Part II: How Roth IRA Conversions Can Help Protect You Against the Death of the Stretch IRA

Roth IRA Conversions and the Death of the Stretch IRA

Part II How Roth IRA Conversions Can Help Protect You Against the Death of the Stretch IRA James Lange

This post is part of a series about using Roth IRA conversions as a defense against the legislation that I call the Death of the Stretch IRA.  If you are new to my blog, you might find it beneficial to back up and read my earlier posts.

The Best Time to Convert a Traditional IRA to Roth

One of the reasons that people can be reluctant to convert a traditional IRA to a Roth is because they have to pay tax on the transaction.  Nobody wants to give the IRS one more cent than they’re entitled to, right?  And it’s true – any amount that you convert from a traditional IRA to a Roth is taxed, just like a normal withdrawal.  But here’s the bigger problem. Not only do Roth conversions increase the amount of tax you owe at the end of the year, it can also increase the rate at which you pay tax.   Managing the tax implications of Roth IRA conversions can be a huge problem for people who are looking to protect themselves against the Death of the Stretch IRA, so I want to tell you about the sweet spot that you should look for if you are considering a conversion.

First, I want to clarify that the examples that follow are based on the 2016 tax tables.  The IRS has not published the 2017 tables as of this writing, so for purposes of illustration, we’re going to use the 2016 tax tables.  But as an example: if you’re married and file a joint tax return with your spouse, you can earn up to $75,300 and stay within a 15% tax bracket.  If you earn $1 more – $75,301 – you’ll shoot up to a 25% tax bracket.  If you’re a high earner, you can earn up to $231,450 and pay 28% in taxes.  If you earn $231,451, you’ll move up a tax bracket, to 33%.

The best way to convert a Traditional IRA to a Roth, therefore, is to first project how much income you’ll have during the year.  Let’s say that you’re 64 and still working and, after adding up all of your income sources, you think you’ll end up with $131,450.  And then let’s say that you have $1 million in a Traditional IRA.  Should you convert all of that into a Roth?  For most people, that would be a very bad move.  But what you might be able to do is convert $100,000 because, when that amount is added to your other income, you’d still be in a 25% tax bracket.   We generally recommend that our clients do series of small Roth IRA conversions that consider their other income sources so that they do not increase their tax bracket.  For many people, the sweet spot for their conversion amount will be the difference between their normal income, and the top of their tax bracket.

I gave a workshop recently where someone was really having difficulty understanding why you’d want to pay taxes one moment before you had to.  He asked, “Why does it matter when I pay the taxes if I’m going to be in the same tax bracket now or later?”  And while he was (technically) correct about the amount that he was considering converting, what he’d forgotten about was the future gains.  If he doesn’t convert, the gain earned inside his traditional IRA will be taxed when it is withdrawn.  If that gain is earned inside a Roth IRA because he converted, the withdrawals will be tax-free.  And when the Death of the Stretch IRA finally passes, having that pot of Roth IRA money that you can dip in to without having to worry about the tax consequences can give you enormous flexibility in retirement.

Future Income Sources Affect Roth Conversions

There’s one other point about taxes that I want to make.  They frequently change after retirement!  Let’s consider another example.  Joe’s 65 years old and has just retired from his job.  He also took my advice about Social Security and is waiting until age 70 to apply.  From the IRS’s perspective, Joe doesn’t have a lot of income.  Actually, he’s pretty comfortable because he’s just living on a savings account, but he has no wage income or Social Security income.  These are the years when it might be a really good idea for Joe to consider a series of Roth IRA conversions and the best way for him to save some money in taxes!   Why?  Because when Joe is 70, he’s going to have income from Social Security that is higher because he waited, and he’s also going to have to take required minimum distributions from his retirement accounts.  Taxes, taxes, taxes!  If he is able to convert some of his traditional IRA to a Roth now, while he is in a low tax bracket, the required minimum distributions from his traditional IRA (if he has any left) will be less.  And if he needs more income, he can always tap into his Roth.

Roth IRA conversions can be a great defense against changes in your personal tax situation, and against the Death of the Stretch IRA.

Thanks for reading, and stop back soon!

-Jim

For more information on this topic, please visit our Death of the Stretch IRA resource.

P.S. Did you miss a video blog post? Here are the past video blog posts in this video series.

