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Roth IRA Basics, In a Question & Answer Format
November 23, 2014 | 7 Comments

Roth IRA’s have become quite popular among the millennial generation (and beyond) and can be a great addition to your retirement savings arsenal. But Roths bring a lot of questions with them, so I wanted to create a question and answer style article to address the most popular questions and basics.

This post covers both the 2014 and 2015 calendar tax years. Why cover multiple years within the same article? Even if you are past your calendar year, it’s still  not too late to contribute to IRA’s. You can contribute to your Roth IRA for the previous calendar year up until the tax deadline.

I’ll cover most of the basics here, but you you may also want to check out the IRS Roth IRA page for more particulars, particularly those related to tax issues.

What is a Roth IRA?

A Roth IRA is a tax-advantaged individual retirement account (individual retirement arrangement, according to the IRS). They were first allowed in 1998 and have grown very popular, particularly among younger investors, due to their promised future tax benefits. Roths are not an investment, rather they are a type of investment account that allows you to buy, sell, or hold just about any investment that you’d like – cash, bonds, options, CD’s, stocks, mutual funds, etc.

How can I start a Roth IRA?

Any of the online discount brokers offer Roth IRA accounts. You can open one just like any other investment account. And you can have multiple accounts.

Once created, can I move my Roth IRA from one broker to another?

Yes. Just reach out to the broker that you would like to move your IRA to, and they would be happy to help initiate the transfer of funds.

Are Roth IRA contributions tax deductible?

No. Traditional IRA contributions are tax deductible, but Roth IRA contributions are not tax deductible.

What are the Benefits to having a Roth?

Contributions that you make to a Roth IRA are after tax, meaning that you’ve already paid taxes on them. As a result, you do not have to pay taxes on them ever again (excluding early withdrawals). This includes distributions when you withdraw the funds in retirement. This can be advantageous because many people predict that they will be taxed higher in retirement than they currently are. Also, some people want to lower their taxable income or pass off their IRA to their heirs, tax free.

How does a Roth differ from a Traditional IRA?

Contributions to Traditional IRA’s are tax deductible at the time of contribution, however you must pay tax on your distributions in retirement. Contributions to Roth’s, on the other hand, are taxed now so that distributions in retirement are tax free. You basically decide whether or not you want to be taxed now or taxed later when choosing which to contribute to.

Which should you contribute to?

If you predict that your tax rate will be higher now than it will be in retirement, it may be to your benefit to contribute more to a Traditional IRA versus a Roth.

If you predict that your tax rate will be higher in retirement than it is now, it may be to your benefit to contribute more to a Roth IRA versus a Traditional.

And there is no reason why you can’t mix it up and contribute to both.

Roth IRAWhen can I withdraw Roth IRA contributions, tax and penalty free?

Since you already paid taxes on them, you can with draw Roth IRA contributions tax and penalty free at any time – although I wouldn’t recommend it unless it were a must – you’re robbing yourself of retirement funds!

When can I Withdraw Roth IRA earnings tax and penalty free?

Roth IRA earning distributions cannot be made without tax and a 10% penalty until age 59.5. Earnings must be held for a minimum of 5 years.

Are there any other times Roth earnings are tax and penalty free?

Yes, in the event of death, disability, or first time home purchase, Roth earnings can be tax and penalty free – within limitation. Check out the previously noted IRS article for more on eligibility.

Can I have a Roth and Traditional IRA at the same time?

Yes. You can have both a Roth and Traditional IRA account at the same time.

Can I contribute to a Roth and Traditional IRA in the same calendar year?

Yes, you can contribute to both a traditional and Roth within the same calendar year, but the maximum IRA contribution limit allowed by the IRS is for the two combined, in total.

Can you roll over a Roth 401K into a Roth IRA?

Yes, you can roll over a Roth 401K into a Roth IRA, just like you can roll over a Traditional 401K to Traditional IRA.

What was the 2014 Roth IRA contribution limit?

The 2014 Roth IRA maximum contribution limit is $5,500 (same as the prior year).

What is the 2015 Roth IRA contribution limit?

The 2015 maximum Roth IRA contribution is $5,500 as well.

How often do Roth IRA maximums increase historically?

IRA maximum do increase over time, as they are indexed to the consumer price index (CPI) – a measure of inflation. Here is the historical maximum Roth IRA contribution, over time.

Years:Maximum Contribution (age < 50)Maximum Contribution (age > 50)
1998 - 2001$2,000$2,000
2002 - 2004$3,000$3,500
2005$4,000$4,500
2006 - 2007$4,000$5,000
2008 - 2012$5,000$6,000
2013 - 2015$5,500$6,500

What is a Roth IRA catch-up contribution? How much is it?

If you are age 50 or older, you can contribute an additional amount to a Roth IRA each year. This is commonly referred to as a catch-up contribution for investors nearing retirement. For 2014, the Roth IRA catch-up contribution is an additional $1,000 over the standard annual maximums. The 2015 catch up contribution is the same.

What is the 2014 Roth IRA contribution deadline?

You can contribute up until the tax filing deadline in the following year. In other words, for the 2014 tax year, you can contribute up until April 15, 2015. And for 2015, it will be April 18, 2016 (April 15 falls on a Friday, so you get the weekend).

What are the Roth IRA Income Limits?

All good things have limits. It’s no different with Roth IRA’s. Beyond certain income thresholds, you can no longer contribute to a Roth IRA.

The 2014 Roth IRA income limits are:

  • Married filing jointly or qualifying widow(er): If your modified gross adjusted income (MAGI) is $181,000 (up from $178,000 in 2013), you can contribute up to the $5,500 max. If at least $181,000 up to $191,000 (up $3,000 over 2013), your contribution limit is phased out (see IRS publication 590). If $191,000 and above, you cannot contribute to a Roth IRA.
  • Single, head of household, or married filing separately and you did not live with your spouse at any time during the year: If under $114,000 (up from $112,000 in 2013), you can contribute up to the $5,500 maximum. If at least $114,000 up to $129,000 (was $127,000 in 2013), your contribution limit is phased out. If $129,000 and up, you cannot contribute to a Roth IRA.
  • Married filing separately and you lived with your spouse at any time during the year:If MAGI is between $0 and $10,000, your contribution limit will phase out. If $0, you can contribute up to the $5,500 maximum ($6,500 if over 50 years old). If $10,000 and above, you cannot contribute to a Roth IRA.

The 2015 Roth IRA income limits are:

  • Married filing jointly or qualifying widow(er): If your modified gross adjusted income (MAGI) is $183,000 (up from $181,000) or less, you can contribute up to the $5,500 max. If at least $183,000 up to $193,000 (up $2,000), your contribution limit is phased out (see IRS publication 590). If $193,000 and above, you cannot contribute to a Roth IRA.
  • Single, head of household, or married filing separately and you did not live with your spouse at any time during the year: If under $116,000 (up from $114,000), you can contribute up to the $5,500 maximum. If at least $116,000 up to $131,000 (was $129,000), your contribution limit is phased out. If $131,000 and up, you cannot contribute to a Roth IRA.
  • Married filing separately and you lived with your spouse at any time during the year: If MAGI is between $0 and $10,000, your contribution limit will phase out. If $0, you can contribute up to the $5,500 maximum ($6,500 if over 50 years old). If $10,000 and above, you cannot contribute to a Roth IRA.

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