When it comes to retirement planning, you’ll find that 401 k, and Roth IRA are two ubiquitous retirement savings vehicles. Both come with advantages and disadvantages, and sometimes, you might encounter situations like job changes, consolidation of retirement accounts, or even retirement itself that may warrant a conversion from a traditional 401 k to a Roth IRA.
In this guide, we talk you through the process of converting a traditional 401k to a Roth IRA, weighing the pros and cons, tax consequences and implications, and more to help educate you when making this type of investment decision.
What is a 401 k, and What is a Roth IRA?
A 401 k is an employer-sponsored retirement savings plan allowing you to contribute pre-tax dollars, reducing your taxable income in the current year. On the other hand, a Roth IRA is an individual retirement account that allows you to fund it with after-tax dollars. And, as long as you follow the rules, your withdrawals, including any gains, are tax-free.
While both plans have tax advantages, the major difference is when you pay the tax. With a 401 k, you pay the tax when you withdraw the money. With a Roth IRA, however, you pay the tax upfront.
Pros of Converting a 401 k to a Roth IRA
There are many benefits to converting your 401 k to a Roth IRA. Let’s take a closer look at a few.
One of the most significant benefits of converting your 401 k to a Roth IRA is the money in your account grows tax-free. Essentially, you pay taxes upfront when you convert the account, but you won’t have to pay taxes when you withdraw it later.
This factor makes it a great retirement option for those who expect to be in a higher tax bracket in their retirement years. If you believe your tax bracket will increase by the time you retire, then converting your 401 k to a Roth IRA is an option you’ll want to consider.
No Required Minimum Distributions (RMD)
Unlike a 401 k that comes with required minimum distributions (RMDs), Roth IRAs do not mandate distributions after you reach the age of 72. This feature means individuals can hold onto their Roth IRAs investment accounts for as long as they’d like, which in turn maximizes the tax-free growth of their retirement savings.
No Penalties or Taxes for Early Withdrawals
In traditional IRAs and 401 ks, individuals pay penalties and taxes if they withdraw money before the age of 59½. On the other hand, if you need to withdraw funds from a Roth IRA account that you have held for at least five years, there’s no penalty or tax fee. This component means you can withdraw contributions or earnings from your account tax-free and penalty-free!
Cons of converting a 401 k to Roth IRA
There are, however, some disadvantages that you should be aware of.
One of the main cons of converting a 401 k to a Roth IRA is it may result in higher taxes. As stated earlier, you need to pay taxes on the amount you convert from your 401 k to Roth IRA, which can be a significant expense if you convert a large sum. Additionally, if you are in a higher tax bracket than what you were in when you contributed to your 401k, you may end up without tax deduction and paying more taxes than you would have if you had kept your 401k as is.
Another consideration to keep in mind includes income tax. When you convert your 401k to a Roth IRA, you have to pay income taxes on the converted amount. The amount you convert is subject to income taxation in the year you make the conversion. Any contributions you make to your 401k are not subject to taxation, but any earned income or capital gains that accumulate in the account are taxable. You will need to report the conversion amount on your federal income tax return for the year in which you make the conversion using IRS Form 1099-R.
The amount of taxes you pay on a 401k to Roth IRA conversion depends on your current tax rate. The conversion will be taxed at your current rate if you are in a lower tax bracket. However, if you are in a higher tax bracket, you may be subject to a higher rate of taxation. The amount of taxes you will pay on a 401k to Roth IRA conversion also depends on how much of the conversion is taxed by your state. If you are subject to state taxes, the amount of taxes you pay on the conversion may be higher than if you live in a state that does not impose a state income tax.
This makes it essential to work with a financial advisor, wealth manager, or tax professional to ensure you understand the tax implications and make the conversion in the best year for your finances.
Loss of Flexibility
Another con of converting a 401k to a Roth IRA is the loss of flexibility. Once you convert your 401k to a Roth IRA, you cannot change your mind and switch back. It also means you must keep the converted funds in the account for at least five years before they can be withdrawn without penalty. This lack of flexibility may be a disadvantage for some investors needing funds before the five-year mark.
Impact on Social Security Benefits
For those who are near retirement age, you may want to reconsider converting your retirement account. This is because the conversion may increase your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI), which is used to calculate your Social Security benefits. As a result, you could end up paying taxes on your Social Security benefits and lose some of its income. This could be problematic for those who rely on their social security benefits or plan to use them as a major source of income.
How to Convert a 401k to a Roth IRA
To convert your 401k to Roth IRA, first, ensure your 401k plan allows in-service withdrawals and Roth IRA conversions. Then, contact your plan administrator to start the process. You’ll have to complete paperwork and ensure you have enough cash in your 401k to cover the taxes. Once the conversion is complete, you can start taking tax-free distributions from your Roth IRA.
The Conversion Ladder
For those who are looking to make the most out of their retirement savings, a Roth IRA conversion ladder strategy might be worth considering. This strategy involves converting traditional IRA funds to a Roth IRA over several years, allowing for tax-free withdrawals during retirement. While it may seem complex, a Roth IRA conversion ladder can provide significant tax benefits in the long term. However, seeking professional advice and doing thorough research before beginning the conversion process is important to avoid unintended consequences to your tax bill. By taking the time to understand the ins and outs of this strategy, individuals can potentially maximize their retirement funds and enjoy a more financially secure future.
Other Considerations: Roth 401 k vs. a Roth IRA
Unlike a traditional 401k, some individuals may also have a Roth 401k that plays a role in their retirement planning. A Roth 401k is an employer-sponsored retirement plan similar to a traditional 401k, but contributions to a Roth 401k are made with after-tax dollars rather than pre-tax dollars. Withdrawals from a Roth 401 k during retirement are generally tax-free.
So which is better: a Roth 401 k or a Roth IRA? The answer depends on your individual financial situation and goals. Roth 401(k)s provide higher contribution limits than Roth IRAs but are only available through employers. Roth IRAs, on the other hand, are open to everyone and have more investment options. The downfall, however, is contribution limits are lower.
Can you Convert a Roth 401 k to a Roth IRA?
You can convert a Roth 401(k) into a Roth IRA. To do this, you must open a Roth IRA account with a financial institution, roll over the funds from the 401(k) into the new account, and follow the institution’s instructions. Remember that taxes may apply, so you’ll want to work with a financial advisor or tax professional to get more information to better understand the tax liability.
Converting a 401k to Roth IRA can be a complex process, but it can be a smart financial move in the right circumstances. Before making any moves, it’s essential to consult with a financial advisor to ensure you understand the tax implications, the ins and outs of how to convert a 401k to a Roth IRA, and ways to make the most out of your retirement savings.