Tag Archives: roth ira

One month left to recharacterize your IRA from Roth to Traditional or Vice Versa

On my to-do list for this month: recharacterize my IRA from a Roth to traditional IRA. Why? Roth IRAs have maximum income levels where you’re eligible for this type of investment – and it’s fairly impossible to know if you’ll hit these levels earlier in the year when you’re investing. Luckily, the government realizes you might not be trying to sneak your way into a Roth for the year, and gives you to Oct 15 to fix your classifications.

Fixing the classification isn’t as easy as filling out your simple taxes on TurboTax. It gets a bit complicated. This is why I’ve been putting it off… until now.

Not only do you have to follow the rules of the firm where you invested your money in the Roth IRA to recharacterize it, you also have to refile your tax return if you already submitted it earlier in the year (see IRA website).

If you have already filed your return, you can file an amended return and subtract the amount recharacterized from the taxable amount of the rollover or conversion reported on your original return. Form 1040XAmended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return (instructions), can be used to amend your return. Generally, for a credit or refund, you must file Form 1040X by the later of:

  • three years (including extensions) after the date you filed your original return, or
  • within two years after the date you paid the tax.

My Roth IRA is at Vanguard, so I will need to first go through their recharacterization process which I haven’t figured out yet. I am probably going to end up calling them to figure this out.

Have you recharacterized a Roth IRA before to a traditional IRA? Are there any gotchca’s I should be aware of?

How to Give Financial Advice to People Who Ask But Won’t Listen

Recently a friend of mine from childhood, who now lives in a different part of the state, was in town on a road trip and stopped to have dinner with me. While we grew up in the same middle class neighborhood, her family was definitely more “middle class” versus mine which was “upper middle class.” So when she asked me for some financial advice due to a potential windfall from a recent family death, I paused before sharing my typical spiel.

Said friend currently owns property with a mortgage (her parents helped her with the downpayment), but otherwise lives paycheck to paycheck. She makes $60k a year and to her that’s a lot (I did not mention that my income is north of $150k right now, but that’s neither here nor there because that’s a short-lived situation anyway.) She mentioned that she was considering investing in Primerica Financial Services, which I hadn’t heard of before, but sounded a bit like a god-awful pyramid scheme. She acknowledged that it sort of a pyramid scheme, but she was interested in it anyway. If you tell me that and ask for financial advice, I’m going to give it to you.

My advice was fairly simple. I asked her if she had any retirement savings and she said yes, she had invested in 401ks at other jobs before, up to the match (great) but then went on to tell me that she had no idea where any of these accounts were. “Is there one 401k account somewhere that I can just call up?” She asked. I tried to explain to her that she should call her old employers, locate where her accounts are, and ideally roll these over into a Vanguard IRA. In the meantime, if she were to get the small windfall, to invest this in a Roth IRA in order to continue saving for retirement. She wanted access to the money sooner than that, so I recommended a taxable Vanguard STAR fund, but to consider putting it into a Roth anyway and forgetting it ever happened.

When she was asking me about stocks, it became apparent that she understood practically nothing about personal finance. It also became apparent to me that I’ve learned quite a bit in the last 10 years of my life since starting this blog – not enough to be a CFP but enough to hold my own in advising on basic money moves. I enjoyed providing advice and helping her, but I have a feeling she isn’t going to take a bit of my advice. Oh well. At least I tried.

Question for my Readers: Should I do a Roth IRA conversion?

One of my biggest financial mistakes to date was rolling over my 401k – or at least, I think it was. By rolling over my 401k accounts I made a Roth IRA conversion of my post-tax “traditional IRAs” unwise. There is, however, a way go around my mistake in order to convert my post tax IRA accounts to a Roth. I’m just not sure if it makes sense to do this. In lieu of hiring a CFA, I pose this question to my readers: should I convert (by doing the following) or not?

The Data

I currently have $14,803 in a post-tax IRA (i.e., I thought I was ineligible for a Roth for two years, at which time I funded a post-tax IRA. This was probably a mistake to begin with, but nonetheless, I have $14,803 in the post-tax IRA. I’d like to convert it to a Roth.)

