If you’re planning to save for retirement, you can consider an individual retirement account (IRA). Essentially, it’s a plan that allows you to invest for the future while enjoying some tax advantages. However, there are several types of IRAs. Which one is better for you?
To help you answer that question, here’s a detailed comparison between traditional IRAs and Roth IRAs, which are the most popular options for those who want to set up a retirement account.
Let’s delve into the differences between a traditional IRA and a Roth IRA, their benefits, distinguishing factors, and potential disadvantages!
Understanding Individual Retirement Accounts
To give you as good insights on individual retirement accounts as we can, here is the most simple way of what an individual retirement account isn’t. IRA is not an investment in itself, but rather an investment vehicle designed to help people save for their golden years.
IRAs offer tax benefits, which can vary based on the type of account you decide to open.
Defining Roth IRA
If you have a Roth IRA, you can make contributions with after-tax dollars. That means you’ll contribute money you’ve already paid taxes on, so such deposits won’t qualify for a tax deduction.
However, Roth IRAs allow you to take tax and penalty-free distributions or withdrawals as long as they’re “qualified.”
Defining Traditional IRA
A traditional IRA allows you to make contributions with pre-tax dollars. Therefore, you can claim a deduction on your tax return for the amount you put into your account.
In other words, your money will grow tax-deferred. However, withdrawals from traditional IRAs will be subject to taxes.
The Role of IRAs in Retirement Planning
IRAs can help you save for your golden years through contributions. You can also accumulate retirement assets by rolling over balances from an employer-sponsored plan, such as a 401(k), to a new account.
With an IRA, you can invest more upfront than you would save with a standard brokerage account. Additionally, these accounts offer a key advantage: your money can grow tax-deferred or tax-free, allowing you to plan for retirement based on your preferences, current situation, and future income projections.
Distinguishing Features of Roth IRA and Traditional IRA
As explained above, each type of IRA has its own advantages and features, especially when it comes to taxes. Find more information about this below.
Both traditional and Roth IRAs offer tax benefits and come with tax obligations. However, their rules are different.
Pre-tax and Post-tax Contributions
If you have a traditional IRA, you can contribute pre-tax dollars and claim a deduction for these contributions on your tax bill, so your money can grow tax-deferred.
As such, these accounts are better for individuals who think they’ll be in the same or lower tax bracket during retirement, which is when they often start taking distributions.
Roth IRA contributions are different; you can make them with after-tax dollars. Although that means you won’t be able to claim a deduction on your tax return for the money you contribute to this account, you can make tax-free withdrawals.
As a result, Roth IRAs are best suited for people who believe their tax bracket will be higher when taking distributions during retirement.
Tax Deductions and Non-Deductions
Overall, whether you can claim a deduction on your tax return for your IRA contributions will depend on the type of account you have.
While contributions made to traditional IRAs are deductible and give you immediate tax benefits (subject to income limits if you’re covered by an employer-sponsored retirement plan), those made to Roth IRAs don’t qualify for deductions.
However, as mentioned, paying taxes on contributions to your Roth IRA means you may be able to make tax-free withdrawals during retirement.
Tax-Free and Tax-Deferred Earnings
If you contribute pre-tax dollars to your traditional IRA, your money can grow tax-deferred. That means you won’t have to pay taxes upfront when contributing to the account but when you take distributions or withdrawals.
However, with a Roth IRA, you can contribute money you’ve already paid taxes on, allowing your funds to grow tax-free, so withdrawals won’t be taxed if they’re qualified.
Eligibility criteria may also vary depending on the type of account you have. Let’s explore these differences.
Income Restrictions for a Roth IRA
Although most individuals with an earned income may be eligible for a Roth IRA, the amount you can contribute to these accounts is based on your Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI).
