Studies indicate that many people do not save for retirement because they do not understand all the 401k gibberish. First there’s the traditional 401k, then there’s the Roth 401k, annuities, ROTH IRA, Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) and your savings account at your local bank. Out of all these options, the Roth IRA has come out to be the best and the most popular option. Why? Because its tax-free growth and flexibility of making withdrawals cannot be competed against! Studies suggest that compared to traditional 401k or 403b plans, a retiree who saves in a Roth IRA will have more savings upon retirement. Total Roth IRA assets in the United States totaled $178 billion as of December 2006 (Source: Investment Company Institute).
The Roth IRA was introduced under the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997, pioneered by the late Senator William V. Roth, Jr. Under a Roth IRA, an individual can invest in all types of investment vehicles including common stocks, mutual funds, futures & options, certificates of deposit, as well as real estate. The main advantage of Roth IRA is its tax structure. Contributions to a Roth IRA are made only from earned income that has been taxed by the Federal government. Since you already pay taxes before saving your money in a Roth IRA, you are not required to pay federal taxes when you make withdrawals from your Roth IRA. Also, any capital gains you make on your Roth IRA investments can be withdrawn tax-free!
Difference between Traditional IRA and Roth IRA
In a traditional IRA, any contributions you make are tax-deductible and any withdrawals you make will be taxed by the federal government. This works inversely with a Roth IRA where any contributions you make is not tax-deductible (because you have already paid taxes on this), and any withdrawals you make will NOT be taxed by the federal government.
Roth IRA Contribution Limits
|49 Years or Less||50 Years and Above|
|1998 – 2001||$2000||$2000|
|2002 – 2004||$3000||$3500|
|2006 – 2007||$4000||$5000|
Advantages of Roth IRA
i) Roth IRA owners can withdraw up to the total value of their contributions at any point in time, without having to pay the 10% early withdrawal penalty or any federal income taxes.
ii) Upto $10,000 can be withdrawn without any penalty if the owner wishes to purchase a home or principal residence. The home must be purchased by either the Roth IRA owner, his spouse, ancestors or descendants. Also, the Roth IRA owner must not have previously owned a home for at least 24 months.
iii) If a Roth IRA owner dies and his spouse also owns a separate Roth IRA, the spouse is permitted to combine the two Roth IRAs into 1 single account without any penalties or fines.
iv) The Roth IRA does not force distributions upon the owner reaching 70 and 1/2 years of age. This is unlike all tax-deferred retirement plans including the Roth 401k where the owner is required to take minimum required distributions (MRDs) after the age of 70 and 1/2 years. Usually all distributions must be withdrawn by April 1st of the calender year.
v) If the Roth IRA owner expects to be in a higher tax bracket upon retirement, it is advantageous for him to contribute maximum amounts of money towards a Roth IRA. Why? Because money being invested in a Roth IRA is taxed at the current lower tax bracket, and will not be taxed when it is withdrawn upon retirement (and when the Roth IRA owner is in a higher tax bracket). For example, consider an investor who contributes $2000 to a Roth IRA when he is in a tax bracket of 21%, and will be in a tax bracket of 33% upon retirement. This means that investor has already paid 21% x $2000 = $420 in taxes. Upon retirement if the investor wants to withdraw his funds, he would have had to pay 33% x $2000 = $660 under a Traditional IRA. However since the investor has already been taxed at his lower bracket of 21%, he would NOT have to pay taxes upon taking retirement distributions when he is in a 33% tax bracket.