Disadvantages Of The Roth IRA: Not All Is What It Seems

Although the Roth IRA is an important tax-advantaged retirement account, there are also disadvantages of the Roth IRA that are seldom discussed.

For years I've been an opponent of the Roth IRA. After the government came out with its tricky way to let us all do a “one-time” Roth IRA conversion from our traditional IRAs, I knew something was up.

The government was so successful in getting people to pay huge sums of taxes on their IRAs up front during the financial crisis that I just shook my head in disbelief.

With so much stimulus spending to fight off the global pandemic, I'm afraid the government will do the same thing. The government needs to find a way to raise taxes. And President Biden is on a mission to do just that.

As a personal finance blogger who wants to help you achieve financial freedom sooner, rather than later, it's my duty to write this post to help you see the error in contributing or converting to a Roth IRA if you have not maxed out your 401(k).

Contributing To A Roth IRA Is Better Than Not Saving

Of course if the choice is between NOT SAVING and saving via a Roth IRA for your future, then the answer is that one should open up a Roth IRA rather than piss their money away on stupid stuff that depreciates in value.

However, do know that you are still pissing money away by giving more of your money to the government. And if the choice is between choosing a traditional IRA over a Roth IRA, choosing the traditional IRA is the way to go.

Please read all the disadvantages of the Roth IRA to keep an open mind. You can contribute to a Roth IRA if you are in the 24% federal marginal income tax bracket or lower. However, there are strong arguments as to be made why you shouldn't contribute to a Roth IRA.

Disadvantages Of The Roth IRA 

Here are all the disadvantages of the Roth IRA. For those of you who are in the higher federal income tax bracket, you should be especially wary of contributing to a Roth IRA. For 2023, the maximum Roth IRA contribution, if you are eligible, is $6,500.

1) The government is inefficient. 

I'm all for patriotism, but if you think the government is efficient with your money, then you are simply not paying attention to the enormous budget deficits on a state-wide and country level. By participating in a Roth IRA, you are paying your taxes up front, thereby giving the government more of your money to waste.

Would you give an alcoholic a beer? No. How about giving a drug addict some meth? No. Would you eat a double cheeseburger in front of an obese person who is trying to lose weight? Of course not! There is a reason why there are $2,000 staplers and $10 staples in the government budget.

There's a reason why there is at least $64 Billion in fudged Army accounting every year. Why do you think the Social Security system is underfunded by ~25% and will remain underfunded forever? The government wastes your money, so don't give it more.

Due to the global pandemic, the Federal Government is unleashing trillions of stimulus money to help support the economy. As a result, the government will eventually come for you.

2) The government is smarter than you. 

The government realizes people are bad with their money. This is why it sets up a withholding tax system to make sure people pay throughout the year. If it was up to everybody to pay their year-end taxes at the end of the year, all hell would break loose because people are not disciplined to put money away to meet their obligations! The country would go into instant default.

As a result, the government has pushed propaganda on the masses to get them to pay MORE TAXES UPFRONT. Hence the introduction of the Roth IRA. They will spend millions on marketing to highlight why converting to a Roth and participating in a Roth IRA is a great idea. Yes, it's a great idea for them, not for you!

3) You allow asymmetric reward or punishment between equals.

Not everybody can participate in a Roth IRA. Only those fortunate enough to make less than $153,000 a year as an individual or less than $228,000 for married couples can contribute the full Roth IRA amount in 2023.

After making more than $153,000 a year for singles and $228,000 for married couples, you cannot contribute to a Roth IRA. Sorry, but the government doesn't believe you have the right to save in this way. 

Discrimination is not OK, just because you aren't being discriminated against. If constant protests have taught us anything, it's that we need to fight for equality for everybody! The income cap for contribution is too low.

Roth IRA contribution limits and income limits to be able to contribute to a Roth IRA 2023

The irony is, the government is actually saving people who make more than the Roth IRA maximum income limit for contributing from paying more taxes and getting tricked into entering the Borg.

Unfortunately, there are income limits for maximum contribution to get a tax deduction for a traditional IRA as well. They are an even more egregious at $83,000 for single filers and $136,000 for married filers. Talk about a low income level cap to contribute to a traditional IRA.

4) The math is the same whether you pay now or later. 

Whether you pay taxes now and let your investment grow tax free, or you let your pre-tax investments grow, and then tax it upon retirement results is more or less the same! Don’t believe me? Do a calculation yourself.

Here’s an equation: Y = A * B.  Re-arrange to A = Y / B.  Or Y = A * B is equal to Y = B * A.  But just so you know, the math also depends on the future performance of your investments.

Let's say you pay $2,000 in taxes to contribute $5,000 to a Roth IRA, and that $5,000 miraculously grows to $1 billion dollars. Your total tax bill will be around $400 million dollars if you had contributed the money to a 401(k) or IRA instead.

However, don't forget about the opportunity cost of the $2,000 that would have also grown as well had you not paid $2,000 in taxes up front. The $2,000 would have grown to around $400 million.

The main benefit of a Roth IRA over a traditional IRA is if your tax rate upon withdrawal is lower. What you believe the future tax rate will be is the biggest determinant of whether you should contribute to a Roth IRA or not. If you think your tax rate will be higher in retirement, then contribute to a Roth IRA while working.

5) What will $6,500 do for your retirement? 

A max contribution of $6,500 a year isn't going to get you to the promised land. If you are already maxing out your 401K (pre-tax contribution up to $22,500 for 2023), and you are eligible for a Roth IRA maximum contribution for a single filer ($153,000 income or less), you probably will get more out of spending your $6,500 on life now.

I am a big proponent of aggressive savings. However, if you are earning up to ~$130,500 a year in gross income after maxing out the 401(k), I'd rather you not tie up that $6,500 in a government savings vehicle until 59.5.

Invest your money in a low cost investment account like Empower the leading digital hybrid wealth advisor today. Or keep your cash liquid, especially now that interest rates are rising.

6) You may never reap the rewards of a Roth IRA. 

Let's say the math wasn't the same. You continue to contribute to your Roth IRA because you believe in the tax benefits. Unfortunately, you die at age 59. What a waste of contributions.

All those taxes you paid upfront to the cunning government, and you'll never once get to utilize the returns on your Roth IRA. What a shame.

Guess what? Over those 37 years, the government has happily spent your tens of thousands of dollars on themselves. That makes me sick, and it should make you sick as well. But maybe not, since you are a patriot.

Speaking of losing out on all the contributions, make sure you get married before you die before hitting the age of Social Security collection. If you end up paying FICA tax for 40 years and then die single, the government gets all your Social Security benefits! Again, the government is smarter than you.

7) Early withdrawal penalty for Roth IRA. 

The are no withdrawal penalties for the after-tax money you contribute to your Roth IRA. However, if you decide to withdraw money that has been earned from your after tax contributions, then will be penalized by 10% + your normal tax rate.

For example, if you contribute $10,000 to your Roth IRA and it grows to $15,000. There is a 10% penalty on the $5,000 + your normal tax rate. Just don't be naive to put it past the government to one day tax your after-tax Roth IRA contributions again upon exit.

Look at Social Security, for example. They raised the base case age for full retirement from 62 to 67 for those born after 1960! That's five long years more one has to wait to receive full SS benefits. At least Social Security COLA is keeping up with inflation.

Just note that distributions from Roth IRAs do not count as provisional income and, therefore, don't cause any of your Social Security to be taxed.

8) You chop off your legs and fingers. 

America is a free country where we can relocate at will. If you live in one of the 43 States where there are State income taxes, then it behooves you not to pay more State income taxes.

In California, our state income tax is 8%-13.3% and we've got a huge budget deficit, especially due to 4+ months of economic lockdowns! There's no way I'm giving 10% of my hard-earned retirement income to the politicians up in Sacramento to waste.

Instead, once I retire, I plan to move to one of the 7 no income-tax states (Nevada, Washington, Wyoming, Florida sound reasonable), and avoid paying 10% state taxes altogether. You have the power to save on taxes just by moving.

See: States With No Estate Taxes and The Best States To Buy Real Estate. Heck, you could also move to Canada to save money too.

Choose The Traditional IRA And Max Out The 401(k) 

Hopefully you now recognize all the disadvantages of a Roth IRA.

If you are a recent college graduate who is at the beginning of their earnings power, then choosing to participate in a Roth IRA is less egregious than someone who is older and makes more money (up to ~$153,000).

Your tax rate is low. You might as well save and make a bet that you will make more money as you gain more experience. However, even though you are in the lower tax bracket and assume to make more, make sure you at least max out your 401(k) first.

For those of you in a higher marginal income tax bracket, doing a backdoor Roth IRA conversion could very well be a waste of time.

In my opinion, so long as you are in the 22% marginal income tax bracket or lower, contributing to a Roth IRA is fine. If you are in the 24% marginal income tax bracket, then contributing to a Roth IRA is likely to be a wash.

2023 marginal income tax brackets and rates for single and married filing jointly
2023 Marginal Income Tax Brackets

Always Do The Math Before Contributing To A Roth IRA

Let's say you make $50,000 a year and contribute to a Roth IRA. At $50,000, single, with no deductions, your Federal Tax bill is estimated at around $6,250. This equals an effective tax rate of 12.5%. 

However, you are squarely in the 22% federal tax bracket. Therefore, the $6,500 you are contributing to a Roth IRA is paying a 22% federal tax rate, not your effective tax rate of 12.5%. 22% is OK, but don't forget state taxes.

Let's say you are hot stuff now and make $129,000. $129,000 is the very income edge of where you can still contribute to a ROTH IRA as a single in 2022. Your Federal Tax bill is now around $21,000, or an effective tax rate of 17%. However, your $6,500 maximum Roth IRA contribution is paying a 24% federal tax rate.

You're not really saving because it's not about moving up and down the Federal Tax Brackets. It's about what you think future tax rates will be at for income levels below $144,000. Over $144,000 you start to get phased out.

The $153,000 and below income level for single filers is the protected middle class where no politician dare assaults. The middle class is what puts politicians in office, therefore, taxes will unlikely ever go up for this income group! In fact, Biden has promised he won't raise taxes for any household making under $400,000. Not bad.

Roth IRA Contribution And Income Limits 2022

Final Disadvantage Of A Roth IRA

You will unlikely make more in retirement than while you are working. As a result, you will likely be in a lower income tax bracket in retirement. Let's crunch the numbers.

Let's say you make $153,000 a year or less for your entire life. As a result, you are able to contribute to a Roth IRA. Do you really think when you retire, your income will now be more than $153,000 a year? Only if you earn $153,000 or greater are you in the same tax bracket.

Be realistic. At today's 10-year risk free rate of ~3.5%, you need $4.371 million dollars to generate $153,000 a year in income! And that's before taxes! OK, let's say you can generate a more realistic 4% annual rate of return. To generate $153,000 gross a year in retirement income would require capital of $3,825,000.

$3,825,000 is a more achievable amount of investment capital to accumulate in retirement. But if you look at the data, the average net worth in America is closer to $500,000. And worse, the median net worth in America is below $70,000 according to the latest global millionaires report.

Therefore, you will likely NOT make more in retirement than during your working years. Stop being delusional! Even if you received the average Social Security benefit of around $21,000 a year, you will likely not make more in retirement than while working.

If you have not maxed out your 401k, please do so before even considering contributing to a Roth IRA.

The Bloated Government

You never want to give the government more money than you need to. We are all idealists in college and just out of college. However, once you start paying attention to what's going on up in the various State capitols and in Washington DC, you will realize how manipulative our politicians are.

If allowed, the government will take you for all you're worth. Power is addicting and you must help fight Capitol Hill's addiction by holding on to your own money.

You know what's best for you. You have the power to make a good living. Don't be fooled by the government who want to make money off of you. The more money you make, the more you've got to get into the tax savings mindset. There are people out there who actually pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes than they save. Shocking.

Fight on and open your mind.

Slowly Warming Up To The Roth IRA

Thanks to all the wonderful feedback over the years, I've been less dogmatic about the disadvantages of the Roth IRA.

If you have children, opening up a Roth IRA for your children is a no-brainer. They can earn tax-free income up to the standard deduction limit. Then they can contribute $6,500 of the income into a Roth IRA to earn tax-free returns. Finally, they can withdraw the money tax-free.

People should diversify their retirement savings for tax reasons. However, be aware of higher taxes under the new administration. The tax cuts implemented by the Tax Cut and Jobs Act will expire on December 31, 2025. Therefore, converting or contributing to a tax-now Roth IRA will make more sense.

I just don't believe power-hungry politicians will ever raise taxes on the middle class. If they do, they will risk losing votes. Therefore, if you're paying less than a 25% margin federal income tax bracket, contributing to a Roth IRA is fine. But once you're over 25%, I don't think a Roth IRA makes sense.

Build Wealth Through Real Estate

In addition to investing in stocks and bonds through your Roth IRA, I recommend diversifying into real estate as well. Real estate is a core asset class that has proven to build long-term wealth for Americans. Real estate is a tangible asset that provides utility and a steady stream of income if you own rental properties.

My favorite private real estate platform is Fundrise. Fundrise has been around since 2012, manages over $3.5 billion, and has over 400,000 investors. It focuses primarily on single-family and multi-family homes in the Sunbelt, where valuations are lower and rental yields are higher.

Another great private real estate investing platform is Crowdstreet. Crowdstreet offers accredited investors individual deals run by sponsors that have been pre-vetted for strong track records. Many of their deals are in 18-hour cities where there is potentially greater upside.

If you want to get more surgical in your private real estate investments, Crowdstreet is a strong solution. I've met the people at Crowdstreet on two separate occasions and came away impressed with their risk-management and product offerings.

I've personally invested $954,000 in real estate crowdfunding across 18 projects. My goal is to take advantage of lower valuations in the heartland of America. My real estate investments account for roughly 50% of my current passive income of ~$380,000 so we can live free.

Invest In Private Growth Companies

Consider diversifying into private growth companies through an open venture capital fund. Companies are staying private for longer, as a result, more gains are accruing to private company investors. Finding the next Google or Apple before going public can be a life-changing investment. 

Check out the Innovation Fund, which invests in the following five sectors:

  • Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning
  • Modern Data Infrastructure
  • Development Operations (DevOps)
  • Financial Technology (FinTech)
  • Real Estate & Property Technology (PropTech)

Roughly 35% of the Innovation Fund is invested in artificial intelligence, which I'm extremely bullish about. In 20 years, I don't want my kids wondering why I didn't invest in AI or work in AI!

The investment minimum is also only $10. Most venture capital funds have a $250,000+ minimum.

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Sample retirement planning calculator results

Disadvantages Of A Roth IRA is a Financial Samurai original post. I've been helping people achieve financial freedom sooner, rather than later since 2009. Join 60,000+ others and subscribe to my posts or free newsletter for more financial goodness.

622 thoughts on “Disadvantages Of The Roth IRA: Not All Is What It Seems”

  1. One item not mentioned here – if you have $5M-$10M in your IRA, your RMD is taxed at INCOME rates (30% up to 37%), so you don’t have any step-down in tax rates. If you have just a normal, taxable non-IRA, non-401k, you are taxed at capital gain rates (15% or 20%). Or 0% for a ROTH IRA. There might be substantial savings due to income tax rates at the higher end vs cap gain rates.

  2. Thank you for the financial advice you share.
    Being a “blue-collar worker. I’m not knowledgeable about financial strategies, but my small company contributed to a 401K account which was rolled over to a Traditional IRA account.
    At age 70, my main concern is if there’s a time when the tax amount that has to be paid, won’t be as high? I had assumed that the tax bracket would be lower for senior citizens after 70?
    I think there’s a RMD at age 72.
    I wanted to use money for pre-planned funeral arrangements for my wife & I.
    Social Security benefits are not enough for extra expenses.

  3. I have to disagree on thinking a Roth IRA is not tax efficient. I use my Roth for aggressive stocks & mutual funds, while my regular IRA has less aggressive stocks/mutual funds.

    In my situation, I started contributing to a 401K Roth in 2007 when my company first introduced it. The company match was always put into the regular 401K by default. 10 years later, I was luckily able to retire early at 50 yrs old. I ended up contributing overall $146K to my 401K Roth, and calculated that I paid an additional $36K in upfront taxes based on my yearly tax bracket (generally the 25% bracket). Now it’s 2021, and the $146K in my Roth has grown to $567K and I’m 54 years old.

    Since I can’t touch my money until 59.5 years, let’s assume I wait 7 more years and that $567K will be worth about $1.1M (assuming the rule of 72) – all tax free. Now with the Roth money, I can artificially keep my AGI in the lowest tax bracket (10%) until Social Security & RMDs kicks in at 70\72 years.

    If I had only contributed to a regular 401K, now that $1.1M is taxed at a minimum of 10% – which means that is $110K in federal taxes, plus probably another 10% in state taxes. So that comes out to $220K in taxes I would pay with a regular 401K. With my Roth IRA, I paid $36K in taxes upfront.

    The only way a regular IRA would have been better is if the lowest tax bracket drops below 3% – which will never happen.

    1. Sounds good. I hope your Roth IRA does double in 7 years. Although that seems aggressive unless you are 100% in equities and our bull market lasts that long.

      Don’t forget to calculate what the $36,000 in upfront taxes could have grown to as well.

      I think the Roth IRA is a good way to diversify your retirement income, but only if you are in a lower tax bracket.

    2. I completely disagree with pursuing a more aggressive strategy in roth. Let’s phrase it another way. If you are playing russian roulette, would it be better to pair up with another person and split the risk? Well that is what you are doing with tax-deferred money. In tax-deferred accounts, you are essentially playing with someone elses money (the government’s portion that was supposed to be taxed). So lets say you went full blown risk mode and lost half the invested amount. Well guess what, a decent chunk of that money was the government’s money you just lost. I don’t feel bad for the government. Do you? Now, let’s say you hit it out of the park and your investments quadrupled. Well, guess what, you made a lot of money on the government’s money, so you have more money to pay the taxes with than you otherwise would have just using your own money that was taxed. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t play russian roulette all by myself.

      Also keep it mind that by not being taxed on that money now, you have more take home money that you can now invest into other areas- rental properties, a business etc. Or maybe you just want to actually enjoy your money now and go on some trips while you can still walk without artificial joints.

      At the end of the day it’s a balancing act. If your marginal tax rate is 37%, then you should almost NEVER do roth. If you are just starting out and making 80k lets say with expectations to make a lot more during peak earnings years, then you have a better case for roth. Once you hit that top marginal tax rate, it makes little to no sense to do roth.

  4. “5) What will $6,000 do for your retirement?
    A max contribution of $6,000 a year isn’t going to get you to the promised land.”

    $6000 per year invested for 40 years at 10% will net you 3 Million. That’s nothing to sneeze at.

    Personally, I am dividing retirement dollars between Roth and my simple IRA plan at work.

    I make 70K and contribute 3% to the simple which is matched by my employer for a total of $4200. I then max out Roth IRA’s for my wife and myself for another $12,000. That’s about 23% of my gross income.

    We have 280k combined in our Roths and 135k in pretax IRAS. Having both types of accounts allows me to diversify between stocks and bonds with the more aggresive investments in the Roth and the more conservative in the Traditional. This should help to lessen my tax burden later on.

    Additionally, If the tax structure remains relatively similar, having both types of accounts to pull from will actually allow me to withdraw a significant amount of my Traditional tax free due to standard deductions. For instance in the current tax year If a couple filing jointly needs 100k, they can receive 35K from Social Security, withdraw 21k from a traditional IRA and 44K from a Roth IRA and they would owe no taxes. If the same couple took 35K from Social Security and 65K from a traditional They would owe about $8k in taxes.

  5. Yeah I fell for the Gov’s whole propaganda about stressing the importance of establishing an IRA for retirement. But as I dug deeper there’s really no reason to do it in the first place. It’s my money and I should be able to access my investment portfolio’s as I see fit! Why the hell is the Gov even saying oh it’s in your best interest to save until you’re 59 ½. Otherwise be prepared to face a tax penalty. Like wth, what is up with this bs?
    Life happens and I should be able to sell some positions and withdraw from my retirement portfolio as I see fit. To hell with still getting the same taxes taken out on top of an additional 10%. I also read somewhere that it’s 25% if you have an IRA for less than 2yrs and decide to close it!
    Im already using two brokers for personal stocks and crypto. Atleast with these they have the exact same growth opportunities as an IRA would if you had the same positions in the IRA like you did with your personal portfolio. I basically treat my personal portfolio as my own personal IRA. It’s an investment for a reason. I’m not delusional in the least bit, I’m not day trading unless I see a stock has a chance to gain some substancial gains. Otherwise I’m already investing for the long term. No matter how you look at it in this case, an IRA just has way too many drawbacks. Plus I don’t like the fact that the Gov dictates that I’m a bad investor for withdrawing early, so now I have to pay an additional 10% tax on top of what I’m already getting taxed. Well to hell with that.
    So now I’m facing this exact conundrum. I started using Stash strictly for ETF’s. They just seemed to have a better platform for long term investments with etfs, bonds, reits, etc. They created some of their own etfs for you to choose from. I like their stock back reward program. Plus I use it as my bank account, but namely as a sort of secondary savings account. I was planning to set aside 20% of my income to my main savings, 15% to my personal portfolio, 15% to stash as a secondary savings and for ETF’s. I may switch it around here and there. But essentially I am wanting to deposit $500 a month in Stash so I would get a decent amount in compounding interest rates at a 5% annual growth rate.
    So when I first created my stash they automatically put my in the highest subscription which was only $9 and had all.the bells and whistles. Well they took it upon themselves to start me an IRA. Well I caught it or so I thought and switched to the basic subscription that’s only $1 per month. Well unbeknownst to me it set it on the mid their subscription that’s only $3 a month. But they deposited $45 towards the IRA! I’m not sure how the hell this even happened to be honest. I had already deposited $400 in the personal portfolio for my etfs. I was planning to slowly sell of my stocks from my other portfolio’s in Robinhood, etc. I figured this could take awhile as I already have a substantial amount in my positions with my other brokers. I’m in no hurry but was looking forward in using Stash.
    Anyways I’m not sure how they just automatically deposited $45 in an IRA? Apparently I was set up for $45 per week reoccurring deposits. I stopped it immediately when I found out. Fortunately it only chosen 1 etf which I already own in my other portfolio. So it only made a 2 cent gain. But now I have to go through the headache of having to sell the positions in the IRA and close everything out.
    I’m glad I caught it early and this was because I was alerted when they withdrew the $45 from my bank account. I did hesitate for awhile and thought to myself wth maybe I should have an IRA. But then logic dawned on me and I said hell no! I do not like the fact that I have to wait a quarter of a century until the Gov deems me worthy enough to touch my money. Plus If I would of been indecisive and waited too long I’d just get penalized even more. So better to stop it immediately and just pay the damn 10% on the $45.02 that’s in the IRA right now.
    I’m liking Stash so far besides this whole fiasco. But I’m willing to leave it up to this being a mistake of my own doing. I may of did this unknowingly while I was getting familiar with the app. It is what it is, it’s just bs now that they are going to tax me on my own money. Income that has already been pretaxed that alone is enough for anyone to be alarmed about getting an IRA. So if anyone is up in the air about getting an IRA don’t!
    Just get you a pretty decent diversified portfolio. Make sure to get you a few stocks you believe in, some etfs, bonds and maybe a few reits even. Either way if you ever want to sell your positions for any reason. You can do so without worrying about getting penalized. Be smart with your money, most of don’t be giving it away to the Gov by getting taxed upon being taxed!

  6. John F Dzurak Jr

    Hey, I am 74 and saved most of my retirement funds in my 401K at work. I am pretty financially savvy, but really struck out on how much appreciation my investments had, so now I actually have a higher income than I had working and am still stuck paying taxes at levels ABOVE what I did when I worked. I think the 401K is a TAX TRAP. I agree wholeheartedly w/you that our government deserves NOTHING. It is hell trying to figure out how to pay fewer taxes. I live in Illinois like one of your commenters, and I have been considering what he says he will do, but if you are not careful you will jack your Medicare premium up and never get it down. I help all my kids and their significant others invest and I am having them utilize the 401 K, but ONLY to their company’s match and then MAX the measly $6 K in their Roth. But if I only had had my Apple stock (from 1999) in my Roth instead of my 401K life would be good. Maybe my kids will turn their Tesla into a windfall of sorts. If we didn’t have such corrupt unions and politicians things would be better. Good luck to everyone!

  7. Roth IRA Kick in the Gut

    I haven’t seen anyone mention the fact that if you are not rich enough to pay for years and years in a nursing home for yourself, to the tune of probably $200k/year in a decade’s time, out of your assets, then you will go on Medicaid. Double that if you have a spouse that needs assistance too. How many years of spending $400k can you afford?

    Medicaid rules vary by state and most states considered IRAs “countable” (things that you have to spend down before going on Medicaid, even if it is your spouse’s IRA). However, currently there are some states that do not consider IRAs as “countable” if they are in payout (RMD) status. I can’t post links, so you’ll have to search for this info yourself. Currently only three states don’t consider you and your spouse’s IRA as countable even if they are not in payout/RMD status.

    So here is the kick in the gut – you and your spouse’s Roth IRAs are NEVER in payout/RMD status and therefore (in most states) ARE countable assets that you have to spend before you can go on Medicaid. So a good chunk or all of your years of contributing to Roths and filling your tax brackets by back dooring into Roths will be for naught if you are forced to spend it on assisted living or skilled nursing care – which ~70% of us will for some length of time. Remind me again which states allow assisted suicide?

    1. This is definitely a concern, but this is easily fixed. Regardless of your state’s rules, you can keep a $600 S&W .357 Magnum around in case you deteriorate to the level of needing nursing home care. POOF! You’ll still leave behind an inheritance for your heirs and save yourself years of suffering.

      1. Not a good idea to say things like this in a world where a fair chunk of people can be clinically depressed. It would be a service if you would delete your comment, which might just move some marginal soul to make a very bad “momentary” decision.

  8. Sam
    One question- assume you max out your 401(k), but make too much $$$ to contribute to a Roth IRA or to deduct from your taxes any contribution to a traditional IRA. In this scenario, would you (1) contribute to a traditional IRA, and (2) if yes, would you convert to a Roth IRA (you already paid taxes on the contribution anyway). Thanks

    1. Also curious about this. My understanding is if I am maxing my 401k and not eligible for the tax deduction for giving to a traditional IRA, I may as well contribute to the traditional and convert to Roth.

      With this, I pay taxes now but can let it grow tax-free and withdraw without paying taxes.

      Seems like a no-brainer.

    2. Scott — I can give you my answer. Yes I would do a backdoor Roth IRA by contributing to a non-deductible traditional IRA then converting it to a Roth IRA. There’s an aggregation rule that applies which treats all traditional IRA as a single IRA. So if you already have an IRA with only pre-tax money for whatever reason (even rollover IRA which came from a 401(k) from a previous employer), the backdoor Roth conversion can have tax consequence beyond just the increase between the time you invested into the non-deductible IRA and the time you convert to a Roth. Not sure if I explained it clearly enough, but this link may help. https://www.kitces.com/blog/the-impact-of-the-ira-aggregation-rule-on-after-tax-distributions-roth-conversions-60-day-rollovers-rmds-and-72t-payments/#:~:text=The%20IRA%20Aggregation%20Rule%20And%20Roth%20Conversion%20Strategies,Roth%20conversion%20is%20treated%20as%20a%20taxable%20distribution.

  9. My company recently started offering tax deferred retirement accounts, where we can contribute a large amount of after-tax dollars and then immediately convert to roth. I’m paying tax up front on that money anyway, but this allows me to put away a lot more money towards retirement that I can take out tax free. I’m planning to max this out. Even though I’m a high earner I also mostly did Roth 401k at my company this year. My husband maxes out his Solo 401k so we get that tax savings for pre-tax. Is there any reason to not max out the tax deferral account if we can afford it (and convert to Roth?) This and next year are prob going to be my highest earning years for a long while.

    1. Hi – I am not sure about the Roth/converting during high earning years. I find there are two major factors at play here, only one of which most people account for. The first one is optimizing your income + conversions over your lifespan in such a way to minimize the amount that is earned/converted at higher tax rates. For example, one might only convert in lower income years. I recommend many clients create a low earnings period after retirement by deferring SS and use this period to convert traditional IRAs => Roths. In short, there is no easy rule of thumb; it takes some analysis. The other angle is the value of the extra tax deferral on obtains when converting to Roth due to no RMDs. The value of this can be significant, but most plans and software I see ignore it.

