ROTH Conversion – What Am I Missing?

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ROTH Conversion – What Am I Missing?

Postby jdjd2 » Thu Feb 14, 2013 1:02 pm

A year ago, I converted a 401k to an IRA. This year, I am considering a ROTH conversion that would be done over a period of years. Taxes for the yearly converted portion would come from other taxable mutual funds I own.

To help make this decision, I put together a spreadsheet (column headers shown below without my actual $ numbers):

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
07-Feb-13 Expected Growth Expected Dividends Yearly Deductible Yearly Exemptions Year 0 2013 In 1 Year 2 Years 3 Years 4 Years
6% X $14,200.00 $7,600.00 Value Y Value 1.06Y etc. etc etc.

Column 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Age of retiree, RMD Per Year, ROTH Conversion, RMD Distribution Amount, (Year X $ - RMD) * 6%, Social Security Income, Social Security Income Taxable
8 9 10
Dividends and Gains W/ No Conversion, Total Taxable Less Deductible and Exemptions, Expected Tax Rate

66 Value $0.00 #VALUE!
67 " $0.00
68 " $0.00
69 " $0.00
70 27.4 " Y / 27.4


Column 11 12 13 14
5 Years
etc.
Expected Taxes Cumulative Taxes Add In Medicare Penalty Cumulative Taxes

$0 $0 $0

I assumed 6% yearly growth, less than the long term growth of the fund I invested in – Vanguard Wellesley (1 year 9.63%, 5 years 6.03%, 10 years 6.66%, > 10.5% since inception). Yes, I could be more diversified!

I also assumed I would defer receiving social security benefits until age 70. This would give me 4 years of reduced income, and 4 years without an IRA RMD to maximize what I could convert each year. Based on family history, I also assumed my wife and/or I will live into our 90’s.

I then ran various scenarios and came up with the following observations:

1. Converting all at once resulted in a huge one-time tax (that I could cover with taxable funds), and a 1 year Medicare penalty with significantly increased monthly premium costs, and a 3.8% Affordable Care Act tax on my investment income.

2. Keeping the yearly conversion less than the Medicare monthly premium penalty income level ($170K) took 11 years, but saved 5.7% in taxes when compared to doing it all at once.

3. Ignoring having to pay the Medicare penalties, but keeping taxable income in the 33% tax bracket took 6 years (so 2 years into RMD), saved 14.0% in taxes compared to doing it all at once. This is even taking into account the additional Medicare monthly income penalties, but not the 3.8% penalty that was not triggered.

Of the half dozen scenarios I ran, all based on holding taxes to a certain level, this scenario resulted in the least amount of taxes. And after these 6 years, my Medicare monthly premium costs would return to the typical Medicare costs.

4. A few other scenarios were slightly higher in taxes than this last, best case, one.

5. I compared these scenarios with NEVER doing a conversion. The cross over point for taxes was age 84. That is, with no conversion, it takes until I am 84 to pay as much taxes as the best case and several other conversion scenarios. So a tax savings in the initial 18 years. But by the age of 95, I will have paid 89.4% more in taxes than the conversion scenarios. This scenario also had the downside that once the RMD starts, my income increases significantly putting me in the 28% tax bracket. It is also more income than I need to live on yearly.

Seems quite straightforward. Do the conversion over 6 years (and at the beginning of each year), pay the increased Medicare monthly premium penalties during this time, but then reap the benefits of no more taxes on the converted dollars, and no more RMD.

And I get to control how much to withdraw yearly without being forced to take out more dollars than needed, which could be reinvested but would just add to future years tax burden.

I hope I proved sufficient detail without real numbers for folks to understand.

What I’m interested in is what am I missing in my analysis? I’ve taken into account the additional Medicare premiums for Medicare Part B and Part D, and the new Medicare 3.8% tax on the lesser of net investment income or the excess of modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) above $250,000 for couples filing jointly.

Are there other tax related thresholds I need to add to my analysis? Am I missing some insight into a ROTH conversion, etc.

