One of my favorite retirement tools is a Roth IRA. Yearly contribution limits keep us from using it for all our retirement assets. However, a little known way to contribute additional funds is through the use of an after tax account with an employer who allows in service withdrawals. Fortunately my employer allows this.

Good directions from Roth IRA Advisor on how to contribute to an after-tax account, roll to tax-deferred account, then to a tax-free account are here.

For example, lets say my 401k plan at work allows 10% after-tax deferrals. I can take a regular withdrawal twice per calendar year. So my strategy is to ask my 401k for a withdrawal of only the after-tax portion (which for example at 50K salary would be $2500 each for a total of $5000). I will have it sent directly to my traditional IRA, then convert it to my Roth with no further tax due, since it was already after-tax when deposited into the 401k.

It is an easy way to get extra money into my Roth! This is on top of the regular Roth or nondeductible IRA contribution each year. I realize many probably wouldn’t be able to do this as the 401k provisions have to allow it, but check your summary plan documents just for fun – you might be surprised as I was. And yes, you can have a 401k and an IRA at the same time.

Don’t forget to file IRS Form 8606 at tax time and review the conversion rules. If you have pretax money in your IRA, this can also be coupled with strategies to roll over just enough each year to max out/stay in 15% tax bracket, minimizing taxes.

In addition, the provisions for the income limits to be removed in 2010 sweeten the deal. Read more about it here by Five Cent Nickel.