Where did this money come from?

2010 – $5000 contribution
2011 – $5000 contribution

Thus, I currently have $4,803 in unrealized gains in this account.

If I were to convert to a Roth I would have to pay taxes on this… which maybe not worth it to begin with. However, even if that would be worth it, I have another IRA account from my Rollover 401k. If I were to convert to a Roth I would not only have to pay tax on the $4803, but I’d also have to pay income taxes on the entirety of my 401k account (or a percentage of it, depending on the total conversion.)

The catch is — it is possible to rollover my prior 401k and current IRA account into my new work 401k. At least it looks like it’s possible to do this. By doing this I would no longer have an additional IRA so I’d be able to rollover my post-tax IRA into a Roth IRA and pay tax on “just” the $4803 in gains (or whatever it is at the time I do the conversion.)

However… the funds I have access to in my work 401k are not nearly as compelling as those I have access to in my Vanguard IRA. At the moment, most of my investments in this IRA have a .10 expense ratio. My employer 401k options seem to be mostly in the 1.10 expense ratio, with one S&P fund at .54 or something like that. So, ultimately, I would need to do the math to figure out if it would make any sense to bother with all this hassle to convert my two years of traditional IRA investing to a Roth. I’m really not even sure if I wasn’t eligible for a Roth at the time, but I’m pretty sure it’s too late to fix this error if it was an error. Hmm.

My thoughts are as follows:

1) Wait until the last minute to rollover my current IRA into my work 401k. The last minute mean whenever in the future I am about to leave my company, or, in the case of being laid off, filing the paperwork on the day I’m laid off.

2) If that works, I’d wait until the rollover cleared, and I no longer had an existing IRA beyond the Sharebuilder 2010/2011 contributed-to account.

3) Then I wait… until a year when my income is low (probably when I have my first child or when/if I go to grad school, though this is all a hypothetical time/year to begin with – and needs to happen before I get married!)… and convert the existing post-tax funds to a Roth, so my tax rate is low.

4) That said, does it really matter? In 35 years the account will be worth $415,916 if it makes 10% in interest per year. So I’d have to pay tax in retirement on $405,916. Or, I figure out how to do the conversion in the near future and pay tax now on $5000, give or take. I’m not sure if the tax comes out of the account or you can pay that separately, assuming you can pay it separately then I’d still have $15k or so to compound over the years for retirement, and just pay $2500 or whatever it is right now in taxes on the conversion – if I can actually rollover my old 401k IRA into my new 401k.

But… then I need to look at how much is lost due to the higher expense ratios in the 401k account on the $91k-ish that is in my current IRA. If I have to pay 1% more per year in expenses then…

According to this calculator, if I left my $91k in the new 401k for 5 years, paying an additional 1.00% in expenses each year, with a 10% YoY rate of return, the total fees would be $7885.21, including operating fees and opportunity costs, versus $731.32 if I left it alone in my Vanguard account w/ the .10% expense ratio. So, basically, for the five years waiting for a year when I don’t make that much money (assuming I don’t actually get married) then I’d lose $7500 or so waiting to convert the existing post-tax IRA to a Roth, plus I’d lose whatever tax I’d pay on the gains on the interest gained in the post-tax account. So I’d end up probably paying $10k now in order to avoid paying tax on my hypothetical $405k in retirement.

That seems like a fair trade, if it actually worked out. I’m sure there’s a catch somewhere, I just don’t know enough about finances to see it. That’s why I’m asking my readers…  should I rollover my $91k IRA to my 401k in order to convert my $15k post-tax IRA to a Roth?

 

 

 

 

How to Get Rich Long

Good luck on getting rich quick. I gave up on that dream long ago. But getting rich (not super duper rich, but relatively compared to the rest of the U.S. population rich) is within reach for everyone. It really comes down to making more than you spend, spending less than you earn, earnings as much as possible when you’re as young as possible and investing that as quickly as possible into index funds.

