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?
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?