An individual retirement arrangement, or IRA, is a personal savings plan which allows you to set aside money for retirement, while offering you tax advantages. You may be able to deduct some or all of your contributions to your IRA (Traditional IRA) and pay taxes when you withdraw from the IRA; or receive no tax deduction on your contributions (Roth IRA), with, subject to certain restrictions, no tax imposed on your distributions. Amounts in your IRA, including earnings, generally are not taxed until distributed to you. IRAs cannot be owned jointly. However, any amounts remaining in your IRA upon your death can be paid to your beneficiary or beneficiaries.
Named after US Senator William Roth, Roth IRAs were established by the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997. As of year-end 2020, investors held an estimated $1.21 trillion dollars in Roth IRAs, comprising a 10% share to total IRA assets.[note 1]
Types of IRAs
There are two basic types of IRAs, traditional and Roth. The table below reviews some of the differences between the two account structures.
|Traditional IRA||Roth IRA|
Traditional versus Roth
As a general rule of thumb, the decision as to which IRA an investor elects to use is a function of expected present and future tax rates. Thus a Traditional IRA should be considered if the present marginal tax rate is expected to be higher than the future marginal rate at distribution; The Roth IRA should be considered if the present marginal tax rate is expected to be lower than the future marginal rate at distribution. If the outlook for tax rates is uncertain, you should consider diversifying contributions (or conversions) between the two account types. A Roth IRA may also be a strong candidate for consideration if the account is used as an estate planning tool. For the original account owner (and spousal inheritors) there are no required minimum distributions to deplete the account for subsequent beneficiaries. If you face estate tax a Roth conversion can produce tax savings to the estate since the income tax paid on the conversion both reduces the estate and renders tax savings since the income tax rate is lower than the estate tax rate.
Contribution eligibility and limits
Your ability to contribute to a Roth IRA is limited depending on your filing status and the level of your "modified adjusted gross income". These income limits change year to year due to inflation adjustment. You can find these income limits in IRS Publication 590-A: Roth IRAs Your modified AGI for Roth IRA purposes is your adjusted gross income (AGI) as shown on your tax return modified as follows;
|1. Subtract the following:
|2. Add the following deductions and exclusions:
Income limits for Roth IRA contributions are as follows:
|Tax filing status||Contribution phase-out begins||Contribution phase-out ends|
|Single, or Married Filing Separately and not living with spouse||$146,000||$156,000|
|Married Filing Jointly||$230,000||$240,000|
|Married Filing Separately and living with spouse||$0||$10,000|
Contributions limits are reduced linearly within the phase-out range.
IRA contributions are also limited by the amount of your compensation. Compensation includes wages, salaries, etc., commissions, self-employment income, taxable alimony and separate maintenance, nontaxable combat pay, taxable non-tuition fellowship and stipend payments.
The total amount you can contribute to your IRAs cannot be greater than the amount of your compensation for the year of the contribution. For married couples filing jointly, the compensation of either spouse can be used to make the contributions to each person’s IRAs. It makes no difference which spouse has the compensation, but the total compensation cannot be less than the total of the IRA contributions for both individuals.
If you are working for someone else, compensation will be reported in Box 1 of your W-2. If you are working for a business you own, your compensation is the net income reported on the Schedule C less 50% of the self-employment taxes you pay. Other types of income do not fit the definition of compensation and cannot be used for Roth IRA contributions (except for commissions and taxable alimony and separate maintenance).
These contribution limits apply to the total you can contribute to all of your IRAs. You cannot contribute the maximum amount to a traditional IRA and also make a contribution to a Roth IRA. The contribution maximum can be divided between the IRAs in any way you wish but the total cannot exceed the limit. Beginning in 2009, contribution limits are inflation-adjusted in $500 increments. The table below provides the historical maximum annual Roth contribution limits.
|Year||Age 49 and below||Age 50 and above|
|1998 - 2001||$2,000||$2,000|
|2002 - 2004||$3,000||$3,500|
|2006 - 2007||$4,000||$5,000|
|2008 - 2012||$5,000||$6,000|
|2013 - 2018||$5,500||$6,500|
|2019 - 2022||$6,000||$7,000|
Roth IRA for children
Parents sometimes wonder if it is okay to contribute to a Roth IRA for their children. As stated above, it is necessary to have compensation in order to contribute to an IRA (Traditional or Roth). Children can obtain compensation by working for a business, as a household employee (e.g. babysitting, mowing lawns, etc), or through self-employment. Very young children have few options for legitimate work, but can perform acting or modeling. There are advantages for parents with businesses to hire their children in appropriate jobs, but need to be careful to avoid paying children for household chores through their business. Parents should be aware that a child who has self-employment income in excess of $400 must pay self-employment taxes. However, for many jobs that children may have, they would be classified as household employees, rather than self-employed, and would not be subject to employment taxes. While there are proponents for parents paying their children for household chores and using that compensation as the basis for Roth IRA contributions, others, including the Tax Court, take a dim view of considering parents and children in an employer/employee relationship regarding household chores.