It looks good to me, but, before committing to a plan, I’d like to get input from others.

Thank you for your time.
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Re: ROTH Conversion – What Am I Missing?

Postby nydad » Thu Feb 14, 2013 7:27 pm

Probably best if you posted the spreadsheet to google docs or something. It's hard to read how it works.

Would be useful to share actually - I could use a similar spreadsheet...
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Re: ROTH Conversion – What Am I Missing?

Postby pkcrafter » Thu Feb 14, 2013 10:39 pm

I'm also not sure of what you are doing; however, there are a couple of things that need more clarification.

First: Taxes for the yearly converted portion would come from other taxable mutual funds I own.

It doesn't matter where you get the money to pay the taxes, you can't dismiss the cost. If you are going to compare performance, you must start with the same amount of $$ before conversion. $10,000 invested in a TIRA is equal to $6600 invested in the Roth for 33% tax bracket. When you do it properly, the after tax value of the withdrawal will be identical if the tax rate is the same as when contributed.

You said you were in the 33% bracket, but then commented "This scenario also had the downside that once the RMD starts, my income increases significantly putting me in the 28% tax bracket." This implies that once retired your tax rate will fall below 28% for a period of time, then rise to 28%, but that's still lower than 33%, which would favor the TIRA over the Roth.

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Re: ROTH Conversion – What Am I Missing?

Postby BigFoot48 » Fri Feb 15, 2013 3:14 am

nydad wrote:Would be useful to share actually - I could use a similar spreadsheet...

My Retiree Roth Conversion Model has been updated for 2013 tax rates. You can find it explained and the link to download the Excel version here: http://www.bogleheads.org/forum/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=97352&p=1405885#p1405885
Last edited by BigFoot48 on Fri Feb 15, 2013 9:20 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: ROTH Conversion – What Am I Missing?

Postby JW Nearly Retired » Fri Feb 15, 2013 9:09 am

jdjd2 wrote:Ignoring having to pay the Medicare penalties, but keeping taxable income in the 33% tax bracket took 6 years (so 2 years into RMD), saved 14.0% in taxes compared to doing it all at once. This is even taking into account the additional Medicare monthly income penalties, but not the 3.8% penalty that was not triggered.

Of the half dozen scenarios I ran, all based on holding taxes to a certain level, this scenario resulted in the least amount of taxes. And after these 6 years, my Medicare monthly premium costs would return to the typical Medicare costs.

4. A few other scenarios were slightly higher in taxes than this last, best case, one.

5. I compared these scenarios with NEVER doing a conversion. The cross over point for taxes was age 84. That is, with no conversion, it takes until I am 84 to pay as much taxes as the best case and several other conversion scenarios. So a tax savings in the initial 18 years. But by the age of 95, I will have paid 89.4% more in taxes than the conversion scenarios. This scenario also had the downside that once the RMD starts, my income increases significantly putting me in the 28% tax bracket. It is also more income than I need to live on yearly.

Not sure what exactly what your spreadsheet is doing. However, if you are converting to the Roth at a 33% marginal tax rate instead of paying RMD tax later on the TIRA at a 28% marginal rate, that can't be a winner. IMO, something is wrong in your spreadsheet.
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Re: ROTH Conversion – What Am I Missing?

Postby jdjd2 » Fri Mar 15, 2013 11:56 am

The retirement calculator that BigFoot48 referenced was very useful. It helped me debug a few problems with my (much simpler) spreadsheet. But more importantly, the results it gave me were basically the same as my spreadsheet, though I would recommend BigFoot48’s any day over mine.

All of the observations I made in the original post remain true.

• If I choose to not convert, then my taxes for the next 5 years are close to nothing. But then they quickly go up to 28% and stay there for the foreseeable future.
• If I choose to convert, then the best scenario (from some 6-10 I ran) seems to be to take advantage of my pre RMD and pre taking SS status (for the next 5 years) and convert the TIRA over this time.

