I love Roth. That is Roth IRA’s.

You may have already figured it out due to the amount of posts I’ve written on the topic. If you didn’t know that or aren’t familiar with the concept of a Roth IRA, I suggest checking out one of the following posts I’ve already written on the topic:

- Traditional 401(k) vs. Roth 401(k)
- What is a Backdoor Roth Conversion?
- Should I Contribute to an IRA?
- What is a taxable account?
- The Best Christmas Gift

This year I decided to make a proactive Roth conversion. It’s important to note that this is different from a Backdoor Roth Conversion like I talked about in the post I reference above. A Roth Conversion is taking dollars from a current Traditional IRA (pre-tax) and moving them into a Roth IRA (after tax). The process of moving funds from a Traditional IRA to a Roth IRA is a taxable event and each dollar converted is recognized as taxable income for that tax year. Don’t get too hung up on the extra tax part because the reward is having those dollars in a Roth IRA that will grow tax free indefinitely.

So why did I decide to recognize additional income in 2020 and willingly pay more taxes?

Let me explain the best way I know how, with a little math!

## The Math

I shared with you in a past post that early in my career I opened a contributory IRA and contributed a bit each year. I look back at that now and think of that as a financial misstep. Not saying it’s a bad thing to save into a traditional IRA, any type of savings is a positive, but knowing what I know now I would have instead increased my 401(k) contributions those years targeting my Roth 401(k) or saved into the Roth IRA. Oh well, live and learn.

Getting off track…

I have this contributory IRA that I’ve stopped adding to years ago when the contributions were no longer fully deductible (i.e. I made more than the annual income limit which in 2020 is $65,000 for a single individual or $104,000 for a married filing jointly couple). To keep the math simple, I’ll share that I have $14,000 sitting in my Traditional IRA. The Roth conversion is going to cost me roughly $3,360 in extra taxes this year as I will pay ordinary income tax on each dollar converted. That is a lot of money, but I promise there is a method to this madness.

Let’s say I keep the $14,000 invested in the pre-tax IRA environment. Over the next 30 years, assuming an investment return of 7%, that same $14,000 will grow to $106,571. In retirement I would eventually need to take distributions from the account to offset living expenses and pay ordinary income taxes on each dollar distributed. To make the point and math simple, if I were to withdrawal that entire amount in one year to cover retirement expenses, the taxes would equal $25,577 leaving me with only $80,994 of purchasing power after taxes.

In making a Roth Conversion, I am moving the $14,000 into a Roth IRA environment and letting those dollars grow tax-free! Over the same 30 years, assuming an investment return of 7% that same $14,000 will go to $106,571. Oh, and did I mention I never have to pay taxes on that again. By paying the $3,360 today I am saving myself (and future heirs) from having to pay income tax on $106,571 which would translate into $25,577 of taxes.

Keep Traditional IRA | Make Roth Conversion | |

Taxes Paid Now | $0 | $3,360 |

Future Value of $14,000 | $106,571 | $106,571 |

Taxes Paid @ Distribution | $25,577 | $0 |

Purchasing Power | $80,994 | $106,571 |

**$3,360** of taxes today vs. **$25,577** of taxes in the future?

Purchasing Power of **$106,571 **vs**. $80,994 **30 years from now?

Which scenario would you choose? In summary, short term pain, long term gain.

## Added Benefits

Another benefit of making this conversion is that I’ve now cleared the path to make future Backdoor Roth Contributions. With all my qualified retirement money in either my company 401(k) or Roth IRA, I can now move forward with making backdoor contributions in the years ahead. As a true financial nerd, this prospect makes me very excited, especially when I think of all the taxes I’ll be saving over the long-term.

Who wants to do another math problem with me?

In this exercise we will look at the benefits of saving an extra $6,000 in a Roth IRA vs. a regular taxable account. If I couldn’t contribute to a Roth IRA, a taxable account is where I would invest my $6,000. In the scenarios below, I am assuming growth over 30 years at a 7% rate of return.

