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What Retirement Accounts Are Available to You?

While looking at planning your retirement, you may have noticed there are a wide variety of retirement accounts available to choose form. This article will give a detailed breakdown and comparison of the different retirement accounts to help you decide which is the best choice based on your circumstances.
IRA

The IRA is a tax deductible defined contribution retirement account. This means that taxes are not paid that year for any money deposited in your IRA. Instead, withdrawals made from the account upon retirement are taxed as income.

Pros:

  • Tax deferred until withdrawal.
  • Individual, customized control of investments.
  • Tax deferral of investment growth

Cons:

  • Very low yearly contribution allowance of $5,000.
  • 10% withdrawal penalty.
  • Lack of liquidity if the contributor needs the money for another purpose.

An IRA allows the account holder to make investments using the funds in their retirement account. This means they can allocate the funds across a variety of stocks, bonds, and mutual funds. The importance of this is that any growth in these investments is tax deferred until withdrawal along with all funds in the account.

The negative side of this tax deferral is that the growth of investments will be taxed at your income tax rate rather than capital gains which is 15%. For the tax advantage to really come through, the funds in an IRA must be allowed to have time for growth. In general, it is advantageous when the IRA is allowed to grow for more than 20 years before withdrawal for the tax deferral to be advantageous.

A disadvantage of the IRA is the low deposit limit of only $5,000 a year with a catch-up addition of $1,000 a year allowed for individuals 50 or older. Also, funds can be difficult to withdraw from an IRA before the designated age of 59 and 1/2 is reached. To see a more detailed analysis of an Individual Retirement Account (IRA), read our article about the IRA

When is a Roth IRA for me?

The Roth Individual Retirement Account (IRA) is an account that is not tax deferred; therefore taxes are paid on any money before it is deposited in the Roth Individual Retirement Account (IRA). This can be advantageous for individuals who expect to have a higher income upon retirement so would rather pay the current lower tax rate than a future expected higher tax rate.
When is a SEP IRA for me?

The Simplified Employee Pension Individual Retirement Account (SEP IRA) is an IRA specifically meant for self-employed individuals and their employees. The account is shared among all members involved and uses a profit-sharing model. The contribution limits for an SEP IRA are the lesser of 25% of income or $49,000 in 2009. All members of the SEP IRA are required to make the same contribution.

A SEP IRA can be advantageous to a business owner due to its higher contribution allowance. It is not really an option for individual retirees who do not own a business of their own. All contribution made to the SEP IRA are made by the employer and not by employees themselves. Thus, the business owner must evaluate whether the tax benefits of expensing these costs and the increased benefits to their employees are worth the cost of increasing their own retirement contributions.

Comparison of IRA to 401k

401k and IRA are similar in that they both are tax-deferred retirement accounts which can increase in value over time before funds are withdrawn and they both have restrictions on fund withdrawal. One difference is that the contribution limit is only $5,000 a year for an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) while it is $16,500. A 401k also has the possibility of employer contributions in addition to your personal contributions.

In general, it is a good idea to prefer your 401k plan over your Individual Retirement Account (IRA) due to the higher limits and employer contributions. Before using this as a hard and fast rule, it is best to review what types of investments are made within your employer sponsored plan and your Individual Retirement Account (IRA) and what type of contributions are made by your employer.

Comparison of IRA to Retirement Annuity

Both an IRA and a Retirement Annuity are tax deferred retirement accounts. Unlike an IRA which has a $5,000 contribution limit, a retirement annuity has no contribution limits. Both accounts have a 10% penalty for early withdrawal.

The main feature a retirement annuity has that an IRA does not is its variety of guarantees. These guarantees include a guarantee to receive a minimum income per year after retirement and guarantees that the accounts value will be at a minimum level in the future. But these features come at a cost of about 3% a year in fees.

It is generally a poor idea to invest in a retirement annuity rather than an Individual Retirement Account due to these high fees charged. If the benefits being offered are worth the 3% annual fee due to your circumstances, a retirement annuity would be something to consider looking into.

401K

A 401k is a retirement account sponsored by your employer. It is a defined contribution plan where you contribute a certain portion of your income into the account.

Pros:

  • Tax deferred until withdrawal
  • Possibility of additional contributions from employers
  • Tax deferral of investment growth

Cons:

  • Withdrawal penalties of 10% with certain exceptions.
  • Lack of liquidity if the contributor needs the money for another purpose.

401k and IRA have a variety of similarities. They are both tax deferred plans to taxes are only paid on withdrawals from the account, allowing a tax-free buildup of funds and investment returns. This tax deferred features of both retirement accounts is advantageous to retirees who expect a lower income upon retirement than the income they receive during their careers.

A very large advantage of a 401k retirement account is that your employers may have a benefit where they will add funds to your account or match funds you add to the account. This is the primary advantage that a 401k has over an IRA but is highly dependent on what your employer contributes.

As with the IRA, the 401k has a negative side if the account holder does not allow the account to be active for more than 20 years. This is due to the growth within the retirement account’s investments being taxed at your income rate upon withdrawal rather than the customary 15% capital gains tax on investments. The tax advantages on investment growth are only seen after a long period of time.

When is a Roth 401k for me?

