When preparing for retirement, it can be important to save money in different types of accounts to give you flexibility when it comes time to spend those funds. One of the most powerful and misunderstood types of accounts is the Roth. A Roth account is an after-tax retirement account that can be in the form of an IRA or an employer-sponsored plan such as a 401(k). The after-tax component means you pay tax on the front end when receiving the income, and in exchange, you can receive tax-free growth and tax-free withdrawals if you follow the rules of the Roth. There are three components to consider: contributions, conversions, and earnings. Contributions and conversions refer to the principal amount that you contribute or convert, while earnings refer to the investment growth in the account. There are contribution and eligibility limits set by the IRS each year, but today we will focus on withdrawing funds from a Roth IRA to maximize the after-tax benefit.
After you contribute to a Roth IRA, you can withdraw that contribution amount (principal) at any time without paying taxes or the 10% penalty. That is an often-overlooked fact that can come in handy.
Example:Ted is 38 years old and decides to open his first Roth IRA. He contributes $5,000 to the account immediately after opening it. Two years later, Ted finds himself in a financial bind and needs $5,000 for a car repair. One of the possible solutions for Ted is that he could pull up to $5,000 from his Roth IRA without paying any tax or penalty.
A Roth conversion is when you move funds from a pre-tax account such as a traditional IRA. You will owe income tax on the amount that you convert. This can be a powerful strategy to take control of when and how much you pay in taxes. There is no limit to how much you can convert.
When it comes to withdrawing money used in a Roth conversion, five years need to have passed or you need to be at least 59.5 years old to withdraw the conversion penalty-free. It is important to remember that each conversion has a separate 5-year clock.
Example: Beth is 50 when she executes a $40,000 conversion from her IRA to her Roth IRA in January 2020. In March 2025, Beth finds herself needing $40,000 for a home renovation. One of the possible solutions is that Beth could pull up to $40,000 from the conversion that she did over five years ago even though she is under 59.5.
When it comes to withdrawing earnings from growth that has occurred after contributing or completing a conversion, you must wait until age 59.5 and five years need to have passed since you first contributed or completed a conversion. If you don’t follow both of those rules, then you could have to potentially pay income tax on the growth and a 10% penalty.
Example: With our previous examples above with Ted and Beth, even though they can withdraw their contribution and conversion respectively, neither of them can touch the earnings in their Roth accounts until they are 59.5 and have satisfied the 5-year rule.
Other Important Details
There are a few other exceptions that allow a person to avoid the penalty and/or income tax, such as a death, disability, or first-time home purchase.
For ordering rules, when a withdrawal is made from a Roth IRA, the IRS considers that money to be taken from contributions first, then conversions when contributions are exhausted, and then finally earnings.
Have a thorough understanding of the rules before withdrawing any funds from a Roth account.
Speed up the 5-year clock.
You can technically satisfy the 5-year clock in less than five years. You can make contributions for a previous year until the tax filing date (typically April 15th, but as of this writing, it may be April 18th in 2022). This means that a contribution on April 1st, 2022, could be designated to count toward 2021, and the clock will count as starting on January 1st, 2021. This shaves 15 months off the 5-year clock! Note: Conversions must be complete by the calendar year’s end (12/31), but you can still shave 11 months off the 5-year clock.
Start the 5-year clock now!
Even a $1 contribution or conversion starts the clock for you to be able to harness tax-free gains, so start as soon as possible.
After the passing of the SECURE ACT in 2019, most non-spousal IRA beneficiaries must now fully distribute inherited IRAs within ten years. This means that an inherited Roth IRA owner could potentially allow the inherited Roth to grow tax-free for up to ten more years and then withdraw those funds tax-free. If it fits into an individual’s financial plan, this can be a tremendous tax strategy to take advantage of.
Roth accounts can be incredible but also very confusing. As advisors, we figure out the best way to use these accounts to your advantage in terms of maximizing growth and minimizing taxes. If you have any questions about how you can best utilize a Roth account, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We are always happy to help you and those you care about!
