Q&A: Here are some tips for getting more retirement money into accounts with tax advantages

Dear Liz: My wife and I are about 35. I’m self-employed and contribute to a SEP IRA. My wife contributes to a workplace retirement plan. We don’t qualify to contribute to Roth IRAs. In order to get more money into retirement accounts, would you recommend doing back-door Roth contributions? What else is there to do to get retirement money into accounts that will have a tax benefit now or later?

Answer: Roth IRAs don’t provide an upfront deduction, but withdrawals are tax-free in retirement. That makes them especially enticing to people who expect to be in the same or higher tax bracket in retirement — mostly higher-income people and good savers.

People who earn more than certain limits, however, are prohibited from contributing directly to a Roth IRA. For 2018, direct Roth contributions aren’t allowed for people whose modified adjusted gross incomes exceed $199,000 for married couples filing jointly or $135,000 for single filers.

Several years ago, however, Congress eliminated income limits on who was allowed to convert a regular IRA to a Roth IRA. That change created the back-door Roth strategy, in which a high-income taxpayer contributes to a regular IRA and then converts the money to a Roth.

The strategy works best for people who don’t already have a large IRA filled with pre-tax contributions and earnings. When you convert all or some of an IRA to a Roth, you have to pay a proportionate amount of income taxes on the conversion based on all of your IRA holdings. If you don’t have an existing IRA and don’t deduct the IRA contribution, you’ll owe little if any taxes on the conversion.

The IRS hasn’t specifically blessed or banned the back-door Roth strategy, so it remains somewhat controversial. Many investing and brokerage sites promote it. Some proponents, however, recommend letting several months pass between the contribution and the conversion. The idea is to avoid IRS scrutiny by making the transactions appear to be separate decisions rather than one clearly meant to get around the contribution limits.

If you want to stay out of gray areas and potentially contribute more cash to your retirement, consider setting up a solo 401(k). This version of the popular workplace plan is meant for self-employed business owners with no full-time employees other than themselves and their spouses. Plan participants under age 50 can contribute up to $18,500 a year. Those 50 and older can contribute up to $24,500. The plan can have a Roth and an after-tax contribution option in addition to a pre-tax option. In addition, the business can make a 25% annual profit-sharing contribution (or 20% if the business is a sole proprietorship or single member LLC). The combined maximum of participant and business contribution is $55,000 for those under 50 and $61,000 for those 50 and older.

If you’re able to contribute more than these amounts each year, consider a traditional defined-benefit pension. Those involve considerable set-up and ongoing costs, so consult a tax pro to see if it’s a good fit.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Selling stocks in a panic could jack up your tax bill. Also in the news: This 5-minute task can protect your banking rep, how to get started with frequent flyer programs, and how your Amazon Echo could be making you spend more money.

Selling Stocks in a Panic Could Jack Up Your Tax Bill
Don’t act impulsively.

This 5-Minute Task Can Protect Your Banking Rep
Using a ChexSystem freeze.

How to Get Started With Frequent Flyer Programs
Start putting all those miles to work.

Your Amazon Echo could be making you spend more money
In addition to laughing at random times.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 4 good ways to put your tax refund to work. Also in the news: 4 wats to speed up your tax refund, how 3 students got an education on the cheap, and Amazon may be getting into the banking business.

4 Good Ways to Put Your Tax Refund to Work
Use your refund to ease financial stress.

4 Ways to Speed Up Your Tax Refund
Skip the mailbox.

How 3 Students Got an Education on the Cheap
Avoiding years of debt.

Amazon’s next product may be a checking account
The online giant is eyeing banking.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: It’s tax scam season. Here’s when to call shenanigans. Also in the news: Starting with a budget when planning a wedding, how to find good, cheap stocks, and a major data breach at the Marine Forces Reserve.

Planning a Wedding? Start With the Budget
Setting reasonable expectations.

It’s Tax Scam Season. Here’s When to Call Shenanigans
Pay close attention.

4 Steps to Finding Good, Cheap Stocks
Tips for beginners.

Major data breach at Marine Forces Reserve impacts thousands
Social Security numbers, banks transfers and other personal info has been leaked.

When a tax refund is a lifeline, not a windfall

The typical advice about what people should do with their tax refunds — save for retirement! pay off debt! — ignores how little wiggle room many families have with their finances.

Tax refunds averaged $2,895 last year, and were the largest single cash infusion received all year by 40 percent of the checking account holders recently studied by the JPMorgan Chase Institute. In my latest for the Associated Press, a look at how Americans use their tax refunds.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Quick – Can you come up with $400? Also in the news: Is 4-year college right for you, car negotiating secrets for people who hate haggling, and 5myths about your 2017 tax refund and what not to do if you want to do if you want it quicker.

Quick — Can You Come Up With $400?
Most of America cannot.

Ask Brianna: Is 4-Year College Right for You?
Do you really need all 4 years?

Car Negotiating Secrets for People Who Hate Haggling
Negotiating without pressure.

5 myths about your 2017 tax refund and what not to do if you want it quicker
Calling the IRS won’t help.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How debt settlement can make a bad money situation worse. Also in the news: Using an IRA as a legal, last-minute way to lower your taxes, 4 reasons why it’s smart to buy a used cell phone, and how to budget as a freelancer.

Debt Settlement Can Make a Bad Money Situation Worse
Not the perfect solution.

An IRA Is a Legal, Last-Minute Way to Lower Your Taxes
There’s still time for 2017 taxes.

4 Reasons It’s Smart to Buy a Used Cell Phone
Saving on new-to-you tech.

How to Budget as a Freelancer
Budgeting when income isn’t reliable.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 5 items that make any hotel room feel like home. Also in the news: 3 “tax-friendly” states that are anything but, the best thing you’ve done to get your finances in order, and 5 gas mileage myths that are wasting your money.

5 Items That Make Any Hotel Room Feel Like Home
You don’t have to feel like a stranger while on the road.

This Harsh Tax Can Make These 3 “Tax-Friendly” States Anything But
Nevada, Texas, and Washington.

What’s the Best Thing You’ve Done to Get Your Finances in Order?
Share your tips.

5 gas mileage myths that are wasting your money
You can leave the air conditioning on.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 4 blunders to avoid when doing your own taxes. Also in the news: What to do if your W-2 is missing, 6 key investing concepts, and why there’s no such thing as a dumb question when it comes to money.

Doing Your Own Taxes? Pros Say Avoid These 4 Blunders
Getting it right the first time.

What to Do If Your W-2 Is MIA
You have options.

6 Investing Key Concepts — in Plain English
Understanding the basics.

Don’t Let the Fear of Looking Stupid Lead to Money Mistakes
There’s no such thing as a dumb question.

Q&A: IRA distributions and the tax man

Dear Liz: I am 79, in fairly good health and fortunately have almost $600,000 in my IRA account. My minimum required distribution is currently about $30,000 a year, which means my IRA funds will last until I am well over 100! I realize that I can pay a penalty and draw down some of the funds but I don’t want to be pushed into a higher income bracket. Any suggestions on how I can enjoy the money while I am able?

Answer: You won’t pay a penalty for pulling more than the minimum from your IRA. That early withdrawal penalty disappeared 20 years ago, after you turned 59½. You will owe income taxes, of course, but a visit with a tax pro can help you determine how much more you can withdraw before you’re pushed into a higher tax bracket.