A Roth 401k, unlike a standard 401k retirement account, is taxed before the funds are placed into the account and withdrawals are made tax free. As with a Roth Individual Retirement Account (IRA), the Roth 401k is advantageous to individuals who expect their income upon retirement to be higher than their career income, therefore the tax-deferral of a standard 401k can be a negative to them.

To find out more in-depth information about 401k retirement accounts, read our article about 401k.

Comparison of 401k to Individual Retirement Account (IRA)

401k and Individual Retirement Accounts (IRA) are similar in that they both are tax-deferred retirement accounts which can increase in value over time before funds are withdrawn and they both have restrictions on fund withdrawal. One difference is that the contribution limit is only $5,000 a year for an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) while it is $16,500. A 401k also has the possibility of employer contributions in addition to your personal contributions.

In general, it is a good idea to prefer your 401k plan over your Individual Retirement Account (IRA) due to the higher limits and employer contributions. Before using this as a hard and fast rule, it is best to review what types of investments are made within your employer sponsored plan and your Individual Retirement Account (IRA) and what type of contributions are made by your employer.

Comparison of 401k to Retirement Annuity

401k and Retirement Annuities are both tax-deferred accounts in which the funds are only taxed upon withdrawal. 401k retirement accounts have an annual limit of $16,500 while a retirement annuity has no annual limit.

The main feature a retirement annuity has that a 401k does not is its variety of guarantees. These guarantees include a guarantee to receive a minimum income per year after retirement and guarantees that the accounts value will be at a minimum level in the future. But these features come at a cost of about 3% a year in fees.

It is generally a poor idea to invest in a retirement annuity rather than 401k due to these high fees charged. If the benefits being offered are worth the 3% annual fee due to your circumstances, a retirement annuity would be something to consider looking into.

Retirement Annuity

A retirement annuity is a defined contribution retirement account sold exclusively by life insurance companies. The earnings within a retirement annuity are tax deferred until withdrawal. Insurance companies can offer a variety of guarantees with their retirement annuity products, but these benefits come with extremely high fees.

Pros:

  • Tax deferred growth within account
  • Guaranteed benefits
  • No limits like a 401k or IRA

Cons:

  • Extremely high fees
  • Lack of liquidity, 10% early withdrawal penalty

The main benefits of retirement annuities are the guarantees that life insurance companies provide. These can include a guarantee that you will receive a minimum income per year after retirement and guarantees that the accounts value will be at a certain level in the future. The income earned within an annuity is tax deferred upon withdrawal providing a tax shelter for potential investment growth.

These benefits come at a cost. The fees charged on annuities can be extremely large and are highly criticized in the financial world. The total amount of fees charged on an annuity are around 3% a year, a far cry from the 1% a year charged by mutual funds directly. To read a more in-depth breakdown of retirement annuities and the fees charged, read our article on Retirement Annuities.

Retirement Annuities become advantageous when an individual is willing to deal with the 3% fees to acquire the potential guarantees.

Comparison of Retirement Annuity to Individual Retirement Account (IRA)

Both an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) and a Retirement Annuity are tax deferred retirement accounts. Unlike an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) which has a $5,000 contribution limit, a retirement annuity has no contribution limits. Both accounts have a 10% penalty for early withdrawal.

The main feature a retirement annuity has that an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) does not is its variety of guarantees. These guarantees include a guarantee to receive a minimum income per year after retirement and guarantees that the accounts value will be at a minimum level in the future. But these features come at a cost of about 3% a year in fees.

It is generally a poor idea to invest in a retirement annuity rather than an Individual Retirement Account due to these high fees charged. If the benefits being offered are worth the 3% annual fee due to your circumstances, a retirement annuity would be something to consider looking into.

Comparison of Retirement Annuity to 401k

401k and Retirement Annuities are both tax-deferred accounts in which the funds are only taxed upon withdrawal. 401k retirement accounts have an annual limit of $16,500 while a retirement annuity has no annual limit.

The main feature a retirement annuity has that a 401k does not is its variety of guarantees. These guarantees include a guarantee to receive a minimum income per year after retirement and guarantees that the accounts value will be at a minimum level in the future. But these features come at a cost of about 3% a year in fees.

It is generally a poor idea to invest in a retirement annuity rather than 401k due to these high fees charged. If the benefits being offered are worth the 3% annual fee due to your circumstances, a retirement annuity would be something to consider looking into.

Retirement Accounts Conclusions

Overall 401k retirement accounts provide the best variety of features for retirement. Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) are very similar to 401ks but lack the benefits of employer contributions and have lower contribution limits. It is best to deposit all funds available into your 401k until the limit is reached and if your income allows it, contribute the remainder into your Individual Retirement Account (IRA).

Retirement annuities are widely criticized and rightfully so. They provide a few features that may entice individuals to contribute but those features come at a very hefty price that isn’t associated with any other type of account. Retirement annuities should only be used if your individual life circumstances make the features they provide a worthwhile sacrifice of 3% in fees every year.

In addition, each type of 401k and Individual Retirement Account (IRA) is different based on who is providing the account. This would be either your employer for a 401k or a financial institution for your Individual Retirement Account (IRA). They all provide different ways in which to manage the investments within the fund itself.

Only general recommendations can be given about which of these three main types of retirement accounts are best for individuals. Decisions must be made in an informed way while taking into account very specific circumstances of the individuals planning their retirement and deciding which retirement accounts are right for them.

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