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What Is Considered a Good Return on Investment?

A good return on investment is generally considered to be about 7% per year, based on the average historic return of the S&P 500 index, and adjusting for inflation. But of course what one investor considers a good return might not be ideal for someone else.

And while getting a “good” return on your investments is important, it’s equally important to know that the average return of the U.S. stock market is just that: an average of the market’s performance, typically going back to the 1920s. On a year-by-year basis, investors can expect returns that might be higher or lower — and they also have to face the potential for outright losses.

In addition, the S&P 500 is a barometer of the equity markets, and it only reflects the performance of the 500 biggest companies in the U.S. Most investors will hold other types of securities in addition to equities, which can affect their overall portfolio return.

Key Points

•   A good return on investment is generally considered to be around 7% per year, based on the average historic return of the S&P 500 index, adjusted for inflation.

•   The average return of the U.S. stock market is around 10% per year, adjusted for inflation, dating back to the late 1920s.

•   Different investments, such as CDs, bonds, stocks, and real estate, offer varying rates of return and levels of risk.

•   It’s important to consider factors like diversification and time when investing long-term.

•   Investing in stocks carries higher potential returns but also higher risk, while investments like CDs offer lower returns but are considered safer.

What Is the Historical Average Stock Market Return?

Dating back to the late 1920s, the S&P 500 index has returned, on average, around 10% per year. Adjusted for inflation that’s roughly 7% per year.

Here’s how much a 7% return on investment can earn an individual after 10 years. If an individual starts out by putting in $1,000 into an investment with a 7% average annual return, they would see their money grow to $1,967 after a decade, assuming little or no volatility (which is unlikely in real life).

It’s important for investors to have realistic expectations about what type of return they’ll see.

For financial planning purposes however, investors interested in buying stocks should keep in mind that that doesn’t mean the stock market will consistently earn them 7% each year. In fact, S&P 500 share prices have swung violently throughout the years. For instance, the benchmark tumbled 38% in 2008, then completely reversed course the following March to end 2009 up 23%.

Factors such as economic growth, corporate performance, interest rates, and share valuations can affect stock returns. Thus, it can be difficult to say X% or Y% is a good return, as the investing climate varies from year to year.

A better approach is to think about your hoped-for portfolio return in light of a certain goal (e.g. retirement), and focus on the investment strategy that might help you achieve that return.

Line graph: 10 Year Model of S&P 500

Why Your Money Loses Value If You Don’t Invest it

It’s helpful to consider what happens to the value of your money if you simply hang on to cash.

Keeping cash can feel like a safer alternative to investing, so it may seem like a good idea to deposit your money into a savings account — the modern day equivalent of stuffing cash under your mattress. But cash slowly loses value over time due to inflation; that is, the cost of goods and services increases with time, meaning that cash has less purchasing power. Inflation can also impact your investments.

Interest rates are important, too. Putting money in a savings account that earns interest at a rate that is lower than the inflation rate guarantees that money will lose value over time.

This is why, despite the risks, investing money is often considered a better alternative to simply saving it. The inflation risk is lower.

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What Is a Good Rate of Return for Various Investments?

As noted above, determining a good rate of return will also depend on the specific investments you hold, and your asset allocation. You can always calculate the expected rate of return for various securities.

CDs

Certificates of deposit (CDs) may be considered a relatively safe investment because they offer a fixed rate of return in return for keeping your money on deposit for a specific period of time. That means there’s relatively little risk — but because investors also agree to tie their money up for a predetermined period of time CDs are also considered illiquid. There is generally a penalty for withdrawing your money before the CD matures.

Generally, the longer money is invested in a CD, the higher the return. Many CDs require a minimum deposit amount, and larger deposits (i.e. for jumbo CDs) tend to be associated with higher interest rates.

