Roth Conversions: Spouses Both Have Traditional IRAs

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delamer
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Roth Conversions: Spouses Both Have Traditional IRAs

Post by delamer »

I’m trying to wrap my mind around Roth conversions when both spouses have tax-deferred accounts.

The main issue is whose account should be prioritized for conversion.

Right now, our accounts are actually 401(k)s which will have to be rolled over to IRAs to do the conversions. But let’s call them IRAs, to simplify the discussion. We are both retired, mid-60s.

The younger spouse (by a couple years) has the larger IRA, about 55% of total tax deferred. So the older spouse has about 45% of the total.

Due to large fixed income (pensions and Social Security), we are now in the 24% federal marginal bracket. If the current rates become permanent, the surviving spouse will be in the 24% bracket based in fixed income alone. That could get pushed into the 32% bracket if only one of us survives into our 80s and/or the IRAs grow in value significantly (hopefully!).

State marginal tax rate is 8%.

Any RMDs will likely be saved or used for gifting to our two adult children. No interest in doing QCDs. Also no concern about IRMAA since we aren’t taking Medicare Part B; we have federal employee health insurance in retirement.

We don’t have the time before RMDs begin to fully convert and probably wouldn’t anyway. Given all the unknowns about tax law in the future, having investments in different types of accounts is our preference.
Last edited by delamer on Sat Jun 19, 2021 5:57 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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livesoft
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Re: Roth Conversions

Post by livesoft »

I do not think it matters which spouse converts first nor whether both convert some each year nor whether a larger, equal or lesser amount of one spouse is converted.

Maybe one spouse has more nondeductible contributions or one spouse has a significantly smaller traditional IRA that can be converted completely in a shorter time period and thus reduce number of accounts of the couple by one.

Or maybe one spouse has access to special fund in their 401(k) that they would not have in an IRA or a Roth IRA. Is the TSP G fund one such special fund?

That written, I no longer have any traditional IRA as it was all converted to Roth IRA a few years ago. We are now working on my spouse's IRA conversions. That is not to write that I do not have tax-deferred accounts. I do: 401(k) and 403(b). My spouse has a 401(k).
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Wiggums
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Re: Roth Conversions: Spouses Both Have Traditional IRAs

Post by Wiggums »

We are in a similar situation. We are converting the smallest IRA accounts first to reduce the number of accounts that we have. It doesn’t look like we’ll be able to convert all of our pre-tax, but we will evaluate the situation each year.

Just like there is no perfect portfolio, we will do the best we can with the Roth conversions. Our children are not going to complain if the portfolio continues to grow :-)

We have a DAF which is working out well.
chemocean
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Re: Roth Conversions: Spouses Both Have Traditional IRAs

Post by chemocean »

Note that under PRESENT law, the tax brackets are scheduled to revert to those of 2017.
As each of you roll over your TSP into IRAs over time to do Roth Conversion in the receiving IRA, recall that the beneficiaries of a spousal TSP are not eligible to rollover spousal TSP into an IRA.
One thing to investigate is whether the surviving spouse can roll their inherited spousal TSP into their own TSP or do you have two TSPs: one for the original owner and the spousal inherited TSP?
The beneficiaries of a spousal TSP will be sent the funds as taxable income upon the death of the surviving spouse.
I don't know how much such details matter to your estate planning on which TSP gets rolled over to an IRA for conversion to Roth.
A major reason is to keep some funds in TSP is invest in the G fund for most risk-fee growth (no-credit risk, no interest risk), which probably should stay in the TSP until that allocation bucket is too full with G Funds.
Lou354
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Re: Roth Conversions: Spouses Both Have Traditional IRAs

Post by Lou354 »

If you do Roth conversions from the older spouse’s tIRA, then when older spouse starts having to take RMDs the amount will be lower than it would have been otherwise. You may even be able to do some more Roth conversions during those early RMD years without pushing yourself into a higher tax bracket.
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delamer
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Re: Roth Conversions: Spouses Both Have Traditional IRAs

Post by delamer »

chemocean wrote: Sat Jun 19, 2021 9:43 pm Note that under PRESENT law, the tax brackets are scheduled to revert to those of 2017.
As each of you roll over your TSP into IRAs over time to do Roth Conversion in the receiving IRA, recall that the beneficiaries of a spousal TSP are not eligible to rollover spousal TSP into an IRA.
One thing to investigate is whether the surviving spouse can roll their inherited spousal TSP into their own TSP or do you have two TSPs: one for the original owner and the spousal inherited TSP?
The beneficiaries of a spousal TSP will be sent the funds as taxable income upon the death of the surviving spouse.
I don't know how much such details matter to your estate planning on which TSP gets rolled over to an IRA for conversion to Roth.
A major reason is to keep some funds in TSP is invest in the G fund for most risk-fee growth (no-credit risk, no interest risk), which probably should stay in the TSP until that allocation bucket is too full with G Funds.
You are correct that one of us (the older spouse) has a TSP, which I assumed you gathered from us having FEHB coverage.

