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What Is a Backdoor Roth IRA?

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

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Whether you’re a freelancer or a salaried employee looking to supplement a company-sponsored retirement plan like a 401(k), an individual retirement account (IRA) can be a powerful tool to help you reach your financial goals. These self-directed retirement funds are readily available through commercial brokerages and can make investing accessible regardless of your employment situation.

There are two types of IRAs: Roth and traditional. With traditional IRAs, contributions are tax-deductible, but the distributions you make later — including earned appreciation from compound interest — will be taxed. The opposite applies to Roth IRAs. Roth IRA contributions are taxed today, but they grow tax-free, which means you get to make the most of your gains in retirement. Furthermore, Roth IRAs are not subject to required minimum distributions (RMDs), which means you can let your contributions earn interest indefinitely.

However, all IRAs are subject to certain restrictions and limitations by the IRS. For instance, you can fund an IRA only up to the specified contribution limit ($6,000 in 2019), and Roths are available only to those who make less than a certain income threshold. For 2019, the income threshold is $203,000 for those who are married and filing jointly and $137,000 for single filers.So what’s a high earner who wants to benefit from the unique tax advantages of a Roth account to do?

Enter the Roth IRA conversion, also known as the “backdoor Roth.”

What is a backdoor Roth IRA?

A backdoor Roth is a basically a quasi loophole — but a totally legal one. The process is simple: You open a traditional, nondeductible IRA, make after-tax contributions and then transfer the assets to a Roth afterward.

This allows those who earn more than the income maximum set by the IRS to access the tax benefits of a Roth even though they’re ineligible to directly fund a Roth IRA.

It may sound sneaky, but a backdoor Roth IRA is totally legal. However, converting a traditional IRA to a Roth doesn’t mean you get to skip paying taxes entirely, and there are some important Roth conversion rules to consider before you take on this financial strategy.

Can you avoid taxes with a backdoor Roth IRA?

In short, no.

Whether you’re contributing to a traditional or a Roth IRA, you’re still responsible for taxes. The only question is when you’ll have to pay them. Remember that traditional IRA contributions are tax-deductible today but taxed when you make distributions. Roth contributions will count toward your taxes this year but can grow tax-free thereafter.

In order to take a backdoor Roth, however, you must fund a nondeductible traditional IRA in the first place. That means you’ll already pay taxes on your contributions. Then, when you convert that traditional IRA to a Roth, you’ll be responsible for the taxes on any gains, which will be allowed to grow tax-free thereafter (just like in any Roth account).

If your newly converted Roth IRA is the only one you have, your tax liability will be triggered just that once — at the time of the transfer. If you have several IRAs or if the IRA you’re converting has been funded with both post-tax and pretax dollars, then things get a little bit more complicated. Your total tax liability will be calculated according to something called the pro rata rule.

What is the pro rata rule?

The pro rata rule is also known as the IRA aggregation rule or the “cream-in-your-coffee rule.”

It might seem complex at first, but the idea is actually pretty simple: If you have both pretax and post-tax contributions in your IRA accounts, all those funds must figure in when calculating your tax liability. In other words, they can’t be separated out into categories, just like you can’t separate the cream from your coffee once you add it.

Instead, you’ll be required to pay income tax on a pro rata share of both. Once again, the question isn’t if you’re going to pay taxes; it’s when you will pay taxes.

For instance, let’s say you contribute the $6,000 maximum to a nondeductible, traditional IRA with the intention to take the backdoor Roth option. But you also have a rollover IRA with $94,000 in it, which you transferred from a 401(k) (so it was funded with pretax, deductible contributions). That means 94% of the total value of your IRA accounts would be subject to income tax at the time you make the Roth conversion. Here’s the math:

Total value of both accounts: $100,000
Pretax contribution: $94,000
After-tax contribution: $6,000
$6,000 ÷ $100,000 (expressed as percentage) = 6%
$6,000 (the amount converted) x 6% = $360 converted tax-free
$6,000 – $360 = $5,640 subject to income tax

However, once you pay the taxes on your contributions, you’re home free. You’ll be able to take tax-free distributions once you reach age 59 and a half as long as the account’s been open for at least five years.