Disclosure: The material is presented solely for information purposes and has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable; however, Merriman cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of such information, and certain information presented here may have been condensed or summarized from its original source. Nothing in these materials is intended to serve as personalized tax and/or investment advice since the availability and effectiveness of any strategy is dependent upon your individual facts and circumstances. Merriman does not provide tax, legal, or accounting advice, and nothing contained in these materials should be relied upon as such.
Contributing to a Roth IRA is a great way to receive tax benefits for retirement savers. If you already do or are planning to take advantage of this tax savings vehicle, it is important to familiarize yourself with the rules that govern these accounts. The IRS has put in place strict limits regarding the amount that individuals can contribute to their Roth IRAs, as well as income limits for determining who qualifies.
If you are a single tax filer, you must have Modified Adjusted Growth Income (MAGI) under $140,000 in order to contribute to your Roth IRA. The amount you can contribute to your Roth IRA begins to phase out starting at a MAGI of $125,000; if your MAGI is greater than $140,000, you can no longer contribute to the Roth IRA. For those who file as married filing jointly, your MAGI must be under $208,000 in order to contribute. The phaseout range in this case applies to those with a MAGI between $198,000 and $208,000. The maximum IRA contribution in either case is $6,000 for those under 50 and $7,000 for those 50 and older.
As a result of these strict limits, it is easy for taxpayers to overcontribute. So what happens when taxpayers contribute in excess of their contribution limit?
For every year that your excess contribution goes uncorrected, you must pay a 6% excise tax on the excess contribution. In order to avoid the 6% tax penalty, you must remove the excess contributions in addition to any earnings or losses on that excess contribution by the tax filing deadline in April. To determine your earnings on your excess contribution, you can use the net attributable income (NIA) formula.
Net income = Excess contribution x (Adjusted closing balance – Adjusted opening balance) / Adjusted opening balance
Note: If you find that you have losses on your excess contribution, you can subtract that loss from the amount of your excess contribution that you have to withdraw.
Reasons for Overcontribution
You’ve contributed more than the annual amount allowed.
Remember that the $6,000 and $7,000 dollar maximum applies to the combined total that you can contribute to your Traditional and Roth IRAs.
You’ve contributed more than your earned income.
Your income was too high to contribute to a Roth IRA.
Unfortunately, single tax filers who make $140,000 or more and those who are married filing jointly who make $208,000 or more are unable to contribute to a Roth IRA.
Required minimum distributions (RMDs) are rolled over.
RMDs cannot be rolled over to a Roth IRA.
If it is rolled over to a Roth IRA, the amount will be treated as an excess contribution.
Removal of Excess Prior to Tax Filing Deadline
If you find that you have overcontributed prior to filing your tax return and prior to the tax filing deadline, you can remove your excess contributions before the tax filing deadline (typically April 15) and avoid the 6% excise tax. However, your earnings from your excess contribution will be taxed as ordinary income. Additionally, those who are under 59 and a half will have to pay a 10% tax for early withdrawal on earnings from excess contributions.
Keep in mind that it is your earnings that are subject to an ordinary income and early withdrawal tax, not the amount of your excess contribution.
If you find that you have overcontributed after filing your tax return, you can still avoid the 6% excise tax if you are able to remove your excess contribution and earnings and file an amended tax return by the October extended deadline (typically October 15).
Recharacterization involves transferring your excess contribution and any earnings from your Roth IRA to a Traditional IRA. In order to avoid the 6% excise tax, you would have to complete this transfer process within the same tax year. It is also important to note that you can’t contribute more than your total allowable maximum contribution. Thus, you must make sure that you can still contribute more to your Traditional IRA prior to proceeding with recharacterization.
Apply the Excess Contribution to Next Year
You can offset your excess contribution by lowering the amount of your contribution the following year by the excess amount. For example, say that you contributed $7,000 to your Roth IRA when the maximum amount that you could contribute was $6,000. The next year, you can offset this excess amount of $1,000 by limiting your contribution to $5,000. You are, however, still subject to the 6% excise tax due to the fact that you were unable to correct the excess amount by the tax filing deadline, but you won’t have to deal with withdrawals.
