Personal Finance, Tax Planning

Why You Should Consider a Roth IRA Conversion Before Year’s End


by Alli Thomas

Oct 9, 2020

If you’ve been thinking about doing a full or partial Roth IRA conversion, now is the time to take action. The year is almost over. That means you probably have a pretty good idea of what your total annual income will be. This should help give you a clearer picture of how much of a conversion you can afford to do without crossing into a higher tax bracket.

We talk about the Roth a lot here. It’s grown more popular since 1997, when it was created. By 2018, nearly 22.5 million of these accounts had been established. Still, more Americans have traditional IRAs than Roth IRAs. And most of the money in traditional IRAs comes not from contributions, but from 401(k) plan rollovers.

So why should you be thinking about doing a Roth conversion?

Many financial experts believe that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA) reduced federal income tax rates to the lowest level they may ever be. Here are the rates for 2019:

Tax Rate
Taxable Income
Taxable Income
(Married Filing Jointly)
10% Up to $9,875 Up to $19,750
12% $9,876 to $40,125 $19,751 to $80,250
22% $40,126 to $85,525 $80,251 to $171,050
24% $85,526 to $163,300 $171,051 to $326,600
32% $163,301 to $207,351 $326,601 to $414,700
35% $207,351 to $518,400 $414,701 to $622,050
37% Over $518,400 Over $622,051

TCJA includes a sunset provision for tax rates. They are scheduled to return to their pre-2018 amounts in 2026. But it’s possible that our current tax rates may not even make it to that point. Political control changes may cause the lower rates to revert sooner than expected.


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An example of how TCJA has made Roth conversions more attractive

Let’s say that you were in the 33% marginal tax bracket before TCJA was passed. But since 2018, you’ve shifted to the 24% tax bracket. If you were to do a Roth conversion this year, you’d pay less in federal income taxes on the amount you convert than you would have before TCJA.

That may sound great. But what if you’re trying to avoid taking a huge tax hit in a single year? No problem! Assuming the lower tax rates remain until 2026 as planned, you may choose to convert smaller amount of your traditional IRA to a Roth IRA every year through 2025.

Here’s another example. Let’s say you’re single and will earn about $125,000 this year. This would put you in the 24% tax bracket.

Now let’s say you have $75,000 in a 401(k) plan with a former employer. If you converted all of it to a Roth IRA this year, you’d be taxed at the next higher marginal rate (32%) on nearly half of the conversion amount.

Instead, you could do several smaller partial conversions and spread them over a number of tax years. If your income remains about the same each year, your Roth conversions would be taxed at the 24% marginal rate.

Another benefit of TCJA is that the width of some joint-return tax brackets have been doubled to twice the size of the single filer bracket. Taxpayers in these brackets can now do Roth conversions on larger amounts without having to worry about being pushed into a higher tax bracket. If you’re married and in the 22% or 24% marginal brackets, you should seriously consider doing a Roth conversion before 2026.

There is one downside that TCJA brought for Roth conversions. Before 2018, Roth conversions could be reversed via a recharacterization. That’s no longer the case. If you’re wondering why anyone would want to do that, here’s the reason: if your account took a hit from a market decline, reversing your Roth conversion could help you avoid paying tax on money that was no longer there. But TCJA took this reversal option off the table.

Ready to talk about doing a Roth conversion before year end? Our financial professionals are here to answer all your questions—at no cost and with no obligation. Click here to schedule an appointment with one of them today.

Request a no-cost, no-obligation advisor consultation today!

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Alli Thomas

Alli Thomas has worked in the financial services industry for nearly 20 years, with a focus on retirement-related investing. She began her career as a FINRA-licensed participant-services call-center associate at Vanguard, and then moved to Principal Financial Group, where she worked closely with employers, assisting with retirement plan set-up and design, selecting appropriate plan investment offerings, and maximizing employee participation through targeted education campaigns and enrollment meetings. Alli has also worked as a qualified 401(k) administrator and registered investment advisor for several small investment firms. She now writes about all things investment- and finance-related, leveraging her extensive experience and passion for retirement planning to help investors make well-informed financial decisions.

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