Roth IRAs vs. Traditional IRAs: A Comparison of the Benefits and the Differences

If you’re looking into retirement plans, you’re probably familiar with traditional IRAs. You may have heard about Roth IRAs, too. But when considering Roth IRAs vs. traditional IRAs—do you know the specific differences in the two plans? Both have a few of the same attributes, but the differences lie in how contributions and distributions are taxed. This article compares the two plans to help you decide which best suits your retirement planning needs.

Roth IRAs vs. Traditional IRAs at a Glance A pretty brown-haired woman sitting at a desk with her computer and papers reviewing the differences between Roth IRAs vs. traditional IRAs.

Roth and traditional IRAs are alike in a few ways:

  • Contribution limits to both plans are the same: In 2020, you can contribute $6,000 annually with an extra $1,000 if you’re 50 or older.
  • You can make contributions to either plan by April 15 of the following year to count towards the previous year’s income tax liability. (In 2020 the deadline is extended to July 15 due to the coronavirus pandemic.)
  • You must have earned income in order to contribute to either account.
  • Both offer tax-sheltered earnings on investments.
  • Thanks to the new tax laws, you can contribute to either account after you reach retirement age provided you still work and have earned income.
  • Either account can be self-directed to invest in alternative assets like real estate, private equity, private lending, and more.

Features of Traditional IRAs

  • Contributions are tax deductible if you meet the criteria.
  • Earnings within the account grow tax deferred, allowing you to grow your account more quickly.
  • Distributions of contributions and earnings are taxed as ordinary income in retirement.
  • You must begin taking required minimum distributions (RMDs) at age 72 (if you turned 70 ½ after December 31, 2019).
  • Early withdrawals before you reach age 59 ½ incur a 10 percent penalty along with tax.
  • There are no income limitations for making annual contributions to this account.

Features of Roth IRAs

  • Contributions are not tax deductible.
  • Distributions of contributions and earnings in the account are tax-free in retirement.
  • Unlike traditional IRAs, you are not required to take required distributions at any age.
  • You can pass a Roth IRA to your heirs for them to enjoy tax-free distributions, as well.
  • You can take tax and penalty-free distributions of earnings if you’re over 59 ½ and have owned the account for 5 years.
  • Tax-free withdrawals of contributions can be taken at any age for any reason.

To contribute to a Roth IRA, you must fall within certain income ranges depending on your tax filing status. The income requirements for 2020 are:

  • If your tax status is married filing jointly: Your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) must be less than $206,000 to contribute to a Roth IRA.
  • Single/head of household: If your MAGI is over $139,000—you’re not eligible to make an annual contribution.
  • Note there are instances you can make reduced contributions based on your MAGI; find details in this article by Nerdwallet on Roth IRA contribution limits.

Roth IRAs vs. Traditional IRAs: How to Decide

The questions to ask yourself when comparing Roth IRAs vs. traditional IRAs are important in choosing which account is best for you.

Do you want to defer paying taxes until you retire because you are in a higher tax bracket now? Or, would you like the ability to take tax-free distributions in your golden years because you fear higher tax rates in the future?

If you expect to find yourself in a higher tax bracket in retirement, you may find a Roth IRA is the most beneficial plan for you. If you are looking for a tax deduction now and prefer the immediate tax relief that a traditional IRA provides—then there is your choice.

If your situation changes in the future, you can always perform a Roth conversion of your traditional IRA funds. These transactions can be a smart move, but there are tax implications when converting those funds, so consult your tax professional to help you decide.

Maximize the Investing Power of Your IRA

Whether you choose a Roth or a traditional IRA—you have the option to self-direct either account. Self-directed Roth and self-directed traditional IRAs have all the features each account lists above. But the extra power that self-direction gives you is huge.

Conventional IRAs are limited to assets chosen and/or sold by the plan custodian, and those assets are typically stocks, bonds, and mutual funds. Self-directed IRAs are not restricted to those assets. In fact, there are thousands of alternative investments available for self-directed retirement plans.

As the account owner, you get to choose assets for the plan instead of relying on the plan administrator or custodian to make those decisions for you (hence the term “self-directed”). And, you have the freedom to invest in things you know and understand. Imagine putting your own knowledge to work and investing in tangible assets, like real estate and gold, to build retirement wealth.

Have Questions about Self-Directed IRAs? We Have Answers.

Advanta IRA is a leader in self-directed IRA administration with nearly $2 billion in client assets under management. Contact us today to schedule your free consultation and learn how self-directed IRAs, 401(k)s, and other self-directed plans can help you build the retirement savings you deserve.

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About Scott Maurer

Scott is an attorney and a graduate of the University of Florida Law School. Scott started his career with Advanta IRA in 2006. His experience with various investment types and their unique processes makes him an invaluable asset. Scott holds the designation of Certified IRA Services Professional (CISP) and leads engaging seminars and webinars that educate the public on the intricacies of self-directed IRAs.