Yes, it’s that simple.

If I could do it all over again, I’d get a job at the youngest age I legally could and start contributing as much as I could to a ROTH IRA each year. The best time to contribute to a ROTH IRA is when you’re making next to nothing. Why? ROTH IRAs are taxed up front, meaning if you’re making $10k a year you are not paying a whole lot in taxes but you’re still eligible to max out the ROTH IRA. Even the NY Times agrees with me.

Unfortunately, when I was 14 I had no idea what a ROTH IRA was, nor did I understand the magic of compound interest in terms of how it applies to personal finance over the years.

Let’s say a 14 year old contributes the maximum to her ROTH IRA (just $5500 a year) from age 14 through retirement. This smart gal wants to retire at 75. If she begins investing $5500 a year at 14 for 50 years, she will have $1,272,055 in retirement. That’s a lot, and should be enough to inspire kids to start saving young. But that’s with 5% ROI compounding annually. What if the stock market performs even better? Say, over 50 years the stock market is up 10% YoY on average? That same investment will be worth $7,687,296 at retirement.

Forget about inheritances, there is nothing more helpful for your children then to support them in maxing out their Roth IRA from the youngest possible legal age.

While it’s not possible for every family, offering your teenager a match on their earnings as long as they commit to putting what they actually earned into a Roth IRA, up to $5500, is a good way to start. If not possible to do a full match, think about what you can afford to match (50%?) to encourage them to save. Also, create charts which show them how much their dollar today will be worth in 50 years. While teens want to spend now more than later and aren’t thinking about their golden years yet, letting them know that your help could turn them into a millionaire in retirement by saving just $5500 a year will go a long way.

I wish the government would offer this program for youth — you earn $5500 and we’ll match it by putting $5500 into your retirement account. I guess that’s social security, but it’s not a 1 for 1 match. This should be a program for people under the age of 21 to teach them about the value of savings and give everyone a head start for retirement. I don’t know how that would work, but it would certainly help out families that cannot afford to match their children’s contributions.

Even if your kids can put away just $1000 per year in a Vanguard STAR fund, this will go a long way in retirement (though I recommend maxing out the Roth IRA every year from age 14 on.)

So you didn’t start a Roth IRA at 14?

Investing ASAP, whenever that is, will help you get to wealth. For better or worse our economy is set up where riches only come with some risk. If you don’t take risks, you may very well lead a comfortable life, but it’s unlikely you’ll be rich (unless you have a trust fund.)

If you give yourself 40 years until retirement at a 5% YoY return rate, you’ll have $736k when you retire at 65 (and start investing at 25.) A 10% YoY return rate will give you a nice $2.9M in retirement. Given that today people should try to reach $2M before retiring, starting investing at 25 at the latest is an ideal move.

Ultimately, if you wait longer to invest, you have to invest more per year in order to catch up. That can be very hard when you’re not earning a lot in your 20s and then if/when you have kids and find it harder to save in your 30s. Starting early when you are supported by your parents but can still earn and invest the best way to prepare for retirement, so you don’t even have to think about it beyond the $5.5k annual contribution throughout your life. You can also start to max out your 401k if you have access to one ($17.5k) at some point, but there will be less pressure on doing this and you can enjoy your money when you’re still young enough to travel and have a very active life.

Rich, IMO, is not about the $ amount you have in the bank, but about the financial security you have so you feel comfortable spending money NOW to enjoy life. This is not the same as wasting money on frivolous luxury items (though if this makes you happy and you have saved for retirement and your other basic needs, then go for it) but this means being able to afford a house, a car, family vacations, dining out every once in a while, and the lifestyle YOU want. That’s what “rich” is. Working towards reasonably hitting $2M in retirement (which again, is very possible if you start at age 14 – 20), will make you rich.

Vanguard Admiral Funds: Rebalancing for Lower Fees

One of the things I realized recently that I’ve been spending more than I have to on fees inside of my IRA accounts. While Vanguard funds are low fee to begin with, did you know that Admiral funds (which require $10k minimum investment per fund vs $3k) still have significantly lower fees?

