An IRA, or individual retirement account, is the cornerstone of most people’s retirement plan. This unique investment vehicle allows a taxpayer to contribute a portion of their income up to a certain amount. You are allowed to contribute up to $5,500-$6,500 per year depending on your income, tax-filing status, and other factors.
These limits were adjusted upwards for 2016 to account for inflation. Under a traditional IRA, these contributions are tax deductible. All contributions, however, (whether initially tax deductible or not) can reap returns on a tax-deferred basis until retirement and withdrawal.
When you begin to withdraw at age 59 1/2, withdrawals from the IRA will be taxable. The great benefit of delaying this tax payment is belonging to a lower tax bracket in retirement. Once you reach age 70 ½, withdrawals from an IRA are mandatory. If your IRA contains different assets in it, you can choose which amount of what assets you wish to remove and when. Furthermore, an IRA is created solely for a single individual person. It is not associated with one’s employer or workplace.
IRAs can contain a wide variety of asset types and may be invested in any asset type that the custodian institution, such as a bank or brokerage, allows. Stocks, bonds, mutual funds and ETFs are some of the more common components of an IRA. But with a self-directed IRA, you can hold more types of assets, including precious metals and real estate. Due to their subjective values, collectibles, including antiques and collectible coins, and cash-value life insurance are prohibited from IRA inclusion.
Established by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, about a third of Americans possess some type of IRA, according to the Investment Company Institute. IRAs accounted for the greatest share of retirement assets, totaling $7.3 trillion, compared to all defined contribution plans including 401(k)’s, totaling $6.7 trillion in the fourth quarter of 2015. With the decline of pensions and employer-provided plans, IRAs have become the most popular investment tool for managing one’s retirement.
The 3 Ways to Fund an IRA
Most (not all) taxpayers are allowed to contribute $5,500-$6,500 maximum per year to their IRA (must be over 50 ½ years old to contribute over $5,500). This goes for traditional & Roth accounts only. Owners of SEP IRAs can contribute either 25% of earned income or $55,000 per year, whichever is less. Exceptions apply.
Money can be withdrawn from one retirement plan and contributed to an IRA within 60 days of the initial withdrawal. This transaction is 100% tax-free and penalty-free. Money is sent from an old retirement plan directly to the individual account holder and they are responsible for contributing it to their new IRA within 60 days to avoid paying taxes. This is the most commonly used method for people with employer-sponsored retirement plans (401k, 403b, 457b). Generally, this can only be done one time per year, per account.
3. Trustee to Trustee (also known as Direct Transfer)
The individual account holder instructs that money be transferred directly from their current IRA trustee into a new IRA account. Money moves from one company (trustee) to another company (trustee) without the account holder having to take receipt of funds at any time. This type of transfer is 100% tax-free, IRS penalty-free and has no restrictions on the amount of transfers available.
**IMPORTANT: Transfers must be done from “like plan” to “like plan”. Pre-tax accounts get transferred to pre-tax accounts (Traditional and SEP accounts are interchangeable since they are both pre-tax), and post-tax accounts get transferred into post-tax accounts (only transfer Roth account into Roth account).
Withdrawing Money from an IRA
1. Withdrawing at Any Time
Money can be withdrawn from an IRA at any time – however, if a withdrawal is taken prior to reaching age 59 ½, a 10% federal penalty applies.
2. Indirect Rollovers
Indirect rollovers are tax-free, penalty-free withdrawal if completed within 60 days.
Many Retirement Accounts Qualify
If you see your plan below, you could qualify for an investment in gold.
Allows individual investors to contribute pre-tax income toward investments that can grow tax-deferred (no capital gains/dividend income is taxed). Allowed to contribute up to $5,500-$6,500 depending on taxpayer’s income, tax-filing status, and other factors. Contributions are tax-deductible. Money is taxed upon withdrawal. May withdraw money at any time – however, if you are not over 59 ½ years old, federal penalty will apply.
Allows individual investors to contribute post-tax income toward investments that grow on a tax-deferred basis. Allowed to contribute up to $5,500-$6,500 depending on taxpayer’s income, tax-filing status, and other factors. Contributions are NOT tax deductible. Since money is taxed before being contributed to Roth account, it does NOT get taxed upon withdrawal. Completely free withdrawal, as long as individual is over 59 ½ years old. If money is withdrawn before they reach age 59 ½ years old and the ROTH account is less than 5 years vested, federal penalty applies.
Simplified Employee Pension (SEP)
A retirement plan that an employer or self-employed individual can establish for themselves and their employees. Contributions are tax deductible – very similar in nature to Traditional IRA. Individual must be the owner of the business/President/CEO/self-employed in order to establish a SEP IRA. SEP IRA’s can be transferred/rolled over into a Traditional IRA or a new SEP IRA. In a SEP IRA you are allowed to contribute up to 25% of your income, up to $55,000 per year.
Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees of Small Employers (SIMPLE)
A retirement plan that may be established by employers/self employed individual. Contributions are tax-deductible. These accounts can only be transferred to Traditional IRA’s or SIMPLE IRA’s after they have been established for at least 2 years. If the account is less than 2 years old it may not be moved.
Employer-sponsored retirement plan for a “for profit” company. 401(k)s are the most common kind of defined contribution retirement plan. These plans can generally only be rolled over if the individual is over 59 ½ years old or separated from service (no longer working for employer).
Employer-sponsored retirement plan for “non-profit” company. Generally can only be rolled over if the individual is over 59 ½ years old or separated from service (no longer working for employer)
If you’re an employee of a city, county, township, park board, water district or similar entity, your employer may offer a tax-exempt savings benefit known as a government 457(b) deferred compensation plan. This retirement plan allows employees to make pre-tax salary deferrals. An advantage of the 457(b) plan is that it is not subject to the IRS age 59 ½ rule and there is no 10% penalty for withdrawing your funds before that age, although the withdrawal is subject to ordinary income taxation.
Tax-Sheltered Annuity (TSA)
Commonly found in many 403b plans, tax sheltered annuities allow an employee to make contributions from his or her income into a retirement plan. The contributions are deducted from the employee’s income and, as a result, the contributions and related benefits are not taxed until the employee withdraws them from the plan. Because the employer can also make direct contributions to the plan, the employee gains the benefit of having additional tax-free funds accruing.
Thrift Savings Plan
Retirement plan for Federal government employees. Employee’s are either “civilian” or “uniformed.” Must be either 59 ½ years old and/or separated from service from Federal Government in order to rollover funds. TSP has their own set of forms to be used for any rollovers.