Breaking down the Mega Backdoor Roth contribution

You may or may not have heard of a Mega Backdoor Roth, but they are becoming increasingly common, especially in the tech world. It is often confused with a Backdoor Roth IRA contribution (which is similar) or a Roth 401(k) contribution. It shares some similarities with both of those terms but is somewhat unique for a few reasons. 

Standard 401(k) Review

First, let’s review 401(k) contributions in general. Many of us are familiar with a 401(k) plan, sponsored by an employer, which allows you to defer up to $19,500 in 2020 (and a catch-up contribution of $6,500 if you are over 50). An employer may contribute a match on top of this, but employees are limited to the standard IRS annual limits. In a pre-tax 401(k), you are able to put your contribution into the plan and not pay any federal income tax on those contributions.

A relatively recent newcomer is the Roth 401(k)- added in 2006-  which allows you to put money into your 401(k) on a post-tax basis. It doesn’t help reduce your taxable income now, but withdrawals in retirement are tax-free. The Roth 401(k) is subject to the same limits as a pre-tax 401(k); you can even do some of your contribution on a pre-tax basis and some as Roth.

So that’s the 401(k) structure most people are used to seeing at their jobs. The Mega Backdoor option allows you to save IN ADDITION to the normal limits. Say you’re already maxing out your regular 401(k) contributions at $19,500. The Mega Backdoor allows you to put additional money into the account on an after-tax basis (note: this is NOT the same thing as the Roth contribution). Then within the plan, you make an election for the contribution to be automatically converted to Roth. NOW you have funds in a Roth 401(k) which function like the Roth 401(k) contributions above (in other words, you do not pay taxes when the funds are withdrawn). 

Here’s an example. 

Let’s say you work at Microsoft, which was one of the first companies to offer this option. You’re maxing out your pre-tax 401(k) at $19,500 this year. Microsoft matches 50% of this for $9,750. You are now able to contribute another $27,750 to the after-tax 401(k)! This gets you to the annual IRS limit of $57,000 TOTAL contributions to your 401(k) account. That’s:

  • $19,500 pre-tax 401(k)
  • $9,750 employer match
  • $27,750 after-tax 401(k)

After you contribute the after-tax dollars, the plan allows for an automatic in-plan conversion to Roth. In the case of Microsoft they do this conversion daily, but in some cases it may be monthly or even quarterly. Note: the conversion itself may generate a small tax liability as you are required to pay tax on any growth from the time between contributing and the conversion itself.

And why does this help you?

There are a couple great things about this option. First, if you happen to make too much money to be eligible for a Roth IRA contribution, this is a great way to save money on a tax-free basis. Second, it greatly expands the amount you can save in a tax-advantaged manner. 

The Mega Backdoor Roth is the latest in a series of benefits that tech companies are offering to lure top talent. As mentioned, Microsoft has had this option for years, but Facebook, Google and Amazon have all jumped on the bandwagon in recent years. 

So if you have enough income to be able to afford to save that much to your 401(k), should you do it? The answer is quite likely yes, but there are certainly other factors to consider. In the case of Microsoft you also have the option to save into a Health Savings Account (HSA) or Employee Stock Purchase Plan (ESPP). Determining which of these to take advantage of can be a complex process. As with most things it’s wise to work with a financial planner who can help you determine if this is the right option for you, in light of your unique situation. 

Should I refinance my mortgage?

Xena Financial Planning blog refinance

It seems like everyone I know is asking this question right now. Mortgage rates are at an ALL TIME LOW As of July 2, 2020, Freddie Mac reported that 30-year mortgage rates are at 3.07%, on average, the lowest rate since they began tracking in 1971.

As you can imagine, there are a lot of people scrambling to buy or refinance while rates remain this low. How do you know if it makes sense for you?

Like most things, it really depends on your situation. The absolute most important question to ask is how long you plan to stay in your home. If the answer is less than 3 years, there’s a good chance that refinancing won’t make financial sense.

If however, you plan to stay for several years, it’s probably worth looking into. Some of the other questions to consider are:

Refinancing may be a great option for many people during this time. Keep in mind that it may be even harder to get approved, especially if you (or your partner) have had a change in your income due to the pandemic. Check out the refinance calculator at bankrate.com. And as always, feel free to schedule time to chat with me if you have any questions.

How much emergency reserve do I really need?

Xena Financial Planning blog rainy day fund

The conventional wisdom for an emergency reserve is about 3 to 6 months of living expenses, typically kept in a liquid, FDIC-insured account. So just how do you calculate “living expenses” and what exactly is “essential”?

In the current global pandemic environment, most of us have noticed a shift in our spending. Travel budget: $0, eating out: minimal. Your spending now is probably fairly representative of the minimum needed to survive. Things like your rent/mortgage, basic transportation expenses, food & utilities should absolutely be included. Now take that minimum monthly number and multiply it by 3. This is the smallest number you should target for an emergency reserve.

If anyone in your household is self-employed or has variable income (i.e. a real-estate agent, or an artist), you will want to target the higher end of the 3-6 month range. COVID and its effects have hit certain industries particularly hard. Even professional athletes are facing a significant cut to their expected income. Given the circumstances, it’s understandable to lean towards caution and keep as much as you can.

That’s a reasonable strategy for the short term, but don’t sacrifice saving for retirement or other goals in favor of sitting on oodles of cash. 

On the flip side, if you’re just starting to save, these amounts may seem daunting. At the very least, aim to have a couple thousand dollars set aside in the event you have a major house repair or other unexpected expense. It won’t get you too far but it’s a great start. Plan to set aside a little bit from each paycheck until you reach the goal.

One of the benefits of working with a financial planner is that they can help you prioritize saving for an emergency reserve, paying down debt and saving for other short and long-term goals. All of the recommendations here are simply that.