The Roth IRA is a retirement savings account in which you invest only after-tax dollars. Subsequently, all earnings grow tax-free and may be withdrawn tax-free. However, there are limits to who can contribute and how much they can contribute to a Roth IRA.
Federal rules restrict direct contributions to a Roth IRA for high-income earners. In 2023, a single, head of household, or married, filing separately tax filer may contribute up to $6,500 if under age 50; $7,500 if 50 or older. However, if the investor has a modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) above $138,000, he is permitted only limited and phased out contributions up to a total annual income of $153,000, above which he cannot contribute to a Roth. Limited contributions for an investor who is married and filing jointly begin at $218,000 in annual income and phase out at $228,000.
However, there is a way to work around these contribution rules using a Roth IRA conversion. To optimize this strategy, investors may be able to conduct a Mega Backdoor conversion from their employer-sponsored retirement plan to a Roth.
The Mega Backdoor Roth strategy is suitable in a handful of circumstances:
- When you’ll be able to max out your employer plan contribution
- When your earned income is too high to contribute to a separate Roth IRA
- If you can save more than the 401(k) and IRA combined limits in one year
To deploy this strategy, the investor must check with his retirement plan administrator to ensure that the plan allows for post-tax contributions and in-service distributions. If so, the investor should first max out his income-deferred contributions to the 401(k). In 2023, the maximum 401(k) contribution limit is $22,500, $30,000 if age 50 and older.
However, he may invest a maximum of $66,000 or $73,500 (age 50 and up) in his 401(k) for the year, which is the combined total for employer and employee contributions. For example, let’s say a 52-year-old employee earns $200,000 and defers 15 percent ($30,000) of his pre-tax income. His employer kicks in another dollar-for-dollar match of up to 4 percent of his salary ($8,000). With the deferred total at $38,000, the employee could pitch in another $28,000 in post-tax contributions to his after-tax 401(k) account – to reach the maximum total of $66,000.
The next step is for the employee to take advantage of in-service distributions by immediately rolling over his contributions from the 401(k) to an in-plan Roth option or a separate Roth IRA – before any earnings accrue (to avoid taxes on earnings).
Once the after-tax funds are converted to the Roth IRA, the money grows tax-free, and the investor can withdraw it as tax-free income in retirement. There also is no RMD requirement for Roth IRA funds at any age. However, note that if the funds are converted to an in-plan Roth option, earnings are subject to a penalty if withdrawn before age 59½. If the funds are converted to a separate Roth IRA, tax-free withdrawals are only available penalty-free for five years after each corresponding rollover is conducted.
The Mega Backdoor Roth strategy is appropriate for high earners looking to minimize taxes on both their current income and their long-term retirement investments.