How to Set Up a Backdoor Roth IRA

26 September 2020 , Ella Vincent

For people with high incomes, Roth IRA’s may be inaccessible. However, there is another option- a backdoor Roth IRA . This TradingSim article will help readers understand how to use backdoor Roth IRAs. In addition, this article will also help investors find the best companies offering alternative retirement accounts in this bull market.

What is a backdoor Roth IRA?

In order to contribute to a Roth IRA in 2020, a person’s income must be below $139,000 if they’re single. Married high-income people must have an income below $203,000. For high-income people, there is the option of a backdoor IRA.

Ajay Sarkaria is a vice president of advanced planning at Fidelity. He noted that the IRS lets high-income people make that conversion.

“The IRS made it pretty explicit that this is a permitted technique, and it is quite commonly utilized by many of our clients,” said Sarkaria.

Christine Russell is the senior manager of retirement and annuities for TD Ameritrade. She notes that high-income investors can save more with backdoor Roth IRAs.

“The backdoor Roth IRA makes it possible for investors to tweak the rules a bit. If you have a traditional IRA, you can convert funds into a Roth IRA, whatever your income level,” said Russell.

Fred Egler is a certified financial planner at Betterment. He says that backdoor IRA’s are a good option for high-income earnings.

“They are a great way for high income individuals to get money into a Roth IRA without contributing directly to one because of the income cap,” says Egler.

Financial IRA expert explains backdoor Roth IRA benefits

IRA expert Ed Slott explained how to open a backdoor IRA.

“You contribute to a traditional non-deductible IRA as long as you have earnings and then convert it to a Roth, since anybody can convert. There is one caveat though, not everybody can contribute to a traditional non-deductable IRA. First, you have to have earnings, and with traditional IRAs you can’t contribute after you are 70 1/2. You can with a Roth but you can’t with a traditional. So, if you are listening to this and you are 75, that tactic won’t work for you,” said Slott.

Slott also explained what to do if a person has extra traditional IRA assets.

“What happens is, if you do a nondeductible, you have to do what’s called, it’s a little technical, a pro-rata calculation. In other words, you can’t just, and this is a question we get a lot so I am glad you asked, some people say well if I do a non-deductible IRA say for $5,000, can I just convert the $5,000 and pay no tax? Not if you have other IRAs because all of your IRAs by tax rules are considered one. So, if $5,000 was only 5% of your whole IRA, only 5% would be tax-free. You have to do a percentage for every dollar you convert,” said Slott.

What do financial experts say about the backdoor IRA?

Victor Carlstrom is CEO of Vinacossa Enterprises Group based in New York. He said that financial advisors in addition to SEP IRAs, they should tell their clients about the backdoor IRA choice.

“Advisors should encourage most of their clients that exceed the contribution income limits to open Roth IRAs through the backdoor process. The benefits of tax-free growth and withdrawals are exceedingly powerful,” said Carlstrom. “And the flexibility that comes with Roth IRAs opens multiple estate planning and retirement pathways,” said Carlstrom.

There are restrictions on Roth IRA contributions and the stretch IRA essentially ended. However, the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act enables people to make a contribution to a traditional IRA. Then, an account holder can convert the IRA to a Roth.

SEP IRA
Backdoor Roth IRAs can help people save for retirement

“Although an individual with [adjusted growth income] exceeding certain limits is not permitted to make a contribution directly to a Roth IRA, the individual can make a contribution to a traditional IRA and convert the traditional IRA to a Roth IRA,” stated the act.

How does a person know if a backdoor Roth is right for them?

Christine Russell is the senior manager of retirement and annuities for TD Ameritrade. She spoke about which situations may be best to use a backdoor Roth IRA.

“If you expect to owe a little less in taxes for the year, and you can handle the tax bill for a Roth conversion now, it might make sense. You pay taxes now, but later on, if taxes go up or if you’re in a higher bracket, you don’t have to pay taxes on your Roth withdrawals. And you won’t have to take any required minimum distributions (RMDs) from your Roth IRA once you reach age 70 1/2,” said Russell.