Converting this fast does push me into the 33% marginal tax bracket, but after 5 years, my taxes will drop significantly, as in < 25%. And yes, I will pay (what I refer to as) a penalty on my Medicare Part B and Part D premiums for 5 years (also accounted for in my calculations), but then it will drop to the normal rate.

I understand the comment

. If you are going to compare performance, you must start with the same amount of $$ before conversion. $10,000 invested in a TIRA is equal to $6600 invested in the Roth for 33% tax bracket. When you do it properly, the after tax value of the withdrawal will be identical if the tax rate is the same as when contributed.


but, I’m also looking at the fact that besides paying taxes for the conversion from taxable mutual funds, the dividends and capital gains for the taxable mutual funds are also taxed. So starting with the same amount, over time, the conversion wins out.

So my rational is absorb the higher tax bracket (33%) for a short number of years, so that I then control distribution of the ROTH, and can avoid the 28% tax bracket for many many more years.
If I die before 84, then this was a bad decision. If I live beyond 84, then for every subsequent year, I will have cumulatively paid out less taxes with the conversion.

I also like a statement found in the following thread:

http://www.bogleheads.org/forum/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=97352

However, the main feature of this "partnership" is that your share of the TIRA will vary over time with your tax bracket. Thus you would want to "buy out" your partner when the tax bracket (cost) is as low as possible. For many of us this occurred in the period between retirement and the beginning of RMDs. For others it can occur while still filing joint returns, before willing it to a heir in a high tax bracket, before taking social security, etc.


So re-asking my original questions.

What I’m interested in is what am I missing in my analysis? I’ve taken into account the additional Medicare premiums for Medicare Part B and Part D, and the new Medicare 3.8% tax on the lesser of net investment income or the excess of modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) above $250,000 for couples filing jointly.

Are there other tax related thresholds I need to add to my analysis? Am I missing some insight into a ROTH conversion, etc.

It looks good to me, but, before committing to a plan, I’d like to get input from others.

Or put another way, I can’t see a reason not to do it, but maybe I am missing something.

Again, thank you for your time.
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Re: ROTH Conversion – What Am I Missing?

Postby Watty » Fri Mar 15, 2013 3:12 pm

I did not follow just what you did with the spreadsheet but you might check a few things.

1) You need to run your tax numbers three ways, joint return, your wife survives you, and with you surviving your wife. The odds of both of you living to be in your 90's when the RMD would really be an issue is not very high.

2) I would think it likely that anyone who has enough that the RMD's put them in a high tax bracket would need to have some serious estate planning done. If so then you are likely in a situation where you will need professional estate planning and trying to do it yourself could cause major problems.

3) What are the tax rates of the people who will inherit your money? If your kids, or whoever, are in the 15% tax bracket then that could make a big difference and doing Roth conversion in a higher tax bracket might not make sense. If money will be left to a charity then no taxes would need to be paid.

4) Taking an early distribution that you do not need is not all bad since the money will be invested until it goes to your estate at a stepped up cost basis. There will also be the opportunity to take capital losses when the market dips.
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Re: ROTH Conversion – What Am I Missing?

Postby JW Nearly Retired » Fri Mar 15, 2013 9:54 pm

JDJD2 wrote:If I choose to not convert, then my taxes for the next 5 years are close to nothing. But then they quickly go up to 28% and stay there for the foreseeable future.
• If I choose to convert, then the best scenario (from some 6-10 I ran) seems to be to take advantage of my pre RMD and pre taking SS status (for the next 5 years) and convert the TIRA over this time.

Converting this fast does push me into the 33% marginal tax bracket, but after 5 years, my taxes will drop significantly, as in < 25%. And yes, I will pay (what I refer to as) a penalty on my Medicare Part B and Part D premiums for 5 years (also accounted for in my calculations), but then it will drop to the normal rate.

