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Old 09-08-2010, 04:22 PM   #21
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"The trick is to not think of it as your money." - IRS auditor

I have generally the same thoughts, questions and conclusions regarding the Roth IRA conversions as the OP. I suppose the break-even analysis could be done by estimating and forecasting future tax rates, expected investment returns, expected withdrawal penalties, etc. that would allow one to compare the NPV of (1) paying taxes today and discounting the expected future value of the remaining partial amount vs (2) not paying taxes today and discounting the future value of the entire remaining amount to the first withdrawal date minus the expected tax rate and withdrawal penalties. As with all investment decisions it boils down to the bird in hand vs accepting the risk of trying to get two birds in the bush: There is no "right" answer as it truly depends on the risk appetite for the particular individual.

For me, I try to never trade my portfolio with taxes in mind: If I think it goes down I sell, if I think it goes up I buy. And when I have the option of keeping my money in the face of uncertainty, I keep it - I am the "take the bird in hand" personality. Since it is virtually impossible to accurately predict the relevant variables in this Roth conversion exercise, my personal decision was to keep all of my money in the traditional IRA and attempt to grow the portfolio as much as possible given the tax benefits associated with these IRA accounts. The IRR of the discounted value of the Roth to the first withdrawal date will be the opportunity cost that I will have to exceed after adjusting for my tax rate at that future date...I will only know then if the decision I make today is the right one but for me it just feels like the right decision to have control of my money up to that point as opposed to relinquishing it today.
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My Analysis: Everything Hinges on Future Tax Rates
Old 10-30-2010, 03:36 PM   #22
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My Analysis: Everything Hinges on Future Tax Rates

I was looking to do a "top-off my tax bracket" Roth conversion and spread it over two years. So I did a NPV analysis. The assumption I started with was the Obama proposal (TPC Tax Topics | 2011 Tax Parameters). I assumed (wild guess) that the tax rates would inflate, but maintain the same brackets as what's on the taxpolicycenter until I'm pushing up daisies.

So under my "same tax scheme forever" and the "Obama Proposal" assumptions, it's a slam-dunk to convert enough now to top-off the tax bracket for this and next year.

Under the "Bush Tax Cuts Expire", though, it's not the same story. It's good for this year, but next year it'll be not so good. Not horrible, but if I knew for sure this is the way things would go, I'd convert about half of what I'm planning on, and not spread over two years.

And if the law takes a turn for the worse, and the Bush tax cuts expire without something better, I will surely be re-characterizing my conversion back to a Traditional IRA.

I know my assumption that whatever happens next year to taxes will stay the same way for 40 years is not realistic, but I think tax rates for that duration are unknowable. I figure I'll "convert on the dips" (if we have any tax rate dips while I'm still kicking).

--Dale--
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Old 10-30-2010, 04:13 PM   #23
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I have a hard time paying the government today and then hoping they don't change the rules to my disadvantage over the next several decades. If I were closer to "retirement" age, then a Roth conversion probably makes sense, but with 30 years until RMD become a consideration, I think I'll keep my money in my pocket and worry about taxes on 401(k) balances in a couple of decades when I have a better idea what the rules of the game are.

As just one possible example, I'd sure hate to pay full income taxes today on conversion only to find we've moved substantially in the direction of a sales tax 20 years down the road. Nothing like paying today, and paying again tomorrow. I can't control what I pay tomorrow. As for today . . . thanks for the offer, but I think I'll pass.
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Old 11-02-2010, 02:23 PM   #24
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...
1. In order to do so, the amount of money I convert is calculated as a percentage of all "deferred money" which makes my tax bill higher this year than I would like. Originally had started a non-deductible IRA specifically for this purpose several years ago...thinking I could simply convert that and only have to pay tax on that amount of money as some articles last year originally indicated. In fact one guy in the Wall Street Journal wrote" Converting a nondeductible IRA is a no-brainer". He was wrong.
2. I still will not be able to "contribute" to the Roth in the next few years for while the rules for income limits for "converting" have changed, the rules for contributions have not. I would have to continue to contribute to a regular IRA and then convert each year. In 2013, when I ER and income is reduced, I may be able to contribute to a Roth anyway.
...
Wife and I are still working. I'm planning to convert all our Traditional IRAs to Roths this year. I had been dreading the taxes, but finally actually ran the numbers and found that between poor investment returns , and the basis from our non-deductible contributions, taxes should be quite tolerable. (Your tolerance of taxes may vary. )

I'm converting for a number of reasons.