“Avoiding RMDs during your lifetime may allow you to leave more assets to your heirs, because they won’t be taxed on the Roth IRA assets that they inherit, either,” added Russell.

What are other advantages to making a backdoor Roth IRA conversion?

For people who are retiring, there is a chance to reap benefits from a Roth conversion. Because of the CARES ACT, there is a change in required minimum distributions. There is a new waiver on the required minimum distributions.

“This year is an unprecedented opportunity,” says Maria Erickson, a financial advisor at Freedom Financial and Business Planning in Tampa, Fla. “The numbers are pretty compelling. You can reduce your tax bill by 30% to 40%.”

Can the CARES Act help people who have retirement funds?

The recent CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act lets people withdraw funds from a backdoor IRA if they lose their jobs because of COVID-19 related reasons. However, not all employer retirement plans will allow the withdrawals. Charlie P. Nelson is the chief executive officer of Retirement and Employee Benefits for Voya Financial, Inc. He explains that there are employers who won’t accept early IRA withdrawals.

“Not all retirement plans will accept the CARES Act provisions for COVID-19 related hardships. The provisions are entirely within the purview of the retirement plan, so participants must check first to see what their plan sponsor offers,” said Nelson.

When is a backdoor Roth conversion a bad idea?

While many high-income people want to make Roth conversions, there may be a downside if a person doesn’t have the extra funds to pay taxes.

Dan Stolfa is the managing director, wealth and fiduciary adviser at Evercore Wealth Management. He said that there can be tax consequences for older high-income people.

“In the year of a Roth IRA conversion, the full amount of the withdrawal is included in taxable income and a large conversion can easily push someone from a lower tax bracket into the highest tax bracket. The break-even point on paying significant taxes can take years or even decades to reach. If that tax burden is paid from IRA assets, it will take even longer,” said Stolfa.

He advised an older client like Lyn not to make the conversion to a backdoor Roth IRA.

“For most people like Lyn who are past RMD age and are using IRA assets to fund living expenses, large-scale conversions don’t make sense,” said Stolfa.

What are other disadvantages to Roth conversions?

When a person is making a conversion to a Roth IRA before converting to a backdoor IRA, there can be disadvantages.

“The shorter the time period, the less advantageous the Roth conversion can be, because the tax-free growth has less time to compound and grow,” said Fred Egler, a financial planner.

“Once you do a Roth conversion, it’s irreversible. If you’re going to do one, you should certainly make sure it’s for you, ” added Egler.

Are there alternatives to backdoor Roth IRAs?

While a backdoor Roth IRA may be a retirement planning strategy for high-income people, Russell says there are alternatives.

“If you want Roth benefits, there are other alternatives,” Russell pointed out. “You might be able to contribute to your workplace 401(k) if it allows Roth contributions, or open an individual/solo 401(k) with Roth contributions if you own your own business—even as a freelancer or side gig,” said Russell.

“There are no income limits on Roth 401(k) eligibility, and the contribution limits are much higher than what you see with IRAs: $19,000 versus $6,000 for 2019,” added Russell.

How does a person open a backdoor Roth?

A person can use a backdoor Roth IRA as a strategy to build for retirement. In a backdoor IRA, a person opens a traditional IRA. After that, a person can make non-tax-deductible contributions to the account. Then, it converts into a Roth IRA. David Desmarais is a certified public accountant. He explained how people can create a backdoor Roth IRA.

“You can make a nondeductible IRA contribution and immediately roll it over into a Roth. The reason why you roll it over immediately is if there are no earnings in the IRA,” said Desmarais.

“Before it is rolled into a Roth, there is no income to pick up on the conversion,”  added Desmarais.

What are the step-by-step instructions for a backdoor Roth?

