Choosing the Best IRA for Young Adults

By Pam O’Brien · June 04, 2024 · 11 minute read

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Choosing the Best IRA for Young Adults

Saving for retirement may be lower on the priority list for young adults as they deal with the right-now reality of paying rent, bills, and student loans. But the truth is, it’s never too soon to start saving for the future. The more time your money has to grow, the better. And saving even small amounts now could make a big difference later. An IRA, or individual retirement account, is one option that could help young adults start investing in their future.

There are different types of IRAs, and each has different requirements and benefits. So which IRA is best for young adults? Read on to learn about different types of IRAs, how much you can contribute, the possible tax advantages, and everything else you need to know about choosing the best IRA for young people.

Understanding IRAs

First things first, what is an IRA exactly? An IRA is a retirement savings account that allows you to save for the future over the long term. It typically also has tax advantages that may help you build your savings more efficiently.

There are several types of IRAs, but the two most common are traditional IRAs and Roth IRAs. The key difference between the two accounts is how they’re taxed. With a traditional IRA, you contribute pre-tax dollars. That means you take deductions on your contributions upfront, which may lower your taxable income for the year, and then pay taxes on the distributions when you take them in retirement.

With Roth IRAs, you contribute after-tax dollars. Your contributions are not tax deductible when you make them. However, you withdraw your money tax-free in retirement.

How much you can contribute to an IRA each year is determined by the IRS, and the amount generally changes annually. In 2024, those under age 50 can contribute a maximum of $7,000 to a traditional or Roth IRA. (Those 50 and up can contribute an extra $1,000 in 2024 in what’s called a catch-up contribution.) However, the contribution cannot exceed the individual’s earned income for the year. So if a child made $2,000 babysitting for the year, the most they could contribute is $2,000 to a Roth IRA that year.

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Factors to Consider & Eligibility

When choosing the best IRA for young adults, it’s important to consider your specific situation, the eligibility requirements, and what type of tax treatment would benefit you most.


The eligibility rules are different for traditional and Roth IRAs. One thing that’s not a requirement for either type is age — an individual of virtually any age can open an IRA as long as they have earned income for the year. How much money you make is another matter. Roth IRAs have income limits, while traditional IRAs do not.

How a Roth IRA works is that your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) must be below a certain level to qualify for a Roth. In 2024, the limit on MAGI is $146,000 for those who are single. Single individuals who earn more than $146,000 but less than $161,000 can contribute a partial amount to a Roth, while those who earn more than $161,000 are not eligible to open or contribute to a Roth. For married couples who file taxes jointly, the limit in 2024 is $230,000 for a full contribution to a Roth, and between $230,000 to $240,000 for a partial contribution.

Young adults starting out in their career might be earning less than they will in the future — in fact, the average college grad salary for 2024 is projected to range from $61,000 to slightly more than $76,000, depending on the type of degree earned. So it could make sense for a young adult to open a Roth now when they may not have to worry about earning too much to qualify. In this case, a Roth might be the best IRA for young people.


Another important factor to consider when looking at which IRA is best for young adults is taxes. For those who are currently in a lower tax bracket, the upfront tax deductions with a traditional IRA may not be as beneficial. On the other hand, a Roth, with its tax-free distributions in retirement, might be worth exploring, especially if the individual expects to be in a higher tax bracket in retirement.

With a traditional IRA, your income is important in determining how much of your contributions you can deduct. Deduction limits depend on your MAGI, whether you are single or married, your tax filing status, and if you’re covered by a retirement plan at work.

For instance, if you’re single and not covered by a retirement plan from your employer, you can deduct the entire amount you contribute to a traditional IRA in 2024. But if you’re covered by a workplace retirement plan, you can only deduct the full contribution limit if your MAGI is $77,000 or less. Those who earn $87,000 or more can’t take any deductions at all.

Individuals who are married filing jointly and aren’t covered by a retirement plan at work can deduct the full amount of their traditional IRA contributions. However, if their spouse is covered by a workplace retirement plan, they can only deduct the full amount of their contribution if their combined MAGI in 2024 is $230,000 or less. If their combined MAGI is $240,000 or more, they can’t take a deduction. And if they themselves are covered by a retirement plan at work, they can deduct the full amount of their contributions only if their combined MAGI is $123,000 or less. If their combined MAGI is $143,000 or more, they can’t take a deduction.


Whether you choose a Roth or traditional IRA, the idea is to keep your money in the account without touching it until retirement, when you begin making withdrawals. In fact, both types of IRA accounts have early withdrawal penalties.

With a traditional IRA, individuals who take withdrawals before age 59 ½ will generally be subject to a 10% penalty, plus taxes. A Roth IRA typically offers more flexibility: Individuals may withdraw their contributions penalty-free at any time before age 59 ½. However, any earnings can typically only be withdrawn tax- and penalty-free once the individual reaches age 59 ½ and the account has been open for at least five years. This is known as the Roth IRA 5-year rule.

That said, there are exceptions to the IRA withdrawal rules, including:

•   Death or disability of the individual who owns the account

•   Qualified higher education expenses for the account owner, spouse, or a child or grandchild

•   Up to $10,000 for first-time qualified homebuyers to help purchase a home

•   Health insurance premiums paid while an individual is unemployed

•   Unreimbursed medical expenses that are more than 7.5% of an individual’s adjusted gross income

Building a Strong Investment Strategy

As you explore the best IRA for young people, you’ll want to make sure that you’re getting the most out of your investing strategy to help you achieve financial security. Here are some ways to do that.

Contribute to a 401(k) and an IRA.

