Tax Bill in Congress Threatens Retirement Savers

A major change could be coming to Roth IRA conversion rules, and the end of the year could be your deadline to capitalize.

Tucked inside the tax legislation making its way through Congress is a simple line that would erase Section 408A(d)(6) of the Internal Revenue Code.

Don’t let your eyes glaze over ... particularly if you converted traditional IRA funds to a Roth IRA in 2017. The threatened section of the law is the one that gives you a chance to change your mind and reverse the conversion. If the proposal becomes law, Roth conversions will become irreversible, one-and-done decisions.

A quick refresher: When you convert funds from a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, you generally must pay tax on the full amount in the year of the conversion. The price of admission is high, but so is the reward. Once your money is in the Roth, withdrawals in retirement – including all future earnings – are tax-free. Money coming out of a traditional IRA is taxed in your top tax bracket.

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As it stands now, the law includes a special “do-over” opportunity. You have until October 15 of the following year to undo the conversion and reclaim the tax you paid on it in the first place. You may want to do this, say, if the value of your account has declined or you have fallen into a lower tax bracket. If you’re in either situation, undoing the conversion and then reconverting later would save you money.

But tax legislation working its way through the House and Senate would eliminate the do-over opportunity, effective at the end of this year.

Action alert: If you made a Roth conversion earlier this year, watch this issue carefully. If the change becomes law, you would have only until December 31, 2017, to undo a 2017 Roth conversion ... not next October 15 as permitted under current law.

If you choose to recharacterize (as the law calls it) a 2017 conversion, call your IRA sponsor for details. If you do transfer your money back into a traditional IRA, you won’t need to report the amount as income on your 2017 tax return filed next spring.

Kevin McCormally
Chief Content Officer, Kiplinger Washington Editors
McCormally retired in 2018 after more than 40 years at Kiplinger. He joined Kiplinger in 1977 as a reporter specializing in taxes, retirement, credit and other personal finance issues. He is the author and editor of many books, helped develop and improve popular tax-preparation software programs, and has written and appeared in several educational videos. In 2005, he was named Editorial Director of The Kiplinger Washington Editors, responsible for overseeing all of our publications and Web site. At the time, Editor in Chief Knight Kiplinger called McCormally "the watchdog of editorial quality, integrity and fairness in all that we do." In 2015, Kevin was named Chief Content Officer and Senior Vice President.