Roth IRA

Not Converting 100% of Your Traditional IRA’s? – Don’t Use All of Your Basis – Part 1

In the August 2, 2010 post, Remember Your IRA Basis Scorecard When Planning Roth IRA Conversions, the concept of basis, including the importance of tracking it and using it to offset otherwise taxable gains in connection with Roth IRA conversions, was discussed. This post and next week’s post are follow-ups to that post since they expand upon the discussion of how taxable gains are calculated in connection with a partial Roth IRA conversion when basis is available.

We learned in Remember Your IRA Basis Scorecard When Planning Roth IRA Conversions that you’re taxed on the difference between the value of your distribution and your basis in the distribution. This is a relatively simple calculation when you convert 100% of all of your traditional IRA accounts, however, it’s a different story when you do a partial Roth IRA conversion.

A partial Roth IRA conversion occurs when you convert less than the total value of all of your traditional IRA accounts to a Roth IRA. Partial Roth IRA conversions come in three flavors. They include conversions of:

  1. A portion of a single traditional IRA account,
  2. A portion of a traditional IRA account where there are multiple traditional IRA accounts, or
  3. 100% of one of two or more traditional IRA accounts

Scenario #1 is pretty straightforward when calculating taxable gains, however, scenario’s #2 and #3 can be problematic when basis is present if you’re not careful. The best way to illustrate is by using examples. Before doing so, however, it’s important to point out an often-overlooked issue when dealing with scenarios #2 and #3 which can contribute directly to the taxable gain calculation problem.

When considering one’s traditional IRA’s, always keep in mind that there are several types of accounts that fall under the traditional IRA umbrella. Basically, any IRA account that isn’t a Roth IRA, beneficiary IRA, or SIMPLE IRA account is generally a traditional IRA account. This includes regular, or contributory IRA accounts which can include both deductible and nondeductible IRA contributions, rollover IRA’s, SEP-IRA’s (see the June 21st post, Don’t Forget About Your SEP-IRA for Roth IRA Conversions), and 72(t) IRA’s (see the July 26th post, Considering a Partial 72(t) Roth IRA Conversion? – Tread Lightly).

Whenever you calculate the taxable gain in connection with a partial Roth IRA conversion, the first thing you should always do is take an inventory of your various IRA accounts to make sure that you include all of your traditional IRA accounts as well as the basis from each of your accounts in your calculation.

Next week’s post will illustrate each of the three partial Roth IRA conversion scenarios, including the calculation of taxable gain. Stay tuned.