When an account holder wants to make a backdoor Roth conversion, these are the key steps:

  1. An account holder should put after-tax funds into a traditional Roth. If an account holder uses after-tax funds, there will be fewer assets in the IRA to tax.
  2. Then, an account holder can make a non-deductible contribution to a Roth. The contribution limit for 2020 is $6,000 for account holders under 50. For account holders over 50, the limit is $7,000.
  3. Next, keep the account in cash to avoid more taxes.
  4. Wait for a statement from an account holder’s IRA provider.
  5. Then, rollover IRA funds into a Roth before the end of the year.
  6. After that, an account holder has to report the conversion on IRS Form 8606.
  7. Repeat these actions every year.

What are the implications of a Roth IRA conversion?

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Nick Defenthaler is a partner at the Center for Financial Planning in Southfield, Michigan. He advises clients to keep their funds in cash if they’re not converting their IRA into a Roth right away “to avoid any earnings on the funds prior to the actual conversion.”

John Knolle is principal at Saranap Wealth Advisors. For existing IRAs with large pretax balances, a conversion to a Roth IRA could bring more expenses. He noted it’s “because after-tax contributions are converted pro-rata to the overall balance.”

How to Invest
Backdoor Roth IRA can have tax consequences

“This is known as the ‘cream in the coffee’ rule,” said Knolle. The “cream in the coffee” or pro rata rule means that before-tax and after-tax funds can’t be separated.

He adds the cream in the coffee rule is “meaning once after-tax dollars are mixed with pretax dollars, it’s impossible to separate the two,” said Knolle.

How do multiple IRAs impact backdoor Roths?

Timothy Wyman is a financial advisor that is a managing partner at Center for Financial Planning. He warns his clients that there can be consequences for retiring clients doing a backdoor conversion in January. If a client retires in July and rolls the 401k into a backdoor IRA, there is an “aggregation rule”. In the aggregation rule, the IRS treats multiple IRA accounts as one.

“That will likely result in tax associated with the backdoor conversion you completed earlier in the year,” said Wyman.

What are the tax implications of a backdoor IRA?

In addition to Wyman, Russell noted that there are taxes that must be paid if there are Roth IRA conversions. While a backdoor Roth IRA may bring benefits, taxes still must be paid.

“If you got a tax deduction for making your traditional IRA contributions, you’ll need to pay taxes on the amount you convert over to the Roth IRA. If your IRA assets originally came from a workplace plan, like a 401(k) or SEP IRA, you have not been taxed on some or all of that money yet, either. So, converting that to a Roth IRA will also require you to pay taxes,” said Russell.

Research key to starting backdoor Roth IRA strategy

Because of the aggregate rule that Wyman noted, Russell also thinks that people should consider the implications of owning multiple IRAs . He said that when they want a backdoor Roth conversion, they should consider their financial situation.

“This is where you really have to think about the situation, because you owe taxes based on your total IRA balances,” said Russell. “You can’t just focus on the IRA that you’re using for the backdoor Roth.”

“Having different types of IRAs can change the equation”, said Russell.

“So, it’s important to talk to a professional before you decide to move forward with a backdoor Roth,” said Russell.

Should an account holder have a traditional and backdoor Roth IRA?

Jason Grantz is the director of Institutional Retirement Counseling at Unified Trust Company. He notes that both accounts may not have one tax advantage over another.

“It hasn’t been proven that tax-deferred growth is better or worse [than tax-free growth]. Only time will tell,” said Grantz.

In addition, Grantz recommends that account holders have a traditional and Roth account so they don’t have to have the same tax liability.

“That basically means building both traditional and Roth accounts over the course of your working years, so you have options to pick from”, said Grantz.

The accounts are “buckets that are treated differently from a tax perspective,” added Grantz.

Financial experts advise people who want to use backdoor Roths

If people want to open a backdoor IRA, Russell also recommends that traditional IRA holders get an IRS form to keep their different IRA accounts organized.

“And get all your records in order, so you reduce surprises. If you do have nondeductible contributions in your traditional IRA, you need to keep track of them on IRS Form 8606. “Otherwise, you may eventually be taxed on money you already paid tax on,” said Russell.