  10. Upon reading your reasons, the biggest take away I am seeing is “The government might change their mind”. Well yes, they might come and take all our gold like the 1930’s. They might decide that all 401k retirement accounts are now part of Social Security and distributed equally. However you still state that 401k is the best. I contribute to 401k and Roth, and each have their advantages and disadvantages. I am single, and that is unlikely to change, so that is my viewpoint.

    With a Roth, I can take out my contributions if I want (tax free) and I cannot do that with my 401k/IRA. This is a big one for me, as if I want to retire before 59.5 I can have an additional place to get money if I come up short/hit a bad market, etc. With a Roth, I can pass it to my heirs, 100% tax free (cannot do that with a 401k/IRA, and is subject to the whims of the federal inheritance tax rules). Yes the taxes and opportunity costs might make sense from what you are saying (I didn’t hyper-analyze them), but at the end of the day, sometimes you pay a little more for more benefits.

    I don’t know, I think that 1/2 your arguments are spurious and speculative, and the other half might not fit due to the financial situation you are in (income, life expectancy, life goals, etc.) Take it with a grain of salt I guess .. as I do with every article I read.

    1. Correct. Folks have got to do what’s right for them. And if they want to pay taxes up front, even at above a 24% marginal income tax rate, that’s great. The country especially needs tax revenue right now with so much of the economy closed.

      It is good to diversify retirement funds. If you are maxing out your 401(k) and get to contribute to a Roth IRA, then I say why not.

      I don’t plan to make more in retirement than while I was working. Therefore, I will be in a lower tax bracket. But I’m proud of those who will make more in retirement than while working. That is an incredible feat.

      1. Incredible? Hardly. JeffD has already nailed the point of contention here. We’re blind to the situation of others. FS advice makes sense for a high income earner from early career, which isn’t most people (by definition of average of course). For average earners who are successful in their investments over a long period, they’ll be withdrawing in the highest tax bracket when they retire, and they’ll be forced into RMDs that they’ve no control over. Now you can say “who are these average pay folks who amass large amounts” and call this incredible. But it’s not incredible, and in fact it’s the whole damn point of investing. Sometimes I think the financial advisor industrial complex mentally socializes everything, so that following their advice tends to defeat the purpose of investing. If we all get similar returns, then I guess we should all focus on attaining the highest yearly income since that’s the remaining differentiator among us.

        Screw that. My portfolio is 65 times my payroll income and I’m not 60 yet. Because, um … compounding? It could conceivably be 90 or 100x times in a decade or two if I’m lucky. What’s that? I’m not average? Right, but my income is and will always has been and will be. Assuming others fit our own demographic profile isn’t wise. At the low end it doesn’t matter (if and when low income = low motivation), and at the high end it may not make sense. But in the middle income ROTH often makes a lot of sense, though diversifying pre and post tax is good and likely necessary for most.

        Here is link to JeffD’s comment. https://www.financialsamurai.com/disadvantages-of-the-roth-ira-not-all-is-what-it-seems/comment-page-5/#comment-425015

        1. And one more argument for the Roth that may finally change some minds:

          Social security benefit payments are subject to taxation. Your Federal taxes are based on your adjusted SS income which is calculated as your taxable income plus one half of your social security benefit amount. If you are married, filing jointly, then your tax is 0%, since Roth IRA distributions are not taxable in this particular formula (look it up). That means you and your wife can earn a combined $63,999 in social security benefits without any Federal taxes if your income outside SS comes solely from your Roth withdrawls. Since most states do not tax SS benefits, that would make your entire SS distribution tax free. Combine that with the fact that the Federal government is likely to soon tax income at pre -1982 levels, and you are looking at gargantuan savings from using a Roth vs other investment vehicles.

      2. Hey Financial Samurai,

        I think this is a cool article, while everyone might not agree, I love the different view point you give. Question for you. Do you see any disadvantages in using some of your Roth IRA towards the 20% down payment of a first home.

  11. I’ve read a number of articles on financialsamurai over the years. Some I found insightful, some less so, but always fairly sensible, working with a well-defined set of assumptions and drawing reasonable conclusions. It is only occasionally that a link sends me (or reminds me) of these bizarre anti-Roth tirades. They’re bizarre because they are utterly irrational. I’m not arguing that anyone should contribute to a Roth IRA (I think there are plenty of circumstances where it’s the right move, but that’s irrelevant for the present purposes). They just make no sense.

    You argue that Roth plans are both a poor choice, and also that the tax policy is unfair because that poor decision is only available to some people. Are Roth plans bad because they don’t make financial sense? Or as part of taking an ethical stand? And I’ve never seen the same logic applied elsewhere, like, “You could worry about avoiding short-term capital gains taxes. But you shouldn’t, because long-term capital gains rates are unfair! Only people with capital gains can use them!”

    You argue that the government is bad, so you shouldn’t give them taxes early, they will just waste them! But hypothetically, you are giving the government more money with a standard 401(k) or IRA, because in the intervening years, you will invest that additional capital more wisely than the government, and so when it comes time to take their cut (at withdrawal), there will be more to take. Yes, assuming your marginal tax bracket is constant, the amount you see at the end will be the same.

    One thing you definitely get with part of your retirement being in post-tax funds is the ability to withdrawal funds according to your needs, attempting to keep constant the amount of pre-tax dollars you take out in a year to minimize the overall tax burden, regardless of changing cash flow requirements. So there are benefits to the Roth.

  12. Greg in Chicago

    I’m in late 30’s in 24% bracket (married, with kids), and thinking of doing a conversion to Roth while staying in 24% bracket. I’m in Illinois, which doesn’t tax IRA distributions (even if they’re converted to Roth). Tax rate here is 4.95%. I’m already maxing out 401k on both of our accounts. I’ve already contributed 20k to kids’ 529 – that’s the max that the state income tax-deductible. I’ve also had a grandparent contribute 2k to each kid’s Coverdell account.

    My reasons:
    1. Taxes are historically low
    2. Feeble attempt to time the market
    3. Possibility of using the principal if such need arises (eg purchase of new residence, etc)

    Am I missing anything?

    1. No. You’re correct. I’d add these as well.

      4. It’s easier to convert at within a reasonable tax bracket with a lower balance than a higher balance in the future. For this reason, even if you aren’t at your contribution limit, Roth often makes more sense.

      5. How much of your social security income will become taxable depends on provisional income and filing status. Some relatively low income people are in insanely high income tax bracket because of this.

      6. Obamacare premium credit is a stealth tax based on income if you are interested in retiring before age 65. It effectively adds about 15% on top of your normal tax below 400% of federal poverty level. So a 12% tax bracket might turn out to be 27% tax bracket making your conversion cost more if you wait until you retire early.

      7. Income related Monthly Adjustment Amount (IRMAA) causes some people to pay more for Medicare Part B and Drug Coverage based on income and whether you are single or married. Remember, even if you are married now, one of you may die at one point before the other. For the moment, the cost is about 5% but with Medicare cost rising, I suspect it’ll be closer to 7% in the next 15 years.

      8. 3.8% Net Investment Income tax thresh hold is not indexed to inflation so it’ll impact more people down the line.

      9. State income tax.

      10. State and Federal estate tax

      11. Stretched IRA is largely dead. If you die with a traditional IRA, the heir has to distribute the balance with 10 years in most cases. The same rule applies for a Roth but at least they won’t have a tax problem when pulling money out at a time they might be earning good money.

      12. The math isn’t the same if you start maxing out the contribution limit. If you put $6000 into a Roth, you paid tax to get it in there. If you put $6000 into a traditional, the tax deduction you had must be kept somewhere which presumably will be in a taxable account thus will not grow at the same rate of return even if your tax bracket stayed the same at contribution and at distribution. Some idea applies to Roth 401(k) if that is offered to you.

      13. The first two reason ranting against the Roth of government being inefficient neglects the reasons to offer the Roth to begin with. They want to give some incentive to invest. Many will invest in U.S. stocks which the companies are hiring people, growing the economy, and pay U.S. tax. With people saving for retirement, they will spend more or at least not need government hand out later in life.

      14. You can invest in a Roth at any income if you use a backdoor option by investing in a traditional IRA first then converting it to a Roth.

      15. Argument for deduct at marginal and pay tax at average rate is flawed because most people have social security during retirement thus you’re actually going from deducting at marginal to paying at marginal.

      16. Many places have property tax breaks for somewhat lower income seniors. The income limit varies even within a state. Often you will get a discount and/or frozen assessment as long as your income is within a certain range and don’t move.

      I’d lean Roth with maybe a small amount in a traditional for those reasons. Many people think they’ll be in a lower bracket some point in their career or at retirement so far, with all the stealth tax and incentive to keep income level low, their tax bracket is often higher than when they were working.

  13. I must be missing something here:
    “Let’s say you pay $2,000 in taxes to contribute $5,000 to a Roth IRA, and that $5,000 miraculously grows to $1 billion dollars. Your total tax bill would be around $400 million dollars if you had contributed to a 401(k) and had to withdraw!”

    I thought there is no tax on investment gains in a Roth IRA? Roth costs more up front but if you invest wisely and grow that account the gains will vastly outweigh that early tax loss, whereas in a traditional IRA you have to pay tax on everything. That seems like a huge difference to me, what am I missing?

    1. Yes, gains from Roth IRA investments are tax-free upon withdrawal.

      It’s the opportunity cost of paying $2,000 in taxes up front. If you didn’t, and invested the $2,000 like the $5,000, it would have grown to $400 – $500 million.

  14. Her’es what sucks about ROTH IRA.

    In a regular IRA, you pay no tax now (you write off the amount contributed) but pay tax when you take it out.

    In a ROTH IRA, you pay tax now and then the govt says you won’t have to pay more tax later.

    The problem is, the government needs to steal your money to pay for welfare. What’s to stop them from double-taxing you by deciding in the future to steal part of your ROTH IRA?

    At least with a regular IRA you get the benefit of the tax write off now, when you probably have a low or moderate income and need that tax savings. With a ROTH IRA there is no guarenteed tax benefit, since the govt can change their mind on tax schemes.

    Don’t think they won’t do it, either. As soon as the dollar collapses or govt defaults on their debt or something else terrible happens and they need to steal more money, they will rob retirement accounts and probably bank accts as well.

    1. I think you meant to pay for the military & subsidizing insurance companies. Please look up a government spending chart somewhere credible so you can educate yourself on where tax payers money actually goes.

    2. Uh, pay for welfare? Apparently you don’t have the slightest idea where most of our tax dollars go. I’ll give you a clue: it ain’t to “welfare.”

  15. First off I just discovered your site and really enjoy it – great work! I may not represent the situation you are describing, but I view a Roth as both a bet on myself (having high income in retirement), and a hedge against more progressive tax policy in the future. Am I off-base with this thinking?

    I am a 30 yr old above-average earner who maxes out Roth 401k, plus the max allowable after tax contributions ($9k) w/ in-plan Roth conversion. I also max out Traditional IRA w/ Roth conversion (above the income limits for Roth contributions). I am also maxing out my company’s ESPP (~$8k), contributing to a 529 (I am the beneficiary until I have kids) and I have a modest taxable brokerage for some riskier conviction plays. I am also lucky to have a great pension plan at work, a high income earning wife, and a great company 401k match (5% of salary which will increase to 10% in a few years). Should I be diversifying my tax liability?

    1. Matthew – You seem to be making good decisions and this probably explains why you are in such a good situation overall. Well done. I agree with your views and generally do not *diversify* tax liability. Speculative perhaps, but I advise and allow clients to chose. The only things I see missing from your statements are (1) the value of extra deferral a Roth can provide (no RMDs) and (2) the higher effective contributions you can make via Roth vs traditional ($X post-tax in Roth > $X pre-tax in traditional as it will eventually be taxed). Hope that helps, but wishing you continued prosperity!

    2. If you retire early like I did at 48, you can Roth convert a big chunk of money from your traditional IRA every year into a Roth IRA. In my current tax situation, I am able to do this and pay $0 state and Federal taxes. Most people could do this paying at most 10% in taxes. Having the right balance between taxable and non-taxable investments while I was working is what has allowed me to keep my taxes so low. Developing a tax plan for your future is more than half the fun of investing!

  16. Bill Robinson

    I am totally baffled by this post. When you systematically contribute towards retirement, the overwhelmingly large part of your balance at retirement is GROWTH, not the piddly principal you have put into the account. I think maxing our your Roth 401K is best, followed by doing Backdoor Roths. In this way, the 95%+ of your account that is due to the growth in capital is tax free in retirement.

    While the dollars you’re investing do have a high opportunity cost since they’re after tax dollars, I still think you come out WAY ahead because of all the tax free growth. Plus if you build up other non-retirement investments (think rental properties, non-retirement mutual funds, etc.), you also don’t have to take required minimum distributions.

    To Sam’s point about dying before age 59 1/2, in that case, your heirs have a stepped up basis. They can liquidate tax free at your death, or they can reset the basis of the mutual funds.

    What am I missing here?

    Thanks,

    BR

    1. The key value of the Roth is for “average” earners who start their retirement savings in their early 20s. They will very likely be in a lower tax bracket while making their maximum contributions each year in their early career, and almost certainly be withdrawing in the highest tax bracket by the time they retire. In that case, traditional IRA or 401(k) contributions can leave a person “poorer” than they otherwise would be. Who is to say that the top brackets will be well north of 50% in the near future, like they were before the 1980s?

    2. I am with you on your assessment. I’d rather pay taxes on ~5% of a Roth 401k account due to contributions and receive the other 95% of the account tax-free (regardless of what the government ends up spending it on).

      Also, having a Roth IRA will then allow me to transfer from my Roth 401k to my Roth IRA to avoid RMDs (again tax-free since both accounts are Roth). This will allow the best flexibility for year-to-year planning in my golden years.

  17. Aymeric de Conde

    If you have a 401k, contribute.
    If you can open a Traditional IRA and contribute, do it.
    If you can open a Roth IRA and contribute, do it.

    And now you can pick the best investments for each, like putting all of your REITs into your ROTH. Why?

    REITs are required to pay at least 90% of their income, usually derived from rents, each year as dividends to their shareholders. Normally, these dividends are totally subject to taxes, at the ordinary-income rate. But not if they’re held in a tax-sheltered Roth…

    Investing in something that gives you a tax break will almost always be preferable to investing inside a taxable account.

    If you have tax advantage opportunities given to you (IRA, 401k, etc.) then why not take them? I rather have 6k in a Roth than in a brokerage account.

    People talk about diversification for risk.. well I think of the retirement funds as tax opportunity diversification!

    Putting diversified index funds in is not a bad move. It’s the simplest method. But it’s important to consider all of your accounts together. You might have a 401(k) at work, a Roth IRA, and a taxable brokerage account as well.

    If you own domestic stocks, foreign stocks, bonds, and maybe some alternative assets, rather than spread them all equally in all of your accounts, you can get a better bang for your buck by prioritizing the least tax-efficient investments to put in your tax-free Roth IRA (think REITs in Roth IRAs, instead of brokerage accounts, etc.).

    Also, you can follow me on instagram @arandomwalkdowninsta

    Cheers

  18. There’s no situation where the Roth IRA makes sense???

    Just a few examples…

    – teenagers with earned income who can enjoy decades of tax-free compounding
    – business owners with incomes that continually rises until death
    – retirees with RMDs generating significant taxable income
    – super savers that have already maxed out traditional retirement accounts

    1. Chris,

      Yes, Roth’s are good for the edge cases. They aren’t good for the average person.
      If you look at a bell curve, the situations you described above are not in the center standard deviation, they’re out at the edges.

      Only 6.02% of Americans own their own business, which means the other 93.98% work for someone else.

      Most people do not have incomes that exponentially increases (after inflation is taken into consideration). The average person is not in college studying to be a doctor or a lawyer.

      The average person gets a 2.7% raise every year. Inflation is at 2% right now, the average person won’t be jumping tax brackets because remember those tax brackets are adjusted up each year for inflation.

      For the vast majority of Americans, they will not retire with more income per year than they made while working. Most people, myself included, will exit the work force once my nest egg replaces my regular income. If I make $100k/year at a 4% withdraw rate that means I will need $2.5 million (present term value). I say present terms, because $2.5 million today will be worth significantly less a few decades from now because of inflation. If I need $2.5 million today, then next year I will need $2.55 million because of the 2% inflation.

      Financial advisors tell their clients to aim for 80% income replacement. Most don’t even hit this mark.

      Most people, once established, never leave their inflation adjusted marginal tax rate.

      Only 13% of people max out their 401k. In fact, the average savings rate is 6.9%. Couple that with the average household income that’s in the high $50’s, and you can see the vast majority of people are no where near maxing out their 401k’s or being labeled a “super saver”.

      My list of averages could go on and on and on. But you’re right, you’ve captured the edge cases in the bell curve.

      If you’re in an edge case, then yes, the Roth makes sense. Keep investing in the Roth while you’re in the edge case. However, for most people the traditional 401k is far superior.

  19. I disagree with this article and there’s also misinformation. It’s almost as if there’s a motive here.

    1. If you make more than the income cap for a Roth, you can do a backdoor Roth, which is simply converting a Traditional into a Roth. You just can’t contribute to a Roth directly.

    2. Why not have a combination of a Traditional and Roth? When Republicans are in power, convert a percentage of your Traditional’s account value into a Roth. When Democrats are in power and raise taxes, don’t convert.

    3. If you’re young and anticipate a higher income in the future, why would you want to get taxed at a higher rate? Get that money taxed ASAP.

    4. There’s uncertainty of where things will be years down the road. For all we know, taxes could be through the roof. Why gamble?

    5. 401ks cannot outperform good decision in a Roth or Traditional. You have no control when to buy and sell in a 401k, which is why many Americans saw their 401ks tank and couldn’t do anything about it. Why not trade in a Traditional or Roth? Invest in some ETFs and companies that buy back their stock? When a crisis is unfolding, sell your shares and buy them back at a cheaper price.

    1. What do you mean “You have no control when to buy and sell in a 401k”. Can you please explain.

      1. Some 401(k)s give you a menu of ten crappy mutual fuunds to select from with zero ability to put your money anywhere else. You *must* allocate among the ten crappy funds.

  20. There are a lot of reasons to put money into a Roth. For early career folks I do not believe that maxing out your traditional is a good choice especially if your employer offers a roth 401k. For people in this situation you can potentially put away $24k per year, while you are in the 12% tax bracket and then withdrawal it tax free when you retire in the 24% tax bracket. It may make sense for you to stop contributing to the roth and go to the traditional once your income gets close to your retirement income, but in the early years go for the Roth. I am not sure about all the points regarding lack of access and low contribution amounts either. You can always make backdoor contributions to a Roth or if you have a Roth 401k option you can contribute $19k just like all the traditional investors.

  21. The thing that gets me confused, but I’ve slowly been getting more clarity on is if
    1. you don’t make a ginormous amount of money (I’m between $30-35k, with side hustle of $5-10k/yr. Easily $2-3k of this is cash that I don’t report, whatevs. Not looking to expand greatly- I have 3-4 days off in a row per week, and both of my careers I love. Something to be said for quality of life)
    2. you have PAYE student loans

    If I can do my IRA (solo 401k, I’m self-employed) then that gets my taxes to a minimum for reporting purposes. Yeah, I’ve run the numbers on the tax bomb, it still seems to make sense to pay less now, have more forgiven later. Also my health insurance is way lower. I’m eligible for a marketplace plan with HSA too, my current option is $40/mo, but could be less if I put more towards retirement, which is the plan now my biz expenses are paid off.

    I don’t have any reason to expect to be making significantly more money, there’s a much greater chance I’ll be making less at some point. I don’t see how the Roth is better.

    1. In your situation, I would absolutely do a Roth IRA to save for retirement. You are in a low income tax bracket and there’s basically nothing but upside. Makes no sense to think you can’t and won’t make more money.

      But of course, it also depends on your student loan interest rate. I would pay off your student loans more aggressively if it is 5% or higher.

      See: FS-DAIR: The Debit And Investment Strategy

      1. I don’t see any reason to expect I would make much more. In my 20 years in the work force the only reason I’ve ever made significantly (difference between $10-15k/yr, and now $30-40k) more is because I switched careers. My work was fairly static for the most point (still have a foot in my old career, but $ has only kept pace with inflation. Fewer opportunities overall and a lot of them pay the same or less than 10-20 yrs ago). My job I have now they put me at the max salary after the initial trial period since I had more experience than their typical person. I could leave, but I’d rather have a low-stress job with supportive boss and a 3 or 4 day weekend, than a 40 hr job where there’s a lot of pressure to network, make sales, etc. Seems to me the best thing is to be the smartest with the money I have, while still living a good life now.

        I also forgot to mention that if I invest in trad or SEP IRA or solo 401k now, that can get me lower than ~$25k which lets me do various low income first time homeowner programs. The program I’m on the waitlist for gives me $2 for every $1 I save towards closing/down payment. They said it’s off of AGI not pre-tax income.

  22. I was looking at Dave Ramsey’s blog and it appears that he indicated it’s always more advantageous to contribute to Roth instead of traditional due to growth not being taxed.

    But when we assume the tax rate stay constant, the results are the same. Thank you for pointing that out in bullet #4.

    1. With the push for socialism and Medicare for all. Combined with federal debt, social security being underfund….it’s responsible to assume taxes will be higher in the future. Hence, a Roth would make sense. Nobody has a crystal ball, but based on current factors, it seems to sustain a decent standard of living, taxes will need to increase. Why not do some Roth and some pre tax.

      1. haha, according to all the left wingers pushing for socialism and medicare for all, the money is going to come from the uber rich not you and I. According to Bernie, Warren, etc, it won’t cost the middle class person a dime.

        So one of three things will happen:

        1) You believe them and by some act of God, they are able to follow through with it. In that case your tax situation should be better in the future not worse. Which means the 401k makes even more sense!

        2) You recognize what they’re preaching is complete BS and you don’t vote them into office. Thus those things never come to frustration and the taxes stay relatively the same. 401k wins again.

        3) You believe their lies, and then they sock it to the middle class. Which will happen and I don’t understand how the public is so blind to this. When has a government social program actually worked? Never! In this case though, you can only blame yourself for voting those clowns into office. And in that case, I have some prime swampland real estate to sell you as well! But on the positive your Roth investment turned out to be a better option. lol.

    2. It’s actually not the same Sheryl. If the tax rate was constant as you say, then we’d be in a flat tax rate system. In that case you would be right, the results would be the same.

      However we don’t live under a flat tax system. Our U.S. tax system is tier’d. This is what people aren’t understanding. Any dollar you invest in a Roth you’re paying taxes at your highest marginal rate (highest tier) now. However if you invest in a 401k, later when you retire and withdraw the money, you’d be taxed in tiers plus you get to take a standard deduction. This is called your effective tax rate. If you don’t believe me look at your tax return from last year. Your effective tax rate is always lower than your marginal tax rate! Always!

      Everyone’s tax situation is different. For me, I’m at my peak earning years where my salary is likely the highest it’s going to get (adjusted for modest raises and inflation), it makes absolutely no sense to invest in a Roth for me! My effective tax rate in retirement will absolutely be lower than my marginal tax rate now! That’s guaranteed! So the Roth is stupid for me to invest in. But everyone is different. If you get a pension, if you’re currently a student but expect to be a doctor later, etc, etc. All I know is that for my personal situation a regular 401k is the best option!

      Also, Dave Ramsey is awesome for the average Joe that needs help with basic things like budgeting, which, lets be honest, the vast majority of America is under this umbrella which is why he’s so famous. However, for those that take control of their life, have discipline, and know how to make money work for you, then Dave Ramsey is not the person for you. Dave believes in absolutely no debt and to pay off your house as soon as possible. I, along with so many other people, believe in the power of leveraged money at low borrowing rates. I will never pay off my house early. Why would I pay it off early when I can use that money to invest instead. I’ll gladly borrow money at 3.5% (and is tax deductible) so that I can instead make 12%+ investing! That’s how your grow an empire! It all comes down to risk and warm fuzzies. If you want the warm fuzzy of paying off your house, go for it. No one will judge you. But financially, that isn’t the best option if you want to grow your net worth! if you pay it off as slow as possible and invest instead your net worth will be significantly higher in 30 years than it would be by paying it off early and then investing! That’s what all businesses do, they leverage low interest debt in order to make higher returns elsewhere. So again, do you want an emotional warm fuzzy or do you want a higher net worth in the future?

    3. Aaron Brask

      Taxing growth or avoiding that is not the issue. The math is multiplying by (1- tax rate) before or after the growth and it works out the same. This assumes the applicable tax rate is the same which is what everyone else here is debating. Here is a link to an article (I wrote) laying out the math as clearly as I could. Note: The other moving part related to Roths is avoiding RMDs and thus allowing the money to stay in the IRA longer and thus benefit from no taxation of dividends, interest, or rebalancing.

      1. Aaron, you need to re-read my post because you didn’t understand it or our tax code. 1-tax rate works if we lived in a flat tax world. Meaning 22% taxed on the front (Roth) or 22% on the backend Trad 401k wouldn’t make a difference. But we don’t live in a flat tax world. Trad 401k withdraws are treated as normal income. You get to take a standard deduction, then the money is filtered through the tax tiers. The final tax is called your effective tax rate. Look at your tax returns last year if you don’t believe me. Front end tax (Roth) is not the same as back end tax (401k).

        Here’s food for thought, if your 401k withdraw is less than $12,000 for the year your tax bill is absolutely $0 because you get to take a standard deduction. Why would I pay a high tax rate on a Roth right now when I could pay a significantly lower (or none in this situation) later in retirement on a traditional 401k?

        As for RMD’s. Most people will retire on less money per year than they did when they were working. RMD’s won’t even matter in most peoples situations because their 4% yearly withdraw depletes the account faster than the RMD’s. RMD’s only come into play if you have a very significant amount of money that you intend to pass down to someone.

  23. In response to your question posed in the article, YES, I expect to be in a higher tax bracket later, so am converting part of my IRA to a Roth. I retired at 57, and began collecting a small pension at 60. I will begin collecting another pension at 65, and SS at 66.5. It makes sense to convert now while my income and tax bracket are low, and before tax rates revert back to higher levels in 2025.

    1. It is great that you feel you’ll make more money in retirement then during your highest working years. This is why the American con of me is so strong. Everybody is rich and optimistic about the future.

  24. macarthur wheeler

    ROTH IRA QUAGMIRE

    I have read all of the FS articles on the down falls of the ROTH IRA as well as the recent article walking back some of the previous content. I have also done research on my own, as well as reading every comment from readers on the ROTH content.

    The mathematics of the ROTH IRA versus pretax accounts are not equal. While the end dollar figure is close if the other variables are equal, the tax efficiency/tax cost is in favor of the ROTH. Total cost is in favor of the ROTH. Simplicity is in favor of the ROTH. Human behavior is in favor of the ROTH.

    Suffice to say, I have evaluated ROTHS as the most efficient way for low income, middle income, and upper middle income, or hell – high income with ROTH backdoor, to invest long term and to control the taxes later on. I think my math is correct.

    One of the big factors in my adherence to the ROTH is human behavior and simplicity. The other is cutting the government out of your life on the front end. The analogy is like an actor and movie company. The actor represents the government, we as the individual investor represent the movie company. If I want to be able to control cost and get bang for my buck, I want to hire the actor on the front end and pay them a known amount. The actor wants to get paid on the back end, like Robert Downey JR and the Marvel series. I think the following examples illustrate this.

    ROTH EXAMPLE

    22 year old person contributing the limit of 6,000 yearly into a ROTH in 24% tax bracket until age 60 when they plan to retire a little early. 38 years of work.

    6000 x 38 years = $228,000 in total contributions
    9% yearly compounded over time = $1,695,778 total account value
    6000 x .24% = $1,440 yearly taxes for 38 years = $54,720 in total taxes paid

    60th year total account value = $1,695,778
    60th year total capital outlay = $228,000.
    60th year total taxes paid = $54,720.
    60th year total cost = $282,720

    PRE TAX EXAMPLE

    22 year old person contributing the limit of 6,000 yearly into a pretax IRA in 24% tax bracket until age 60 when they plan to retire a little early. 38 years of work. They avoid taxes until they take money out post 59.5. They reinvest the tax savings of $1,440 yearly in a post tax account that will require payroll taxes at 24% and long term capital gains tax at 15%. Compound interest at 9% yearly.