It’s the low-risk nature of CDs that also means that they earn a lower rate of return than other investments, usually only a few percentage points per year. But they can be a good choice for investors with short-term goals who need a relatively low-risk investment vehicle while saving for a short-term goal.

Here are the weekly national rates compiled by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) as of April 17, 2023:

Non-Jumbo Deposits National Avg. Annual Percentage Yield
1 month 0.24%
3 month 0.78%
6 month 1.03%
12 month 1.54%
24 month 1.43%
36 month 1.34%
48 month 1.29%
60 month 1.37%

Bonds

Purchasing a bond is basically the same as loaning your money to the bond-issuer, like a government or business. Similar to a CD, a bond is a way of locking up a certain amount of money for a fixed period of time.

Here’s how it works: A bond is purchased for a fixed period of time (the duration), investors receive interest payments over that time, and when the bond matures, the investor receives their initial investment back.

Generally, investors earn higher interest payments when bond issuers are riskier. An example may be a company that’s struggling to stay in business. But interest payments may be lower when the borrower is trustworthy, like the U.S. government, which has never defaulted on its Treasuries.

Stocks

Stocks can be purchased in a number of ways. But the important thing to know is that a stock’s potential return will depend on the specific stock, when it’s purchased, and the risk associated with it. Again, the general idea with stocks is that the riskier the stock, the higher the potential return.

This doesn’t necessarily mean you can put money into the market today and assume you’ll earn a large return on it in the next year. But based on historical precedent, your investment may bear fruit over the long-term. Because the market on average has gone up over time, bringing stock values up with it, but stock investors have to know how to handle a downturn.

As mentioned, the stock market averages a return of roughly 7% per year, adjusted for inflation.

Real Estate

Returns on real estate investing vary widely. It mostly depends on the type of real estate — if you’re purchasing a single house versus a real estate investment trust (REIT), for instance — and where the real estate is located.

As with other investments, it all comes down to risk. The riskier the investment, the higher the chance of greater returns and greater losses. Investors often debate the merit of investing in real estate versus investing in the market.

Likely Return on Investment Assets

For investors who have a high risk tolerance (they’re willing to take big risks to potentially earn high returns), some investments are better than others. For example, investing in a CD isn’t going to reap a high return on investment. So for those who are looking for higher returns, riskier investments are the way to go.

Remember the Principles of Good Investing

Investors focused on seeing huge returns over the short-term may set themselves up for disappointment. Instead, remembering basic tenets of responsible investing can best prep an investor for long-term success.

First up: diversification. It can be a good idea to invest in a wide variety of assets — stocks, bonds, real estate, etc., and a wide variety of investments within those subgroups. That’s because each type of asset tends to react differently to world events and market forces. Due to that, a diverse portfolio can be a less risky portfolio.

Time is another important factor when investing. Investing early may result in larger returns in the long-term. That’s largely because of compound interest, which is when interest is earned on an initial investment, along with the returns already accumulated by that investment. Compound interest adds to your returns.

Investing with SoFi

While every investor wants a “good return” on their investments, there isn’t one way to achieve a good return — and different investments have different rates of return, and different risk levels. Investing in CDs tends to deliver lower returns, while stocks (which are more volatile) may deliver higher returns but at much greater risk.

Your own investing strategy and asset allocation will have an influence on the potential returns of your portfolio over time.

Ready to invest in your goals? It’s easy to get started when you open an Active Invest account with SoFi invest. You can invest in stocks, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), and more. SoFi doesn’t charge commissions, and other fees apply (full fee disclosure here). Members can access complimentary financial advice from a professional.

For a limited time, opening and funding an Active Invest account gives you the opportunity to get up to $1,000 in the stock of your choice.


SoFi Invest®
INVESTMENTS ARE NOT FDIC INSURED • ARE NOT BANK GUARANTEED • MAY LOSE VALUE
SoFi Invest encompasses two distinct companies, with various products and services offered to investors as described below: Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of these platforms.
1) Automated Investing and advisory services are provided by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC-registered investment adviser (“SoFi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC.
2) Active Investing and brokerage services are provided by SoFi Securities LLC, Member FINRA (www.finra.org)/SIPC(www.sipc.org). Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above please visit SoFi.com/legal.
Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform.

