Saving for retirement is important, and opening an IRA is one of the best ways to set money aside for your golden years. But setting up an IRA involves some tough choices, including how much to put aside, which type of IRA to pick, and which financial institution you choose for your IRA. Below, we'll give you some basic information to help you figure out how to choose the IRA that's right for you.
Step 1: Figure out how much you can save for retirement.
The first step in opening an IRA is planning how much you'll be able to set aside in retirement savings. For 2016 and 2017, the maximum limits on IRA contributions are $5,500 for those who are younger than 50 or $6,500 for those 50 or older. However, most financial institutions allow you to open an IRA with far less than that, and some invite new customers with no minimum as long as they commit to investing at least $50 to $100 every month or so through automatic investments from their bank account.
Step 2: Find the financial provider you want to open your IRA.
Most banks, brokers, and other financial institutions offer IRAs to customers. The question, though, is what sort of investments you want access to for your retirement savings.
Some financial providers offer a limited range of investing options to customers. For instance, at smaller banks, a certificate of deposit might be your only IRA choice for your money. Unless you have very specialized needs that fit well with limited offerings, it's usually best to avoid these providers.
By contrast, most major online brokerage companies offer a wide selection of IRA investments. Between mutual funds, exchange-traded funds, individual stocks and bonds, and other securities, these institutions make IRA investing easier to tailor to your changing circumstances without having to do extra work in moving IRA money from place to place.
Step 3: Pick which type of IRA you want.
When you open an IRA, you have to decide whether you want a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA. Traditional IRAs offer most taxpayers an upfront deduction on the amount they contribute, making them a popular choice among many retirement savers. However, the trade-off with traditional IRAs is that you have to pay tax on the money you withdraw after you retire, which diminishes the after-tax amount you'll have left for spending in retirement.
By contrast, Roth IRAs don't give you an upfront deduction. Instead, they give you tax-free growth on your retirement savings, with no taxes due on withdrawals you make in your golden years.
One thing to keep in mind is that income limits might essentially make the decision for you. Some high-income taxpayers can't make Roth IRA contributions at all. Traditional IRA contributions are always allowed, but they won't always be deductible. Be sure to consult this article about IRA income limits before making your final decision about which type of IRA to open.
Step 4: Get money into your IRA on time.
Once your IRA is open, you'll need to fund it. Contributions for the 2016 tax year are allowed until the initial filing deadline for 2016 tax returns, which this year will be April 18, 2017. You can start making contributions for the 2017 tax year as soon as Jan. 1.
Step 5: Invest your IRA money.
Finally, after going to all the trouble of getting your new IRA opened, the most important step is to make sure you invest that money well. Mutual funds can be a quick, no-nonsense way to get invested quickly, with the only caveat being that you should look closely at the fees that some mutual fund companies charge and avoid funds that have high costs either upfront or in annual operating expenses. For those with brokerage accounts, you can use a combination of ETFs and individual stocks to put together a portfolio that is tailored to your particular investing philosophy, time horizon, and risk tolerance. You'll want to be mindful of commissions, but with so many low-cost options in the brokerage world, you should be able to find the right broker to give you access to the investments you want with minimal costs.
Opening an IRA can seem intimidating, but it shouldn't be. By following these simple steps, you'll be on the road to saving for retirement before you know it.
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