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Can I convert my traditional IRA to a Roth IRA in 2012?

It may be an excellent time to consider converting your traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. As a result of market volatility, some investors have seen a reduction in the value of their traditional IRAs, meaning that the tax cost of converting may have dropped significantly. Also, federal income tax rates are scheduled to increase in 2013, so converting this year may be "cheaper" than converting next year.

Anyone can convert a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA in 2012. There are no longer any income limits, or restrictions based on your tax filing status. You generally have to include the amount you convert in your gross income for the year of conversion, but any nondeductible contributions you've made to your traditional IRA won't be taxed when you convert. (You can also convert SEP IRAs, and SIMPLE IRAs that are at least two years old, to Roth IRAs.)

Converting is easy. You simply notify your existing IRA provider that you want to convert all or part of your traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, and they'll provide you with the necessary paperwork to complete. You can also transfer or roll your traditional IRA assets over to a new IRA provider, and complete the conversion there.

If a conversion ends up not making sense (for example, the value of your Roth IRA declines after the conversion), you'll have until October 15, 2013, to "recharacterize" (i.e., undo) the conversion. You'll be treated for federal income tax purposes as if the conversion never occurred, and you'll avoid paying taxes on the value of IRA assets that no longer exist.

The conversion rules can also be used to allow you to contribute to a Roth IRA in 2012 if you wouldn't otherwise be able to make a regular annual contribution because of the income limits. (In 2012, you can't contribute to a Roth IRA if you earn $183,000 or more and are married filing jointly, or if you're single and earn $125,000 or more.) You can simply make a nondeductible contribution to a traditional IRA, and then convert that traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. (Keep in mind, however, that you'll need to aggregate the value of all your traditional IRAs when you calculate the tax on the conversion.) You can contribute up to $5,000 to an IRA in 2012, $6,000 if you're 50 or older.