Is a backdoor Roth IRA right for me?

Since the pro rata rule could complicate your conversion and trigger a heavy tax burden, Malik S. Lee, founder of Felton & Peel Wealth Management, said the backdoor Roth IRA is best for high earners who don’t yet have any IRA assets.

“Ideally, this is not really a strategy you want to do when you have a large number of IRAs already in place,” he said.

If you’re earning more than the listed limits, the backdoor Roth can help you diversify your retirement holdings or pass on nontaxable assets to your heirs. Since the taxes are already taken out, the Roth is especially useful for those who have a long time horizon in which money can grow.

Timing your backdoor Roth IRA conversion

Once you understand how to initiate a backdoor Roth IRA conversion — and what your tax liability will be when you do — there’s another important issue to consider: timing. You’ll need to pay your taxes when you make the conversion.

If you know you’re going for the backdoor option, Lee suggested you take action quickly, leaving the assets in cash so you can execute the transfer as soon as possible. “I don’t really see a benefit in waiting,” he said, explaining that he usually initiates the transfer “as soon as the check clears.”

After all, if you do invest the money while it’s still in a traditional IRA, you may end up paying taxes on those gains.

The bottom line

Although there’s no way to avoid taxes entirely, a backdoor Roth IRA is a good option for high earners who want to take advantage of the unique benefits of a Roth account. Not only will your distributions come tax-free when you reach retirement, but you’ll also be allowed to let the money grow indefinitely (as opposed to being subject to RMDs).

If a backdoor Roth doesn’t sound like the right path for your personal financial goals, there are lots of other options to help high-income savers fund their retirement. For example, you might ask your employer if it offers a Roth 401(k) option or open a SEP IRA, which features much higher contribution limits: up to $56,000 or 25% of your compensation for 2019.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Jamie Cattanach
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Jamie Cattanach is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Jamie here

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Investing

Ally Invest Managed Portfolios Review 2019

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

Ally Invest Managed Portfolios is a robo-advisor option from a trusted online-only financial institution.

It can make managing your money simple: Just answer a few basic questions about your goals and risk tolerance and your funds are invested for you. However, while fees are competitive, they aren’t the lowest among other robo-advisors’ offerings.

If you don’t mind the lack of bonus for opening the account, and you want to take a hands-off approach to building wealth, Ally Invest may be a good option.

Ally Invest Managed Portfolios
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The Bottom Line: Ally Invest Managed Portfolios is a decent robo-advisor that’s competitive with other managed portfolios online. But its lack of tax-loss harvesting, and fees that slightly exceed competitors may prompt you to look elsewhere if you’re not already an Ally customer.

  • The minimum deposit to invest in Ally Invest Managed Portfolios is $100
  • The management fee is 0.30%, no matter how high your account balance
  • Customer service is available 24/7, but there are no local branches to visit

Who should consider Ally Invest Managed Portfolios?

If you’re looking for a robo-advisor that allows you to build a diversified portfolio without a lot of advanced knowledge about investing, Ally Invest Managed Portfolios has you covered.

You’ll answer a few questions about your age; timeline for investing and risk tolerance; and whether you’re investing for retirement, wealth-building or a big purchase. Then, Ally Invest comes back with a recommended portfolio you can accept or tweak.

You can open a joint, custodial or Individual taxable account with Ally Invest Managed Portfolios, or can opt for a Traditional IRA, Roth IRA or Rollover IRA. Unfortunately, unlike with Ally Invest’s self-directed accounts, there’s no promotion or bonus for transferring funds into a managed portfolio. And, you’ll need quite a bit of money to get started — more than many competitors in the robo-advisor industry require.