    6000 x 38 years = $228,000 in total contributions
    $1,440 in yearly tax savings invested in post tax account = $54,720
    Payroll pax on the money to used invest in a post tax account $1,440 @ .24 = $345 yearly
    60th year total payroll taxes on principal for post tax investment account = $13,132
    60th year pretax account value at 9% compounded = $1,695,778
    60th year post tax investment account value at 9% compounded = $406,986

    60th year total account value = $2,102,764
    60th year total tax bill on pretax amount @ .24 = $406,986
    60th year total tax bill on post tax amount @ .15 = 61,048
    60th year total payroll taxes on principal for post tax investment account = $13,132

    60th year total account value = $1,634,730
    60th year total capital outlay = $282,720
    60th year total taxes paid $481,166
    60th year total cost = $763,886

    FINANCIAL SAMURAI RETIREMENT TAX LIABILITY AND RISK METHOD

    Hypothetically, taxes in retirement could go down. FS is betting they will. I am betting that no one knows until you reach retirement age. Unknowns are risk. Let’s drop all tax liability on the pretax accounts to long term capital gains. I’ll speculate this is an overly generous best case scenario.

    60th year total account value = $2,102,764
    60th year total tax bill on pretax amount @ .15 = $254,366
    60th year total payroll taxes on principal for post tax investment account @ 24% = $13,132
    60th year total tax bill on post tax amount @ .15 = 61,048

    60th year total account value = $1,774,218
    60th year total capital outlay = $282,720
    60th year total taxes paid $328,546
    60th year total cost = $611,266

    SUMMARY

    ROTH – DEFINITIVE
    Total account value at age 60
    $1,695,778
    Total cost to achieve
    $282,720

    PRETAX ALL THINGS EQUAL
    Total account value at age 60
    $1,634,730
    Total cost to achieve
    $763,886

    FINANCIAL SAMURAI WITH LONG TERM CAPITAL GAINS IN RETIREMENT – SPECULATIVE
    Total account value age 60
    $1,774,218
    Total cost to achieve
    $611,266

    For both pretax scenarios I did not calculate the yearly taxes on low turn over index mutual funds invested in the post tax account. It is another tax bill to account for.

    A pretax cost difference of $328,546 and a greater value of $78,440 is a bet. Is it worth it? Add the fact you have to take RMDs and any inherited IRA is likely going to have a 10 year window for distribution once SECURE its passed. Any pretax account ends up paying the government way more on the back end than a ROTH does on the front end.

    Lastly, most people, including me, are not disciplined enough to fully fund a pretax account then re-invest the tax savings in a post tax account. It’s a pain to do it. If you don’t fully invest the tax savings then there is no argument. If you do re-invest diligently you have a tad more if taxes break your way in retirement, but you still end up paying a kings ransom to achieve it compared to the ROTH.

    If I am the government, the taxes pulled backend from pretax are 6 to 8 times higher than the ROTH. The government will get its money. It’s a question of how much do you want to pay.

  25. Perhaps this needs to be revisited with a focus on converting a 401k to a Roth for folks nearing retirement. Given the increasing national debt and the potential for increased government spending on debt servicing, healthcare, defense, immigration, and so called entitlements, it seems likely that the current income tax rates may be the lowest we’ll ever see. Could a couple in their fifties with two or three million in 401k accounts be making a good decision to convert to a Roth now? Does this mean they would have to come up with hundreds of thousands from other sources now to pay the tax bill? Might it help avoid a future reduction in Social Security benefits if those are means tested?

    1. macarthur wheeler

      Running numbers for a 22 year old in the 28% bracket working 38 years and investing the max at $19,000 yearly @ 9 % compounding:

      ROTH 401K

      60th year total account value (38 x $19,000 @ 9%) = $5,368,835
      60th year total principal invested (38 x $19,000) = $722,000
      60th year total taxes paid (38 x $19,000(.28) = $202,160
      60th year total cost ($722,000 + $202,160) = $924,160

      No RMD’s
      No tax bill for heirs

      TRADITIONAL 401K AT 15% CAPITAL GAINS IN RETIREMENT WITH TAX SAVINGS RE-INVESTED

      60th year pretax account value (38 x $19,000 @ 9%) = $5,368,835
      60th year post tax investment account (38 x $5,320 @ 9%) = $1,502,459

      *does not include the yearly tax bill for a low turnover index fund post tax account*

      60th year account value before taxes = $6,871,294
      60th year pretax account bill @ 15% = $805,325
      60th year post tax account bill @ 15% = $225,368
      60th year total payroll tax bill (38 x $5,320 x .28) = $56,604
      60th year total tax bill = $1,087,298

      60th year account value ($6,871,294 – $1,087,298) = $5,783,996
      60th year total capital outlay ($722,000 + $202,160) = $924,160
      60th year total cost ($1,087,298 + $924,160) = $2,011,458

      RMDs currently at 70.5
      SECURE legislation is pending that would move RMDs to 72
      Inherited IRAs currently have mandatory RMDs but no time limit
      SECURE legislation is pending that would set a ten (10) year window for the total draw down of an inherited IRA
      Heirs have a tax bill either way

      SUMMARY

      ROTH 401K

      60th year total account value
      $5,368,835

      60th year total taxes paid
      $202,160 = 4%
      ($202,160 / $5,368,835)

      60th year capital outlay
      $722,000

      TRADITIONAL 401K PLUS POST TAX INVESTMENT ACCOUNT

      60th year total account value after tax
      $5,783,996

      60th year total taxes paid
      $1,087,298 = 16%
      ($1,087,298 / $6,871,294)

      60th year total capital outlay
      $924,160

      In conclusion:

      Do you want to pay the government $202,000 to get to 5.4 million with no government interference for your heirs?

      or

      Do you want to pay the government 1.1 million and invest an extra $202,000 to get to 5.8 million with strings attached for your heirs?

      I am sure I have mistakes in calculations, but it is going to be very close unless I am a lot dumber than I already know I am.

      1. Unfortunately you’re focusing on the wrong thing. You’re focusing on the dollar amount you pay in taxes (now versus later). Of course the monetary tax amount will be higher, but your 401k balance will be significantly higher than a Roth as well. You should be focusing on what percentage of your income are you paying in taxes. That’s the real question……

        For example. Would you rather make $50,000 and pay $5,000 (10% in taxes) or would you rather make $100,000 and pay $7,500 (7,5%) in taxes? Not sure about you, but I’d rather much rather make $100k and pay $7,500. Yes I’m paying more in taxes, but it’s a lower percentage of my income and that’s what I’m concerned about!

        If you invest in a ROTH you’re paying taxes at your highest tax bracket right now, in your case 28%. So for every dollar you put into the ROTH you’re paying 28% in taxes. However if you invest in a 401k the money is taxed in tiers AND you get to take a standard deduction on the back end. This is your Effective tax rate. Your effective tax rate will absolutely 100% be lower than your marginal tax rate (ie 28%). If you don’t believe me, look at your past tax returns. You’re in the 28% tax bracket, but you definitely didn’t pay 28% of your income in taxes!

        For me, I’m in the 22% tax bracket, but I only paid 10.9% in taxes. When you withdraw from a 401k, your money is taxed in tiers and you get the standard deduction. I’d much rather pay 10.9% on my money later in life than 22% right now. It’s a no brainier!

        The only way a ROTH makes sense is if you plan on making significantly more money in your future. In that case invest in a Roth now, but switch to the 401k later when your income rises. If your income has stabilized (adjusting for raises and inflation), then the 401k is hands down a better investment because you pay a lower tax percentage later in life than you do right now with a Roth!

        1. macarthur wheeler

          The real question is how to most effectively invest money for the long term paying the smallest amount of tax. Then, I want to pass it to my heirs tax free. If you have no kids or others to pass it to then it is a moot point. For me it is a big factor.

          First, the balances in the 401Ks, whether ROTH or traditional, will be exactly the same. The ROTH will have no tax lien, the traditional a hypothetical lien at 15%. It could be higher, and your heirs will have to continue to pay RMDs. Regardless, it is an unknown what your tax rate will be when you are eligible to start taking distributions from your traditional account. It’s fun to gamble. You had better hope your tax rate is substantially lower in retirement, like at a minimum 12%-15% lower. Hope is generally not a great plan.

          Second, you have to re-invest yearly tax savings from the traditional in a post tax brokerage account. Then you pay the payroll tax to do so. Then you pay the on-going taxes on your index funds with low turnover. Then you pay LTCG on the account when you liquidate. Taxation 3 ways. Awesome! Super simple! If you do not re-invest the tax savings yearly then there is no debate. ROTH is the choice hands down.

          Third, well aware of effective tax rates. The example of 28% is just that, an example. It too is taxed in tiers, meaning the effective tax rate is lower. I also get to take a standard deduction on the front end, so that is moot. It illustrates the total cost over time in this hypothetical situation.

          Fourth, if you are paying a 10.9 effective tax now in the 22% bracket and not shoving money into a ROTH then you are absolutely making a mistake. Pay 10.9% now then 0% later on compounding growth. The ROTH vs traditional argument only gathers traction the higher up the income/tax ladder you go.

          The numbers demonstrate that you will end up paying roughly 5 times more in taxes and double your total cost at a 28% rate today, while the government still has a lien on your account. I know the government will appreciate the extra income. In this example, you are proposing the $1,087,298 in extra taxes and capital is worth the the extra 7% you achieve in lump sum. I disagree. While I am dumb, I cannot make those numbers work in any way shape or form.

          As for me, I know our household tax rate will remain the same as it is currently. ROTH is a no brainer for us. I will be able to pass it to my kids. I don’t have to pull any money out at anytime if I don’t want to. No RMD’s and no government interference.

          Let’s hope taxes don’t up in the future.

          1. @macarthur it’s definitely possible to make a case for why the Roth might be better; however, your reasoning fails quite badly at doing so. I’d recommend finding someone you trust with a better grasp of mathematics. A few basic points:

            1) Marginal tax rates matter, not effective tax rates. If you receive an additional deduction for $10k, for example, that prevents you from needing to pay taxes on the last 10k made. To illustrate, your taxable income could go from $150k to $140k in which case the $140,001 to $150,000 dollars are no longer taxed.

            2) There is a commutative property of multiplication. So, for example, if you have $5,000 today, it doesn’t matter if your money grows by a factor of 10 over time and then you pay 25% tax, or if you alternatively pay 25% tax now and then your money grows by a factor of 10.

            $5,000 * 10 = $50,000 * (1 – 0.25) = $37,500
            $5,000 & (1 – 0.25) = $3,750 * 10 = $37,500

            In the first case you pay $12,500 in taxes in the future, whereas in the second case you pay $1,250 today. You can’t say the first case is a bad deal due to paying 10x more in taxes, because you end up with the same amount. The accounts do offer varying degrees of flexibility, but the one big unknown in the equation is what your future tax rate will be.

            1. Macarthur wheeler

              If I had a firm grasp of mathematics my name wouldn’t be macarthur wheeler.

              And you certainly hit on one of the big reasons the ROTH makes sense, you know your tax rate.

              I don’t like the unknown.

              And I want to keep things simple.

              I am dunning-Kruger hear me roar.

          2. @macarthur I too favor ROTH, but your heirs will have to deal with RMD with inherited ROTH as well. In fact, if Congress passed the SECURE ACT it will reduce the “stretch IRA” time down to 10 years. Even if it doesn’t, there’s always been an age adjusted RMD schedule for inherited ROTHs.

            1. Macarthur wheeler

              You just ruined my day.

              However, if I interpreted IRS.gov correctly, as long as the inherited ROTH IRA is over 5 years old then the RMDs are still tax free. Still a win.

              If the ROTH is under 5 years old then any growth is subject to tax when the RMD occurs.

            2. Yes SECURE if passed as is would reduce the stretch only. Still ROTH non-taxable and no RMDs for owners, just inheritors but still tax-free. Still a huge advantage for those who live a long time. Still no RMD for owner allows them to pass it on.

  26. The fact that this still comes up as a top article on this subject probably means it’s time for it to be seriously overhauled in light of Section 199A. For those with pass-through income who are eligible for the new qualified business income deduction, the entire landscape has just changed with respect to retirement planning. Pre-tax contributions are actually now potentially disadvantaged. For those whose retirement assets are primarily pre-tax dollars, there may be a very significant opportunity to diversify retirement savings by contributing to roth 401ks with after tax dollars or to convert to roth if your plan allows it (or you have an IRA).

    199A is counterintuitive and complicated. But anyone with pass through income needs to really re-assess everything they think they know right now, including all this conventional wisdom about the downsides of using post-tax dollars for roth contributions.

  27. Trevor Dodson

    If you have a retirement plan through your employer, you are married filing jointly, and your modified adjusted gross income is over $123,000 ($74,000 if filing single or HOH) you get no deductions for traditional IRA contributions. If you are getting no tax breaks regardless of which one (Roth or Traditional) you contribute to and the Roth earnings and withdrawals are generally tax-free (assuming you don’t withdraw early) then doesn’t it make perfect sense to max out Roth contributions while you can?

    In my position at 25 my calculus is that my income will increase before retirement and that the government will impose higher tax rates. So, that means a Roth is a way that I can minimize my overall tax burden in the long run. Plus since you can withdraw contributions at any time without tax or penalty it is a great way for it to also serve as my emergency fund. I’d be greatly interested if I am missing anything with regards to my plans as a miscalculation this early on in my career will cost me tens of thousands of dollars.

  28. Hello Sam, longtime follower here. I think that when you are doing the math you make an assumption regarding the ground rules, ie that tax rates remain the same. That’s an unfounded assumption as illustrated by the TCJA enacted in 2017. TCJA dramatically reduced top tax rates, particularly for a single payer vs a couple. It is unlikely those rates will be in force in 2026 and beyond, if they make it that far. For the right individual at the right stage of life, a Backdoor conversion under the TCJA rates could result in what amounts to a tax discount even after taking into account future value of the taxes paid.

    In certain states that presently exempt retirement income from taxation, that effective discount on taxation grows, as the Roth is portable between states and once the contribution is made it is beyond the reach of any of the Revenue Services.
    Understood that this is a special situation, for a small number of readers in a few states, but there are cases to be made for shifting your balances from an IRA to a Roth.

  29. My Thrift Savings Plan (essentially my 401K) allows me to pick between Traditional and Roth contributions. The limit for 2019 is $19,000. My wife and I each max out our Roth IRAs, and I max out my TSP with Roth contributions. Should I switch to Traditional for both my TSP and our IRAs?

    1. Will – More details are needed to answer that properly. For example, the rate of income tax is a big piece of the puzzle. Many people will slide into lower tax brackets upon retiring. When they are working, they are earning what they need to live on AND what they need to save for retirement (=> higher bracket). This argues for traditional (non-Roth) accounts to pay (income) tax later when rate is lower. Other folks are ‘stuck’ in high brackets before and after retirement. At the same time, they will likely leave significant $ to heirs. In this case, Roth can help extend tax benefits. That is, there are no RMDs on the Roth account. So more $ stay in the IRA and enjoy those benefits (these benefits can be extended further when bequeathing $ in form of inherited IRA to children or grandchildren).

      Hope that helps,
      Aaron

    2. Eric Azevedo

      Since you have a TSP, you are most likely in the military. You will never be in a lower tax bracket in your life. There is no reason you should ever contribute to a traditional IRA while you are still serving in the military. One of the points the author really didn’t point out is, all things are equal as long as your in the same tax bracket. If you’re in a higher tax bracket when you retire, then the Roth IRA is a better deal. If you’re in the military, at worst you will be in the same tax bracket, but most likely be in a higher tax bracket when you retire.

  30. I disagree as I love the Roth :)

    I think the Roth is awesome as you can withdraw the money whenever you want while protecting future appreciation. Key is to max out the 401K first and all the other upfront deductible contribution retirement options, then anything going to a Roth is just like holding money in your regular non qualified bank account except the earnings are tax free and you can withdraw the contribution whenever you want. And you can put in $20k-$30K per year to a Roth on top of the $18.5K 401K contributions as the total annual cap across all retirement accounts is $55K per year currently.

  31. The different tax rates for Roth (current tax) versus traditional IRA (unknown tax) are not the only factors. It is entirely possible to end up with more money despite a higher tax for a Roth. The key here is the avoidance of RMDs. In particular, those who might not need all of their RMDs to support their own retirement can extend the tax benefits (no tax on div, int, acp gain from rebalancing, etc.) by avoiding RMDs – longer or altogether. This approach can be amplified by possibly passing an IRA on to their heirs (RMDs on their presumably longer schedule). I quantified these benefits within a couple articles I wrote recently and they can result in significantly more wealth.

  32. I maxed out my 401k and roth ira from 2002 to 2012.
    I tried to convince a friend to fund a roth and got the answer that you cant do anything with 5000 a year and tax rates were to low at present to defer taxes to the future.
    Since retiring in 2012 I have been converting regular ira funds to roth ira as fast as i can while paying 0 in taxes.

    Now my roth is a 350000 tax free investment acct. My friend still has no roth and no 401k

    with the decrease in tax rates this year i am considering paying some tax to convert more ….

  33. Roth IRA/ Roth 401K contribution limits are effectively much higher than traditional accounts. Consider a Roth 401K vs a traditional 401k. Assume that taxes are the same now and in your retiement years. Say you put 18,500 into a traditional account, it grows to 100k, and you withdraw it at retirement. Assume you pay a 20% total income tax rate. After tax, your contribution was effectively 14,800 (80% of 18,500), and your withdrawl will be $80,000. Now consider if the contribution had been a Roth – your effective after-tax contribution would be 25% higher (18,500 instead of 14,800), and your withdrawl will also effectively be 20% higher (100k after tax vs 80k after tax).

    And that, friend, is why I use a Roth 401(k). Same logic applies to backdoor Roths IRAs, since income limits don’t apply and they still yield a much higher effective contribution limit. My logic is that I want to shove as much money into a tax advantage account as I can, and Roths are the way to maximize the effective amount that I can contribute.

    1. In addition to all the strengths of the Roth outlined above in the comments, ROTH distributions don’t add to your taxable income, which has tons of effect at retirement tax time, including impacting the amount of taxable social security income you have and your Medicaid premiums. Plus Roth passes to your heirs tax free (subject to estate tax limits). This guy, from the article, should absolutely Roth 401(k) his money, even with only a few years left to retirement. For so many reasons, in retirement, lower taxable income offers advantages that are not easily calculated but must be considered.

  34. I’m posting again regarding the ROTH. It’s anecdotal, but, I have spoken with a handful of people in retirement. The consensus follows.

    Those that don’t have a ROTH wish they had opened one for contributions and conversions. RMD’s have been a pain in their butt and negatively impacted their taxes and medicaid.

    Those that have them are happy with them.

    These are people in retirement that are having to take RMD’s. Again, their accounts are owned by three parties:

    1. The person who funded the ROTH to begin with ( you, me, and FS).
    2. The US government.
    3. The state government.

    The RMD’s are increasing their tax burden. Has anyone else spoken with people in retirement with ROTH and without ROTH? What are their experiences?

    1. There is no age limitation on Roth conversions. You can do it every year until the year you die, even in your hundreds. If you retire at 50 and do Roth conversions until drawing deferred Social Security at age 70, you can potentially do Roth conversions at a lower tax bracket for twenty straight years.

  35. Hello Sam,

    I really like your blog but had to respond to respond to this one. I don’t believe that Roth IRA is always the way to do, nor do I believe that a traditional IRA is hands down the best. Lest you think me egregious, please allow me to explain.

    I am an American who lives and works abroad. I make under the equivalent for $100k a year, so I fall under the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion. As such, I get no tax advantage putting money into a Traditional IRA, as my taxes do not decrease. I do however get the tax advantage from withdrawing tax free under the Roth IRA at some point in the future. As such, for myself and other Expats, the Roth IRA is often the better choice.

  36. Lamont Cranston

    What do you think about Roth Conversions at 63 years old, while staying in the 12% tax Bracket?
    At 70-1/2 I expect my investments to produce $40,000 of dividends and capital gains that I can’t escape, plus $30,000 of SS income. Then in a few more years, my wife will get SS and that will put us up near $90,000 of income. It could be a lot worse, the above is just what the mutual fund distibutes each year, I also need to with add 3.6% RMD the first year, that will add over $50,000 to the above.
    I think by starting Roth Conversions now, we can stay in a lower tax bracket when I/we must make RMDs.
    We earn about $70,000 but can easily live on $50,000 or less, so if I can get the money into a Roth, we could live on SS plus some tax free money out of the ROTHs and pay very little taxes.

    Plus I see these additional reasons to opt for Roth Conversions
    1.You think tax rates will increase for your bracket at RMD time.
    2. A Roth is easier for your heirs to inherit.
    3. The extra income from a traditional IRA will push you into higher tax Brackets.
    4. If one spouse dies, that could push the remaining spouse to a higher bracket.
    5. Phaseouts and benefits based on AGI and MAGI, for example, more money in a Roth lowers your AGI which may make less of your social security taxable.

  37. I maxed out my Roth IRA for 2017, and I was planning on maxing it again this year. My gross salary is only $42,000 and I live in a state without income tax. After all of my research, it made the most sense to stick with Roth due to my low income. Could I get your thoughts on this?

    Also, it seems you keep reiterating to max out one’s 401k before contributing to an IRA? Why is that? My IRA is with Wealthfront and my 401k is with Voya. Voya doesn’t give me many investment options, which I don’t like. This is why I am only contributing the bare minimum 4% my company is matching, and why I’m focusing more on the IRA. I am dumping the remainder of the unspent post tax money into online savings @1.6% and into a personal investment account with WF as well.

      1. Mister-No-Name

        Gabriel,

        The general investing rule of thumb:

        1. 401k up to the company match
        2. Max out Roth IRA
        3. Max out 401k
        4. Taxable Investing (Stocks, Index Funds, etc…)

        You are on the right track.

    1. The whole premise of this article is that it’s better to pay taxes later. (Is that always true? I think it depends on your situation.) So, I believe he’s saying max out a *Traditional* 401k first because it’s tax deferred and this aligns with the aforementioned premise. Of course, you should at least contribute enough to get the max employer match if you get one — that is free money. Given your circumstances, I think a Roth makes sense and I think your plan is a good one. You likely have more options with a personal Roth than with an employer plan. Also, this article was written before recent tax law changes. If you believe taxes are more likely to go up than down from here, a Roth starts to make even more sense. While you would want to avoid tapping it, a Roth can also be used as an emergency fund since contributions (but not gains!) can be taken out tax and penalty free — just make sure you keep track of your contributions.

  38. The wife and I have invested in pretax 457 plans our entire careers. Most of this time our income exceeded ROTH limits and we were not diligent enough to do a back door ROTH.

    Our employers have established ROTH 457 plans now. Our new money is going in. We are also going to start converting pretax money in while staying in the same tax bracket.

    Why make such a dumb decision?

    Welp, being of low intellect and even lower affinity for the unknown, I don’t like to speculate or keep the tax man on the books from now until I die.

    FS opines that taxes will probably be lower in retirement, so paying the government up front is like giving Congress extra money to blow like a bachelor party in Vegas. This might be true. But it is not fact. For us, our tax bracket will probably stay the same.

    I know for a fact that investing in a ROTH now means I have secured my cost to invest from here to eternity, or Thanos strikes, whichever comes first. It also means that decades of compounding interest will grow without mandatory distributions or taxes.

    That’s right, I paid the government off on the front end and kicked them to the curb. That in and of itself is called peace of mind. I also took “might be” and “probably” out of the equation.

    If a person keeps their money in pretax accounts betting that taxes will go down, they are also ensuring that there will be three people owning your account:

    1. You
    2. the US government
    3. The state government

    That is a certainty, not speculation.

    My mindset is also why we are paying our mortgage off in a few years and not investing that money in paper assets or rental real estate. Getting rid of the mortgage is peace of mind. So is getting rid of decades of tax bills on money that we invested and are watching compound.

    So if you want the tax
    Man owning a percentage of your investment account for the rest of your life, good for you. You’re betting a lot on speculation.

  39. There are several flaws in your argument that should be pointed out.

    I’m 58 and in the 22% tax bracket. My retirement planning is currently based on replacing 85% of my income when I retire between retirement accounts and social security (and more if we can). Since I currently do have 15% coming out due to pre-tax retirement savings, that means I’ll be in the same tax bracket when I retire. I’m not maxing out my 403(b), but I am maxing out my Roth IRA and close to maxing out my wife’s. Your argument is that in my case the math is the same so I should just put all of that into my 403(b). Here is where you are wrong:

    1. You are absolutely certain that taxes will never increase. The is a mighty big assumption. For quite a lot of people they just did. We personally got a tax cut this time, but a few years ago this change would have increased our taxes. Taxes have increased on the middle class in the past (FICA increases being a big example), but imagine if they just decided to reshuffle things so I’m the loser this time, but lots of others get another cut? And, this time the cut is going to push deficits over $1T a year during good times (as opposed to temporarily during a recession) with no end in sight. That’s not sustainable. Something is going to have to give. Remember, this round of tax cutting has an expiration date.

    2. Only about 11% of our retirement funds will be in a Roth account at retirement. I’m sure you are saying “that’s nothing, why did you bother”. Will, that 11% makes it easier to spend a larger amount in one year without taking a larger amount from our 403(b), which might push us into a higher tax bracket. Maybe we do a really big trip? Or maybe we want to buy a retirement property? Home renovation? Those funds can be taken out at any time without pushing us to a higher bracket. Maybe we’ll just use them before RMD kicks in to avoid that 85% of social security being taxed and allow us to be in a very low tax bracket. That 11% gives us flexibility.

    3. One of us will die first. When that happens, the survivor will no longer be filing jointly. But, the required minimum distribution will not go down. In the current tax system, the survivor jumps into the 24% bracket. Then the math favors the Roth.

  40. The formula above claiming “equivalency” between a Roth and a traditional IRA is overly simplified. It cleverly hides a number of key details that are critical to the actual amounts an average person would amass at retirement. It does so by modifying the starting investment amounts for both IRA types to account for taxation, to put them both on “equal footing”, yet ignores the realities of typical investor behavior.

    Here’s why.

    Assuming a person qualifies for the traditional IRA’s tax deduction, they would only need $5,500 of pay before taxes to make the maximum contribution. With the Roth, contributions are made in after-tax dollars. Which means you have to part with more than $5,500 in pretax dollars to make a $5,500 Roth contribution. So for a person in a 25% bracket, the pretax equivalent of a $5,500 Roth contribution is $7,333, or $1,833 above the $5,500 maximum. So far so good. Factually, this is accurate.

    But this is where the cleverness occurs. Because if you’re investing the maximum $5,500 in a Roth IRA, it is impossible to invest the pretax equivalent of that amount in a traditional IRA, as you would exceed the IRA annual contribution limit. So to make this “equivalency” math work, one must assume this person will not only invest the pre-tax $5,500 into a traditional IRA, but then also diligently invest the “extra” after-tax $1,375 into a taxable side account. (That $1,375 represents the after-tax amount of the $1,833 overage, reduced by $458 in taxes at the 25% rate.)

    Additionally, while investment gains inside an IRA compound without the drag of taxes, you must pay taxes on any gains in your “side” investment account. Which means the money invested there—the $1,375—will grow at a lower after-tax rate than money in the Roth IRA (assuming the same rate of return before taxes). And right there, that difference in returns—the “tax drag”—gives the Roth IRA an edge over the combination of a traditional IRA and a taxable account. So already we have dashed any hope of an “equivalency” in tabulating the final retirement balance. Also, the present capital gains rate isn’t fixed. Its whatever it happens to be many years down the road retirement age, based on the current political climate at the time. So, this is yet another variable that breaks equivalency, because its a factor in one IRA type but not the other.

    So quite honestly, that overly simplified equivalency formula is really just a math-nerd “fantasy”. Generally, most people don’t think this way. Most people will typically invest the same dollar amount into either a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA by asking themselves “How much can I afford to contribute to my IRA”? And for those with the means, they’ll try to max it out-$5500 or $6500 over age 50. The “real-world” bonus here is that those who invest the “same dollar amount” into a Roth IRA vs traditional will in fact be investing at a higher level, due to the higher amount needed to overcome the after-tax hit. Thus, they will reap a higher benefit with their tax-free distributions at retirement.

