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.
Here’s a few examples of earners who can establish and fund a Roth IRA.
- 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.
- 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 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 the amounts contributed but the funds are held in a Roth IRA and grow and come at 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. Don’t worry about having non-deductible contributions though 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 you non-deductible bucket, which isn’t subject to tax upon 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 as 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 allows 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 now 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.
A SEP IRA is a powerful retirement account used by many self-employed persons and business owners. It is particularly attractive as you can contribute up to $56,000 into it annually. That’s in comparison to a Traditional IRA, where you can only contribute up to $6,000 a year. “But what if I have employees? If I have employees in my business do I need to offer then plan and contribute for them?” The answer is “yes” and “no,” as it depends on your employees. The devil’s – or perhaps we should say loopholes – in the details.
Keep in mind that the money contributed to a SEP IRA is an “employer contribution.” This means that the money comes from the company and is set at a maximum of 25% of the employee’s wage. So, if you are the only employee and you make $100,000 that year, the company can contribute $25,000 to the SEP IRA. For a business owner with no employees, it doesn’t really make a difference whether you pay into the SEP IRA from your company’s account or from your personal account as its all effectively your money in the end.
However, once you have employees, you are required to offer the same SEP IRA and same employer contribution to them that you offer to yourself. Now, you will likely care whether that money comes from the employee’s wages or from the company’s account. So, let’s say you had an S-Corporation and had a W-2 of $100,000, and you had one employee who had a W-2 of $40,000. The company would contribute $25,000 to your SEP IRA account (if doing the 25% max rate) and would also contribute $10,000 to the employee’s SEP IRA. While you, as the business owner, may be excited about contributing $25,000 into your own SEP IRA from the company’s funds, you may be less excited about contributing $10,000 to an employee’s SEP IRA account from the company’s funds. But, this is what’s required if the employee is eligible.
Employee Eligibility Loophole and Flexibility
The good news is that you only need to offer the SEP IRA to “eligible employees,” and you can make employees “ineligible” if they have not worked for you for 3 years out of the prior 5 years (see IRS SEP IRA FAQs). In other words, until someone has worked for the company for at least 3 years, you do not need to offer the SEP IRA to them. For many small businesses, self-employed persons and new companies, a SEP IRA can be an excellent choice for the business owner as they may be the only eligible person who has worked for the company for 3 years. You can also restrict eligibility if an employee has not yet turned 21. This 3 year employee eligibility rule under a SEP IRA is far superior to the 1 year employee eligibility rule that would apply when using a Solo K upon hiring employees.
Keep in mind that you are subject to the same eligibility rules. So, if this is a new company, then the strategy of offering the plan to yourself while restricting others doesn’t work so well. But, as is usually the case, if you have worked the business for years before having an employee, then you can set the work year requirement to make yourself eligible while setting it out up to 3 years for any employees.
If an employee has worked 3 out of the prior 5 years and is now eligible, the business owner can decide to cease the SEP IRA plan (and their own contributions), and can instead move to a 401(k) or other more common retirement plan structure where the company is not required to offer such a generous employer contribution.
A SEP IRA can be self-directed and invested into real estate, LLCs, private stock, notes, and precious metals. Directed IRA establishes SEP IRA accounts for self-directed investors and you can set-up an account entirely online. Learn more now at www.directedira.com.
If you’ve inherited an IRA from a parent or another loved one, it is likely that you have a Inherited IRA (aka, Beneficiary IRA). These can be powerful accounts, but you need to understand the Required Minimum Distribution (“RMD”) rules for your Inherited IRA to properly utilize it. The inherited IRA may be a Traditional or Roth IRA, and there are three different distribution options you may elect when you inherit the IRA. These distribution options dictate how you can invest the account. Please note that if you inherit an account from a spouse, you can just do a spousal rollover and consider the account as yours. This article is for those inheriting an IRA from a non-spouse.
You will have three distribution options upon the death of your loved one to receive the funds from their IRA. In general, the best option is the “Life Expectancy Method” as it allows you to delay the withdrawal of funds from the IRA, and allows the money invested to grow tax-deferred (Traditional) or tax-free (Roth). The three options are outlined fully below:
The first option is to simply take a lump-sum and be taxed on the full distribution. There is no 10% early withdrawal penalty (regardless of your age or the deceased owner), but you are taxed on the amount distributed if it is a Traditional IRA. You’re also giving up the tax-deferred (Traditional) or tax-free (Roth) benefits of the account. Don’t take this option. It’s the worst tax and financial option you have.