In this regard, these are the Roth IRA income limits:
- A MAGI under $161,000 for single tax filers
- A joint MAGI between $230,000 and $240,000 for those who are married and file jointly
Income Considerations for a Traditional IRA
There are no income limits for traditional IRAs, which means anyone with an earned income can be eligible to open and contribute to these accounts.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) limits the amount of money you can contribute to your IRA annually. Contribution limits and rules may be different for each account type.
Annual Contribution Limits
These are the 2024 contribution limits for both traditional and Roth IRAs: $7,000 if you haven’t reached age 50 or $8,000 if you’re over that age.
Age-Related Contribution Rules
In previous years, traditional IRA holders weren’t allowed to make contributions after age 70.5. However, there are no longer any age restrictions, which means you can contribute to your individual retirement accounts at any time.
Regulations on Withdrawals
You can withdraw money from your traditional or Roth IRA during retirement, but you should consider the distribution rules that the IRS has set to avoid penalties.
Early Withdrawal Penalties
Withdrawals made from your IRA before age 59.5 will be subject to penalties of 10%. Distributions may be treated as taxable income, which means you may also be required to pay federal or state income taxes.
These rules are slightly different for Roth IRAs. You can take earning distributions and avoid taxes or penalties if they’re qualified, which means they can be made if you’ve owned your account for at least five years and have reached age 59.5.
Required Minimum Distributions
According to the IRS rules, you’re required to withdraw a minimum amount of money from your IRA annually beginning the year you turn 72 (or 73 if you turn 72 after December 31).
These withdrawals are known as required minimum distributions (RMDs) and are determined by several factors, such as your age, life expectancy, and your account’s fair market value at the end of the previous year.
If you don’t withdraw the full amount of your RMD by the due date, you could face penalties. Possible consequences include a 50% excise tax on the funds you failed to take.
However, the excise tax can be reduced to 25%, possibly 10%, if this action is corrected within two years.
Roth IRA holders aren’t required to take RMDs unless they’ve established an inherited or beneficiary individual retirement account.
Evaluating Roth IRA and Traditional IRA: Pros and Cons
In this Roth vs. traditional IRA comparison, we’ll also delve into the pros and cons of each account to help you choose the one that best suits your situation.
Benefits of a Roth IRA
The advantages of choosing Roth IRA are the following:
Since contributions to Roth IRAs are made with after-tax dollars, withdrawals are tax-free. In simple terms, you won’t have to pay taxes when you take distributions during your golden years.
No Required Minimum Distributions
There are no RMDs for Roth IRAs. In other words, you won’t be required to make withdrawals from your account at a specific age, so your investments can continue to grow tax-free, and you won’t be forced to sell assets during bad times.
Drawbacks of a Roth IRA
Although they offer several benefits, Roth IRAs also come with drawbacks, including the following:
As explained above, you may only be eligible for a Roth IRA if the amount of money you earn is within the income limits set by the IRS. High earners may not be allowed to contribute to these accounts.
No Immediate Tax Deduction
Unlike traditional accounts, Roth IRAs don’t offer an immediate tax break because you cannot claim a deduction for your contributions.
Benefits of a Traditional IRA
Traditional IRAs also offer several benefits to individuals who want to save for the future. These are the two main ones:
Tax Deductible Contributions
The contributions you can make to a traditional IRA are tax-deductible, meaning you can subtract that money from your income when you file to reduce the taxes you owe.
No Income Limit for Contributions
Traditional IRAs have no income limits. Therefore, any working individual can contribute to these accounts, including high earners.
Drawbacks of a Traditional IRA
There are a few drawbacks associated with traditional IRAs that you should also consider. These are:
Required Minimum Distributions
The IRS says IRA holders must start taking annual RMDs from their accounts as soon as they’re 72 (or 73 in some cases). However, these withdrawals are subject to ordinary income taxes, which can potentially put you in a higher tax bracket. Also, you may face penalties if you fail to make them.
Although traditional IRAs offer a tax break when making contributions, withdrawals are taxable, which means you won’t be able to enjoy all of your retirement savings because you’ll have to use a portion of them to pay taxes during your golden years.
