(Dow Jones) If the high number of phone calls to mutual-fund firms and the comments posted to articles on the subject are any sign, savers are showing a lot of interest in converting their traditional individual retirement accounts into Roth IRAs, but they and their advisor should be wary about acting on that desire too hastily because some expensive traps are waiting for the ill-informed.
"Roth conversions can trigger unintended tax traps and financial problems that are not being addressed in the mounds of 2010 Roth conversion information that currently dominates the media," Ed Slott wrote recently in his newsletter, "Ed Slott's IRA Advisor."
These traps may make you reconsider when to convert, how much to convert, or even if you should convert at all. Here are some of the traps that Slott says await the uninformed.
1. On a 2010 conversion, the income is split, not the tax
"While the income limitations for Roth conversions are repealed for 2010 and all subsequent years, 2010 is the only year that will allow taxpayers a special break on paying the conversion taxes," Slott wrote.
"Taxpayers who convert in 2010 won't have to include any conversion income on their 2010 tax return, and instead will include half the income from the conversion on their 2011 return and half the income on their 2012 return," he said. "But just because you evenly split the income over two years doesn't necessarily mean you evenly split the tax as well. In fact, that would be highly unlikely."
The total tax bill is going to depend on a number of factors, some totally outside a person's control, including tax rates and overall income.
2. 60-day rollover mistakes
The best way to move money from an IRA to a Roth IRA is by trustee-to-trustee transfer-a direct rollover. But some company plans or IRA custodians don't offer this type of transfer, Slott said. Instead, the firms will simply write a check to you, the account owner, and send you on your way.
In such cases, you have 60 days to place these funds into another qualifying retirement account, including a Roth IRA. And if you don't make the deadline? "If the 60 days pass without the funds being re-contributed to another retirement account, the funds become taxable and are no longer eligible for rollover," Slott wrote.
The only fix for this is a private letter ruling, he said. PLRs, as retirement experts call them, can be costly and time consuming-and there's no guarantee the IRS will rule in your favor.