There are several retirement account options available in the United States including Traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs and 401(k) plans. Even if you already contribute to a 401(k) plan at work, there are many benefits unique to a Roth IRA. You should contribute to a Roth IRA as part of your retirement savings strategy.
What Is A Roth IRA
A Roth IRA is a retirement account that offers you a tax benefit when you retire. Unlike traditional IRAs and 401(k) plans Roth IRA contributions are not tax deductible but you also do not pay taxes when you withdraw money at age 59 ½ +. There are certain Roth IRA rules such as income requirements and contribution limits you need to follow.
Broad Variety of Roth IRA Investment Options
In a Roth IRA account you can select what you want to invest in such as stocks, bonds and mutual funds. You can invest in nearly any financial asset but you cannot invest in other assets like artwork for example. Any financial asset offered by the financial institution you have your Roth IRA with can be invested in through your Roth IRA. This is a benefit offered by a Roth IRA that you don’t have in your 401(k) plan. A 401(k) plan offered by your employer typically only has a few options of what you can invest in.
Roth IRA Tax Benefits
Roth IRAs are funded with post tax contributions. This means you pay taxes on your Roth IRA contributions before you put it in the account. This is different from a 401(k) plan where you contribute money that hasn’t been taxed yet. Once the money is in your Roth IRA account the earnings grow tax free.
Borrowing Money from Roth IRA Earnings
It’s not recommended that you borrow money from a Roth IRA. However, if you get in a bind, there are a few benefits to taking out a loan / distribution from a Roth IRA. With a Roth IRA, you may have to pay a 10% penalty for an early withdrawal but there are a few exceptions. You can withdraw all or part of your money penalty free for 60 days as part of a Roth IRA rollover but you must pay back the full amount in that time frame.
You can also request a qualified distribution that you don’t have to pay back for a few reasons including buying or building your first home (up to $10,000 cap), certain education expenses or if you become disabled. Investopedia shares more details here about withdrawing from a Roth IRA. If this is something you are considering, it is best to contact your financial institution first. However, when you withdraw money from your Roth IRA you lose the tax benefits of those contributions earning capital gains and dividends tax free.
With a 401(k) loan, you can only take a loan out for a current 401(k) plan. You also may have to pay taxes on your loan and interest which is typically an interest point or two above the prime rate. Your loan is also limited to $50,000 or 50% of your balance, whichever is lower.
Roth IRA Contribution Withdrawals At Any Time
With a Roth IRA you are always able to withdraw your contributions penalty free (note: contributions, not earnings). You’ve already paid taxes on your Roth IRA contributions. Therefore, you can withdraw your contributions at any time with no restrictions. If you withdraw earnings on those contributions though, you may be taxed or penalized on withdrawing this money.
Once you hit 59 ½, as long as you’ve held the account for at least five years, you can take distributions on all money within the account and do not have to pay taxes on that money. Both 401(k) plans and Traditional IRA plans require you to pay taxes when you withdraw the money.
No Minimum Required Distribution for Roth IRAs
There are no required minimum distributions for Roth IRA accounts. Both 401(k) plans and Traditional IRA plans have required minimum distributions beginning at age 70 ½. If these plans are your only retirement saving strategy this could mean you’re in a high tax bracket depending what your required minimum distribution is. You don’t have the option to withdraw less to end up in a lower tax bracket. Since there is no required minimum distribution beginning at 70 ½ with a Roth IRA you don’t ever have to withdraw from this account. You can opt to pass this money onto your heirs.
Roth IRA Benefits Summary
It is a good retirement strategy to have a Roth IRA along with a 401(k) or traditional IRA to reduce the amount of taxes you’ll have to pay once retired and also to take advantage of the tax benefits offered by a 401(k) plan while you’re working. Having a mix of both will help reduce your taxes both now and in retirement. You’ll also have more flexibility with investment options and flexibility to borrow money from the account if you’re ever in a desperate situation.