As of January 2010, anyoneâ€”regardless of incomeâ€”can convert to a Roth IRA from a traditional IRA.
Nearly 41% of U.S. households participated in some sort of IRA in 2008, according to the Investment Company Institute. What do experts say makes the Roth the most preferred of the IRA family? While a traditional IRA is tax-deferred while it's growing, you pay income tax on funds you withdraw. With a Roth, you pay income tax up front, so it grows tax free and you don't pay taxes when you withdraw the funds, as long as you're at least 59Â˝.
Be warned, when converting, you are required to pay taxes on un-taxed money, which in some cases, can be the entire amount. But, if you choose to convert in 2010, you have options, according to Joseph Montanaro , financial planner at USAA. You can pay the taxes with your 2010 filings, or split it between 2011 and 2012.
Montanaro said in January, when the rules changes kicked in, his firm saw a dramatic increase in people looking to convert to a Roth. According to the experts, Roth IRAâ€™s advantages over other retirement-savings tools are 1) tax-free withdrawals and 2) they typically carry less risk.
â€śIâ€™ve been telling clients that the market is going to correct and that could kill 401(k)s,â€ť said Paula Albertson, a financial planner based in Tampa, Fla. â€śA Roth IRA is definitely safer.â€ť
Another benefit of a Roth IRA is minimum distribution rules donâ€™t apply.
You can still be eligible to contribute to a Roth IRA despite also having an employer-based retirement plan. To do so, you or your spouse must have an income equal to the amount placed in the Roth, while not exceeding income limits.
Contribution limits for 2010 for Roth IRAs are $5,000 for those under age 50. Persons age 50 and over can make additional catch up contributions of $1,000, for a total contribution limit of $6,000 for the year.
Wealthy individuals, who might have to pay an estate tax, should also consider converting to a Roth IRA, according to Leon LaBrecque, the managing partner and founder of LJPR, LLC.
But Roth IRA isnâ€™t right for everyone, the experts warned.
If you think you will fall into a lower tax bracket when retirement rolls around, you might want to think twice before converting, said Albertson.
He also warned that a Roth IRA might not be advantageous for people leaving money to charity, since that will be tax free anyway.
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