But I’m not sure why you assumed that both of us do. The younger spouse worked in the private sector, and so has a 401(k).

I am aware of the other points you made.
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delamer
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Re: Roth Conversions: Spouses Both Have Traditional IRAs

Post by delamer »

Lou354 wrote: Sat Jun 19, 2021 10:26 pm If you do Roth conversions from the older spouse’s tIRA, then when older spouse starts having to take RMDs the amount will be lower than it would have been otherwise. You may even be able to do some more Roth conversions during those early RMD years without pushing yourself into a higher tax bracket.
Interesting point.
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Big Dog
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Re: Roth Conversions: Spouses Both Have Traditional IRAs

Post by Big Dog »

I'm in a similar position, with the older (me) being ~60% and wife being 40% of tax-deferred balances. Since wife (2 years younger) did not have a Roth yet, we opened one last year in her name and did half of the year's conversions in her account. This year and next, all conversions will come out of my account as I will start RMD's first. But when we are both 72+, it won't have mattered much.
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delamer
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Re: Roth Conversions: Spouses Both Have Traditional IRAs

Post by delamer »

Big Dog wrote: Sat Jun 19, 2021 10:52 pm I'm in a similar position, with the older (me) being ~60% and wife being 40% of tax-deferred balances. Since wife (2 years younger) did not have a Roth yet, we opened one last year in her name and did half of the year's conversions in her account. This year and next, all conversions will come out of my account as I will start RMD's first. But when we are both 72+, it won't have mattered much.
That’s the $64,000 question— when we are 72+, will it matter?

As with other financial decisions, since we can’t know the date of our deaths, future tax rates, or future investment returns, we all end up making decisions based on incomplete information.
One thing that humbles me deeply is to see that human genius has its limits while human stupidity does not. | | Alexandre Dumas, fils
The Stone Wall
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Re: Roth Conversions: Spouses Both Have Traditional IRAs

Post by The Stone Wall »

delamer wrote: Sat Jun 19, 2021 11:16 pm
Big Dog wrote: Sat Jun 19, 2021 10:52 pm I'm in a similar position, with the older (me) being ~60% and wife being 40% of tax-deferred balances. Since wife (2 years younger) did not have a Roth yet, we opened one last year in her name and did half of the year's conversions in her account. This year and next, all conversions will come out of my account as I will start RMD's first. But when we are both 72+, it won't have mattered much.
That’s the $64,000 question— when we are 72+, will it matter?

As with other financial decisions, since we can’t know the date of our deaths, future tax rates, or future investment returns, we all end up making decisions based on incomplete information.
It will matter to your children. Anything you convert now will grow over your lifetimes and be a tax free inheritance for your children. If they are high earners, the IRA's will only add to their tax burden. As you convert, you place 100% stocks in the Roth and slowly change the IRA to be more conservative. This allows more growth in the Roth and less growth in the IRA over the long term. It would be twice the number of steps, but you could do Roth conversions from both IRA's at the same ratio (55/45)?
ChrisC
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Re: Roth Conversions: Spouses Both Have Traditional IRAs

Post by ChrisC »

We are similarly situated and in the 24% bracket from pensions (my CSRS and her modest County pension) and social security (my small WEP reduced and her modest social security retirement benefits). However, our tax deferred accounts (TDAs) were split 66% in my name and 34% in her name. My wife is 3 years older and would hit RMDs sooner than me, so we began conversions at 62 for her (in 2013) and last year we finally moved all of her TDAs funds into her Roth IRA. We wanted to have one of us avoiding RMDs and it was clear to us that I'd always have RMDs because of the large fund balances in my TDAs. Besides as we live in NC, my Roth conversions from TSP would be exempt from State income taxes under a special legal ruling in NC -- the so-called Bailey settlement so we wanted to address that separately with only conversions from my TDAs later.

I started my first Roth conversion this year (will be 68 by year end) but I figure I'll probably still have most of my funds in TDA when I reach RMD age. Unlike you, I have IRMAA to deal with since my wife has Medicare Part B (and is also on my FEHB plus 1 coverage) though I declined Medicare Part B.

