Comparing their features, merits, and demerits.
Provided by Bob Medler, AIF®, CRPC®, CMFC®
LPL Wealth Advisor | Investment Analyst
How do you save for retirement? Two options probably come to mind right away: the IRA and the 401(k). Both offer you relatively easy ways to build a retirement fund. Here is a look at the features, merits, and demerits of each account, starting with what they have in common.
Taxes are deferred on money held within IRAs and 401(k)s. One important advantage is the money in your IRA and 401(k) has the potential to grow and compound year after year on a tax deferred basis.1
IRAs and 401(k)s offer other tax advantages. It varies depending on whether the account is traditional or Roth in nature. Contributions to a traditional IRA may be tax deductible while contributions to a 401(k) lower your taxable income. When you eventually withdraw the money for retirement from either plan, it will be taxed as regular income. When you have a Roth IRA or Roth 401(k), your account contributions are not tax deductible, but if you follow Internal Revenue Service rules, your withdrawals from the account in retirement are tax free.1
Generally, the I.R.S. penalizes withdrawals from these accounts before age 59½. Distributions from traditional IRAs and 401(k)s prior to that age usually trigger a 10% federal tax penalty, on top of income tax on the withdrawn amount. Roth IRAs and Roth 401(k)s allow you to withdraw a sum equivalent to your account contributions at any time without taxes or penalties, but early distributions of the account earnings are taxable and may also be hit with the 10% early withdrawal penalty.1
You must make annual withdrawals from 401(k)s and traditional IRAs after age 70½. Annual withdrawals from a Roth IRA are not required during the owner’s lifetime, only after his or her death. However Roth 401(k)s do require annual withdrawals after age 70½.2
Now, on to the major differences.
Annual contribution limits for IRAs and 401(k)s differ greatly. You may direct up to $18,500 into a 401(k) in 2018; $24,500, if you are 50 or older. In contrast, the maximum 2018 IRA contribution is $5,500; $6,500, if you are 50 or older.1
Your employer may provide you with matching 401(k) contributions. This is free money coming your way. The match is usually partial, but certainly nothing to disregard – it might be a portion of the dollars you contribute up to 6% of your annual salary, for example. Do these employer contributions count toward your personal yearly 401(k) contribution limit? No, they do not. You should contribute enough to get the match if your company offers you one.1
An IRA permits a wide variety of investments, in contrast to a 401(k). The typical 401(k) offers only about 20 investment options, and you have no control over what investments are chosen. With an IRA, you have a vast range of potential investment choices.1,3
You can contribute to a 401(k) no matter how much you earn. Your income may limit your eligibility to contribute to a Roth IRA; at certain income levels, you may be prohibited from contributing the full amount, or any amount.1
If you leave your job, you cannot take your 401(k) with you. It stays in the hands of the retirement plan administrator that your employer has selected. The money remains invested, but you may have less control over it than you once did. You do have choices: you can withdraw the money from the old 401(k), which will likely result in a tax penalty; you can leave it where it is; you can possibly transfer it to a 401(k) at your new job; or, you can roll it over into an IRA.4,5
You cannot control 401(k) fees. Some 401(k)s have high annual account and administrative fees that effectively eat into their annual investment returns. The plan administrator sets such costs. The annual fees on your IRA may not be as expensive.1
All this said, contributing to an IRA or a 401(k) is a prudent idea. In fact, many pre-retirees contribute to both 401(k)s and IRAs at once. Today, investing in these accounts seems all but necessary to pursue retirement savings and income goals.
Contributions to a traditional IRA may be tax deductible in the contribution year, with current income tax due
at withdrawal. Withdrawals prior to age 59 ½ may result in a 10% IRS penalty tax in addition to current income tax. The Roth IRA offers tax deferral on any earnings in the account. Withdrawals from the account may be tax free, as long as they are considered qualified. Limitations and restrictions may apply. Withdrawals prior to age 59 ½ or prior to the account being opened for 5 years, whichever is later, may result in a 10% IRS penalty tax. Future tax laws can change at any time and may impact the benefits of Roth IRAs. Their tax treatment may change.
Robert Medler is a Registered Representative with and, securities are offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC CA Insurance License # 0C05523
This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.
1 – nerdwallet.com/article/ira-vs-401k-retirement-accounts [4/30/18]
2 – irs.gov/retirement-plans/retirement-plans-faqs-regarding-required-minimum-distributions [5/30/18]
3 – tinyurl.com/y77cjtfz [10/31/17]
4 – finance.zacks.com/tax-penalty-moving-401k-ira-3585.html [9/6/18]
5 – cnbc.com/2018/04/26/what-to-do-with-your-401k-when-you-change-jobs.html [4/26/18]