Because as discussed previously, having a dollar in a Roth effectively shelters more money from taxes than a dollar in a Traditional IRA. So paying the taxes now is similar to contributing more money to the Roth.

Because by converting all my IRAs now, next year I can make a non-deductible contribution and then immediately convert the contribution without paying additional taxes. Assuming the Feds don't tweak the rules again.

Because by consolidating my IRAs I will qualify for Vanguard Admiral shares where currently I must invest in higher cost Investor shares.

However, I am not planning to convert our available 401k money. Partly that is for tax diversification as discussed. I also hope to convert that money during the gap between retirement and taking social security. That money does not block me from playing the contribute to an IRA and immediately convert game. That money already qualifies for Admiral shares or better.
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Old 11-02-2010, 08:47 PM   #25
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As just one possible example, I'd sure hate to pay full income taxes today on conversion only to find we've moved substantially in the direction of a sales tax 20 years down the road. Nothing like paying today, and paying again tomorrow. I can't control what I pay tomorrow. As for today . . . thanks for the offer, but I think I'll pass.
I've heard people say this, but it doesn't make sense to me. It seems like it should be a wash. Unless, of course, you're talking about a sales tax/VAT INSTEAD of income tax. That would definitely change the playing field, but IMHO the chances of that are approximately 0.
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Old 11-04-2010, 05:42 AM   #26
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It seems like it should be a wash.
If all the tax rates and rules stayed the same, and you stayed in the same tax bracket, it is a mathematical wash. Too many "ifs" though! My numbers (with my assumptions) suggest that the conversion decision is dwarfed by the decision to re-domicile (my state takes 7%). So no need to fret too much over this, so I'm going for tax diversity instead of an all or nothing, and sleeping well at night.

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Old 11-04-2010, 11:56 AM   #27
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If all the tax rates and rules stayed the same, and you stayed in the same tax bracket, it is a mathematical wash.
--Dale--
If you were somehow able to pay the conversion tax from the TIRA w/o penalty (e.g. age), then it would be a wash.

However ......if all the tax rates and rules stay the same and you stayed in the same tax bracket and paid the conversion taxes from outside funds......the Roth would be at least as good as the TIRA.......and perhaps better by the amount of tax paid on the "side fund" owned by the TIRA owner. This is the concept of the "larger" IRA mentioned by others.

Ex: A has 100K in TIRA and 25K in side fund and is in 25% bracket. B has same.

1) A converts using side fund to pay taxes. A now has a 100K Roth. Some time later, investments double. A then has a 200K Roth.

2) B does not convert and has 100K TIRA and 25K side fund.
Some time later, investments double. B then has a 200K TIRA and something less than a 50K side fund (due to taxes).
B then withdraws 200K but has to pay 50K taxes so ends up with somewhat less than 200K (due to taxes on the side fund).
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Old 11-04-2010, 03:14 PM   #28
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I think I recall some talk of relaxing the rules requiring withdrawals from a TIRA, in the wake of the 2008 downturn, because it would force some retirees to sell stocks at the bottom of the market. I guess nothing has come of that, but the idea could be revived in the future, and that might make conversion less desirable.
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Old 11-04-2010, 03:38 PM   #29
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I think I recall some talk of relaxing the rules requiring withdrawals from a TIRA, in the wake of the 2008 downturn, because it would force some retirees to sell stocks at the bottom of the market. I guess nothing has come of that, but the idea could be revived in the future, and that might make conversion less desirable.
IIRC, the concept was not to require RMDs for a while since some folks would have to pay taxes on an inflated value (12/31 value) but the actual value might be considerably lower. I'm probably dense, but I don't seen how this affects the decision to convert or not. In fact, conversion of "distressed" TIRAs is sort of a "good" thing as it means less taxes would be due than when the TIRA was worth more. Ideally, one would convert TIRAs which had taken a big hit to reduce the tax consequences and then pray (to the financial gods) that the funds grew back (and then some) as ROTHs. Seems like the ideal situation. Again, sorry if I'm being dense.