Withdraw the Excess the Next Year
If you choose to withdraw the excess the following year, you will only have to remove the amount of your excess contribution, not any earnings. However, you will be subject to a 6% excise tax for each year that your excess remains in the IRA.
These rules can be confusing to navigate which is why we recommend involving your tax accountant or trusted advisor in these situations. We are happy to connect you with a Merriman advisor to discuss your situation.
Disclosure: The material is presented solely for information purposes and has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, however Merriman cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of such information, and certain information presented here may have been condensed or summarized from its original source. Merriman does not provide tax, legal or accounting advice, and nothing contained in these materials should be relied upon as such. Advisory services are only offered to clients or prospective clients where Merriman and its representatives are properly licensed or exempt from licensure. No advice may be rendered by Merriman unless a client service agreement is in place.
One of the great things I get to experience as a financial advisor is that many of my clients have achieved such good financial security that they are able to help their relatives financially. One of the best examples is grandparents wanting to help their grandchildren. The usual starting place for grandparents is helping to build an education nest egg, usually in a 529 plan.
When their grandchildren get older, my clients will often pose the question of how to help them out without just giving them money directly. Below is a typical conversation. Loving parents can be interchanged with loving grandparents with the same effect.
Client: Eric, our wonderful 20-year-old granddaughter just finished her second year of college and is doing very well. We are so proud of her. We want to help put her in a better financial position for after college, but her parents do not want us to spoil her. Is there anything we can do for her?
Eric: Does she have a summer job or work while at school?
Client: Yes, she is working at a local nursery tending the plants over the summer. She loves the job as she is a biology major.
Eric: Great! One way you could help her is to fund a Roth IRA for her.
Client: Really?! She can have a Roth IRA?
Eric: Yes. Since she has earned income, she can contribute to a Roth IRA.
Client: How much can she contribute?
Eric: She can contribute up to the amount of income she makes with a maximum of $6,000. Let’s say she makes $2,500 over the summer; she could contribute that amount to a Roth IRA.
Client: That is very interesting. Why would she want a Roth IRA?
Eric: There are a lot of reasons, but the big one is that she will have an account that will grow tax free; and by starting at such a young age, she will have extra years for it to grow until her retirement.
Client: I don’t think many 20-year-old kids these days are really that interested in retirement accounts.
Eric: That’s true, but I like to show the miracle that is compound interest and how small deposits made now can turn into large amounts of money in 45 years at retirement. If your granddaughter were to invest $3,000 for the next five years and earn 7% interest until age 65, she would have over $387,000.
Client: That’s amazing! But still, thinking about retirement is a difficult concept for young people.
Eric: True. Another great aspect of a Roth IRA is that it can help with a first-time purchase of a home. There are certain rules in place to allow contributions, including up to an additional $10,000 of a Roth, to be used for the first-time purchase of a home. A Roth account has a great amount of flexibility.
Client: That is wonderful!
Eric: I have helped many grandparents with making contributions to their grandchildren’s Roth IRAs. Some grandparents will match the contributions their grandchild makes to their Roth IRA to incentivize them to save money. Others will just make the entire contribution as a reward for working a part-time job. Either way, the grandchild will benefit. It ends up being a wonderful legacy that can be used by the grandchild to further their financial situation. Also, it can teach them the benefits of saving money. When they start careers down the road and can fund their 401k, they will have already experienced the benefits, and the education and experience can put them on a great path to financial security. I have received rave reviews from people who have put one of these plans into motion and have seen the benefits.
Client: What about her brother who is 16 years old and working at a grocery store?
Eric: Even better—more time to grow, although an adult will have to act as custodian on the Roth IRA until the age of majority.
Client: How do we get started?
Talk to your Merriman Wealth Advisor if you are interested in looking at Roth IRA options for your children or grandchildren. We can help with the custodial set up and investment recommendations.
Disclosure: The material is presented solely for information purposes and has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, however Merriman cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of such information, and certain information presented here may have been condensed or summarized from its original source. Merriman does not provide tax, legal or accounting advice, and nothing contained in these materials should be relied upon as such. Nothing in this presentation in intended to serve as personalized investment, tax, or insurance advice, as such advice depends on your individual facts and circumstances. Advisory services are only offered to clients or prospective clients where Merriman and its representatives are properly licensed or exempt from licensure. No advice may be rendered by Merriman unless a client service agreement is in place.