Still, if you don’t mind the lack of brick-and-mortar locations and marginally higher fees, Ally Invest is a worthy competitor to consider when looking for help managing your money.

Ally Invest Managed Portfolios fees and features

Amount minimum to open account
  • $100
Management fees
  • 0.30%
Account fees (annual, transfer, inactivity)
  • $0 annual fee
  • $50 full account transfer fee
  • $50 partial account transfer fee
  • $0 inactivity fee
Current promotions

Ally Invest offers a $50 cash bonus plus free trades if you deposit or transfer at least $10,000. Bonuses go up from there and increase up to a cash bonus of as much as $3,500 if you deposit or transfer at least $2 million in assets. 

Account types
  • Individual taxable
  • Traditional IRA
  • Roth IRA
  • 529 Plan
  • Joint taxable
  • Rollover IRA
  • Rollover Roth IRA
  • Coverdell Education Savings Account (ESA)
  • Custodial Uniform Gifts to Minors Act (UGMA)/Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA)
  • SEP IRA
  • SIMPLE IRA (Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees)
  • Trust
Portfolio
  • Ally managed portfolios cover 3 asset classes and 9 major market segments
Automatic rebalancing
Tax loss harvesting
Offers fractional shares
Ease of use
Mobile appiOS, Android, Windows Phone
Customer supportPhone, 24/7 live support, Chat, Email

Strengths of Ally Invest Managed Portfolios

Ally Invest Managed Portfolios has some significant advantages worth considering:

  • Investing in a diversified portfolio is easy. You’ll answer basic questions about your investment goals and Ally Invest will suggest a portfolio with an appropriate mix of U.S. and foreign bonds, international and U.S. stocks, and cash. You can also tweak the suggestions Ally Invest Managed Portfolios makes, so you take on more or less risk based on your comfort level.
  • Ally requires a low minimum deposit of just $100 to open a managed portfolio account. While some of Ally’s competitors (such as Betterment) don’t have a minimum deposit requirement at all, $100 still falls on the very low side of the scale and makes this account extremely accessible to new investors.
  • Ally Invest Managed Portfolios offers automatic portfolio rebalancing. This helps to ensure you remain invested in the right mix of assets if certain investments under- or over-perform.
  • Customer service. Ally Invest offers phone, Email, and chat support. Customer service agents are available 24/7 with little or no wait. Agents will do their best to provide answers, although it may take a little time if your questions are technical since you may need to be transferred to an investment advisor.

Drawbacks of Ally Invest Managed Portfolios

You’ll also want to consider the potential downsides of choosing Ally Invest Managed Portfolios.

  • Ally Invest Managed Portfolios charges fees that are slightly higher than several competitors. You’ll pay .30% for Ally’s robo-advisor service, compared with .25% for Betterment’s digital account or for Wealthfront.
  • Ally Invest Managed Portfolios currently does not offer tax loss harvesting, which involves selling investments at a loss to offset taxable gains (although they do offer tax advantaged portfolios which add municipal bonds to Ally’s core portfolios). Competitors such as Betterment do offer this feature. However, Ally representatives indicate tax loss harvesting is expected to be rolled out in 2019 and investors with managed portfolios will be able to transition their accounts into a portfolio with tax loss harvesting.
  • No physical branches. If you’d prefer to go into a branch for local customer support, you’ll need to look elsewhere, such as E-Trade, which has more than 30 branches across the country.
  • Mobile apps aren’t very advanced. While Ally Invest allows you to use mobile apps on iPhone and Android phones to access basic account information, the offered apps aren’t as feature-rich as competitors such as Betterment.

Is Ally Invest Managed Portfolios safe?

Whenever you invest your money, there’s a risk you may lose some or all of it. This is no different with Ally Invest Managed Portfolios. The assets your robo-advisor invests you in could decline in value and your portfolio could lose money.

