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Confused choosing between: 401K, Roth 401K, Roth IRA or Traditional IRA?
Old 05-23-2016, 11:32 PM   #1
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Confused choosing between: 401K, Roth 401K, Roth IRA or Traditional IRA?

First of all, I think these are the major differences between the options listed in my title:



If my assumptions are incorrect please let me know. Thanks

AGE = 50
Spouse = 42

I normally max out my 401k and then, if we qualify, contribute to two Roth IRAs every year. My new company is offering a Roth 401k (which I never knew existed).

With this new option I am now questioning my best path given income, age, future taxable retirement income, future tax brackets, etc... Additionally, I believe I dont know enough about the tax implications for these different options. For instance, I never knew that if I did not qualify for a Roth IRA (due to income) that I could have contributed $5500 to a traditional IRA with after tax money and then converted to a Roth. Is it really that simple? It sounds kinda dumb to have the limitation if there is an easy cheat.

So, given that my spouse and I are in a period where we are making good money (right around the income limitation for IRA contributions), how do I navigate these investment options? I think taxes will increase as I near retirement, but at the same time think/hope my tax bracket may be lower in retirement.

Do I max my 401k and then, if there is investment money left, put the rest in a traditional IRA (if we dont Roth IRA qualify) and convert to a ROTH? Is this dumb?

Do I put enough in a 401K to lower my income to qualify for all or some of the Roth IRA and then put the rest in a traditional IRA and convert?

Do I put everything in a 401K?

Do I put everything in a Roth 401K.......

So confused (seriously),
Kevin
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Old 05-24-2016, 06:13 AM   #2
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Kevin,

In essence whether to contribute tax-deferred or tax-free is a tax rate play.

IF your tax rate in retirement is expected to be less than it is when you are earning then tax-deferred is preferred... if not, then tax-free.

Look to your 2015 tax return to get your current marginal tax rate... marginal is your tax bracket or what you paid on your last $100 of income. I suspect you are probably near the top of the 15% bracket or perhaps just into the 25% bracket. Then do a tax return as if you were retired (including pension, SS, etc) and see what tax bracket you expect to be in. If your current tax bracket is higher, then you would be well off to save tax-deferred (401k or tIRA).

If your tax bracket in retirement is 15% and your current tax bracket is 25% then you might do enough tax-deferred savings to bring you back into the 15% bracket and then tax-free after that.

Also, be aware that if you already have pre-tax money in a tIRA then the "back-door" Roth has some issues.

Another factor influencing it is if you plan to retire before 59 1/2 then you'll want to have penalty free-access to your retirement savings unless you have a pension available to you... if you plan to retire after 59 1/2 then not an issue.
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Old 05-24-2016, 06:23 AM   #3
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You should be able to do a split, 50% in each.

Since my income was a bit high, I always did the traditional 401K, plus a Roth or tIRA. I always considered the Roth 401K, but wanted the largest tax deductible of the highest $24K of my income.

Your matching contribution, if any, goes to a traditional 401K, which will be taxable income.
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Old 05-24-2016, 07:56 AM   #4
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check your max annual contributions:
2016 Retirement Account and HSA Figures - Fairmark.com Fairmark.com
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Old 05-24-2016, 09:28 AM   #5
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By maxing out your 401k to you mean you are contributing $24.5K a year?
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Old 05-24-2016, 02:39 PM   #6
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I just turned 50 this year. I have been maxing (18k) the last few years and plan on taking advantage of my increased limit starting this first year.
Thanks
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Old 05-24-2016, 03:04 PM   #7
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I like the tax deferred choices if you expect your marginal tax rate to be lower later. Personally I do max tax deferred 401k and max Roth IRA.

With personal exemptions and standard deduction some of the tax deferred will NEVER be taxed.
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Old 05-24-2016, 07:00 PM   #8
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You didn't state the meaningful information to make the decision.

Basically, it boils down to whether you would pay a higher marginal rate today than you would during the withdrawal phase. Most people would pay a higher rate while working than they would while retired. There are some exceptions.

Don't forget that you can always convert your 401(k) to a Roth IRA while retired and in a lower tax bracket.

If you contribute to 401(k), then a traditional IRA is not deductible unless your income is relatively low, so that means you should not do trad IRA and should do Roth IRA.

My opinion is that a Roth 401(k) just confuses folks and makes them pay more taxes than they should.

So who should do Roth 401(k):
1. Folks who work and pay no income taxes.
2. Folks who will have huge pension and will work until age 70 or longer.
3. Folks who have huge salaries (39% tax bracket) and will be in the 39% tax bracket until they die.

In any given company, usually the Roth 401(k) benefits the folks at the C-level and no one else.
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Old 05-24-2016, 11:30 PM   #9
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Thanks LOL! I appreciate your input on this topic. Not sure what meaningful information I missed.