Following the stock market decline early in 2020, Congress passed the CARES Act on March 27, providing relief for individuals and businesses impacted by the pandemic. One of the provisions was a suspension of 2020 Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs). Individuals who hadn’t taken a distribution yet were no longer required to do so.
For individuals who took a distribution early in 2020, they were given the opportunity to “undo” part or all of that distribution by returning funds to their IRA by August 31, 2020.
Tax Forms for IRA Rollovers
Some taxpayers who took advantage of this rollover to undo that RMD may be surprised to get tax forms reporting the withdrawal.
Example 1: Kendra turned 75 in 2020 and had a $30,000 RMD at the start of the year. She took her distribution on February 1, 2020, with 10% tax withholding ($27,000 net distribution and $3,000 for taxes). She didn’t “need” the distribution as Social Security and other income covered her entire cost of living. Because she didn’t need the money, she returned the full $30,000 to her IRA on June 15, 2020.
In January 2021, Kendra was surprised to receive a Form 1099-R since she returned the entire amount and knew she shouldn’t owe taxes on it. The Form 1099-R reported a $30,000 distribution from her IRA in Box 1 and $3,000 in Box 4 for tax withholding. Box 7 reports code 7 for a “normal distribution.”
How to Report the 2020 Rollover
Since Kendra returned the entire $30,000 withdrawal listed on her tax return, it won’t be included in her taxable income. However, she will need to report both the withdrawal and the rollover on her tax return.
In her case, the full $30,000 will be reported on line 4a of Form 1040, with $0 reported on Line 4b. She will also write “Rollover” next to line 4b. In her case, the $3,000 that was withheld for taxes will still be reported with other tax withholding and will impact her ultimate refund or balance due.
How to Report a Partial Rollover
Example 2: Jane turned 76 in 2020. She also had a $30,000 distribution that she took on February 1, 2020, with 10% tax withholding ($27,000 net after $3,000 for taxes). On June 15, 2020, she returned $12,000 to her IRA instead of the full $30,000.
In January 2021, she received a 1099-R that also reported a $30,000 distribution from her IRA in Box 1 and $3,000 in Box 4 for tax withholding. Box 7 reports Code 7 for a “normal distribution.”
In Jane’s case, she will also report the full $30,000 on line 4a. She will report $18,000 on line 4b ($30,000 original distribution minus $12,000 returned to her IRA in 2020). She will also write “Rollover” next to line 4b. The $3,000 withheld for taxes will still be reported with other tax withholding as usual.
Taxpayers who returned some or all of their distribution in 2020 will receive Form 5498. They likely will not receive this form until May 2021—after the April 15 tax filing deadline. This form will be used to report the amount returned to the retirement account in 2020 and verify the rollover reported on the 2020 tax return. The taxpayer does not need to wait (and should not wait) for the Form 5498 before filing their taxes. This is simply an information form so the IRS can verify what was reported on the tax return.
Exception from the Usual Rule
It’s important to remember that all of these rollovers are a one-time exception in 2020 from the usual rule. Typically, this type of rollover can only be done once per rolling 365-day period and must be completed within 60 days of taking the withdrawal. Also, RMDs are generally specifically prohibited from this type of rollover.
Individuals who returned RMDs in 2020 to avoid having to include the withdrawal in their taxable income will still receive a tax form showing the distribution and will have to report it on their tax return. When reported correctly, the amount returned will be excluded from their income as intended.
Disclosure: The material is presented solely for information purposes and has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, however Merriman cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of such information, and certain information presented here may have been condensed or summarized from its original source. Merriman does not provide tax, legal or accounting advice, and nothing contained in these materials should be relied upon as such.
Do you have a federal or local government pension? Don’t let the WEP or GPO surprise you. The Windfall Elimination Provision and Government Pension Offset, often called the WEP and GPO, are two rules that can leave you scratching your head. Not only do many people find these rules confusing, but they are also often completely overlooked, which may result in a big surprise when filing for Social Security benefits. Unfortunately, this is not one of those good surprises.
