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Back Door Roth IRA Rules and Steps

A pug puppy sadly starting at it's owner as the other puppies sit together with the text "Roth IRAs Are for High-Income Earners, Too"Roth IRAs can be established and funded for high-income earners by using what is known as the “back door” Roth IRA contribution method. Many high-income earners believe that they can’t contribute to a Roth IRA because they make too much money and/or because they participate in a company 401k plan. Fortunately, this thinking is wrong. While direct contributions to a Roth IRA are limited to taxpayers with income in excess of $137,000 ($206,000 for married taxpayers, 2020), those whose income exceeds these amounts may make annual contributions to a non-deductible traditional IRA and then convert those amounts over to a Roth IRA.

Examples

Here’s a few examples of earners who can establish and fund a Roth IRA.

  1. I’m a high-income earner and work for a company who offers a company 401(k) plan. I contribute the maximum amount to that plan each year. Can I establish and fund a Roth IRA? Yes, even though you are high-income and even though you participate in a company 401(k) plan, you can establish and fund a Roth IRA.
  2. I’m self-employed and earn over $206,000 a year; can I have a Roth IRA? Isn’t my income too high? Yes, you can contribute to a Roth IRA despite having income that exceeds the Roth IRA income contribution limits of $206,000 for married taxpayers and $137,000 for single taxpayers.

The Process

The strategy used by high-income earners to make Roth IRA contributions involves the making of non-deductible contributions to a traditional IRA and then converting those funds in the non-deductible traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. This is often times referred to as a “back door” Roth IRA. In the end, you don’t get a tax deduction in the amounts contributed, but the funds are held in a Roth IRA and grow, then come out tax-free upon retirement (just like a Roth IRA). Here’s how it works.

Step 1: Fund a new non-deductible traditional IRA

This IRA is “non-deductible” because high-income earners who participate in a company retirement plan (or who have a spouse who does) can’t also make “deductible” contributions to an IRA. The account can, however, be funded by non-deductible amounts up to the IRA annual contribution amounts of $6,000. The non-deductible contributions mean you don’t get a tax deduction on the amounts contributed to the traditional IRA. You don’t have to worry about having non-deductible contributions as you’re converting to a Roth IRA, so you don’t want a deduction for the funds contributed. If you did get a deduction for the contribution, you’d have to pay taxes on the amounts later converted to Roth. You’ll need to file IRS form 8606 for the tax year in which you make non-deductible IRA contributions. The form can be found here.

If you’re a high-income earner and you don’t have a company based retirement plan (or a spouse with one), then you simply establish a standard deductible traditional IRA, as there is no high-income contribution limitation on traditional IRAs when you don’t participate in a company plan.

Step 2: Convert the non-deductible traditional IRA funds to a Roth IRA

In 2010, the limitations on Roth IRA conversions, which previously restricted Roth IRA conversions for high-income earners, was removed. As a result, since 2010 all taxpayers are able to covert traditional IRA funds to Roth IRAs. It was in 2010 that this back door Roth IRA contribution strategy was first utilized, as it relied on the ability to convert funds from traditional to Roth. It has been used by thousands of Americans since.

If you have other existing traditional IRAs, then the tax treatment of your conversion to Roth becomes a little more complicated, as you must take into account those existing IRA funds when undertaking a conversion (including SEPs and SIMPLE IRAs). If the only IRA you have is the non-deductible IRA, then the conversion is easy because you convert the entire non-deductible IRA amount over to Roth with no tax on the conversion. Remember, you didn’t get a deduction into the non-deductible traditional IRA so there is not tax to apply on conversions. On the other hand, if you have an existing IRA with say $95,000 in it and you have $5,000 in non-deductible traditional IRA contributions in another account that you wish to convert to Roth, then the IRS requires you to covert over your IRA funds in equal parts deductible (the $95K bucket) and non-deductible amounts (the new $5K) based on the money you have in all traditional IRAs. So, if you wanted to convert $10,000, then you’d have to convert $9,500 (95%) of your deductible bucket, which portion of conversion is subject to tax, and $500 of your non-deductible bucket, which isn’t subject to tax once converted. Consequently, the “back door” Roth IRA isn’t well suited when you have existing traditional IRAs that contain deductible contributions and earnings from those sums.

There are two work-arounds to this Roth IRA conversion problem and both revolve around moving the existing traditional IRA funds into a 401(k) or other employer based plan. Employer plan funds are not considered when determining what portions of the traditional IRAs are subject to tax on conversion (the deductible AND the non-deductible). If you participate in an existing company 401(k) plan, then you may roll over your traditional IRA funds into that 401(k) plan. Most 401(k) plans allow for this rollover from IRA to 401(k) so long as you are still employed by that company. If you are self-employed, you may establish a solo or owner only 401(k) plan and you can roll over your traditional IRA dollars into this 401(k). In the end though, if you can’t roll out existing traditional IRA funds into a 401(k), then the “back door” Roth IRA is going to cause some tax repercussions, as you also have to convert a portion of the existing traditional IRA funds, which will cause taxes upon conversion. Taxes on conversion aren’t “the end of the world” though as all of the money that comes out of that traditional IRA would be subject to tax at some point in time. The only issue is it causes a big tax bill initially, so careful planning must be taken.

