Types of IRAs

One way to fund a retirement is through an Individual Retirement Account (IRA). An IRA is a tax-sheltered retirement account set up at a bank, investment firm, or insurance company. IRAs can be made up of mutual funds, stocks, bonds, bank deposit accounts, and most other types of investments.

All individuals who have earnings from salary or wage income are eligible to establish an IRA. In addition, unemployed spouses of wage earners are also eligible to open an IRA. The Internal Revenue Service establishes guidelines on a yearly basis regarding the amounts that can be contributed to an IRA. These guidelines take into account your income, income tax filing status, and age. For individuals, age fifty and over, annual catch-up contributions are allowed to all IRAs. There are three types of IRAs.

Type 1: Traditional or deductible IRA
An advantage of the traditional IRA is that contributions can be taken as tax deductions in the tax year they are made. These deductions reduce your gross income, thus reducing your tax burden. Both contributions and earnings are tax-deferred until the funds are withdrawn. This type of account benefits individuals whose tax rate will decrease between the time of deposit and when the money is withdrawn. Workers who are not eligible to contribute to an employer-sponsored retirement plan can make contributions to a traditional IRA, regardless of income.

Type 2: Nondeductible IRA
The major difference between a traditional and nondeductible IRA is the ability to deduct yearly contributions on your income taxes. Contributions made to a nondeductible IRA are taxed as ordinary income in the year they are deposited and cannot be deducted from gross income. Thus, at the time you withdraw funds from a nondeductible IRA, you only pay income taxes on the earnings, as your yearly contributions have already been taxed. The major advantage of this type of IRA is the tax-deferred growth of contributions and earnings. Nondeductible IRAs provide an investment option for individuals who do not meet the eligibility criteria for a traditional IRA or for those whose adjusted gross income exceeds the limits for the Roth IRA. You may begin withdrawing money from traditional and nondeductible IRAs in the year in which you turn 59. Withdrawals before the age of 59 are permitted but are subject to a 10 percent penalty. In addition, early withdrawals are included in your gross income for tax purposes in the year the money is withdrawn. You must begin withdrawing from a traditional or nondeductible IRA during the year in which you turn 70 so that funds will be depleted based on life expectancy for your age.

Type 3: Roth IRA
This is the one you have probably heard the most about in recent years. The Roth IRA was established in 1998 and is very different from the traditional and nondeductible IRAs. Contributions to a Roth IRA are taxed as income in the year they are deposited, similar to the nondeductible IRA. Thus, contributions cannot be taken as tax deductions. However, at the time of withdrawal, the earnings on those contributions are not taxable. After age 59, all or part of a Roth IRA may be withdrawn income tax-free and without penalty. Under certain circumstances, the IRS allows penalty-free and tax-free early withdrawals on Roth IRAs. Two criteria must be met: the withdrawal must be used for a qualified purpose and cannot be made until five years after the account was opened. Examples of qualified purposes include the purchase of a first home and the payment of higher education expenses. As with the other IRAs, nonqualified withdrawals are subject to a 10 percent penalty. Unlike the other two types of IRAs, there is no requirement that dictates when funds must be withdrawn from a Roth IRA. For example, the entire account may be left to your heirs without penalty.

Kim McGrigg is the former Manager of Community and Media Relations for MMI.