Back Door Roth IRA Rules and Steps

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 401(k) plan. Fortunately, this isn’t true.

While direct contributions to a Roth IRA are limited to taxpayers with income in excess of $120,000 ($189,000 for married taxpayers), 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. Our IRA company – Directed IRA – can help those who want a self-directed “back door” Roth IRA, but the strategy can be done with almost anyone who wants 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. You just have to use the “back door” method.
  2. “I’m self-employed and earn over $200,000 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 $189,000 for married taxpayers and $120,000 for single taxpayers. You just have to use the “back door” method.

The Process

The strategy used by high-income earners to make Roth IRA contributions involves the deposit 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 on the amounts contributed, but the funds are held in a Roth IRA and are 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 has a spouse who does) can’t also make “deductible” contributions to an IRA. However, the account can be funded by non-deductible amounts up to the IRA annual contribution amounts of $5,500 for 2018 ($6,000 for 2019 and forward). 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 made the 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 limit 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, all taxpayers are able to covert traditional IRA funds to Roth IRAs since 2010. 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 tens of 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 SEP 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 $95,000, 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 convert 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 workarounds 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 rollover 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 rollover your Traditional IRA 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, so plan carefully.

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.

Fact and Fiction for IRA RMDs

Image of one thumb up next to another thumb down with the text "Fact and Fiction for IRA RMDs."If you are age 70 1/2 or older and if you have a traditional IRA (or SEP or SIMPLE IRA or 401k), you must take your 2015 required minimum distributions (“RMD”) by December 31, 2015. In short, the RMD rules require you to distribute a portion of funds from your retirement account to yourself personally. These distributed funds are subject to tax and need to be included on your personal tax return. Let’s take an example to illustrate how the rule works. Sally is 72 and is required to take RMD each year. She has an IRA with $250,000 in it. According to the distribution rules, see IRS Publication 590, she will need to distribute $9,765 by the end of the year. This equates to about 4% of her account value. Next year, she will re-calculate this annual distribution amount based on the accounts value and her age. Once you know how to calculate the RMD, determining the distribution amount is relatively easy. However, the rules of when RMD applies and to what accounts can be confusing. To help sort out the confusion, I have outlined some facts and fiction that every retirement account owner should know about RMDs. First, let’s cover the facts. Then, we’ll tackle the fiction.

Fact

  1. No RMD for Roth IRAs: Roth IRAs are exempt from RMDs. Even if you are 70/12 or older, you’re not required to take distributions from your Roth IRA. Why is that? Because there is no tax due when you take a distribution from your Roth IRA. As a result, the government doesn’t really care whether you distribute the funds or not as they don’t receive any tax revenue.
  2. RMD Can Be Taken From One IRA to Satisfy RMD for All IRAs: While each account will have an RMD amount to be distributed, you can total those amounts and can satisfy that total amount from one IRA. It is up to you. So, for example, if you have a self directed IRA with a property you don’t want to sell to pay RMD and a brokerage IRA with stock you want to sell to pay RMD, then you can sell the stock in the brokerage IRA and use those funds to satisfy the RMD for both IRAs. You can’t combine RMD though for 401(k) and IRA accounts. Only IRA to IRA or 401(k) to 401(k).
  3. 50% Excise Tax Penalty: There is a 50% excise tax penalty on the amount you failed to take as RMD. So, for example, if you should’ve taken $10,000 as RMD, but failed to do so, you will be subject to a $5,000 excise tax penalty. Check back next month where I will summarize some measures and relief procedures you can take if you failed to take required RMD.
  4. 401(k) Account Holder Still Working for 401(k) Employer: If you have a 401(k) with a current employer and if you are still working for that employer, you can delay RMD for as long as you are still working at that employer. This exception doesn’t apply to former employer 401(k) accounts even if you are otherwise employed.