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.

Claw Promotion: Customer must fund their Active Invest account with at least $10 within 30 days of opening the account. Probability of customer receiving $1,000 is 0.028%. See full terms and conditions.

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When Do You Pay Taxes on Stocks?

Investors usually need to pay taxes on their stocks when and if they sell them, assuming they’ve accrued a capital gain (or profit) from the sale. But there are other circumstances when stock holdings may generate a tax liability for an investor, too. This is important for investors to understand so that they can plan for the tax implications of their investment strategy. Knowing how your investments could impact your taxes may better prepare you for tax season and allow you to make more informed investment decisions.

First, an important note: The following should not be considered tax advice. Below, you’ll learn about some tax guidelines, but to fully understand the implications, it’s wise to consult a tax professional.

Key Points

•   Short-term capital gains tax rates for tax years 2023-2024 range from 10% to 37% based on taxable income.

•   Long-term capital gains tax rates for tax years 2023-2024 range from 0% to 20% based on taxable income.

•   Short-term capital gains tax rates for married couples filing jointly are higher than for single individuals.

•   Long-term capital gains tax rates for married couples filing jointly are the same as for single individuals.

•   The tax rates provided are for the specified tax years and are subject to change.

Do You Have to Pay Taxes on Stocks?

Do you need to pay taxes on stocks? It depends. Typically, as mentioned, investors would need to pay capital gains taxes when they sell a stock – the sale of which triggers a taxable event. But broadly speaking, yes, investors need to pay taxes on their stock holdings. The main question and what investors need to figure out, is when do you need to pay taxes on stocks, and what other actions or incidences, besides a sale, could trigger a taxable event.

When Do You Pay Taxes on Stocks?

There are several scenarios in which you may owe taxes related to the stocks you hold in an investment account. The most well known is the tax liability incurred when you sell a stock that has appreciated in value since you purchased it. The difference in value is referred to as a capital gain. When you have capital gains, you must pay taxes on those earnings.

Capital gains even have their own special tax levels and rules. To get a sense of what you might owe after selling a stock, you’d need to check the capital gains tax rate – more on that below.

You will only owe capital gains taxes if your investments are sold for more than you paid for them (you turn a profit from the sale). That’s important to consider – especially if you’re trying to get a sense of taxes and ROI on your investments, with taxes taken into account.

There are two types of capital gains tax:

Short-term Capital Gains

Short-term capital gains tax applies when you sell an asset that you owned for less than one year, and that gained in value within that time frame. These gains would be taxed at the same rate as your typical tax bracket, so they’re important for day traders to consider.

Short-Term Capital Gains Rates for Tax Years 2023 – 2024

Single Taxable Income

Married Couple Filing Jointly Taxable Income

2023

2024

2023

2024

10% $0 – $11,000 $0 – $11,600 $0 – $22,000 $0 – $23,200
12% $11,001 – $44,725 $11,6001 – $47,150 $22,001 – $89,450 $23,201 – $94,300
22% $44,726 – $95,375 $47,151 – $100,525 $89,451 – $190,750 $94,301 – $201,050
24% $95,376 – $182,100 $100,526 – $191,950 $190,751 – $364,200 $201,051 – $383,900
32% $182,101 – $231,250 $191,951 – $243,725 $364,201 – $462,500 $383,901 – $487,450
35% $231,251 – $578,125 $243,726 to $609,350 $462,501 – $693,750 $487,451 to $731,200
37% $578,126 or higher $609,351 or higher $693,751 or higher $731,201 or higher

Long-term Capital Gains

Long-term capital gains tax applies when you sell an asset that gained in value after holding it for more than a year. Depending on your taxable income and tax filing status, you’d be taxed at one of these three rates: 0%, 15%, or 20%. Overall, long-term capital gains tax rates are typically lower than those on short-term capital gains.

