Three Lesser-Known Benefits of the Roth IRA

It's not a secret to the bigger pockets community that I'm a big fan of the Roth IRA, but I love its features so much that I'm doing writing about it again. If you haven't already read my previous Roth IRA piece, it serves as a good primer. The information below, however, will illustrate some of the lesser-known perks of owning a Roth IRA.

Many investors and financial professionals are familiar with the main benefit of a Roth IRA. In short, it's the fact that after you pay taxes on the money going into the Roth IRA, the plan's investments grow tax free. Even better, when the time comes to take your distributions, you won't have to pay taxes on those either.  That being said, there are so many more benefits to the Roth IRA that you should know about if you're considering this retirement account option. Below, you'll find the top three.

Roth IRA Benefit #1: Exemption From Required Minimum Distributions

First, Roth IRAs are not subject to Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs). Traditional retirement plan owners are subject to RMD rules which require the account owner to start taking distributions and paying tax on the distributions at a given age. For most plans, the RMD rules kick in when the account owner reaches the age of 70 ½.
Why is this a benefit to you? To put it simply, dodging the RMD rules allows the Roth IRA to keep gathering and growing tax-free income. This tax-free benefit extends to capital gains or other taxes on the investment returns. This allows the account to continue to accumulate tax-free income during the account owner’s life time.

And perhaps even beyond. Learn more about how your Roth IRA can outlive you and provide your loved ones with additional security below.

Roth IRA Benefit #2: You Can Share the Love With Your Spouse

Death is inevitable. But if you were a smart investor who got a Roth IRA, your surviving spouse can continue contributing to that Roth IRA, provided your significant other is a beneficiary of that account. He or she can combine your Roth IRA into his or her own Roth IRA.

Allowing the spouse beneficiary to take over the account allows additional tax free growth on investments in the Roth IRA account. By contrast, a  Traditional IRA cannot be merged into an IRA of the surviving spouse nor can the surviving beneficiary spouse make additional contributions to this account. Non-spouse beneficiaries, such as the children of a Roth IRA owner, cannot make additional contributions to the inherited Roth IRA and cannot combine it with their own Roth IRA account. Other beneficiaries are subject to required minimum distribution rules,  but they can delay out required distributions up to 5 years from the year of the Roth IRA account owner’s death. Additionally, they are also able to continue to keep the tax-free return treatment of the retirement account for 5 years after the death of the owner.

The second option for non-spouse beneficiaries is to take withdrawals of the account over the life expectancy of the beneficiary. So, young beneficiaries can delay taking money out of the Roth IRA for quite a longer than older beneficiaries. The lifetime expectancy option is usually the best option for a non-spouse beneficiary to keep as much money in the Roth IRA as possible while also reaping the benefits of tax-free returns and growth.

Roth IRA Benefit #3: No Early Withdrawal Penalties

That's right!  Roth IRA owners are not subject to the 10% early withdrawal penalty for distributions they take before age 59 ½ based on their own contributions or conversions. This is one reason that many investors choose to go Roth-style: the early withdrawal penalty certainly applies to those using 401ks or Traditional IRAs.

However,  growth and earning are subject to the early withdrawal penalty and to taxes too. But if you do find yourself in a situation where you must withdraw early, you can always take out the amounts you contributed to your Roth IRA or the amounts that you converted. These funds will be available to you tax- and penalty-free.  But if you do this, be aware that conversions have a five-year waiting period before you can take out funds while avoiding penalties or taxes. If you're relying on conversions, you'll want to let them sit for those five years.
Roth IRAs are an awesome resource for investors who are eligible to open them. There are some qualification rules for Roth IRA eligibility that leave out many high-income individuals. But as always, there are loopholes you can exploit in this situation.  You can convert your traditional retirement plan dollars to a Roth IRA (sometimes known as a "backdoor Roth IRA") as the conversion rules. This works and is legally permitted because there is no income qualification level requirement on converted amounts to Roth IRAs. This conversion option has in essence made Roth IRAs available to everyone regardless of income.

