Roth IRAs make excellent retirement savings tools because of their tax advantages and flexibility. But there are other ways to use these retirement accounts that can benefit you and your beneficiaries. We’ll take a look at three investment strategies for making the most of your Roth IRA.
First, a refresher on the particulars of the Roth IRA: It’s a retirement account that you fund with post-tax income. While you can’t deduct your contributions on your income taxes, you can withdraw contributions at any time without paying taxes or penalties—and you can withdraw the earnings tax-free and penalty-free once you turn 59½, provided you’ve held the account for at least five years. For 2017 and 2018, the combined annual contribution limit for all your IRA accounts is $5,500, or $6,500 if you’re age 50 or older.
Put Your Social Security Benefits in a Roth IRA
Anyone up to age 70½ who has earned income can contribute to a Traditional IRA. That’s also the age when you have to start taking required minimum distributions (RMDs)—whether you need the money or not. Roth IRAs don’t have these age restrictions: You can continue making contributions as long as you’re working, and you aren’t required to withdraw any money during your lifetime.
Those features create an investment opportunity. If you collect Social Security and are still working, you can stash part (or all) of your monthly benefit check in a Roth IRA—provided you are earning at least that much and you don’t exceed the contribution limit. Because Roth IRAs don’t have required minimum distributions, that money can continue to grow even as you’re drawing down your Traditional IRA. This can be especially helpful for older adults who haven’t met their retirement savings goals and might be at risk of outliving their savings.
You can open a Roth IRA as an older adult—it doesn’t have to be something that you set up when you were younger. Either way, stashing some of your Social Security checks in a Roth IRA can provide a tax-advantaged safety net for your 80s and beyond.
Leave a Tax-Free Income Stream to Your Family
A Roth IRA offers substantial legacy-planning advantages. Since it isn’t subject to required minimum distributions (as a Traditional IRA is), any money you contribute can continue to grow throughout your lifetime. After you pass away, your beneficiaries will be required to take money from the IRA (unless your spouse is your beneficiary), but they can opt to withdraw that money over their own life expectancy, potentially giving them a steady income stream for life, compliments of your Roth IRA.
If your beneficiaries take required minimum distributions throughout their lifetime but there’s still money in the IRA when they pass away, their beneficiaries can also withdraw the money over their life expectancy. That means your Roth IRA could potentially provide a tax-free, multi-generational income stream to your family after you’re gone.
Keep in mind, your beneficiaries won’t be able to make any additional contributions to the inherited IRA, but they would still be able to contribute to their own retirement accounts, up to the allowable limits.
Open a Roth IRA for Your Kids (and Grandkids)
IRAs make excellent savings vehicles for your kids and grandkids. That’s because young people are positioned to take full advantage of time and the power of compounding. Even a small IRA can grow to a healthy size given enough time. A single $5,000 investment, for example, will grow to more than $93,000 over 60 years, assuming a conservative 5 percent annual return.
You can help your kids and grandkids take advantage of the many decades they have before retirement by opening a Roth IRA in their name. To do so, you would make after-tax contributions to a Roth IRA that you control and manage on their behalf until they turn 18, at which point they take control of the account.
While starting as early as possible makes financial sense—the sooner you start, the larger the IRA can grow, after all—there is one caveat: Your child or grandchild must have earned income for you to open the Roth IRA and make contributions. That means you won’t be able to open an account as soon as they’re born (unless they’re a baby actor); you’ll have to wait until they’re old enough to earn money.
The most you can contribute to their IRA is the smaller of $5,500 or their taxable earnings for the year, but that money can come from odd jobs, babysitting, mowing lawns, working in the family’s small business and the like (an allowance doesn’t count). Of course, the wages have to be reasonable—you can’t pay your 10-year-old grandson $500 for moving the lawn. It’s a good idea to keep records, just in case those earnings have to be substantiated.
[Tax note: If your child or grandchild is under 18 at any time in the year, works around a private residence (as in baby-sitting or yard work) but doesn’t do that as their main job (because they’re a student), they are likely exempt from employer and self-employment taxes as long as they earn $6,300 or less. But children earning $400 or more are supposed to file taxes. On the positive side, the income they report will make them eligible for a Roth. Consult with a tax professional to be sure.]
The IRA could continue growing for decades, but contributions can be withdrawn at any time, as long as the account has been open for at least five years. While earnings typically can’t be withdrawn before age 59½, they can if they go towards college expenses or the purchase of a first home—an advantage that could provide a great financial boost to your kids and grandkids.