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I am single and have no dependents, am in my late 20s, and I made an income in 2019 that lies somewhere inside the phase-out section of direct contributions to a Roth IRA. I do not think I have any adjustments to make for AGI and MAGI. I have about $2500 in a traditional IRA.

My plan is to convert that $2500 to the Roth IRA to avoid the pro-rata rule. It sounds like I have to apply that to 2020 taxes.

At that point, does it make sense, for 2019, to contribute a non-deducted $6000 to my traditional IRA and convert the money to the Roth? It seems like an extra pain to directly contribute some funds and backdoor the rest.

There seems to be a gray area with the step transaction doctrine. I understand there has been some guidance in the past couple years that seems to explicitly give the OK for this procedure, but should I wait several days anyway after contributing to the traditional IRA before I convert to the Roth? I was hoping to purchase an index fund on Friday with the money.

And if I instead move the $2500 to my 401k and only convert the $6000, does my 5 year clock for the Roth IRA start in 2019?

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    Roth backdoors are totally legit. IRS told Congress "this law you're changing will allow Roth backdoors which defeat the income limits for Roths", and Congress said "that is Congressional intent". And IRS never enforced, and the topic kept coming up in official documents where IRS or Congress talked like it was normal/legit, and now there's a body of citeable material all saying that. At this point it is futile for IRS to change their interpretation, Congress would have to change the law. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Mar 25 at 7:26
  • ^ @Harper-ReinstateMonica is correct. – Pete B. Mar 25 at 10:52
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The $2500 is pre-tax money either from a rollover or a deductible contribution before 2019? If your plan is to convert it, you could actually make your non-deductible Traditional IRA contribution for 2019, then convert all $8500 at once (you should owe regular income tax on the $2500 only). I agree there is no point to directly contribute some and backdoor the rest.

There is also no point in waiting between the contribution and the conversion. Previously there was some ambiguity, but after Congress "blessed" the backdoor Roth during the recent tax law changes, it is absolutely OK.

There are two 5-year rules for Roth IRAs, but the clock for both would start in 2020; the year of the conversion is relevant, not the year of the original contribution.

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  • The $2500 is from a rollover from several years ago, yes. Thanks. – Sam T Mar 25 at 3:24
  • Actually, waiting across a year boundary triples the paperwork effort, as you need to track the different contributions in a form 8606 (or be taxed double). So yes, don't wait for anything, convert same day. – Aganju Mar 25 at 20:26
  • @Aganju I was under the impression that I had to file form 8606 anyway. The instructions state "Complete this part only if one or more of the following apply: You made nondeductible contributions to a traditional IRA for 2019, ....". I'll be making a $6000 nondeductible contribution to my traditional IRA. Although option 3 is confusing, indicating maybe I don't need to file. I'm planning to ask a tax-filing question on this procedure tonight actually. – Sam T Mar 25 at 23:30
  • if your total in the IRA on 12/31 is zero, you don't need the form 8606 - it is to track already taxed (=non-deductible) contributions into future years (so they don't get taxed again in the future) – Aganju Mar 25 at 23:51
  • @Aganju Do you mean on 4/15? – Millie Smith Mar 25 at 23:59

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