(Dow Jones) Participants in 401(k) plans may get additional tools next year to avoid potentially higher taxes on their retirement savings.
Employers and legislators are considering options that would enable workers to transfer assets in 401(k) plans into Roth IRAs or Roth 401(k)s before what many anticipate will be significantly higher tax rates arrive for high earners.
Employees are lobbying to be able to transfer from 401(k) plans to Roth products, says Robyn Credico, national director of defined contribution consulting at Watson Wyatt.
She says a growing number of employers are considering whether to amend their 401(k) plans and enable workers younger than 59 1/2 to shift at least some of their 401(k) assets into a Roth IRA. Typically, workers can't move these investments unless they leave a company or are at least 59 1/2.
Concerns about escalating tax rates for high earners and awareness of the expanded availability of the Roth IRA starting in 2010 has more workers pressing their bosses for a little help.
Thought this year, only individuals with incomes of $100,000 or less have been able to convert savings from a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. In 2010, all IRA investors can pay the taxes on the assets and roll them into a Roth IRA.
Growth in a Roth IRA is not taxed, so paying taxes now and moving money there can be advantageous for high earners as tax rates rise. Also, owners of Roth IRAs aren't obligated to start withdrawing a certain amount of their savings when they reach age 70 1/2. That can mean more savings for late in retirement or for heirs.
Credico says one concern for businesses is that they need to keep enough employee assets in the 401(k) to maintain the lower mutual fund fees and other benefits they often provide.
Workers also are becoming more interested in Roth 401(k) plans because they pay their taxes on income before making a contribution rather than at withdrawal. Until now, Roth 401(k) plans have been slow to build traction because "employers need another payroll deferral slot," says Michael Doshier, vice president of Fidelity's workplace investing group.
Jan Jacobson, senior counsel, retirement policy, for the American Benefits Council, says there is some Congressional interest in changing the rules so that an employee would be able to pay the tax on 401(k) investments and then move the assets into a Roth 401(k) at the same employer. But legislation is not expected to be introduced until after the health care debate is resolved. Jacobson says one concern is that businesses would need enough time to implement the changes to their plans.
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