It sounds like you and pb4uski are confirming that comparing your current tax rate to the anticipated retirement tax rate is the best metric. Then go with what's best. My marginal rate is 28% (but by only $5k) and I would anticipate 15% or 25% in retirement. Going by this alone it sounds like the best plan would be to max my 401k and if I qualify for a Roth IRA then put more into that. That's what my gut told me.

I did not consider the option of converting 401K to Roth in retirement. Perhaps that's a viable option for the retirement years where I am in the 15% tax bracket.

Also, you mentioned that If you contribute to 401(k), then a traditional IRA is not deductible unless your income is relatively low. My understanding is that the contribution limits for IRAs are separate and unrelated to 401k. That i can max my 401k, and if my income is < the phase-out I can contribute to a Roth IRA. What I was trying to confirm is if my income is > phase-out, can I still contribute after tax money to a traditional IRA and convert that to a Roth. This is what I think people refer to as a backdoor Roth. If I have no other tIRAs (i do have a roll over IRA, but no other IRAs than my Roths) then it sounds like this is doable. Is it as simple as this?
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Old 05-25-2016, 01:11 AM   #10
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krldrummerboy,

I would,

1) Contribute to your 401(k) to the lesser of the limit or until you lower your taxable income to the 15% marginal rate.
2) Then contribute to a Roth IRA for you and spouse.
3) Then, based on your uncertainty whether you will retire in the 15% or 25% marginal rate, I would invest after tax.

#1 could be $42K if your spouse has a plan available ($24K + $18K).
#2 would be limited to $12K ($6500 + $5500)
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Old 05-25-2016, 03:19 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by krldrummerboy View Post
What I was trying to confirm is if my income is > phase-out, can I still contribute after tax money to a traditional IRA and convert that to a Roth. This is what I think people refer to as a backdoor Roth. If I have no other tIRAs (i do have a roll over IRA, but no other IRAs than my Roths) then it sounds like this is doable. Is it as simple as this?
Yes, one can do a backdoor Roth IRA, but a non-Roth (i.e. pre-tax) rollover IRA is the same as a tIRA when it comes to pro-rating taxable conversion amounts.
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Old 05-25-2016, 03:29 AM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by krldrummerboy View Post
Thanks LOL! I appreciate your input on this topic. Not sure what meaningful information I missed.

It sounds like you and pb4uski are confirming that comparing your current tax rate to the anticipated retirement tax rate is the best metric. Then go with what's best. My marginal rate is 28% (but by only $5k) and I would anticipate 15% or 25% in retirement. Going by this alone it sounds like the best plan would be to max my 401k and if I qualify for a Roth IRA then put more into that. That's what my gut told me.

I did not consider the option of converting 401K to Roth in retirement. Perhaps that's a viable option for the retirement years where I am in the 15% tax bracket.

Also, you mentioned that If you contribute to 401(k), then a traditional IRA is not deductible unless your income is relatively low. My understanding is that the contribution limits for IRAs are separate and unrelated to 401k. That i can max my 401k, and if my income is < the phase-out I can contribute to a Roth IRA. What I was trying to confirm is if my income is > phase-out, can I still contribute after tax money to a traditional IRA and convert that to a Roth. This is what I think people refer to as a backdoor Roth. If I have no other tIRAs (i do have a roll over IRA, but no other IRAs than my Roths) then it sounds like this is doable. Is it as simple as this?
We always do max 401k contribution. Then we do non deductible IRA contribution which has no income limit, then do immediate contribution to Roth. This works as long as you don't have another IRA outside of 401k, otherwise it complicates your tax when you do conversion, and not just one year, for the rest of your tax paying years.
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Old 05-25-2016, 05:30 AM   #13
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Originally Posted by Fedup View Post
We always do max 401k contribution. Then we do non deductible IRA contribution which has no income limit, then do immediate contribution to Roth. This works as long as you don't have another IRA outside of 401k, otherwise it complicates your tax when you do conversion, and not just one year, for the rest of your tax paying years.
Thanks!

What concerns me is "as long as you don't have another IRA outside of 401k"

Does my 401k roll-over (which is a tax deferred IRA) and my two children's Coverdell IRAs (for which I am custodial) count as "other IRAs"?

If there is no issue here then I have one last question on this backdoor Roth conversion: I make the deductible IRA contribution of any amount. Can I simply keep this as cash and convert it to a Roth as soon as it posts? The Boglehead page says to do this:

Vanguard buy / sell account transactions are implemented as a fund exchange. Go to the traditional IRA and select "Exch" which is listed next to "Buy" and "Sell." Identify the shares to be sold. Then select the Roth account on the right hand side, and select the destination fund.

Thanks
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Old 05-25-2016, 06:08 AM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by krldrummerboy View Post
Thanks LOL! I appreciate your input on this topic. Not sure what meaningful information I missed.

