401(k) After-tax Accounts: The forgotten contribution feature

 Roughly half of 401(k) plans today allow participants to make after-tax contributions. These accounts can be a vehicle for both setting aside more assets that have the ability to grow on a tax-deferred basis and as a way to accumulate assets that may be more tax-advantaged when distributed in retirement.

As you discuss after-tax contributions with your financial advisor, you might consider the idea of setting aside a portion of your salary over and above your pre-tax salary deferrals. By making after-tax contributions to your 401(k) plan now, you could build a source of assets for a potentially tax-efficient Roth conversion.

Here are some questions to consider:

Does your plan allow for after-tax contributions?

Not all plans do. If an after-tax contribution option is available, details of the option should be included in the summary plan description (SPD) for your plan. If you don’t have a copy of your plan’s SPD, ask your human resources department for a copy or find it on your company’s benefits website. You can also talk to your financial advisor about other ways to obtain plan information, such as by requesting a copy of the complete plan document.

What does “after-tax” mean?

After-tax means you instruct your employer to take a portion of your pay — without lowering your taxable wages for federal income tax purposes — and deposit the amount to a separate after-tax account within your 401(k) plan. The money then has the ability to grow tax-deferred. This process differs from your pre-tax option in which your employer takes a portion of your pay and reduces your reported federal taxable wages by the amount of your salary deferrals and deposits the funds to your pre-tax deferral account within the plan.

Are there restrictions?

Even if your plan has an after-tax contribution option, there are limits to the amount of your salary that you can set aside on an after-tax basis. Your after-tax contributions combined with your employee salary deferrals and employer contributions for the year, in total, cannot exceed $52,000 (or $57,500 if you are age 50 or over and making catch-up contributions). Your after-tax contributions could be further limited by the plan document and/or to meet certain nondiscrimination testing requirements.

How does a 401(k) after-tax account help me acquire Roth assets?

When you are eligible to withdraw your 401(k) after-tax account — which could even be while you are still employed — you can roll over or “convert” it to a Roth IRA or a qualified Roth account in your plan, if available. A conversion requires you to include any pre-tax assets that you convert in your taxable income for the year. That means if you convert your after-tax account, only the earnings are included as ordinary income for the year. And if you have pre-1987 after-tax contributions, special rules allow you to convert just those contributions without including any of the associated earnings.

If your plan allows for after-tax contributions and you think they may be right for you, it’s time to talk to your financial planner. In my next blog, I’ll walk you through what you need to take to your meeting.

Matthew E. Chope, CFP ® is a Partner and Financial Planner at Center for Financial Planning, Inc. Matt has been quoted in various investment professional newspapers and magazines. He is active in the community and his profession and helps local corporations and nonprofits in the areas of strategic planning and money and business management decisions. In 2012 and 2013, Matt was named to the Five Star Wealth Managers list in Detroit Hour magazine.

Five Star Award is based on advisor being credentialed as an investment advisory representative (IAR), a FINRA registered representative, a CPA or a licensed attorney, including education and professional designations, actively employed in the industry for five years, favorable regulatory and complaint history review, fulfillment of firm review based on internal firm standards, accepting new clients, one- and five-year client retention rates, non-institutional discretionary and/or non-discretionary client assets administered, number of client households served.

The information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. Any information is not a complete summary or statement of all available data necessary for making an investment decision and does not constitute a recommendation. Any opinions are those of Center for Financial Planning, Inc. and not necessarily those of RJFS or Raymond James. You should discuss any tax or legal matters with the appropriate professional. Every investor’s situation is unique and you should consider your investment goals, risk tolerance and time horizon before making any investment. Converting z traditional 401(k) into a Roth IRA has tax implications. An investor should carefully consider the source of funds used to pay the taxes owed on a Roth conversion. Penalties and taxes may apply if the investor uses money from the 401(k) as the source for conversion taxes. Consult a tax professional for details. C14-016528