Taxable Account Contribution | Backdoor Roth Account Contribution | |

Annual Contribution | $6,000 | $6,0000 |

Taxes Paid at Contribution | $0 | $0* |

Future Value of $6,000 | $45,673 | $45,673 |

Taxes Paid at Distribution | $9,521 | $0 |

Purchasing Power** | $36,151 | $45,673 |

**Don’t forget about capital gains tax! Assuming 24% capital gains tax

Purchasing power of **$36,151** vs. purchasing power of **$45,673**?

I’ll ask the question again, which would you choose?

This example just shows the power of making a Backdoor Roth contribution in one year. Imagine the power of contributing annually over the next 30 years! I’ll do the quick math for you, 30 years of Backdoor Roth contributions, assuming a growth of 7% per year, on top of the initial $14,000 conversion is **$673,336**! And that is straight purchasing power.

Do I need to go on?

## Forward Looking

To summarize all of this, I made the decision to convert my entire Traditional IRA into a Roth IRA this year and am paying $3,360 in taxes. I’m doing this for two reasons:

- The $14,000 I’m converting today could one day be worth over $100,000 tax-free.
- Ability to make Backdoor Roth Contributions for the next 30 years + while working which could translate into over $600,000 tax-free.

I don’t know about you, but seeing these numbers gets me very excited about my financial future and the options I’ll have down the road. Another point I’ll add is that income taxes are close to historical lows which is even more incentive to convert dollars this year under the current tax rates. There is a strong chance that if rates do change in the years to come, they will only go up.

If this post has got you thinking you’d like to learn more about Roth IRAs or understand if converting your Traditional IRA into Roth makes sense within the context of your finances…don’t be a stranger! If you couldn’t tell, I love these discussions and looking at the math.

You forgot to factor what the 3&1/3 grand could grow to if invested. Seems like a wash.

I thought of that but you’d have to factor in the taxes when that $3,000 is distributed. The idea is that with the Roth IRA you maximize your purchasing power because no taxes are taken at distribution.

The $3,360 taxes paid on Roth conversion would grow to PV of $25,577 in 30 years and is subject to capital gains tax or step up basis. Also, the scenario assumed the TIRA would be 100% distribution at 30 years. That is likely a higher tax bracket than if the TIRA were distributed over lifetime via RMDs.

I think Roth makes sense if the tax bracket on a conversion is less than taxes on RMDs. If you pay 22% to convert now instead of keeping in TIRA and paying 22% tax on RMD, it’s a wash. There are other reasons for Roth, including leaving tax-free to heirs.

You make a great observation on the distribution schedule of the future Traditional IRA. To keep things simplistic I went the route of a one-time distribution to demonstrate how taxes are assessed those distributions. It’s a worthwhile exercise if you believe your tax rate will be higher in the future. I am in that camp.

You forgot to deduct the $3,360 you paid in taxes from the $14,000 you’re investing. There are lots of good reasons to transfer your money from a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, especially if you believe that your present tax rate is lower than your future tax rate. But if the tax rates are the same, the math is the same.

Here’s my situation. I have about $1 million in a traditional IRA and about $1 million in a Roth. Let’s say my effective tax rate is 30%. If I were to take the million out of my traditional IRA and put it in my Roth, I’d pay about $300,000 in taxes. So then I’d have $1.7 million in my retirement accounts. Let’s say my CAGR is 10%. In ten years, I’d have $4.4 million.

Now let’s say I just leave my IRAs alone. In ten years, I’d have $5.2 million. Let’s say I withdraw that at the SAME TAX RATE AS NOW. I’d pay no taxes on the $2.6 million in my Roth but I’d pay 30% tax on the $2.6 million in my traditional IRA. That leaves me with . . . yes, $4.4 million. The exact same amount.

It was intentional not to factor the taxes out of the $14k. Those dollars will be paid with money sitting in a savings account so I can maximize the amount converted. Your point on tax rates staying the same is valid which is why Roth Conversions are not a one size fits all solution. In my personal case, I believe my tax rate will go up overtime as I grow in my career and I also believe that income tax rates are at historical lows and will only go up in the future.