There is a new academic reseach study on conversions and the author of this research is also fielding quesions on Bogleheads: viewtopic.php?f=10&t=351540&start=100. The bottom line for his research is that conversions will always be of some benefit but the gains from conversions can be diminished once you get into the 22% and beyond tax brackets. The author is thinking about revising his study to deal with high pension couples like us; see the back and forth in the thread on this issue. The author has a conversions spreadsheet attached to his study that might be of some guidance to you. I haven't used his spreadsheet yet.
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delamer
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Re: Roth Conversions: Spouses Both Have Traditional IRAs

Post by delamer »

The Stone Wall wrote: Sun Jun 20, 2021 8:11 am
delamer wrote: Sat Jun 19, 2021 11:16 pm
Big Dog wrote: Sat Jun 19, 2021 10:52 pm I'm in a similar position, with the older (me) being ~60% and wife being 40% of tax-deferred balances. Since wife (2 years younger) did not have a Roth yet, we opened one last year in her name and did half of the year's conversions in her account. This year and next, all conversions will come out of my account as I will start RMD's first. But when we are both 72+, it won't have mattered much.
That’s the $64,000 question— when we are 72+, will it matter?

As with other financial decisions, since we can’t know the date of our deaths, future tax rates, or future investment returns, we all end up making decisions based on incomplete information.
It will matter to your children. Anything you convert now will grow over your lifetimes and be a tax free inheritance for your children. If they are high earners, the IRA's will only add to their tax burden. As you convert, you place 100% stocks in the Roth and slowly change the IRA to be more conservative. This allows more growth in the Roth and less growth in the IRA over the long term. It would be twice the number of steps, but you could do Roth conversions from both IRA's at the same ratio (55/45)?
Yes, the children. One part of a very high earning couple, the other likely to have a more modest income. But they are young still, so yet another unknown.

Agreed on putting the growth in the Roth.

I am not sure about 55/45 conversions — I don’t have a problem with the extra work, but what do you see as the advantage?
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delamer
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Re: Roth Conversions: Spouses Both Have Traditional IRAs

Post by delamer »

ChrisC wrote: Sun Jun 20, 2021 8:34 am We are similarly situated and in the 24% bracket from pensions (my CSRS and her modest County pension) and social security (my small WEP reduced and her modest social security retirement benefits). However, our tax deferred accounts (TDAs) were split 66% in my name and 34% in her name. My wife is 3 years older and would hit RMDs sooner than me, so we began conversions at 62 for her (in 2013) and last year we finally moved all of her TDAs funds into her Roth IRA. We wanted to have one of us avoiding RMDs and it was clear to us that I'd always have RMDs because of the large fund balances in my TDAs. Besides as we live in NC, my Roth conversions from TSP would be exempt from State income taxes under a special legal ruling in NC -- the so-called Bailey settlement so we wanted to address that separately with only conversions from my TDAs later.

I started my first Roth conversion this year (will be 68 by year end) but I figure I'll probably still have most of my funds in TDA when I reach RMD age. Unlike you, I have IRMAA to deal with since my wife has Medicare Part B (and is also on my FEHB plus 1 coverage) though I declined Medicare Part B.

There is a new academic reseach study on conversions and the author of this research is also fielding quesions on Bogleheads: viewtopic.php?f=10&t=351540&start=100. The bottom line for his research is that conversions will always be of some benefit but the gains from conversions can be diminished once you get into the 22% and beyond tax brackets. The author is thinking about revising his study to deal with high pension couples like us; see the back and forth in the thread on this issue. The author has a conversions spreadsheet attached to his study that might be of some guidance to you. I haven't used his spreadsheet yet.
Funny, we had actually bought a lot in NC for our retirement home. But ultimately decided not to move there for family reasons. And I remember reading a bit about the Bailey settlement when I was looking into NC income taxes. My pension is roughly 60% FERS and 40% CSRS. (I left federal service after 10 years under CSRS, and switched to FERS when I went back.)

I can see the advantage of only having one spouse with RMDs, but realistically I don’t think we can get there.

It always bothers me when other people say this, but for selfish reasons a (short-term) bear market would come in very handy in the next few years. If there is one, we would take advantage of it for conversion purposes.

I had taken a quick look at the thread you mention, but I’ll go back and read it more carefully and look at the spreadsheet.
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teen persuasion
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Re: Roth Conversions: Spouses Both Have Traditional IRAs

Post by teen persuasion »

I've only recently gotten access to an employer retirement account (SIMPLE IRA), so my eventually-tIRA balance is significantly lower than DH's. He's retiring this year, but I will continue working for a few more years.