    So people think: “Okay, I can do $5550 in my IRA”. They DON’T think: “Okay, I can put in $5500 in this traditional IRA, then I can invest the difference of what I would have invested in an after-tax Roth into this taxable side account so I can earn the same amount that I would have earned… yadda yadda yadda.” No. It’s just not a normal persons thinking.

    And that’s why most retirement analysts start from the premise of a person wanting to “max out” their IRA contribution-because that is the typical retirement investment behavior of the average Joe.

    And for anyone who’s not already in the final stages of their career (perhaps late 50’s or after), setting up and contributing to a Roth IRA in all practicality will net them more than a traditional IRA would. Most will pay a lower tax rate earlier in their careers as they put their money into the account, and since qualified Roth withdrawals aren’t taxed, they will avoid paying a higher tax rate at withdrawal (for those who choose to actually spend their amassed wealth during retirement, thus putting them in a higher tax bracket).

    Lastly, the number of compounded investment years used in the simplified formula (10) is rather small. And this actually matters. Because now that it’s clear that this “equivalency” formula is mostly a fantasy, whatever deviation that favors investing in a Roth IRA or a traditional becomes exponentially magnified as the compounded years accumulate. The different after 10 years is vastly different than for 20 or 30 (sort of like the butterfly effect).

    So I just wanted to give others that may be reading this thread years on a bit of a reality check. Because constantly hammering phrases like “the math is exactly equivalent” and “just look at the formula” is not really a representation of the whole story. In the end, its your money. Do your own digging.

  41. I’d love to hear your take on opening a Traditional IRA and doing a backdoor Roth in my situation…I file taxes as HOH and make $202k as a W-2 slave, with $60k in supplemental rental property income. So I can’t do a Roth anyway, and I’m in the 28% bracket after maxing out all my tax advantaged accounts including my 401k, and have about $400k saved for retirement. I’m 38 and am starting to really get serious about retiring “early” (like early 50s since I’m wising up late)…so, do I just sock away more in a post-tax 401k contribution with my employer, do a Traditional IRA with $5,500 every year and leave it, or roll it over right away/later to a Roth? Thanks – I’m having trouble finding articles that address my type of situation where I’m earning and contributing more than the tax advantaged opportunities allow.

  42. No one has mentioned that 401k’s have investments that give kickbacks to the employers who offer them in the portfolios as well as the operating fees that vary between investment choices.

  43. Yeeesh …. I’ve been reading your blog for about 3 months. I’ve never commented, and generally agree with all you have to say. I followed a link here on one your recent posts.

    I have been contributing to a Roth IRA, and now I feel bad that I’ve made a mistake by doing so. But you read and learn and make mistakes and learn more hopefully. I guess my thinking had always been that I want a tax-free source of retirement monies in my golden years to strategically supplement the taxed income streams SSN, 401k & Trad. IRA, and income generated from a brokerage account.

    As someone else mentioned above in the comments, I wanted to diversify the tax treatment of accounts as well as the asset classes within those accounts. Now I have to consider how to proceed.

    You just exploded my head …. sincere and friendly thanks.

    1. @Schnack,

      I am an avid seeker of tax free income for retirement as well as all the ways in which one can save and minimize on taxes. Hence, my attraction to the samurai today. I really like what I’ve seen so far and have signed up, but I am still sorting through the Roth opposition. I am with you, so let me validate your way of thinking as to why a Roth IRA, versus a traditional IRA. To be honest, I certainly don’t expect most people to have made this correlation, however, here are my two sense.

      Despite the dollar amount being the same whether or not one pays taxes now or later, there are three critical benefits that tend to be prematurely overlooked simultaneously. First, do we really know what our tax bracket will be in the future? Yes, per Sam, it could be argued that current middle class bracket might be the same, but no one can predict the tax rate. Death and taxes might be the two surest things in life and just based on the increasing deficit, which some believe is significantly higher than what is actually mediated, taxes must be paid. Most likely it will have to come from increased taxes in one form or another. I certainly don’t want one more thing to have to worry about, especially during my retirement. Secondly,there is no RMD, so your money can accrue for a longer time, generating more gains of which you have more control instead of having, not Sam, but Uncle Sam () tell you when and how much of your money to take. Lastly, and my favorite, is the fact that you will not have to pay taxes on your Social Security benefit. Gains from a Roth is not considered earned income, unlike unearned income from a traditional IRA. So in looking at the bigger picture, I am still for the Roth versus the Traditional.

      I welcome any comments, corrections, criticism or any other input in case have misunderstood our current laws. Sam please share your thoughts on my findings. This is how we learn. all the best Schnack

  44. Here is my situation. Newly married (NYE Wedding!) at 25, and estimate to make a combined $75k in 2018, putting us in the 12% tax bracket. I plan to max out my 401k and 2 Roth IRA’s, and am having a difficult time understanding why we shouldn’t max Roth IRA’s vs Trad IRA?

    I understand the risk of passing on the tax benefit now, but if we will need withdraw from investments during early retirement, would it not make sense to first withdraw from the Roth IRA contributions instead of requiring us to invest/withdraw more from taxable accounts? I’m trying to keep income potential in scope, so if we never reach a point where we are able to max 401k + 2 IRA’s, AND have taxable investment accounts, I don’t want all of my assets to be “trapped.”

    Any advice or inputs would be much appreciated!

    1. At only a 12% tax bracket, I would contribute to a Roth IRA and max out your 401k if possible.

      Hopefully you’ll one day earn more that you won’t be able to contribute to a Roth IRA anymore.

      1. I hope that is an honest opinion, and not just what I want to hear…. :)

        I believe our income will increase over the next few years, but with my wife being an actor it is very unpredictable. I guess my next step is to research at what point it would make sense for her to begin operating as a “business” instead of as an individual. Will make for an interesting case study.

        Thanks Sam!

  45. I should clarify, you still need to be over 59 1/2 and have the account open for at least five years to be able withdraw the gains tax free, but I still think this is amazing!

    I plan to use it for sure.

  46. Hi Sam,

    I think I will read the other two articles on the Roth, but I am not sure if you touched upon the fact that one can also take up to $10K in gains for a first-time home (no tax penalty) and there is also no tax penalty for withdrawals so long as the account is 5 years old.

    I think this is huge! My Roth is a brokerage account and it is amazing that I do not have to worry about tax consequences! My income is enough to qualify for a regular Roth as a single filer and though I haven’t taken money out, I think it is awesome that I could sell some ETFs – and pay no taxes on the gains – and use the funds!

    We do not know what the future holds, but I think people should take advantage while they can. Perhaps some of us will be grandfathered in. Also, at the time I opened, I was really early on in my career and certainly expect to earn more and hopefully be married upon retirement. Anyway, thanks for the insight but I think not paying taxes on capital gains and dividends is amazing. It could also be a plus that there are no mandatory withdrawals.

  47. Widowed Young

    Sam,
    I converted part of atraditional IRA to a Roth.

    A terrific benefit of having a Roth is you are not forced to take a Required Min Distribution on Roths the way you are on 401Ks or IRAs when you reach 70.5.The government forces you to draw down your non-Roth retirement acct by 3.7+%, and then you have to pay taxes on the distribution.

    I figured it was best to split btwn. a Trad. IRA and Roth, so the 3.7+% is on a lesser amount in the traditional IRA.

    Your thoughts?

  48. This topic needs to revisited and updated in light of the recent tax reform. In most situations in the past for middle to high income earners, I would agree that a Roth IRA was not a great idea; however, given the new changes I’m beginning to believe that there are more scenarios where it is advantageous to at least put a portion of savings into a Roth.

    For example, as an owner of a pass through entity (S-Corp) currently netting $300k per year ($144k in W2 : $156K in pass through income) it may be better to put at least some of the $54k solo 401k contribution into a Roth based on the fact that I will lose my 20% deduction on pass through income when I retire (i.e. I will no longer be generating income through my S-Corp) and will pay a far higher effective tax rate on withdrawals from my Traditional 401k. I also believe that the likelihood of even lower taxes in the future is very low – so a Roth may be the be the best opportunity to take advantage of the current low tax environment if you adhere to the old adage of choosing a Roth if you believe future taxes will be higher.

  49. If you plan on retiring abroad, it is another reason not to pay into a RothIRA. The foreign government likely won’t care if you had already paid taxes or not!

  50. I have all kinds of accounts, because I don’t know the future, so I diversify among types of accounts. I had a Roth 401, and I rolled it over to a Roth IRA. I’m so aggressive in my Roth I did over 50% return, so for me, the Roth paid off. For most people, I’d recommend this: rather than buy a Roth IRA, buy shares of non-dividend stocks… such as Berkshire Hathaway and Copley Fund COPX and FANG, they don’t pay dividend, so there’s no taxes until you sell, just like a Roth, except if you need money in an emergency, you can get at it without penalty. One of the secrets to wealth is to leave your good stocks alone.

  51. I’ll admit I have not read the 70 million comments on this article, so apologize if redundant! I also note that this was written many years ago, so viewpoints change and evolve as do tax laws, etc.

    I’m not going to comment on the obvious tax implications of Roth vs Regular IRA as I think that has been fairly beaten to death, but maybe because most are so young that there are some nuances that are not being realized.

    With a 401k\Regular IRA, Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) will kill you. Many…many years ago I rolled a 401k over to a IRA which has since grown to over $650k. Sounds great but my RMD is a little over $40k a year. That amount plus my pension, my 401k RMD, My wife’s 401k RMD, my wife’s pension, my social security, and my wife’s social security have put us right up against the top of the 25% tax bracket. Any little hiccup such a $1,000 lottery win would immediately push us into the 28% bracket, which is where I spent the majority of my working years. In retrospect, I wish I would have had a Roth 401k or IRA just to give me access to funds that would not impact my tax bracket.

    I’m finding out that the higher your tax bracket is in retirement, the more everything costs and the less access to resources one has. Monthly medicare payments are based on your taxable income. I could easily save hundreds of dollars a month if I didn’t have to take monthly RMDs. There are many, many examples like this.

    There is the mental health side, which is more difficult to quantify, but still there. We scrimped all our lives just so we could always save the maximum in each of our retirement accounts as well as other savings. We are well off and know I am blessed by that. The hard part to swallow is that the the entire RMD from my IRA literally goes to pay my taxes. So, I’m forced to take money that I don’t need out of my IRA to then be taxed on it and then give the entire amount to the Government. There is no way to avoid taxes, but to know that all that money saved and invested currently serves to purpose other than to pay for taxes is depressing!

    Finally, we are all going to die. If you get to that point with money left over and family that you love and they love you in return, you are lived a good life. If you give a Roth IRA to family then it just goes to family. A regular IRA, is another hot mess. The IRA becomes a inherited IRA and RMD’s will now be a factor for those that receive it, albeit in a smaller amount. I know this is not the deal breaker in the IRA\Roth IRA, but just another factor as you think about your entire portfolio and estate planning.

    I guess I wrote all this just to say if you are looking at today’s taxes vs future tax rates as a roth\non-roth determination, you are making a decision with only partial facts. There are literally so many factors, both known and unknown that its mind boggling. My recommendation based on my situation is to utilize both a Roth and non-Roth in either/both IRA or 401k. You can’t anticipate future tax laws, Congress, world and financial events, so having multiple baskets is a prudent path.

    1. This is the main reason I decided to do all Roth (10% currently) for now. I’m currently in the 22% tax bracket, married (non working spouse), 2 kids (gives me 4k in credits), a mortgage (I can write off the interest and I also get 4k in credits because I got an MCC), and property taxes. My income is over 100k and the amount of taxes I pay is approx 7-8k. After calculating potential RMD’s, my pension, and SS. A Roth was a no brainer.

  52. Long Run Financial, Ltd.

    For middle income earners, I like Roths over Traditional IRAs for the following reasons. #1 The investor can purchase income producing investments and never pay taxes on that income during retirement. #2 There are no RMDs, whatever a person’s age he/she can limit the withdrawals to the income produced and never have to sell the golden goose. #3 Lowers one’s taxable income during retirement.

    1. I agree with you. The vast majority of my retirement savings is before tax but now I want more ROTH money “just in case”. No RMD, and a nice option for occasions when I need money for something special but don’t want the tax impact.

  53. My Roth IRA is strictly for transferring wealth to my children, tax free. I am covered by my 401K. I already did the math. In fact, I am planning on having them work for me (self employed) when they turn around 9 or so, until they go off to college. That 7-8 years when they are young, $5.5K a year into a Roth IRA, a total of $44,000 investment (at age 18), and even if they NEVER invest in it again, at 8% annual returns will net them $2.5 million of tax free money at age 62 (which is more than most people who work all their life and don’t save), and $5.1 million at age 70.

    My Roth IRA balance will be turned into a trust fund for them too. I’ll teach them about being a responsible person and contributing to their 401K (and Roth IRA of course), which will increase this number BIG TIME.

    If they continue to put 20% into 401K, at starting pay of $20 (age 24) and a 4% raise (this is including changing jobs for 20% wage pays, promotions etc. since my OWN average “wage increase” per year is about 6% – it’s all about how ambitious a person is), and max out the Roth IRA, my kids each can:

    1. Retire at age 50. ($2.8 million total)
    2. Age 60: $4.7 million
    3. Age 70: $8.4 million
    4. Age 80: $15.7 million
    5. Age 90: $30.8 million

    If they’re lazy, they can retire at 40 and money will last way past age 115 so they can focus on their passion.

    I’m all for my kids. What about you guys?

      1. My oldest 2 kids are currently putting 80% of their pay into a savings account as their initial buffer, and then they plan on putting that same amount into retirement accounts, first starting out with the Roth IRA since their income is lower and they won’t be paying taxes on it.
        After all, if they earn $10,000/yr and put $5,500 into a Roth and another $2,500 into a savings/brokerage account, then they won’t pay a dime in taxes because their income is so low. Of course that is if I don’t claim them on my taxes. While that is my choice to do or not do, I don’t want them paying taxes at my rate on their minimal income just to reduce my own taxes a little bit.

  54. Hi there,
    31 yr old, single, male who was recently laid off and has a few questions.

    I am in the process of rolling over my 401k to a vanguard group traditional IRA. What should I look for when choosing investments for my IRA? I am youngish so I wanted to be more aggressive.

    I was also going to invest in a Roth IRA as well. Which leads me to another question. When I fund my Roth IRA, does the money go to say pre-selected investments or is it funded to an account and then I manually pick my 5500 worth of investments? Or is it all the same like 5500 invested at fidelity Roth IRA is the same as 5500 invested in vanguard Roth IRA etc.?

    Thank you very much and I hope my questions weren’t to confusing. Please let me know if you have any questions I’d be happy to answer.

    Cam

    1. I would get a brokerage account for both Traditional and Roth IRA’s. You can buy stocks or ETF’s and Vanguard ETF’s are free to trade. I think you can also buy Vanguard mutual funds if you prefer, but I think the ETF’s will have you covered w/ lower expenses. VTI is a nice broad ETF. Putting 90-100% of you money in that would be pretty aggressive yet diversified. Put the rest in BND (broad bond ETF). Set it and forget it. When you turn 40-50 re-eval your VTI/BND ratio based on your time horizon and risk tolerance. @see https://personal.vanguard.com/us/insights/saving-investing/model-portfolio-allocations

    2. A Roth IRA is effectively the same as a 401k, if you ignore the tax consequences.
      They BOTH are simple accounts that are used to hold your money for investing in stocks/bonds/funds.

      If the money to fund your Roth IRA is coming from the 401k, then it is usually a taxable event – meaning you very likely will have to pay taxes on it and any early withdrawal fee which is 10% from the last time I can remember. So, if you want to deposit $5,500 into the Roth and use the money from your 401K, you’d better plan on withdrawing 1.111x that amount at a minimum to pay the 10% fee. To make sure that you have enough income taxes taken you’ll have to add your effective tax rate to the 10% fee for being under age 59 1/2.

      Mathematically it’s like this. To have enough taken out for the fee it’s:
      1 / (1 – 10%) = 1 / (1 – 0.1) = 1 / 0.9 = 1.111

      Now if your effective federal income tax rate is 5%, then the numbers become:
      1 / (1 – 15%) = 1 / (1 – 0.15) = 1 / 0.85 = 1.1765

      That gives you the multiplier that you need to multiply by and be able to pay the taxes/fees.
      Note: This doesn’t account for state tax if you have that.

      So if you want to transfer $5,500 from your 401k into your Roth IRA, you’d have to take out this much from your 401k:
      1.1765 x $5,500 = $6,470.75

      ETFs and index funds are the simplest methods to invest and your retirement/brokerage accounts.

      FWIW, I would use $0 of your 401k and transfer it over into a Traditional IRA account with an investment company like Fidelity, Schwabb, Ameritrade, etc. That is unless your income is so low that you would be paying 0% on the transfer.

      ]Best of luck to you in your investing!

  55. Either I’m not reading #4 correctly or you’re making a mistake about how ROTH IRAs are taxed.

    If I contribute to a ROTH, I pay the taxes now just on my contribution. Then nothing is taxed on the way out. Not the initial contribution or the earnings. If I contribute to a deductible IRA then I pay no taxes now and everything is taxed on the way out. Your claim that the math is the same seems to be based on the idea that you are taxing the ROTH earnings, which is not the case.

    The longer you can let a ROTH contribution grow and the lower your tax rate is now, the more sense a ROTH makes. If you expect your tax rate to be higher in the future, pay the tax now. If you expect it to be lower in the future, pay the tax later. Regardless, the longer you have to let it grow the more a ROTH makes sense because a larger percentage of your distributions will be tax free earnings.

      1. I always felt how could I possibly be in a higher tax bracket in retirement and if I end up there it’s probably a good problem to have. So my wife and I, both working good jobs but not great, went all out for tax deferred accounts. Now I am facing retirement with 2 social securities and 2 small pensions that puts us up in 6 figures. Then add in another 6 figures from required minimum distributions from tax deferred accounts. Then add in our investments and we are in the 33% bracket. I’m glad that toward the end I have been funding and converting some into Roth’s. Now add in 6% state tax and my tax bill says I’m rich but I certainly don’t feel or live that way. I am considering a move to a no tax state to aleviate at least the state portion of my taxes. Another problem of having decent income in retirement is medicare part B cost more and there is always talk of means testing for any benefit/entitlement that retirees receive.
        Any ideas? I think it’s too late for me but some of you younger folks may want to consider this.

  56. I have to disagree and say that your bias toward tax-deductible retirement saving is misplaced. The point you’ve been driving hardest is that the government wants the consumer’s money now, which was pretty much the reason in all of your points. The Roth IRA isn’t a government ploy; it’s a great place to save for retirement! It’s important that people have both taxable and non-taxable dollars in retirement in order to be most efficient during those “happy to be here” years. Obviously, there are some shortcomings to the Roth IRA, but those who are able to should contribute as much as they can into one… but only after taking full advantage of an employer matched 401(k). It’s smarter to assume taxes will be higher in the future rather than lower. Knowing US historic tax rates, current national deficit, and the declining health of social security, it only makes sense that taxes will be higher for at least some period of time in the future. Why would you want to save on taxes now, and potentially pay taxes at a higher rate in the future?? But since no one knows what the future of taxes has in store for us, it makes sense to have dollars that are both tax-free and taxable (deducible now) in retirement. This is why affluent people who understand this take advantage of a “backdoor Roth” for some of their retirement dollars. To say a Roth IRA is a bad place to save for retirement is just wrong… What people need to be more educated about is being well diversified across not only asset classes, but in both market-tied assets such as IRAs and 401(k)s and non-market-tied assets, such as a savings account or cash-value life insurance (which can function with the same tax treatment as a Roth if done properly) to ensure never to have to liquidate market-tied assets at a loss when the market has a correction during retirement. The uncertainty of future taxes should be considered just the same. That’s prudent planning!

  57. Grant Welch

    As someone who is also quite untrusting of the government, your post definitely makes me question my decision to contribute to my Roth IRA. I think the big thing for me comes down to investment choices in the Roth IRA. Most companies only have 10-20 mutual fund options so it is just luck of the draw on where your money goes. I currently pay 1.21% in fees in my 401K and 0.75% in my wife’s 401K. Not much I can do about it unless I want an all bond portfolio. Our Roth IRA accounts are around 0.1% in fees. That means that for the same amount contributed I’m losing around $500,000 in 35 years in the 401K. Not cool.

    Take into account that my ETF portfolio in my Roth is outperforming my 401K mutual funds and my ability to easily manage and rebalance the Roth IRA and you could be talking about another $500,000.

    People must watch out for the fees. When looking at an investment over 30 years and you factor in compounding interest just a few tenths of a percent make a massive difference.

    1. Those are good points, and I’d imagine those are reasons why some people may want to take advantage of their IRA contribution before maxing out their 401k (obviously getting 401k matching is top priority when it exists). All too often people seem to be completely oblivious to the fees they’re paying.

      That being said, if you agree with all the points made in the article you should be able to open up a traditional IRA with similar investments to your Roth, but with a tax deferral instead of contributing after tax dollars with growth that is tax exempt. I’d imagine you’re probably doing the smart thing by having a mix of both (traditional 401k and roth IRA), but I don’t know your individual situation. In general, the roth accounts are pretty great and you’ll be relieved to have a decent balance in there if tax rates ever skyrocket in an effort to close the deficit or fund some sort of unnecessary govt program.

      1. Our combined incomes are too much to allow for an IRA tax break, so I max out my pre-tax 401k. This lowers our taxable income such that my wife and I can max out the Roth IRA contribution at Vanguard. In this scenario, I don’t see any reason not to invest in a Roth IRA.

        1. My preferred method is to contribute up to the company match in the 401k (gotta love free money), then max out the Roth, then go back to the 401k. I don’t go for the traditional IRA because I’m kind of hedging my bet as to what tax bracket I will be in when I retire. Very tough to predict my income in 30 years and certainly difficult to say what the government will decide to do.

          I also disagree with point 7 in the post about the withdraw penalty. One of the things I like about the Roth IRA is I can (hopefully will never need to) withdraw the principal tax and penalty free. That is rarely the case with the 401k or traditional.

          Andrew, that is a great point as my wife and I are getting very close to that line and this would be a great way to get us a few more years of eligibility.

  58. Stan Andreasen

    First timer here.

    I lost 100% of my Roth IRA in the stock market on one bad investment in 2016. I contributed for almost 20 years to grow this account. Now wiped out.

    Is my Roth IRA loss deductible?

      1. Is a traditional IRA loss deductible? I could have sworn I read an article stating that the money earned from your contributions wasn’t deductible from a loss but that your contributions were deductible?

  59. I think the author missed a most important point: the time value of money. The value of money now does not equal the same value later. If I give you five dollars today, I better get back more than 5 dollars in a year. That difference is the time value of money. The compound interest (time value) you get in a retirement account is NOT INSIGNIFICANT if you have lots of time and have good investments that earn a good “interest rate” (we hope both are true for our retirement accounts!)

    Predicting taxes in 40 years is not easy. But considering our national debt, how it is going up, and that you can only borrow so much before people don’t want to lend to US, I think it is safe to predict that they will go up. Plus, there is some value in not having to guess and predict and account for “randomness”. (Otherwise, people would never buy insurance from insurance companies that have to charge more than your statistical risk to make a profit). I know what the tax rate is now. I don’t know what it will be in 40 years, but it’s probably higher. There MAY be some benefit to subjecting my money to the predictable (tax) instead of the unpredictable (tax).

    Ok, so that last paragraph was a side issue. Back to time value of money. Traditional IRAs tax as it comes out, after it has grown (we hope it grew in 40 years!). Roth IRAs tax the principle as you put it in, so what comes out of the account (when you retire) is tax free “because it’s already been taxed”. But the rules are ignoring something important: part of the Roth IRA money is compound interest that has never been taxed. It’s like tax evasion, without the “illegal” part. Maybe you say, “Ok, but the compound interest is just a (smallish) part of the whole piece of money, so that effect is not significant.” Ok, let’s do an example: Say I’m 22 and just graduated, so I can save 5,500 since I’m not putting it to college anymore. I have 43 years to 65. Say I get 5% a year in my retirement account. That will be 786,400 when I get to 65. How much (already taxed money) did I put in? 5500*43=236,500. So I made 549,900 in compound interest. More than two thirds of my retirement fund. If it’s in a Roth, I don’t pay taxes on 549,900. If it’s in a traditional, I pay taxes on 549,900. I think the difference of paying taxes or not on more than half a million dollars matters more than what tax bracket I paid on 236,500.

    How I see it:
    401K: Pay taxes on all of your retirement money. Invest in only what your company’s program has. Could restrict you, especially if you want to do “socially responsible” investing. But always try to take any match your employer gives you: you just made a 100% gain on your investment. After getting the match, go look at an IRA (Roth or Traditional).
    Traditional IRA: Pay taxes on all of your retirement money.
    Roth IRA: Pay taxes on only some of your retirement money. Legally. WHAT? How does the government not see this is bad for them?!

    1. Your above example neglects one very important aspect of the equation. If you invest 5500/year (already taxed) in a Roth IRA and want to compare it to a tax defered investment then you have to use 5500/year plus the tax your not paying for an apples to apples comparision. Even if a traditional IRA limits you to 5500. the tax money still gets invested somewhere. If you invest X tax defered amount in a tax defered account and X minus tax paid in a roth, recieve the same return and remain in the same tax bracket, in the end the money you receive after taxes is exactly the same.
      There are lots of good arguments in favor of both types of accounts on the forum like time value of money, estate planning, lower or higher tax bracket in retirement, etc. I couldn’t decide so used both types. I did ,however, end up in a higher tax bracket in retirement.

  60. I think most people are unaware of how taxation of Social Security benefits can affect their marginal tax rates in retirement. It really does mess with the assumption that you will be in a lower tax bracket while taking Social Security benefits. Check out this article from Michael Kitces:

    https://www.kitces.com/blog/the-taxation-of-social-security-benefits-as-a-marginal-tax-rate-increase/

    For my own case, my 10% bracket becomes mostly an 18% bracket, my 15% tax bracket will turn into a 27.75% tax bracket and the lower end of my 25% tax bracket will be taxed at a 46.25% marginal rate! Yikes!

    So ask yourself, if you are in the 25% bracket now, how much of your money would be coming out in a 27.75% (instead of the expected 15%) tax bracket in the future? And if that happens, would you wish you had used the Roth option?

  61. I agree that traditional IRA is better than Roth IRA contributions, but not because of taxes paid….but because of being able to spend your tax savings better than the government. Roth Ira:

    a.) earn 1000 pay 300 in taxes
    b.) 700 invested earns interest tax-free
    c.) You can withdrawal 700+ X years of compound interest tax-free (you already paid the tax)

    II. Traditional IRA:

    a.) Earn 1000 pre-tax
    b.) Contribute 1000, earns compound interest tax-free
    c.) Get $300 back right away in tax savings, $700 invested earnign compound interest for x years
    d.) Withdrawal for retirement, pay tax on initial 1000, AND tax on the compounded interest

    1.) The advantage of the Roth is that even if you save a meager 5-20% on the taxes on $1000 (Difference of paying 300-500 dollars on the principle), net benefit=$50-200 dollars. The real benefit is that you are not paying taxes on the compounded interest which is what makes up the majority of the account value. Ex. 700 invested for 34 years (I’m 31 years old) at 6% interest is ~$5000 of spending money that I do NOT have to pay future taxes on. I spend 300 today, I invest 700. The $4300 of interest is tax free (at 30-50% tax rate that is 1300-2150 in future taxes saved + you still have your 700 principle ). Total taxes paid: $300. Total spending power: $5000 dollars

    2.) Now let’s look at the traditional Roth. You invest $1000, you save $300 in taxes. Your 1000 investment becomes $7250 after 34 years at 6% compound interest. But you have to pay taxes on that 7250, so total tax payment of 30-50% is ($2200-3625):

    Total taxes paid: $2200-3625, Total spending power $3625-5000

    The BUT (What happens with that $300 saved?:

    Your argument is that you can spend that initial $300 better than the government. I agree. Here’s why.

    Now that first year you have $300 which you can choose to spend. Let’s say it gets put into real estate and the equity keeps rolling along in various properties along with inflation at 3% for 34 years. After 34 years, that $300 is worth $820 in equity. And, because of tax loopholes for real estate, you pay no taxes on it.

