The Tax Increase and Prevention Reconciliation Act (TIPRA) of 2005 has generated plenty of controversy since it was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2006. One of the legislation’s boldest moves was to lift income restrictions on IRA-to-Roth-IRA conversions, starting in 2010, which paved the way for the so-called “backdoor Roth IRA.” This gives high earners a way to access the benefits of tax-free growth on retirement investment gains.

In late 2021, Congressional Democrats almost found a way to close this loophole as part of President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better (BBB) plan. The sweeping economic recovery and social welfare bill passed the House, but stalled in the Senate. For now, higher earners can continue funding their Roth IRAs in 2022 even though their modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) should theoretically exclude them from being able to do so.

Key Takeaways

  • The Tax Increase and Prevention Reconciliation Act (TIPRA) of 2005 renewed low tax rates on dividends and capital gains and created a way for rich people to invest in a Roth IRA.
  • Roth IRAs were initially supposed to be exclusively for “hard-working, middle-class Americans.”
  • TPRA created a loophole for anyone to start contributing to a Roth IRA by adding money to a traditional IRA, then immediately rolling over the funds to a Roth.
  • Before 2010, only people earning under $100,000 a year could have done this.
  • President Joe Biden is keen to outlaw backdoor Roth IRAs, but has yet to garner enough votes to push through these changes.

How Did TIPRA Come To Pass?

When unveiling TIPRA—which also extended tax cuts on long-term capital gains and qualified dividends as well as increasing the alternative minimum tax (AMT) exemption amount—President Bush talked of the importance of keeping taxes low to ensure the economy keeps growing. In his speech, the topic of pensions was also specifically brought up, with Bush mentioning how the act could help owners of an individual retirement account (IRA) or a 401(k) enjoy “a better retirement.”

According to a ProPublica investigative report, Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress wanted to cut taxes on capital gains in 2006, but needed to find a way to balance the books first. In the end, they figured that if they lifted the restrictions on who can make Roth conversions, lots of taxes would be paid upfront, helping to fund the capital gains tax break via what effectively amounted to another tax cut.

How To Take Advantage of TIPRA’s Creation of the Backdoor Roth IRA

Roth IRAs were created in 1997 as a way for middle- and low-income taxpayers to have a shot at creating a bigger pension pot. These accounts offer the chance to pay income tax when contributing rather than when withdrawing the money later on, which effectively means all the additional capital generated by investments can be accessed tax-free.

The Clinton administration prevented wealthy people from profiting from this big tax break by phasing out the amount you can directly contribute to a Roth IRA once your income hits certain levels and making it impossible for people who earn $100,000 or more per year to roll over pension funds from a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA.

That all changed with TIPRA. Under President Bush’s law, the $100,000 threshold was done away with, giving the wealthy a way in via the backdoor.

Earn too Much for a Roth? Use the Backdoor

TIPRA didn’t suddenly allow high-income earners to contribute directly to a Roth IRA, as annual income limits remained in place. What it did do was create an opportunity to deposit funds in a Roth IRA indirectly.

The play is to add capital to a traditional IRA–which doesn’t have income ceilings for participation–then roll over this money to a Roth IRA. Before 2010, only people earning under $100,000 could have done this. With TIPRA, the option became accessible to everyone.

What Do People Think of TIPRA and the Backdoor Roth IRA?

Obviously, those relatively high earners who’ve benefited from the loophole are delighted with it. They face opposition from dissidents very much against the backdoor Roth IRA and everything it represents.

A popular opinion among detractors is that TIPRA just fattened the pockets of the wealthy while further bloating the federal budget deficit. According to them, the backdoor Roth IRA workarounds turned a retirement vehicle that was supposed to help regular working people into a tax-free piggy bank for the super-wealthy.

When introduced, it was promised that the Roth IRA would “provide relief to hard-working, middle-class Americans.” TIPRA changed that and made the Roth IRA also a way to add more zeroes to rich people’s retirement bank accounts.

Is the Backdoor Roth IRA on the Chopping Block?

For a few months in late 2021, it looked possible that backdoor access to Roth IRAs would be sealed off. The BBB bill that was approved by the House on Nov. 19, included a provision prohibiting wealthy people from funneling money into Roth IRAs via IRAs. That bill, however, ended up getting quashed by Senator Joe Manchin in December.

President Biden remains committed to the framework of his BBB bill, but now needs to find a compromise. Investors are nervously waiting to see if a revised iteration, assuming there is one, still includes plans to shut wealthy people out of using Roths–and whether it will garner enough support this time to become law. It could take weeks or months for that question to be answered. Until then, TIPRA’s controversial backdoor Roth IRA remains an option for everyone to capitalize on.

Are Backdoor Roth Contributions Still Allowed in 2022?

As of the date this article was written, the backdoor Roth option is very much still alive and there to be taken advantage of.

What Is the MAGI to Qualify for a Roth IRA?

If you file taxes as a single person, your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) must be under $140,000 for the 2021 tax year and under $144,000 for the 2022 tax year to contribute to a Roth IRA. Conversely, if you’re married and file jointly, the thresholds are $208,000 in 2021 and $214,000 in 2022.

What Happens if I Contribute to a Roth IRA and My Income is Too High?

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will charge you a 6% penalty tax on excess contributions each year until you fix the mistake.

The Bottom Line

President Biden’s efforts to stop higher earners from profiting from Roth IRAs have stirred panic among some people who use this strategy. However, he hasn’t succeeded yet and might never do so.

As of today, the law permits backdoor Roth IRA contributions and it’s generally in investors’ best interest to take advantage of them.

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