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This Lesser-Known Roth IRA Benefit Could Leave You Richer in Retirement

By Maurie Backman - Apr 15, 2021 at 6:48AM

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Want more income to enjoy as a senior? A Roth IRA could be your ticket for this surprising reason.

When it comes to choosing a retirement savings plan, you have options. You can put your money into a traditional IRA and score an upfront tax break in the process, or you can forgo that immediate tax break but enjoy other perks with a Roth IRA.

Roth IRAs allow your money to grow tax-free so the IRS won't take a chunk of your investment gains. And during retirement, your withdrawals will be tax-free, as well. That could, in turn, make your senior years much easier to plan for. Plus, Roth IRAs are the only tax-advantaged retirement plan to not impose required minimum distributions.

But while all of these features clearly make the case for saving in a Roth IRA, there's one lesser-known reason to choose this account for your retirement nest egg -- housing your money in a Roth IRA could also help you keep more of your Social Security benefits.

Envelope labeled Roth IRA with hundred-dollar bills sticking out of it

Image source: Getty Images.

Your ticket to avoiding taxes

Many seniors are surprised to learn that Social Security income is taxable at the federal level -- but only in certain situations. Whether those benefits get taxed depends on a recipient's provisional income.

Provisional income is calculated by taking your annual non-Social Security income and adding in 50% of your yearly benefits. You may be taxed on up to 50% of your benefits if your provisional income falls between:

  • $25,000 to $34,000 as a single tax-filer
  • $32,000 and $44,000 as a married couple filing jointly

Furthermore, once your provisional income exceeds these limits, you'll risk taxes on up to 85% of your benefits. Ouch.

If Social Security is your sole or main source of retirement income, taxes on benefits likely won't come into play. But that also means you'll have very little money to live on.

Here's where Roth IRAs become extremely useful. Remember how Roth IRA distributions aren't subject to taxes? They also don't count toward provisional income. That means you can take a $50,000 Roth IRA distribution, enjoy that money tax-free, and then still collect your Social Security benefits in full without having to worry about losing a portion to taxes.

The one hiccup you may encounter with a Roth IRA is that if you're a higher earner, you may not be eligible to contribute to one directly. Contributions are barred completely for single tax-filers earning $140,000 or more this year and for married couples filing jointly earning $208,000 or more.

But if you can't fund a Roth IRA based on your income, you can contribute to a traditional IRA and convert that account to a Roth afterward. You'll pay taxes on the sum you move over, but then you'll enjoy all of the aforementioned tax benefits once you're retired and ready to tap that account.

Make your retirement easier

Once you retire, the last thing you'll want to worry about is a whopping tax bill. Keep your savings in a Roth IRA, and you'll eliminate that concern so you can instead focus on enjoying your senior years to the fullest.

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