Procrastination can burn us badly, particularly when we put off tending to our financial health. But in an almost sneaky way, Uncle Sam gives us at least one break when it comes to our IRAs.

If you think your chance to make a 2010 contribution to your IRA ended when the ball dropped for New Year's, you're wrong. You actually have until the tax-return-filing deadline for the tax year 2010. That's usually April 15th, but this year, the deadline is a bit later than that -- April 18th. If you haven't yet made your contribution, it's not too late!

For most folks, the maximum contribution is $5,000. For those 50 or older, it's $6,000. While that may not sound like much, a single $5,000 contribution growing at 10% annually, on average, will top $54,000 in 25 years. Imagine what a string of such investments could do!

Seek growing companies
Your priority should be getting the money into the account on time. But once you do that, you'll need to invest it. Of the many strategies you can pursue, I'll discuss two here: high-growth companies and dividend-paying stocks.

Those with a long time before they retire may want to be aggressive with some of their money, seeking promising fast-growing companies. Such investments are ideal for Roth IRAs, because those are designed to let you withdraw your money tax-free in retirement.

Below, I've rounded up a few growth candidates to consider. Each sports a three-year average annual revenue growth rate of at least 15%, a return on equity of at least 15%, and a P/E ratio of 25 or less. (Add any of them to a watch list by simply clicking on their ticker symbol's green plus sign.)

Company

Return on Equity

3-Year Avg. Rev. Growth Rate

P/E

Chimera Investment (NYSE: CIM) 15% 355% 6
InterDigital (Nasdaq: IDCC) 44% 20% 13
Cirrus Logic (Nasdaq: CRUS) 31% 19% 14
TriQuint Semiconductor (Nasdaq: TQNT) 23% 22% 10

Source: Motley Fool CAPS.

InterDigital is profiting from its wireless technologies, while Cirrus Logic makes circuits for a range of applications, and TriQuint Semiconductor supplies the communications sector. Chimera Investment, a REIT, has been profiting from mortgage-backed securities and pays a dividend of more than 10%. Its growth rate and dividend yield may drop in the future, but they can still remain attractive.

Be sure to cast an eye abroad as well, because developing economies are growing more briskly than ours. It's smart to keep a portion of your portfolio in foreign companies for diversification's sake. If the U.S. economy tanks for a while, better-performing economies elsewhere might bolster your results.

Seek growing dividends
With any of your IRAs, consider holding strong dividend-paying companies. That's a less aggressive way to invest while still reaping huge rewards. Such companies, when they're healthy, will keep paying you no matter what mischief the market may be up to. And over the long haul, dividends can make up a big chunk of your overall gains.

I've compiled a few "Dividend Achievers" -- companies that have hiked their dividends for at least 10 consecutive years:

Company

Dividend Yield

5-Year Avg. Annual Dividend Growth

Sysco 3.7% 9%
Abbott Labs (NYSE: ABT) 3.8% 10%
Hudson City Bancorp (Nasdaq: HCBK) 6.2% 32%
Aqua America (NYSE: WTR) 2.8% 19%

Source: IndXis.com, Motley Fool CAPS.

Sysco and Abbott are particularly reliable, since both occupy industries that investors consider defensively oriented for those who want to minimize risk. Hudson City Bancorp didn't take a government bailout, and it enjoys a reputation for good management. Aqua America is in the rather important business of providing water services to municipalities and others. These companies likely won't disappear anytime soon.

By keeping dividend-payers in your IRA, you'll avoid paying taxes on dividends each year. You'll receive those payments in tax-deferred (or tax-free) vehicles, allowing them to grow and compound beyond the reach of Uncle Sam.

Saving and investing for retirement is absolutely critical for most of us. Don't put it off. Learn whether a traditional or Roth IRA will serve you best, and then fund it each year. Make the most of your 401(k) at work as well.

But today, just make sure you've funded your IRA for 2010 -- before it's too late.

Learn more about how best to set yourself up for a comfy old age with free 30-day trial of our Rule Your Retirement newsletter.

InterDigital is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Sysco and Aqua America are Motley Fool Income Investor recommendations. The Fool owns shares of Abbott Laboratories, Cirrus Logic, and TriQuint Semiconductor. Alpha Newsletter Account, LLC owns shares of Abbott Laboratories. Sysco is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.