But Ally Invest is as safe as any trusted online brokerage, and there’s little risk of losing assets if the investment firm goes bankrupt. Ally Invest is in compliance with regulatory requirements according to FINRA’s Broker Check tool. Ally Invest is also a member of the FDIC and SIPC, both of which ensure cash in bank and brokerage accounts respectively.

Final thoughts

Ally Invest Managed Portfolios is a viable choice for investors looking for an easy, hands-off way to invest — especially with its low $100 minimum deposit requirement. Ally also promises to offer a broad range of socially-responsible portfolios, which should interest investors who want to consider more than just financial returns. But the lack of a promotional offer, higher management fees, and the fact tax loss harvesting isn’t currently offered makes Ally a less-than-ideal option for investors looking for the most affordable way to build a diversified portfolio. If you want a lower-cost option that does offer tax-loss harvesting, consider robo-advisors such as Betterment or Wealthfront.

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Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Christy Rakoczy
Christy Rakoczy |

Christy Rakoczy is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Christy here

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SogoTrade Review 2019

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

SogoTrade is a relatively new face in the world of discount brokers, having joined the fray in 2010. While less well-known than some of its larger peers, SogoTrade quickly set itself up as a low-cost player that could offer high-volume traders prices that undercut those larger competitors. And even low-volume investors have a way to get those low commissions without significant amounts of trading. SogoTrade is a solid choice for frequent or high-volume traders, such as penny stock traders.

SogoTrade
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The bottom line: SogoTrade offers a low-frills experience at a competitive price.

  • Volume-based pricing that can lower trading costs substantially
  • Discounts on commissions for prepaid trades
  • Limited education and research offerings

Who should consider SogoTrade

SogoTrade really pitches itself to high-volume traders who need a low-cost way to get in and out of the market. If you’re in this demographic, SogoTrade may be for you. The ability to trade up to 100,000 shares for one low flat rate (not including stocks below $1 a share, which have an additional per-share fee) also may lure penny stock traders. Investors who aren’t in these two categories will find SogoTrade a harder sell.

SogoTrade is not especially well-suited to beginners, with limited education and research components, though it does have some of each. Those investors who don’t need those features may still find the broker an apt choice, however, especially if they’re willing to take advantage of SogoTrade’s discounts for prepaid trades.

SogoTrade fees and features

Current promotions

100 free trades in the first 30 days

Stock trading fees
  • $4.88 per trade (fewer than 150 trades per quarter)
  • $2.88 per trade (150 or more trades per quarter)
Option trading fees
  • $4.88 / trade + $0.50 / contract (fewer than 150 trades per quarter)
  • $2.88 / trade + $0.50 / contract (150 or more trades per quarter)
Amount minimum to open account
  • $0
Margin rate range6.25% - 11.00%
Tradable securities
  • Stocks
  • ETFs
  • Mutual funds
  • Options
Account fees (annual, transfer, inactivity)
  • $0 annual fee
  • $75 full account transfer fee
  • $75 partial account transfer fee
  • $50 annual inactivity fee if account drops below $100 and has not made at least one trade
Account types
  • Individual taxable
  • Traditional IRA
  • Roth IRA
  • Joint taxable
  • Coverdell Education Savings Account(ESA)
  • Custodial Uniform Gifts to Minors Act (UGMA)/Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA)
  • SEP IRA
  • Trust
Commission-free ETFs offered
Mutual funds (no transaction fee) offered
Mobile appiOS, Android
Customer supportPhone, Chat, Email
Research resources
  • SEC filings
  • Mutual fund reports
  • Earnings press releases