And everyone includes you. So, are you considering a Roth IRA? Have you already been seduced by this sexy beast of a retirement account? Do you have any more questions? Let's keep the conversation going in the comments section below. I'd love to hear from you, and will do my best to answer questions with the time I have available.

5 Most Common IRA Contribution Questions

My clients are always asking me what the deal is with the individual retirement account (IRA).  Don't worry if you're totally lost when it comes to retirement accounts. I spend a lot of my time addressing all sorts of IRA-related queries. Like if it's a good idea to get one even if you're young. Or why  I'm so into this Roth dude that people are constantly talking about talked, and if he's paying me off? (He isn't. He also isn't a "he" either--more on that below). Or what the maximum IRA contribution level is. And will the taxman cut retirees a break, finally? Maybe if I ask super nicely?

Fear not, friends. I've got your backs.  Here are the five most common questions I get about IRAs, finally answered in plain English.

Question #1: Is My Contribution Tax Deductible?

Maybe. All sorts of things factor into whether you will get a deduction. Some circumstances the taxman considers include whether you're married, if your job is backing your IRA, what tax bracket you fall into, etc.  Depending on those variables, you’ll be placed into one of three categories.

Group 1: No Tax Deductions

Contributions to a Roth IRA aren’t deductible. Never. Sorry about it. That said, contributing to your Roth account is still a good idea. You'll want to check your  modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) . Roth accounts have a cut-off for how much you can earn annually and still be eligible to hold the account at all.
If you're really looking to save in tax terms, one strategy you can use is maxing out your 401(k) or 403(k) first. You'll get all the same tax perks of the old-school IRA, and more, since you're a superstar taking advantage of multiple accounts.  You can even have one of these AND an IRA if you want to be super comfortable in retirement.

Group 2: Deductions with Limits

You may fall into this group if either of the following apply to you.

  1. You or your husband/wife are covered by your employer.
  2. You or your husband/wife are outside of the allowed income range.

Now you'll need to be aware of the fact that the IRS changes its parameters on this matter all the time. You'll want to do some research to ensure your eligibility before moving forward with filing. If this is confusing for you, call your lawyer and ask for help.

Group 3: Total Tax Deductions

You belong to this group if both of the following statements apply.

  1. You don't have a retirement plan through your work, and aren't married to someone who does.
  2. Your income(s) falls under the IRS cut-off point.

See above for information on income ranges. We'll talk more about the cut-off points below.

Question #2: Can I Contribute To An IRA Even if I Have It Through My Employer?

You bet! And frankly, you  probably should, especially if that employer is matching or offering other incentives to do so. You don't even have to have a conventional account.  SEP (self-employed) or SIMPLE IRA account holders can take advantage of this as well.

You'll want to note that there are limits to how much you can contribute. You may not be able to deduct the entire amount, but that will depend largely on your circumstances. (See Question #1 for more details on that).
I can already hear some of you saying, "Wait! I'm not covered by my job."  Take a deep breath now. That's okay. You can still contribute to an IRA. One of the perks of IRA plans is that they're available to literally anyone: which type (self-directed, Traditional, etc.) is best for you will depend on your circumstances. There's even the SEP IRA option for self-employed folks. Those contributions could even be deducted entirely depending on your income. Again, consult a CPA on this matter.

Question #3: Is It Possible to Contribute if I Didn't Earn Anything This Year, But My Spouse Did?

Absolutely.  You'll have to file your taxes jointly to do this, but it's A-okay with the taxman if only one partner is earning taxable income. It doesn't matter which individual  earned the money you plan to contribute.
As with all things tax-related, there are some restrictions. You have to ensure your contributions don't exceed those. The limits for 2018 are $5500 in if you're under the age of 50, or $6500 if you're over the age of 50.

Question #4: Is There a Way to Contribute To My Roth Account If I Earned Too Much Money In 2018?  

