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Investing

What Is a Backdoor Roth IRA?

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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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
Jamie Cattanach |

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

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Investing

How to Invest $50,000 Wisely

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

You’ve paid off your debts and built yourself a nice little nest egg of $50,000 — and you may be wondering what you should do with it. Although the phrase “a penny saved is a penny earned” holds truth, you may want to start investing your money.

Investing is an excellent option because of the growth potential of the money you invest. Unfortunately, you run the risk of losing purchasing power if inflation eats away at your savings. Even if you choose to hold your money in a high yield savings account, you may not be able to outpace inflation.

Getting started with investing can be a daunting task for new investors. Let’s take a look at the different types of investment styles and determine the best way to invest $50,000.

Determine your investment style

The first thing you’ll need to do is decide how you want to invest.

Do it yourself

DIY is an option for almost everything in life, although painting your own home and building your investment strategy are two very different tasks. The idea is that you will complete the process without any professional help.

If you choose a DIY investment strategy, it is important to map out your investment strategy with careful research and planning. After you are comfortable with your plan, you will need to open a brokerage account to purchase investments.

The obvious advantage to this tactic is that it’s typically less expensive than many other options. However, you need to be comfortable making large financial moves without any professional assistance.

Robo-advisor

Robo-advisors vary widely based on the brokerage firm. However, the service generally manages your investments based on an algorithm. Although some firms offer lower fees, many offer fee structures that are comparable to traditional financial advisors.

Although you will not receive personalized attention, a robo-advisor is tailored to your investment interests. Plus, many robo-advisors offer lower entry fees than traditional financial advisors. In fact, some robo-advisors, like Betterment, have no minimum balance requirements.

With a robo-advisor, you may need to double check that your strategy aligns with your goals. A physical person won’t be managing your account, so you will need to ensure that the robo-advisor understands your goals and builds your strategy appropriately.

Hire a professional

It may be a good idea to hire a financial advisor if the idea of managing your money without help is scary. A professional will help you to get the most out of your investments with minimal effort on your part.

If you choose this route, make sure you research your future financial advisor carefully, as some don’t have your best interests in mind. Find an advisor with credentials and recommendations that check out.

5 smart ways to invest $50,000

Once you’ve decided how you will start investing, you need to choose your investments. If you chose to work with a professional, they’d be able to guide you with your investing decisions.

There is no single best way to invest $50,000. The best investment strategy for you will vary based on your unique situation. However, investing your money can be a wise choice for your financial future. Let’s take a look at five smart ways to invest 50,000.

1. Create an emergency fund

An emergency fund is a great way to safeguard against the unexpected. Everyone faces unexpected expenses at some point in their life, so it makes sense to be prepared. These unexpected expenses can be anything from losing your job or an unexpected health problem. These heart-stopping moments will be slightly less traumatic if you have a nice emergency cushion.

You’ll also want to consider placing your emergency fund in an account that won’t charge fees for withdrawals. It’s important to have quick access to cash for anything life throws at you

If you have a solid emergency fund, but would like extra savings available, then you may want to consider placing your money in a CD. Although you would not have immediate access to your money without fees, you may be able to plan your CD deposits around large purchases. The CD will help your savings grow while you prepare to make a large purchase (like a home or vehicle).

2. Max out your retirement options

If you ever plan to stop working, then you’ll need to maximize your retirement savings, especially if you have available cash to invest. Luckily, there are numerous options when it comes to retirement savings.

First, if your employer offers a 401(k), you should contribute as much as you are allowed. Other common types of employer-sponsored retirement accounts include 403(b), 457 and the government thrift savings plan. Some employers will contribute matched amounts to your retirement account. You’ll want to maximize this option if it is available.

Unfortunately, not every employer offers a retirement savings plans. Don’t worry; there are other options available.

An IRA (Individual Retirement Account) will allow you to deduct the investments you make from your income. Opening an IRA will allow your funds to grow tax-free until you withdraw them. A Roth IRA is very similar to a traditional IRA. According to Chad Manberg, a CFP at the Strategic Income Group in Arizona, the number one reason to prioritize a Roth IRA over a traditional IRA is “tax-free growth.” However, he added, “Ideally, someone would have both a Traditional and a Roth IRA by the time they get to retirement.”