If I were praying to the financial gods it would be to allow one to convert their RMDs to a Roth IRA instead of requiring one to simply take the funds completely out of the IRA. I don't look for that to happen, but why not wish (pray) big?
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Old 11-05-2010, 11:55 AM   #30
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I don't seen how this affects the decision to convert or not.
TIRAs are a desirable form of investment because since tax is deferred. If tax is deferred longer, TIRAs become more desirable, since you earn a dividend on the money you have not yet had to pay in taxes. The more desirable TIRAs are, the less you would want to convert them to another form of investment.
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Old 11-05-2010, 01:20 PM   #31
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TIRAs are a desirable form of investment because since tax is deferred. If tax is deferred longer, TIRAs become more desirable, since you earn a dividend on the money you have not yet had to pay in taxes. The more desirable TIRAs are, the less you would want to convert them to another form of investment.
Greg.........this was my thinking too for a million yrs......time value of money,etc. that I read in Money magazine, etc. However, it is only a qualitative idea and the decision to convert or not should ultimately be a quantitative one. More recently, I have concluded that the back to basics idea of tax bracket at conversion vs tax bracket when you withdraw from TIRA is really the controlling factor and that if tax brackets are the same, the conversion is better (see example 3-4 entries above). Since I'm logically but not yet emotionally convinced, if you can poke holes in the math, I'm ready to listen. btw......I think the math holds no matter how long the time period is........
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Old 11-05-2010, 02:24 PM   #32
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GregLee View Post
TIRAs are a desirable form of investment because since tax is deferred. If tax is deferred longer, TIRAs become more desirable, since you earn a dividend on the money you have not yet had to pay in taxes. The more desirable TIRAs are, the less you would want to convert them to another form of investment.
A tax deferred is a good thing. However, a tax increased is a bad thing. My understanding of the algebra is that while contributing to a TIRA defers taxes, while you pay now with a Roth, the deferred tax grows (assuming constant tax rates) at exactly the same rate your TIRA grows, so the tax treatment ends up being equivalent to the Roth case, unless you hit the IRA contribution limits or your IRA shrinks.

Having your investment compound-tax-free is also good thing. The ability to potentially have your investment compound-tax-free for longer in a Roth than a TIRA is certainly one of the advantages of a Roth conversion. If they changed the law so that Traditional and Roth IRAs both had the same required minimum distribution rules, that current Roth advantage would disappear.

However, that would still leave the Roth advantage of in essence contributing additional money to the Roth if you pay the conversion taxes with other funds. The more desirable IRAs are, the more desirable it is to increase one's IRA balances measured using their post-withdrawal-after-taxes value. By that calculation, a Roth conversion paying the taxes with non-IRA money definitely wins.

The wild card is of course how will the applicable tax rates change between now and whenever someone (you, surviving spouse, or other beneficiary) withdraws money from the IRA. Lots of no-pension FIRE types will probably have a number of years when they can convert at very low tax rates before starting to draw social security. That definitely looks like a sweet time to perform conversions. However, in general, with all the permutations of who is withdrawing how much when, combined with all the possible tax law changes at the federal, state, and local level anyone who claims to tell you they know the right answer is <self-censored>.
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Old 11-05-2010, 06:51 PM   #33
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However, it is only a qualitative idea and the decision to convert or not should ultimately be a quantitative one.
Indeed. But all I said was that it "might make conversion less desirable". I didn't say "undesirable".
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Old 11-05-2010, 08:56 PM   #34
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GregLee View Post
TIRAs are a desirable form of investment because since tax is deferred. If tax is deferred longer, TIRAs become more desirable, since you earn a dividend on the money you have not yet had to pay in taxes. The more desirable TIRAs are, the less you would want to convert them to another form of investment.
The problem I have with this argument is that there is a limit to the deferral. With a TIRA you will eventually run into the RMD date, which will occur no matter whether you need the money, and no matter what the current tax rates are, and no matter what the current state of the market is. IMO, and recognizing that this depends on whether you need the money in the IRA to live, the tax free growth plus the lack of a requirement to ever withdraw the money makes the Roth conversion the better choice, all other things being equal.
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Old 11-05-2010, 10:39 PM   #35
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Don't have a Roth IRA because I never met the requirements, and then I retired (no earned income)

