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I re-characterized my 2015 Roth IRA contributions as traditional, non-deductible IRA contributions. I would now like to convert all my traditional contributions to Roth IRA. How long do I have to wait before I convert? Some sources seem to suggest there is no waiting period, but some sources say there is a 30 day waiting period.

  • Deleted my previous answer, as I wasn't taking into account the new tax year, so it was not a reconversion. Just to make sure I have the timeline correct, in tax year 2015 you contributed to a Roth, then recharacterized that contribution as traditional, and now in 2016 you want to go back and recharacterize the 2015 contribution back to a Roth? – RaskaRuby Jun 28 '16 at 18:21
  • Re-characterizing one type of IRA contribution to another type of IRA contribution means you retroactively "pretend" that you made the contribution to the second type of IRA contribution all along from the beginning (and it is treated as such tax-wise). If you re-characterize a Roth IRA contribution to Traditional IRA contribution, and then re-characterize it to a Roth IRA contribution, that's a complete no-op. Why would you do that? Was the first re-characterization a mistake? Or do you not really mean "re-characterization"? – user102008 Jun 28 '16 at 19:06
  • Also, you can only re-characterize a year's contributions up to the tax return deadline for that year. It is too late to re-characterize 2015 contributions now. – user102008 Jun 28 '16 at 19:07
  • @user102008 correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe it includes extensions and you get a 6 month extension if you filed your returns on time. – mushroom Jun 28 '16 at 19:08
  • @mushroom: Yes, that's true. I still am not sure from your question that re-characterization is what you are talking about. – user102008 Jun 28 '16 at 19:10
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This area uses very particular terms, I bolded those.

Scenario 0 (not yours): you contribute to a traditional IRA in non-deductible mode (for some reason, e.g. your income is too high to qualify for a normal IRA or Roth). You mean to do a Backdoor Roth. You can convert to Roth immediately.

Scenario 1: you contribute to a Roth, not realizing you are not allowed to do that. You want to recharacterize it as a Non-deductible IRA, which does not have income limits. Do that ASAP if you are still in time limits to do so.

Scenario 2: having been through Scenario 1, you now want to exploit the Backdoor Roth and convert that "ND trad IRA" to Roth. IRS is surprisingly tight-lipped about this situation. The closest thing I could find is this distant relation, which says wait til the next tax year, or 30 days, whichever is greater (see 4th question). It's rare for the IRS to feel strongly about tax law, but it seems like they do not like the Roth backdoor.

That makes a certain amount of sense, since it is IRS doctrine that if you purposefully do a series of actions A B and C which have the same effect as action X... then you really did action X, and should be treated as such: Actions A-C amount to structuring action X. IRS considers the Roth limits and recharacterization rules to be solidly established in law... And the Roth conversion without income limits to be not well established in law, subject to rescindment and/or legal interpretation at any time. So my concern is, if I'm in tax court, I could find myself "making new law" (ie case law) and I'd want to be as grounded in existing tax law as possible.

  • The links are useful, and I believe support my own answer, but, absent reading the links, where do you answer the question? A bit of editing to do so, and I'll reverse my DV. – JTP - Apologise to Monica Jul 4 '16 at 14:38
  • Scenario 2? All I ask is that you clarify the timing, and not have members rely on a link that will break. No war, not even a skirmish. Because I think we agree. – JTP - Apologise to Monica Jul 4 '16 at 17:42
  • Fair enough, I still find the hair trigger downvoting to be, well, inconsistent with other SE's. (Granted other SE's can be harsh on people with 1 or 101 reputation but they soon get over that.) The question is an inherently difficult one since IRS is so obtuse on this subject. I rarely hear tax experts say "IRS does not like a thing". – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jul 12 '16 at 19:51
  • I appreciate the return visit and edit. And I reversed the DV as promised. Yes, each stack has its own personality. I've answered on one where a mod deleted in seconds with no grace period to edit to better clarify my answer. I don't plan to spend much time there. DVs are also interesting, as most don't come with a comment. I try to be open and honest. – JTP - Apologise to Monica Jul 12 '16 at 19:57
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You wrote "I would now like to re-characterize all my traditional contributions as Roth contributions."

I think you mean convert to Roth, right? You need to wait 30 days.

Each year, I convert IRA money to Roth. Then in March, when I'm doing my MIL's taxes, I recharacterize to put her taxable income right at the 15/25% line. 30 days later, it gets converted again.

Edit - I updated to 30 days, I was thinking about something else. A conversion is when you take Traditional IRA funds and convert to a Roth IRA. One would do this for many reasons, mine would be to "top off" my MIL's tax bracket each year.

Recharacterization is taking some or all of that conversion and reversing it, backing it out. This can be for multiple reasons -

  • you overshot the goal, and will be taxed in the next bracket.
  • the assets converted have dropped in price, why pay tax on $10,000 when that asset is now worth $6000?
  • you changed your mind (it happens)
  • This might belong in a different question, but could you explain the distinction between conversion and re-characterization? Also, where did the 60 day number come from? – mushroom Jun 28 '16 at 18:46
  • I updated my post. – JTP - Apologise to Monica Jun 28 '16 at 18:59
  • Ah ok. My specific situation is that I discovered that I was not allowed to contribute to Roth IRA in 2015, so I re-characterized the 2015 contributions to traditional IRA contributions. But apparently I can then change (not sure if it is re-characterize or convert) the traditional back into a Roth even though I was not allowed to make contributions to the Roth in the first place. That is what I am trying to do. – mushroom Jun 28 '16 at 19:04
  • yup, 30 days... – JTP - Apologise to Monica Jun 28 '16 at 19:05
  • @mushroom: If you were not allowed to contribute to a Roth IRA, then re-characterizing back to a Roth IRA contribution would mean that you have a Roth IRA contribution, which you were not allowed to do -- this is not what you want. You want to convert funds from a Traditional IRA account to Roth IRA. – user102008 Jun 28 '16 at 19:11
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There is no waiting period. You can convert immediately.

The 30-days you may have heard of is probably from the restrictions on reconversions (converting from Traditional to Roth, re-characterizing to undo the conversion, and then converting from Traditional to Roth again), in which case you have to wait until 30 days after the undoing recharacterization, or until the year after the first conversion, whichever is later. There is no reconversion here (you did not recharacterize to undo any conversion); it is not relevant to your situation.

  • Convert to Roth, immediate. Recharacterize an errant Roth back to a non-deductible IRA to avoid penalties, ASAP if the window hasn't closed. Convert the recharacterized now-Traditional back to Roth, complicated, this may help irs.gov/retirement-plans/… – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jun 29 '16 at 20:21
  • @Harper: None of the things in that link is irrelevant. – user102008 Jun 29 '16 at 22:12

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