What are the WEP and GPO?
The WEP reduces a worker’s own Social Security benefit while the GPO reduces spousal and survivor benefits received from another’s work record, such as a spouse.
Who is affected?
The WEP and GPO affect individuals who qualify for a pension from non-covered (did not pay Social Security tax) employment. These are typically your federal and local government workers, such as teachers, police officers, and firefighters. Whether these jobs are non-covered will depend on the state/employer. Overseas employees may also fit under this category.
For the WEP to apply, the individual must have an additional job with covered earnings (did pay Social Security tax) that qualifies them for Social Security benefits. Thus, the WEP applies to those who have a mix of covered and non-covered employment. Specifically, they qualify for Social Security benefits and receive a non-covered pension. The GPO applies when an individual with a non-covered pension receives a spousal or survivor benefit. Are you scratching your head yet?
Dan works as a public school teacher in California, one of 15 states where teachers do not pay Social Security tax. He qualifies for a pension through the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS). To make extra money for his household, Dan works an additional job during the summer, where he does pay Social Security tax. By the end of his career, he has worked enough summers to qualify for a Social Security benefit. The WEP will reduce Dan’s benefit since he has both a non-covered pension from his career as a teacher and qualifies for Social Security benefits from his summer job.
How will the WEP affect my benefit?
Understanding the details of the WEP is quite complicated. To simplify, the WEP tweaks the Social Security benefit formula, resulting in a reduction of the worker’s Primary Insurance Amount (PIA). The PIA is the benefit amount one would receive at full retirement age. The amount reduced depends on the number of years with “substantial earnings” in covered employment. The Social Security Administration provides the WEP Chart as a reference to understand the potential benefit reductions based on the number of years of substantial earnings. The maximum monthly reduction is capped at $480 in 2020. The amount reduced stays constant for the first 20 years of substantial earnings before decreasing incrementally per year until it is completely eliminated upon reaching 30 years of substantial earnings.
This offers an incredible planning opportunity for those who have already accumulated a number of years of substantial earnings. If you are thinking of retiring and have accumulated 20 years of covered work, it could make a lot of sense to work for ten more years to eliminate the WEP completely. Remember, you only need to have substantial earnings, so part-time work would count as long as you make what is deemed “substantial” in that year. For someone subject to the full WEP reduction and assuming a 20-year retirement, it could be worth more than $100,000.
It is important to note that the reduction is limited to one-half of an individual’s non-covered pension. This primarily comes into play when the majority of an individual’s earnings are in covered employment but have a small non-covered pension. For example, if you had a pension of $600 per month and your Social Security benefit was $1,200 per month, your benefit will not be reduced by more than $300 (half of your pension income).
How will the GPO affect my benefit?
This rule is more straightforward to understand than the WEP. The GPO will reduce an individual’s spousal or survivor benefit by two-thirds of their non-covered pension benefit.
Sarah qualified for a pension of $2,100 per month from a government job. Her husband, Drew, worked as an engineer for a large corporation. Drew applied for his Social Security benefit at his full retirement age and receives $2,600 per month. Sarah applies for a spousal benefit once she reaches full retirement age. This benefit would generally be $1,300 (50% of her spouse’s); however, the benefit is reduced by two-thirds of her non-covered pension. In this case, she would not receive anything since two-thirds of her pension ($1,400) is greater than what her spousal benefit would be.
Let’s say Drew passed away unexpectedly. Sarah would normally qualify for a survivor benefit equal to Drew’s entire benefit of $2,600. Because of the GPO, she will only receive $1,200 since the benefit would first be reduced by two-thirds of her pension ($2,600 – $1,400).
Keep in mind the GPO only applies to the individual’s own non-covered work. If a surviving spouse is a beneficiary of a non-covered pension, their Social Security benefits will not be reduced.