I'm still doubting this. How far into the 33% bracket? If you are converting most all of this money at a 33% tax rate then it can't be better than paying tax later at a 28% marginal rate.
Lets see, you have $100k and pay 33% now to convert leaving you $67k after paying $33k tax. Say in x years that $67k grows by 50% tax free in a Roth to 1.5 x $67k = $100.5k to spend. That's OK. Suppose you don't convert and leave the $100k in the same funds in the IRA to grow by the same 50% tax free = $150k. Then you take it out at your 28% tax rate leaving you $150k x (1.-0.28) = $108k to spend. That's better! True that the taxes you eventually pay will be more, 0.28(150) = $42k instead of $33k, but the money you get to keep will be more too.

You have been saying you want to pay the least amount of taxes........... are you comparing only the taxes you pay and not the money you get to keep? What you get to keep is all that really matters.
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Re: ROTH Conversion – What Am I Missing?

Postby Archie Sinclair » Fri Mar 15, 2013 11:56 pm

Note that it's called a Roth, not a ROTH. It's named after the late Senator William Roth of Delaware.
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Re: ROTH Conversion – What Am I Missing?

Postby bsteiner » Sun Mar 17, 2013 10:48 am

JW Nearly Retired wrote:Lets see, you have $100k and pay 33% now to convert leaving you $67k after paying $33k tax. Say in x years that $67k grows by 50% tax free in a Roth to 1.5 x $67k = $100.5k to spend. That's OK. Suppose you don't convert and leave the $100k in the same funds in the IRA to grow by the same 50% tax free = $150k. Then you take it out at your 28% tax rate leaving you $150k x (1.-0.28) = $108k to spend. That's better! True that the taxes you eventually pay will be more, 0.28(150) = $42k instead of $33k, but the money you get to keep will be more too.


It's worth converting at a somewhat (but not too much) higher rate than you or your beneficiaries would otherwise pay on the distributions if you have other money with which to pay the tax.

In your example, the tax rate on the conversion would be 33%, but only 28% on the distributions if you don't convert. Suppose you have a $100 traditional IRA and $33 of other money. If you convert, you have a $100 Roth IRA. Over some period of time, it grows to $200. If you don't convert, your traditional IRA grows to $200, or $144 after tax at 28%. If, over the same period of time, your $33 of other money grows to less than $56, you're better off converting. Remember that the IRA can continue for a long time: your life expectancy, your spouse's life expectancy, and your beneficiaries' life expectancy.

Other benefits of the Roth conversion include no required distributions after age 70 1/2 (of greater value to those with sufficient other assets or income), better creditor protection in many states, and avoiding the problem of the income tax deduction for the estate tax only covering the Federal (but not the state) estate tax in those states that still have a state estate tax.

In order to quantify this, you would have to make assumptions as to a number of factors, including the tax rate that would otherwise apply to distributions, the investment return within the IRA, the after-tax investment return on the taxable account, when your death will occur, when your spouse's death will occur (if you're leaving your IRA to a spouse). However, it's safe to say that converting will usually make sense if you can convert at a tax rate less than, equal to, or not too much higher than the tax rate that would otherwise apply to the distributions.
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Re: ROTH Conversion – What Am I Missing?

Postby JW Nearly Retired » Sun Mar 17, 2013 3:49 pm

bsteiner wrote:
JW Nearly Retired wrote:Lets see, you have $100k and pay 33% now to convert leaving you $67k after paying $33k tax. Say in x years that $67k grows by 50% tax free in a Roth to 1.5 x $67k = $100.5k to spend. That's OK. Suppose you don't convert and leave the $100k in the same funds in the IRA to grow by the same 50% tax free = $150k. Then you take it out at your 28% tax rate leaving you $150k x (1.-0.28) = $108k to spend. That's better! True that the taxes you eventually pay will be more, 0.28(150) = $42k instead of $33k, but the money you get to keep will be more too.


It's worth converting at a somewhat (but not too much) higher rate than you or your beneficiaries would otherwise pay on the distributions if you have other money with which to pay the tax.

