Saving for retirement can be daunting enough — before you even get to choosing the kind of account that will house those savings. Individual retirement accounts (IRAs) alone have several iterations, each with its own specifications for different circumstances. Below, we cover the types of IRAs, their features and their limitations so you can make an informed decision about which IRA is right for you and your retirement.
The IRA was created by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to give individual investors another way to save for retirement. Rather than socking away your money in a savings account, you can contribute to an IRA, which allows you to take advantage of market gains, helping your money grow faster. There may even be some tax benefits to using an IRA.
There are several types of IRAs available:
How much would you like to invest?
While there are many different types of IRAs, you probably won’t use all of them. In fact, you’ll most likely use just one or two of the most common types in your lifetime. Below are six of the most popular IRA types available.
A traditional IRA is one of the most common forms of IRAs. You can open and contribute to a traditional IRA until you reach the age of 70 and a half. You can open one as your sole retirement vehicle — as some self-employed people do — or as a supplement to a 401(k) plan. There’s no income limit, so you can contribute to a traditional IRA regardless of how much money you make.
According to Paul T. Joseph, an attorney and certified public accountant, a traditional IRA offers substantial benefits.
“The traditional IRA allows you to invest money into a tax-deferred account, which you can invest and allow to grow tax-sheltered until you withdraw the money or are compelled to withdraw the money at age 70 and a half,” said Joseph. “You receive a tax benefit upon the deposit into the account, and the account grows tax deferred until withdrawal.”
Roth IRAs can be powerful savings tools, but they differ from traditional IRAs. When you open a Roth IRA, contributions are made after you pay taxes on the money. While you don’t get the upfront tax benefit, Roth IRAs offer a unique perk once you retire.
“When you decide you want to withdraw money from the Roth IRA account, any earnings made in the account are tax-free,” said Joseph. “The investment must stay in the account for at least five years to qualify. With a Roth IRA, you are not compelled to begin withdrawals at age 70 and a half.”
Not everyone can contribute to a Roth IRA, however. The IRS implements income thresholds where if you make more than a certain amount, you can contribute either a reduced amount or nothing at all to a Roth IRA. These amounts typically change each year.
A simplified employee pension (SEP) IRA is a tax-deferred retirement plan for small-business owners, self-employed individuals and freelancers. Generally, SEP IRAs are good accounts for business owners who want to contribute to their employees’ retirements. With these accounts, the employer contributes on the employee’s behalf.
A savings incentive match plan for employees (SIMPLE) IRA is for small-business owners — businesses with 100 employees or fewer — who want to offer a tax-deferred retirement plan. A SIMPLE IRA requires contributions from the employer, which can be made on their own or to match an employee’s contributions.
Employees are eligible if they received at least $5,000 in compensation from the employer in any two preceding years and are expected to earn at least $5,000 in the current year.
Deciding exactly what you should do with a 401(k) when you leave a job can be tricky. Cashing it out causes you to lose money, so a better idea is to roll it over into an IRA. With this approach, you transfer the 401(k) funds into an IRA. The new rollover IRA allows you to keep the full balance and continue to contribute to your account. You can complete a rollover online within minutes through online investment companies.
It can feel like your retirement options are limited if you aren’t working. The IRS allows nonworking or low-income spouses to contribute household income into an IRA to save for the future.
“In some situations where a married couple only has one party earning income, they are still able to create a spousal IRA and place money into the IRA for the benefit of the nonworking spouse,” said Joseph. “Provided you don’t exceed your earned income, you can essentially double your contributions into an IRA through the use of a spousal IRA.”
A spousal IRA can be either a traditional IRA or Roth IRA, depending on your preference and income. Depending on the account you choose, you can deduct the amount you contribute and watch the money grow tax-deferred over time. It’s a powerful option that can help your retirement nest egg grow as a couple.
Opening an IRA is a relatively easy process. To get started, identify which type of IRA is best for you. Then choose a bank or financial institution to hold your investments. Companies like Vanguard, Fidelity, TD Ameritrade and Betterment all offer IRAs.
Depending on the company you choose, you may need anywhere from $500 to $1,000 to open an account. Once you open the account — which takes just a few minutes online — you can choose your mix of investments to design your portfolio.
Not sure which investments to choose? Learn about mutual funds and ETFs and which is best for you.
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