    IF you invest the $300 saved, total taxes paid remains the same, but now spending power has increased $820 to ~$4450-$5820 (avg $5135)- a smidge higher than the spending power of a Roth IRA (2.7% difference)

    So you’re looking at having 2.7% more spending power on average if you take the money today and invest it in real estate and it keeps up with inflation at 3%. At the very least, it’s probably safe to say you equal out.

    Now let’s say you earn an average of 6% compounded, instead of 3% on that $300 outside of a tax-sheltered account. The worth after 34 years would be $2175 but you have to pay taxes on the earnings: 2175-300 principle =1875 interest gains, $1875 with 30-50% tax is $562.50-937.50.

    Total spending money of $300 invested for 34 years at 6% interest, corrected for taxes = $1237.50-1612.50.

    With that model, you’re looking at a range of $4862.50-$6612.50 (average $5,737.50), 14.75% higher than you would have with a Roth IRA.

    So Yes by doing a traditional IRA over a Roth IRA, you will have 2.7-14.5% (avg 8.6%) more spending power (and more money that is in a more liquid asset leading up to age 65).

    It REQUIRES that you invest that initial tax savings.

    But you are actually paying the government a LOT more tax, but that’s okay because you’re also earning more, and if you die before 65, then you made a better bet with your money.

    It is probably best to have a mix of Roth, Traditional IRA, SEP IRA and Real Estate so you have liquidity plus hedge on both having a higher tax rate.

    THE BEST VEHICLE IS AN HSA account. It rolls over year to year, it is NEVER taxed and after age 65 you no longer pay a penalty on withdrawals and so you can pay for both living and health expenses out of the fund. Plus health expenses are the number one reason for bankruptcy even for those with insurance at the time of their illness/injury.

  62. Zachary Isom

    So I think you may be mistaken here sir. The roth ira is a tax exempt withdrawal. That means if you’ve held your roth ira for at least 5 years and are over 59.5 years of age all withdrawals are tax free with no penalties. So why is this a bad idea for people earning lower incomes?

    From what I can tell if you are paying less taxes on the income you are depositing than the extra you would be able to deposit into a pre-tax retirement account it makes sense to utilize a roth ira as long as you plan to hold the ira until retirement and your retirement is more tha 5 years in the future. If your income is substantially lower now than your anticipated retirement income it makes sense to pay the taxes now at your lower rate rather than hoping your growth rate will be high enough in a traditional ira to compensate for your higher tax rate in retirement. Because your roth ira withdrawals are going to be tax free assuming you withdraw them at lead five years from now and you will be at least 59.5

  63. Middle Class Millionaire

    Sam,

    I am 100% with you on the Roth IRA. When I first started saving/investing for retirement back in high school, I considered the Roth IRA. I was very attracted to the idea of putting after tax money in, and pulling out tax free money in retirement. However, even back then, when I probably would have just barely been able to meet the maximum annual contribution… that is the main thing that convinced me otherwise. I knew that it would not be long before I would be wanting to invest MUCH MORE than what the maximum contribution amount was.

    After starting my own business and owning investment properties, I found that there are so many better (even tax friendly) ways to save for retirement.

    For me, it is no longer just “saving for retirement,” but building long term generational wealth for me and my family. There is simply no place for the Roth IRA for this type of plan.

  64. There are several reasons why a Roth is important and should be utilized. Also, I happen to have a 401K plan that has a Roth option, in addition to a pre-tax and post-tax option. I believe in maxing out my 401K. I contribute some to pre-tax and some to Roth. I am, in addition, also directing additional monies to post-tax 401K contributions which happen to have the advantage of acting like a “deferred Roth.”

    Upon leaving the company, I can rollover the “post-tax” portion of my 401K to a rollover Roth IRA account without triggering the Roth yearly limit! Taxes will have to be paid on the portion that has earned interest (but not the principle amount) at time of rollover, but this is still a great way to increase Roth contributions and without having to do a backdoor approach. That’s why it’s considered a “deferred Roth.”

    As for why Roth is important, there are all kinds of tax consequences that can hit upon retirement that people don’t think about. SS benefits + RMDs + capital gains on taxable accounts can push you into a higher tax bracket quickly.

    1. With a Roth, you never have to withdraw the monies if you don’t want to, which means you can keep those Roth monies growing.

    2. In addition, even before the age of 59.5, you can withdraw the base amounts you contributed (but not the earnings on those amounts) without any penalty. This makes the Roth a very smart ’emergency’ fund because you can absolutely get to that money if you need to, long before you retire.

    3. Having the ability to keep your taxable rate lower by using some of your Roth monies in retirement and only withdrawing traditional IRA monies to the limit of a 15% tax rate is a useful strategy. Better if you can get a lower effective tax rate. Roth is a way to achieve this.

    4. Most people think their income at retirement will drop a lot, but that may not be true! People who invest and do well will have those RMDs to contend with in addition to SS benefits, if the bulk of their investments are in traditional IRAs or pre-tax rollovers. Never assume; run the numbers.

    5. There are consequences that affect what you pay for Medicare coverage. I don’t know them all but I know it’s an area of concern and it’s connected to your retirement wages.

    6. It’s important to seek assistance from a qualified tax expert to help optimize and structure your retirement monies so you get the maximum income with the least tax hit you can. There is a method to the madness. I don’t know what that optimal mix is exactly, but I’ll be seeking the expertise of a tax professional to assist.

    So the takeaway is this: learn about all the tools at your disposal and don’t get caught up in the government conspiracy bits as that doesn’t really help you at all. Roth absolutely has its place and its not only for those starting out in their working lives. Get educated!

  65. … Let’s say you pay $2,000 in taxes to contribute $5,000 to a Roth IRA, and that $5,000 miraculously grows to $1 billion dollars. Your total tax bill will be around $500 million dollars!……

    Isn’t this an advantage of ROTH

    1. That is a hypothetical great advantage. But imagine if you invested $7,000 without paying tax. Imagine how much more over $1 billion that return would be!

      It’s good to diversify. Doing a Roth IRA after maxing out a 401k and or IRA is fine.

      1. Not one penny of that 1 billion dollars would be taxable along as they follow the rules of a Roth distribution. But if it was in a traditional IRA the income would be taxable. I think you’re missing something about Roth IRA’s.

  66. FS, have your finally revised your opinions on the Roth? Given the current political landscape, it certainly seems that at some point in the future we could see some sort of government program to make education more affordable as well as nationalized healthcare. I don’t think this will happen right away, but we seem to be moving in that direction.

    Fyi, I’ve executed some pretty awesome roth conversions recently. I saved money in a traditional 401k at my prior job, and recently have been moving it into a roth throughout my lower income PhD years. How far ahead will I be when not only am I in a higher tax bracket, but all tax brackets are higher?

  67. I’m 25 and just starting to learn about IRA and I can honestly say that I thought this article was terrible and it doesn’t sound like you know what you’re talking about.

    1. I’m with you Will. I think there is some confusion on Roth’s. I do see his point about the tax implications tho.

      Roth IRA contribution money is taxed in your regular income for that year. Any money you put in (contribute) you can take out at anytime, at any age even before you are 59½, for any reason without paying taxes on it by using a IRS form 8606. If you start withdrawing the earnings (money earned from the contribution) then you will have a 10% penalty. Once you’ve had a Roth open for over 5 years and you are over 59½, any money you take out is tax free whether it be contributed cash or the earnings on those contributions. I personally use our Roth IRA’s for stashing emergency money in (it earns better than a savings account). If I don’t use it then I’ll let it ride to earn as much as it can and then have it for later.
      I have a 401k at work that I’ve been putting 20% into for the last 17 years and will continue for the next 3 years. Once I quit the railroad at 58 I’ll start receiving a monthly check at the age of 62 (minus 30% because I’ll start collecting at 62 instead of 67, just like SS does) from railroad retirement and my wife (at 62) will receive a check for approx ½ of my RR retirement. I also have a military pension. So between my two pensions, my wife’s check and the 401k money, I figure that Roth money (which has no RMD time limit) will have well over 20 years to grow and be all tax free if I or she needs to withdraw from it later in life (without raising our tax rate) plus any extra cash we might have left over in retirement will go into the Roth.

  68. Hi FS. Great post. This topic seems to be evergreen, based on the years of comments on this string. I respectfully disagree with your assessment. I believe Roth IRAs are the better investment vehicle if for no other reason than a Roth removes one uncertainty (my future tax rate). As a Roth investor I don’t care about taxation. Also, I’m sure someone in the comments above already mentioned this but Roths are not an exclusive club. I make too much money to invest in a Roth, but I fund two IRAs (me and my wife) every year and immediately convert them to Roths. There are no tax implications if converted before any new earnings. It’s called a backdoor IRA and it literally takes 30 seconds to complete with an online broker.

    1. I do the same thing – max out pre-tax contributions to both my wife’s and my own 401Ks, then contribute $5,500 to each of our Roth IRAs through a backdoor conversion (total $11,000 per year). We started this a few years ago and are currently in our mid-40s.

      My plan is to use the tax-free money from the Roth IRAs first (after retirement) and let the pre-tax investments (401K) compound for a few more years.

      If I end up retiring before age 59 1/2, I’ll probably use post-tax investments first, then Roth investments, , then pre-tax investments (401K).

  69. No one has mentioned it yet, but are actually contributing more through a ROTH than a traditional since the contribution limits are the same. $5,500 in a ROTH > $5,500 in a traditional, unless there is something I am missing, please let me know.

    Also, the ROTH makes sense for me being (military career) since my taxable income is 60k/yr. I am stationed in California and don’t pay any state income tax since my claimed state is Arizona. Factoring in BAH and BAS and my 15k/yr (taxable) retention bonus, this is equivalent to a California civilian salary of ~115k (assuming I would be paying federal + CA state tax). My weekend gig makes me about 19k/yr which is taxable federal and CA state.

    I am early in my career but I believe I would be making more after retirement since I would likely be working as a civilian at that point and making a higher salary. If I retire from the military I have to add in my pension as well which would further increase my tax bracket. Just more reasons the ROTH makes sense to military members.

    It is nice to be in a “lower” tax bracket for purposes of contributing to a IRA (since BAH and BAS are not included in tax considerations) and hence I could contribute comfortably and not worry about income limits rendering me ineligible. Big downside is that we get no match on the TSP from the government under the old retirement system.

  70. Let’s say you don’t make any interest on your money (to make an easy comparison) and two brothers (both married) test out the effects of both the ROTH and 401k. Brother1 contributing only to a ROTH and Brother2 to a 401k. They are both in the 25% tax bracket while working, so Brother1 contributes $7,500 to the ROTH, and Brother2 contributes $10k to the 401k.

    After 10 years, Brother1 withdraws the $75k from the ROTH tax free.

    After 10 years Brother2 has 100k in his 401k. When makes a full withdrawal it comes to:
    $18,150 = $1,815 tax (first 18k at 10%)
    $55,649 = $8,347 tax (next 55k at 15%)
    $26,201 = $6,550 tax (25% up to 148k)

    Total after tax amount Brother 2 has $83,288.

    Tax rates for those making under $100k are going nowhere, and maybe even lower if they chop up that area into more brackets.

    Most people aren’t going to be withdrawing more than $100k a year from their deferred income accounts, so I think the example is sound even adding in say 10% a year in gains.

  71. FS could you please clarify your paragraph on ” Withdrawal Penalties “?
    You state that there is a withdrawal penalty on money that your Roth contribution earned – a penalty of 10%, plus you are taxed on the amount you earned. So in other words, I put $10,000 in a Roth IRA, let it sit there with no further contributions, and after age 59 1/2 I have $50,000. And what you are saying is that I will pay a 10% penalty and owe taxes on $40,000? My research shows that when you take withdrawals from a Roth you are not taxed on contributions nor any earnings from it. Am I wrong?

    1. Hi Maggie,

      The earnings from your principal cannot normally be withdrawn prior to age 59½ without paying the 10% early withdrawal penalty. Earnings can generally be withdrawn without penalties after age 59½, provided you meet the five-year rule

      Roth IRA five-year rule: Withdrawals from your Roth IRA will only be classified as qualified distributions if it has been at least five years since you first opened and contributed to your Roth IRA, regardless of your age when you opened it. For instance, an IRA owner can make penalty free withdrawals at age 59½, but if he or she made the first contribution at age 58, the plan participant would need to wait until age 63 to withdraw any earnings made on that portion of the original contributions.

      A qualified distribution from a Roth IRA is tax-free and penalty-free, provided that the five-year aging requirement has been satisfied and one of the following conditions is met:

      Over age 59½
      Death or disability
      Qualified first-time home purchase

      A non-qualified distribution is subject to taxation of earnings and a 10% additional tax unless an exception applies. For Roth IRAs, you can always remove post-tax penalty contributions (also known as “basis”) from your Roth IRA without penalty.

      Hope this helps. Bottom line: try to wait until you are at least 59 1/2 to withdraw any government retirement vehicle like the Roth IRA, IRA, and 401k!

  72. You make some big assumptions in saying that the Roth IRA is not a good vehicle. My 401K offers squat in employer match. My income is highly variable. In lean years, between income and a dance with the Schedule C, my effective tax rate can be almost down to the single digits. When that’s the case the Roth IRA is a godsend.

  73. Pingback: The Only Reasons To Ever Contribute To A ROTH IRA | Financial Samurai

  74. Finally someone speaking some sense about the Roth. The Roth is a terrible deal.

    I ran the numbers on it just to make sure I wasn’t missing something. Yes, assuming the same tax rate the numbers are exactly the same regardless of whether you pay tax now (i.e. Roth) or when you withdraw after years of growth (i.e. regular IRA).

    For a Roth to work out to your advantage, 2 things must happen:

    1) Your tax rate must be higher when you retire than it is now.

    2) The government must keep its promise not to tax your Roth IRA withdrawls.

    Both of these seem unlikely to me.

    Re tax rate: We all know that tax rates go higher with time. On the other hand, your post-retirement income is likely to be lower. Will your tax rate be higher? I doubt it.

    Re government keeping its promises: Ya, right!! In the 2020s and onward Congress will come under MASSIVE political pressure to keep unsustainable entitlement spending flowing. Do you really think they won’t make grab at the trillions sitting in 401ks and IRAs? I’ll bet money (and I am betting money) that they will.

    Just look at what the Obama gang tried to do by taxing college saving 529 plans. Like a Roth, capital gains in 529 plans are not taxed. Obama tried to change the rules. It failed, but it’s just a matter of time before the gubment grabs what they said they wouldn’t grab.

    I was really puzzled by all the articles about why ppl should convert to Roths. Then I realized that the gubment loves it because they get their hands on your money now. And the financial industry loves it because it generates business and fees for them.

    1. Roth vs Traditional seems like a no brainer to me:

      GOOGLE IPO’s for $40 a share & you invest in the stock completely in 2005.

      If you had $10,000 in a ROTH IRA & invested it in GOOG you would now have millions of dollars TAX FREE

      If you had $10,000 in a traditional IRA and invested it in GOOG, you are giving the government millions of dollars in taxes once you cash in.

      SO EXPLAIN HOW A ROTH IRA IS THE WRONG CHOICE!!!!!

      You are so against giving the government money, & yet, a traditional IRA rewards the government off the savvy entrepreneurs that choose the right stocks and see their ira explode.

      Anyone not scared of risk, & wants aggressive growth, should have a ROTH IRA.
      If you are just going to invest in safe CD’s for 2% interest, then a ROTH has no purpose, and you should go with a traditional ira.

    2. You forgot #3. A Roth will work to your advantage when you are right on the edge of a tax bracket increase. You need an extra $15k one year in retirement, but taking it out of your IRA will move you into the next higher tax bracket. A Roth would bridge that gap with no tax impact.

  75. I did the math. Roth makes zero sense.

    The math is the same assuming the same tax rate now and after retirement. So it really becomes a bet that your tax rate now is lower than it will be after you retire. Is that a good bet? Depend on your situation. But I doubt it.

    Another huge risk of Roth is you are assuming the government will keep its promise and not tax you at retirement.

    Does anyone trust Congress?

    I don’t. Entitlement spending growth is unsustainable. In the 2020s Congress will face incredible political pressure to find (erm I mean appropriate) more resources to pay entitlement commitments. Don’t think for a minute they won’t grab your Roth (or 401k) in a “temporary” measure.

  76. Hello All,

    I greatly appreciated in advance if you guys can help . I currently self employment ( salon owner) and look for to investment for my retirement . I am 43 year old and have no retirement plans . I only have $10,000 in saving account and it not give me any return . My annual income around $55,000 . Can you please advise me what best option out there for me ?

    I thank you in advance for your helps .

  77. Pingback: The Benefits Of A Backdoor Roth IRA | Financial Samurai

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  79. I am currently in the lucky position to have enough income that I max my 401k (as much as they allow me to they cap me at 8% because I am designated “HCE”), a traditional IRA in my wife’s name and the ROTH IRA for both of us. Are you saying that I should not invest in the ROTH IRA? You don’t think it will be good for me long term?

  80. Pingback: Is A Backdoor Roth IRA A Good Move For Higher Income Earners? | Financial Samurai

  81. @Financial Samurai, sorry but your 2nd grade math skills don’t translate into real world math skills. I’m actually kind of shocked at how many non-sensical arguments you could put into one list.

    There are many reasons why a Roth is beneficial. For instance, 1) If your tax rate is low now you’ll likely save on taxes 2) If you expect higher tax rates later you’ll likely save on taxes 3) It offers good flexibility with the ability to withdraw contributions penalty free 4) You aren’t required to take minimum distributions at any point 5) You can continue to contribute as long as you have income.

    Yes, we would all prefer to not pay taxes to the government; however, you have done nothing to show there’s a better alternative than funding a Roth.

      1. Well, for one, you state that Y = A*B = B*A. No one is going to argue that, but this assumes that each number is the same under either scenario. It’s easy to argue your retirement account would be the same (let’s call this one A), but your tax rate is definitely unlikely to be (call this one B).

        Now, of course if you project your tax rate later in life will be much lower, then I agree, you don’t need a Roth. However, you don’t know this with certainty and for many people the converse will be true.

        Say an individual’s marginal tax rate now is 25% and it turns out to be 35% when the person retires. Also, let’s say for illustration their compounded return = 10 over the time the money is in his/her account. Finally, we’ll look at one deposit of $5,500 to make things simple.

        Traditional account: 5,500(10)(1-.35) = $35,750
        Roth account: 5,500(1-.25)(10) = $41,250

        Roth wins. Again, obviously this won’t turn out best for ALL people, but for many it will. Thus, referring to it as “pissing money away” and making claims that a “traditional IRA is hands down the way to go” is naive, at best.

        Other article is better, but you still ignore a lot of the other favorable aspects of the Roth (see points 3-5 in my first post, for examples).

        1. You can make tax rate assumptions all you want, but a bird in the hand is worth more than two in the bush.

          Most people will earn less in retirement than when they are working. To put it as clear as possible, most people will make less working than they will make when working. Sure, it’s nice to believe that you will accumulate multiple millions of dollars in retirement that will generate more income than while working, but that’s not going to happen for a large majority of people.

          I’m assuming you are not in the higher tax bracket, or have never been in the higher tax bracket, but let me tell you from someone who has been in the highest tax brackets for over a decade that there are many ways to legally not pay the highest tax bracket through deductions, deferrals, changing of incomes, establishing of corporations, etc. If you pay your taxes up front now, the government wins.

          You’re free to take my advice as someone who has been there, or not. It’s up to you. I would pay more attention to those with experience, than those whose experience is based off pontification. May I ask how old you are and what is your net worth?

          Here is another post you might like: How To Pay Little To No Taxes For The Rest Of Your Life

          1. Andrew Pfeifer

            A lot of these assumptions are based on taxes starting as they are. If that’s your assumption, sure deferred contributions are the way to go. I’m not so optimistic. The second assumption you’re making is that earnings in retirement will be lower. I think with many people working longer and not ever fully retiring, this is also a poor assumption to make.

        2. Anon E. Mouse

          “Say an individual’s marginal tax rate now is 25% and it turns out to be 35% when the person retires.”

          Ok, what does that translate into in real terms? The max gross income for single filers in the 25% bracket is currently $90,750 annually and $151,200 for married couples. The 35% tax bracket is the rarefied air of $411,500 to $413,200 for single filers and $411,500 to $464,850. Realistically, most people will not see that kind of a jump in income, it will go down for the vast majority of Americans.

          Let’s make this more concrete. The monthly income of $90,750 for a single filer is $7562.50 a month. To make the leap to the 35% bracket, one has to assume that the distributions from investments plus social security will deliver $34,291.67 per month. Who, other than financial executives, media moguls, some actors and politicians, and defense contractors lives or has assets that will deliver a cash flow like that?

          Even if you bring this closer to the real world and say that it moves to a 28% tax bracket, which is $90,750 to $189,300 for singles or $151,200 to $230,450 for married couples, the monthly income maxes out at $15,775 a month for a single filer or $19204.16 a month. Those have to be some pretty incredible investments.

          Reality check: Most seniors end up living off of social security and maybe a modest 401k and IRA income.

          https://www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&id=3261

          “For nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of elderly beneficiaries, Social Security provides the majority of their cash income. For more than one-third (36 percent), it provides more than 90 percent of their income. For one-quarter (24 percent) of elderly beneficiaries, Social Security is the sole source of retirement income.[21] ”

          For those people, a Roth makes no sense because they are making a lot less now than they were when they were working. That means that they paid more taxes on the contribution than was necessary. And if they have always been poor but tried to save, ending up in the same tax bracket, it is better to pay later than sooner.

          So in a nutshell, the Roth only makes sense if you are very wealthy and expect to become a hell of a lot wealthier.

          1. “So in a nutshell, the Roth only makes sense if you are very wealthy and expect to become a hell of a lot wealthier.”

            Nonsense. The prime example of people it’s good for is people who aren’t wealthy who expect to become wealthier later on. It makes 100% sense for lots of people in their 20s, since many of them aren’t in high tax brackets now. Many of them are probably at 15%.

            Let me point out that you’ve assumed the only way your tax rate will increase is if you make more money. HELLO!!! That’s a big assumption. We don’t know that the current tax brackets will stay the same forever. If eventually we get serious about addressing our debt situation, perhaps we’ll need to raise tax rates. Having a Roth and a Traditional account is a way of hedging against tax rate uncertainty.

            I agree that not everyone stands to benefit from a Roth account. The average American probably isn’t worrying about whether to put their money in a traditional retirement account vs a Roth, because the average American is barely saving at all. They may not have either.

            In summary. The Roth probably makes a lot of sense for young people and not as much sense for older people. If you’re wealthy and expect to become very wealthy, it’s great. If you’re poor and expect to make a good salary later on, it’s great. Otherwise, it’s not that useful.

            One last comment. I will say that if I knew my current tax rate would be the same as my future tax rate, I would go Roth hands-down, contrary to some of you. So many added benefits.

            1. Anon E. Mouse

              All that matters is tax brackets at the time of tax being paid.

              If tax bracket now > tax bracket at distribution, do not put money into a Roth.
              If tax bracket now < tax bracket at distribution, put money into the Roth.

              For most people, they are told all the wonders of the Roth but the downside doesn't compute, media is tilted heavily toward a Roth but that only makes sense if you expect to be much more wealthy than you are now.

              For someone starting out, it may seem like a good idea (and in some cases may actually be a good idea) but if you think you will be in the same tax bracket as you would be when taking the distribution, why bother with the Roth? Paying the same tax now or later, keep your money now! Just the time value of money. Oh, and:

              https://www.forbes.com/sites/financialfinesse/2014/01/31/7-reasons-why-your-retirement-calculation-could-be-wrong/

          2. Time value of money is not an argument to pay the tax later, because you’ll be paying more in total tax dollars. That is, it already takes into account the effect of time.

            If you expect to be equally wealthy, you might as well use a Roth because it provides much more flexibility. You can withdraw contributions tax and penalty free whenever, there are no RMDs, and you’re able to contribute as long as you have income. Additionally, if you’re maxing out every year, you’re effectively able to put more into the Roth.

    1. My wife and I are in our mid 40s and both of us plan to retire in 11 years. She’s a teacher and with her current contract would get about $90K/year pension. I have $575K in my 401k and we have about $280K in Roth IRAs and we’ll continue to contribute to that as long as backdoor Roth IRAs are allowed. For my 401k contributions, would you recommend that I continue to do pre-tax or should I start contributing to a Roth 401K to have tax diversification in my 401k? I contribute the max and my employer matches 8%. I also have a small pension worth about $60K but it’s no longer being funded. Thanks for your information.

  82. “There is a reason why there are $2,000 staplers and $10 staples in the government bureaucracy!”
    ___

    The reason isn’t government inefficiency; the people who buy those staplers and staples know good and well how to buy cheaper goods.

    The reason is that private interests– who *also* know the true price of staplers and staples, mind you– get certain laws passed because they can.

    The Canadian government, or the Singaporean government, or the Hong Kong government, or, heck, even the Mississippi government, does not buy $2000 staplers.

    This isn’t about inefficiency; it’s about corruption. The answer isn’t to condemn “government”, but to take charge of a specific government (if you care to do so). “Government” knows good and well not to buy $2000 staplers.

    1. AmericanFool

      Source? The only reason I’m aware of that the gov’t buys really expensive common items is that they are modified in ways that make them resistant to damage in the event they are subjected to a dangerous (i.e. military) environment – some things become more dangerous when damaged, so the gov’t buys more expensive items that are less likely to shatter or combust.

      Don’t get me wrong, the gov’t is a human organization, has all the same faults we do. I know major weapons programs are often ordered because of who is make the decision and where the bulk of the economic activity will take place (so the Senator from Wisconson on the Appropriations committee approves the bid from the supplier with a factory in Wisconson…for example). But what you describe sounds like it’s a different flavor than the situation I just described, so I’m curious.

  83. You may have been a math rockstar, but you were not an economics rockstar, because the math is not the same in terms of paying taxes now or later. If you pay later, you are better off, because you are earning a return on the “loan” from the government, which compounds. This mathematical reality obviously favors a traditional IRA, assuming the same marginal tax rates now and in retirement.

    Nonetheless, a Roth is still a useful vehicle because of (a) early retirement, before age 59.5 and Roth’s ability to access those funds without a 10% penalty; (b) required minimum distributions (RMDs) of traditionals, and their interaction with (c) Social Security Income. Withdrawals from tax-deferred accounts are taxable income, and can trigger a huge hit on your Social Security Income, and finally (d) income management for ancillary benefits in retirement such as various localities’ property tax abatements for seniors of sufficiently low income. (My father-in-law’s RMD was sufficient to cause him to lose his NJ abatement. This was a very marginal amount of income that cost far more in property taxes.)

    Lesson here: know your Roth BENEFITS as well as your traditional IRA DISADVANTAGES!

    1. If you retire earlier than 59.5 from an employer where you have money in their 401K, you can access those funds penalty free also. But only that employer’s 401K. If you roll the funds over to an IRA, you can no longer take early distributions penalty free.

      Regular income taxes apply to all non-Roth distributions, of course.

      Also of note, the first block of your income is not taxed anyway due to personal exemption(s) and standard or itemized deductions. So if your 401K/taxable IRA is your sole source of income, a good chunk of it pulled out each year is never taxed. This is why it’s good to have tax-deferred retirement savings. Use the tax-free money to fill in income gaps when you need to avoid getting bumped up to the next income level. And Roth income doesn’t affect the calculations for how much of your Social Security is taxable.

      This is why I have 4/5 of my money in 401K/pre-tax IRA, and 1/5 in a Roth.

    2. Just curious: why are you stating that you can access your Roth funds before age
      59 1/2 and not pay the 10% penalty?

      1. Because you can pull out contributions tax-free (because taxes have already been paid on the $) and penalty free. You are only penalized if you take out gains. For example, if you contribute $5000, and make $2000 on that after some time (giving u $7000 total), you can pull out up to $5000 without any extra tax or penalty… No different than taking $ out of your savings account really (except u must tell tell the irs u did it when you file taxes), but if you touch the $2000 gain, you will pay income tax + 10% penalty. A roth is basically dual purpose: emergency fund + retirement savings. Just make sure you keep track of contributions over the years so if you must withdraw contributions, you can report appropriately.

        1. One caveat that people seem to forget, your Roth IRA account needs to be opened for 5 years before you can pull contributions. After 5 years though, you are free to pull them out.

