It might seem like this is a great time to convert your assets in a tax-deferred IRA to a Roth IRA. Reasons: The stock market crash has temporarily lowered the value of your investments, which means that you’ll pay less tax on the assets you convert now and not have to pay tax on the Roth assets again even when you eventually withdraw them. Also, federal income tax rates have been lowered sharply in recent years but may rise in the future. First, though, ask yourself three questions to make sure the move makes sense…
Will I have enough cash in April 2021 to pay the income tax I’ll owe on the conversion? If your job or finances are very uncertain, you may have to draw on your retirement assets, which could cost you thousands of dollars in missed growth over the long term. Also, the IRS no longer allows you to reverse a Roth conversion. My suggestion: Do the calculations now, but consider holding off on the actual conversion until later in 2020, when your financial situation may be more clear.
Is the conversion likely to push me into a much higher tax bracket for 2020? Reporting higher income this year could also affect taxes on Social Security benefits and trigger Medicare premium surcharges. Alternative: Consider spreading out the conversion over more than one year to avoid jumping into a higher bracket.
Do I expect to be in a lower bracket in retirement? If you’re currently in a high tax bracket and approaching retirement, it might make sense to postpone conversion until you retire and your annual income drops. However, if you’re already retired…and when you turn 72 you’ll face large required minimum distributions (RMDs) that could push you into a higher bracket…consider converting some of your IRA assets now.