Life Expectancy Method – Stretch IRA
The Life Expectancy Method is the best option. Under this option, you take distributions from the inherited IRA over your lifetime based on the value of the account. These distributions are required for Traditional IRAs and even for inherited Roth IRAs. For example, if you inherited a $100,000 IRA at age 50, you would have to take about $3,000 a year as a required minimum distribution each year and the rest can stay invested. The RMD amount changes each year as you age and as the account value grows or decreases. There is no 10% early withdrawal penalty when you pull money out of the account regardless of your age. Traditional Inherited IRA distributions are taxable to the Beneficiary while Roth IRA distributions are tax-free. And yes, Inherited Roth IRAs are subject to RMD even though there is no RMD for regular Roth IRAs.
There is pending legislation which the House has passed, but the Senate has sat on, which would limit the ability to stretch the IRA out to a maximum of 10 years. Even if that legislation passes, the Stretch IRA will be a good option to at least continue the tax benefits of the inherited IRA for 10 years.
This option is available to all inherited Roth accounts, but is only available to inherited Traditional IRAs where the deceased account owner was under age 70 1/2 at the date of their death. Under this option, the Inherited IRA is not subject to RMD. However, it must be fully distributed by December 31st of the fifth year following the year of the account owner’s death. There is no 10% early withdrawal penalty, and distributions are subject to tax. Again, this option is only available to Traditional accounts.
Investing with a Self-Directed Inherited IRA
Yes, you can self-direct your Inherited IRA (aka, beneficiary IRA). Before you do, make sure you understand the amount of funds you’ll need to take as an RMD, and that you will have available cash in the account to cover those RMDs. As I described above, assume you are 50 and inherited a Inherited IRA for $100,000. You will need to take annual distributions of around $3,000. So, if you invest all of the $100,000 into an illiquid asset, then you will be unable to take RMDs and you will force the IRA account to pay stiff penalties. Consequently, when making a self-directed investment from a Inherited IRA, you must take into account the amount of the investment, the total value of the account, and the timeline of the investment (when will it generate cash back to the IRA). If you inherited the $100,000 account above, you may decide to only invest $70,000 of the Inherited IRA into an illiquid investment (e.g. real estate or private company), while leaving the other $30,000 to be invested into liquid investments like publicly-traded stocks, CDs, cash or mutual funds. This will leave funds available for RMD until such time as the illiquid investment generates income or is sold for profit.
Stretching out the benefits of an inherited IRA can be powerful, but make sure you plan for RMDs before you make any self-directed investments from your Inherited IRA.
Self-directed Inherited IRA accounts can be set-up at Directed IRA in as little as five minutes on-line at www.directedira.com.
Kids are going back to school and it’s a great time to think about college and to make financial plans for your children or grandchildren’s education. As you consider the different plan options, you’ll want to make sure you know the two most common tax favored college savings tools.
There are two types of accounts that you can establish to save for higher education expenses in a tax favorable manner. These two types of accounts are Coverdell Education Savings Accounts and 529 Plan accounts.
The first type of account is known as a Coverdell Education Savings Account. A Coverdell account is typically set up for the higher education expenses of a child. The contributed funds grow in the account tax deferred and the money comes out for education expenses tax free. There is no tax deduction for amounts contributed to a Coverdell but you do have significant investment options including self-directed investment options (similar to IRA rules). A Coverdell has the following rules and benefits.
- $2,000 annual contribution limit per beneficiary (e.g. child or grandchild).
- Parents (or grandparents) can contribute without limitations to a Coverdell until a beneficiary reaches age 18 if the contributor has income of less than $190k (married joint) or $110,000 (single). For high-income earners, keep in mind that the child can always contribute to their own account with gifted funds (no need to have earned income) so you can always get around the income limitation by having the child contribute themselves.
- Funds can be used for tuition, fees, books, and equipment for college as well as certain K-12 expenses too.
- There are zero federal or state income tax deductions on Coverdell accounts.
- Accounts can be invested into stocks, mutual funds, and can even be self-directed. They operate similar to an IRA. Self-directed Coverdell accounts can be opened at Directed IRA, www.directedira.com.
- Contributions grow tax-free and can be withdrawn for education expenses until the account beneficiary reaches age 30. Unused amounts can be transferred to another family member beneficiary.