If people want to make a backdoor Roth IRA conversion, Russell has advice for those account holders. She urges them to consult a financial advisor to understand the tax consequences.

“Not everyone is going to benefit from a backdoor Roth IRA,” said Russell. “Before you move forward, make sure you understand the tax consequences and know what you’re getting into. The rules of a backdoor Roth contribution are often oversimplified.” 

How long should a person wait to open a backdoor Roth?

While there are different times to wait to use a backdoor Roth IRA strategy, some financial experts say that there is no one special time. Christine Benz, Morningstar’s director of finance, said that account holders don’t have to wait too long to have a backdoor Roth IRA.

“But I think that there’s starting to be a consensus view that you don’t have to wait very long at all. In the past, there was some worry that, well, has the IRS really blessed this maneuver,” said Benz.

“But now I think that tax experts such as Ed Slott, for example, who focuses a lot on IRAs, thinks that you can do it pretty quickly, that you don’t have to wait very long,” added Benz.

“And the beauty of that is that you can get the money working in long-term assets,” said Benz.

In addition, Benz notes that “because you are not worried about any capital appreciation and taxes due between the time of funding and conversion.”

How can people open a mega backdoor Roth IRA?

In addition to a backdoor Roth IRA, there is a mega backdoor Roth IRA. That account is like a backdoor Roth on steroids. In a mega backdoor Roth, people who have a 401k that allows after-tax contributions. With a mega backdoor Roth IRA, high-income people can contribute up to $37,000 to a Roth. After an after-tax contribution to a traditional IRA, the IRA can be converted into a backdoor Roth.

However, with a backdoor Roth IRA, an employer’s 401k may have to return the excess contribution. Some employers state that high-income IRA holders can’t save more than lower-income account holders.

Mark Luscombe is a principal analyst with Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting. He explained how Congress made that rule.

“Congress decided that, if they were going to give tax breaks for employer-sponsored retirement plans, those companies could not discriminate against lower-compensated employees,” said Luscombe.

What are the tax implications of a mega backdoor Roth IRA?

Myra Wealth management advises clients on the tax implications of a backdoor Roth IRA.

“If your after-tax contributions have grown before you do the in-service rollover, you will be subject to tax when you roll over those funds. If you are doing the transfers frequently, then your tax bill should not be significant,” said Myra.

“Some companies allow you to roll over as frequently as every pay period. If your employer does not allow in-service withdrawals, you can still do the Mega Backdoor Roth but you will have to do it when you leave the employer, in which case you are likely to have some taxable earnings and possibly a larger tax bill,” added Myra.

How can a person get out of a backdoor IRA?

If a person wants to get out of a backdoor IRA, they can have another option. Morningstar’s Christine Benz explained how to get out of a backdoor IRA.

“They can recharacterize the conversion–that is, switch the newly converted Roth assets back to Traditional IRA status, which effectively undoes the conversion and any tax implications associated with it. After that, they could hang on to the Traditional nondeductible IRA or remove the pretax assets from the IRA kitty by rolling them into an employer’s plan as described above and then have another go at a backdoor Roth IRA,” said Benz.

Benz notes that people should use caution before changing their IRAs.

How do backdoor Roth IRA’s affect families?

If a person wants to make a conversion to a backdoor Roth IRA, there may be an impact on an account holder’s heirs. Dara Luber is the senior manager of retirement product at TD Ameritrade. Luber noted that the recent passage of the SECURE Act have changed how beneficiaries inherit IRA’s.

“A big piece of the SECURE Act is changing how nonspouse beneficiaries inherit IRAs,” said Luber. “Before, you could take distributions over a lifetime, but now you have to do it in 10 years, creating a potentially bigger tax bill for heirs.”

While there are original tax liabilities, there could a lessened burden for an account holder’s beneficiaries.

“The original owner takes the tax hit, but when they pass, the taxes are already paid,” said Luber. “It could be attractive for those who want to get rid of the tax bite on behalf of their children.” The kids must take RMDs but get to skip the taxes.