“The major time to prioritize one over the other is if the 401k is offering a match. In this case, the 401k should be prioritized,” said Rick Vazza CFP at Driven Wealth Management. Other than that period of prioritization, a diverse strategy between both IRAs and a 401k may lead to a good investment portfolio.

Visit the following resources to learn more about contribution limits:

3. Invest in the stock market

If your retirement accounts are maxed out, you may want to start investing in other ways. Here are a few ways to get started:

  • ETFs. Investing in a low-cost exchange-traded fund (ETF) could be a good option if you want less fees more flexibility with your investments. ETFs are traded like stocks, so you will have the ability to get started with just one share.
  • Mutual funds. Mutual funds are another great way to get started investing in the stock market. Instead of buying a share, you buy into a fund.

Both of these are a good starting point for stock market investments.

Fees
$0.00 per trade

Per Trade Stock Trading Fee

Account Minimum
$0
Promotion

Cash bonuses are available for new accounts. Bonuses start at $50 if you deposit or transfer $10,000+.

Fees
$0.00 per trade

Per Trade Stock Trading Fee

Account Minimum
$0
Promotion

Get up to $600 when you open and fund an account within 60 calendar days of account opening, depending on deposited amount.

Fees
$2.95 per trade

Per Trade Stock Trading Fee

Account Minimum
$0
Promotion

Up to 100 free trades

4. Invest 50k into a 529 account

If you have children then you may want to consider investing that money in a 529 account. A 529 can help cover your child’s education expenses. Anything from private K-12 to graduate education can be paid for through this account.

According to the College Board, the average annual cost to attend college was between $9,970 and $34,740 for state and private schools respectively for the 2017-2018 academic school year. A 529 savings plan will allow you to invest in mutual funds and other investment vehicles through the plan. There are also some tax advantages associated with 529 accounts.

Investing $50,000 into a 529 may be a solid plan now if you intend to pay for your child’s higher education later on.

5. Create the best mix for your financial future

Everyone’s financial situation is unique, so there’s no one-size-fits-all investment strategy. Instead of investing the full 50,000 on one investment vehicle, it may be wise to have a healthy mix of investments.

As you go through the investment process, make sure to analyze and adjust your portfolio along the way. Investors should rebalance their investments on a regular basis to maximize the effectiveness of their portfolio.

Think about your goal

Before you get started, think about why you want to invest 50k in the first place. You have plenty of options to build the right investment portfolio, but you’ll need to create a portfolio that will take you where you want to go.

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.

Sarah Sharkey
Sarah Sharkey |

Sarah Sharkey is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Sarah here

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Investing

USAA Investments Review 2019

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

USAA is known for their great workplace and customer service. One in four employees are veterans or military spouses. These are attractive traits to draw in customers who are military service members.

USAA offers a slew of different products, including car, health and homeowners insurance. They also have checking accounts, mortgages and personal loans available as well, though this review will focus on the company’s investing products. While most of USAA’s offerings target military service members and their families, anyone can open an investment account.

USAA Investments
Visit USAASecuredon USAA Investments’s secure site
The Bottom Line: Unless you’re already a member of USAA and want to keep your investments within one company, you don’t need to put your money here.

  • A $3,000 minimum balance is hefty.
  • High costs per trade and other fees.
  • Longevity is attractive but costs are a turnoff.

Who should consider USAA Investments?

Online brokers are a great way to let you manage your money, whether you’re new to investing or you’ve been handling them for years.

If you’re already a USAA member, enlisting them to be your online broker is enticing. Keeping your money all in one place can be a convenient option, and you can talk to real, live people when you have investment questions or concerns.

If you’re looking for a specific kind of account, such as a custodial or SIMPLE IRA, you can find it at USAA. Their long list of various account types can be a big draw if you need something in particular.