Fiction

  1. RMD Due by End of Year: You can make 2015 RMD payments until the tax return deadline of April 15, 2016. Wrong! While you can make 2015 IRA contributions up until the tax return deadline of April 15, 2016, RMD distributions must be done by December 31, 2015.
  2. Roth 401(k)s are Subject to RMDs: While Roth IRAs and Roth 401(k)s are both tax-free accounts, the RMD rules apply differently. As I stated above, Roth IRAs are exempt from RMD rules. However, Roth 401(k) owners are required to take RMD. Keep in mind, you could roll your Roth 401(k) to a Roth IRA and thereby you would avoid having to take RMD but if you keep the account as a Roth 401(k) then you will be required to start taking RMD at age 70 ½. The distributions will not be subject to tax but they will start the slow process of removing funds from the tax-free account.
  3. RMD Must Be Taken In Cash: False. Required Minimum distributions may be satisfied by taking cash distributions or by taking a distribution of assets in kind. While a cash distribution is the easiest method to take RMD, you may also satisfy RMD by distributing assets in kind. This may be stock or real estate or other assets that you don’t want to sell or that you cannot sell. This doesn’t occur often but some self directed IRA owners will end up holding an asset they don’t want to sell because of current market conditions (e.g. real estate) and they decide to take distributions of portions of the real estate in-kind in order to satisfy RMD. This process is complicated and requires an appraisal of the asset(s) being distributed and partial deed transfers (or partial LLC membership interest transfers, if the IRA owns an LLC and the LLC owns the real estate) from the IRA to the IRA owner. While this isn’t the recommended course to satisfy RMD, it is a potential solution to IRA owners who are holding an asset, who have no other IRA funds to distribute for RMD, and who wish to only take a portion of the asset to satisfy their annual RMD.

The RMD rules are complicated and it is easy to make a mistake. Keep in mind that once you know how the RMD rules apply in your situation it is generally going to apply in the same manner every year thereafter with only some new calculations based on your age and account balances each year thereafter.

Click here for a nice summary of the RMD rules from the IRS.

When is a Business Partner a Disqualified Person to My Self-Directed IRA?

Image of a blank disqualified persons chart by Mat Sorensen with the text "When is a Business Partner a Disqualified Person to My Self-Directed IRA."Most self directed IRA owners know that their self directed IRA cannot conduct transactions with themselves or certain family members (e.g. spouse, kids, parents, etc.). Most self directed IRA owners also know that their self directed IRA cannot do business with a company they own or that their disqualified family members own 50% or more of. However, one of the most confusing areas of the prohibited transaction rules are the prohibited transaction rules which apply to business partners or officers, directors, and/or highly compensated employees of companies the IRA owner or family members are personally involved in. For example, what if I own a business with a partner? Can my IRA enter into a transaction with that business partner if we aren’t family? Well, it depends.

Disqualified Person Analysis

To analyze the rules you first need to determine whether the company in which the business partner (or officer, or director) is involved in is a company that is owned 50% or more by the IRA owner or their disqualified family members. IRC 4975 (e)(2)(E),(H), (I). So, for example, if my wife and I owned 60% of the business and our partner owned 40% of the business, then this company would be owned 50% or more by disqualified persons.

Once we know that the company is owned 50% or more by disqualified persons, we need to identify all of the officers, directors, highly compensated employees, and 10 % or more owners of that company. In sum, all of these persons are disqualified to the IRAs of the 50% or more owners. In the example above, since my business partner owned 40% of the company, he is a 10% or more owner and as a result he is a disqualified person to my IRA (since my wife and I own 50% or more of the company).

Let’s look at another example. Say that I am a 35% owner of a business with a few other partners who are not disqualified family members to me.  Since I do not own 50% or more of this company, it doesn’t matter who the other partners, officers, or directors, are, as they are not disqualified to my IRA as part of this rule since my ownership (and that of my disqualified family members) is below 50%.

As a final example, let’s say that I own 70% of a company and that I have a partner who owns 5%. Under the rule, my partner or fellow shareholder does not have 10% or greater ownership and as a result they are not disqualified to my IRA. However, if that 5% owner was the President of my company then they would be a disqualified person.

