When it comes to retirement savings, two of the more popular vehicles are the 401(k) and the Roth IRA. Both are tax-advantaged retirement accounts, but there are significant differences. Depending upon your specific situation, you may find that one fits your needs better than the other.
What are the savings limits?
For workers who haven’t yet reached age 50, it’s possible to save as much as $19,000 in a 401(k) as of 2019. Those who have passed 50 can save an additional $6,000 as a catch-up contribution. Depending upon their age, those who want to save in a Roth IRA can save $6,000 or $7,000 per year. Both are great savings vehicles, but those who are looking to max out their savings would most benefit from using a 401(k).
What is the tax treatment?
Most 401(k) plans save money on a pre-tax basis. This means that it’s possible to cut your tax bill in the current year. Savings put toward a Roth IRA are made with after-tax dollars. Both accounts will grow on a tax-free basis as long as the money is left in the account. The difference comes when you decide to withdraw the money. If you wait until age 59 and a half, you’ll pay no taxes on Roth IRA withdrawals. The government treats them as if you’ve already paid the tax due when you made the after-tax contribution. On the other hand, a regular 401(k) withdrawal will be taxed at your marginal tax rate.
An additional benefit of a Roth IRA is the ability to withdraw your contributions at any time. Because you’ve paid the tax on the contributions, there is no tax due. If you withdraw the earnings from a Roth IRA before hitting age 59 and a half, you’ll owe regular income taxes on any growth along with a 10% penalty for early withdrawal.
Is using both a good strategy?
Many future retirees wonder if it’s better to save in a Roth or a 401(k). It’s possible to save in both. Many employers offer a 401(k) match, and oftentimes, this match will be on a dollar-for-dollar basis up to 6% of the employee’s salary. Therefore, it’s a good idea to save at least to the full amount of this match. Any additional money could go toward filling up a Roth IRA to maximize tax-free withdrawals upon retirement. After contributing the maximum to a Roth, contributing to a 401(k) up to the maximum is a great next step. Overall, you could save between $25,000 and $32,000 by maxing out both accounts.