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Going forward, I'm putting all my retirement savings that goes above my employer 401k match into a Roth IRA.

I have a traditional IRA that I opened many years ago and has sat untouched for quite a while.

As I'd like to simplify things, I'd rather not have the older traditional IRA around anymore.

Can I convert/rollover the traditional account to a Roth IRA, or have I missed the window to do that?

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2 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

With all due respect to calculators, most are missing something. The MSN calculator assumes you will pay the conversion tax out of the IRA itself. Most agree that if you don't have the funds in non-retirement accounts, don't convert. Second, it assumes you know your current marginal tax rate (I hope you do) and your marginal tax rate at retirement (I sure don't. In fact, I believe this is not knowable.)

To answer your question - yes, you may convert in 2011. But should you? What bracket are you in now? In general, it would take quite of bit of saving to retire in a higher bracket, or a great defined benefit plan, or both. I wrote an article titled Roth IRAs and your retirement income, in which I walk through the math to illustrate this. A general rule I offer is that if you are adamant about converting, understand your tax bracket and convert just enough to 'top off' that bracket. For most people, this means topping off the 15% bracket and avoiding the 25% bracket, in 2012 for singles, 15% runs from $8700 to $35,350, joint, $17,400 to $70,700. Remember this is taxable income, not gross, so the numbers shift up by exemptions, and deductions, whether standard or itemized.

Sorry if I sound preachy, I just want to help others avoid the conversion bandwagon, paying taxes at 25% and even at 15%, but then finding they are in the zero bracket at retirement with no income to offset. (I use the term "zero bracket" as a euphemism for the total of the exemptions and deductions. The amount you can have as income and have zero taxable income. You do sound like you are on the right path with some savings in the 401(k) along with its match. My answer here may help you analyze that balance and either confirm you are good, or tweak a bit.

Edited my answer to show 2012 numbers.

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The 2010 opportunity was a chance to defer the taxable income amount reported, which happens when you do a conversion, to half in 2011 and half in 2012, instead of reporting it all in the year the conversion was done, as usual.

According to this WSJ article, that opportunity has passed. However, the income limit has been permanently removed, so you may still do the conversion — you will just have to report the whole conversion as income for tax year 2011 — which might mean that it will cost you at a higher rate, depending on the amounts.

Roth IRA conversion. The income limit for conversions has been permanently removed, so this year all taxpayers may still convert ordinary IRAs into Roth IRAs. But taxpayers who convert to Roth IRAs in 2011 no longer have the option of deferring conversion income into later years, as was true for 2010 conversions. Those who converted in 2010 do have until next Oct. 17 to decide whether to use this deferral.

See more about the 2010 opportunity in this MSN Money article.

Check out this handy calculator on whether it makes sense to do the conversion.

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