Why I Regret Putting Money in My Roth IRA

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Disclaimer: First thing’s first, I’m the realest. I’m also not a financial adviser, so anything I say here is just my opinion, and you’re responsible for your own money and returns.

With that out of the way, My goals for this year have changed recently. Some back story: My wife has student loans that are small enough that they could be paid off within a year. In the past, I had been of the opinion that the interest rates on the loans were low enough, that we would do better by making the minimum payments and continuing to invest in dividend stocks. Over time, the growth of the stocks and dividends would offset the expense of these minimum payments on the loans.

However, these loans are becoming a bigger burden than the money they represent. In the past few years, my wife has changed her name, and we’ve moved across the country. These changes, are causing the debt collector to start pestering my wife and her family for information on a regular basis. She makes her payments on time and consistently every month, so this behavior is completely unwarranted. As a result, this small amount of debt is creating a disproportionate amount of stress to her and her family.

So, we’ve decided that instead of trying to reach our goal of saving $18,000 this year, we will make an effort to 1) pay off her student loans, and 2) contribute $5,500 to my Roth IRA.

I traditionally make all of my investments in a taxable brokerage account, so this may sound a bit surprising that I would be making this change. I decided that there might come a day that I regret not taking advantage of the yearly contribution limits. Or so I thought…

My retirement strategy is to live off of dividend income from my investments. Dividends have favorable tax treatment, if your income puts you in the 10% or 15% income tax brackets, qualified dividends are taxed at 0%. Non-qualified dividends are taxed at the same rate as your income.

“What’s a qualified dividend?”
A qualified dividend is a dividend received for a stock you’ve owned 60 days before and 60 days after (without selling) the ex-dividend date. So, if I buy JNJ today, and it’s ex-dividend date is in 60 days, if I don’t sell those shares for another 121 days, that dividend will be taxed as a qualified dividend.

This is important because it means whether I put my money in a taxable brokerage account or a Roth IRA, they will both be taxed at 0%. Since I don’t plan on selling, I don’t care about the difference in capital gains tax. (This is all on the assumption that my income in retirement is under the cut off between 15% and 25% income tax rates, and that these rules are maintained)

I’ve already made 1 contribution to my Roth IRA, and now I regret it, because I’ve put limits on the usefulness of that money, with no benefit.

Instead, I will be putting the rest of my contributions in a traditional IRA, because I’m currently in a higher tax bracket than I would be in retirement.

What about you? Are you maxing out your Roth IRA, IRA, or avoiding them all together?

Comments


TwoInvesting said:

Great topic, especially at this time of the year. Last June, I wrote about the Roth IRA vs traditional IRA topic on my own blog, Why the Roth IRA is right for me. This was in response to an article talking about the disadvantages of Roth IRA’s on the Financial Samurai article I linked to on that post.

Essentially, you’re right that contributing to a traditional IRA might make sense now, considering that you are in a higher tax bracket now than you expect to be upon retirement. However, another angle to consider is the fact that after a certain income level you can still contribute to a traditional IRA but those contributions are no longer tax deductible. In that case it makes a ton of sense to convert to a Roth because otherwise you’d be taxed on both the front and back ends.

One nice thing about the Roth IRA as well is that you can take out all the contributions that you put in. I call this dividend harvesting, allowing you to remove some of those contributions via dividends and yet not sell any of the underlying principal. This allows you to tap into that Roth IRA cash flow until you can take out more if need without penalty at 59 1/2 years.

And, to answer to the question, my Roth IRA is already maxed out for the next tax year.

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Scott said:

Hey. I tried replying to your questions at the end of the post, but that comment is “still awaiting moderation.” Based on the low number of comments on your high quality posts, I expect you have a ton of comments that aren’t showing up. Might want to look into that.

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Interesting post, but one I think you need to think about from a time frame perspective. Do you believe that income tax will be higher when you are retiring or lower than they are now? The benefits of a Roth over a traditional IRA is that all of your distributions are tax free. A traditional IRA has the distributions taxed at whatever tax bracket you would fall into. So long term a Roth may be better, depending on your timeline.

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