Key Takeaways. A Roth 401(k) has higher contribution limits and allows employers to make matching contributions. A Roth IRA allows your investments to grow for a longer period, offers more investment options, and makes early withdrawals easier.
In many cases, a Roth IRA can be a better choice than a 401(k) retirement plan, as it offers a flexible investment vehicle with greater tax benefits—especially if you think you'll be in a higher tax bracket later on.
Tax-free growth and withdrawals
With a Roth IRA you contribute after-tax money to the account, so you don't get to avoid tax on your contributions, as you might with a traditional IRA. In exchange, your money grows tax-free and you'll be able to withdraw it tax-free at retirement, defined as age 59 ½ or older.
One key disadvantage: Roth IRA contributions are made with after-tax money, meaning that there's no tax deduction in the year of the contribution. Another drawback is that withdrawals of account earnings must not be made until at least five years have passed since the first contribution.
The 401(k) is simply objectively better. The employer-sponsored plan allows you to add much more to your retirement savings than an IRA – $20,500 compared to $6,000 in 2022. Plus, if you're over age 50 you get a larger catch-up contribution maximum with the 401(k) – $6,500 compared to $1,000 in the IRA.
Making your 401(k) and IRA work together
If your 401(k) has limited investment options consider opening either a traditional or a Roth IRA and contribute the annual maximum. Next, if you can, put more money in your company plan until you max it out.
A Roth IRA or 401(k) makes the most sense if you're confident of having a higher income in retirement than you do now. If you expect your income (and tax rate) to be lower in retirement than at present, a traditional IRA or 401(k) is likely the better bet.
But even when you're close to retirement or already in retirement, opening this special retirement savings vehicle can still make sense under some circumstances. There is no age limit to open a Roth IRA, but there are income and contribution limits that investors should be aware of before funding one.
IRA contributions after age 70½
For 2020 and later, there is no age limit on making regular contributions to traditional or Roth IRAs. For 2019, if you're 70 ½ or older, you can't make a regular contribution to a traditional IRA.
The Roth IRA five-year rule says you cannot withdraw earnings tax-free until it's been at least five years since you first contributed to a Roth IRA account. This five-year rule applies to everyone who contributes to a Roth IRA, whether they're 59 ½ or 105 years old.
With a Roth IRA, you contribute after-tax dollars, your money grows tax-free, and you can generally make tax- and penalty-free withdrawals after age 59½. With a Traditional IRA, you contribute pre- or after-tax dollars, your money grows tax-deferred, and withdrawals are taxed as current income after age 59½.
Other benefits of a Roth IRA, include: Potential tax savings: With a Roth IRA, you pay taxes on the money you contribute now, rather than later, when your tax rate may be higher. If your tax rate is lower now, it makes sense to pay taxes now in return for tax-free retirement withdrawals.
A Roth 401(k) has higher contribution limits and allows employers to make matching contributions. A Roth IRA allows your investments to grow for a longer period, offers more investment options, and makes early withdrawals easier.
Because the maximum annual contribution amount for a Roth IRA is $6,000, following a dollar-cost-averaging approach means you would therefore contribute $500 a month to your IRA. If you're 50 or older, your $7,000 limit translates to $583 a month.
Contributions to a Roth IRA aren't deductible (and you don't report the contributions on your tax return), but qualified distributions or distributions that are a return of contributions aren't subject to tax. To be a Roth IRA, the account or annuity must be designated as a Roth IRA when it's set up.
But it can also be a good option for more mature investors. Unlike the traditional IRA, where contributions aren't allowed after age 70½, you're never too old to open a Roth IRA. As long as you're still drawing earned income and breath, the IRS is fine with you opening and funding a Roth.
For many people, rolling their 401(k) account balance over into an IRA is the best choice. By rolling your 401(k) money into an IRA, you'll avoid immediate taxes and your retirement savings will continue to grow tax-deferred.
The Bottom Line
If you have earned income and meet the income limits, a Roth IRA can be an excellent tool for retirement savings. Once you put money into a Roth, you're done paying taxes on it, as long as you follow the withdrawal rules.
How Can I Lose Money in a Roth IRA? Roth IRA investors can lose money for several reasons, such as market volatility and withdrawal penalties. While investors can avoid some of them, others can't be controlled, no matter how much they try.
Typically, Roth IRAs see average annual returns of 7-10%. For example, if you're under 50 and you've just opened a Roth IRA, $6,000 in contributions each year for 10 years with a 7% interest rate would amass $83,095.
You can have more than one Roth IRA, and you can open more than one Roth IRA at any time. There is no limit to the number of Roth IRA accounts you can have. However, no matter how many Roth IRAs you have, your total contributions cannot exceed the limits set by the government.
You might contribute too much to your Roth IRA if your income takes an unexpected jump, making you ineligible for a full (or any) contribution. You can withdraw the money, recharacterize the Roth IRA as a traditional IRA, or apply your excess contribution to next year's Roth.
A Roth individual retirement account (IRA) provides tax-free growth and tax-free withdrawals in retirement. Roth IRAs grow through compounding, even during years when you can't make a contribution.
The Bottom Line
As long as you meet eligibility requirements, such as having earned income, you can contribute to both a Roth and a traditional IRA. How much you contribute to each is up to you, as long as you don't exceed the combined annual contribution limit of $6,000, or $7,000 if you're age 50 or older.