Will New Rules for Inherited IRAs Mean the Death of the Stretch IRA?
Are There Any Exceptions to the Death of the Stretch IRA Legislation?
How will your Required Minimum Distributions Work After the Death of the Stretch IRA Legislation?
Can a Charitable Remainder Unitrust (CRUT) Protect your Heirs from the Death of the Stretch IRA?
What Should You Be Doing Now to Protect your Heirs from the Death of the Stretch IRA?
How Does The New DOL Fiduciary Rule Affect You?
Why is the Death of the Stretch IRA legislation likely to pass?
The Exclusions for the Death of the Stretch IRA
Using Gifting and Life Insurance as a Solution to the Death of the Stretch IRA
Using Roth Conversions as a Possible Solution for Death of the Stretch IRA
How Lange’s Cascading Beneficiary Plan can help protect your family against the Death of the Stretch IRA
How Flexible Estate Planning Can be a Solution for Death of the Stretch IRA
President Trump’s Tax Reform Proposal and How it Might Affect You
Getting Social Security Benefits Right with the Death of the Stretch IRA
The Best Age to Apply for Social Security Benefits after the Death of the Stretch IRA
Part II: The Best Age to Apply for Social Security Benefits after the Death of the Stretch IRA
Social Security Options After Divorce: Don’t Overlook the Possibilities Just Because You Hate Your Ex
Is Your Health the Best Reason to Wait to Apply for Social Security?
Roth IRA Conversions and the Death of the Stretch IRA
How Roth IRA Conversions can help Minimize the Effects of the Death of the Stretch IRA
How Roth IRA Conversions Can Benefit You Even if The Death of Stretch IRA Doesn’t Pass
The Death of the Stretch IRA: Will the Rich Get Richer?
The Best Time for Roth IRA conversions: Before or After the Death of the Stretch IRA?
Roth IRA Conversions and the Death of the Stretch IRA

Roth IRA Conversions and the Death of the Stretch IRA

How Roth IRA Conversions Can Help Protect You Against the Death of the Stretch IRA

Roth IRA Conversions and the Death of the Stretch IRA James Lange Pgh

Those of you who follow my blog know that I’ve spent a lot of time talking about the Death of Stretch IRA, and some ideas that you can take advantage of that could provide some defense for your own family.  The next few posts will continue my discussion about Roth IRA conversions, and how they might benefit your heirs after the Stretch IRA is eliminated.

When Will the Stretch IRA Be Eliminated?

Some of my critics have said that I’m making a lot of noise about something that might never happen.  They say that the Stretch IRA won’t be eliminated, and all of this discussion is for naught.  I have two responses to that.  First, I think it’s completely unrealistic to expect that our legislators will maintain the status quo.  We have reached the point where our spending is no longer sustainable.  Our national debt is estimated at about $20 trillion, but an even scarier statistic is how it relates to our gross domestic product (GDP).  That number is about 106 percent – meaning that we owe more than what the entire country produces.   At one point, President Trump suggested that we follow the lead of other countries and simply default on our debt.  I would be surprised if he could get that proposal through Congress, but if he plans to return the country to solvency as he promised, he’ll need a lot of revenue to do it.  With more than $25 trillion being held in tax-deferred retirement accounts, eliminating the Stretch IRA is a quick and relatively painless way to pump a lot of tax money into the government’s coffers.  And that, my friends, is why I believe that the Death of the Stretch IRA will happen soon – possibly before the end of 2017.  More than likely, the Death of the Stretch IRA will be included as part of a major tax reform – which, as you might recall, was part of President Trump’s campaign platform.  Remember, he promised a simplification of the tax code – and there’s nothing simpler than grabbing all your money by eliminating the Stretch IRA!

Roth IRA conversions – A Great Defense Against the Death of the Stretch IRA

Let’s suppose you die before the Stretch IRA is eliminated.   Your family will be in a better financial position because they can withdraw your IRAs using the old rules – and stretch it over their lifetimes.  But even if they are able to use the old rules, you could still be better off by doing a series of Roth IRA conversions.  In my previous posts, I talked about the concept of purchasing power, and how you and your spouse can be better off during your lifetimes if you convert.  We’ve proven this to hundreds of our clients by running the numbers for them, and collectively they’re better off by millions of dollars because they took our advice.

