Block Woman looking at a wall with the word "Roth" written many times on it.

Congress passed the Secure 2.0 Act in late 2022. Why should you care? You shouldn’t. Much.

There are, however, one or two changes that you’ll have to make decisions about in the next year or so, so pull up a chair and prepare to be bored.

Congress has been passing new tax legislation like a kid in a candy shop the last few years. This is just the latest, an encore to the predictably titled Secure Act of 2019.

SECURE 2.0 seems to have 1000s (actual count closer to 100) of fiddly tax changes to retirement accounts. If you’re in your early-to-mid career, most of those 1000 fiddly tax changes don’t apply to you, yet, because you’re too young. (Look at that dewy skin!)

Most of them apply to people above the ages of 50, 60, and 70. And hell, by the time you’re that age, the tax code will probably be meaningfully different so who cares!

I relied on tax nerds to read through the entire legislation to distill it down to something I can digest. And you, dear woman in your early-to-mid-career in tech, can rely on me to distill that down to only the bits you need to care about at this point in your life.

Note: I am not a CPA. I know stuff, but CPAs know more. We here at Flow encourage all our clients—and you!—to work with a CPA or other tax professional who understands your personal situation.

Let’s go.

Most Influential Change: Your Employer’s Contributions to Your 401(k) Contributions Can Now Be Roth

Your employer probably makes matching contributions to your 401(k), in the general shape of, “if you put money of your own into your 401(k), we’ll put in money up to 4% of your salary.”

[Employers can also make “non-elective,” i.e., profit-sharing, contributions, though this is very unusual, in my experience, in tech.]

Up until now, any money your employer put into your 401(k) had to go into the pre-tax bucket, regardless of whether you were putting your $22,500 paycheck deferral into the pre-tax or Roth bucket.

Now, you can choose to have them put the matching money into the Roth bucket.

How would taking a Roth match instead of pre-tax match affect you? 

As tax nerd extraordinaire Jeff Levine explains it, it is equivalent to getting the usual pre-tax match and then you immediately convert that money to a Roth account. The tax impact to you is the same: 

  • The money ends up in a Roth account, where it will grow tax free and, in many years, in retirement, you’ll take it out tax-free.
  • There is no FICA (Social Security and Medicare) tax owed on the matching contribution (yay!).
  • You will owe income tax on the matching contribution.

Should You Choose a Roth Match (Instead of the Usual Pre-Tax)?

Usually when it comes to the pre-tax vs. Roth decision for your own contributions, we ask ourselves: “Are your tax rates now likely to be higher than your tax rates in the future?” If your tax rates now are (likely) higher, then contribute pre-tax now so you get tax breaks on the higher tax rate. 

And, to complete this optimization, you should also invest the tax savings. Unfortunately, this part rarely happens because it has to happen outside of your automatic paycheck withholding. It’s more work, doesn’t happen automatically…and therefore often doesn’t happen at all.

Well, the same logic applies to your choice of match.

Let’s look at this example.

  • Your match is $5000.
  • Your federal + state income tax rate combined is (32% + a CA-like 10%) = 42%.
  • You’ll pay an extra $2100 in taxes if the match is Roth.

If you think your tax rate is higher now than it will be in the future, then take the match pre-tax now, save that $2100 in extra taxes, invest it, and hopefully you’ll save taxes over your lifetime and end up with a bigger after-tax investment portfolio.

That’s the Robot Optimize-y Approach. 

Here’s one other thing to keep in mind (as hard as it is to wrap you head around):

A Roth dollar is worth more than a Pre-Tax dollar.

$5000 (your company’s match in this example) in a Roth account is worth more than $5000 in a pre-tax account. Hunh? Because the government has a claim on some percentage of the money in your pre-tax account: you will owe income taxes on it when you withdraw the money. By contrast, you own 100% of the money in a Roth. It not only grows tax free, it comes out tax-free when you withdraw it in retirement.

So, putting this all together, what do we have?

  1. You could, theoretically, optimize, your pre-tax vs. Roth decision by making “is my tax rate higher now or later?” guesses.
  2. If you choose pre-tax, you’d avoid extra taxes on the matching money, and you’d invest that $2100 tax savings.
  3. But you’re a human, not a robot, and so it’s reasonable to acknowledge that you will not save and invest that extra $2100 in tax savings. (We certainly have observed that savings that come out of your paycheck is way easier for people to do than other forms of saving.)
  4. So, you’ll choose the Roth match because it’s zero-effort. (The Roth matching money is worth more than pre-tax matching money and the extra taxes get automatically withheld).

Keep in mind:

  • Your employer is now allowed to offer matching contributions as Roth. They’re not required to, as far as I understand it.
  • While the new law says 401(k) plans can offer this as of 12/29/2022, practically speaking, it’ll likely take some time for your company’s 401(k) plan to change.

Most Influential No Change: Backdoor Roth Contributions Are Still a Thing!

In late 2021, President Biden proposed the Build Back Better Bill (see our coverage of it for women in their early to mid-career in tech). One of the (gazillion) proposals it made was to eliminate the ability to make backdoor Roth contributions, either to an IRA or to your 401(k) via after-tax contributions.

Had it passed, this would have been a meaningful blow to many people who worked at tech companies that offered after-tax contributions in their 401(k) plans. 

With after-tax contributions, people who had a high enough income (and more importantly, the extra savings ability) were able to put a bunch of money in their 401(k) on top of the usual payroll deferral (“usual” = $22,500 this year). This could be more than $30k via after-tax contributions that could be automatically converted into the 401(k) Roth account, on top of the $22,500.

But it didn’t pass in late 2021, or at any time in 2022. 