  84. Is my Roth IRA supposed to be losing money? :( So far, I’ve only put in $300 and it’s eaten $9.00. I know it’s just 9.00, but >.<

    1. And the next day it will go up $20. Don’t swear the fluctuations. If youre well diversified in Index funds at the right allocation, you’ll make money in the long run. Worrying about the short term gains and losses is a losing recipe since youre then emotionally tied to it. Maintain consistent contributions over the long term for dollar-cost averaging and don’t get scared in market swings. If i may recommend a site called Betterment, they do a great job at managing your portfolio, keeping you balanced in low cost index ETFs and minimizing your tax liabilities. Thats who I have my Roth IRA through and will more than likely open a taxable account there eventually. They are very cheap since they use technology and Vanguard funds.

  85. Also thought I’d be ok with social security and a pension but in having second thoughts now that our pensions could possibly be reduced.

  86. I have a question. I’m 39 going on 40 in march I lost everything including my 401 k in the 2008 collapse. After the past 3 years struggling to get back on my feet financially. I landed a union job with a pension. My work offers a 401 k with no match. I’m currently looking at ira options to start to get my retirement plan going again. Can anyone help lead me in the right direction. I’m making 60 k a year easily. What should I do

    1. Zachary Taylor

      1. Open a traditional IRA for tax year 2014 at a discount broker such as Scottrade,
      2. Fund it with the max $5500,
      3. Invest in a ETF with a 60% equity/40% bond mux and a low nanagement fee (less than 0.4%).
      4. When/if more money is available fund your 2015 IRA as well any time after Jan. 1st.
      – Zack

    2. AmericanFool

      Since your 401K is yours no matter what happens to your company, I assume you withdrew the entire amount (and paid penalties as a result). The reason I mention this is that otherwise, your 401K is still yours, that is one huge benefit of a 401K over a pension – if you fund it and don’t withdraw, nobody can take it from you, it’s yours legally (pensions are kind of a mixed bag as far as that goes.)

  87. Your math is correct but not for this situation. My understanding is that with an employer Roth 401K even highly compensated employees can contribute the maximum to the Roth that they can to a Traditional 401k. If that is the case, the math depending on the tax rate and estimated earnings the Roth can be a great advantage even if you are in a lower tax bracket at retirement. As it turns out most people are not in a lower tax bracket upon retirement because they generally lose the necessary deductions to itemize. This year I start taking out the mandatory withdrawals from the IRA – losing 25% is pretty hard. Do a spread sheet with a expected growth rate on the IRA and the amount saved each year from the tax savings and compare it to the Roth – do it with 30 years and then 25 to 30 years in retirement and it may surprise you using different tax rates and purpose growth rates on the savings account. The statement the Roth is only good if you are going to be in lower tax rate is exactly true and with the Roth you have do mandatory withdrawals.

  88. Hello. I posted this question a month ago but never received a reply. So im re-posting with hopes of receiving one.

    I am a 44yo single mom of 3. I’ve been divorced now for a few years & to be very honest was left with pretty much nothing after everything was said & done. I am a waitress as a profession, I do ok but definitely dont make boat loads of money. My kids are also teenagers & really dont ask for much so I do have a little at the end of the month.
    My question is what would be the smartest way to invest that extra money & for how long?
    Would a Roth IRA still be a good choice for me even though I have no other savings?
    If so what should I invest monthly to yield the greatest return by retirement age?

    Thank You for your time!! :)

    1. AmericanFool

      I’d call Vanguard (I have some of their funds through my 401K, so I don’t use them directly myself) and set up an IRA with them, put the cash in there (Fidelity is another pretty good company to work with, but I think Vanguard has lower minimums, meaning you can get started with a smaller initial investment). The two biggest money mistakes are raiding the account, and rapid buying and selling of investments. Because the math should work out roughly the same, Roth or not, I’d go with a normal IRA, and invest in a 2035 fund (or whatever date you expect to retire, just know that they use 5 year gaps, so your alternate choice is 2030 or 2040. All three of those choices will yield similar results, so don’t freak out about which one… just give it your best guess and move on. Choosing any of those three will eliminate the more difficult choices of stocks vs bonds vs flavors of stocks and bonds…) – Vanguard will manage the fund with low fees, shifting the investments to become more conservative the closer you get to retirement. I will tell you this: deciding to put the money to work for you is far more important than the Roth or Not decision. Don’t let it hold you up, and don’t worry that one is slightly better than the other. Both will get you started on a good path, and that’s the key thing. How much you save at the front end will be the biggest driver of how much you’ll have waiting for you on the back end (when you retire). 20 years is enough time to build a decent size fund to supplement your Social Security. It is addictive to watch it grow.

  89. Sam,

    I respectfully disagree. First of all, taxes are currently at historical lows. It’s much more likely to go up than down in the future for various budgetary and demographic reasons. When you are young and earning less (thereby benefiting less from tax deductions), it makes infinitely more sense to favor Roth IRA over 401(k) or traditional IRA; although, I advocate always contributing enough to 401(k) to get the employer match. With a long investment horizon and low starting salary, it makes sense to favor Roth IRAs. You can always ramp up your 401(k) contributions as your salary increases, at which point, the tax benefits becoming more desirable.

    Second of all, the reason that the government set an income cut-off to Roth IRA eligibility and also set a low annual contribution limit is because the Roth IRA is intended to help regular people build wealth, rather than allow high-income people to stash away tons of money and avoid taxes. However, where there is a will there is a way (anyone ever wonder how Mitt Romney managed to put so much in his IRA? Albeit probably not Roth). There is the “backdoor Roth IRA” for high-income people. Furthermore, if you are high-income and your company offers a Roth 401(k), you can actually contribute after-tax money up to 401(k) limit and then simply roll the Roth 401(k) into your Roth IRA upon retirement, all entirely tax-free. This will also allow the person to avoid required minimum distributions.

    Third of all, yes, anyone can theoretically die at any time without ever enjoying the benefits of tax-free distribution. But how would a dead person benefit from a 401(k) either? In reality, the overall life expectancy in this country is increasing for both men and women. In fact, a child born today can expect to live longer than ever in U.S. history. The chance that a person is going to need the retirement fund to last longer than expected is high for someone of good health, which makes Roth IRA’s lack of RMD desirable, especially if you have other available sources of income. There are hoards of actuaries banking on life expectancy increases–one of the many reasons as to why insurance companies are always trying to sell whole-life insurances, especially to people with excellent health and habits.

      1. Hi Sam,

        Found your post by accident! I was researching people’s experience with p2p lending and was surprised to see a post with an anti-roth stance. Had to check out the argument :)

  90. I didn’t follow all of this, but it seems like you’re leaving out the value of compounded tax savings over the years. In my case, I converted a traditional IRA of about $11,000 in 1998 and paid about $2,200 in taxes over a couple years. I eventually withdrew all of the original contribution to cover life expenses, but my investments did quite well and the account now worth $463,000 as of today. I would hate to have to look forward to paying taxes on all that when I retire.

    1. I would love to know more about this. Those are tenants gains over a very volatile 16 years. How do ride through things so well? Were you going on shopping sprees during the crises and buying stocks on the cheap? How else could these numbers work out?

  91. Hello,

    I have a question for you all, I am a 44yo single mom of 3. I’ve been divorced now for a few years & to be very honest was left with pretty much nothing after everything was said & done. I am a waitress as a profession, I do ok but definitely dont make boat loads of money. My kids are also teenagers & really dont ask for much so I do have a little at the end of the month.
    My question is what would be the smartest way to invest that extra money & for how long?
    Would a Roth IRA still be a good choice for me even though I have no other savings?
    If so what should I invest monthly to yield the greatest return by retirement age?

    Thank you for your time : )

    1. This is definitely a couple years late but hopefully it could still help. As you can see from the other comments, there’s a lot of disagreement about the “right” answers.

      My personal advice would be to start by saving 1-2 months of your expenses in a separate savings account. Then contribute as much to a Roth IRA as possible each month. Just setup an automatic monthly bank transfer and forget it.

      These recommendations are based more on behavioral psychology than pure numbers. In the first case, an emergency fund ensures you don’t have to tap into expensive credit cards when your car breaks down or between waitressing gigs. The Roth IRA is a good choice because it’s”loosely locked up” in a tax-advantaged account. That is, you really don’t want to touch it til 59.5 but if there’s ever a real emergency you can withdraw your contributions without penalty. Also, it’s super easy to setup and automatically contribute, has lots of good low-fee funds, and doesn’t require any special stuff for filing your taxes

      In any case, keep reading, learning, and asking for guidance on forums and blogs like this and you’ll soon know more than most folks. I’m proud of you for reaching out.

      -Cody

  92. Some good points. My feeling on the Roth has always been that if it’s really effective, we’ll see an increase in the sales tax.

    I think an argument might be made about effective tax rates on the young being far lower than effective tax rates for the old (due to mortgage and student load deductions as well as child tax credits), but that’s not too helpful in this case — I may have an effective tax rate of 18% because i’m so busy building a family, but if I make an extra $1000 I’m only going to keep about $600. Shifting savings from the 401k to the Roth is going to be taxed at that top dollar rate.

  93. I’m late to the party, but wanted to comment on such a strange post from you, FS. Certainly you make some good points in there that I agree with wholeheartedly (like the futility of converting Traditional to Roth). But other points just don’t seem to hold water. Here’s a few I would challenge you to reconsider:

    #3) Asymmetric Reward/Punishment – You seem to be suggesting that since not everyone can participate in Roth IRA’s we should boycott them and instead participate in Traditional IRA’s. But Traditional IRA’s are limited to an even smaller subset of the population, so, uh, … what was the argument again? I must have missed it.

    #4) The Math Is The Same Before and After – Well its only the same if your income stays the same and the tax code stays the same. I agree with you that our incomes will likely be lower in retirement but I fully expect the tax rates to be higher. Who can predict the net result? Not me.

    #5) What Difference Will $5000/Year Make? – The question you ask is easily answered. Compared to just filling the 401k, an extra $5k/year would increase your savings by over 28% and hence it would increase your nest egg by 28% if done over your investing lifetime. Not insignificant at all. And really this underestimates the impact since the 401k money gets taxed as it comes out while the Roth money does not.

    But you go so far as to recommend, for singles making $66k to $105k, that they should blow the money before putting into a Roth IRA??? (“you probably will get more out of spending your $5,000 on life now.”) Then you imply that the same is not true for the single making less than $66k because to them you say “CHOOSE THE TRADITIONAL IRA OVER THE ROTH IRA WHILE MAXING OUT THE 401K”.

    So in the first case, if I’m making more money and maxing the 401k that’s fine, stop there, after saving 17% – 26%. But in the second case I’m making less money and saving 27% isn’t enough, I should be saving 34% or more (($17.5k+$5k) out of $66k). Doesn’t make sense.

    You could had said “go ahead and invest the extra $5k, but do it in a taxable account”, which would have been a tough pill to swallow since it would mean giving up the ability to pull the gains tax free. Yet I can buy into the idea of having some money that’s accessible rather than tying it all up for decades. But the idea that I’d be better off blowing $5k than saving $5k goes against other posts you made which recommend an ultimate savings rate goal of 50%.

    For individuals in the $66k to $105k range who want to save more than $17.5k for retirement, the 401k + Roth IRA combo is universally accepted as the best option out there for the typical American. As a bonus, it provides you with two separate pools of money that are taxed differently. So when you retire you can decide where you want to pull from first to get the best tax efficiency. You’ve added tax diversification to your portfolio instead of trying to predict what Uncle Sam will be up to decades from now.

    When choosing between Roth vs. Tradition, I can agree that Traditional wins. But if its Roth vs. nothing then Roth wins every time. You are showing an unreasonable bias against the Roth.

    1. You aren’t actually getting 28% more with a ROTH though. The roth costs you $5500 out of pocket (8088 pre-tax) while the 401k only costs you around $3740 (5500 pre-tax income) out of pocket due to federal income and state income tax reduction. You have to account for a) the 1740/year extra you save (+- depending on your state, marginal fed tax bracket) + the fact most people have a lower tax rate in retirement + the fact that the government can change the tax code on Roth’s at any time and make them taxable + the fact that you may die early and not get any of the benefit. The Roth IRA only makes sense for people in the 10%-15% marginal income bracket who expect to make a lot more some day (so in other words people in their early 20s who didn’t go college and least likely to put money into an IRA/401k Period)

      1. except that all earnings in a Roth are tax free, there are no RMD,s, no penalties for withdraw, no taxes on distributions, and you can start drawing from a ROTH at 59.5 years old. Great vehicle to retire early if you are a DGI investor and combine with SS at age 62, simple to just live off tax free income, and principle never lowers. FOr example, if the growth of your roth is earns you say 1 million in principle in the roth account, and you are DGI invesing at the typical 3.5 % you will earn an additional 35,000 of tax free dividends per this example. Thus, combined with SS, a paid for house, a paid for vehicle, if you live comfortably in retirement, it should be easy to life off about 5.5k (Tax free) a month (dividends+SS distributions). With a traditional, you would be hit with RMD’s that raise your tax bracket, and all of the dividends would then be taxed at the 15% rate (current rate)

  94. Justin Winters

    I am no expert, but the government is GOING to get there taxes one way or the other. Correct me if I am wrong, but you are going to be paying taxes on a a traditional IRA or 401k when it is withdrawn and also can only roll your 401k to a traditional IRA to begin with but can be converted to a Roth IRA by adding the money into your income the year you convert it and will pay ordinary income tax on the amount rolled over. But would you want to pay taxes on that lesser amount vs in the future when you could possibly be in a higher tax bracket and with more money being taxed if you kept it in the traditional or 401?

  95. Sam….many arguments here are saying the ROTH is better because your distributions are tax free and the traditional is taxed at income bracket. Well, what about the retiree who has most of her assets in tax free muni bonds? They will have a very small tax bill and hence low tax bracket. Therefore shouldn’t worry about traditional IRA distributions being taxed at say 10% vs. today’s income bracket of I’m certain much more.

    1. The argument would be that with today’s incredibly low tax rates, the minimum rate in the future may be say 20% instead of 10%.

        1. Very few indeed. I doubt anyone would run on that platform, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen happen while in office. I think it’s fairly obvious what politicians run on to get elected can be far from how they behave in office.

          We’ve [U.S.] gone from a minimum rate of 0% all the way to 23% and now we’re at 10%.

          I am less confident to say with certainty that taxes won’t be raised in the future. Taxes have been raised in the past, so it wouldn’t be unprecedented if it happened again. As recently as 2013 the top marginal tax rate was raised 4.6%.

          Depending on the size of one’s Traditional IRA, RMDs can easily push one from the lowest tax bracket.

          With all that said, I hope you’re right about taxes!

  96. Unless you are making less than $59,000 MAGI a year, Traditional IRAs are, to put it bluntly, absolutely terrible. You wind up paying taxes on the front and back end.

    You also are insistent on maxing out a 401(k), when that makes absolutely no sense prior to maxing out an IRA. There are many IRA accounts available with no fees, where you will likely be paying 1%/year on a 401(k).

    Also, if you are trying to maximize your tax savings, you can have a much larger effective tax advantaged Roth IRA than you can a Traditional IRA ($5,500 after tax money is worth more than $5,500 before tax).

    The order you should be going in is as follows:
    Maximize Employer Match
    Max out Roth IRA
    Remainder to 401(k)

    For illustration, we’ll do an example. Somebody makes $50,000 per year (we won’t bother figuring in raises). Lets say we determine $10,000 of that is available for retirement. Assuming your employer does a 50% match up to 6%, according to you, you should simply just put all $10,000. You will wind up with $11,500 invested each year. Knowing the stock market averages about 10.5%, you should make about 9.5% per year after fees. You will wind up with $40,000 taxable income per year (~$36,000 after tax and investment dollars), and a $4.445 million nest egg with taxable distributions (assuming 40 years).

    Instead, lets say you just max the employer match, then max the Roth IRA, then further pump money into the 401(k). To get the same ~$36,000 after tax and investment dollars, you can put $3,525 into 401(k) (+$1,500 match), and $5,500 into a Roth IRA. The $5,025 will grow at 9.5%, and the $5,500 will grow at 10.5% (no fees, remember). You will wind up with a $1.942 million taxable nest egg, and a $2.790 million nontaxable nest egg.

    So what is the difference?
    100% 401(k)=$4.445 million taxable distributions
    401(k) max match + max roth IRA + remainder 401(k)=$4.732 million, only $1.942 million of which is taxable.

    So Mr. Financial Samurai, even if the tax rate is only 15%, you just lost these poor investors $662,000 (after tax). Wow.

    Now, regarding Traditional IRAs. If you instead put $5,500 into a traditional IRA, you are left with $4,500 (+$1,500) for the 401(k). You will wind up with $2.790 million from the IRA, and $1.739 million from the 401(k), for a total of $4.529 million of taxable distributions (still higher than the 401(k) option, but still worse than maxing out a Roth IRA by a LONG shot).

    1. Did you include the benefit from the 401(k)-Trad. scenario with maxing the 401(k) you avoid Med/SS taxes (taken as a payroll deduction), where you still pay these with Trad. IRA contributions?

      1. This is incorrect. Traditional 401(k) contributions only reduce your taxable income for federal income tax purposes. It has no impact at all on medicare and social security taxes.

    2. The only problem with this solution is the 401k or traditional IRA (up to a certain income level) also is pre-tax so to contribute 5,500 only costs most people around 3,740 bucks (1 – Fed tax of 25% – state tax of 7%) while the Roth costs a full 5,500. That’s $1760/year in savings that you can reinvest or spend to live a good life that you aren’t counting in the equation.

  97. This article is very silly. It reads like you have a choice between giving your money to the government or not (don’t give them your money!!!!! lol). News flash: the government is going to get their share in either case, whether you do Trad or Roth. So that is not a valid point of argument. I do agree that Roth may not be the best choice for everyone, however it does make more financial sense for many. I do agree that people should figure out how to keep more of their money, but what the poster fails to realize is that for many people the Roth may result in fewer total taxes paid, which seems to be the goal he is going for.

    Not to mention, when you consider the size of the current federal budget deficit and debt, it seems highly likely that everyone’s tax rates may go up in the future, which makes the Roth an even more attractive option if you feel that this is a likely occurrence.

  98. As one who is there now, I realize the problem with IRA’s. My husband and I started contributing when they first were created in the 80’s, believing the marlarkey that you’d be making less and therefore paying less taxes when you retired. By today’s standards our incomes weren’t that much then and I was subsequently laid off in the mid 80’s, so we lived on my husband’s income alone, still diligently socking away our IRA’s. My husband passed away in the 90’s and I had to go back to work. I retired two years ago and now receive half of my husband’s pension, my own pension and my Social Security, so I thought I was very lucky and could manage nicely, but even with three checks coming in my income has dropped considerably from when I was working. But now I am required to make the Required Minimum Distribution in order to pay taxes on the money we saved. The amount of the RMD is determined by a formula and then added to my income, and it is that total that I pay tax on. The RMD is a much larger chunk than I expected and is just enough to bring me up from the 15% to the 25% tax bracket. I can’t help but feel if we had paid the taxes on our earnings as it was earned, we would have paid far less tax overall. I have gone from thinking I had a fairly secure retirement to watching my money drain out in estimated tax payments like sand in an hourglass.

    1. If you are in the 25% bracket that means you have taxable income of over $75,000. This seems like it should be enough to live on for a single person. Pretty well actually.

  99. You seem truly paranoid about the government, and let that affect your financial advice. I agree, pay as little as possible in taxes, but with retirement accounts they’re going to get it on one end or the other. You seem to think for some reason that the government will NOT raise taxes on everyone… you have more faith in them than me. Tax rates going up and down aside, there are two really big advantages of the ROTH IRA over traditional (and these also apply to Roth 401k’s over traditional).

    1. Roth means BIGGER! If you save $5500 (the max for me) in a traditional IRA, when you retire you still have to pay taxes on it, so it’s only 75% of that (assuming I’m only taxed at 25% when I retire, like I am now). If you save $5500 in a Roth IRA (also the max for me) then you get 100% of that at retirement because you’ve already paid the taxes. I agree this is too little to really fund a retirement, but in combination with a Roth 401k and taxable savings it is better to have more in the tax shelter accounts. See my BONUS TIP below.

    2. Roth = backup emergency fund! Nobody likes to tap into retirement because of an emergency, but lets face it, life happens sometimes. If you keep an emergency fund around, which you should, you are basically letting the money sit in an account and essentially lose value due to inflation. Everyone should have an emergency fund to some extent (think of the lost investment income as an insurance premium on the unexpected), but if you invest into a Roth IRA you can pull your contributions out if that emergency hits beyond what you can handle with cash reserves. I had to do this recently when I went through a divorce (not fun, but that’s another subject), and the ability to pull out my contributions was vastly superior to going into debt (just ask my ex). You should definitely keep a few months of living expenses outside the Roth IRA to help protect it, but if the options are:
    A. Put money into a traditional IRA
    B. Put money into an emergency fund
    C. Put money into a Roth IRA
    Then I’d do C all day long because it has the effect of A and B together.

    BONUS TIP: Oh and a side note on #2. If you’ve been contributing to a traditional 401k and leave that job, that is a HUGE opportunity! If you can roll over your 401k into your Roth IRA without it pulling you over the maximum contribution limit and you can take the hit on taxes to pay them now, then you can roll over your 401k into a Roth IRA and have your entire 401k balance (deposits, interest, employer contributions and whatever) become a DEPOSIT into you Roth IRA. Note you MUST make this as a rollover, NOT get a distribution and then make a payment (that will nail you on penalties). For example, if you have $20k in your 401k and you switch jobs and will make $80k that year. You can rollover the full $20k into a Roth IRA, pay the $5k extra in taxes (less painful if you just do extra contributions at work) and then have the full $20k in a Roth IRA where you can withdraw it in an emergency. You can even contribute your full $5500 to the Roth IRA that year if you are able since it is considered a rollover, not a contribution (if you’re not able, just think of your extra taxes as your retirement contribution that year and relax a bit). This is a great strategy for maximizing your backup emergency fund and retirement in one.

    I don’t know why the original poster of this overlooks these advantages, but do yourself a favor and IGNORE his advice!

    1. You must not have paid very much to the government in your career yet.

      Haven’t you heard? Only the paranoid survive.

      But, I do thank you for what you have and will continue to contribute through a ROTH IRA.

  100. Samurai-

    Your points are essentially “one” point: tax savings. You also focus in on one income group (briefly mentioning young people but not going into specifics).
    401k’s offer up front tax savings however their high fees and expense ratios are well documented:

    https://www.bankrate.com/finance/investing/secrets-401k-fees-1.aspx
    https://www.bogleheads.org/forum/viewtopic.php?t=50211

    People that work for small businesses can often have 401k plans with the worst of these fees. You also fail to mention that if you have a 401k then contributions to a traditional IRA are not tax deductible. Where’s the advantage of doing a traditional with after tax money in that situation?

  101. If you are late to the saving for retirement game then a Roth is the way I had to go. A regular 401k will make me take Minimum Distributions at 70.5 I will surely still be working trying to put money into the account and did not want it coming out until I retire.

    1. James, if at 70.5 you are working for the company that holds your 401k, you do not have to take your RMD’s until you retire. This is not the case if you are the owner, but for a “non-keyperson” employee you don’t begin taking RMD’s until you retire. You are also able to save more annually in your company plan than a Roth IRA.

  102. Random Reader

    Not to be rude to the OP, but most of your arguments are opinions and not facts. They should not impact why you should chose a Roth vs a Traditional IRA, let alone retirement savings.

    FYI for those interested here are the benefits of a ROTH (which albeit I agree is NOT always the right choice for someone)

    The reason I chose Roth vs Traditional is because of the no distribution option, meaning you can continue to grow your nest as long as you live. The reason I chose to max out Roth before my 401(k) is that I can invest in any fund whereas in my 401(k) I am limited to my company custodian’s investment elections. (FYI: My company does not match, if it did that would be a different story)

      1. Random Reader

        Not sure how that is relevant, if the argument is opening a Traditional or Roth -> Fidelity makes money on both accounts…

        Additionally, assuming you are able to max out your retirement you can actually put more into your Roth than a Traditional through the backdoor (not really viable if you already have IRA assets, check your tax situation) -> thus saving more. $5,500 after-tax > $5,500 pre-tax. Thus you can grow that money faster through compounding. Now understanding not everyone can max out, so this isn’t true for everyone.

        Didn’t see your Roth post before, but overall still thanks for sharing. Kudos for your blog.

      2. Matt Rogers

        Ok I am 47, make $110k a year and am putting 3% in an Roth and 2% into an traditional IRA and this is through my company’s 401k w/Fidelity (and I do have the ability to manage where the money goes (stocks, bonds, etc.,). I read the article and all of the comments but am still somewhat confused as to whether I should leave my Roth or switch it all to an traditonal. Thanks for all the info!

        1. Bryan Jamison

          I max all 3 roth ira 5500 for ny wife and myself each 5500 to trad ira in my wifes name and max out 401k. That way ill get the best of all of them when i retire. Onky about 60% of my retirement income will be taxable thanks to the roth

  103. Random Reader

    OP, I applaud your dedication to blogging and sharing your insight but a few things to note:

    While I do believe that the Roth vs Traditional discussion depends on the situation of the person you did forget several important things for Roth.

    1.) No required distributions – assuming you can amass a decent nest egg you are never required to take distributions unlike a 401(k) or a Traditional IRA. This means if you can continue to grow your nest egg, better than investing outside the Roth construct, ceteris paribus. This also goes for estate planning. If you were to die, the money could stay in a Roth for your designated beneficiary.

    2.) Choice of investments. In a 401(k) you are limited to your company custodian’s investment choices. Don’t see a fund you like, too bad. With an IRA you can choose any fund. Note: This argues for Traditional/Roth IRA over 401(k)

    3.) Maximum contribution. You can contribute the same after tax dollars to a Roth as pretax dollars to a Traditional, thus you can contribute more to your nest egg compared to traditional if you can max out, all things being equal.

    —————————————————————-

    Also the below are opinions (not facts) and I don’t think they should impact the decision on whether you should put money in a Roth.

    (1) The government is inefficient. – Sure, but who is to say that they will not be inefficient in the future? At least we have a chance to realize what we can change now; throughout our lifetime than giving tax dollars to the gov’t when we are say.. 70. If we wait we may never see some of those policies or return on our social money. I disregard this because it really doesn’t have anything to do with choosing Roth vs. Traditional.

    (2) The government is smarter than you. We have a say in how our money is used. Some of this Roth education is simply due to the fact that many people don’t know how to save, especially at the lower income levels. Wouldn’t you want to have the option to choose what you think is best for your future? Make your own educated decision, based on your research. Again moot point. Just because someone advertises something doesn’t mean it is always propaganda.

    (3) You allow asymmetric reward or punishment between equals. – There are ways of funding a backdoor Roth, so you can get around the system. Most of the time “rewards or punishments” are meant to act as a buffer to the less fortunate so that they have some help catching up in the wage gap. Again doesn’t really impact why you should save for retirement.

    (4) You may never reap the fake rewards. Then why save at all? Again moot point, whether it is in your 401(k) or your IRA, Traditional or Roth. If I follow your argument and don’t save for retirement at all, there’s probably a 99% chance I’m going to live past 65. I just gave up a significant amount of savings incentive by the gov’t. I’ll take the chance that I live rather than that I’ll die. Even if I die those savings go to my family.

    (5) Withdrawal penalty. – Same thing, 401(k) and traditional IRA both have withdrawal penalties just like Roth. Doesn’t impact decision on Roth basis.

  104. I use ROTH because I’m above the limit to defer under traditional, and below the limit to contribute to ROTH. Otherwise, you’re right–traditional is always better as long as you get the deferral.

  105. I’m 21 and graduating college this year. I have manageable student debt to pay off, and no credit card debt. But I’m not looking at a six figure salary for a very long time. I intend to allocate some of my earnings to an emergency fund, long-term savings (retirement), and the rest to other expenses. This is all very new to me, but the Roth IRA I’m looking at requires a minimum payment of ~$1,000. I know I can stand to invest this amount my first year out of college even with my monthly student loan payments, plus small amounts for the foreseeable future. Is it worth investing with comparatively limited funds annually from the start in my 20s? Or do I simply need to earn/save more money before getting started? Is it better to just pay off my student debts first (<$25,000 all "low-interest" federal loans at 3-4%)?