Fees can significantly eat away at your investments, especially over time in your retirement accounts. I know for a fact my old 401k that I haven’t rolled over is wasting money with some of its funds at .90% fees or higher! I’m holding off on rolling that over in the case I will do a Roth IRA conversion if/when I go to grad school on about $100k of other IRA investments, but for all my other accounts I want to be as fee-efficient as possible.

Expense Fees Add Up Fast!

Here’s a little experiment… (try your own out in this expense ratio calculator) say I invest 100,000 today and plan to keep that money invested for 30 years. I earn an average of 10% each of those 30 years (woohoo.)

If my fund has a low .10% expense ratio then I’ll see a 2.96% reduction of my future value due to fees (costing $51,596.) This sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t compared to the cost of most funds.

Say you have a still relatively low-cost fund at .20% expense ratio. You are then spending 5.83% of your future value on fees ($101,716!)

Some funds have high expense ratios too. If you are investing in a fund that has an expense ratio of .80%, 21.51% of your future value is gone thanks to this fee ($373645.77!!) So you see how a little expense ratio can quickly add up.

After reading a bit more about taxes and what funds to hold in Roth IRAs vs traditional IRAs I decided to shift around funds in my Vanguard accounts. I also changed things up over at Sharebuilder because my $10500 basis Roth over there is significantly underperforming, but I’ll cover those changes in another post.

Also, I read that high-dividend funds make sense in your Roth IRA but not in your traditional IRA. Why?  Because dividends have two purposes — to provide you income today at low(ish) capital gains tax rates, or to compound over time in your investments and to be taken out tax free upon retirement (in a Roth.) Going high dividend in a traditional IRA is silly because you have to pay income tax on it when you retire and take it out — i.e. those proceeds would be cheaper today in a taxable account!

Until today, my Vanguard IRA accounts looked like this:

Traditional IRA

VDAIX / .20%
VHDYX / .19%
VGSIX / .24%
VTTSX / .18%
VGTSX / .22%

Roth IRA

VFIFX / .18%
VTSAX / .05%

Updates to my Portfolio

While there was nothing wrong with this breakdown, per se, I had high-dividend REIT and dividend growth funds in my traditional IRA while I had index growth funds in my Roth. I also had certain funds split between my Roth and Traditional IRA where because I had $10k split between two accounts I couldn’t qualify for the lower admiral fund rates.

Luckily at Vanguard it’s free to trade your funds inside your account, so rebalancing is easy (unlike at Sharebuilder where I’m wasting tons of money trading and will eventually give in and just move my “fun money” to Vanguard.)

I made quite a few (free) trades at Vanguard to fix my portfolio. Here is what I have now, which, as you can see is greatly simplified:

Traditional IRA

VIGAX / growth index fund admiral shares .09% expense
VTIAX / admiral version of VGTSX — .14% expense vs .22%

Roth IRA

VDADZ / dividend appreciation index fund — .10% expense ratio
VGSLX / admiral REIT fund — .10% expense to .24% of VGSIX

I also killed off all of my “target retirement date” funds because I’ve read they are too conservative and at my ripe young age of 30 I want to be aggressive but not stupid (working on the not stupid part.)

Why keep my Sharebuilder account open at all?

Good question! Mostly I keep it open so I can trade precious metals in my Roth IRA (i.e. GLD) since they are taxed at a collectible rate (high tax) unless they’re in an IRA, and I can’t buy gold or silver in my Vanguard fund. I also have some specific REITs which I like to watch to learn more about REITs because they are interesting — especially since I do not actually own any tangible real estate. More on that later.

