retirement planning | may 3, 2023
Comparing IRAs: Could Converting to a Roth IRA Benefit You?
Moving assets to a Roth IRA can provide more income flexibility in retirement.
A Roth conversion could be especially beneficial if you expect to be in a higher tax bracket in retirement.
With a Roth conversion, taxes are due on the converted amount in the year of the transaction.
There are different ways to cover these taxes, each with its own tax implications.
Roger Young, CFP®
Thought Leadership Director
There is a fairly simple financial move that can create significant advantages for many investors: converting a Traditional individual retirement account (IRA) to a Roth IRA. While it may not be the right choice for everyone, Roth conversions can provide tax diversification and help many investors increase their future financial flexibility in retirement. For retirees, having a Roth IRA can increase their after-tax income, since qualified withdrawals from the account are income tax-free.* While Roth contributions are subject to income restrictions, conversions are available to all investors.
There are a number of benefits to owning a Roth IRA. The trade-off is that moving assets from a Traditional IRA to a Roth IRA generally requires paying taxes at the time of the conversion rather than later, when you start taking withdrawals.
Deciding whether to convert assets to a Roth IRA depends largely on what you anticipate that your future income tax bracket will be. The conversion could be especially beneficial if you expect to be in a higher tax bracket in retirement—you’ll pay the taxes now at your lower current rate. That said, the move may be advantageous in some cases if you think your tax rate will stay the same or decline—for example, if your beneficiaries could be in higher tax brackets.
Subscribe to T. Rowe Price Insights
Receive monthly retirement guidance, financial planning tips, and market updates straight to your inbox.
Having tax-free Roth assets can provide you with freedom to use that money to pay for expenses in retirement, such as a new roof or a special vacation, without increasing your annual taxable income. Conversely, if you used money from your Traditional IRA to pay for those expenses, those assets would be included in your taxable income and potentially could increase your marginal tax rate as well as your Medicare premiums.
Additionally, Roth IRAs do not have required minimum distributions (RMDs) for the original owner, which makes them a valuable retirement and estate planning tool. If you don’t need to make withdrawals during retirement, Roth assets left to your heirs can generally continue to grow tax-deferred.
Your heirs will be required at some point to take required minimum distributions, from either an Inherited Traditional IRA or an Inherited Roth IRA. As a reminder, they can always withdraw more whenever they need it. Due to the passing of the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act of 2019, for accounts of IRA owners who died after December 31, 2019, non-spousal beneficiaries of retirement accounts will generally need to withdraw all of the funds within 10 years, with some exceptions. When taken from traditional accounts, these can increase a beneficiary’s tax rate, which makes it appealing to inherit Roth assets instead, since their distributions are generally tax-free.
The Cost of Conversion
Before converting, consider each of the following strategies for paying the taxes.
Stagger the conversion. If a Roth IRA conversion would push you into a higher federal tax bracket, consider conducting partial conversions over multiple years.
Generally speaking, it’s ideal to pay taxes on the conversion from a taxable account. This method may have the smallest tax consequences.
If you don’t have enough savings in a taxable account to pay the taxes, consider taking a tax-free withdrawal from an existing Roth IRA. Note that for those under age 59½, only contributions can be taken tax-free. However, if you’re age 59½ or older and have held the account for at least five years, you can take tax-free withdrawals of both contributions and earnings.
If neither a taxable account nor an existing Roth IRA is available to pay the taxes, you can consider withdrawing from a Traditional IRA. One consequence is that this would result in additional taxes on the amount you withdraw to pay the conversion taxes. And if you tap in to the Traditional IRA when you’re younger than age 59½, your withdrawal will be subject to a 10% early withdrawal penalty. These taxes and penalties could outweigh the benefit of the conversion.
Converting at least some of the assets in your Traditional IRA into a Roth IRA may provide you with considerable flexibility in retirement. As with anything, there are pros and cons to converting your money. After weighing your options, you’ll be positioned to make the choice that’s best for your personal circumstances.
A Comparison of IRAs
Both Traditional IRAs and Roth IRAs offer unique tax advantages.
With a Traditional IRA, you have to start taking RMDs from the account each year once you reach age 73.1 This distribution amount generally is treated as ordinary taxable income. With a Roth IRA, there are no RMDs for the original owner, and you can make qualified withdrawals without paying taxes.
|Taxes on withdrawals||Withdrawals of pretax contributions and earnings are taxed as ordinary income.||
Withdrawals of contributions are tax-free. Withdrawals of converted assets are tax-free but could be subject to early withdrawal penalties (described below). Generally, withdrawals of investment earnings are also income tax-free if:
|Required minimum distributions (RMDs)||You must take your first RMD by April 1 of the year after the year you turn age 73.||None for the original owner|
|Early withdrawal penalties||Withdrawals of contributions and earnings prior to age 59½ may be subject to a 10% penalty (with some exceptions).||Withdrawals of earnings that are not qualified distributions may be subject to a 10% penalty (with some exceptions). Withdrawals of converted assets within the five-year period may be subject to a 10% penalty (with some exceptions). A separate five-year period applies to each conversion.|
|Spousal beneficiaries||Subject to RMD rules||No RMDs|
1The SECURE 2.0 Act of 2022 changed the RMD age to 73 for individuals who turn age 72 on or after January 1, 2023. The new law also provides that the RMD age will change again to 75 in 2033.
*A qualified distribution from a Roth IRA is tax-free if taken at least 5 years after the year of your first Roth contribution AND you’ve reached age 59½, become totally disabled, meet the requirements for first-time homebuyer, or died. If your distribution is not qualified, any earnings from the Roth portion will be taxable in the year it is distributed.
An IRA should be considered a long-term investment. IRAs generally have expenses and account fees, which may impact the value of the account. Non-qualified withdrawals may be subject to taxes and penalties. Maximum contributions are subject to eligibility requirements. For more detailed information about IRAs, consult IRS Publication 590 or a tax professional regarding personal circumstances.
This material is provided for general and educational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal, tax, or investment advice. This material does not provide recommendations concerning investments, investment strategies, or account types; it is not intended to suggest that any particular investment action is appropriate for you. Please consider your own circumstances before making an investment decision.
T. Rowe Price group of companies, including T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc., and/or its affiliates, receive revenue from T. Rowe Price investment products and services.
The material does not constitute a distribution, an offer, an invitation, a personal or general recommendation, or a solicitation to sell or buy any securities in any jurisdiction or to conduct any particular investment activity. The material has not been reviewed by any regulatory authority in any jurisdiction.
Information and opinions presented have been obtained or derived from sources believed to be reliable and current; however, we cannot guarantee the sources’ accuracy or completeness. There is no guarantee that any forecasts made will come to pass. The views contained herein are as of the date written and are subject to change without notice; these views may differ from those of other T. Rowe Price group companies and/or associates. Under no circumstances should the material, in whole or in part, be copied or redistributed without consent from T. Rowe Price.
The views contained herein are those of the authors as of April 2023 and are subject to change without notice; these views may differ from those of other T. Rowe Price associates.
Past performance cannot guarantee future results. All investments are subject to market risk, including the possible loss of principal.
Investors cannot invest directly in an index.
All investments involve risk. All charts and tables are shown for illustrative purposes only.
View investment professional background on FINRA's BrokerCheck.
Learn more about the differences between Traditional and Roth IRAs.
Contact a Financial Consultant at 1-800-401-1819.