Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

3 Reasons to Go With a Traditional IRA

By Kailey Hagen - Aug 17, 2019 at 2:15PM

You’re reading a free article with opinions that may differ from The Motley Fool’s Premium Investing Services. Become a Motley Fool member today to get instant access to our top analyst recommendations, in-depth research, investing resources, and more. Learn More

Sometimes it pays to put off paying taxes.

When planning for retirement, every decision can have serious consequences, including the type of IRA you contribute to. Roth IRAs get a lot of attention because you can make tax-free withdrawals in retirement, but these accounts aren't a good fit for everyone. Here are three reasons to consider a traditional IRA instead.

1. You're in a higher tax bracket now than you think you'll be in when retired

Your goal in choosing between a traditional and Roth IRA is to pay the least in taxes. Roth IRAs make sense if you believe you're in a lower or the same tax bracket today as you will be in retirement. You pay taxes on your initial contributions, and then all your earnings are tax-free -- assuming you wait until you're 59 1/2 or older and have had the account for at least five years before you begin making withdrawals. 

IRA letters with piggy bank, books and glasses

Image source: Getty Images.

But if you think you're in a higher tax bracket today than you will be in when you're retired, paying taxes on your initial contributions could cause you to lose a larger percentage of your income to the government. In that case, a traditional IRA is a better fit. Your contributions reduce your taxable income in the year you make them, but unlike a Roth IRA, you must pay taxes on your traditional IRA retirement distributions. This is typically the best route for those who are at the peak of their careers, as many people see their annual income decline in retirement. This could change your tax bracket, and then you'll share a smaller amount with Uncle Sam.

2. You'll get a tax break this year

Your traditional IRA contributions aren't taxed, so any money you put in this account reduces your taxable income this year. Depending on how much you made this year, the amount of your contribution, and how the tax brackets fall, a traditional IRA contribution could push you into a lower tax bracket, enabling you to keep even more of your hard-earned cash.

But you're limited in how much of a tax break you can get. You're only allowed to contribute up to $6,000 to an IRA in 2019, or $7,000 if you're 50 or older. This limit applies to all of your IRAs -- traditional and Roth -- not each account individually. Contributing more than this results in a 6% excise tax on the excess amount for every year it remains in your account. But you can avoid this by removing the extra amount from your account before the tax deadline for the year.

3. Anyone can open a traditional IRA

Roth IRAs have income limitations that prohibit high earners from contributing directly to them, but anyone who earns income during the year can open and contribute to a traditional IRA. This opens up a loophole for higher earners who want to contribute to Roth accounts but are unable to do so directly.

If you're one of those higher earners, you can open a traditional IRA and make contributions up to the annual limit, then do a Roth IRA conversion in the same year. This is called a backdoor Roth IRA. It's a few extra hoops to jump through, but it lets you contribute to a Roth IRA regardless of your income. Think carefully before doing this, though. If you believe your high income will drop off in retirement, you may be better off sticking with the traditional IRA so you can take advantage of the smaller tax bill.

You're not limited to a traditional or Roth IRA. You can contribute some money to both. But most people tend to favor one over the other. If any of the above points sound applicable or appealing to you, consider putting the bulk of your investment savings into a traditional IRA this year.

Invest Smarter with The Motley Fool

Join Over 1 Million Premium Members Receiving…

  • New Stock Picks Each Month
  • Detailed Analysis of Companies
  • Model Portfolios
  • Live Streaming During Market Hours
  • And Much More
Get Started Now

Related Articles

Motley Fool Returns

Motley Fool Stock Advisor

Market-beating stocks from our award-winning service.

Stock Advisor Returns
S&P 500 Returns

Calculated by average return of all stock recommendations since inception of the Stock Advisor service in February of 2002. Returns as of 05/20/2022.

Discounted offers are only available to new members. Stock Advisor list price is $199 per year.

Premium Investing Services

Invest better with The Motley Fool. Get stock recommendations, portfolio guidance, and more from The Motley Fool's premium services.