Roth IRA Eligibility & Non-Fixed Income

In 2014, one is eligible if their AGI is under $114,000 as a single person and $181,000 for a married couple ($5500 per person max.) For a single person, between $114k and $129k your contribution amounts begin to phase out, with no contribution allowed when you earn over $129k. [estimate your AGI here]

Sans contributing a bunch of money to charity, getting your AGI down is a bit of a challenge and mostly impossible. Trust me, when I was in my early 20s and making $50k a year I would have loved to have this problem, but given cost of living is so high where I live (our 825 square foot 1 bedroom is $2250 a month without any utilities included!) monthly income disappears fast. Your AGI includes any income received from employment AND dividends (so us dividend investors have even higher AGIs even if we automatically reinvest any proceeds, which sucks.) Then you get to deduct only your IRA/401k contributions, student loan interest, alimony, moving expenses, 50% of self-employment tax, and a few other things that aren’t relevant to most working people. In other words, outside of the $17.5k maximum for a 401k, you can’t really lower your AGI.

Investing in a Roth IRA is one way to get some tax advantages for a long-term retirement account. I’ve already maxed out my 401k for 2014 ($17.5k) which reduces my AGI but probably not enough to qualify for a Roth. Meanwhile, a traditional IRA benefits phase out at much, much lower income levels, so investing in a traditional IRA as a “high” income earner is almost pointless (even though you can’t take a deduction, if you open a traditional IRA you can still earn tax-free growth until you take you your money later in life, but it really isn’t a great benefit and you are locking your money away for the long term vs just investing it in a taxable account.)  Continue reading

Investing: On the Right Track or Getting Out of Control?

Despite my Shopping Addiction, I do manage to save a lot of money each year. Since I don’t own my home and have no debt, I’m probably the most “cash rich” now that I’ll be in my lifetime. I might not be the wisest with every last dollar, but what worries me most now is my investment portfolio. What started with a little cash and a bit of fun buying a couple of shares of stock has exploded into a sizable portfolio which can move up or down quite dramatically in any given day.

Case in point, AAPL’s performance as of late. I own 100 shares, which I started buying at $250 and stopped buying at $650, for an average of about $325 a share. While I’m still “up” it was painful to watch the stock drop from $700 to $450. I knew the $700 run up was not going to last, but I was too afraid to sell. And then it dropped, and dropped, and dropped. Even though the P/E is low and they have a lot of cash, everyone is freaking out that they can’t keep innovating. Yet there is no reason today to think that over 6 months ago. Clearly, there’s more going on than just people freaking out. There are big investment banks that like to f*ck with us little people. They do fancy tricks with their investments, and laugh as those of us who don’t understand the bigger picture of investing, or who are told to “buy and hold” and get fiscally slaughtered like bloodbath in a Quentin Tarratino flick.

Continue reading

Selling GLD *Before* My Profits Are Too High

I’m not a day trader, or even a month trader. But I’ve started to realize if I want my portfolio to have any serious upside, I need to rebalance every now and again. I’ve sold off most of my cleantech investments including PBD, ENOC, and COMV, and put that money into a mix of large-cap tech companies (AAPL, CSCO), international funds (HAO, EWZ, EDIV), and food (MCD, CBOU, SBUX, WFM.)

Up until today, I’ve only sold small cap losses that seem to be destined for failure or, at best, growth after years of retreating even further, while that money could be in a large-cap dividend stock earning income. Today, however, I decided to sell one ETF where I have turned a profit.

So long GLD, at least from my taxable account. After making an early $500 investment in GLD I found out that gold, even in an ETF, is taxed at a collectors rate. That means 28% capital gains tax. Instead of letting my $500 sit in my taxable account (it is at about $900 now) I’ve decided to sell the 5 shares and move my investments into other funds that belong in my taxable accounts. And after today’s AAPL earnings news, I’m tempted to put the $900 into purchasing two more shares of the company that made the computer I’m currently writing on and the phone I’ll be making calls on in a few minutes. I only own 70-some odd shares of AAPL stock, my goal is to get to 100 shares before the company hits $500 a share. Since AAPL doesn’t pay dividends, this is the perfect company to hold in my taxable accounts.