Long-Term Capital Gains Rates for Tax Years 2023 – 2024

Single Taxable Income

Married Couple Filing Jointly Taxable Income

2023

2024

2023

2024

0% $0 – $44,625 $0 – $47,025 $0 – $89,250 $0 – $94,050
15% $44,626 – $492,300 $47,026 – $518,900 $89,251 – $553,850 $94,051 – $583,750
20% $492,301 or higher $518,901 or higher $553,851 or higher $583,751 or higher

Capital Losses

If you sell a stock for less than you purchased it, the difference is called a capital loss. You can deduct your capital losses from your capital gains each year, and offset the amount in taxes you owe on your capital gains.

You can also apply up to $3,000 in investment losses to offset regular income taxes.

Tax-loss Harvesting

The process mentioned above – which involves deducting capital losses from your capital gains to secure tax savings – is called tax-loss harvesting. It’s a common technique often used near the end of the calendar year to try and minimize an investor’s tax liability.

Tax-loss harvesting is also commonly used as a part of a tax-efficient investing strategy. It may be worth speaking with a financial professional to get a better idea of whether it’s a good strategy for your specific situation.


💡 Quick Tip: How do you decide if a certain trading platform or app is right for you? Ideally, the investment platform you choose offers the features that you need for your investment goals or strategy, e.g., an easy-to-use interface, data analysis, educational tools.

Taxes on Investment Income

You may have taxes related to your stock investments even when you don’t sell them. This holds true in the event that the investments generate income.

Dividends

You may receive periodic dividends from some of your stocks when the company you’ve invested in earns a profit. If the dividends you earn add up to a large amount, you may be required to pay taxes on those earnings. Each year, you will receive a 1099-DIV tax form for each stock or investment from which you received dividends. These forms will help you determine how much in taxes you owe.

There are two broad categories of dividends: qualified or nonqualified/ordinary. The IRS taxes non-qualified dividends at your regular income tax bracket. The rate on qualified dividends may be 0%, 15%, or 20%, depending on your filing status and taxable income. This rate is usually less than the one for nonqualified dividends, though those with a higher income typically pay a higher tax rate on dividends.

Interest Income

This money can come from brokerage account interest or from bond/mutual fund interest, as two examples, and it is taxed at your ordinary income level. Municipal bonds are an exception because they’re exempt from federal taxes and, if issued from your state, may be exempt from state taxes, as well.

Net Investment Income Tax (NIIT)

Also called the Medicare tax, this is a flat rate investment income tax of 3.8% for taxpayers whose adjusted gross income exceeds $200,000 for single filers or $250,000 for filers filing jointly. Taxpayers who qualify may owe interest on the following types of investment income, among others: interest, dividends, capital gains, rental and royalty income, non-qualified annuities, and income from businesses involved in trading of financial instruments or commodities.

Recommended: Investment Tax Rules Every Investor Should Know

When Do I Not Have to Pay Taxes on Stocks?

Again, this should first and foremost be a discussion you have with your tax professional. But there are a few situations you should know about where you often don’t pay taxes when selling a stock. For example, if you are investing through a tax-deferred retirement investment account like an IRA or a 401(k), you won’t have to pay taxes on any gains when you buy and sell stocks inside the account. However, if you were to sell stock in one of these accounts and then withdraw it, you could owe taxes on the withdrawal.

4 Strategies To Pay Lower Taxes on Stocks

If the answer to “Do you have to pay taxes on stocks?” is “yes” for your personal financial situation, then the question becomes how to pay a lower amount of taxes. Strategies can include:

Buy and Hold

Holding on to stocks long enough for dividends to become qualified and for any capital gains tax to be in the long-term category because they are typically taxed at a lower rate.