Conversion to Roth IRA
|More on conversions|
Recharacterization of Roth IRA conversions made in 2018 or later are no longer permitted.
Roth IRA conversions from a Traditional IRA to a Roth IRA require you to pay the tax due (without an early withdrawal penalty) on any previously untaxed Traditional IRA assets converted. In general, conversions work best when you are in a low tax bracket and when the source of funds for paying the tax are available outside of the IRA. If the tax is paid out of the converted assets, the payment may be considered an early distribution and is subject to both income tax and, if you are under age 59 1/2, a 10 percent early withdrawal penalty.
Since new conversion rules were implemented in 2010 there have been no income limits or filing status requirements for converting a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. In 2010 alone, investors were given the option of paying the taxes on the conversion either all in 2010 or in equal amounts in 2011 and 2012. Investors whose incomes exceed the limits for allowing contributions to a Roth IRA should consider the option of contributing to a Non-deductible Traditional IRA and executing a Backdoor Roth IRA.
For the tax consequences of taking a distribution of converted assets see Distributions below.
If you wish to undo a conversion done in 2017 or earlier, you do so by executing an IRA recharacterization. Undoing a conversion might result from finding that:
- You are in a higher tax bracket than intended, possibly from increased income near the end of the year.
- You find that you do not have sufficient funds to pay the conversion tax.
- The market value of the converted assets has fallen in price after the conversion and you can save on taxes by recharacterizing the conversion and then, in accordance with IRS restrictions, reconverting the assets at the lower value.
While a Roth IRA does not impose required minimal distributions for the original Roth IRA owner, or for a spouse who elects to treat an inherited Roth IRA as their own in a spousal rollover, non-spousal inheritors are required to take required minimal distributions of the Roth over their life expectancies.
In addition, there can be some tax consequences to taking distributions from a Roth IRA prior to age 59 1/2 or before the Roth has been held for a minimum of five years for both contributions as well as for each Roth conversion. There are specific ordering rules and tax consequences for Roth IRA distributions. Furthermore, there may be state-specific rules regarding non-qualified distributions. For example, in New Jersey, non-qualified withdrawals from a Roth IRA are treated as proportional withdrawals of contributions and gains, so tax and penalty would be due on the gain portion.
The amounts you withdraw from a Roth IRA are considered to consist of the following amounts, in the following order. In each case, you move to the next category when the lifetime total of distributions from all your Roth IRAs exceed the preceding category.
- Regular contributions
- Taxable portion of first conversion (portion that was taxed at time of conversion)
- Nontaxable portion of first conversion
- Each subsequent conversion, in order, with the taxable portion coming out first for each conversion
- Earnings (any increase in value occurring inside the Roth IRA)
Treatment of distributions
The tax treatment of the different categories of distributions may be summarized as follows (in table form[note 2]):
- Regular contributions can be withdrawn at any time with no tax and no penalty.
- Taxable portion of a conversion applies only when the lifetime total of withdrawals from all Roth IRAs exceeds the lifetime total of regular contributions to Roth IRAs plus the lifetime total of earlier conversions.
- If withdrawn before the first day of the fifth year after the year of the conversion: no tax, but will be subject to 10% early withdrawal penalty if you are under age 59½ unless an exception applies.
- Beginning on the first day of the fifth year after the year of the conversion can be withdrawn at any time with no tax and no penalty.
- Special rules apply to withdrawals of amounts converted in 2010.
- Nontaxable portion of any rollover
- Applies only after the taxable portion of the same conversion has been withdrawn.
- Can be withdrawn at any time with no tax and no penalty.
- Applies only after all amounts other than earnings have been withdrawn.
- If withdrawn before the first day of the fifth year after the year you first established a Roth IRA, taxable as ordinary income; also subject to the 10% early withdrawal penalty if you are under age 59½ unless an exception applies.
- Beginning on the first day of the fifth year after the year you first established a Roth IRA, can be withdrawn with no tax and no penalty if you are over age 59½ or otherwise meet the requirements for a qualified distribution (death, disability, first-time homeowner). Otherwise, withdrawals of earnings continue to be taxable as ordinary income and, unless an exception applies, subject to the 10% early withdrawal penalty.
