Choose the Right IRA for You

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An IRA is a great way to save for the future, but only about 14% of U.S. households are contributing to one, according to a 2011 report by the Investment Company Institute. That’s a shame, because an IRA is a tax-deferred account that can help you invest for retirement
— whether you’re just starting out, in the middle of your working years or heading toward the finish line. Here are some tips to consider to help you choose the right ira.

This content is provided courtesy of USAA.

What is an IRA anyway?

First things first: An IRA — technically, “Individual Retirement Arrangement,” though most people call it an account — is not an investment or product itself. Instead, think of it as a container that can hold almost any type of investment.

You get to choose the investments that go into your IRA, perhaps with the help of a financial advisor. You can fill it with a mix of annuities, mutual funds, stocks, bonds, CDs or cash — the same things you might have in any other type of investment account.

The difference is that because the government wants you to save for retirement, IRAs provide a way to shelter more of your money. Depending on what type you choose, you can either save on paying taxes now or enjoy tax-free earnings in retirement.

Why do you need one?

An IRA may be a smart choice if your employer doesn’t have a retirement plan, but it can also make sense even when you do have a plan at work — especially if your employer doesn’t match your contributions. With the future of Social Security under scrutiny and company pensions becoming increasingly rare, an employer’s plan may not be enough to build the savings you’ll need for retirement.

An IRA gives you more investment choices, too. For example, some 401(k) plans don’t offer guaranteed savings annuities. Created specifically for retirement, they guarantee you against loss and — when you’re ready — can be turned into retirement income that’s guaranteed to last the rest of your life. Any fixed annuity guarantees are subject to the claims-paying ability of the insurer. Since annuities are sold by insurance companies, the financial strength of the company providing the annuity is an important consideration.

If you switch jobs, rolling your 401(k) assets into an IRA — rather than leaving it behind or rolling it into your new employer’s 401(k) — gives you more freedom to choose how to diversify your hard-earned money.

Roth vs. Traditional

There are two basic types of IRAs: Traditional and Roth. If you earn income and are younger than 70½, you’re eligible to contribute to a Traditional IRA. You won’t owe any taxes on interest or other gains in your account until you start making withdrawals, and you may even get to take a tax deduction this year for the money you put in. Once you reach age 70½, the government mandates that you begin to take distributions from your Traditional IRA, also called required minimum distributions.

If you’re an active participant in an employer retirement plan, a Traditional IRA is fully tax-deductible only if your adjusted gross income is below these thresholds for 2011: $56,000 to $66,000 for single taxpayers; $90,000 to $110,000 for married filing jointly; and $0 to $10,000 if you’re married filing separately. If it’s within the range, a portion is deductible; if it’s above the range, you can’t deduct any of it. For 2012, the amounts change to $58,000 to $68,000 for single taxpayers and $92,000 to $112,000 for married filing jointly and $0 to $10,000 if you’re married filing separately.

With a Roth IRA, contributions are not tax-deductible, but qualified withdrawals are generally tax-free once your account has been open for at least five years and you’ve reached age 59½. Earnings are subject to ordinary income taxes and penalties before age 59½. Owners of a Roth IRA are not subject to required minimum distributions. To be eligible for a Roth IRA, your adjusted gross income must fall within IRS limits. If you like what the Roth IRA offers, but don’t meet the income limits, consider converting to a Roth IRA. Conversions from a traditional IRA to a Roth are subject to ordinary income taxes. Please consult with a tax advisor regarding your particular situation.

Roth IRA Eligibility

Adjusted Gross Income

Tax Filing Status Full Contribution Reduced Contribution No Contribution
Single 2011 Limits
Less than $107,0002012 Limits
Less than $110,000
2011 Limits
$107,000 to $122,0002012 Limits
$110,000 to $125,000
2011 Limits
Greater than $122,0002012 Limits
$125,000
Married filing jointly 2011 Limits
Less than $169,0002012 Limits
Less than $173,000
2011 Limits
$169,000 to $179,0002012 Limits
$173,000 to $183,000
2011 Limits
Greater than $179,0002012 Limits
$183,000
Married filing separately 2011 & 2012 Limits
Not permitted
2011 & 2012 Limits
$0 to $10,000
2011 & 2012 Limits
Greater than $10,000

 

The maximum annual contribution for both kinds of IRAs in 2011 and 2012 is $5,000, or $6,000 if you’ll be 50 or older by the end of the year. You can contribute to both kinds in a single year, but your combined contributions can’t exceed the same limit. You have until your tax filing deadline — April 1, 2012 and April 15, 2013 — to make a contribution for the previous tax year.

How to choose?

Which IRA is right for you? The answer depends on what you think your future tax rate will be.

If you believe income tax rates will rise or that you’ll have more income in retirement and fall into a higher tax bracket, then consider a Roth and pay taxes on the money now. If you expect to be in a lower tax bracket in retirement — or you don’t qualify for a Roth — a Traditional IRA may be a good choice.

Since no one has a crystal ball, one approach that makes sense is to diversify your retirement savings from a tax perspective. Build a mix of retirement investments that offers the advantage of providing tax relief and flexibility now and in the future. This would include:

  • Pre-tax accounts, like Traditional IRAs or 401(k)s.
  • Tax-deferred accounts, such as a Roth 401(k) or Roth IRA.
Investing in securities products involves risk, including possible loss of principal. Investment and insurance products are not deposits, not insured by FDIC or any government agency, not guaranteed by the Bank. Investment and certain insurance products may lose value. USAA or its affiliates do not provide tax advice. Taxpayers should seek advice based upon their own particular circumstances from an independent tax advisor. Individual stocks will fluctuate in response to the activities of individual companies, general market, and economic conditions domestically and abroad. When redeemed or sold, may be worth more or less than the original cost. Other fees and expenses are applicable to owning individual stocks. Annuities do not provide any tax-deferral advantage over other types of investments within a qualified plan.
There are costs associated with annuities, including surrender fees, early withdrawal penalties and mortality risk expenses. There may be tax consequences associated with the transfer of assets. Indirect transfers may be subject to taxation and penalties. Consult with your own advisors regarding your particular situation. Diversification does not guarantee a profit or prevent a loss. Financial planning services and financial advice provided by USAA Financial Planning Services Insurance Agency, Inc. (known as USAA Financial Insurance Agency in California, License #0E36312), a registered investment adviser and insurance agency and its wholly owned subsidiary, USAA Financial Advisors, Inc., a registered broker dealer.

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