Financial expert Bill Bishoff noted that the current environment will provide a tax break for some account holder.

“If you do a Roth conversion this year, you will be taxed at today’s “low” rates on the extra income triggered by the conversion. And you will avoid the potential for higher future tax rates (maybe much higher) on all the post-conversion income and gains that accumulate in your new Roth account. That’s because Roth withdrawals taken after age 59½ are totally federal-income-tax-free, as long as you’ve had at least one Roth account open for more than five years when withdrawals are taken,” said Bishoff.

If you leave your Roth IRA to an heir, he or she can take tax-free qualified withdrawals from the inherited account as long as it has been open for more than five years.

How do backdoor Roth IRA’s impact heirs’ taxes?

If an account holder wants to ease their heirs’ burden, a backdoor Roth conversion could be key. David Robinson is the founder of RTS Private Wealth Management. He said that the backdoor Roth IRA can help a person’s beneficiaries.

“A Roth conversion might be a good option, not only to minimize heirs’ tax burden but also to sustain the growth of your retirement nest egg,” said Robinson.

Financial expert Jeff Brown notes that certain considerations must be considered before heirs can inherit an IRA.

“Basically, the decision hinges on the same issue that confronts all TIRA[ traditional IRA] investors: tax brackets now and in the future. Because tax must be paid on converted sums, it boils down To paying tax at today’s rates by converting to a Roth, or paying at a future rate by keeping the TIRA,” said Brown.

He noted that if an heir will earn more than an account holder, then a Roth IRA can make sense.

“If the heir is likely to be in a higher tax bracket than you are today, a conversion could make sense. You’d pay at today’s low rate so your heir would not have to pay at a higher rate later. If the heir’s rate is likely to be lower than yours, it probably would make sense to keep the TIRA,” wrote Brown.

Will there be an increase in backdoor Roth IRA’s?

Ryan P. Costello is a financial expert. He believes that with this economic volatility, many more people will open Roth IRAs.

“The percentage of our clients that do Roth conversions is going to increase dramatically this year,” said Costello.

Certified financial planner David W. Mullins said that Roth IRA’s can help owner make better tax planning.

“What this means to the owner is potentially more efficient tax planning in retirement, more time for the account to keep growing and a larger nest egg to pass on,” said Mullins.

Henry Luong Hoang is a certified financial planner. He suggests that people who want to pass money on to heirs should pick a Roth IRA.

“As a hedge, if you have the ability to pay reasonable tax rates to convert your IRA today, there is a very low chance you will regret future tax-free distributions,” said Hoang.

Which five stocks are best for a backdoor Roth IRA?

If a person wants to invest their backdoor IRA into stocks, there are five stocks that could be a good choice for account holders. Here are some choices for investment.

1. Amazon

Amazon(NASDAQ: AMZN) stock is a golden stock to invest in with a Roth IRA. Amazon had a phenomenal Q2 2020 as many people are ordering more goods online. The online behemoth had a whopping $89 million in revenue in Q2 alone.

“This was another highly unusual quarter, and I couldn’t be more proud of and grateful to our employees around the globe,” said Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in a statement.

Amazon CFO Brian Olsavsky said the company is still expanding and will increase inventory in the future.

Amazon stock
Amazon stock is a top choice for backdoor IRA investment

“As we move into Q3, we need to build more inventory for Q4. We’ve got our hands full on that challenge, but we’ve got a really good team that’s been working very hard probably since late February on this issue,” said Olsavsky.

Amazon is the top stock for people who want to invest their backdoor Roth IRA’s.

2. IBM

In addition to Amazon’s strong showing as a growth stock, IBM(NYSE:IBM) is a strong dividend stock for IRA investment. IBM’s 4% dividend makes it a relatively reliable stock for IRA investment.

IBM’S chief financial officer Jim Kavanaugh spoke about the results.

“Our balance sheet remains strong and we continue to have ample liquidity. The external dynamics we saw in March continued into the second quarter with varied impacts by region and industry. As we discussed in April, we are not immune to the macroeconomic environment. But our client and our portfolio mix provide some stability in our revenue, profit and free cash flow,” said Kavanaugh.