If your employer offers a 401(k), enroll in it and contribute as much as you can. If possible, aim to contribute enough to get the matching contribution, which is, essentially, “free” or extra money that can help you build your savings.

If you don’t have a workplace 401(k) — and even if you do — open an IRA as another account to help save for retirement. Contribute as much as you are able to. With an IRA, you typically have more investment options than you do with a 401(k), and you can also choose the type of IRA that could give you tax advantages.

Automate your contributions.

With a 401(k), your contributions usually happen automatically. Opening an investment account for an IRA could help you do something similar. Many brokerages allow you to set up automatic repeating deposits in an IRA. This way you don’t have to even think about contributing to your account — it just happens.

Understand your risk tolerance.

When you’re deciding what assets to invest in, consider your risk tolerance. All investments come with some risk, but some types are riskier than others. In general, assets that potentially offer higher returns (like stocks) come with higher risk.

If a drop in the market is going to send your anxiety level skyrocketing, you may want to make your portfolio a little more conservative. If you’re willing to take risks, you might want to be a bit more aggressive. Either way, try to find an asset allocation that balances your tolerance for risk with the amount of risk you may need to take to help meet your investment goals.

Diversify your investments.

Building a diversified portfolio across a range of asset classes — such as stocks, bonds, and REITs (real estate investment trusts), for instance — rather than concentrating all of it in one area — may help you offset some investment risk. Just be aware that diversification doesn’t eliminate risk.

Reassess your portfolio regularly.

Once or twice a year, review the performance of your portfolio to make sure it’s on track to help you get where you want to be in terms of your financial future.

Maximizing Your IRA Investments

After you open an IRA, contribute up to the annual limit if you can to help maximize your investments. If you’re not sure how to fund an IRA, you can start with a few basic techniques.

For instance, you could use your tax refund to contribute to an IRA. That way, you won’t be pulling money out of your savings or from the funds you have earmarked to pay your bills. The same is true if you get a raise or bonus at work, or if a relative gives you money for a birthday. Put those dollars into your IRA.

Another way to fund an IRA is to make small monthly contributions to it. You could start with $50 or $100 monthly. You could even set up a vault bank account specifically for money designated to your IRA so that you don’t end up spending it on something else.

Finally, when you change jobs, consider rolling over your 401(k) into an IRA (learn more about an IRA transfer vs. rollover). Once you’ve rolled the money over, you can choose how to invest it.

Considerations for Young Adults Looking to Start Investing

Young adults who are ready to begin investing should aim to get started as soon as possible. Thanks to the power of compounding returns, the longer your money has to compound, the bigger your account balance may be when you reach retirement.

When choosing an IRA, consider the tax advantages of traditional and Roth IRAs to decide which type of account may be most beneficial for your situation. Once you’ve opened an IRA, try to contribute as much as you can afford to each year, up to the annual limit.

Young adults should also think about their financial goals, at what age they plan to retire, and what their tolerance is for risk. Each of these factors can affect how they invest and what kinds of assets they invest in.

The Takeaway

An IRA can be a great way for young adults to start saving for retirement. The earlier they start, the longer their money may have to grow, which can make a big difference over time.

In order to choose the best IRA for young people, weigh the different tax benefits of Roth and traditional IRAs. If you’re leaning toward a Roth IRA, make sure you meet the income limit requirements, and if you’re considering a traditional IRA, check to see if you can deduct your contributions.

Once you’ve chosen the right IRA for you, start contributing to it regularly if you can. And no matter how much you’re able to contribute, remember this: Getting started with retirement savings is one of the most important steps you can take to build a nest egg and help secure your financial future.

Ready to invest for your retirement? It’s easy to get started when you open a traditional or Roth IRA with SoFi. SoFi doesn’t charge commissions, but other fees apply (full fee disclosure here).

Help grow your nest egg with a SoFi IRA.


What are the different types of IRAs?

There are several types of IRAs. Two of the most popular are traditional and Roth IRAs, which individuals with earned income can open and contribute to. Contributions to traditional IRAs are made with pre-tax dollars and the contributions are generally tax deductible; the money is taxed on withdrawal in retirement. Contributions to Roth IRAs are made with after tax dollars, and the money is withdrawn tax-free in retirement.

Other types of IRAs include SEP IRAs for self-employed individuals and small business owners, and SIMPLE IRAs for small businesses with 100 employees or fewer.

Which IRA is suitable for young adults?

It depends on an individual’s specific situation, but for young adults choosing between a traditional or Roth IRA, a Roth may be the better choice for those in a low tax bracket now and who expect to be in a higher tax bracket in retirement. That’s because with a Roth, contributions are made with after tax dollars and distributions are withdrawn tax-free in retirement. With traditional IRAs, contributions are deducted upfront and you pay taxes on distributions when you retire.

Still, it’s important to weigh the different options and benefits to choose the IRA that’s best for you.

What factors should young adults consider when choosing an IRA?

Young adults should consider their current tax bracket and the tax bracket they expect to be in during retirement when choosing an IRA. If they’re in a low tax bracket now and anticipate that they’ll be in a higher tax bracket when they retire, a Roth IRA may make more sense since distributions are withdrawn tax-free in retirement. Conversely, if they’re in a higher tax bracket now than they expect to be in retirement, a traditional IRA may be a better option.

How can young adults maximize their IRA investments?

To maximize IRA investments, young adults should start contributing money to their IRA as early as possible. The longer their money has to compound, the bigger their IRA balance may grow over time. In addition, they should contribute as much as they can to their IRA each year, up to the annual limit ($7,000 for those under 50 in 2024).

Photo credit: iStock/andresr

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Investment Risk: Diversification can help reduce some investment risk. It cannot guarantee profit, or fully protect in a down market.

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