The second type of account is a 529 Plan account. Contributions to 529 Plan accounts can be eligible for a state income tax deduction (depending on the state). Money contributed to a 529 Plan account is invested into a state managed fund. A 529 has the following rules and benefits.
- Amounts are invested into a state run program.
- Amounts can be withdrawn for tuition, fees, books, supplies, equipment, special needs, room and board.
- Up to a few hundred thousand dollars can be invested per beneficiary by any person.
- There are no federal tax deductions or credits for contributions.
- Many states offer tax deductions for contributions to 529 Plan accounts. For example, Arizona offers a $4,000 tax deduction for married tax filers and a $2,000 deduction for single filers. Thirty-five states offer some type of state income tax deduction for 529 Plan contributions. However, there are some states, like California, who offer no tax deduction for contributions to 529 Plan accounts. Click here to see a comprehensive list that outlines the different state funds and tax deductions (or credits for some states).
- Downside, invested amounts must be invested solely into state run programs. There are no other investment options.
In summary, Coverdell accounts have the benefit of allowing account owner’s to decide how the money will be invested with zero tax deductions available on contributions while 529 Plan accounts give you zero investment options (all funds go to state run fund) but offer state income tax deductions in most states.
If you live in a state that offers a tax deduction on contributions, such as Arizona, then the 529 Plan account is a great option if you can stomach having the money go into a state run fund. On the other hand, if you live in a state with zero income tax (e.g. Texas or Florida) or if you live in state with zero 529 Plan deductions (e.g. California) then you might as well use a Coverdell account because you’re not trading any tax deductions for investment options. For those who can’t make up their mind and who have the funds, consider doing both but do the Coverdell first. There is no restriction against doing a Coverdell account (no tax deductions, but investment options) and a 529 Plan account (possible state tax deductions but no investment options).
HSAs (“Health Savings Accounts”) are growing in popularity as Americans are discovering significant tax savings with these accounts. Why are they popular? There are many reasons why; some well known and others not so well known.
Let’s start with the primary benefits that are generally well known:
First, contributions to an HSA are fully deductible regardless of your income, and there is no high-income phase-out. The deduction also applies whether you itemize on your tax return or not, so everyone gets to use it. This isn’t the case for other major deductions like charitable contributions or mortgage interest, which only apply if you itemize on your tax return and itemizing is getting less common after tax reform that was enacted in late 2017. The other commonly known benefit of the HSA is that it can grow from the investments tax-free and comes out entirely tax-free to pay for or to reimburse the account owner for their qualifying medical expenses. For a quick summary of the basics and for qualifying rules, check out my partner Mark J. Kohler’s article here.
Now, lets discuss the additional benefits of an HSA that aren’t as well known:
You don’t need earned income to contribute to an HSA
Contrary to retirement plan rules for IRAs and 401(k)s, which require you to have earned income (i.e. wage, self-employment income) to contribute, you do not need to have earned income to contribute to an HSA. You can make the contribution from any source and that contribution will be a deduction against other income on your tax return (i.e. rental income, investment income, etc.).
Your spouse can inherit your HSA with no tax due
If you’ve built up an HSA that you don’t end up using, you can pass the HSA on to your spouse. A spouse can inherit the HSA and can transfer it over to an HSA in their name. The surviving spouse can then use the funds for their qualifying medical expenses during their lifetime. If the account is inherited by a non-spouse beneficiary, then the account is considered fully taxable to the person receiving the account. Non-spouse beneficiaries (i.e. children) are allowed to use the account to pay for the deceased account owner’s qualifying medical expenses for up to one year of the date of death as medical bills and expenses are determined, and then any remaining balance is distributed to the non-spouse beneficiaries and is subject to taxation.
You can self-direct your HSA and invest it into real estate or other alternative assets
Many HSA account owners just let their HSA funds sit in a savings account or they invest into mutual funds. Some place their HSA funds into a brokerage account,and buy and sell stock. And others are investing them into real estate, private LLCs, precious metals, private equity, venture capital or start-ups. Like a self-directed IRA, an HSA can be invested into all of these alternative assets and are subject to the same prohibited transaction rules and UBTI tax as IRAs and other accounts. We’ve been advising clients for years on how to self-direct their HSA and are now helping clients establish self-directed HSA accounts at Directed IRA & Directed Trust Company. We’ve seen account holders invest them into private placements, real estate, and into HSA-owned LLCs.
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.