IBM stock good for backdoor Roth IRA investment

IBM’s cloud technology helped the company’s revenue rise 30% in Q2 2020. Kavanaugh spoke about that growth.

“In cloud and data platforms, revenue was up 30%. This reflects the synergy of bringing IBM and Red Hat together as we standardize on Red Hat OpenShift as our hybrid cloud platform and modernize our software portfolio to run on it,” said Kavanaugh.

“This quarter, we had good performance across Red Hat, including amplified bookings growth in the 30 underpenetrated countries where IBM has helped Red Hat expand go-to-market efforts over the last year. And with further cloud pack traction this quarter, clients are embracing a hybrid cloud strategy and increasingly leveraging the OpenShift container platform,” added Kavanaugh.

IBM is a top stock for people who want to delve into IRA investment.

3. AT&T

AT&T(NYSE:T) is another dividend stock that people can invest in to increase their IRA. With a strong 7% dividend yield, AT&T is a good choice for account holders. John Stankey, AT&T’s CEO, spoke about the results.

“Our solid execution and focus in a challenging environment delivered significant progress in the quarter, most notably the successful launch of HBO Max, resilient free cash flow and a strengthened balance sheet,” said Stankey.

AT&T stock

AT&T is also a strong stock because of its cash flow.

“Our resilient cash from operations continues to support investments in growth areas, dividend payments and debt retirement. We are aggressively working opportunities to sharpen our focus, transform our operations and continue investing in growth areas, with the customer at the center of everything we do,” said Stankey.

4. Microsoft

With 25 years of being a top stock, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) is a stock that many people can choose for their IRA. Microsoft’s Q2 2020 earnings show that the stock is still a solid choice for investors. CEO Satya Nadella spoke about Microsoft’s positive results.

“We are innovating across every layer of our differentiated technology stack and leading in key secular areas that are critical to our customers’ success. Along with our expanding opportunity, we are working to ensure the technology we build is inclusive, trusted and creates a more sustainable world, so every person and every organization can benefit,” said Nadella.

Microsoft stock
Microsoft stock

Amy Hood, Microsoft’s chief financial officer said cloud technology helped Microsoft maintain its high revenue.

“Strong execution from our sales teams and partners drove Commercial Cloud revenue to $12.5 billion, up 39% year over year,” said Amy Hood, executive vice president and chief financial officer of Microsoft.

5. Coca-Cola

If investors have a backdoor Roth IRA, Coca-Cola( NYSE: KO) is a top stock as well. Legendary investor Warren Buffett invests in this established company with a 4% yield. While the pandemic shut down Coca-Cola’s profits for a while, the revival of the economy may help Coca-Cola be sold at re-opening restaurants. CEO James Quincey was optimistic about the beverage company’s future.

Coca-Cola stock a good pick for backdoor IRA investment

“In many ways, the future is coming at us faster than ever. We are embracing the changes and pivoting our business to take advantage of new opportunities. We are poised as a system to accelerate our transformation to return to driving growth in years to come,” said Quincey.

Coca-Cola is a robust stock for IRA investment.

Backdoor Roth IRA’s can help people save and grow money

Backdoor IRA’s can be a useful tool for high-income people. The accounts can help people save more and pass on their heirs. If people want to find to find stocks to invest in with their IRA’s, TradingSim can help investors. By practicing stock trades, IRA holders can help find the best stocks for their backdoor Roth IRA’s.

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Ella Vincent has been a financial writer for years. She attended the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she studied both journalism and finance. Ella has written for renowned finance site Motley Fool where she offered stock analysis to investors. She also covered the US stock market for IG Group, a UK-based stock and foreign currency trading corporation. She became interested in the stock market ever since she saw financial advisor Mellody Hobson. In her spare time, Ella likes to attend concerts and watch basketball with family and friends. Follow her @bookgirlchicago.


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