What happens when you start taking money from your traditional IRA? Any portion of a distribution that represents deductible contributions is subject to income tax because those contributions were not taxed when you made them. Any portion that represents investment earnings is also subject to income tax because those earnings were not previously taxed either. Only the portion that represents nondeductible, after-tax contributions (if any) is not subject to income tax. In addition to income tax, you may have to pay a 10% early withdrawal penalty if you're under age 59½, unless you meet one of the exceptions. For details on these exceptions, please visit the
If you wish to defer taxes, you can leave your funds in the traditional IRA, but only until April 1 of the year following the year you reach age 72. That's when you have to take your first required minimum distribution (RMD) from the IRA. After that, you must take a distribution by the end of every calendar year until your funds are exhausted or you die. The annual distribution amounts are based on a standard life expectancy table. You can always withdraw more than you're required to in any year. However, if you withdraw less, you'll be hit with a 50% penalty on the difference between the required minimum and the amount you actually withdrew. (Note: If you reach age 72 before July 1, 2021, you will need to take an RMD by December 31, 2021.)
Not everyone can set up a Roth IRA. Even if you can, you may not qualify to take full advantage of it. The first requirement is that you must have taxable compensation. If your taxable compensation is at least $6,000 in 2021 (unchanged from 2020), you may be able to contribute the full amount. But it gets more complicated. Your ability to contribute to a Roth IRA in any year depends on your MAGI and your income tax filing status. Your allowable contribution may be less than the maximum possible, or nothing at all.
Roth IRAs — Tax Year 2021
||Contribution is limited if MAGI between:
||No contribution if MAGI over:
|Single/Head of household
||$125,000 - $140,000
||$198,000 - $208,000
||$0 - $10,000
Your contributions to a Roth IRA are not tax deductible. You can invest only after-tax dollars in a Roth IRA. The good news is that, if you meet certain conditions, your withdrawals from a Roth IRA will be completely free from federal income tax, including both contributions and investment earnings. To be eligible for these qualifying distributions, you must meet a five-year holding period requirement. In addition, one of the following must apply:
- You have reached age 59½ by the time of the withdrawal
- The withdrawal is made because of disability
- The withdrawal is made to pay first-time homebuyer expenses ($10,000 lifetime limit from all IRAs)
- The withdrawal is made by your beneficiary or estate after your death
Qualified distributions will also avoid the 10% early withdrawal penalty. This ability to withdraw your funds with no taxes or penalty is a key strength of the Roth IRA. And remember, even nonqualified distributions will be taxed (and possibly penalized) only on the investment earnings portion of the distribution, and then only to the extent that your distribution exceeds the total amount of all contributions that you have made.
Another advantage of the Roth IRA is that there are no required distributions after age 72 or at any time during your life. You can put off taking distributions until you really need the income. Or, you can leave the entire balance to your beneficiary without ever taking a single distribution.
Making the choice
Assuming you qualify to use both, which type of IRA might be appropriate for your needs? The Roth IRA might be a more effective tool if you don't qualify for tax-deductible contributions to a traditional IRA or if you want to minimize taxes during retirement and preserve assets for your beneficiaries. But a traditional deductible IRA may be a better tool if you want to lower your yearly tax bill while you're still working (and possibly in a higher tax bracket than you'll be in after you retire).
Note: You can have both a traditional IRA and a Roth IRA, but your total annual contribution to all of the IRAs that you own cannot be more than $6,000 in 2021 ($7,000 if you're age 50 or older).
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