These rules can be tough to understand when you read the code, but if you take the two step analysis you can easily determine what partners, officer, directors, or highly compensated employees are disqualified to your IRA.

Here’s also a quick summary of the rule from my book where I took the text of the tax code and put it into plain language.

Key Persons in Company Owned 50% or More by Disqualified Persons

An officer, director, or 10% or more shareholder, or highly compensated employee (earns 10% or more of the company’s wages) of a company owned by the IRA owner or other disqualified persons. IRC § 4975 (e)(2)(H).

Before investing with someone who is an officer, director, highly compensated employee, or a shareholder/owner in a company you are involved in, please consult these rules and where you are un-clear, seek the advice of competent counsel.

Who is Prohibited to My Self-Directed IRA?

Image of a blank disqualified person tree with the text "Who is Prohibited to My Self-Directed IRA?"The prohibited transaction rules applicable to self directed IRAs prohibit not what your IRA can invest into but WHO your IRA may engage in a transaction with. For example, the prohibited transaction rules restrict my IRA from buying a rental property from my father. This is not because rental properties are prohibited to my IRA but because my father is prohibited by law from transaction with my IRA. My self directed IRA could buy a rental property from a third party seller whom I have no family or other business relationship with since there is nothing wrong in buying the rental property the question is just who am I buying it from.  Congress decided to restrict investments with certain persons who could potentially collude with the IRA owner to unfairly avoid taxes. As a result, transactions with certain family members and business partners of an IRA owner are prohibited.  The consequence for engaging in a prohibited transaction can be drastic (e.g. no longer have an IRA, penalties and taxes on distribution) so IRA owners must avoid them in all situations.

The prohibited transaction rules therefore provide the greatest restriction on using self directed IRA funds and must be understood by self directed IRA investors. These rules are found in IRC 4975 and state that a prohibited transaction occurs when an IRA engages in a transaction (e.g. buy, sell) with a disqualified person. The question immediately arises, who is a disqualified person to my IRA?

Categories of Persons Disqualified to Your SDIRA

There are essentially four categories of disqualified persons to your IRA and they are as follows.

  1. IRA Owner. The IRA owner is disqualified to his/her own IRA as the fiduciary making decisions for the account. IRC 4975(e)(2)(A), Harris v. Commissioner, 76 T.C.M. 748 (U.S. Tax Ct. 1994).
  2. Certain Family Members. Disqualified family members include the IRA owner’s spouse, children, spouses of children, grandchildren and their spouses, and the IRA owner’s parents and grandparents. Family member who are NOT disqualified persons are siblings (e.g. brothers and sisters), aunts and uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews, and parent in-laws (e.g. spouses parents). IRC 4975 (e)(2)(F), IRC 4975 (e)(6).
  3. Company Owned 50% or More by IRA Owner or Certain Family Members. Any Company that is owned 50% or more by the IRA Owner or Certain Family Members outlined above are disqualified to the IRA. For example, an LLC owned 30% by the IRA owner, 30% by the IRA owner’s spouse, and 40% by an un-related partner is a disqualified company to the IRA (owned 50% or more by disqualified persons) and any transaction between the IRA and the company would be a prohibited transaction.  IRC 4975 (e)(2)(G).
  4. Key Persons in Company Owned 50% or More by IRA Owner or Certain Family Members. Any person who is a 10% or more owner of a company owned 50% or more by disqualified persons (e.g. number 3 above) or any person who is an officer, director, or manager of a disqualified company (owned 50% or more by disqualified persons) is also disqualified. For example, if my wife and I own 60% of a company and if Julie is an officer of that company then Julies is a disqualified person to my IRA. Additionally, if Julie was a 15% or more owner of the company she would also be prohibited to my IRA.

When you are dealing with unrelated persons (not related as family or as business partners) the prohibited transaction rules do not need to be analyzed but once family members or business partners are involved in any part of the transaction, the IRA owner must ensure that the prohibited transaction rules are not being violated.