The option to convert a Traditional IRA to a Roth IRA has been around for a while. Here are the differences between a Traditional IRA and a Roth IRA for those new to these retirement accounts. As long as your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is under $100,000 you have qualified for this conversion. Contributions to the Traditional IRA is tax-deductible, which means that your tax bill is calculated after ignoring the amount you deposit into the IRA. You will pay those taxes after you retire and begin withdrawing these funds. If you have a higher tax rate now than you will in retirement, the Traditional IRA is a good choice.
On the other hand, the Roth IRA is not tax-deductible, so the deposits into this type of IRA are not exempted from your total income calculation for tax purposes. In effect, you use “after-tax money” to invest in a Roth IRA. This is a great choice for people who believe their tax rate now will be lower than it will be in retirement once they begin taking distributions.
There are two other benefits to the Roth IRA that often go unnoticed. The Roth IRA does not require distributions after age 70 1/2 like the Traditional IRA, offering more flexibility in retirement. The Roth IRA is better for estate planning; choosing a Roth IRA rather than a Traditional IRA for funds passed onto your heirs will allow them to avoid tax bills.
These benefits come with a drawback: if your MAGI is above $105,000 ($166,000 for those who are married filing jointly) your maximum allowed contribution begins to reduce and will completely phase out at $120,000 ($176,000 for married filing jointly). But there is now a law that will help you get around this for a short time.
In 2010, the $100,000 maximum for Roth IRA conversions will temporarily disappear. If you believe the Roth IRA is a better option for you but you have been prevented from investing in this type of account due to income limitations, now is your chance to make the change. Here is why this will be allowed: When you convert from a Traditional IRA you owe taxes on the amount of the conversion, and the government would really like that income.
If you must pay those taxes using funds from your IRA, the conversion might not be a good idea, but if you have cash saved for the tax bill you will be better off.
You can also convert accounts known as SEP IRAs and SIMPLE IRAs.
Here are some quality resources regarding Roth IRA conversions.
Updated August 22, 2009 and originally published August 21, 2009.