The bottom line is that Roth IRAs can be established and funded by high-income earners. Don’t consider yourself “left out” on one of the greatest tax strategies offered to Americans: the Roth IRA.

Mat has been at the forefront of the self-directed IRA industry since 2006. He is the CEO of Directed IRA & Directed Trust Company where they handle all types of self-directed accounts (IRAs, Roth IRAs, HSAs, Coverdell ESA, Solo Ks, and Custodial Accounts) which are typically invested into real estate, private company/private equity, IRA/LLCs, notes, precious metals, and cryptocurrency. Mat is also a partner at KKOS Lawyers and serves clients nationwide from its Phoenix, AZ office.

He is published regularly on retirement, tax, and business topics, and is a VIP Contributor at Entrepreneur.com. Mat is the best-selling author of the most widely used book in the self-directed IRA industry, The Self-Directed IRA Handbook: An Authoritative Guide for Self-Directed Retirement Plan Investors and Their Advisors.

Buying a Retirement Home With Your Self-Directed IRA

One hand holding a pair of keys to the right of another hand with its palm opened upwards.A common self-directed IRA question is, “Can I buy a future retirement home with my IRA?” Yes, you can buy a future retirement home with your IRA, but you need to understand the rules and drawbacks before doing so. First, keep in mind that IRAs can only hold investments and you cannot go buy a residence or second home with your IRA for personal use. However, you can buy an investment property with a self-directed IRA (aka “SDIRA”) that you later distribute from your IRA to your self personally then begin to personally use.

 

The strategy essentially works in two phases. First, the IRA purchases the property and owns it as an investment until the IRA owner decides to retire. You’ll need to use a SDIRA for this type of investment. Second, upon retirement of the IRA owner (after age 59 ½), the IRA owner distributes the property via a title transfer from the SDIRA to the IRA owner personally and now the IRA owner may use it and benefit from it personally as the asset is outside the IRA. Before proceeding down this path, an SDIRA owner should consider a couple of key issues.

Avoid Prohibited Transactions

The prohibited transaction rules found in IRC Section 4975, which apply to all IRA investments, do not allow the IRA owner or certain family members to have any use or benefit from the property while it is owned by the IRA. The IRA must hold the property strictly for investment. The property may be leased to unrelated third parties, but it cannot be leased or used by the IRA owner or prohibited family members (e.g., spouse, kids, parents, etc.). Only after the property has been distributed from the self-directed IRA to the IRA owner may the IRA owner or family members reside at or benefit from the property.

Distribute the Property Fully Before Personal Use

The property must be distributed from the IRA to the IRA owner before the IRA owner or his/her family may use the property. Distribution of the property from the IRA to the IRA owner is called an “in-kind” distribution, and results in taxes due for traditional IRAs. For traditional IRAs, the custodian of the IRA will require a professional appraisal of the property before allowing the property to be distributed to the IRA owner. The fair market value of the property is then used to set the value of the distribution. For example, if my IRA owned a future retirement home that was appraised at $250,000, upon distribution of this property from my IRA (after age 59 ½) I would receive a 1099-R for $250,000 issued from my IRA custodian to me personally.

Because the tax burden upon distribution can be significant, this strategy is not one without its drawbacks. Some owners will instead take partial distributions of the property over time, holding a portion of the property personally and a portion still in the IRA to spread out the tax consequences of distribution. This can be burdensome though, as it requires appraisals each year to set the fair market valuation when you take a distribution of the property (which is done at fair market value). While this can lessen the tax burden by keeping the IRA owner in lower tax brackets, the IRA owner and his/her family still cannot personally use or benefit from the property until it is entirely distributed from the IRA. Many investors will use an IRA/LLC and will transfer the LLC ownership over time from the IRA to the IRA owner to accomplish distribution.

For Roth IRAs, the distribution of the property will not be taxable as qualified Roth IRA distributions are not subject to tax. For an extensive discussion of the tax consequences of distribution, please refer to IRS Publication 590-B.

Additionally, keep in mind that the IRA owners should wait until after he/she turns 59 ½ before taking the property as a distribution, as there is an early withdrawal penalty of 10% for distributions before age 59 ½.

As stated at the outset of this article, while the strategy is possible, it is not for everyone and certainly is not the easiest to accomplish. As a result, before purchasing a future retirement home with your IRA, self-directed investors should make sure they understand that they cannot have personal use while the property is owned by the IRA and that there are taxes due from traditional accounts when you later take the property as a distribution.