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Big Tax Decision Awaits Those With IRAs

Plus, by paying taxes on the money now, at today's relatively low rates, you lower the amount of your estate. For details on the pros and cons of conversion, go here.

Promises, promises: The real issue is not the current rules, but the future rules. What if the government reneges on its promise to make future Roth withdrawals tax-free?

That's not unprecedented. Ask seniors who counted on receiving tax-free income from municipal bonds how they feel about having that income added back to their "modified adjusted gross income" to determine how much of their Social Security check is subject to taxes. Or ask seniors with higher incomes how they feel about paying twice the Medicare premiums, even though high earners paid more in Medicare taxes over the years.

As you sit down to consider the numbers, these nagging worries may make you think twice about doing that Roth conversion. Future tax-free withdrawals (made at least five years after conversion) are tempting. But writing a huge check to the government next year might be even more painful than those long-term promised benefits.

Yes, this is a complicated decision. That's why it's important to discuss it with your tax adviser. And if you can't come down on one side or the other, you can always convert a portion of your IRA. That way you'll never have complete regrets about your decision. And that's the Savage Truth.

Terry Savage is an expert on personal finance and also appears as a commentator on national television on issues related to investing and the financial markets. Savage's personal finance column in the Chicago Sun-Times is nationally syndicated. She was the first woman trader on the Chicago Board Options Exchange and is a registered investment adviser for stocks and futures. Savage currently serves as a director of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Corp.
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