement savings options. We will review these alternatives with you when you come in for your appointment. One of my favorites for many one person self- employed businesses is the one person 401(k) plan.

In light of the new increased tax rates effective in 2013, plus the addition of the new Medicare surtax on Net Investment Income, higher income taxpayers may want to consider switching from Roth 403(b) and Roth 401(k) elective deferral contributions back to tax deductible contributions. The current savings may outweigh the benefits of tax-free growth on the Roth accounts. As mentioned earlier, the focus moving forward for higher income taxpayers is toward reducing adjusted gross income.

You can also contribute to an IRA for 2013 up through April 15, 2014. The maximum is $5,500 with a catch-up (for taxpayers 50 or older) provision of $1,000.

– Excerpt from Jim Lange’s 2013 Year-End Tax Report

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Making Work Pay Credit

For the past couple of months, you’ve probably noticed a little extra money in your paycheck. Those extra few dollars are thanks to the Making Work Pay Credit which was part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 signed into law by President Obama in February.

While you’re no doubt grateful for the extra cash, you may be wondering exactly how this works. The Making Work Pay Credit is administered through a reduction in wage withholding and provides up to $400 per individual worker and $800 per working married couple. However, this credit phases out for individuals whose modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) exceeds $75,000 or $150,000 in the case of married couples filing jointly.

The amount of credit you receive will be reported on your 2009 income tax return, but it’s not taxable and you won’t have to pay it back if you received the correct amount. If, for some reason, you do not have taxes withheld this year, you can claim a lump sum credit on your 2009 return.

Since these changes will be made automatically through your withholding, most taxpayers can sit back and relax and enjoy the additional spending money. However, there are potential problems for some taxpayers and we don’t want you to be caught off-guard.

For instance, if you are claimed as a dependent on someone else’s return, you do not qualify for the Making Work Pay Credit. College students, in particular, need to be aware of this restriction. These taxpayers will have to return any credit paid to them — either through a payment to the IRS or through a reduced refund.

Married couples who both work should also be very careful about “over withholding”. This can happen if each spouse’s employer makes the adjustment, but the couple’s combined income hits the phase out amount. If this is the case, make adjustments now so that you don’t have a problem next April. Either adjust your form W-4 or set money aside.

It’s also important to note that only individuals with earned income qualify for the Making Work Pay Credit. If you do not have earned income, you are not eligible for the credit.

To be sure that you don’t have any unpleasant surprises when you’re filing your 2009 tax return, it’s a good idea to take a look at your withholdings now. The few minutes it will take to do this could save you headaches down the road. Then, if you’re still concerned, make adjustments now or talk to your tax professional.

One more suggestion from the Lange team — if you are in a position to save rather than spend the credit, you may want to consider using that money towards covering the taxes on a Roth IRA conversion. Let’s take the example of a married couple in the 15% tax bracket. They qualify for both the Make Work Pay Credit and a Roth IRA conversion. Assuming they have IRAs, they could do a $5,000 Roth IRA conversion and use the $800 tax credit to pay the $750 of federal income taxes due on the conversion (with $50 left to treat themselves to dinner).

Tax-loss Harvesting — Reduce Your Taxes

Possibly the single most important tool for reducing your taxes is tax-loss harvesting. Usually, tax-loss harvesting is done at the end of the year. But, as Jim Lange and radio guest Bob Keebler pointed out during the May 20th edition of The Lange Money Hour, the current down market has created an opportunity to harvest losses right now.

Bob is a partner with Virchow, Krause & Company in Wisconsin and has been busy all year executing this strategy for his clients. (By the way, congrats to Bob on being named one of the Top Most Influential CPAs in America by CPA magazine 4 out of the last 6 years).

If you have never used this strategy before, tax-loss harvesting is the art of selling securities at a loss in order to offset a capital gains tax liability. It truly is an art and Bob strongly advised against trying to execute this strategy yourself. Turn first to your trusted financial professional for their advice.

The key to this strategy is to take losses at their deepest point without getting out of the market completely. As Jim and Bob mentioned, you don’t want to miss a good run in the market. Therefore, a slow and methodical approach to tax-loss harvesting is the way to go.

What if you’ve accumulated thousands of dollars in losses, but don’t have an equal amount in capital gains? There are a couple of things to consider — a capital loss can offset only $3,000 of ordinary income as adjusted to your AGI (Adjusted Gross Income). The good news is that tax losses may be carried forward onto future tax returns.

If you have the bright idea that you can buy an asset and sell it solely to pay less taxes, you’ll have to think again. The IRS figured that taxpayers would try this, so their rule is that your loss won’t be allowed if you purchased the same asset within 30 days.

Tax-loss harvesting takes some serious analysis, but the results can be well worth it — especially in this down market. Jim and Bob’s final piece of advice was to sit down with your CPA now if you have losses. Don’t wait until the end of the year when the market may be on a rebound.

Thanks again to Bob for his great advice. His material is always incredibly helpful and informative and his latest product is designed to make the complicated topic of IRAs easy to understand. It’s called The Big IRA Book (literally big with 11 x 17 pages) and is packed with charts, graphs and tools to help you make informed decisions. For more information, call 800-955-0554.

As always, if you’d like to listen to Jim and Bob, the audio is available on this website.