It's important to save for retirement, but many people find it intimidating to consider all the retirement savings choices they have. Between two different types of IRAs, employer-sponsored retirement plans like 401(k)s, and the wide range of regular brokerage and bank accounts at your disposal, it can be tough to decide which one fits best for you.
Amid all your options for saving for retirement, the Roth IRA stands out. Its special characteristics make it especially suitable for many savers. In particular, in the following three situations, you'll often find that a Roth IRA has some real advantages.
1. You're not paying much in income taxes right now
One key way in which the Roth IRA differs from most other retirement savings accounts is in the way it gets taxed. With most retirement accounts, you'll get an upfront deduction for the money you contribute. That's appealing to many people because of the immediate tax savings they'll enjoy, and to them, it's worth paying taxes on withdrawals in retirement in order to get that tax break now.
However, if you're not in a high tax bracket currently, then the value of that upfront deduction isn't very high. That's where the Roth looks like a better choice, because instead of taking a deduction now that won't do you much good, a Roth lets you withdraw money free of tax in retirement.
What that amounts to is a decision about when you want to pay your taxes: now or later. If you're in a low tax bracket now, then locking it in by using a Roth IRA can save you money in the long run. Moreover, with tax rates at their lowest levels in a long time and with the prospect for tax increases at some point in the future, even those with higher incomes might want to consider using a Roth to hedge their bets against possible tax rate hikes.
2. You don't want to deal with required minimum distributions
Using a tax-favored retirement account to save gives you tax-deferred growth, potentially for a long time. As long as you leave money in a retirement account, there's no tax impact, and the income and gains you earn on your investments aren't subject to immediate tax. However, lawmakers didn't want that tax-deferred ride to last forever, so for most retirement accounts, you have to start taking money out of your account when you reach a certain age. Congress just raised that required minimum distribution (RMD) age for regular IRAs and 401(k) plans from 70 1/2 to 72, but that can still be a hassle if you don't yet really need the money.
Roth IRAs have the advantage of not forcing you to take RMDs. You can leave your Roth money alone throughout your lifetime, choosing to leave it for your heirs if you wish. That's a level of flexibility many savers find handy.
3. You need tax flexibility in retirement
Conversely, if you know you'll need your retirement account money for living expenses, there are situations in which having to take it from taxable sources like regular IRAs and 401(k) plans can cause problems. For instance, those whose income is above certain threshold levels have to pay taxes on a portion of their Social Security income, and taxable distributions from regular retirement accounts count toward that threshold.
However, Roth IRA distributions are tax-free and therefore don't count toward the threshold income levels for Social Security taxation. That can not only save you the taxes on your retirement withdrawals but also prevent additional tax on your benefits.
Look at a Roth
Roth IRAs aren't for everyone, as they don't always fit perfectly in every situation. However, if you find yourself in one of the three categories above, take a closer look to see if making a Roth IRA part of your financial plan could end up saving you money in the long run.