Conversion was a no-op for me this year as I have been working pretty hard to minimize AMT income as I recognized some large cap gains this year.

And I am still 20 years away from RMDs.

So it's kind of hard to get excited about converting and paying more in taxes.

I didn't realize until a few months ago, that I would be eligible to convert in future years.

I may be able to manage my income in the future and keep it lower. In fact that is my intent. This means that I should be able to do some conversions if I really wanted to.

But it's still hard to pay taxes now for way future gains. Just totally goes against my instincts. There's all that pesky uncertainty about where I'll even be 20 years from now..... Plus uncertainty about tax laws 20 years from now.

Really on the fence here....

Audrey
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Old 11-05-2010, 11:30 PM   #36
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The problem I have with this argument is that there is a limit to the deferral. With a TIRA you will eventually run into the RMD date, which will occur no matter whether you need the money, and no matter what the current tax rates are, and no matter what the current state of the market is. IMO, and recognizing that this depends on whether you need the money in the IRA to live, the tax free growth plus the lack of a requirement to ever withdraw the money makes the Roth conversion the better choice, all other things being equal.
I believe there is a problem with the deferral argument even w/o the RMD limitation.........assuming tax rates at conversion and cash-in are the same.

Ex 1......same as given previously.....
A & B both start w/ 100K TIRA and 25K taxable side fund; both in 25% bracket
a)A converts to Roth, uses side fund to pay conversion tax and has 100K
Roth. N yrs later, the investment doubles and he has 200K Roth

b)B does not convert, has 100K TIRA and 25K taxable side fund. N yrs
later investments double and he has 200K TIRA and 50K taxable side fund.
Looks like he has more but he can't spend it w/o paying taxes within the yr.
He owes 50K taxes on the TIRA but actually has less than 50K in taxable because taxes are due on sale. Assume (charitably) that no taxes were due along the way for side fund and that it is a 20% LTCG tax on the 25K gain. 5K taxes are due so side fund only has 45K and B has total of 195K after paying 50K tax on TIRA.

What happens if instead of selling after investments double, you wait longer.
Ex 2: This time wait until investments are 25x larger

a) A starts again w/ 100K Roth and no side fund. A ends up w/
2500K Roth.

b) B starts again w/ 100K TIRA and 25K side fund. B ends up w/
2500K TIRA and 625K side fund. Making same assumptions as in 1)
side fund after taxes of 20% on 600K gain of 120K ends up w/ 505K.
2500K TIRA must pay 625K taxes so B ends up after taxes with
2380K which is even less than A has than in Ex 1 (both in absolute
and % dollars)........so deferring longer is even less favorable for TIRA.

Hopefully I didn't mess up the math too badly and, of course, the conclusion is 100% dependent on the specific assumptions of constant tax rate which may bear no resemblance to a person's real circumstances. TIRAs only look bigger because they are before tax and you can't utilize (spend) them
w/o paying tax.
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Old 11-06-2010, 11:20 AM   #37
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If all the tax rates and rules stayed the same, and you stayed in the same tax bracket, it is a mathematical wash.
If you were somehow able to pay the conversion tax from the TIRA w/o penalty (e.g. age), then it would be a wash.
You're right. It's not a wash. Not sure how I got that idea, but I tested it with a spreadsheet and it's certainly not a wash.