Tax-loss Harvesting

As discussed, utilizing a tax-loss harvesting strategy can help you with offsetting your capital gains with capital losses.

Use Tax-advantaged Accounts

Putting your investments into retirement accounts or other tax-advantaged accounts may help lower your tax liabilities.

Refrain From Taking Early Withdrawals

Avoiding the temptation to make early withdrawals from your 401(k) or other retirement accounts.

Taxes for Other Investments

Here’s a short rundown of the types of taxes to be aware of in regards to investments outside of stocks.

Mutual Funds

Mutual funds come in all sorts of different types, and owning mutual fund shares may involve tax liabilities for dividend income, as well as capital gains. Ultimately, an investor’s tax liability will depend on the type and amount of distribution they receive from the mutual fund, and if or when they sell their shares.

Property

“Property” is a broad category, and can include assets like real estate. The IRS looks at property all the same, however, from a taxation standpoint. In short, property is subject to capital gains taxes (not to be confused with “property taxes,” which are something else entirely. In effect, if you buy a house and later sell it for a profit, that gain would be subject to capital gains taxes.

Options

Taxes on options trading can be confusing, and tax liabilities will depend on the type of options an investor has traded. But generally speaking, capital gains taxes apply to options trading activity – it may be wise to consult with a financial professional for more details.

Investing With SoFi

For most investors, paying taxes on stocks involves paying capital gains taxes after they sell their holdings, or paying income tax on dividends. But it’s important to keep in mind that the tax implications of your investments will vary depending on the types of investments in your portfolio and the accounts you use, among other factors.

That’s why it may be worthwhile to work with an experienced accountant and a financial advisor who can help you understand and manage the complexities of different tax scenarios.

Ready to invest in your goals? It’s easy to get started when you open an investment account with SoFi Invest. You can invest in stocks, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), mutual funds, alternative funds, and more. SoFi doesn’t charge commissions, but other fees apply (full fee disclosure here).

For a limited time, opening and funding an Active Invest account gives you the opportunity to get up to $1,000 in the stock of your choice.

FAQ

How much do you pay taxes on stocks?

How much an investor pays in taxes on stocks depends on several factors, including any applicable capital gain, how long they held the stock, and whether they received any income from the stock, such as dividend distributions.

Do you get taxed when you sell stocks?

Yes, investors do generate a tax liability when they sell a stock in the form of capital gains taxes. If the investor has generated a capital loss as the result of a sale, they can use it to offset tax liabilities generated by other capital gains.

How do you avoid taxes on stocks?

There are several strategies that investors can use to try and avoid or minimize taxes on stocks, including utilizing a buy-and-hold strategy, opting not to take early withdrawals, and utilizing tax-advantaged accounts.


SoFi Invest®
INVESTMENTS ARE NOT FDIC INSURED • ARE NOT BANK GUARANTEED • MAY LOSE VALUE
SoFi Invest encompasses two distinct companies, with various products and services offered to investors as described below: Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of these platforms.
1) Automated Investing and advisory services are provided by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC-registered investment adviser (“SoFi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC.
2) Active Investing and brokerage services are provided by SoFi Securities LLC, Member FINRA (www.finra.org)/SIPC(www.sipc.org). Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above please visit SoFi.com/legal.
Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform.

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.

Claw Promotion: Customer must fund their Active Invest account with at least $10 within 30 days of opening the account. Probability of customer receiving $1,000 is 0.028%. See full terms and conditions.

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How to Calculate Expected Rate of Return

When investing, you often want to know how much money an investment is likely to earn you. That’s where the expected rate of return comes in; it’s calculated using the probabilities of investment returns for various potential outcomes. Investors can utilize the expected return formula to help project future returns.

Though it’s impossible to predict the future, having some idea of what to expect can be critical in setting expectations for a good return on investment.