In your example, the tax rate on the conversion would be 33%, but only 28% on the distributions if you don't convert. Suppose you have a $100 traditional IRA and $33 of other money. If you convert, you have a $100 Roth IRA. Over some period of time, it grows to $200. If you don't convert, your traditional IRA grows to $200, or $144 after tax at 28%. If, over the same period of time, your $33 of other money grows to less than $56, you're better off converting. Remember that the IRA can continue for a long time: your life expectancy, your spouse's life expectancy, and your beneficiaries' life expectancy.

Other benefits of the Roth conversion include no required distributions after age 70 1/2 (of greater value to those with sufficient other assets or income), better creditor protection in many states, and avoiding the problem of the income tax deduction for the estate tax only covering the Federal (but not the state) estate tax in those states that still have a state estate tax.

In order to quantify this, you would have to make assumptions as to a number of factors, including the tax rate that would otherwise apply to distributions, the investment return within the IRA, the after-tax investment return on the taxable account, when your death will occur, when your spouse's death will occur (if you're leaving your IRA to a spouse). However, it's safe to say that converting will usually make sense if you can convert at a tax rate less than, equal to, or not too much higher than the tax rate that would otherwise apply to the distributions.


Taxable money in equities has a low tax rates and gets a stepped up basis for heirs. I think they might prefer leaving it in taxable.

That is a good point about the Roth lasting until beneficiary's life expectancy, so you need to project out a long time. I did convert some IRA up to the top of the 28% bracket this year. I think I will take a look at BigFoot48's referenced calculator and explore doing some more.

I'm mainly just thinking the OP is overdoing this. He said he will convert so much at 33% he will be in a <25% tax bracket by the time he takes SS/RMDs. I wasn't viewing that tax rate difference as in the "not too much higher" category.
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Re: ROTH Conversion – What Am I Missing?

Postby bsteiner » Sun Mar 17, 2013 4:15 pm

JW Nearly Retired wrote:Taxable money in equities has a low tax rates and gets a stepped up basis for heirs. I think they might prefer leaving it in taxable.

That is a good point about the Roth lasting until beneficiary's life expectancy, so you need to project out a long time. I did convert some IRA up to the top of the 28% bracket this year. I think I will take a look at BigFoot48's referenced calculator and explore doing some more.

I'm mainly just thinking the OP is overdoing this. He said he will convert so much at 33% he will be in a <25% tax bracket by the time he takes SS/RMDs. I wasn't viewing that tax rate difference as in the "not too much higher" category.
JW


Without doing any calculations, I agree as to your last point, but not as to your first point.

It generally wouldn't make sense to convert at 33% when the distributions would otherwise be taxable at 15%.

However, everything else being equal, the Roth conversion trumps the basis step-up. For example, assuming a constant 30% tax rate, you have $100 in a traditional IRA and $30 in a taxable account. If you convert, you have a $100 Roth IRA, which after some period of time will grow to $200. If you don't convert, over the same period of time, your traditional IRA will grow to $200, or $140 after taxes. Your $30 taxable account will grow to something less than $60, since you'll pay some tax (even if not very much, depending on your investments) on your income and gains during your lifetime.
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Re: ROTH Conversion – What Am I Missing?

Postby tarnation » Sun Mar 17, 2013 5:14 pm

you might want to double check numbers with http://i-orp.com/
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Re: ROTH Conversion – What Am I Missing?

Postby jdjd2 » Thu Mar 28, 2013 1:40 pm

Again, thanks for the feedback.

RE: What you get to keep is all that really matters.

RE: However, it's safe to say that converting will usually make sense if you can convert at a tax rate less than, equal to, or not too much higher than the tax rate that would otherwise apply to the distributions.

OK, I went back to the retirement calculator that BigFoot48 referenced in his thread. Now granted that I will (most likely) not live to be 100, but the results show:

- Portfolio balance at 100 = +49.7% greater for Roth conversion
- Income after taxes = +51.3% greater for Roth conversion - what I get to keep!
- Discounted cash flow of above = +32.9% for Roth conversion
- Federal tax = -69% lower with Roth conversion
- Discounted cash flow of above = -34.6% for Roth conversion
- IRA RMD - = -100% for Roth conversion.