In my spreadsheet I let the 100K grow at 4% for 18 years to about 200K, then took 10K/year out for 25 years, down to about a zero balance (the 10K/year was adjusted for inflation).

When I take the net present value (at 2.5% inflation) of all future taxes on the side account and on the conversions, it comes to paying $45K in taxes which of course equates to the conversion scenario of paying $25K now. But all of this assumes a 25% tax rate on everything (no fav GC, no marginally higher rate now to convert...everything is 25%), and paying annually on the side account.

Here are the levers:

  1. A larger difference between investment growth rate and inflation hurt the TIRA scenario.
  2. Larger inflation and earnings rate hurt the TIRA scenario.
  3. An ability not to pay annual taxes on the side account would help the TIRA scenario (not sure how this would be done, though).
  4. A lower capital gains rate would help the TIRA scenario.

Lever 1 is a pretty long one, it seems. The NPV when both growth and inflation are 2.5% is about $28K. But if I put 2.5% for inflation and leave growth at 4%, the NPV of taxes paid jumps to $45K! Lever 2 matters, but it's not as big as 1; if both rates are at 6%, the NPV of taxes paid goes up to $31K.

I'll attach the spreadsheet if folks want to play with it.

--Dale--
Attached Files
File Type: xls RothConversionCalculator.xls (35.5 KB, 1 views)
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Old 11-06-2010, 01:38 PM   #38
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Thanks to Kaneohe for these comprehensible case studies. There's another wrinkle that I have to consider -- probably doesn't affect very many of you. That is the impact of state income tax, which is also deferred for IRAs. While my federal tax will probably be about the same during retirement as it was when I worked, I think my Hawaii state income tax will go down from 7-8% to zero, since all my pension income will be exempt, and the standard deduction and exemptions will cover my modest income from investments. So, if I were to convert my wife's 160k TIRA today, I guess it would cost me 25% + 8%, but without conversion, withdrawals from the TIRA will only cost 25%.
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Old 11-06-2010, 02:03 PM   #39
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But it's still hard to pay taxes now for way future gains. Just totally goes against my instincts. There's all that pesky uncertainty about where I'll even be 20 years from now..... Plus uncertainty about tax laws 20 years from now.
DW/me feel the same way as you on this subject. Since most of our retirement funds are in TIRA's (due to our age, when Roth's were not even an option) and very little in Roth's (that we contributed to, at the end of our accumulation years), we plan to use the Roth's to adjust our retirement income to manage our overall taxes (for withdrawals) during retirement.

We do have an abnormal situation, since a good portion of our TIRA's are going to named non-profit charities upon our passing. As the current tax laws are written, that money will be passed on completely tax-free, for their use.

Like you said, nobody knows what the tax landscape will be tomorrow, or many years from tomorrow. We can only make our plans/decisions on what we know now.

That's why we won't convert any TIRA's to Roth’s at this time.
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Old 11-06-2010, 02:35 PM   #40
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DW/me feel the same way as you on this subject. Since most of our retirement funds are in TIRA's (due to our age, when Roth's were not even an option) and very little in Roth's (that we contributed to, at the end of our accumulation years), we plan to use the Roth's to adjust our retirement income to manage our overall taxes (for withdrawals) during retirement.

We do have an abnormal situation, since a good portion of our TIRA's are going to named non-profit charities upon our passing. As the current tax laws are written, that money will be passed on completely tax-free, for their use.

Like you said, nobody knows what the tax landscape will be tomorrow, or many years from tomorrow. We can only make our plans/decisions on what we know now.

That's why we won't convert any TIRA's to Roth’s at this time.
We're the opposite in that our TIRAs are only about 10% of our invested assets. That's another reason it's hard for me to get too excited about converting. I just don't think our annual required withdrawals will be so big.

And you know what? Maybe that's what we'll do with our RMDs if it ever comes to that and our taxable income is high in our 70s - gift whatever is withdrawn from our TIRAs to charity.

Audrey
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