Twenty-three percent of middle-class IRA remained undecided in October about converting to an IRA, according to a study by First Command, a financial-education firm.
The opportunity to spread the tax bill over two years will end on Dec. 31. Five percent of consumers had completed a Roth IRA conversion and another four percent said they planned to convert. "In essence, the government is offering taxpayers a two-year, interest-free loan," says Terri Kallsen, executive vice president of strategic development at First Command.
The survey results suggest that people understand the benefits of conversion, but many have concluded that it won’t personally help them.
Thirty-four percent of Americans do not plan to convert to a Roth IRA, with the most frequently cited reasons that they expect to be in a lower tax bracket in retirement (24%) or they have no money to pay conversion taxes (13%).
And still other consumers are hesitant to proceed with a conversion because they think the tax laws on Roth IRAs may change.
"Advisers are clearly playing a constructive role in helping consumers recognize the value of the Roth IRA," Kallsen says, noting that 32% of Americans with a financial planner have both a Roth and a 401(k) and IRA, compared 16% of Americans without a financial planner.
Are tax uncertainties just too baffling? Kallsen thinks many consumers may be underestimating their tax bracket in retirement, since it’s likely that tax rates will rise.
Advisers can remind clients that if a Roth conversion can be undone up to Oct. 15 of the year after the conversion.
After years of income limits, Roth IRA conversions are now open to all taxpayers, including those high-income clients who stand to gain the most.
"If a client does not have enough non-IRA funds to pay the tax on a Roth conversion, the conversion generally won't be worth it," says tax adviser Ed Slott. One option is to convert smaller amounts, rather than the entire IRA.
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