Eligibility Criteria for Roth IRA and Traditional IRA
Want to know if you’re eligible for a traditional or Roth IRA? Let’s explore the eligibility criteria set by the IRS.
Eligibility Based on Income and Age
You can make contributions to individual retirement accounts at any age. Also, as long as you earn an income, you’ll be eligible for a traditional IRA.
However, there are special considerations regarding income for Roth IRAs.
Deductibility of Contributions
The IRS explains that IRA holders may be able to claim a deduction on their federal income tax return for the money they put into their retirement accounts.
Contributions made to Roth IRAs aren’t tax-deductible, but you can claim a deduction on your tax bill for the money you contribute to a traditional IRA.
These deductions can be made in full if you or your spouse aren’t covered by a retirement plan at work. If you have one of these accounts and your income exceeds certain levels, the amount you can deduct from your tax return will be limited.
Eligibility for Roth IRA: Special Considerations
Your eligibility for a Roth IRA will depend on your income level. If the amount of money you earn is within the income limits, you can contribute to these accounts.
Dual Contribution: Roth IRA and Traditional IRA
Some individuals can contribute to a Roth and a traditional IRA in the same year if they’re eligible. This is a strategy that many people implement to have two options when making contributions (tax-deductible or taxable) and withdrawals during retirement (tax-free and tax-deferred).
Feasibility of Dual Contributions
If you meet the eligibility criteria for both accounts, you can contribute to a Roth and a traditional IRA in the same year. As mentioned, this allows you to choose whether you want to make tax-deductible or taxable contributions and gives you the opportunity to take tax-free or taxable distributions during your golden years.
Overall, this could be a good strategy for retirement planning because it offers freedom of choice.
However, opening both types of accounts doesn’t mean you’ll be allowed to contribute more. Therefore, you should evaluate your particular situation and seek advice from an expert if you want to determine if this alternative could be feasible.
Financial Implications of Dual Contributions
Although the IRS allows you to open a Roth and a traditional IRA and put money into both accounts in the same year, you can only contribute up to the annual limit. That means combined contributions cannot exceed $7,000 (or $8,000 if you’re 50 or older) in 2024.
Navigating Early Withdrawals and Minimum Distributions
The IRS has also set rules about when you’re allowed to make withdrawals and the amount you can take as a distribution.
Rules for Early Withdrawals
Withdrawals made before age 59.5 may be included in gross income, which means they may be subject to federal and state taxes. There are consequences of early withdrawals, such as a 10% additional tax penalty for premature distribution.
If you have a Roth IRA, you can make contribution withdrawals at any time and for any reason without paying taxes or being subject to penalties.
Conversions may also be eligible to be withdrawn without penalties or taxes if the funds have been in your account for at least five years. This applies to every conversion you make.
Moreover, to be tax and penalty-free, Roth IRA withdrawals must be considered “qualified,” which only happens if you have owned your account for over five years and take distributions in any of the following scenarios:
- Age 59.5
- First-time home purchase
Roth IRA distributions that don’t meet such requirements are considered “non-qualified.” In these cases, the money must be taken in this order:
These are the rules for withdrawals of earnings from Roth IRAs:
- You withdraw earnings from a Roth IRA you’ve owned for less than five years, but you haven’t yet reached age 59.5: Earnings will be subject to taxes unless you qualify for an exception.
- You withdraw earnings from a Roth IRA that you’ve had for more than five years, but you haven’t reached age 59.5: Earnings won’t be subject to taxes if you become disabled, pass away, or use the distribution for a first-time home purchase.
- You withdraw earnings from a Roth IRA that you’ve owned for less than five years, but you’re at least 59.5 years old: You’ll be required to pay income taxes but no penalties.
- You withdraw earnings from a Roth IRA that you’ve had for more than five years, and you’re already 59.5 years old: Your distributions won’t be subject to penalties or taxes.
