What is the difference between a Roth IRA and a Traditional IRA?

Roth IRA is an individual retirement account that offers tax-free growth and tax-free withdrawals in retirement. Roth IRA rules dictate that as long as you’ve owned your account for 5 years and you’re age 59½ or older, you can withdraw your money when you want to and you won’t owe any federal taxes.

A Traditional IRA is a type of individual retirement account that lets your earnings grow tax-deferred. You pay taxes on your investment gains only when you make withdrawals in retirement.

In addition, when planning for an considering long term care planning and possibly needing to qualify for Medicaid, most states do not deem Qualified Accounts such as 401(K)’s and IRA’s and Roth IRA’s as countable resources.

Therefore, the decision to make is: Do I take the income tax hit now and convert to a Roth IRA, or do I wait take it later when I start drawing down on the traditional IRA or 401(K)?

Should I Convert to a Roth IRA?

Roth IRA conversions have been available for many years. Two recent developments suggest that you reconsider Roth IRA conversions for yourself in 2020:

  • The government’s response to COVID-19 significantly raises the Federal deficit, making it more likely that tax rates will be going up in the future.
  • You may be in a lower tax bracket in 2020, which would reduce the tax cost of the conversion.

Both of these factors make Roth IRA conversions more attractive than they were in 2019. The decision as to whether these factors tip the scale in favor of a Roth IRA conversion will require careful consideration. You will need to consider your overall financial plan and make certain assumptions.

Who should do a Roth IRA conversion?

The ideal candidate for a Roth IRA conversion would check off most or all of these boxes:

  • You can pay the tax on the conversion out of a taxable investment portfolio.
  • You expect that you will be in the highest income tax bracket in the future when IRA distributions would be required.
  • You expect that you will not need to withdraw funds from the Roth IRA during your lifetime.
  • You expect that your estate will be subject to estate tax at your death and your spouse.

Who should not do a Roth IRA Conversion?

Some people who should not do a Roth IRA conversion currently are as follows:

  • People who expect to be in a lower tax bracket at retirement.
  • People who can use IRA distributions to take advantage of the lower brackets.
  • People who want to preserve the option of using income from their IRA to offset future medical costs for long-term care or other significant medical expenses, bearing in mind the the principal balances are protected and currently not deemed a countable resource in many states.
  • People who plan to use their IRA for charitable contributions.

Want to discuss how conversion will impact you? Contact us for a no obligation consultation.

SOURCE: LISI Employee Benefits & Retirement Planning Newsletter #737 (June 9, 2020)

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About Matt Leonard

Matthew J. Leonard, Esq. has devoted his practice to handling the legal needs of individuals and their business interests through all stages of life. As an attorney with the law firm of Salter McGowan Sylvia & Leonard, Inc., he has been engaged to handle matters from basic to sophisticated involving Estate Planning, Elder Law, Medicaid Planning, Probate, Trust and Estate Administration, Real Estate, Business Transactions, Business Creation and related litigation.