Back Door Roth IRA Conversion

 A well-planned tax strategy has become increasingly important to investors, especially with overwhelming uncertainty of what tax rates could potentially increase to in the future. That’s why some investors look to Roth IRAs, a fairly new arrival to the investment world.  They were first released in 1997 and have become more and more popular.

A Quick Roth IRA Refresher

Contributions to a Roth IRA do not receive an immediate tax deduction like a 401(k) or deductible Traditional IRA.  However, earnings grow tax-deferred and if holding requirements are met, all withdrawals (including contributions and earnings) can be withdrawn 100% tax free.  Roth IRAs are an unbelievably attractive investment vehicle for those who believe they are currently in a lower tax bracket than they will be in retirement.  More specifically, young people, who are years away from their high earning years and wish to forego tax deductions (while most likely in the lowest tax bracket of their lifetime) now reap the benefits of tax-deferred growth and tax-free withdrawals upon retirement.  As a young person myself, I cannot stress enough how attractive the Roth IRA can be for investors if they fit the “Roth mold”.    

Who Is Right for a Roth?

There are income limitations on who can contribute to a Roth IRA.  For 2014, a married couple filing their taxes jointly must have an AGI less than $181,000 to be able to contribute the maximum to a Roth IRA. In 2014, individual contributions max out at $5,500, or $6,500 if you are over the age of 50.  The AGI limit for singles in 2014 is $114,000.  If you make over this income level, there is a tax “work around” in place that could still allow you to contribute to a Roth, depending on your personal situation.  Prior to 2010, there was an income limitation on who could convert Traditional IRA dollars to a Roth IRA.  Since 2010, the income limitation has been completely lifted for conversions, meaning anyone, regardless of their income, can convert funds from a Traditional IRA to a Roth IRA.  This raised the eyebrows for number geeks like myself, who viewed this ruling as an excellent planning opportunity for clients. 

Lifting the Income Limit for Roth Conversions

The abolishment of the income limit on Roth conversions means that if you are over the income limit to contribute to a Roth IRA, you could open a Traditional IRA and immediately convert the funds to a Roth IRA.  There is, however, a catch to this “work around”.  The conversion would typically only make sense if the client did NOT have an existing Traditional IRA.  The tax calculation on the conversion gets very messy if the client does in fact already have a Traditional IRA and typically, it doesn’t make sense if they do.  One main point to also keep in mind is that employer sponsored plans such as a 401(k) or 403(b) are not taken into consideration like a Traditional IRA is when calculating tax due for completing the conversion.  

Back Door Roth Conversion Criteria

☑ If you are over the income limit to contribute to a Roth IRA ($181,00 for couples and $114,000 for singles)

☑ And you do not have an existing Traditional IRA because you are taking full advantage of employer retirement plans (401(k), 403(b), etc.)

☑ And you have additional funds to save

If you can check all three boxes above, the “back door” Roth IRA is something you may want to consider based on your individual situation and long-term goals. Since this is a fairly new planning opportunity, this type of conversion is something we are closely monitoring for our clients on an individual basis.  As with any financial decision, it won’t make sense for everyone.  But it is our job as your advisory team to walk you through your options and help you make a smart financial decision. 

Nick Defenthaler, CFP® is a Support Associate at Center for Financial Planning, Inc. Nick currently assists Center planners and clients, and is a contributor to Money Centered and Center Connections.


Unless certain criteria are met, Roth IRA owners must be 59 ½ or older and have held the IRA for five years before tax-free withdrawals are permitted. Additionally, each converted amount may be subject to its own five-year holding period. Converting a traditional IRA into a Roth IRA has tax implications. Investors should consult a tax advisor before deciding to do a conversion.

The foregoing information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee that it is accurate or complete, it is not a statement of all available data necessary for making an investment decision, and it does not constitute a recommendation. Any opinions are those of Center for Financial Planning, Inc. and not necessarily those of Raymond James. C14-004799