Traditional or Roth – this is a question every investor asks at least once in his life. Most investors ask this question several times over the course of the lifetime – traditional or Roth -which type of investment is the best? Figuring out whether a traditional or Roth IRA structure is best suited to your goals and needs is fundamental to your retirement. Here are some tips for how to decide whether a traditional or Roth IRA is best for you.
Tax Rates – Current vs. Future. A significant factor in your decision between a traditional or Roth IRA will certainly be your current income tax rate, in relation to what you expect that rate to be during your retirement. Contributions to a traditional IRA are sometimes tax deductible in the year you make them (more on that later), while contributions to a Roth IRA are never tax-deductible. Conversely, withdrawals from a Roth IRA are tax-free, while withdrawals from a traditional IRA are subject to current year income tax. In general, the more your current income tax rate exceeds your expected rate during retirement, the more advantageous it may be to choose a traditional IRA
When making this determination, it’s important to note that if you are also covered by a retirement plan (such as a 401(k)) at work, and your income exceeds a certain level, then you will not be eligible to take the above mentioned current year deduction for a traditional IRA – and in such case a Roth IRA will likely be preferable.
Other Retirement Savings and Assets. Another deciding factor between traditional or Roth IRAs is determining the aggregate retirement savings you have in other non-IRA accounts. The longer you can wait before withdrawing money from your IRA, the longer it will have to grow, and a longer time frame generally favors the Roth IRA structure.
Required Minimum Distributions. In addition, Roth IRAs are not subject to the rules on required minimum distributions (RMDs). With a traditional IRA, once you reach age 70½, you need to begin withdrawing a specified percentage of your account value each and every year. Individuals with Roth IRAs and who have other retirement assets to draw upon can allow their IRAs to grow significantly larger because they don’t have to take RMDs.
Estate Planning. Estate planning can play a huge role in your decision of choosing a traditional or Roth IRA. It’s important to note that the rules on RMDs can flow down to certain heirs of your IRA after you pass away. If you anticipate your IRA being a significant portion of your estate, then you may wish to investigate whether the additional flexibility that comes with a Roth IRA can better help you meet your estate planning goals.
Conversion. If you decide that a Roth IRA is a better fit for your situation, but your account is currently set up as a traditional IRA, don’t worry. You are permitted to convert your account from a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, provided that you pay taxes on the amount of the conversion. Even if that tax bill is sizable, conversion could still be the best financial decision for you.
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