Dear Liz: My wife and I are both 66 and have not yet filed for Social Security. I don’t plan on filing until I am 70. Is my wife able to file for her own retirement benefit now, which is much lower than mine? And then when I file at 70 years, can she switch to the spousal benefit rate, without any type of penalty?
Answer: Yes and yes. This is one of the few instances in which people can still switch from one benefit to the other.
If you had already applied, your wife’s retirement benefit would be compared to her spousal benefit and she would get the larger of the two amounts. Since you haven’t applied, however, no spousal benefit is available. Your wife could receive her own benefit and then switch to the larger spousal amount once you apply at 70, when your own benefit has maxed out.
Also, as long as your wife has reached her full retirement age (66 years and two months, if she was born in 1955), she won’t face the earnings test if she continues to work. That test otherwise reduces benefits by $1 for each $2 earned over a certain amount, which in 2021 is $18,960.
Dear Liz: I’ve been researching the backdoor Roth IRA and I am finding some conflicting information regarding taxes owed on the conversions. I have two sizable rollover IRAs and one small ($1,600) traditional IRA. Can I make an after-tax contribution to the traditional IRA and convert that to a Roth and pay tax only on that IRA or do I have to consider all three IRAs?
Answer: Sorry, but you have to consider all three. The tax on your conversion will be based on the pre-tax portion of all your IRAs combined, not just the IRA where you make your contribution.
Backdoor Roths allow people to get money into a Roth when their incomes are too high to make a direct contribution. Instead, they contribute to a traditional IRA and convert that to a Roth because conversions don’t have income limits. Conversions require paying taxes proportionately on your pre-tax contributions and earnings, however, so the technique may not be advisable when you have sizable pre-tax IRAs that will trigger a large tax bill.
Liz Weston, Certified Financial Planner, is a personal finance columnist for NerdWallet. Questions may be sent to her at 3940 Laurel Canyon, No. 238, Studio City, CA 91604, or by using the “Contact” form at asklizweston.com.