It sounds like you and pb4uski are confirming that comparing your current tax rate to the anticipated retirement tax rate is the best metric. Then go with what's best. My marginal rate is 28% (but by only $5k) and I would anticipate 15% or 25% in retirement. Going by this alone it sounds like the best plan would be to max my 401k and if I qualify for a Roth IRA then put more into that. That's what my gut told me.

I did not consider the option of converting 401K to Roth in retirement. Perhaps that's a viable option for the retirement years where I am in the 15% tax bracket.

Also, you mentioned that If you contribute to 401(k), then a traditional IRA is not deductible unless your income is relatively low. My understanding is that the contribution limits for IRAs are separate and unrelated to 401k. That i can max my 401k, and if my income is < the phase-out I can contribute to a Roth IRA. What I was trying to confirm is if my income is > phase-out, can I still contribute after tax money to a traditional IRA and convert that to a Roth. This is what I think people refer to as a backdoor Roth. If I have no other tIRAs (i do have a roll over IRA, but no other IRAs than my Roths) then it sounds like this is doable. Is it as simple as this?
At 28% fed tax rate, you have phased out of deductible Traditional IRA.

If possible, and your 401(k) is decent, you want to max it, also do catchup contributions (when over 50).

Then max a Roth IRA. That doesn't have to be through your employer. For example, mine is with Vanguard. You don't need to backdoor a Roth IRA, unless I missed something.

From 52 to about 60, that is what I did. It took some sacrifice, but made a huge difference.
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Old 05-25-2016, 06:35 AM   #15
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Another thing to consider is when you plan to retire. If you plan to retire at 60 or later then it probably doesn't matter too much in that your marginal tax rate now and in retirement are the same (putting aside the ~$5k in the 25% bracket). However, if you plan to retire early then you may be better off with some tax-deferred savings to bring you back down into the 15% bracket and taxable savings that you can live on without penalty before you are 59 1/2 (or 55 if your plan allows penalty free withdrawals if you leave after 55 and plan to work that long).
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Old 05-25-2016, 07:01 AM   #16
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Originally Posted by krldrummerboy View Post
Thanks!

What concerns me is "as long as you don't have another IRA outside of 401k"

Does my 401k roll-over (which is a tax deferred IRA) and my two children's Coverdell IRAs (for which I am custodial) count as "other IRAs"?

If there is no issue here then I have one last question on this backdoor Roth conversion: I make the deductible IRA contribution of any amount. Can I simply keep this as cash and convert it to a Roth as soon as it posts? The Boglehead page says to do this:

Va

Thanks
If you previously rolled a 401K into a Traditional IRA, then yes, it does count as "another T-IRA" for conversion purposes when moving T-IRA money to a Roth.
The Coverdell IRAs do not count as another IRA.
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Old 05-25-2016, 07:08 AM   #17
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Originally Posted by krldrummerboy View Post
Thanks!

What concerns me is "as long as you don't have another IRA outside of 401k"

Does my 401k roll-over (which is a tax deferred IRA) and my two children's Coverdell IRAs (for which I am custodial) count as "other IRAs"?

If there is no issue here then I have one last question on this backdoor Roth conversion: I make the deductible IRA contribution of any amount. Can I simply keep this as cash and convert it to a Roth as soon as it posts?
Yes, your 401(k) rollover IRA counts, but the children's IRAs do not.

What deductible IRA contribution? I do not think you can make a deductible IRA contribution. You can only make non-deductible IRA contributions.
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Old 05-25-2016, 07:51 AM   #18
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My 401k used to have before and after tax options, also we had a Roth 401k as well.
The advantage to after tax is the max was limited to something like 53k if I remember.

The after tax 401k can be rolled into a Roth IRA when leaving the company.
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Old 05-25-2016, 09:06 AM   #19
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The advantage to after tax is the max was limited to something like 53k if I remember.
the sum of "everything" (pre and post tax deferrals and any employer contributions) is limited to $53K annually except for the catchup for 50+ year olds

I miss my after-tax too. After tax contributions are subject to testing, unfortunately, which is why they aren't common
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Old 05-25-2016, 09:43 AM   #20
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Don't forget that you can always convert your 401(k) to a Roth IRA while retired and in a lower tax bracket.
Unfortunately, it is not "always" - instead it is "as long as you accept the consequences of such conversions for your ACA healthcare plan subsidy and premiums" - until you hit Medicare age.

Quote:
Originally Posted by LOL! View Post
So who should do Roth 401(k):
1. Folks who work and pay no income taxes.
2. Folks who will have huge pension and will work until age 70 or longer.
3. Folks who have huge salaries (39% tax bracket) and will be in the 39% tax bracket until they die.

In any given company, usually the Roth 401(k) benefits the folks at the C-level and no one else.
Plus the native Americans employed by the company, as they fall into Category 1. above.
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