If you decide to roll over your entire 401(k) balance, you can roll all of your pre-tax dollars into a traditional IRA and all of your nondeductible contributions into a Roth IRA. You wouldn't pay taxes on this type of conversion because you already paid taxes on your nondeductible contributions the year you made them.
Fortunately, the definitive answer is “yes.” You can roll your existing 401(k) into a Roth IRA instead of a traditional IRA. Choosing to do so just adds a few additional steps to the process. Whenever you leave your job, you have a decision to make with your 401k plan.
If you roll a traditional 401(k) over to a Roth individual retirement account (Roth IRA), you will owe income taxes on the money that year, but you'll owe no taxes on withdrawals after you retire. This type of rollover has a particular benefit for high-income earners who aren't permitted to contribute to a Roth.
You can do a partial conversion — that is, convert a portion of your assets over two years or more, thereby spreading out your tax payments. You don't actually have to convert the entire account at once.
Converting a 401(k) into a Roth IRA gives you greater ownership and direction over your money. A 401(k) is a tax-advantaged retirement account that is managed by an employer, while a Roth IRA is a tax-advantaged retirement account that is managed by you.
But even when you're close to retirement or already in retirement, opening this special retirement savings vehicle can still make sense under some circumstances. There is no age limit to open a Roth IRA, but there are income and contribution limits that investors should be aware of before funding one.
Reduce adjusted gross income
If you're planning a Roth conversion, you may consider reducing adjusted gross income by contributing more to your pretax 401(k) plan, Lawrence suggested. You may also leverage so-called tax-loss harvesting, offsetting profits with losses, in a taxable account.
A "backdoor Roth IRA" is a type of conversion that allows people with high incomes to fund a Roth despite IRS income limits. Basically, you put money you've already paid taxes on in a traditional IRA, then convert your contributed funds into a Roth IRA and you're done.
Roth IRA conversion limits
The government only allows you to contribute $6,000 directly to a Roth IRA in 2021 and 2022 or $7,000 if you're 50 or older, but there is no limit on how much you can convert from tax-deferred savings to your Roth IRA in a single year.
A backdoor Roth IRA is not an official type of individual retirement account. Instead, it is an informal name for a complicated method used by high-income taxpayers to create a permanently tax-free Roth IRA, even if their incomes exceed the limits that the tax law prescribes for regular Roth ownership.
Mega backdoor Roth: takes it to the next level, as we describe below. It's for people who have a 401(k) plan at work; they can put up to $40,500 of post-tax dollars in 2022 into their 401(k) plan and then roll it into a mega backdoor Roth, which is either a Roth IRA or Roth 401(k).
Converting all or part of a traditional 401(k) to a Roth 401(k) can be a savvy move for some, especially younger people or those on an upward trajectory in their career. If you believe you will be in a higher tax bracket during retirement than you are now, a conversion will likely save you money.
The IRS has no problem with you rolling over a portion of your 401(k) into an IRA account (and leaving the rest behind in the old 401(k) plan). However, your particular 401(k) plan may not allow partial rollover as not all plans are set up for this and some will only allow you to roll over the entire lump-sum.
A partial rollover is not a taxable event so long as the money is rolled to an account with like-tax treatment. This essentially means that a pre-tax retirement account must be rolled into another pre-tax account — and a post-tax account must be rolled into a post-tax one — to avoid taxation.
You may not need a Backdoor Roth Conversion if you are able to meet your savings goals with the maximum retirement limit through your workplace retirement account and are not expecting a need for additional savings for your retirement plan.
A Roth IRA conversion can be a very powerful tool for your retirement. If your taxes rise because of increases in marginal tax rates—or because you earn more, putting you in a higher tax bracket—then a Roth IRA conversion can save you considerable money in taxes over the long term.
Converting a Traditional IRA to a Roth in Retirement
There's no age limit or income requirement to be able to convert a traditional IRA to a Roth. You must pay taxes on the amount converted, although part of the conversion will be tax-free if you have made nondeductible contributions to your traditional IRA.
On April 5, you could convert your traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. However, the conversion can't be reported on your 2021 taxes. Because IRA conversions are only reported during the calendar year, you should report it in 2022.
Early in retirement—when your earned income drops but before RMDs kick in—can be an especially good time to implement this strategy. One issue to be mindful of is making Roth conversions when you are close (within two years) to filing for Medicare and Social Security.
The Roth IRA five-year rule says you cannot withdraw earnings tax free until it's been at least five years since you first contributed to a Roth IRA account. 1 This rule applies to everyone who contributes to a Roth IRA, whether they're 59½ or 105 years old.
The year you do a Roth conversion, your taxable income will rise, which could cause a portion of your Social Security benefit to be taxed or push you into a situation where more of your benefit is taxed.
Earned income also includes net earnings from self-employment. Earned income does not include amounts such as pensions and annuities, welfare benefits, unemployment compensation, worker's compensation benefits, or social security benefits.
After you become 59 ½ years old, you can take your money out without needing to pay an early withdrawal penalty. You can choose a traditional or a Roth 401(k) plan. Traditional 401(k)s offer tax-deferred savings, but you'll still have to pay taxes when you take the money out.