Our state exempts from taxation the first $20k of tIRA income for each person, but it cannot be combined. So if I have tiny/zero RMDs, we essentially only get to use the $20k exemption for DH's RMDs (plus $16k standard deduction). If our balances are more similar, we get up to $20k + $20k + $16k. So all Roth conversions will be from DH's accounts, to reduce his balances. Meanwhile I will continue to contribute to my account to help it grow larger.

Hopefully we will achieve balance before RMDs start.
The Stone Wall
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Re: Roth Conversions: Spouses Both Have Traditional IRAs

Post by The Stone Wall »

Given the similarities in accounts, I'm not certain there is an advantage to drawing from either account first. If there is an unknown advantage, by doing the mixture, you have at least hit some of the advantage.
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delamer
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Re: Roth Conversions: Spouses Both Have Traditional IRAs

Post by delamer »

The Stone Wall wrote: Sun Jun 20, 2021 10:35 am Given the similarities in accounts, I'm not certain there is an advantage to drawing from either account first. If there is an unknown advantage, by doing the mixture, you have at least hit some of the advantage.
True — I am inclined to split the conversions between the accounts barring any compelling reason to do otherwise.
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Big Dog
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Re: Roth Conversions: Spouses Both Have Traditional IRAs

Post by Big Dog »

The Stone Wall wrote: Sun Jun 20, 2021 8:11 am
delamer wrote: Sat Jun 19, 2021 11:16 pm
Big Dog wrote: Sat Jun 19, 2021 10:52 pm I'm in a similar position, with the older (me) being ~60% and wife being 40% of tax-deferred balances. Since wife (2 years younger) did not have a Roth yet, we opened one last year in her name and did half of the year's conversions in her account. This year and next, all conversions will come out of my account as I will start RMD's first. But when we are both 72+, it won't have mattered much.
That’s the $64,000 question— when we are 72+, will it matter?

As with other financial decisions, since we can’t know the date of our deaths, future tax rates, or future investment returns, we all end up making decisions based on incomplete information.
It will matter to your children. Anything you convert now will grow over your lifetimes and be a tax free inheritance for your children. If they are high earners, the IRA's will only add to their tax burden. As you convert, you place 100% stocks in the Roth and slowly change the IRA to be more conservative. This allows more growth in the Roth and less growth in the IRA over the long term. It would be twice the number of steps, but you could do Roth conversions from both IRA's at the same ratio (55/45)?
True, but the question was not whether to do Roth conversions at all, but given that the OP will do them, does it matter which spouse account they are done with (OP or wife)?
chemocean
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Re: Roth Conversions: Spouses Both Have Traditional IRAs

Post by chemocean »

delamer wrote: Sat Jun 19, 2021 10:46 pm

You are correct that one of us (the older spouse) has a TSP, which I assumed you gathered from us having FEHB coverage.

But I’m not sure why you assumed that both of us do. The younger spouse worked in the private sector, and so has a 401(k).
The phrase in your Original post "WE have federal employee health insurance in retirement", lead me to to believe that each of you had your separate FEHB coverage rather than a annuitant +1 policy for the one retired government employee. You probably also made your decision not to get Medicare B after reading the arguments for and against this decision on this forum. I made the opposite decision and I do need to worry about IRMMA in Roth conversions.
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Re: Roth Conversions: Spouses Both Have Traditional IRAs

Post by DSBH »

delamer wrote: Sat Jun 19, 2021 10:50 pm
Lou354 wrote: Sat Jun 19, 2021 10:26 pm If you do Roth conversions from the older spouse’s tIRA, then when older spouse starts having to take RMDs the amount will be lower than it would have been otherwise. You may even be able to do some more Roth conversions during those early RMD years without pushing yourself into a higher tax bracket.
Interesting point.
+1, could be a bit more beneficial if Congress further delays the beginning RMD age from 72 to say 75 - assuming that both tIRAs have similar AA. If for whatever reason(s) one tIRA has 100% stock and the other one has 100% bond then it is a different twist.
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delamer
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Re: Roth Conversions: Spouses Both Have Traditional IRAs

Post by delamer »

chemocean wrote: Sun Jun 20, 2021 11:53 am
delamer wrote: Sat Jun 19, 2021 10:46 pm

You are correct that one of us (the older spouse) has a TSP, which I assumed you gathered from us having FEHB coverage.

