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Are You Taking Advantage of These Roth IRA Perks?

By Todd Campbell - Feb 14, 2016 at 6:40AM

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Roth IRAs can be used to help pay for college and a new home, and they can also help you pass along more money to your family.

Source: Flickr user

Roth IRAs are a great way to save money for retirement, but they can also be used to sock away money for other reasons too. Does using a Roth IRAs to save for college or pass along money to heirs make sense for you? Read on to learn more about the other ways you can use a Roth IRA to manage your money.

Paying for college
529 college savings plans can let you put more money away for college expenses than a Roth IRA, but they're not nearly as flexible when it comes to managing and using the money you've put into them.

Money that's put in a 529 plan is invested in specific investments, and investment choices can be limited. Some plans will only offer a handful of investment options.

Also, after-tax investments into a 529 plan grow tax free, just like they do in a Roth IRA, but returns that are earned on the money contributed into them are taxed and a 10% penalty is assessed if you don't use the money for college expenses.

Alternatively, Roth IRAs allow you to directly control your investments, giving you more flexibility to invest in stocks, bonds, or other instruments.

Roth IRAs can also be tapped to pay college expenses income tax and penalty free up to the amount contributed into them. Earnings on contributions can be withdrawn penalty free too, but you may still owe income tax on them, so plan carefully.

Additionally, since 529 plans have to be used for college expenses, a Roth IRA may be a good fit if you're unsure if your children will go to college. A 529 plan can be transferred to another beneficiary, but in many cases, you might not want to do that.

Overall, a 529 plans higher contribution limit likely makes it the best bet for people who are confident that they'll be able to use that money for college expenses, but if you want more flexibility, or think you may need more college money in a pinch, a Roth IRA could be a good option.

Source: Flickr user 401k

Saving for a home
Roth IRAs can also be used to save up money for a down payment on a home. As long as you (if single) and your spouse (if married) are first-time home buyers and you've had your Roth IRA set up for five years, then you can withdraw up to $10,000 to buy, build, or rebuild a home without paying the 10% early withdrawal penalty or worrying whether your withdrawing contributions or earnings.

The IRS defines a first-time homeowner as someone who hasn't owned an interest in a home within the past two years, and you can use this handy exemption to help your kids or grandkids with their first-time homebuying costs, too. The $10,000 limit, however, is cumulative, so keep that in mind.

Supercharge your estate
Although the opportunity to contribute to a traditional IRA stops the year you turn 70.5 years old, contributions can be made to a Roth IRA as long as you live. If you're over 50 years old, you can contribute up to $6,500 per year as long as your income is below annual limits.

For example, let's assume that after crunching the numbers, Jim, who is 71 years old, realizes he can still afford to contribute $3,000 to his Roth IRA every year. If he makes that same contribution over the next 20 years, and he earns a hypothetical 5% return per year, he'll add almost $100,000 more to his estate that can be passed along to his heirs, or to pay for long-term care.

Tying it together
Money saved in a Roth IRA shouldn't be used willy-nilly. However. savings in a Roth IRA can be helpful when planning for life's other major expenses. Of course, Roth IRA strategies can be complicated, so check in with your tax professional to find out how Roth IRAs can be used in your particular situation.


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