USAA Investments fees and features

Stock trading fees
  • $8.95 per trade
Amount minimum to open account
  • $500.00
Tradable securities
  • Stocks
  • ETFs
  • Mutual funds
  • Bonds
  • Options
Account fees (annual, transfer, inactivity)
  • $70 full account transfer fee
  • $20 partial account transfer fee for a security through the Direct Registration Service (DRS); $0 to transfer a security that is not eligible for DRS.
  • $10 if less than $100 in account and no activity for 12 months
Commission-free ETFs offered
Mutual funds (no transaction fee) offered
Offers automated portfolio/robo-advisor
Account types
  • Individual taxable
  • Traditional IRA
  • Roth IRA
  • 529 Plan
  • Joint taxable
  • Rollover IRA
  • Rollover Roth IRA
  • Custodial Uniform Gifts to Minors Act (UGMA)/Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA)
  • Custodial IRA
  • SEP IRA
  • SIMPLE IRA (Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees)
  • Trust
  • Guardianship or Conservatorship
Ease of use
Mobile appiOS, Android
Customer supportPhone, 4 branch locations
Research resources
  • Earnings press releases
Fees
$8.95 per trade

Per Trade Stock Trading Fee

Account Minimum
$500.00
Promotion
N/A
Fees
$0.00 per trade

Per Trade Stock Trading Fee

Account Minimum
$0
Promotion

Get up to $600 when you open and fund an account within 60 calendar days of account opening, depending on deposited amount.

Fees
$0.00 per trade

Per Trade Stock Trading Fee

Account Minimum
$0
Promotion
N/A

Strengths of USAA Investments

Extensive choice for different accounts: You’ve got your choice of different accounts to choose from when signing up for a USAA brokerage account. If you’re a business owner and need an SEP or SIMPLE IRA (Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees), you can take your pick. If you need a Custodial IRA or 529 Plan, they’re available. There’s also joint accounts, trusts and conservatorship accounts.

Great customer service: While a machine answers your phone call, it doesn’t take much time or effort to get to a human representative. Whether you have a question about certain stock performance or less-risky exchange-traded funds (ETFs), the easy customer experience spans across USAA’s product offerings.

A robo-advisor option is available: To complete with robo-advisor companies, USAA offers their Digital Investment Advisor. If you like the idea of a robo-advisor and a brokerage in one, USAA has the best of both worlds for you. Keep in mind that the annual fee for the robo-advisor is 0.50% a year — that’s double other leading robo-advisors like Wealthfront or Betterment.

Drawbacks of USAA Investments

High trading costs: $8.95 per trade is pricey. Other companies charge anywhere from $4.95 to $6.95 per trade. This could deter new investors from making any transactions and active investors might find this too costly for their taste.

Lots of fees: There’s a fee for almost everything. A transfer fee, whether partial or full, can range from $20 to $70. If you aren’t active in your account for a year, you’ll get charged $10 and then your account will close. Make sure you fully understand the rates and fees, or you might get stuck paying way more than you expected.

Restricted expansion to other products: While USAA Investments is open to the general public, it’s hard to get access to their other products — such as health insurance or loans — unless you’re in the military or related to a service member.

Limited info available online: If you have specific questions or concerns regarding your investment account, you may have trouble tracking down answers on USAA’s website. Though many competitors have detailed FAQs to help consumers, you may need to speak with a customer service rep to find answers at USAA.

Is USAA Investments safe?

Investing in any form carries risk. As you look into different investment accounts, it’s important to see if a company has security measures in place in case fraud or other theft takes place.

USAA doesn’t have a policy in place that ensures members get their money back in the event of fraud, identity theft or other malicious activity. The most you can do is call to report suspicious activity, but there’s no guarantee you’ll get a refund for the lost cash. However, USAA is a member of the SIPC — Securities Investor Protection Corporation — which means your money is insured if the company goes under.

Final thoughts

For current USAA members, having your investments under the same umbrella as some other products you use could be a useful option. But for those who don’t serve in the military or those who aren’t related to servicemembers, you may find better options elsewhere.

A high account minimum with high trading costs means you can find less-expensive options elsewhere.

Open an USAA Investments accountSecured
on USAA Investments’s secure website

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.

Dori Zinn
Dori Zinn |

Dori Zinn is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Dori here