But I’m not sure why you assumed that both of us do. The younger spouse worked in the private sector, and so has a 401(k).
The phrase in your Original post "WE have federal employee health insurance in retirement", lead me to to believe that each of you had your separate FEHB coverage rather than a annuitant +1 policy for the one retired government employee. You probably also made your decision not to get Medicare B after reading the arguments for and against this decision on this forum. I made the opposite decision and I do need to worry about IRMMA in Roth conversions.
Fair enough.

Actually, the Part B decision was made based on the Consumer Checkbook’s analysis.
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delamer
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Re: Roth Conversions: Spouses Both Have Traditional IRAs

Post by delamer »

DSBH wrote: Sun Jun 20, 2021 11:58 am
delamer wrote: Sat Jun 19, 2021 10:50 pm
Lou354 wrote: Sat Jun 19, 2021 10:26 pm If you do Roth conversions from the older spouse’s tIRA, then when older spouse starts having to take RMDs the amount will be lower than it would have been otherwise. You may even be able to do some more Roth conversions during those early RMD years without pushing yourself into a higher tax bracket.
Interesting point.
+1, could be a bit more beneficial if Congress further delays the beginning RMD age from 72 to say 75 - assuming that both tIRAs have similar AA. If for whatever reason(s) one tIRA has 100% stock and the other one has 100% bond then it is a different twist.
We have an overall target allocation which we implement based on the best available funds within each plans. So right now, for instance, most of our small cap allocation is in the TSP.

I’d say if you looked at any one of our accounts you’d think we were completely irrational. :?

For instance, the only other investment we have in the TSP is the G Fund.

But we could reallocate as someone suggested earlier — like putting stocks in the Roths and keeping bonds/cash in the TIRA/employer plans.
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Re: Roth Conversions: Spouses Both Have Traditional IRAs

Post by Nestegg_User »

probably the biggest reason for you (the ex-fed) to convert first (if you do at all, based upon your tax rates) is the difficulty placed by the Thrift plan on being able to pull only from the regular 401k vs a pro-rated from both Roth 401k and regular 401k...and due to the survivor (after spouse) having restrictions {I seem to recall "Michdad" having ng a thread about that} [we don't have kids that could inherit a thrift account, so that's moot for us]
{at any rate, if you do predecease spouse...then make sure she converts the account to an IRA (fido or "chuck") to avoid problems. Remember, they only recently changed the rules to change withdrawal amounts within a given year (used to be only changed once at the beginning of the year) and they still require notarized forms for changes and there is sometimes significant delay in implementation of requested changes. This can be avoided by self directed rollover. }
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delamer
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Re: Roth Conversions: Spouses Both Have Traditional IRAs

Post by delamer »

Nestegg_User wrote: Sun Jun 20, 2021 12:22 pm probably the biggest reason for you (the ex-fed) to convert first (if you do at all, based upon your tax rates) is the difficulty placed by the Thrift plan on being able to pull only from the regular 401k vs a pro-rated from both Roth 401k and regular 401k...and due to the survivor (after spouse) having restrictions {I seem to recall "Michdad" having ng a thread about that} [we don't have kids that could inherit a thrift account, so that's moot for us]
{at any rate, if you do predecease spouse...then make sure she converts the account to an IRA (fido or "chuck") to avoid problems. Remember, they only recently changed the rules to change withdrawal amounts within a given year (used to be only changed once at the beginning of the year) and they still require notarized forms for changes and there is sometimes significant delay in implementation of requested changes. This can be avoided by self directed rollover. }
I don’t have a Roth TSP account. Once I start the conversions, I’ll do a rollover to an TIRA and then convert. It’s my understanding that you can’t do Roth conversions within the TSP.

I’m aware of the issue with spousal TSP accounts (Beneficiary Participant Account) being paid out immediately on the death of the spouse. I am the she, so I’ve filled husband in on (and documented in writing) what he should do if I die first.
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Re: Roth Conversions: Spouses Both Have Traditional IRAs

Post by lazynovice »

We are similar to you. Older spouse by two years has about 40% of tax deferred balance while younger has 60%. We modeled it both ways, originally thinking converting the older spouse’s first was better. It didn’t matter much at all. For two years, it gave us some room to convert a little more if desired. I think if the age differences were larger, it would help more to focus on older spouse’s account.

An advantage of converting from the older spouse’s account first is that if they die, the surviving spouse can use their age for RMDs for the inherited account. So for us, it would buy me two more years to plan.
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