If you leave your job and leave behind a Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees (SIMPLE) individual retirement account (IRA), you have the option to roll over the SIMPLE IRA balance to a traditional IRA or another SIMPLE IRA plan—or, depending on your new employer’s plan, you may be eligible to roll the funds into a 401(k) plan with your new employer.
If, however, your ultimate goal is to roll over your SIMPLE IRA to a Roth IRA, you need to process a Roth IRA conversion. Follow these steps to complete the transaction.
- You must participate in a Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees individual retirement account (SIMPLE IRA) for two years before you remove funds for a Roth IRA conversion, to avoid incurring a 25% penalty.
- If you have passed the two-year limitation period, you will just owe taxes on the balance that you convert to the Roth IRA.
- If you decide to change custodians, you may need to transfer the account in-kind first and then convert to a Roth IRA; your new custodian can help you determine this.
Steps for a SIMPLE IRA-to-Roth IRA Conversion
First, you should make sure you can convert your SIMPLE IRA to a Roth IRA without incurring a penalty. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) requires that you participate in a SIMPLE IRA for at least two years before removing any money from the account. If you are under age 59½ and don’t wait, it will count as a distribution and you’ll incur a 25% penalty. What’s more, the entire amount withdrawn will count toward your gross income for the year, which could bump you into a higher tax bracket.
Check with your plan administrator if you have any questions about whether you have passed the two-year limitation period. If you have passed it, you will owe taxes only on the converted balance. If you haven’t, you can leave the money in the account at the current financial institution or have the assets transferred—or rolled over—to a SIMPLE IRA at another financial institution until the two-year waiting period is over, at which point you can do the Roth conversion.
Under the SIMPLE requirements, an employer must allow an employee to hold their assets at another financial institution.
Next, you need to decide whether the custodian holding your SIMPLE IRA is the one you would like to use for your Roth IRA. If not, you need to determine if you either can do a conversion through the transfer process or need to transfer the account in-kind to the new custodian and then convert to a Roth IRA there. Your chosen custodian should be able to help you make that determination. If you need to first transfer the SIMPLE IRA in-kind, you must open an account to accept that transfer in addition to your Roth IRA.
If you participate in a SIMPLE IRA for less than two years and convert to a Roth IRA, the contribution to your new Roth account could exceed the annual contribution limit, and you could owe a 6% penalty until you correct it.
What is a Roth individual retirement account (IRA) conversion?
A Roth individual retirement account (IRA) conversion takes place when retirement funds from an IRA, including a Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees (SIMPLE) IRA, or a 401(k) plan are transferred into a Roth account. You’ll owe tax on the money converted, but withdrawals from the Roth IRA are tax free when you reach age 59½.
What are the benefits of converting a SIMPLE IRA to a Roth?
Converting a SIMPLE IRA to a Roth IRA can be the right choice if you can afford to pay the taxes on the conversion and expect to be in a higher tax bracket after you retire. You’ll benefit from the tax-free withdrawals that Roth IRAs provide. Also, Roth IRAs aren’t subject to required minimum distributions (RMDs).
How much can you contribute to a Roth IRA?
The Bottom Line
Converting a SIMPLE IRA to a Roth IRA is possible without being subject to a penalty as long as you follow the rules. Keep in mind that you’ll still owe taxes on the amount converted. The benefits of converting a SIMPLE IRA to a Roth IRA include tax-free withdrawals in retirement and no required minimum distributions (RMDs).
Scott Bishop, CPA, PFS, CFP®
Avidian Wealth Solutions, Houston
The rollover would be considered a Roth conversion, which is permissible after the two-year SIMPLE IRA waiting period for distributions, measured from the date of the first SIMPLE contribution to the plan.
Then, if you violate the two-year rule, taxes and a 25% penalty will be triggered. The conversion can be made by transferring the assets from the SIMPLE IRA to a Roth IRA (either at the same custodian or by transferring directly to a new custodian).
As with all Roth conversions, you will owe income tax on the amount converted, and you should plan to pay the tax with money that isn’t in the IRA. Also, now that you can no longer recharacterize (undo) a Roth conversion, you should understand the tax impact before converting any pretax retirement account to a Roth (IRA or 401(k)).