Those of us paying attention (and with many clients who take advantage of backdoor Roth contributions via IRAs or 401(k)s, we were definitely paying attention) were on tenterhooks, waiting for it to maybe pass at a later date.

There’s no guarantee, of course, but this most recent iteration of the tax code doesn’t mention it all, so for now, backdoor Roth contributions continue to be a thing!

Change: 401(k) Catch-up Contributions Must Be Roth (Ages 50+)

If you’re approaching 50, you might know that once you turn 50, you can make “catch-up” contributions to your 401(k). (To your IRA, too, but IRAs aren’t relevant here.)

In 2023: the “normal” 401(k) contribution limit is $22,500. The catch-up contribution is $7500. So, you could contribute a total of $30,000.

These catch-up contributions used to be pre-tax, full stop.

Now, for people with incomes above $145k in the previous year (to increase with inflation; yes, it’s complicated!), those catch-up contributions must be to your 401(k) Roth account. Which means you won’t get a tax break on that $7500. But it also means you can effectively save more money (remember: a Roth dollar is worth more than a pre-tax dollar).

This takes effect in 2024. So you have a while to wrap your head around it. And to grow another year older.

Minor Changes

The changes below probably don’t apply to a lot of our clients or the kind of folks we work with, at least not for a while. But we mention them because they apply to one or two, here or there.

Change: Over-Contributions to Retirement Accounts Will No Longer Be Penalized

We have several clients who have contributed to a Roth IRA directly when they no longer are eligible to (because they make too much money). 

It’s an easy trap to fall into because, when you first start out in your career, you likely make a low enough income to be eligible to contribute to Roth IRAs. But as you scale the career ladder in tech, it’s easy to not observe that your income has quickly risen into the “you’re no longer eligible” territory.

When you accidentally contribute to a Roth IRA when you’re not eligible, you have to take out the excess contribution and the investment growth associated with it. And you pay income tax on that growth. That hasn’t changed. 

But now, the IRA no longer penalizes you on the growth, if you remove it by October 15 after the year for which contribution was made.

Change: Emergency Savings Account Linked to 401(k)

You can now save automatically from your paycheck into your 401(k)…into a cash account. You can take money out of this cash account tax- and penalty-free. 

Usually, money in your 401(k) is invested for retirement, and any withdrawals from a 401(k) prior to age 59 ½ are subject to income tax and a penalty.

How is this new cash account inside the 401(k) helpful? 

If you don’t have a cash cushion already, it’s really important to build one up! It’s one of the most important things to do in your financial life. But that can also create a difficult choice: Build up that cash cushion or get your employer match on 401(k) contributions (free money!)?

Now you can do both simultaneously.

Note that this isn’t available to highly compensated employees (“An individual who…For the preceding year, received compensation from the business of more than…$135,000 if the preceding year is 2022.”) 

So, yeah, not most of our clients. But certainly the earlier in your career, the more likely you are to be eligible for this, and the more likely you are to benefit from this!

Note that there’s a $2500 cap on this cash account.

Change: Move Money from 529 to Roth IRA (Don’t get your hopes up)

Parents with kids worry that they might save “too much” for their kids’ college education in a tax-advantaged 529 account. If you take money out of a 529 for non-education expenses, you pay taxes and a penalty. Yuck.

Well, now there’s a (very partial) solution to that problem: You can convert money from the 529 into a Roth IRA owned by the beneficiary of the 529. Presumably either your Roth IRA or your kid’s, assuming you’ve set the 529 beneficiary to be either you or your kid. This money can now be shifted from “to be used for education” to “to be used for retirement” without any penalty or tax.

Sounds great! But there are a ton of restrictions:

  • The 529 beneficiary must have compensation.
    If the 529 beneficiary is your kid, and of course the Roth IRA must along belong to that kid, your kid has to have actually earned money (as in, jobbity job) in order to put any of that 529 money into the Roth IRA.
  • The 529 must have been maintained for 15+ years.
    If you opened the 529 around when your kid was born, then by the time college is approaching, this requirement is easily satisfied.
  • Contributions made to the 529 within the previous 5 years can’t be moved.
  • You can convert only up to the IRA contribution limit each year.
    So, in 2023, you would only be able to convert $6500.
  • There’s also a lifetime cap on conversion of $35,000.

Change: Penalty-Free Access to Retirement Account Money

Starting in 2025, you can get penalty-free access to money in you retirement accounts for the following reasons:

  • Disaster area
  • Terminally ill
  • Domestic abuse victims 
  • Hardship/emergency
  • Qualified long term care insurance (effective basically 2026)

Note that there are caps on how much you can withdraw.

Change: Catch-Up Contribution Limits to IRAs and 401(k)s Have Increased (Ages 50+)

After you turn 50, you can contribute more to IRAs and 401(k)s in order to “catch up” on your retirement savings, as you draw closer to actually retiring.

For 2023, catch-up contributions increased to $7,500 for 401(k)s and $1,000 for Roth and traditional IRAs.

The brand new thing is that now, just for ages 60-63, starting in a year or two, you’ll be allowed an extra extra catch-up of $10,000 to your 401(k).

The younger you are, the less these tax changes have an immediate impact on your life. Keep your focus on saving enough, and don’t worry as much, for now, about all these optimizations.

Do you want to work with a financial planner who can distill the boundless, overwhelming world of All Things Finance (especially taxes) into just the bits you need to know? Reach out and schedule a free consultation or send us an email.

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Disclaimer: This article is provided for educational, general information, and illustration purposes only. Nothing contained in the material constitutes tax advice, a recommendation for purchase or sale of any security, or investment advisory services. We encourage you to consult a financial planner, accountant, and/or legal counsel for advice specific to your situation. Reproduction of this material is prohibited without written permission from Flow Financial Planning, LLC, and all rights are reserved. Read the full Disclaimer.

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