Backdoor Roth IRA: What is it?

Backdoor Roth IRA can be an effective strategy for early career Doctors to reduce there long term taxes and improve their retirement savings.

8/2/20233 min read

Unraveling the Current Laws for Creating a Backdoor Roth IRA


The Backdoor Roth IRA is a popular and legal financial strategy used by high-income earners to contribute to a Roth IRA account, even if their income exceeds the annual limits set by the IRS. While the term "backdoor" may sound dubious, this strategy is perfectly legal and endorsed by the IRS. This article will delve into the current laws surrounding the creation of a Backdoor Roth IRA, explaining the step-by-step process and highlighting its benefits and potential pitfalls.

  1. Understanding the Roth IRA and its Contribution Limits

Before diving into the details of the Backdoor Roth IRA, it's essential to grasp the basics of the Roth IRA itself. A Roth IRA is a tax-advantaged retirement account that allows contributions with after-tax dollars. The investments within a Roth IRA grow tax-free, and qualified withdrawals are also tax-free in retirement.

As of my knowledge cutoff date in September 2021, the contribution limit for a Roth IRA was $6,000 per year ($7,000 for individuals aged 50 or older). However, there were income limits that prevented high-earners from directly contributing to a Roth IRA. For example, in 2021, single filers with a modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) above $140,000 and married couples filing jointly with a MAGI above $208,000 were not eligible for direct Roth IRA contributions.

  1. The Need for a Backdoor Roth IRA

The Roth IRA's tax-free growth and withdrawals make it an attractive retirement savings option. However, individuals who exceed the income limits might feel excluded from this valuable opportunity. This is where the Backdoor Roth IRA strategy comes into play.

2.1. Step 1: Traditional IRA Contribution

The first step in creating a Backdoor Roth IRA involves making a non-deductible contribution to a Traditional IRA. Individuals can contribute to a Traditional IRA regardless of their income level. As of my knowledge cutoff date, the contribution limit for a Traditional IRA was the same as that for a Roth IRA ($6,000 per year or $7,000 for individuals aged 50 or older).

2.2. Step 2: Roth IRA Conversion

Once the funds are in the Traditional IRA, the next step is to convert those funds into a Roth IRA. There are no income limits for Roth conversions. This means that individuals with high incomes can convert their Traditional IRA assets into a Roth IRA, effectively sidestepping the income restrictions for direct Roth IRA contributions.

  1. The Pro-Rata Rule and Its Impact

The Backdoor Roth IRA strategy may seem straightforward, but it can become complicated for individuals with existing pre-tax Traditional IRA balances. This is due to the pro-rata rule.

The pro-rata rule stipulates that when you convert a Traditional IRA into a Roth IRA, you must consider all your Traditional IRA balances, including deductible and non-deductible contributions. As a result, if you have pre-tax funds in a Traditional IRA, a portion of the converted amount will be subject to taxes.

To mitigate the pro-rata rule's impact, some individuals choose to roll over their pre-tax Traditional IRA balances into an employer-sponsored retirement plan (e.g., 401(k)) if allowed by the plan's rules. By doing so, they can execute the Backdoor Roth IRA strategy without triggering significant tax consequences.

  1. Tax Considerations and Reporting Requirements

When executing a Backdoor Roth IRA, individuals should be aware of the tax implications. The amount converted from a Traditional IRA to a Roth IRA is generally considered taxable income in the year of the conversion. As such, taxes should be paid on the converted amount at the individual's marginal tax rate.

Additionally, it's crucial to report the Backdoor Roth IRA conversion correctly on tax forms, including IRS Form 8606. Accurate reporting ensures that the IRS is aware of the non-deductible contribution and tracks the tax basis in the Roth IRA account.

  1. The Potential Benefits and Pitfalls

The Backdoor Roth IRA strategy offers several advantages, including:

  • Access to Roth IRA benefits: High-income earners can enjoy tax-free growth and tax-free withdrawals in retirement by leveraging the Backdoor Roth IRA strategy.

  • Retirement income diversification: By having funds in both Traditional and Roth accounts, individuals can diversify their tax treatment in retirement, providing more flexibility in managing their tax liability.

However, there are also potential pitfalls to consider:

  • Tax implications: As mentioned earlier, individuals must be mindful of the tax consequences of converting a Traditional IRA into a Roth IRA, especially if they have pre-tax balances.

  • Legislative changes: Tax laws can change over time, potentially impacting the rules surrounding Backdoor Roth IRAs. Staying informed and seeking advice from financial professionals is essential to ensure compliance with current regulations.


The Backdoor Roth IRA is a powerful financial strategy that enables high-income earners to take advantage of the benefits of Roth IRA accounts. By following the prescribed steps and understanding the tax implications, individuals can navigate this process while adhering to current laws and regulations. As always, it's crucial to consult with a qualified financial advisor or tax professional before making any significant financial decisions to ensure alignment with individual financial goals and circumstances.

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