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5 Roth IRA Investing Tips That Could Earn You Thousands

By Dan Caplinger - May 24, 2016 at 12:48PM

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Being smart about this tax-free retirement account can make you rich.

The Roth IRA hasn't been around as long as its traditional IRA counterpart, but the tax-free nature of the Roth in retirement opens up some unique opportunities for those willing to add them to their overall retirement savings arsenal. In general, because you don't have to worry about paying taxes on the money you make with investments inside a Roth, it makes sense to make the most of your Roth portfolio. Below, we'll consider five more specific things to consider with your Roth IRA investing.

1. Save your Roth money for your highest-return ideas.

The big advantage of a Roth IRA over a traditional IRA is the fact that with a traditional IRA, you're still stuck paying taxes on the money you withdraw in retirement. That makes huge returns bittersweet, because you effectively have to share them with the IRS. With a Roth IRA, on the other hand, once you've got your money into your Roth account, all the gains after that belong to you. Therefore, it's worth putting your most promising investment strategies into action within a Roth IRA. When they pay off, you get to keep all the profits for yourself.

2. If you have a short-term trading opportunity, think Roth as well.

Investing for the long run makes the most sense for most investors, but occasionally, you'll find out about a special situation that requires fast action. The fact that the Roth IRA is tax-free makes it preferable to a regular taxable account for short-term investing that you expect to generate what would ordinarily be taxed as a short-term capital gain. Because your higher ordinary income tax rate applies to profits on investments sold within a year of purchasing them, making investments in a Roth IRA instead can help you maximize your gains without the tax bite.

3. Avoid municipal bonds and other investments that are inappropriate for Roth IRAs.

The tax-free nature of the Roth IRA gives you a chance to make nearly any investment a tax-free one. As a result, it's essentially a waste to put investments that already have favorable tax characteristics into a Roth IRA, because you can't get double the benefit. The best example is investing in municipal bonds, which typically carry a lower interest rate than taxable bonds of comparable quality because municipal bond interest is free of federal income tax. In a Roth, holding muni bonds means accepting a lower rate for no reason, because even the interest on taxable bonds would be free of tax. Similar arguments should have you think twice before including other investments with favorable tax attributes, such as master limited partnerships and annuities, within a Roth.

4. Don't forget the contribution rules.

In your rush to get money into a Roth IRA, it's easy to forget about the requirements. Contribution limits for 2016 are $5,500 for those younger than 50 or $6,500 for those 50 or older. However, more important, income limits apply that prevent some people from making Roth IRA contributions at all. For 2016, if you're single with income over $132,000 or a joint filer with income above $194,000, you're not allowed to contribute to a Roth at all. Phase-outs extending $10,000 to $15,000 below those thresholds allow partial contributions of less than the applicable $5,500 or $6,500 maximum.

5. Think about conversions.

With the limitations listed above, it can be hard to get your Roth IRA balance as high as you might want. One alternative is to convert money in a traditional IRA into a Roth. You'll pay income taxes on the amount converted, including it in taxable income and paying whatever rate applies to your current-year income. In the future, though, you won't have to pay taxes on any further gains. Especially if you're in a low tax bracket right now, converting money to a Roth IRA can be a smart move. Moreover, there's no income limit on being able to convert.

Roth IRAs can be a great way to grow your money as quickly as possible. By taking maximum advantage of the tax benefits at your disposal, a Roth IRA can be the foundation of a strong retirement savings strategy to provide for yourself and your loved ones in your retirement and beyond.

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