These rules are tricky to navigate and important to understand for those affected. What makes it worse is that your Social Security statement will not reflect the reduction in benefits from the WEP and GPO. This means it requires work and effort on your part to figure out! The Social Security Administration has provided an online WEP and GPO calculator to help with this. It will ask for a birthdate, non-covered pension benefit amounts, and other relevant information to calculate your new benefit factoring in the rule. If you have a family member or friend with a non-covered pension, they may be subject to these two rules. Please forward this on to them or anyone else who may find it useful.
The Tax Cut and Jobs Act (TCJA) passed at the end of 2017, and the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act (SECURE) passed at the end of 2019. These both made significant changes to annual tax-planning strategies.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the CARES Act relief package that followed created a new layer of complexity. Unfortunately, many taxpayers miss opportunities for significant tax savings.
Here are six moves to consider making before the end of the year to potentially lower your taxes both this year and in years to come.
Take the Standard Deduction Later. The new tax rules nearly doubled the standard deduction and eliminated many write-offs, limiting the benefit of itemizing deductions for most taxpayers. However, you can optimize your deductions by “bunching” itemized deductions in a single year to get over the standard deduction threshold and then by taking the standard deduction in the following year.
Example: Instead of giving $10,000 to charity annually (which will likely leave you with the standard deduction anyway), gift $50,000 every 5 years. This will give you a greater tax benefit in the first year while still claiming the standard deduction in the other years to maximize tax savings.
Pre-Pay Your Medical Expenses. Have major medical-related expenses coming up? You can potentially maximize the tax deduction by paying out-of-pocket medical expenses in a single calendar year—either by pushing payments out to the next year or pulling later expenses into this year.
A surprising number of medical expenses qualify, including unreimbursed doctor fees, long-term-care premiums, certain Medicare plans, and some home modifications.
Note: Medical expenses are an itemized deduction, so this strategy may be best used with the “bunching” strategy described above, including possibly paying medical expenses in a year you maximize charitable donations.
Give Money to Your Favorite Charity Right Now from Your IRA. If you’re over 70 ½, you can make up to $100,000 of annual Qualified Charitable Distributions (QCDs) directly from your IRA to a qualifying charity. Even better, for retirees who don’t need to take their Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) each year, these qualified charitable distributions count toward the RMD but don’t appear in taxable income.
Even though the CARES Act allowed RMDs to be skipped in 2020, you can still make a QCD this year.
Note: QCDs must be made by December 31 to count for this tax year.
Take Advantage of Years in a Lower Tax Bracket with a Roth Conversion. A Roth conversion can permanently lower your taxable income in retirement by converting tax-deferred assets (IRA / 401k) into tax-free assets in a Roth account. It is best to do this in years where you are in a lower tax bracket than you expect to be in the future.
Example: If a taxpayer at age 63 is in the 12% tax bracket, then moving $10,000 from an IRA to a Roth account will owe an additional $1,200 in taxes. That same taxpayer at age 73 may be in the 24% tax bracket due to Social Security, pension, and RMD income they didn’t have at 62. Taking that same $10,000 from an IRA will now result an in additional $2,400 in taxes.
Optimize Your Investment Portfolio to Improve Expected After-Tax Return. Prior to the TCJA, you could write off some fees you pay for investment management. The TCJA did away with that deduction. There are still ways to pay fees with pre-tax dollars that may make sense depending on the types of accounts used.
Likewise, some investments will be more tax efficient, and other investments will be less tax efficient. Where possible, move the most tax-efficient investments into a taxable investment account and the least tax-efficient investments into a tax-advantaged retirement account. The goal is to determine an ideal overall allocation, even if each individual account has a slightly different allocation.
Both strategies above can potentially help maximize the after-tax return on investments.
Optimize Your Retirement Contributions. The most important step you can take right now to reduce your taxes this year may be to review how and where you’re making retirement contributions. You may be missing out on critical tax savings (and investment growth) if you’re not optimizing your contributions.
Potential retirement account strategies people often miss include Solo 401k for self-employed individuals, backdoor Roth contributions, or “mega” backdoor Roth contributions at certain large employers.
Everyone’s situation is different, and today’s retirement environment is complex. Working with a financial professional who coordinates with your CPA can help ensure you’re not missing any opportunities to optimize your portfolio and pay less in taxes.