My average tax rate for the 4 years doing the conversion is ~25% with the marginal tax rate of 33% going from 55.3% into the 33% range down to 37.7% into the 33% tax range.

If I skip the Roth conversion, than my taxes are effectively nothing for the next 4 years given my finances. And the crossover point for taxes is at age 84. That is, my 4 big tax years while doing/completing the conversion = the equivalent cumulative tax dollars at 84 without the Roth conversion.

And if I do the Roth conversion, then once done in 4 years, I control how much tax I pay yearly, with income primarily SS and what I may need to supplement this fro other taxable accounts.

I'm trying to find a reason why doing a Roth conversion is a bad idea, but have not found one yet.
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Re: ROTH Conversion – What Am I Missing?

Postby jdjd2 » Fri Mar 29, 2013 4:21 pm

RE: 1) You need to run your tax numbers three ways, joint return, your wife survives you, and with you surviving your wife. The odds of both of you living to be in your 90's when the RMD would really be an issue is not very high.

Note sure this matters. If I don't do the conversion, then regardless of who survives who, the IRA dollars is still there and growing. From the bigfoot48 spreadsheet I used (btw - I went through his spreadsheet thoroughly to understand how it worked and verify i was not doing a "garbage in garbage out" exercise), if I lived to be 100 I would still have almost a 7 figure # in the IRA, all taxable to my heirs, and a much much larger # in my taxable account.

Given the results in my last reply, Roth still seems the way to go.

RE: 2) I would think it likely that anyone who has enough that the RMD's put them in a high tax bracket would need to have some serious estate planning done. If so then you are likely in a situation where you will need professional estate planning and trying to do it yourself could cause major problems.

Probably true, but being a mathematician, I've never been convinced they would do any better than what I have learned/done. I'm not one for making a quick or knee jerk decision.

I'll agree that my knowledge just scratches the surface, but it's fairly simple. I'm not looking to shield $. If I have no major illness (i.e. nursing home, etc.), then if there is anything left, it will be passed on to my heirs or charity ( a future decision).

RE: 3) What are the tax rates of the people who will inherit your money? If your kids, or whoever, are in the 15% tax bracket then that could make a big difference and doing Roth conversion in a higher tax bracket might not make sense. If money will be left to a charity then no taxes would need to be paid.

Good thought. Not knowing for sure, but I expect they are all in the average and marginal 25% tax bracket.


i appreciate all of the comments received. Due diligence and a fact based decision are important to me.

So I'm back to "I'm trying to find a reason why doing a Roth conversion is a bad idea, but have not found one yet."

Any last thoughts, comments, insights?

thanks!





I'm trying to find a reason why doing a Roth conversion is a bad idea, but have not found one yet.
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Re: ROTH Conversion – What Am I Missing?

Postby BigFoot48 » Fri Mar 29, 2013 4:46 pm

jdjd2 wrote:From the bigfoot48 spreadsheet I used (btw - I went through his spreadsheet thoroughly to understand how it worked and verify i was not doing a "garbage in garbage out" exercise), if I lived to be 100 I would still have almost a 7 figure # in the IRA, all taxable to my heirs, and a much much larger # in my taxable account.

So I'm back to "I'm trying to find a reason why doing a Roth conversion is a bad idea, but have not found one yet."

I'm glad to hear you reviewed the workings of the spreadsheet in detail and it proved out. I'm always interested in knowing of any problems or improvements that can be made in the model.

While in my personal case the numbers show no compelling reason to do Roth conversions, yours looks very compelling. That significant an advantage, assuming all the factors you used were reasonable and tested, would indicate even if some projections didn't come about, it would still be likely to be better financially to do the conversion. If my numbers looked like that, I would do it even though paying taxes early is not on my list of favorite things in life.
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