In a recent TIAA survey, only 19% of Americans were found to actively contribute to an IRA. If you've yet to open an account, now's the time to get moving, because the sooner you do, the more time you'll give your retirement savings to grow.
Now if you're going to start funding an IRA, you may be wondering whether you should go with a traditional account versus a Roth. While each comes with its share of benefits, here are some Roth IRA advantages you probably don't want to pass up.
1. Tax-free withdrawals in retirement
Unlike traditional IRAs, whose contributions are tax-deductible, Roth IRA contributions are made with after-tax dollars. The upside, however, is that when the time comes to take withdrawals in retirement, you get that money completely tax-free. Since we don't know what tax rates will look like in the future, opening a Roth IRA is a good way to lock in the rate you're currently paying. And from a financial planning perspective, knowing you'll have access to your account balance in full makes for a less stressful retirement.
2. Tax-free investment growth
Though earnings on a traditional IRA are tax-deferred (meaning, you don't pay taxes on your gains until the time comes to take withdrawals), Roth IRAs offer an even greater benefit: tax-free growth. No matter how much money you earn in your Roth, you'll never lose a dime of your gains to taxes.
3. No required minimum distributions
One major drawback of traditional IRAs is that you can't leave your money untouched indefinitely. In fact, you're required to start taking withdrawals once you turn 70 1/2. Roth IRAs, by contrast, don't impose required minimum distributions, which means that if you don't need your money right away in retirement, you can let it sit and continue to benefit from the aforementioned tax-free growth.
4. The option to contribute throughout your lifetime
Just as traditional IRAs come with required minimum distributions once you turn 70 1/2, they also bar you from contributing additional funds once you reach that age. The beauty of the Roth IRA is that you can continue to make contributions as long as you have earned income, regardless of age. Minors, too, are allowed to fund a Roth with money they earn, which opens the door to a lifetime of tax-free investment growth.
5. The ability to leave money to your heirs
Because Roth IRAs don't require you to remove your money at a certain point, they can serve as a helpful estate planning tool. If your goal is to leave a certain amount of money to your heirs, you can do so in a Roth IRA and rest easy knowing that your beneficiaries will get that money completely tax-free (provided your account has been open for at least five years before distributions are taken). Now the one catch with inherited Roth IRAs is that your heirs will be subject to required minimum distributions, but they'll still benefit from the tax treatment of that money.
6. Principal contributions are yours to withdraw at any time
One reason why so many people shy away from traditional IRAs is that they penalize you for taking withdrawals prior to age 59 1/2 (unless an exception applies). But because Roth IRAs are funded with after-tax dollars, you're allowed to access the money in your account at any time, and for any reason, without having to worry about losing a portion to penalties or taxes. In this regard, Roth IRAs offer the maximum amount of flexibility. The only thing to keep in mind is that this provision applies to the principal portion of your account (meaning, the amount you contributed directly), not your earnings.
7. Your account can double as a college fund
Whether you own a traditional IRA or a Roth, no matter your age, you'll always have the option to withdraw funds penalty-free to pay for higher education. This means that your account can essentially function as a retirement savings plan as well as a college fund. Of course, we just learned that Roth distributions can be taken penalty-free at any time, but that only applies to your principal contributions. But if you're using that money for college purposes, you can access your gains penalty-free as well.
The one caveat here is that if you empty your Roth IRA to pay for college, you won't have that money available in retirement. But if you have another retirement savings plan and won't miss the money, it's yours to use for qualified higher education purposes.
While there are plenty of good reasons to save in a traditional IRA, the advantages offered by a Roth are pretty much unparalleled. And the sooner you start contributing regularly, the more you stand to benefit in the long run.
The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.