While Social Security will provide approximately 40% of the average person's retirement income, an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) is an essential addition for a successful retirement. Your IRA has two main benefits—contributions to a regular IRA are from pre-tax income and there is tax-free growth. There is another version of an IRA called a Roth IRA, which is funded with after-tax income.
Linda is in her middle working years and anticipates receiving Social Security when she retires. But she has several questions about whether she should also start funding an IRA.
How should I fund my IRA?
Is it a good idea to do an IRA rollover?
At what age should I start taking IRA distributions?
Should I take the minimum required distribution or a larger amount?
Funding the IRA
If you are not actively participating in another type of qualified retirement plan and are within an adjusted gross income limit, you may qualify to transfer a substantial sum each year into an IRA. The IRA contribution amount is $6,000 this year. If you are over age 50, you may also make an additional $1,000 "catch-up" contribution. The maximum IRA contribution amounts are indexed for inflation in increments of $500. In future years, the contribution amount will increase.
Because Linda is over age 50, she is able to contribute $6,000 and her catch-up amount of $1,000, for a total of $7,000 to her IRA this year.
Linda considers the options to create a regular IRA or a Roth IRA. Because she wants to receive the income tax deduction, she transfers the funds into a regular IRA and deducts the $7,000 on her federal tax returns.
The majority of larger IRAs are funded through rollovers from retirement plans through your employer. If you have a qualified plan through your employment, upon separation from service or reaching a specific age, such as 70, you will usually have an option to rollover to a self-directed IRA.
Normally, your qualified plan through a business has been funded with pretax income. The IRA account also benefits from tax free growth. Therefore, the rollover will be from the other qualified plan into a regular IRA. Your IRA will continue to grow tax free, but future distributions to you will be taxable.
IRAs may be rolled over to a new custodian. The preferred method is to have a custodian-to-custodian transfer. If the funds are transferred directly from one IRA custodian to the new custodian, there is no tax.
While it is permissible for your custodian to transfer funds to you and then for you to make the rollover, your IRA custodian will withhold 20%. Because of the 20% withholding requirement, virtually all IRA rollovers are completed with the custodian-to-custodian method.
An IRA to Roth IRA rollover may also be permissible for you. Generally speaking, people with any adjusted gross income are permitted to transfer a regular IRA to a Roth IRA. The value of the IRA will be included in your taxable income, so you may owe a substantial income tax for the conversion.
The primary benefit of the conversion to the Roth is that a Roth IRA does not have a mandatory distribution requirement at age 72. The funds may be permitted to grow tax free and, at the discretion of the owner, may be withdrawn tax free during retirement years. If the owner of a Roth IRA does not make withdrawals, then the Roth may be transferred to children, who may make tax-free withdrawals over their life expectancy.
For a regular IRA, there are specific rules on both contributions and withdrawals. Withdrawals for distributions are generally not taken before age 59½. With limited exceptions, such as uniform distributions over a lifetime, disability, separation from employment after age 55, or other exceptions there is a 10% excise tax in addition to the regular ordinary income tax on withdrawals before age 59½. Therefore, very few individuals take early withdrawals before age 59½.
Between ages 59½ and 72, there is an optional period for withdrawals. The withdrawals are not required, but you may take withdrawal of any amount. Of course, for a regular IRA the amount withdrawn is taxable to you and no longer grows tax free in the fund. Therefore, you may not want to take withdrawals unless you actually need the funds for living expenses.
After you reach age 72, there are required minimum distributions (RMDs). The distributions start at approximately 3.9% at age 72 but increase with age each year. The distribution is calculated using your balance on December 31 multiplied by the appropriate percentage, and must be taken by the end of the next year. If you fail to take your distribution, there is a 50% penalty, so an error or an intentional disregard of the RMD rules is quite rare.