- Roth IRA assets 1997 - 2020 (in billions). Investment Company Institute spreadsheet Report: The U.S. Retirement Market, Third Quarter 2021
Year Assets Share 1997 $0 0% 1998 $57 3% 1999 $76 3% 2000 $78 3% 2001 $79 3% 2002 $78 3% 2003 $106ᵉ 4% 2004 $140 4% 2005 $156 5% 2006 $196 5% 2007 $232 5% 2008 $177 5% 2009 $239 5% 2010 $255 7% 2011 $360 7% 2012 $439 8% 2013 $548 8% 2014 $600 8% 2015 $625 8% 2016 $697 9% 2017 $842 9% 2018 $846 9% 2019 $1,040ᵉ 10% 2020 $1,210ᵉ 10%
- Share is the percentage of total IRA assets.
- Roth IRAs include contributory, conversion, and rollover Roth IRAs.
- ᵉ Data are estimated.
Sources: Investment Company Institute, Internal Revenue Service Statistics of Income Division, and Government Accountability Office
- Treatment of distributions summarised in table form, from information supplied by KAWill (Fairmark). A "Qualified" distribution incurs no federal tax or penalty.
Withdrawal Treatment Under age 59 1/2 Over age 59 1/2 Five year conversion holding period not met Five year conversion holding period met Less than five years since opening first Roth IRA Five years or more since opening first Roth IRA Contributions Tax No No No Qualified Penalty No No No Conversions, taxable portion Tax No No No Penalty Yes No No Conversions, nontaxable portion Tax No No No Penalty No No No Earnings Tax Yes Yes Yes Penalty Yes Yes No
- "Taxpayer Relief Act Of 1997--Conference Report". July 31, 1997. Retrieved Sep 17, 2009.
- spreadsheet Report: The U.S. Retirement Market, Third Quarter 2021
- See Non-deductible Traditional IRA
- Penalty free withdrawals can also be made by instituting a defined series of Substantially Equal Periodic Payments from an IRA. See SEPP:Substantially Equal Periodic Payments.
- Retirement Savings Contributions Credit (Saver's Credit), Publication 571, IRS
- Retirement Savings Contributions Credit (Saver's Credit), Publication 571, IRS
- Bruno, Maria A.,and Jaconetti, Colleen M., The IRA opportunity: To Roth or not to Roth?, Vanguard Research, (May, 2011).
- IRS Publication 590: Roth IRAs
- IRS announcement of 2024 retirement contribution limits, IRS.
- "Publication 590-A (2021), Contributions to Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs)". Internal Revenue Service. "Who Can Open a Traditional IRA?" and Table 1-1. Retrieved February 19, 2022.
- What every student should know about summer jobs and taxes, IRS, accessed May 26, 2020.
- Household Employer's Tax Guide, IRS, accessed December 11, 2021.
- Roth IRAs for Minors, Fairmark, Kaye A. Thomas, February 7, 2018, accessed May 25, 2020.
- T.C. Summary Opinion 2006-127, United States Tax Court, accessed May 25, 2020.
- Choate, Natalie, "Life and Death Planning for Retirement Benefits 6th Edition 2006" p.247. ISBN 0-9649440-7-3
- IRS Publication 590 (2009), Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs) Applies for any 2010 rollover from an IRA, except from Roth IRA to Roth IRA.
- Understanding The Two 5-Year Rules For Roth IRA Contributions And Conversions, Michael Kitces, January 1, 2014, accessed 19 June 2020.
- Roth IRA Idea: Burst my bubble
- IRA Withdrawals, New Jersey Tax Topic Bulletin GIT-2, accessed August 01, 2020
- Fairmark: Roth IRA Distribution Overview, Kaye A. Thomas, February 11, 2018, Accessed 19 June 2020.
- "Publication 590-B (2022), Distributions from Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs)". April 5, 2023. Retrieved May 15, 2023.
- Exceptions to the early withdrawal penalty tax on converted assets include total disability, or death. Choate, Natalie, "Life and Death Planning for Retirement Benefits 6th Edition 2006" p.248. ISBN 0-9649440-7-3
- Publication 590-A Contributions to IRAs, Roth IRA, 2014. (PDF)
- Publication 590-B, Distributions from IRAs, Roth IRA, 2014. (PDF)
- IRS Publication 590: Roth IRAs, 2013. Superseded by 590-A and 590-B.
- Fairmark.com guide to Roth IRAs and related accounts
- Backdoor Both -- have your cake and eat it too, forum discussion of a technique to bypass state taxes when converting a deductible Traditional IRA contribution to a Roth IRA. This is an advanced investing technique which only benefits investors who are making direct Roth contributions and paying state tax; typically Married Filing Jointly with income below $100,000.
Papers: Roth 401(k) and Roth 403(b) Plans