Meanwhile, I invest regularly in GLD in my Roth IRA account. It seems GLD is fairly expensive right now (afterall, I nearly doubled my initial investment from just a few years ago) so I might hold on aggressively investing in it. My Roth account is my “play” account, since I can only put $5k in it per year. I put that mostly into high-dividend ETFs and rebalance by adding more funds in new sectors the following year. For instance, this year I’ve already invested about $2k into XLE (oil) and XRT (retail companies) as well as GLD. I only have $3k left for my Roth this year, but I plan to start contributing to my 401k (no match) soon, and trying to max that out this year. I’m hoping for a significant raise, which in the ideal world will be enough to cover maxing out my 401k without noticing those contributions too much, but I’m not sure yet if that’s actually going to happen. Fingers crossed.

In the meantime, I have $900 liquid that I can invest somewhere. Oh goody. I think it’s pretty crazy that I currently have $149339.25 in my investment accounts right now, not counting about $10k liquid (though taxes are going to eat some of that up I think.) Even though $150k doesn’t seem like a lot of money, I’m proud that in the last 6 years since I’ve graduated college I’ve been able to go from $5k in savings to over $160k. Still pushing for that $200k this year — if the economy decides to recover and I manage a sizable raise it will help lift me up there, otherwise I’ll probably end up at $180k for the year. Really would like to see that happen, I’m so set on entering my 30s with $250k in the bank, I’ll be pretty peeved at myself if I don’t make that goal.

How to Convert a Traditional IRA to ROTH IRA?

I’m currently trying to figure out how to convert my traditional IRA to a ROTH IRA. The only reason I contributed to a traditional IRA for the last two years was because I thought each year my income would exceed the income limits for a ROTH IRA.

Well, it turns out the income limits for a traditional IRA are lower than those for a ROTH contribution. Thus, I’ve invested $10,000 into a traditional IRA for the last two years and put post-tax money into the account, and will be paying tax when I retire later in life and take the money out of the account. I think that’s probably a bad idea, so I want to convert the $10k to a Roth.

The question I have is… how do I do that? Sharebuilder has a form for this, but it seems to assume you put the funds in pre-tax. I’ve heard if you paid tax of money in the account already, then you only will have to pay tax on the interest in a conversion. Given I still have 30+ years before retirement, it probably makes sense to convert the funds now, especially if I only have to pay tax on the $1k.

Do any of you out there in cyberland know how I can do this without paying tax on the entire $11k in this account?

IRA or 401k? Is it too late?

When I realized I would be earning too much this year to qualify for a Roth IRA, I cried a little bit. Ok, that’s overly dramatic, but I have been so proud of myself for saving my pennies each year of my $20k to $50k / year income to max out my Roth IRA that I felt a little empty knowing my savings this year could not be invested in tax-free growth.

So I thought I’d do the second-best thing… open a traditional IRA and deduct the money now, pay taxes on it later. Not the best option in the world, but at least I’d get to deduct the money from my rather high single tax rate.
This morning I found out that I was completely wrong about that. I admit it’s my fault for not doing my research appropriately, but now I’m totally bummed. Apparently the income you’re allowed to have to get the benefits of a traditional IRA is LOWER than that of a Roth IRA. This makes absolutely no sense to me right now because why would anyone want to invest in a traditional IRA if you are in a low-ish tax bracket?
I guess if you do not have a retirement plan at work you are allowed to deduct up to $5k for your traditional IRA in each tax year. Funny how this is the first year of my life I will have access to a retirement plan… a 401k (no match or anything, of course, god forbid I work for a company that would match my contributions.) I signed up for it, and I am supposed to start making contributions in mid July. I wanted to max out my 401k and my IRA for the maximum deduction to reduce my AGI. But it looks like that’s not happening.
The only reason I can see a traditional IRA having some benefit is that I think I can still put up to $5k in there each year and $16.5k into the 401k and later, when I’m not making a lot of money over the year, I can convert both of those accounts to a Roth IRA and pay taxes in a lower tax bracket. Given that I obviously don’t understand tax law very well, I may be off on this logic as well. At least then I can see why a traditional IRA has some value. But as this conversion thing is fairly new – why would anyone want to open a traditional IRA? Is there ever a good reason for this?