But what if the Death of the Stretch IRA happens during your lifetime?  Do you believe, as I do, that the Stretch IRA will be eliminated so that the Congress can put one finger in to the country’s fiscal dyke that is already bursting at the seams?  Well, when I give talks about possible solutions to the Death of the Stretch IRA, I tell people that Roth IRA conversions are a tool that can be beneficial in either situation.  So it doesn’t matter if you die before or after the Stretch IRA is eliminated – Roth IRA conversions can still be beneficial to your family.

Waiting for the Death of the Stretch IRA

It was less than a year ago that the Senate Finance Committee voted 26-0 to eliminate the Stretch IRA.  Congress never got a chance to vote on their proposal because they were consumed by one of the most bitter and contentious election processes in recent history.  Well, we’ve been watching Congress’s actions all summer long, and have had ongoing discussions with some individuals who are in the know about the status of the Death of the Stretch IRA.  If you subscribe to this blog, you’ll be among the first to know when it finally happens.

Stop back later for the latest updates on the Death of the Stretch IRA!

Jim

For more information on this topic, please visit our Death of the Stretch IRA resource.

P.S. Did you miss a video blog post? Here are the past video blog posts in this video series.

Will New Rules for Inherited IRAs Mean the Death of the Stretch IRA?
Are There Any Exceptions to the Death of the Stretch IRA Legislation?
How will your Required Minimum Distributions Work After the Death of the Stretch IRA Legislation?
Can a Charitable Remainder Unitrust (CRUT) Protect your Heirs from the Death of the Stretch IRA?
What Should You Be Doing Now to Protect your Heirs from the Death of the Stretch IRA?
How Does The New DOL Fiduciary Rule Affect You?
Why is the Death of the Stretch IRA legislation likely to pass?
The Exclusions for the Death of the Stretch IRA
Using Gifting and Life Insurance as a Solution to the Death of the Stretch IRA
Using Roth Conversions as a Possible Solution for Death of the Stretch IRA
How Lange’s Cascading Beneficiary Plan can help protect your family against the Death of the Stretch IRA
How Flexible Estate Planning Can be a Solution for Death of the Stretch IRA
President Trump’s Tax Reform Proposal and How it Might Affect You
Getting Social Security Benefits Right with the Death of the Stretch IRA
The Best Age to Apply for Social Security Benefits after the Death of the Stretch IRA
Part II: The Best Age to Apply for Social Security Benefits after the Death of the Stretch IRA
Social Security Options After Divorce: Don’t Overlook the Possibilities Just Because You Hate Your Ex
Is Your Health the Best Reason to Wait to Apply for Social Security?
Roth IRA Conversions and the Death of the Stretch IRA
How Roth IRA Conversions can help Minimize the Effects of the Death of the Stretch IRA
How Roth IRA Conversions Can Benefit You Even if The Death of Stretch IRA Doesn’t Pass
The Death of the Stretch IRA: Will the Rich Get Richer?
The Best Time for Roth IRA conversions: Before or After the Death of the Stretch IRA?

The Best Time for Roth IRA conversions: Before or After the Death of the Stretch IRA?

For many individuals, a series of well-timed Roth IRA conversions can be the best defense against the Death of the Stretch IRA.

The Best Time for Roth IRA conversions: Before or After the Death of the Stretch IRA?

A lot of clients ask me if I manage my own finances the way I recommend they manage theirs, and the answer is definitely “yes”.   I realized though, that I have not told you my own Roth IRA conversion story, and how my decision will affect my own family after the Death of the Stretch IRA.

Roth IRA Conversions – The Best Time is in Years of Low Income

Think back to 1998.  It was long before we ever had to worry about the Death of the Stretch IRA, and it was the first year you were permitted to make Roth IRA conversions.  Back then, if your Modified Adjusted Gross Income was more than $100,000 you were restricted from making Roth IRA conversions.  Our family’s income was over $100,000, so I thought my income restricted me and never imagined I’d be eligible to do Roth IRA conversions myself.  Then on February 16, 1998, our office was wiped out by a devastating fire that started in a pizza shop located directly below us.  Can you imagine this happening to a CPA firm in the middle of tax season?

I learned some valuable lessons from this experience.  First, never put your office above a pizza shop.  Second, I learned more about the insurance process than I ever cared to know.  We had extremely high expenses because everything needed fixed and, even though I was well insured, I didn’t get the check for the damage until 1999. That meant that 1998 was a very tough year for the business financially.   I couldn’t take a salary, and for the first time our family’s income was far less than $100,000.  Did I get upset?  No.  I said to my wonderful wife, “Cindy, I think we have an opportunity here”.