Strengths of SogoTrade

  • Volume-based pricing: SogoTrade has a multitiered system for charging commissions — one that’s highly advantageous for frequent traders and even penny stock traders who transact thousands (or even tens of thousands of shares) at a time. SogoTrade’s basic commission is $4.88 per trade — and with Charles Schwab and Fidelity both at $4.95, that’s not substantially different. But if you’re making more than 150 trades per quarter, SogoTrade slashes the fee to just $2.88 per trade (150 or more trades per quarter) . That’s great for high-volume traders. And for penny stock traders? SogoTrade’s commission allows you to trade up to 100,000 shares for the same flat rate, though you’ll have to pay a supplement for stocks trading below $1 per share. That supplemental fee comes to $0.0003 per share (10% of principal max) or 0.25% of principal.
  • Discounts for prepaid trades: Even if you’re not a frequent trader, you can reduce your commission to $3.88 or $2.88 per trade by buying prepaid packs of trades at that rate. SogoTrade allows you to buy 20 trades for $3.88 per trade or 50 trades for $2.88 per trade, and they cover stock trades and the base commission for options. So that could be an attractive (albeit unconventional) option for realizing low-cost trades without trading a lot. However, the prepaid trades are valid for only a year after purchase, so it’s a “use ‘em or lose ‘em” scenario.
  • Low options commissions: Given its rabid focus on low costs, it’s not surprising that SogoTrade also has low commissions on options. Pricing ranges from $2.88 to $4.88, depending on volume or whether you buy prepaid trades. Then options trades tack on a $0.50 per-contract fee, which is toward the lower end of the range. For example, Fidelity and Schwab charge their base rate plus $0.65 per contract. Even the low-cost Interactive Brokers typically charges $0.70 per contract, though with no base commission and volume pricing for very large orders. Always nice for traders executing more complicated options orders, SogoTrade charges only one base rate for multilegged options orders. So those complex three- and four-leg trades won’t ring up any extra base fees.

Drawbacks of SogoTrade

  • Limited education and research: For beginners, the lack of substantial educational support at SogoTrade may be a deal breaker. While there are some resources on the site, the entire education section feels more like an afterthought than a valuable addition to the SogoTrade experience. For example, the site’s educational links refer to articles on a third-party site. Similarly, while the broker offers a research center on its site, it feels too basic — even if it does offer some key functionality, such as identifying stocks at 52-week highs and lows and linking to a company’s press releases and SEC filings. The broker does point you in the direction of a free third-party monthly newsletter and stock reports. These resources may be a place to begin for newer investors, but more experienced traders will already have their own preferred resources lined up, so this likely won’t be much of a drawback for them.
  • Cheap but maybe not cheap enough: There’s no question that SogoTrade is targeting customers who are looking to minimize commissions. But the broker looks somewhat caught in the middle here. For the same base commission, rivals like Schwab provide a better educational and research component. Meanwhile, at the other end, cut-rate brokers can offer lower commissions, with Just2Trade providing $2.50 trades without customers having to pony up for prepaid trades (and no expiration dates on trades either).

Is SogoTrade safe?

SogoTrade is a relatively new player in the discount brokerage space, having debuted in 2010, but that doesn’t mean it’s not covered by the same protections as larger and more well-established brokers. Investors’ accounts are covered by the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC), which protects their value up to $500,000, including a cash limit of $250,000 in the event that the brokerage ceases to operate.

In addition, the broker’s clearing firm, Apex, has coverage up to an aggregate $150 million, with a maximum of $37.5 million for any single account, including a cash-only maximum of $900,000. Of course, these coverages do not protect against declines in the value of the securities in the portfolio.

Final thoughts

Cheap trades really are the priority at SogoTrade, and it shows throughout the website. If you’re a high-volume trader and can meet SogoTrade’s quarterly trade threshold, you may find a home here with the broker’s $2.88 fees. Even lower-volume traders who don’t mind the clunkiness of prepaying for trades may find SogoTrade interesting.

Still, SogoTrade seems caught in the middle of the market, especially for newer investors and many low-volume traders. Its service doesn’t offer enough education and research, relative to Schwab and Fidelity, for its base commission, and it’s not as cheap as other discount rivals such as Just2Trade and eOption (especially for options trades), brokers that are just as cutthroat about costs.

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Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

James F. Royal, Ph.D.
James F. Royal, Ph.D. |

James F. Royal, Ph.D. is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email James here

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