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Subject:  Re: Poll: Did your 401k recover from the 2008 de Date:  12/28/2010  7:19 AM
Author:  madbrain Number:  67979 of 80374


I thought these funds were in an after-tax 401-k? Why discuss a capital loss? What happens in the 401-k, generally stays in the 401-k.

No, in this case the funds don't stay in a 401k, I'm only using the 401k after-tax contributions as a short-term conduit to rollover to a Roth IRA.

My employer allows in-service withdrawals of all after-tax contributions every 6 months (or 12 months, I forget) without penalties. And the IRS allows the rollover of those after-tax contributions to a Roth IRA.

My plan is to contribute as much as I can after-tax to the 401k, then zero out the after-tax balance every 6-12 months as allowed by the plan, and roll them over to a Roth IRA. If there are earnings or losses attributable to those after-tax 401k contributions before this rollover, then it complicates tax matters.

a) If there is a gain, I have to find outside money to pay the 38% taxes on those gains. Let's say hypothetically that I made 20,000 of after-tax contributions last year. There was a huge short-term market rally and the balance doubled to 40,000 before I rolled over to the Roth IRA at the end of the year. Then, I need to pay the taxes on the 20,000 gain, and find another 7,600 of outside money to pay the taxes due, in order to rollover the 40,000 of after-tax contributions and their gain from the 401k to the Roth IRA.

Another option is to withdraw 7600 in order to pay the taxes, and rollover 32400 to the Roth IRA.

b) If there is a loss.
I made the same 20,000 of after-tax contributions. But the market tumbled and the funds are now only worth 10,000.
It's the end of the year and I want to rollover the after-tax balance to my Roth IRA. I do the rollover of the 10,000 remaining after-tax balance. No taxes are due on it, and I have a 10,000 capital loss. But I can't deduct the entire loss in the same tax year since it's over 3,000. It has to be spread over 4 years. And I might not be in a 38% tax bracket in each one of those 4 years, depending on my job situation, so the capital loss isn't worth as much due to the time value of money. Of course maybe I will be in a higher tax bracket, or maybe we'll go into deflation and it will not be as bad :) But I won't bet on that.

The after-tax 401k has tax treatment fairly similarly to a non-deductible IRA, but without the $5000 annual contribution limit.

Does my previous post now make some sense to you ?

It is only a paper gain if you do not sell immediately after the roll-over (or immediately before the roll-over, for that matter).

Now I am the one who doesn't follow you.

What capital loss is there to take? Once it is in the Roth, the account does not generate capital losses that can be offset againt capital gains (or ordinary income, up to the $3,000 annual limit and carry forward until death.

What about the (however unlucky) case where the Roth IRA balance has a net decline between contributions and withdrawal in retirement ? I know the IRS allows a capital loss deduction in this case for non-deductible contributions in a traditional IRA. It seems fair enough - in a non-deductible IRA you pay taxes on the gains when you withdraw, so if you are unlucky enough to have a loss when you withdraw, you get the capital loss tax break (with a $3000 max).