    1. This is what can be done with one’s first goal being home ownership. 100% do not pay off student loan debt before you begin investing. Applying for forbearance will allow you to reduce your payments and increase the length of your loan to 25 years. This lowers your DTI when you apply for a mortgage. Assuming 6% RTI on your investments, you will be ahead of the maintenance on your student loans and the first $2,500 of interest paid/year is tax deductible. The path to your first mortgage includes building credit and saving for a down payment. Open several credit cards and always pay them off in full. Make all 401K contributions necessary to get the employer match. After tax income should be used to max out a roth ira whose purpose is to save for a down payment – $5,500 per year. All contribution amounts can be withdrawn from this account when it is time to purchase a house, as well as all earnings up to a maximum of $10,000 without paying the 10% penalty. If you plan on getting married, than get your future spouse on the same plan. If you and your spouse do this for 3 years, than you will have a 20% down payment on a $200,000 house by saving ~$460 a month each.This means that you can obtain a mortgage without paying pmi. If you need more house than you can also save or invest in other ways, but this method will give you a good start. After the house purchase, it’s a good idea to max out your 401k contributions before investing any money into a roth ira.

  106. I make 500k a yr, and maxed out my roth 401k. I can only make a trad IRA, NON-DEDUCTIBLE..which sucks, since that means i paid income tax upfront and will pay income tax on the way out again!

    question is, should I convert my TRAD IRA into a ROTH IRA…so at least I wont pay income taxes on the way out?

    BUT BUT….the gamble is this. When I retire in 20 yrs and expect 100k/yr income for retirement….will 500k income tax rate today be lower than 100k/yr tax rate 20 yrs from now?

    …would suck if 100k/yr in 2034 has a tax rate of 50%….

    1. Don’t do any conversions unless you have a year where you make no income, and then calculate the amount of conversion to pay minimum taxes. Basically your conversion amount gets added to your income calculation for the year.

      1. Michael Fletcher

        In short, It doesn’t matter WHEN you pay your taxes, It matters AT WHAT RATE. You manage your tax rate not the timing. IF the rate is the same than the net results to you are the same regardless of whether you are in a Roth or a traditional IRA.

    2. Pablo Harris

      Joe, this is old but people are dumb so I will post. You don’t pay taxes twice. You only pay income tax on the earnings in a no deductible Ira. If you are playing that game you must keep track of your non deductible contributions and earnings to calculate the tax due.

    3. Pablo is right. Your non-deductible IRA contributions should including filing IRS form 8606 to tell irs that you have contributed X amount (non-deductible) ira contributes in year Y.
      When you retire, after 59 1/2, or take RMD at age > 70 1/2, then all those 8606 FORMS you sent to IRS over the years will sum up your lifetime amount of non-deductible ira contributions.

      Let’s say you have a lifetime of 8606s totaling $50,000. This is your BASIS.
      if you have TOTAL IRAs (sum of all IRA balances of ($200,000) for example,
      then the RATIO of amount you have to pay (as income) from withdrawals from your IRA
      (assuming no pre 59 1/2 withdrawal)
      is

      RATIO r = 50,000/200,000 = .25 is the ratio of my IRAs exempt from taxes; therefore, I pay taxes on 1 = .25 = .75 or 75% of whatever I withdraw.

      So if in some year I withdraw 1,000 from ANY ira fund, then the taxes I pay is not taxes on 1,000, but on .75 of 1,000 = 750.

      The more your BASIS is (the more non-deductible amount over your lifetime) the more this ratio is and thus the less you pay in taxes as ordinary income from your IRA withdrawals including your RMD.

  107. $66k is (was) the income limit *IF* you have a retirement plan at work. If you don’t then it’s not a limit.

    I agree with you that the drum beat of ROTH ROTH ROTH is way overblown. But, in many (not all) ways it’s better than after-tax investing.

  108. Just wanted to say that the first time I read this post months ago. I thought there must have been some problem with your math. However, today I stumbled upon an article talking about IRA’s and realized that you were correct.

    There are 2 ways that a ROTH IRA is actually better though.

    1)

    Roth IRA:
    Lets say you make a contribution of 5k to a ROTH this year (and are in the 28% income tax bracket). You pay $1.4k in taxes but now have 5k in a ROTH IRA. Let’s say over 30 years, the 5k is now worth 50k (8% compounded annually).

    At the end of it you have 50k and paid 1.4k in taxes.

    Traditional IRA:
    Lets say you make a contribution of 5k to a Traditional IRA this year (and are in the 28% income tax bracket). You pay no taxes and now have 5k in the IRA (and have 1.4k extra cash to invest in a non-tax advantaged account). Let’s say over 30 years, the 5k is now worth 50k. The 1.4k is now worth 9k averaging (6.4% compounded annually after tax of 20% [mix of tax on long term and short term capital gains]). You pay taxes on the 50k at only 20% tax so 10k on taxes.

    At the end, you have 49k and paid (10k + 5k) in taxes. (The 5k is a mix of loss of profit and tax loss).

    You do give more money to the government with the Traditional IRA. The difference here comes from the fact that what you initially pay in taxes is not part of your contribution to the ROTH. This is effectively allowing you to put more money in at once.

    2)

    If you invest the money in your ROTH in a business you found with a friend. IRAs don’t allow you to hold more than a 50% interest in a business. However, if you found a company with your ROTH money, it effectively allows earnings that you are making personally to enter your ROTH untaxed.

    Hopefully this made sense.

    1. I’m glad you realize my math isn’t problematic.

      At any rate, a ROTH IRA is fine if you’ve maxed out your 401k and want to diversify your tax liability, especially if you aren’t making much at an earlier stage in your career. But I suggest always maxing out the 401k first.

  109. Ignore my previous post. It is deeply flawed.

    1. Put $5k in a Traditional IRA. Contribute $5k every year. Growth rate 10% a year. 30 years later it is worth $909,717. Let’s say you withdraw it now. Your tax bill (20% tax) is $181,943. After tax total is $727,773

    2. Put $5k in Roth IRA. You are taxed now (20%). You are left with $4k after tax. Contribute $5k every year. After tax you are only contributing $4k a year. Growth rate 10% a year. 30 years later it is worth $727,773

    Conclusion: Roth and Traditional are the same if your tax bracket stays the same now and in retirement. Roth is only better if you will be in a higher tax bracket when you retire. Or if you expect tax rates to increase in the future.

  110. 1. Put $5k in a traditional IRA….it grows to $50k. You cash out at age 60. Your tax bill is 20% * (50k-5k) = $9k in taxes!

    2. Put $5k in a Roth IRA….you are taxed now. your tax bill is 20% *5k = $1k in taxes….it grows to $50k. You cash out at age 60….you pay no taxes when cashing out…earnings grow tax free.

    The Roth IRA costs you $1k in taxes. The traditional IRA costs you $9k in taxes. Clearly the Roth IRA is superior to the traditional IRA.

  111. Sorry, I should have added to comment above that the equation is for one year of savings. But subsequent years follow the same logic.

  112. RE: the math or Roth Vs 401k
    If the tax haircut is equal — same tax rate, then the returns are equal

    A = A(o) * (1+i)^T * tr

    where tr is tax rate,
    A is amount
    A(o) is initial amount
    T is years of compounding

    If tr is the same, it does not matter if it is the beginning or end of the math expression :)

  113. If the question is which of Roth or IRA will lead to a larger nestegg in retirement, then all the arguments about government efficiency are simply besides the point.

    We do know that a person who expects to be in a higher marginal tax bracket in retirement than they are now has a good argument to choose Roth. An interesting situation arises however when we assume the same income now and in retirement. For moderate savers (and by that I mean retirement income of less than about $5,000 a month), the IRA benefits from years of applying a standard reduction to annual taxes.

    The Roth has a couple distinct advantages. For one, it allows a larger contribution than a 401k. This is a bit non-intuitive but it happens because the (say, $17,500) contribution limit of a young person in 2013 is the same amount for Roth or 401k, but the Roth is figured on after-tax dollars. So e.g. if the applicable tax bracket is 0.25, the maximum Roth contribution is effectively 17,500/0.75 of pre-tax dollars. The other advantages have to do with better flexibility for loans before retirement and rules for distribution in retirement.

    My opinion ? The choice has to be made in the wider context of retirement planning. Examples of pertinent questions include anticipated income during retirement years and money left for the next generation.

    Second opinion ? Roth vs IRA/401k is more a religious argument than real for most people. Do both if in doubt.

  114. To be blunt – you are completely wrong. If you want to see the mathematical representation of a ROTH vs a before tax retirement computation I would be happy to share with you personally. This can easily be represented over time and the after-tax contribution wins 100% of the time assuming a certain duration. Your formula is far to limited and does not take into account earnings growth or the value of compounding. Further, you can not monetize something as RMD’s. Many employers now offer an option to distinguish a 401(K) contribution as a ROTH 401(K) – whereas after-tax money is contributed versus before-tax money to the plan. Anyone who argues this is not preferable, does not fully understand the mathematical representation of each before-tax contribution vs after-tax contribution to a retirement plan. Hopefully you were just talking about the idea of investing in a 401(k) versus an IRA plan but you did not leave it at that. You are completely wrong in numerous statements. I enjoy reading your thoughts and they are usually very accurate, very frusturating to read something though that is so completely far from the truth.

    1. Id love to have you back up your assertion with the mathematical examples you talk about instead of just saying I’m wrong with no back up.

      Please do so and shoot me an email. I’m happy to publish on article here why my position of maxing out a 401k and not giving in to the government by paying taxes up front is wrong.

      My biggest curiosity is how you will calculate earning more in retirement than while you were working. Please also be sure to state your age, net worth, tax rate, and current retirement contribution balance so we get some background of where you are coming from.

      Thanks!

      1. I just don’t see how anyone can state with certainty what tax rates they will be in the future. If one’s tax bracket is always going to be the same, then it makes no difference. But there is no one who can assure that will always be the case.

        Thus, in general, I would prefer to not pay taxes now, which is more of a certainty. Unless I was in a very low tax bracket now.

        Ideally, you would max out your 401(k) and then contribute to a Roth to get some tax diversification. Both accounts have creditor protection and both are forced savings that have disincentives to touching them until later in life (which is a good thing).

    2. Contribution to a 401K vs Roth essentially boils down to what your tax rate is today and what you think you will pay when you withdraw those funds. If your tax rate were to remain the exact same now and in retirement, then mathematically it would make no difference. Compounding actually doesn’t matter either way. 401K will compound with a larger balance, but you’ll pay the tax when you withdraw. Roth will start off lower, but will compound tax free. In both accounts, you do not pay taxes between the contribution date and withdrawal date (if you did… THEN there would be a difference between the two).

      I like what others have said. The truly best strategy is to save in a 401K & Roth (the real benefit of either account is deferral of taxes between contribution and withdrawal). Outside of that, it’s a wash. Assuming you can save $23K+/yr, max out both accounts and you’ll be doing great!

      The only disagreement I have with Sam is for those of us who cannot max out both accounts and are expecting to cross the income threshold for Roth at some point in the future. In that case, it may be beneficial to have Roth in early years (even if you cannot max out the 401K) and then switch to 401K when you cross the income limits.

      Regardless, passive income is the best! Even if it is taxable…

      Here’s to all of us becoming Donald Trump (minus the media coverage).

      1. 401k contributions should be considered to come off the top of your income (as it reduces your overall income from the top down) and would have been taxed at your highest rate. The more you make over your career, the bigger the tax savings.

        401k puts more into an account to compound over time, you didn’t have to pay the tax first.

        401k withdrawals are not all taxed at the maximum rate. There is a progressive taxation where you avoided your maximum rate when you first contributed the money, but when you take it out (today’s brackets for married/joint) the first 18k (about) is 10%, the next 55k (about) is 15%, and then you get to the 25% bracket that all your contributions avoided assuming you were in that bracket.

        Like Sam said, if you’re young and in the lower bracket, then Roth may work out. But in a higher tax bracket right now, I don’t see how a person would not max out their 401k first, then do the Roth.

        There are calculators out there that calculate whether you should do a Roth vs 401k, and when I punch in my numbers, I come out ahead with a 401K.

  115. I just found your site this week and I really enjoy it. I may be missing something, but what are your thoughts of using the back-door Roth IRA conversion method for high-earners who are already maxing out their 401k. Because of my AGI, any contributions to an IRA would be with post-tax dollars. The back-door conversion method at least allows me to convert some of those post-tax dollars into a Roth IRA that is (as of now) forever tax-free. Obviously, things could change, but this would simply be a method of tax diversification. The benefit of putting money in an IRA even if not deductible is: (1) grows tax-deferred (or completely tax free if Roth), (2) creditor protected exempt asset, (3) systematic forced savings program. But since I get no deductibility now, might as well convert to a Roth and hopefully escape any further taxation. Do you agree? If I’m missing something, please let me know.

      1. Hi Sam,

        Sam, I am a long-time reader and a big fan! Also happen to reside in the NorCal (East Bay). I am in the same boat as S — 401k maxed out, contributing to IRA without a tax break as income is too high to claim an IRA deduction and immediately doing a ROTH IRA conversion. You seem to agree that in this specific case (contributing to IRA after maxing out 401k and doing an immediate ROTH conversion) ROTH IRA is a good thing to do. Perhaps you can add this to the post. I 100% agree with everything you said against ROTH IRA, but in this case conversion from IRA to ROTH IRA does make sense, meaning that ROTH IRA does make sense.

  116. What are your thoughts on investing in a Roth 401k for people starting into their jobs? I am currently in the 25% bracket and traditional 401k vs roth 401k doesnt change my tax bracket. Math suggests its worthwhile to invest in the roth option (for my contribution beyond the company match) so that it grows tax free. Your opinion is muc appreciated.

  117. I may be completely wrong, but my impression in reading this article is that it is missing a big part of the picture here…

    Roth IRAs have no taxes, ever again, on all capital and dividend gains. That is to say that a single $5,500 investment, grows at let’s conservatively say 5% (no inflation involved). That investment after 40 years would be 40kish and kicking off almost $2,000 a year in income. All tax free…

    It is my understanding, you would be paying your income tax rate on those distributions, if it were a Traditional IRA or 401k.

    Won’t lie I would rather pay 20% on my 5,500 now. Than 25%+ on my 40k, in 40 years.

    That said, I am diversified between Roth and Traditional/401k holdings, because I very much believe we have absolutely no idea what the tax situation will be like in 20, 30 or 40 years.

    1. I hope to goodness you don’t have to ever pay taxes again after you pay so much tax up front! But the government can change the rule on you and tax you upon exit too. As soon as you pay taxes, you lose.

      But if you believe you’ll pay higher taxes in the future, definitely contribute the max and diversify. I would just much rather you max out the 401(k) or traditional IRA first.

      1. Sam,

        I think this is what’s missing from your article. As with everything finance, it all depends on your situation.

        You are assuming people will stay in the same income bracket their whole lives and/or go lower in retirement. An upwardly mobile person making $100K today at a young age (in the 25% bracket) will most likely be a higher tax bracket when they retire assuming they max out their retirement savings vehicles. That person would most likely be in a higher bracket when they retire.

        You say that the government can just change the laws on a whim, but that law sticking isn’t certain, and frankly, it’s highly unlikely they’d ever pass a law like that. The political blow back would be huge, not to mention that the law would be taken through the courts.

        My point is, it all depends. Roth IRAs are a great investment tool if you are increasing your income.

        1. It does all depend on your situation, but people need to do the math.

          Do you think you will make MORE in retirement than while you are working? If so, do a ROTH. If not, which is 95%+ of the case then I recommend against giving up and letting the government take your money.

          1. You really believe that 95% of kids 22-28ish with AGIs anywhere from $40-70k, are going to make less money in retirement? I dunno, that doesn’t sound right to me.

            I’d start to agree with you more as the incomes get over that threshold and head toward the 6 figures range. But I have a hard time believe that young professional will make more fresh out of school than they will with 40 years of retirement savings.

            1. Do the math. If you are retired you are no longer working. To create $70,000 a year in retirement at a 3% return requires having $2.33 million. Now look at what the average American has saved for retirement. Now calculate how to get to $2.33 million earning $70,000 a year.

              But, I’m very happy that so many ROTH believers think they will be sitting pretty in retirement. We’ll have a much stronger economy as a result.

  118. I am very new to investing, still trying to research and learn so forgive me if my question seems ignorant, I appreciate any information you have (love your site by the way and have spent half the week reading articles and comments). My husband works (I stay home with our 3 young boys) and grosses around $140,000 with bonuses. We live in central IL with a very modest cost of living. Our net worth is at $219,500, a long way from where I want it to be, but it’s a work in progress. My question is, our financial adviser advised against contributing more than what my husband’s company will match in his 401K because they only match $900/year and the investment options are very basic – Bond (Fixed Income) or Large Cap (equities). I’m still trying to understand all this so again, forgive me.
    We have been maxing out roth IRAs for the last 5 years. I know one of the reasons we chose roth over traditional is the ability to withdraw what we put in towards college for our kids, should we need to (we are not planning to, but it provides flexibility). This was a compromise for us, to start investing by allowing us to put it towards retirement with some more options down the road. So, that being said, do you think we should stop maxing out our Roth’s ($10,000/year) and put all of it in his 401k? I hate to do that because as a stay at home parent, not contributing even to social security, investing in my own retirement feels like a better choice then just putting it all in his. I’m really curious on your thoughts here?

  119. non invester

    Hi, I am currently on SSDI and private long term disability (43 yrs old) and I will be receiving a settlement in the next few months. As my home is paid for outright I am thinking the majority of these funds need to be invested to assist in my income when I am older and the LTD runs out leaving me one day depending on the SSDI which is unlivable. I was considering a ROTH IRA as the stock market scares the **** out of me. I have NO taxable income as my LTD premiums were paid after taxes.
    My questions are – can i open a ROTH IRA with no taxable income? And, can I make only one contribution and leave it there as opposed to monthly or yearly?
    There is no way I can continue regular contributions on my limited income. I have considered leaving it in savings but I’m afraid that they interest will make my SSDI partially taxable, and there is always the chance I will see something I ‘need’ and spend it leaving me even more destitute when I am older. My plan is to take care of my long term needs i.e. home repairs then put the rest away and forget its there.
    Thank you in advance

  120. I’m actually doing the opposite of what the article suggests, and increasing my Roth and reducing traditional pre-tax . I have a traditional pension and between the pension, 401k with match, and SS, and possible future tax increases, I’m pretty confident my retirement tax rate will be higher, all other things being equal, and even if its not the piece of mind you get knowing your balance is compounding tax-free and there will be no RMDs is worth a lot. For the last few years I’ve maxed out my 401k pre-tax contributions and maxed out my Roth IRA and HSA. I’m very active with the Roth IRA and do things like selling covered call options and have it loaded with relatively high paying dividend stocks and etfs to generate income. Next year for the first time I’ll be maxing out the Roth 401k+Roth IRA. For people who want to max their retirement savings, I believe this is a great method. One little talked about aspect of maxing out a Roth 401k account is that, god forbid something bad happens and you lose your job, you can roll it over into your existing Roth IRA, which will give you even more income, flexibility and investment options and that will never be taxed. I like this site but a lot of the articles seem to suggest that the retirement accounts will earn little to no interest every year, but I think if you’re willing to spend a little time and actively manage your investment accounts for income and growth, you can get by with far less than average account balances and just live off the income instead of the principal.

  121. good evening,

    I have no clue which one I have to do, traditional 401k or Roth IRA, i am Making 50k/yr,
    another twist to add i just got married and she is making 60k/yr ..

    where should i put my money ? i am planning to get a house next year.
    by the way i am from NY.

    thank you

  122. Quick question:

    For military, does Roth IRA and Roth TSP (401K) make sense since our salary is fairly tax advantaged (typically no state tax, lower Federal tax due to untaxed allowances)?

    Thanks!

  123. Long time reader, first time commenter. Had two questions that I wasn’t able to find previous posts on:

    1) For military, would Roth IRA and Roth 401K (or TSP) make sense since salary is fairly tax-advantaged in the present (e.g. typically no state income tax, no Federal income tax on a good portion of our salary due to untaxed allowances) assuming work at another non-military salaried career prior to retiring?
    2) Wouldn’t Roth 401K’s make sense in general since they effectively allow you to contribute more? For example, wouldn’t the pre-tax contribution of $17.5K for a Traditional 401K would be equivalent to a lesser post-tax contribution for a Roth 401K? So by being able to contribute the same $17.5K post-tax, it seems like you’re able to get more untaxed earnings in the end. Or my math is wrong, which could be entirely possible. Thanks!

  124. Thanks for the reply, but that assumes I’m retiring now. I’m planning to work for 20 more years (I like what I do). So it would be the future value of $2M now compounding for 20 years at 7% and also adding 100k each year until retirement. That would be about 11.8M at retirement year 1 generating an annual income of $473,556 at a 4% withdrawl rate (if the stars align). Of course you would have to factor inflation as well which people rarely do.

    Thanks for the tip, I used to have lots of accounts and brokerage firms, but now I have just 3. I have found simpler is better. Especially if the numbers in the accounts are bigger.

  125. I have to disagree with this advice. The Roth IRA or Roth 401k make more sense in the following cases:

    1. You are in the middle to upper tax brackets and plan to stay there after retirement due to income investment.
    2. You believe the tax rates may be the same or higher in the future due to budget deficits.
    3. You are planning to be successful in the future and amass a high net worth that generates income (rentals, dividends, etc.)
    4. You already have a big chunk in a traditional IRA or 401k and want the flexibility later to take money out tax free (diversify your withdraw options).

    People forget that traditional IRAs and 401k’s are tax “deferred” not tax free. There is no rule on what that tax rate is guaranteed to be in the future. Could it be 50%? Could it be 70%? There are historical rates that support that in the US and other countries at different time periods. I guess it depends on how confident you are in the federal and state politicians are at managing budgets.

      1. Hi,
        first of all, I’ve been reading the site and I like it a lot. Very good advice and exactly the kind of things I’ve been looking for. I’m not retired. middle aged, self employed business owner, saves diligently. My business is growing. I try to save half of what I make. I got lucky in real estate, have a bunch of rentals. Estimated net worth > 2.0M. If I plan for success, I will have rental income, investment income, dividend income, interest income after retirement. If I am successful, I will have an equal or greater income in retirement.

        If the government raises tax rates to cover budget deficits, then my retirement tax rate could be higher. So, let’s say I have 500k in a 401k, why not start contributing to a roth 401k instead. I can pay a known tax rate now, or gamble and pay an unknown tax rate in the future. With a roth, when I retire, I can choose which plan to withdraw from given the current tax rates and have the flexibility from year to year depending on the tax codes.

        I’ve been reading up on Jeff Brown’s ideas. bawldguy.com/ He’s not very big on retirement plans at all, instead he thinks you should cash it out. I’m not that aggressive, and I’m not affiliated with him. But I do look for the best ideas to fit the needs.

        1. Hi M,

          There’s no problem in paying taxes up front to diversify a $2 million net worth. I guess it depends on how much you are making now and what is your tax bracket. $2 million may spit out $60,000 a year in retirement relative risk free, which isn’t putting you in a very high tax bracket at all.

          With a $2 million net worth, I highly suggest you sign up for Personal Capital. Personal Capital is a free online management management tool that helps you keep track of all your finances in one place. You can track your budget, monitor your net worth, and run your various portfolios through their Portfolio Fee Analyzer to help save you money. It’s an inevitability you will open up multiple financial accounts if you are serious about diversifying your net worth and achieving financial independence. In my case I’ve got 28 financial accounts which I can keep track of via Personal Capital. I’ve sat down with Bill Harris, the CEO of Personal Capital for a couple hours in their offices in Redwood City and I’m confident their product will help improve your finances for free.

          Regards,

          Sam

          1. Hi Sam
            28 accounts is too many. I began consolidating accounts that had less than x dollars. For example less than 200k or 500k. I now have one brokerage firm and about 5 accounts. Life is much easier and I don’t need software to track things. As mr. Buffett says you don’t get points for level of difficulty.

            Regarding the Roth I am on the opposite side from you. I am planning to convert as much as I can to Roth accounts. The reason is fairly simple, I believe the government will raise taxes in the future and I believe I will be in a higher tax bracket during retirement due to rental and investment income.

            I’m not willing to delay the pain and rely on an unknown tax rate 20-30 years from now coming from an inefficient government. If you have 1 million in a 401k that comes out to about 500k when you have to spend it at the highest tax bracket. If tax rates are higher you get to spend even less.

            Unless the government ever goes after Roth accounts then a roth is far superior for anyone that thinks the future tax rates will be higher.

  126. Susan Prince

    I’m a newbie, and I’ve been thinking about rolling my small pension of 21K into a gold IRA. Is the a bad idea ? With economy being like it is and the dollar shrinking, I don’t have much to rely on for retirement .

  127. I like some of the great comments here that a setting the record straight with The benefits of a Roth IRA. Tax free capital gains is THE primary benefit, which is something the Samurai seems to avoid sharing.

    Perhaps you can walk us through your “Y=A*B” equation with some real numbers to prove your point.

    On average these are great articles but when it comes to facts and numbers the Samurai’s attention to detail fades quickly (which is surprising for some who claims to be a former I-banker).

    Let the buyer, er reader, beware!

    1. Have you run the numbers on tax free capital gains after paying taxes on the initial contribution vs the other way? Go ahead and let me know what you come up with.

      You don’t have to justify your choice. In fact, we need people like you to pay taxes up front to help keep our shut down government open. So thanks!

  128. Financial Sumarai,

    I’m a newbie as it relates to the financial planning research arena but I have 2 questions.

    1) How can you both accumulate a lot of money in a 401k plan and state that you will be a lower tax bracket when you retire in light of RMDs. First, in a 401k plan, you are not allowed to take out any money (with limited exceptions) without a penalty until you are 59.5. This is not true with Roths that allow you to take out your contributions (not earnings) without penalties (assuming you’ve had it for 5 years). Second, you are required to deplete the 401k by virtue of the RMDs starting at age 70.5. If you have the amount in your 401k plan that you recommend, it will be impossible not to be in a high(er) tax bracket when you have to take out AT LEAST 5% of the value of the account per year once you hit 70. This coupled with SS will necessarily ensure that you are less likely to significantly reduce your tax bracket – and that’s assuming that the tax rates themselves don’t increase.

    2) Have you taken into account all of the exemptions from income of distributions from the Roth? Distributions from Roths are not counted as “income” for purposes of calculating eligiblity in a significant number of state and federal programs including the actual tax paid on SS benefits, eligibility for senior property tax exemptions, etc.

    Using Roths eliminates the guessing game of future tax rates and provides more flexibility in terms of distributions. It also allows you to pass money to beneficiaries tax free. I don’t think that a person who is willing to gamble that the difference in what he/she receives each month by paying taxes upfront will pale in comparison to the tax savings he/she receives by eliminating all of the future Roth distributions from income, not being required to take RMDs, not being taxed on the distributions themselves and the overall peace of mind of knowing exactly how much money is in the account for plainning purposes should be so easily dismissed.

    1. There’s no problem using a ROTH to diversify our tax liability. However, I think it is suboptimal to contribute to a ROTH before maxing out a 401(k). Please share with us your investing experience if possible so I can understand where you are coming from e.g. 25 year veteran. Thx

      1. I am in my early 30s, single, and in the 28% marginal tax bracket. As a single person, I figure that I will be in at least the 25% tax bracket for any income exceeding 36k. I do not plan on taking SS until I am 70. The SS benefits alone will be approximately $25,000 per year. Let’s assume I have the option of putting money into either a Roth 401k or a standard 401k (for purposes of the argument I plan to do a rollover from my Roth 401k to my Roth IRA upon retirment). Let’s also assume that over the course of working I am able to amass $1M in either a Roth 401k or a standard 401k.

        The amount of the RMD I would be required to take from the 401k plan is calculated by dividing the balance of the account by my life expectancy. The single life expectancy chart can be found here ) At the age of 70, my life expectancy would be 17 years. $1M/17 years would be approximately $59k. That means that just between my SS and the RMDs, I would have approximately $84k per year as the very miminum income. Any maneuvers witht the 401k prior to the age of 55 (for certain exceptions) or 59.5 could incur penalties, and with very few exceptions, any withdrawal would be taxed at ordinary income rates.

        On the other hand, if I amassed $1M in a Roth 401k that I rolled over to my already existing Roth IRA, I would not have to take RMDs, I could take out any of the contributions at ANY time without incurring penalties (assuming I had the account for 5 years which I already have) and none of the distributions are counted as income for federal taxation purposes or for the state in which I currently live. I do not know how different states treat withdrawals from Roth accounts. Therefore, I could withdraw the same $59k tax free, and my only reportable income would be my SS benefits.

