Q&A: Reducing taxes in retirement

Dear Liz: I agree with this concept of delaying Social Security to lessen overall taxes and have a further suggestion. My spouse and I are gradually converting our traditional IRA account funds to Roth IRAs. The converted funds are immediately taxable but could continue to gain in value and future distributions would not be taxable. Also, Roth accounts don’t have required minimum distributions.

Answer: Conversions make the most sense when you expect to be in the same or higher tax bracket in retirement.

That’s not the case for most people because they’re in a lower tax bracket when they stop working. Some older people, however, do face higher tax rates in retirement — typically because they’ve been good savers, and required minimum distributions from their retirement accounts will push their tax rates higher.

When that’s the case, they may be able to take advantage of their current lower tax rate to do a series of Roth conversions.

The math can be tricky, though, so it’s advisable to get help from a tax pro or financial planner. You don’t want to convert too much and push yourself into a higher tax bracket, or trigger higher Medicare premiums.

If your intention is to leave retirement money to your heirs, Roth conversions may also make sense now that Congress has eliminated the stretch IRA.

Stretch IRAs used to allow non-spouse beneficiaries — often children and grandchildren — to take money out of an inherited IRA gradually over their lifetimes. This spread out the tax bill and allowed the funds to continue growing. Now inherited IRAs typically have to be drained within 10 years if the inheritor is not a spouse.

To compensate, some people are converting IRAs to Roths — essentially paying the tax bill now, so their heirs won’t have to do so later. Heirs would still have to withdraw all the money in an inherited Roth IRA within 10 years, but taxes would not be owed.

Q&A: Here’s what early retirees need to know about Roth IRA and 401(k) taxes and penalties

Dear Liz: I have been contributing to a Roth 401(k) and a Roth IRA for several years. I plan to retire early. Am I able to withdraw any of my Roth contributions without penalty before I reach age 60?

Answer: Your contributions to a Roth IRA can always be withdrawn tax free, at any time and at any age, said Mark Luscombe, principal analyst for Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting. Once you’ve withdrawn an amount equal to your contributions, though, the rest of your money — your earnings — may be subject to taxes and penalties. To avoid those, you generally must be at least 59½ and the account must be at least five years old.

The rules are somewhat different for Roth 401(k)s. Early withdrawals from these accounts are considered a mix of contributions and earnings, so any distributions before age 59½ typically incur taxes and penalties. Even after 59½, the withdrawals could be taxed and penalized if you haven’t been contributing to the account for at least five years.

Roth 401(k)s are also subject to rules that require minimum distributions to start at age 72. Many people who retire with Roth 401(k)s roll the money into Roth IRAs to avoid these restrictions.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Beyond Airbnb: Your guide to peer-to-peer travel platforms. Also in the news: 5 reasons to get the Orbitz rewards Visa credit card, the Roth IRA 5-Year rule, and 5 money strategies for military deployments.

Beyond Airbnb: Your Guide to Peer-to-Peer Travel Platforms
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5 Reasons to Get the Orbitz Rewards Visa Credit Card
All about the Orbucks.

What Is the Roth IRA 5-Year Rule?
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5 Money Strategies for Military Deployments
Important lessons military families should know.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news


Today’s top story: Why you should love robo-advisors. Also in the news: 7 ways to trim your tax bill in retirement, how Roth IRA taxes work, and how to save money for the future when it’s uncertain.

Why You Should Love Robo-Advisors
Keeping costs low and advice honest.

Taxes in Retirement: 7 Ways to Trim Your Bill
Ideas that can reduce financial stress in retirement.

How Roth IRA Taxes Work
A good investment at tax time.

How to save for the future when it’s uncertain
Preparing for a variety of outcomes.





Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Start prepping for next year’s taxes now. Also in the news: Taking the shame out of rebuilding your finances, 3 reasons to hire a fee-only financial planner, and what you should know about Roth IRA withdrawals.

Do Future-You a Solid: Prep for Next Year’s Taxes Now
Give 2019 You a head start.

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3 Reasons to Hire a Fee-Only Financial Planner
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Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Need a gift for a college graduate? Consider a Roth IRA. Also in the news: An Olympian’s victory versus debt, how to tackle common home worries with a plan, and the best jobs to have when the economy tanks.

Need a Gift for a College Graduate? Consider a Roth IRA
A gift that will keep on giving.

How I Ditched Debt: An Olympian’s Medal-Worthy Juggling Act
Winning the gold in paying off debt.

Tackle This Common Home Worry With a Plan
Don’t let repairs catch you off-guard.

The best jobs to have when the economy tanks
Is your job economy-proof?

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Why the new tax law makes Roth IRAs more attractive. Also in the news: 7 ways to save on your next national park trip, how to prep for in-flight interviews and land a job, and the 6 skills you need to be financially successful.

Why the New Tax Law Makes Roth IRAs More Attractive
Taking advantage of tax benefits.

7 Ways to Save on Your Next National Park Trip
A trip that doesn’t have to be too expensive.

Prep for In-Flight Interviews and Land a Job
Interviewing in an unusual location.

The 6 Skills You Need to Be Financially Successful
It’s more than just a budget.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Straightforward answers to your Roth IRA questions. Also in the news: Disney vacation pros share budgeting tips for trips, how to jumpstart your financial plan by ditching this phrase, and what to ask yourself before dipping into your emergency fund.

7 Straightforward Answers to Your Roth IRA Questions
Everything you need to know.

Disney Vacation Pros Dish Up Budgeting Tips for Trips
More money for mouse ears.

Ditch This Phrase and Jump-Start Your Financial Plan
No more dwelling on the past.

What to Ask Yourself Before Dipping Into Your Emergency Fund
Is it really an emergency?

Q&A: Identify the goal for rolled-over account

Dear Liz: I retired from civil service in 2014. Upon retirement, I requested that my Roth IRA funds be sent to a bank. The funds have been earning 0.6% interest. Is it possible to move the funds to another bank or elsewhere to earn a higher rate? Or, should I leave the funds at the bank until an unforeseeable emergency occurs?

Answer: It’s not clear from your letter whether you withdrew money from your Roth or simply had the whole thing transferred from one custodian to another (the bank). Either way, you’re free to move your money elsewhere. If the money is still inside the Roth, you’d move the Roth. If it’s outside, you’d just move the funds.

Before you do anything, though, figure out your goal for this money. If it’s your emergency fund, then it needs to be kept safe and liquid. An FDIC-insured bank account is likely the best bet, and many online banks are offering somewhat higher rates than you’re getting now.

If you want this money to grow, however, you’ll need to take more risk with it. That typically means investing a portion of it in stocks and bonds. If that’s your goal, look for a discount brokerage or low-cost mutual fund provider. If you’re new to investing, books such as Kathy Kristof’s “Investing 101” or Eric Tyson’s “Investing for Dummies” could be helpful.