There is never a bad time to contribute to your retirement. Before the tax filing deadline in April, many people take advantage of the opportunity to reduce taxes by funding a Traditional IRA. While that makes sense for some, others may benefit by contributing to a Roth IRA that offers no immediate tax break, but has other tax advantages, such as tax-free growth potential and tax-free income during retirement. Some people may realize the greatest benefit by having both types of IRAs.
Unfortunately, IRS contribution rules limit investors, who are younger than age 50, to making contributions of just $5,500 to all IRA accounts each year. If you’re age 50 or older, you can save $6,500. Before making a contribution, consider the advantages of Roth IRAs, including:
- Tax-free growth potential. You won’t get a tax break today, but any earnings in a Roth IRA growth tax-free.
- Tax-free income. Distributions taken from a Roth IRA are tax-free too, as long as certain requirements are met. That means the income from your Roth IRA is protected from future tax increases.
- In general, a distribution from a Roth IRA is tax-free and penalty-free, as long as the account has been open for five years and the account owner is age 59½, has become disabled, is making a qualified first-time home purchase ($10,000 lifetime limit), or dies. Required minimum distributions do not apply to the original account owner, although they may apply to heirs.
- No required minimum distributions. You can leave the money in your Roth IRA until your heirs inherit it. You can’t do that with a Traditional IRA. At age 70½, you must take required minimum distributions (RMDs) from Traditional IRAs. Generally, RMDs are taxable and, if an RMD is not taken when it should be, a 50% penalty is assessed.
- Penalty-free early distributions. You can withdraw contributions you made to your Roth IRA anytime, tax and penalty-free. However, you may have to pay taxes and penalties on earnings withdrawn early. You don’t have to be age 59½ to take a penalty-free distribution of earnings as long as the distributions are used for higher education costs, qualified home purchases, unreimbursed medical expenses, or other special circumstances.
- Improved tax diversification. When a portfolio is “tax-diversified”, it includes taxable, tax-deferred, and tax-free accounts. Different types of accounts offer different kinds of benefits. For example:
- Taxable accounts offer immediate access to funds. Money that is saved or invested in taxable accounts – like brokerage or banks accounts – have already been taxed and can be spent at any time.
- Tax-deferred accounts offer tax breaks today. For instance, contributions to 401(k) and 403(b) plan accounts are made with before-tax money so the contributions are not included in taxable income today. Another potential benefit of tax-deferred accounts is employer-matching contributions, which can help you accumulate retirement assets more quickly. The downside is that you will have to pay income tax on withdrawals, and IRS penalties may be assessed if the money in these plans is withdrawn before age 59½.
- Tax-free accounts offer a tax break in the future. For example, contributions to a Roth IRA are made with after-tax dollars but any earnings grow tax-free and distributions may be tax-free. Having tax-free income during retirement may help you stay in a lower tax bracket.
- Open an account at any age. Anyone, of any age, who has earned income, can open a Roth IRA, assuming they are below the income threshold phaseout (this site provides more information on income limits: http://www.rothira.com/2017-roth-ira-limits-announced). So, you can fund a Roth IRA for yourself at any age. You can also fund one for a child or grandchild who works, and give him or her a head start on saving for retirement.
- Contribute as long as you work. While contributions to Traditional IRAs must stop at age 70½ (when RMDs begin), that is not the case with Roth IRAs. As a result, Roth IRAs provide legacy and estate planning advantages that Traditional IRAs do not.
If you’re planning to open or fund an IRA for yourself or someone you love, and you’re not certain whether a Traditional or Roth IRA is the right choice, give us a call. We would be happy to discuss the best option for you.