        I have nothing against 401k plans and I am a fan of saving for retirement in any vehicle a person sees fit. I just don’t see how you can declare Roths to be the inferior option if the the overall goal is to reduce the total amount of taxes paid. There are legitimate pros and cons to Roth options. But, if you are single, it would be very difficult to max out a 401k and receive SS benefits and still substantially lower your income enough to make Roth options universally “suboptimal.” I haven’t run the numbers, but I suspect it is also true for married couples with combined incomes over $160k.

        Please explain to me in numeric terms why you believe a Roth IRA and/or a Roth 401k to be subptimal. Your argument about income discrimination should not be considered because anyone regardless of income can convert a non-deductible traditional IRA to a Roth IRA without any tax consequences (if they do not have other traditional IRAs with pre-tax money).

        Like I said, I’m new to this arena and fairly late to the game, but I’m interested in learning as much as I can. Congrats on the blog and thank you for your posts.

  129. I strongly suggest people confused about Roth to reconsider the advice of this post – it is horrendously misinformed and just breaks down when you do the math.

    Roth prevents future taxation on all future compound returns you will gain by retirement with the expectation that you use after tax money now to invest in the original principal.

    20% tax paid on $10,000 principal now that yields $100,000 of compound returns by retirement is far cheaper than getting tax free dollars now to invest only to pay 20% on $100,000 10 years from now.

    It’s patently absurd to max out your 401k at expense of one’s Roth.

  130. What are your thoughts on a Roth when you intend to use the money to fund the down payment on a first time house? Can’t you withdraw the gains without paying taxes for that purpose?

  131. Hi, I’m curious on your take for someone like me who is in a lower paying profession that is not guaranteed to be significantly high paying in the future (non-profit). Perhaps in 10 years, I may be lucky to be making 6 figures, but inflation is a dirty dog. Would you still recommend to not get a ROTH IRA? I don’t have much investment for my age (I’m 28) due to my lack of financial education until recently. I have a traditional IRA now but I was looking at starting a Roth.

  132. Philip Baron

    There is one flaw in Sam’s in Tax planning comments on the ROTH. If you are successful in your investment strategy (and many of you will be) and the government keeps spending like crazy (which it no doubt will) then it is quite possible that your tax bracket or tax rate will go UP when you reach age 59 1/2. That means you’re better off paying the tax now and never having to worry about paying it again. People are living longer and will live even longer yet. Thus you may still be working at age 59 1/2, in a high tax bracket, and yet desire to take distributions from your ROTH Ira. Those distributions, no matter what your tax bracket, will be entirely tax free. That’s a benefit that’s hard to beat!

  133. Jacqueline King

    I have been on disability retirement for about 1 1/2 years. I converted Traditional IRA into Roth IRA 1 yr ago. I am needing to withdraw most of my money from my $2330.00 Roth IRA because of a recent financial emergency. It is my understanding that I can withdraw under disability. Doing so will decrease early withdrawal penalty significantly. Do you know how much penalty I would pay if I receive distribution under disability?

  134. Good suggestion on maxing the 401k, however one thing I don’t see noted is that once your $ is in the ROTH it grows tax free and after 59.5 the distributions are tax free. That seems like a heck of a good thing. Can you comment on this?

    Love the site btw.

  135. Savvy Financial Latina

    Hello, I need some clarification. Sam, in your comments you said you can max out your 401K, then max out IRA, then max out ROTH IRA. My understanding is if you have a 401K, you cannot fund a Traditional IRA. Please explain. Thanks

    1. If you contribute to your 401(k) account, you may still contribute to a Roth IRA and/or a Traditional IRA; however, your participation in the 401(k) plan may affect your ability to take a tax deduction for any Traditional IRA contributions. It will not affect the amount you are able to contribute. (To learn more, see Are You an Active Participant? and Traditional IRA Deductibility Limits.)

      Your 401(k) contribution has no effect on your Roth IRA contributions. You only need to ensure you meet the eligibility requirements for funding a Roth IRA.

      Your eligibility to claim a deduction for your Traditional IRA contribution on your federal tax return depends on whether you are an active participant of an employer-sponsored plan in the year to which your deduction applies. If neither you nor your spouse is an active participant, you may deduct your full contribution for the year, to which a limit applies. If, however, you are an active participant, your tax-filing status and modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) determine your eligibility to deduct your IRA contribution. Here we take a look at how to determine your active-participant status, which can be tricky as the rules vary for each type of employer-sponsored retirement plan.

      From Investopedia

  136. Sam, you have great points, I never saw this and most people don’t. When you think about it, most people are sheep. When we hear something on TV, read it online on top online websites, top books, we take it for what it is without doing our own homework.

    After reading your blog on this topic, I did not believe how it made sense until I did my own research outside of this blog.

    Also I see why people are so brainwashed on why the Roth is better if you qualify for it due to income restrictions. If you go google Roth IRA vs Traditional, you will come up on 1000s of articles on why the roth is the way to go.

    I have to say, even though I may not totally agree with some of your topics here. At least it has me thinking and forcing me to do my own research outside of here, to make a better informed decision.

  137. I agree that ROTH is definitly oversold and is not the best for most people!! You sort of touched on it, but i think you could expand your calculations to cover the fact that if you put into a 401k or regular IRA you save money at your marginal rate, but only pay out taxes at your average tax rate when you withdraw (assuming most of your income is from tax defered retirement accounts). This is a huge factor for my calculations becuase while my marginal rate is 25% (federal) right now, I expect my average rate to be <10% as I plan on keeping my income needs very small. Even if you keep income needs the same i only pay an average federal rate of 14% right now which is much less then my margin. So 401k or regular IRA makes a lot of sence in that case.

    You should probably max your HSA as well in advance of your ROTH or even possibly 401k/IRA as it is one of the only ways to get tax defered and tax free money!

    Couple reasons/situations why I think ROTH is still a good idea:
    1) if you don't quality for regular IRA based on income
    2) if your marginal tax rate is very low and you are maxing employer match in 401k I think it makes sense. Backburner plan I have is that if i retire early with low income needs (and hense low margin rate), then i would consider setting up SEP withdraws from my IRAs to move into a ROTH little by little rather than paying a huge conversion tax bill based on my inflated margin rate.
    3) For your kids! If you have a business and can employ your kids they have earned income and can contribute to an IRA (or you can transfer money to them via gifts that they can contribute). And since their marginal rate would be so low it would make sence to do a ROTH
    4) If you have a lot of money to save you are technically saving more in a ROTH then an IRA becuase 5k tax defered is less then 5k tax free. So if you are maxing 401k and HSA and could easily max an IRA with a lot of money left over then you might consider ROTH. Glad I have that problem :-)
    5) College Fund for kids – I personally like the ROTH setup as better than any of the 529 plans for saving for college for my kids as the money is more flexible on use (rather than just education). It helps if you have family members who are gifting you money towards your kids as well.
    6) Tax diversification is a good thing.
    7) Estate planning – ROTH is better for giving as an inheritance
    8) No RMD – you don't have to take money out of a ROTH no matter how old you are, but the gov will force you to from an IRA as they want their taxes ;-)

  138. I want to add to your article!!!

    This is great. I wish I had read it when I had just started out of college and into my first job.
    Instead I did open up a ROTH IRA. But I put a little money in there just the first year $5000. Fast forward, like 6 years later. With all the fees and taxing up front, the money I put in has still yet to recover!!! (It’s still only like worth $4,500).

    How sad.

    This is not being inflation even. Most people I know are also in the same boat.

    Anyways, the point I wanted to make was that I agree. If you save a lot of money in your 401K to be taxed later, it is better. The simple reason is that EVEN if you are taxed at a higher rate in your 401k because you make more, YOU ARE MAKING MORE MONEY. It’s not like you are going to be starving for cash. You can probably AFFORD the tax later if you are MAKING more money then.

    Right now, you need more money because you are making less.

  139. How does the minimum required distribution factor into this? Say you reach age 70 1/2 and are required to take RMD? How about passing down to children as inheritance? I used to think mathematically it made no difference, should tax rates remain the same, then I realized that I currently have children, which reduce my tax because of exemptions I can claim. Won’t be the case in retirement. That + RMD made me think Roth is the better option. Am I missing something?

  140. Telling people not to fund a Roth because they have to pay taxes upfront is terrible advice, especially for younger people. If you contribute $5K/yr for 40 years, you are missing out on tax savings of $30k – $70K (15 – 35% bracket) on those contributions. If you only average 8% growth during that time (and btw, the S&P 500 has averaged ~12% returns since inception), you would have approximately $1.3M tax free at the time of retirement, which saves you $195k – $455k. You don’t have to “make more in retirement than you do working” for a Roth to benefit you. The blogger has forgotten the beauty of compound interest.

    However I do agree that funding any type of retirement is better than not funding any retirement at all, so whatever you do, don’t do nothing!

    1. Don’t read this post in a vacuum. I recommend maxing out the 401k first for $17,500, then max out the IRA for $5,000 and then max out the ROTH. But don’t people dare contribute to a ROTH before maxing out the other two first. Not sure why you think compound interest and returns don’t apply to $22,500 worth of pre-tax savings first, but it does to a ROTH?

      I managed to accumulate over $400,000 in my 401k ALONE by the time I was 34. And my 401k is a small portion of my net worth. Please share your story and how you’ve done?

      1. If you max out a traditional IRA, you cannot contribute to a Roth IRA. $5K (in 2012) is the max you can contribute to any mix of IRAs total. I do know that compound interest and returns apply to pre-tax contributions, but you will pay ordinary income tax rates on those gains, which if you are starting young will exceed contributions by far. It’s wonderful that you’ve done well for yourself, but doing well for yourself does not automatically make you correct when making a blanket statement about not funding a Roth in favor of a pre-tax IRA.

        1. Do you think you will make more in retirement than you will make by working? If so, please demonstrate some simple math on returns and how much you think you will amass.

          Also, please give me an idea of how old you are and how much you’ve accumulated in this time so I know whether I’m talking to someone with experience or not.
          Thanks

          1. SavvyFinancialLatina

            I thought you could only choose a ROTH IRA, once you have maxed out your 401K. Can you clarify?

        2. I have the same question as AP and I do not understand your reply. Compunding would equally apply to a traditional or ROTH IRA but when it is time for the money to come out the traditional IRA it will be taxed at ordinary income rates and the ROTH monies would all be tax free. So if there are a lot of years to take advantage of time and growth through compounding the extra tax up front on the contribution amount of a ROTH would be less than having the entire amount of a Tradidional IRA taxed (albeit at a lower tax rate). Also if one already has a max contribution to a 401K and can only make an after tax contribution to an IRA then it is better to have a ROTH IRA (likely have to contribute to a traditional then immediately convert since there is no income restriction on conversions). I am 45 and and have 900K in 401K/ROTH IRA. I converted a traditional IRA in 2007-2009 (paid the tax with money outside the IRA) and since then that account has grown from 120K to 200K. I shouldn’t need to touch that account for another 20 years if ever.

  141. But is there any advantage to a traditional IRA if you are over the deduction limit? I file jointly, and our adjusted gross income was $118,000, so we’d not be eligible to deduct contributions to a traditional IRA. So wouldn’t a ROTH be better (for us) since at least we’d be saving on taxes on withdrawals in the future? (Assuming the government doesn’t change the rules. But if they do change and ROTH withdrawals are taxed, then wouldn’t both types essentially be the same in my case?)

    I’m far from samurai level and am a little oversaturated with IRA research right now, so forgive me if the answer to this is obvious and I’m just missing it.

    1. Hi Annie,

      Sure, if you’ve maxed out your 401k and would like to contribute to a ROTH to have earnings grow tax free, go for it. It’s better than nothing and will also add up over the long run.

      Best,

      Sam

  142. Benedict Gomez

    This article is terrible advice and stems from a paranoia in government. While I am no fan of big government and agree with the sentiment that “they’ll take all you have if you let them”, that is NOT a suitable financial argument for not using a ROTH IRA. The tax free advantages on dividends and capital gains in a ROTH IRA, especially by those who have expertise in investing in individual common stocks is great, and I fear people are being terribly mislead from this particular blog posting.

    1. Share with us your financial position, experience and age so why have perspective of where you are coming from.

      If you think you can make more in retirement than while working, then good luck to you. If you think Obama’s $3 million IRA limit and Cyprus’ 30% taxing of savers with over 100k Euro won’t ever happen, then great.

      If you are young fella who makes an average wage and plans to make more, a ROTH is probably OK. If not, max out the 401k and IRA first.

      I don’t mind you paying more taxes to feed the government upfront. I just don’t want to and have a very chunky financial but to protect.

      1. This is what I was going to ask you. Thanks for mentioning it. I always figured if you’re really young, like only 4 or 5 years into your career, then a Roth makes sense.

  143. Maybe cause it’s not always so simple Chris.
    a true investment guru should make more in retirement than they do in their 20’s and 30’s. I am currently in the 15% tax bracket because of the loopholes in taxes in this country while I made 110k last year. I expect to be in a higher tax bracket when I am in my 40’s and letting my money work for me instead of being employed for my money. My dividends alone should be about 100k when i retire at 45 or so.

      1. I said projected:) my REIT funds alone netted me over 10k in dividends last year. The argument is my future pension which is about 70% of my income + dividends + SS = higher tax bracket when I’m retired then the one I am currently in while working. While I do agree most people will never make more while retired I certainty plan to. I still don’t contribute to a ROTH I.R.A. though because they just don’t seem attractive to me. I invest more money monthly usually than the limit for the whole year on a Roth. Doesn’t seem like a good program to serious investor me but maybe i’m just missing something. My 2 cents.

  144. I did the math when Roth IRA’s first came out and ultimately came to the conclusion that the answer is most likely this simple. Do you think you will make more annually in retirement than you do when you are working? I think for the vast majority the answer is no. Brokers love Roth’s because most of the time they are trying to get you to move money from an IRA account you already have to a Roth, hence they get fees. The government loves it because they want all they can get as soon as they can get it. For most people Roth’s are a scam. Think about this. For a Roth all taxes are on income you have worked for, for a traditional IRA taxes are on the appreciation on your saving , the money you didn’t work for and you get to pay it later at most likely a lower rate. Why do investment guru’s have trouble understanding this concept?

      1. I have no idea why you’re conflating making more in terms of salary with investment returns that will certainly stand at double if not triple digits over a person’s decades long retirement journey. If that is the case, Roth protects those double plus digits from any future taxation with the cost of paying taxes on the original much cheaper principal you put in.

        Not using a Roth is just bad, horrendous math at work.

        1. How can you be sure that whether Fed Gov’t can’t tax the Roth IRA. After 10 and 20 years they may change the rules that Roth IRA will & need to pay tax again therefore why tax now when we are not sure what Washington will do 10 or 20 years from now. Do not pay taxes now but deferred to gain your balance.

          1. If you really wanted to take a look at savings that the government gets through taxes, all you have to do is look at the contribution limit of the 401k versus Roth:

            401k = $17,500
            Roth = $5,500

            The government knows that a post-tax dollar saved is worth way more than a pre-tax dollar saved, because they are unable to tax you when you withdraw from a Roth IRA. That is why the limit is so much lower.

            People enjoy seeing their 401Ks read into the hundred thousands or millions digits when they are saving, but what they don’t realize is once they withdrawal from these accounts, probably 25% of the money belongs to the government.

            Personally, I believe mixing a traditional 401K with a Roth IRA is the best option. The flexibility and tax-free withdrawals of a Roth IRA allows a person to have greater optimization of spending their money in retirement.

            1. If you put 5000 in a roth and buy stock and double your money in a few years
              you owe no tax on that 10000

        2. Have to agree here. While consistent income may be important for people, it makes no sense to say it is bad because you won’t be able to take in your same income. A quick calculation shows that someone with gross $120,000 pay brings home about $80,000 after federal, state, and payroll taxes. With a Roth IRA, look at what it would take to bring in $80,000/yr since taxes have already been paid.

          It doesn’t make sense for everyone, but if you are young, have a low tax rate, and still have the ability to stash away some money, it is totally worth it. Say it takes 6-8 years for a person to advance to the point that they can’t invest in the Roth IRA. If they’ve been investing the max, they will have a $30-40k emergency budget set up that is always tap-able, and that earns interest tax free.

          And if you want to talk about how inefficient the government is with our money, I think it is silly not to at least mention that their mishandling of money could very well lead to future tax hikes as well. If you think you will make more money in the future than you do now, you can pay a lower tax, invest the money tax-free, and then withdraw it at retirement when you might be in the top tax bracket.

          If you are a young person, you can take most advantage of tax-free interest and should really look into a Roth IRA.

  145. I have a couple questions, Im married and 30yrs old and the total income is about 95k. Im assuming from what I have read the first thing me and my wife need to do is max out our 401k at 17.5 each. Then is a IRA even worth it? 5000 a yr for both of us, assuming it is. What type of IRA would be most benefitial. I would rather not get screwed by the government when it come tax time in the end also. After I do a roth what type of investments should I choose? Sorry if my questions seem odd Im new to the roth idea

  146. The government is too big and places almost the entire tax burden on the top 10% of earners, that’s why I’m maxing out my Roth accounts this year while I’m paying a relatively low tax rate. I’ll pay about $3,000 in taxes on the $23,000 that I’m allowed to put in(17.5k in Roth 401k / 5.5k in Roth IRA). If it grows at the historical rate of return of the S&P 500 (9.77%) this sum of money will grow to about a $1 million in 40 years. If it were in a traditional 401k/IRA I would pay about $350,000 in taxes when I took it out (probably much more because I would take these distributions over a period of time while the account continued to accumulate capital gains and it’s likely that tax rates will be higher in the future). So my options are:
    A.) Pay $3,000 in taxes now <– correct answer
    B.) Pay $350,000+ in taxes in the future
    C.) Don't pay taxes and go to jail

    It's possible that marginal tax rates could be 70% or higher by the time I'm old, and I think there's a very good chance that my effective tax rate will be 50%+, so the benefit of the Roth account could be very substantial in protecting me against future social engineering and redistribution of resources by the government. I'd rather lock in the 15% tax on this money now. There's no way I'd have to pay less than 15% on these distributions; if that were the case I wouldn't have to worry about much anyway because I'd be living in some sort of utopia!

  147. I just got my first job out of college, I’m in the 15% marginal tax bracket, and will be maxing out my Roth 401k and Roth IRA this year. Although I love your website and agree with you 99% of the time, I think we differ in opinion about the use of Roth accounts. It’s pretty simple to me, if you think there is a >50% chance that the money coming out of your account will be taxed at a lower marginal tax rate than you are paying now, then contributing to a traditional IRA/401k is more beneficial. It’s very very unlikely that I will be paying less than 15% on this money when it comes out.

    Also, a couple points you tried to make don’t make much sense to me, such as:
    “The government wastes your money, so don’t give it more.”
    That’s the whole point of a Roth! (Giving the government a little money now to avoid giving them a lot of money in the future.) You’re not preventing paying taxes by putting money into a traditional IRA/401k, you’re just delaying payment.

    also: “you die at age 59. You’re screwed! All those taxes you paid upfront to the cunning government, and you’ll never once get to utilize the returns on your Roth IRA.”
    I know what you’re getting at (you might have given up spending power from the tax savings of a traditional IRA/401k during your life), but this is still irrelevant to me. Your wife or kids would get the tax free money and they would reap the benefits.

    One other small advantage of Roth accounts that I think is worth mentioning, although the contribution limits for traditional and Roth accounts are the same, if you were to max out a Roth you’re effectively putting more purchasing power into a tax deferred account as compared to maxing out a traditional account because it comes out tax free.

    1. Sam, congrats for getting your first job out of college and maxing out your retirement plans. If you can max out the 401k and then max out the ROTH then great. Better than not saving that’s for sure.

      I think it is great you are helping support the country and America needs folks to pay taxes now to fund our burden and our older generations. I do wonder whether blogs such as mine are inadvertently hurting the government by taking away money from them and keeping more for ourselves.

      Let me know in 10 years how you feel about the government and taxes. Thanks!

      1. Financial Samurai,

        Sam gave some very good points on the pros of the ROTH yet in your response you failed to address any of those points and gave in my opinion a thinly veiled sarcastic response. I and many of your readers would have loved to see your response to the point Sam made that it’s better to pay taxes at 15% now versus a higher rate in the future when taxes are almost sure to go up and a person may be in a higher tax bracket even if the tax rate remains the same.

        The fact that anything a person takes out at the appropriate retirement age even the earnings can no longer be taxed is another benefit. I just wish your response to people who challenge your views were as in depth as your articles.

        1. How do you know tax rates for someone on the 15% tax bracket are going up? Not many people can make more in retirement than while they are working.

          I’m happy for folks who want to contribute to a ROTH. Just contribute with your eyes wide open and pay attention to things such as $3 million IRA limitation proposals and Cyprus.

        2. I’m back again. Like Chris replied earlier quite clearly, this is pretty inaccurate and financially inefficient advice.

          Roth protects your investments from any future taxation. Say I lock in my 6000% return on $10,000 invested in Apple 10 years ago that I’m about to cash out tomorrow on my 60th birthday in my Roth versus my self in an alternate universe that made too much thus forced to use a 401k.

          In the Roth, my original after tax money that I used to invest was taxed at say 20% of $10,000 yielding a $2,000 tax bill. My alter ego pays a similar 20% rate on the $600,000 gain yielding a $130,000 tax bill. Unless one assumes their portfolio will yield negative returns at retirement, it is wholly illogical to not maximize one’s Roth opportunities.

          The numbers just doesn’t add up. Maximize your Roth to save big bucks on one’s investments. Taking compounding and investments that outperform into account, that can very well mean an order magnitude difference in tax savings that’s locked down in your pocket vs. the (to some, repugnant and vile, others, a liberal democracy) government.

  148. Just a thought Sam. I think it would be fairly easy to get 4%/yr on average if you’re in the market. Thus it brings the necessity of $6.5M to have $122,000 income (@ 1.65% safe investments) all the way down to $3.05M to have $122,000 (@ 4% safe withdrawal rate).

    Don’t forget that funding the Roth allows you tax free money that can be taken out when you want (as long as you don’t take away earnings). And I think it would be a bit easier to hit $3M than to hit $6.5M. :-)

    Ps: Sorry, I keep wrestling with myself over this. Especially since my 401k is limited to mutual funds as opposed to less safe investments such as individual stocks.

    1. No problem rich. Who knows the future right? What I do know is that if I pay taxes upfront to the government, I lose, they win. They’ve got my money to blow on wasteful things and I’ve got 0 chance of ever optimizing my taxes again.

      Never give up. Never give up, unless you really think the government is doing a bangup job………

      1. Well, actually you have 0 chance of ever optimizing your taxes for THIS moment in time only.

        Likewise, you’ve locked in your ability to NOT have to pay taxes on your money farther down the road.

  149. Am I being paranoid when I think that 401Ks Roths, IRAs etc will come back and hunt us? I mean to you really think they will not tap into the last shred of wealth for middle class America some how? Even though I have a 401K I am beginning to view it as I view SS. it will not be there for me when I need it.

  150. Carole Christensen

    For all the years I’ve done my ex-husband’s and my individual tax returns, I’ve not questioned the contents in Box 5 of the 1099-R until now. I’ve read the comments on your website and want to know if I can get some or all of that money back and how do I go about doing it?

  151. Confused on your equations. Scenario: 32 years old. Has $5,000 invested, and contributes $916 per month into two IRAs at 12% and stops after 7 years. At 62 (30 years):
    Roth has $2,063,827.30 , only given the government (say 25% bracket) $19,235 and has full amount of 2 million to spend tax free.
    Traditional has same amount, given $0 to government, but now has full taxes coming out of 2 million dollars. I don’t care what tax bracket that is, but I think it will be much more than $20,000 I think.

    Even if you pulled out only the interest in the first year (12% of 2 million dollars), you will be giving the government taxes on $240,000 income. So at (just guessing at least) 35% that would be $84,000 in taxes. That is over 4 times more in just the first year of retirement in interest ALONE.

    Equation 1 does NOT equal equation 2. It seems that if you want to keep money management from the government, a Roth is better.

    I do think it isn’t fair that they limit the access to under a certain income range. That is wrong. I was great at math too, but I guess I did a bit better in Calculus and measuring the total under the curve…

  152. I’m 27 and just started working July 2012. My AGI was about $36K for 2012. My employer doesn’t match 401K so I have only been contributing to a roth IRA ($3600 so far). Through April 15, 2013, I plan on maxing out the $5K contribution. I will be changing jobs next year where I will hopefully have a 401K match and hope to start contributing to a 401K at that point. What do you think of my situation right now? Should I change my game plan? Any input would be greatly appreciated.

  153. Hah, that picture is great, definitely embodies how I feel about the government.

    I’m going to be honest, I only roughly understood the difference between Roth/Traditional IRA’s and what I thought I knew wasn’t entirely right. Thanks for breaking it down Sam. I just rolled over and I was forced to split between Roth/Traditional (no choice), at least now I know where future savings will go.

  154. Great article, thanks Sam! I was just doing some research on Roth vs Traditional, and your article was very helpful.

  155. If the math is the same then why does it matter which account you choose to fund? Why argue against the roth if it is the same as the 401? The answer is its not the same.

    Few major advantages to the roth. One you can put it in a brokerage account and buy more than just mutual funds. If over 3 year you double your money an extra time or two because youre good at investing then any advantage you had in the 401 disappears. This is also a disadvantage if you see buying stocks as gambling as your more likely to lose than with mutual funds with this approach as well. The other factor is tax rates when you make the money vs when you retire. This one is really tough to know. I dont know what tax rates will be in 30 years its tough to say.

  156. Adam Bowler

    Sam,

    Your section on the withdraw penalty is misleading. At 59.5 years of age, you’re allowed to withdraw ALL of your money (even the earned interest) tax/penalty free. Your failure to mention that prompted me to look it up afraid I misunderstood it.

  157. I’m 21 and I have 6,000 in a roth ira. 5,000 of it is my money and the rest are earning . I have two question . One should I still keep this account and add money to it or should I close it and use the money for something else. Two will I get penalize for taking out my 5,000 even tho its only been 3 years and not 5 yet ?

    1. I recommend you keep your money in your ROTH IRA for five years and sign up with Personal Capital and track your fund for free. Start early in your life, leverage the internet, and keep up your savings. Personal Capital has this awesome Fee Analyzer which is saving me over $1,000 a year in portfolio fees I had no idea I was paying.

  158. I would rate my financial competence about a 5 out of 10, and after stumbling on this article I am even less confident about my setup.

    I appreciate the information on the site and in this article and I was wondering if you could give me some feedback about my saving strategy?

    My current salary is 135k and I have a 25k yearly bonus. I am married (single wage-earner) and 31 years old, rent ~$2000/month, very low debt (Ch 7 BK around 4 years ago) and only debt is intentional to help build credit.

    One thing which strikes people as odd is that I currently rent. The reason goes back to my financial competence which in the past was closer to a 2 out of 10. Some bad real estate decisions in the past when I was single/unmarried (5-7 years ago) pretty much wiped me out. I do plan on buying again – maybe in Lafayette ;) .

    Setup

    I have a savings account with a +1 year emergency fund, 401k being maxed/matched, checking account with Schwab (basically for the ATM reimbursements and to pay CC bill), use a Chase Sapphire Preferred Card for almost all daily/monthly purchases and memberships (goal is to build credit and earn reward points), and a roth ira at Vanguard being maxed with their target 2045.

    Questions

    1) I’m confused now if I should swap the roth for the traditional ira? other?

    2) Should I be doing anything else with Vanguard besides automatic investments into the single target fund via my roth account? I’ve read discussions about investing in ETFs via Vanguard and I’m assuming that is just a different Vanguard account that would need to be opened?

    3) Should I have a separate stock brokerage account like Ameritrade/Scottrade (or use my Schwab account) – or should I stay away from buying individual stocks because I honestly don’t know much about them?

    4) Other accounts or ways you think I should be saving?

    Couple of last details

    I have a newborn and set her up with a standard savings account at a credit union w/ automatic deposits from my account. I’ve heard about some people buying their child gold coins regularly from somewhere like apmex.com, but I’m a little hesitant to do that. Thoughts?