Utilizing all the different retirement accounts available to you is one way to give yourself the best chance of being financially comfortable and living the life you envision in retirement. Most people are familiar with 401(k)s because they are offered as benefits by so many employers, but IRAs are also a great tool to use. Here are three things you seriously need to know about Roth IRAs.
1. There's an income limit
If you're eligible to contribute to a Roth IRA, you can route up to $6,000 a year into the account -- or $7,000 if you're 50 or older. Unfortunately, not everyone is eligible. If you're single and have a modified adjusted gross income of less than $129,000, you can contribute up to the limit. If you're married and file your taxes jointly, you must, as a couple, make less than $204,000 to contribute the full amount. Beyond those levels, the amount you can contribute scales down, and if your modified adjusted gross income is $144,000 or higher ($214,000 or higher if married and filing jointly), you can't contribute to a Roth IRA at all.
However, if you're over the income limit, you can still make use of this investment tool via a "backdoor Roth IRA" -- a perfectly legal loophole. Creating a backdoor IRA is as simple as contributing to a Traditional IRA -- which doesn't have any income limits -- and then later converting that account to a Roth IRA. There are tax implications, however, so be aware of those before going this route.
2. There's no minimum distribution requirement
One thing that separates a Roth IRA from a 401(k) or Traditional IRA is that there are no required minimum distributions (RMDs). Because you won't be compelled to take funds out of a Roth, it can be a great tool for building family wealth. If you don't need the funds during your retirement, you can pass a Roth IRA down to an heir, giving the assets in the account more time to grow and compound. Although the original owner of the Roth IRA doesn't have to take RMDs, once they are passed along to a beneficiary, that individual will need to withdraw the full amount of the IRA within 10 years or face a penalty.
If the beneficiary is a spouse, they can treat the account as they would their own, and it would also not face RMDs. If they opened the Roth IRA as a new inherited account, RMDs would be required, but they can be stretched over their lifetime. The same applies to minor children of the original owner, disabled or chronically ill beneficiaries, and beneficiaries less than 10 years younger than the original owner.
3. The withdrawal rules are different from a 401(k)
With a Roth IRA, you can withdraw your contributions -- but not your earnings -- at any time without facing any penalties. There is also a five-year rule -- you can't withdraw any earnings tax-free until it's been at least five years since your first contribution to a Roth IRA. There are no exceptions based on age, even in retirement.
There are also two other situations where the five-year rule applies: conversions and inheritance. If you convert a Traditional IRA or 401(k) into a Roth IRA, the five-year counter begins on Jan. 1 of the year you make the conversion. For example, if you converted a Traditional IRA to a Roth IRA in October 2021, the five-year timer would've begun on Jan. 1, 2021. If you made the conversion on Jan. 3, 2021, the timer would have still started on Jan. 1, 2021. Also, if you're the beneficiary of an inherited IRA that wasn't held for five years, the earnings would be taxed if you took a distribution.