The IRS has set the contribution cutoff at $135,000.00 for single individuals and $199,000.00 for couples who file jointly, which up significantly from last year. Some exceptions apply if you are a qualified widower. If you're married and filing separately, you aren't eligible for a Roth account. Whether you want to reconsider how you file is up to you.

It comes right down to whether you earned more or less than that figure above. If you're under that number, you're good to go.  But if you have earned more, your Roth custodian can limit or even freeze your account.

But there are loopholes here if you do earn more than the Roth cut-off. You can use a Traditional IRA (which is available to everyone, regardless of income). Contribute to that, and pay the taxes upfront. Now roll that cash money over to your Roth IRA. Why this is legal is you've already paid the taxes, so it's eligible to transition into the Roth. Pretty cool, right?

Fun fact for all my retirement superstars out there: This tactic was made possible when the IRS removed the income level restrictions for making Roth conversions in 2010.

Question #5: Can I Contribute To My IRA if I'm older than 70½?

Maybe. The type of IRA you use is the critical factor here.
If you've gone with the old-school IRA, the answer is no. Once you hit that age, you won't be able to contribute any further. But if you've opted for a Roth IRA, you can still add funds there. You may also move funds between IRA accounts.  Barring any unforeseeable and unlikely dramatic changes of law, this will always be true, even if you live into your 100s.

And I sincerely hope you do!

There you have it. Those are the short versions of answers to the five most common IRA questions I get. If there's a detail still gnawing away at you, or if a question you didn't see answered above, please use the comments below to ask about anything still on your mind. Thanks for reading!

Roth IRA: Top Benefits You Should Know For Retirement Planning

The Roth IRA is a beauty. Everyone should be buying these beasts. By the time you're done reading this, you will know the primary benefits.

Roth IRA Benefit #1: Massive Tax Savings

A Roth IRA is bought with income that has already been taxed. You can write this off in the year you pay those taxes. The genius of the Roth IRA is that you don’t pay tax ever again. You don’t pay tax on the growth or the withdrawal. This is a wonderful long-term investment plan.
What you don’t know, because you aren’t paid to know, is that there are a whole host of ancillary benefits that ride the coattails of these beauties.
So, if the first reason to buy an IRA isn’t enough, here are some of the other beautiful features of this beast.

Roth IRA Benefit #2: Exemption from Required Minimum Distributions

First, your traditional retirement plan is subject to Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs).
When you get up to seventy and half years old, you have to take distributions and you have to take tax on them from traditional IRA’s. Roth IRA’s can just keep growing. Maybe you remember my friend Randy. He’s making enough money off of his fishing business that he’d just as soon leave his money in the bank. He can keep accruing growth for a dream vacation, or to leave a nest egg for his family.
A surviving spouse can keep feeding a Roth IRA or combine it with an existing Roth IRA. You cannot do this with a traditional IRA account. A non-spouse beneficiary cannot continue to grow the account, but they can delay the Required Minimum Distributions. For five years, they can ride those tax-free returns. As a second option, you can choose a lifetime expectancy distribution. Setting aside the morbid reality that this requires you to consider your own mortality, this will provide the best option for a non-spouse beneficiary who wants to keep as much money as possible in the Roth IRA where it will continue to grow tax-free.

Roth IRA Benefit #3: No Early Withdrawal Penalties

Finally, Roth IRA owners are not subject to the 10% early withdrawal that is comprised of contributions or conversions. Randy, because he’s a genius, took care of his money early. When he hit fifty-six it was time to go fishing. He never took the ten percent hit because he planned for his early retirement with a Roth IRA.
Randy couldn’t touch his growth or earnings if he wanted to avoid the taxman. He had to wait five years for the conversions, but he took a lot of investment capital out, tax free, then reinvested it in a new business to further insulate him against the government’s sticky fingers.
There are definitely some requirements to qualify for an Roth IRA, but you can convert existing funds and get started right away.
Let your money grow in a Roth IRA. Be a beast, and your retirement will be a beauty.
If you're considering going the Roth route, get a professional opinion. Schedule your personal retirement consultation today.