Understanding Required Minimum Distributions
As mentioned, the IRS has set RMDs for IRAs, which are amounts you must withdraw from your accounts at a specific age. Roth IRAs don’t require them until after the holder’s death in cases where an inherited or beneficial IRA is established.
However, traditional IRA holders must take their first RMDs by April 1 of the year they turn 72 (or 73 if they reach that age after December 31). These distributions are mandatory each year.
Choosing the Right IRA for Retirement Savings
Are you wondering if you should open a Roth or a traditional IRA? The following considerations can help you choose the right option.
Factors Influencing IRA Choice
Overall, different factors can influence your decision, including the following:
- Financial goals
- Retirement planning strategy
- Eligibility criteria for each account
- Your tax bracket
- Your income level and related limitations
- Tax implications of each type of account
Financial Goals and Retirement Plans
The account you choose to save for your golden years should be in line with your retirement plans. Would you like to pay taxes upfront when making contributions? Do you think a tax break can benefit your financial situation? Answer those questions and evaluate each option based on what you need to achieve your goals.
Income Level and Tax Considerations
As explained above, the IRS has set income limits as part of the eligibility criteria for Roth IRAs. If the amount of money you earn is higher, you may not be allowed to contribute to these accounts. In that scenario, a traditional IRA might be a better option.
However, your income isn’t the only factor you should consider, as each account comes with different tax implications. If you think your tax bracket will be higher during your retirement, then paying taxes on contributions to a Roth IRA when you haven’t reached your peak earning years might be a good idea.
Contrastingly, traditional IRAs could benefit those who believe they’ll be in the same or lower tax bracket when they retire since these accounts allow for immediate tax breaks.
Recommended Roth IRA and Traditional IRA Providers
Looking for the right individual retirement account for you? Here are some recommendations for Roth and traditional IRA providers:
- Charles Schwab IRA
- Fidelity Investments IRA
- JP Morgan Self-Directed Investing
- SoFi Automated Investing
- Merrill Edge IRA
- Vanguard IRA
- Betterment IRA
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the 2023 Roth IRA contribution limits?
According to the IRS, the Roth IRA contribution limits are the same as for traditional IRAs, which are set at $6,500 for individuals under age 50 and $7,500 for individuals who are 50 and older in 2023.
What is the difference between a Roth IRA and a traditional IRA?
The main difference between Roth and traditional IRAs lies in how the money grows. Traditional accounts allow investments to grow tax-deferred, while funds in Roth retirement plans grow tax-free.
Additionally, Roth IRAs don’t have RMDs but come with income limits. Traditional accounts require mandatory withdrawals at a specific age but are suitable for anyone earning a high income.
What are the benefits of a Roth IRA?
Roth IRAs offer different benefits, including the following:
- No RMDs
- Tax-free withdrawals
- No contribution age restrictions
What is the income limit for a Roth IRA?
To be eligible to contribute to a Roth IRA, your MAGI must be under $161,000 if you’re a single tax filer or under $240,000 if you file jointly.
Is it a good idea to convert an IRA to a Roth IRA?
This depends on several aspects, including your retirement savings strategy. However, converting an IRA to a Roth IRA may be a good idea if you want to reduce your tax bill during retirement or if the taxes you pay upon conversion are lower than the amount you’d have to pay on withdrawals from your current account.
Conclusion | Roth IRA vs. Traditional IRA: Which One Is Better?
Both traditional and Roth IRAs offer excellent benefits to individuals who want to save for the future, but there are key differences between the two accounts, making it difficult to choose one.
However, whether you should open a traditional or a Roth IRA will depend on your particular situation and preferences. The former could be a good option for people who expect to be in the same or a lower tax bracket during retirement. Meanwhile, the latter could be the ideal choice for those who want to minimize taxes on withdrawals.
These differences make it crucial to evaluate each option in detail. If you understand how traditional and Roth IRAs work, you’ll be able to make a wise decision and choose the one that will allow you to enjoy your golden years as you deserve.