My wife and I had about $250,000 in Traditional IRAs between us.  I told her that our normal income level would restrict us from making Roth IRA conversions, but our income in 1998 was far below normal – making that year the best time for us to do Roth IRA conversions.  I told her that I thought we should convert the entire amount to Roth IRAs and voluntarily pay the tax due the $250,000 conversion amount.  After she got over her initial shock, she looked at the mathematical calculations I had done and, being an extremely intelligent woman, she immediately understood that our family would be better off by hundreds of thousands of dollars in the long run.  And so we did it – we converted every last dime of our IRAs to Roths.  And those Roth IRAs are now worth quite a lot more than they were in 1998.

The law has since changed, and there are no longer any income restrictions on Roth IRA conversions.  This means that you can do smaller Roth IRA conversions over a series of years rather than all at once like I did, and by doing so you can convert them at a lower tax rate than I was able to.  The best time for many retired individuals is the period after you’ve stopped working, but before you are required to take minimum distributions from your IRAs and retirement plans.  And with the Death of the Stretch IRA looming, there are probably even more reasons now for you to consider Roth IRA conversions than I had when my office caught fire in 1998.

Transferring my Roth IRA to My Child

Twenty years later, it is likely that Cindy and I will never spend those Roth IRAs.  Some people will argue that, if that’s the case, there was no benefit to us converting our IRAs to Roths.  Why pay tax when you didn’t have to, they ask?  Well, I guess it’s because, in the long run, I was thinking of what would happen when I die and my Roth IRA is transferred to my child.  My daughter Erica was only three years old when we did those Roth IRA conversions.  If I die tomorrow and my Roth IRA is transferred to her, she’ll be hundreds of thousands of dollars better off because I did that conversion.  And if I live for another twenty years, it’s not unreasonable to think that she’ll be more than a million dollars better off when I die.

When my Roth IRA is transferred to her after my death, Erica will still be required to take minimum distributions from the account every year.  If I die before the Death of the Stretch IRA legislation is passed, those minimum distributions can be stretched over her lifetime and the bulk of the IRA can continue to grow in a tax-free environment.  If I die after the Death of the Stretch IRA legislation is passed, she’ll be required to withdraw the entire IRA within five years.  Although the money will be forced from the tax shelter more quickly, at least the withdrawals will be tax-free to her.  And I can’t think of a better present for my little girl.

Stop back soon for more Roth IRA talk!

-Jim

For more information on this topic, please visit our Death of the Stretch IRA resource.

P.S. Did you miss a video blog post? Here are the past video blog posts in this video series.

Will New Rules for Inherited IRAs Mean the Death of the Stretch IRA?
Are There Any Exceptions to the Death of the Stretch IRA Legislation?
How will your Required Minimum Distributions Work After the Death of the Stretch IRA Legislation?
Can a Charitable Remainder Unitrust (CRUT) Protect your Heirs from the Death of the Stretch IRA?
What Should You Be Doing Now to Protect your Heirs from the Death of the Stretch IRA?
How Does The New DOL Fiduciary Rule Affect You?
Why is the Death of the Stretch IRA legislation likely to pass?
The Exclusions for the Death of the Stretch IRA
Using Gifting and Life Insurance as a Solution to the Death of the Stretch IRA
Using Roth Conversions as a Possible Solution for Death of the Stretch IRA
How Lange’s Cascading Beneficiary Plan can help protect your family against the Death of the Stretch IRA
How Flexible Estate Planning Can be a Solution for Death of the Stretch IRA
President Trump’s Tax Reform Proposal and How it Might Affect You
Getting Social Security Benefits Right with the Death of the Stretch IRA
The Best Age to Apply for Social Security Benefits after the Death of the Stretch IRA
Part II: The Best Age to Apply for Social Security Benefits after the Death of the Stretch IRA
Social Security Options After Divorce: Don’t Overlook the Possibilities Just Because You Hate Your Ex
Is Your Health the Best Reason to Wait to Apply for Social Security?
Roth IRA Conversions and the Death of the Stretch IRA
How Roth IRA Conversions can help Minimize the Effects of the Death of the Stretch IRA
How Roth IRA Conversions Can Benefit You Even if The Death of Stretch IRA Doesn’t Pass
The Death of the Stretch IRA: Will the Rich Get Richer?