Key Points

•   The expected rate of return is the profit or loss an investor expects from an investment based on historical rates of return and the probability of different outcomes.

•   The formula for calculating the expected rate of return involves multiplying the potential returns by their probabilities and summing them.

•   Historical data can be used to estimate the probability of different returns, but past performance is not a guarantee of future results.

•   The expected rate of return does not consider the risk involved in an investment and should be used in conjunction with other factors when making investment decisions.

•  

What Is the Expected Rate of Return?

The expected rate of return — also known as expected return — is the profit or loss an investor expects from an investment, given historical rates of return and the probability of certain returns under different scenarios. The expected return formula projects potential future returns.

Expected return is a speculative financial metric investors can use to determine where to invest their money. By calculating the expected rate of return on an investment, investors get an idea of how that investment may perform in the future.

This financial concept can be useful when there is a robust pool of historical data on the returns of a particular investment. Investors can use the historical data to determine the probability that an investment will perform similarly in the future.

However, it’s important to remember that past performance is far from a guarantee of future performance. Investors should be careful not to rely on expected returns alone when making investment decisions.

Recommended: Building An Investment Portfolio

How To Calculate Expected Return

To calculate the expected rate of return on a stock or other security, you need to think about the different scenarios in which the asset could see a gain or loss. For each scenario, multiply that amount of gain or loss (return) by its probability. Finally, add up the numbers you get from each scenario.

The formula for expected rate of return looks like this:

Expected Return = (R1 * P1) + (R2 * P2) + … + (Rn * Pn)

In this formula, R is the rate of return in a given scenario, P is the probability of that return, and n is the number of scenarios an investor may consider.

For example, say there is a 40% chance an investment will see a 20% return, a 50% chance that the investment will return 10%, and a 10% chance the investment will decline 10%. (Note: all the probabilities must add up to 100%)

The expected return on this investment would be calculated using the formula above:

Expected Return = (40% x 20%) + (50% x 10%) + (10% x -10%)

Expected Return = 8% + 5% – 1%

Expected Return = 12%

What Is Rate of Return?

The expected rate of return mentioned above looks at an investment’s potential profit and loss. In contrast, the rate of return looks at the past performance of an asset.

A rate of return is the percentage change in value of an investment from its initial cost. When calculating the rate of return, you look at the net gain or loss in an investment over a particular time period. The simple rate of return is also known as the return on investment (ROI).

Recommended: What Is the Average Stock Market Return?

How to Calculate Rate of Return

The formula to calculate the rate of return is:

Rate of return = [(Current value − Initial value) ÷ Initial Value ] × 100

Let’s say you own a share that started at $100 in value and rose to $110 in value. Now, you want to find its rate of return.

In our example, the calculation would be [($110 – $100) ÷ $100] x 100 = 10

A rate of return is typically expressed as a percentage of the investment’s initial cost. So, if you were to sell your share, this investment would have a 10% rate of return.

Recommended: What Is Considered a Good Return on Investment?

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Different Ways to Calculate Expected Rate of Return

How to Calculate Expected Return Using Historical Data

To calculate the expected return of a single investment using historical data, you’ll want to take an average rate of returns in certain years to determine the probability of those returns. Here’s an example of what that would look like:

Annual Returns of a Share of Company XYZ

Year

Return

2011 16%
2012 22%
2013 1%
2014 -4%
2015 8%
2016 -11%
2017 31%
2018 7%
2019 13%
2020 22%

For Company XYZ, the stock generated a 21% average rate of return in five of the ten years (2011, 2012, 2017, 2019, and 2020), a 5% average return in three of the years (2013, 2015, 2018), and a -8% average return in two of the years (2014 and 2016).

Using this data, you may assume there is a 50% probability that the stock will have a 21% rate of return, a 30% probability of a 5% return, and a 20% probability of a -8% return.

The expected return on a share of Company XYZ would then be calculated as follows:

Expected return = (50% x 21%) + (30% x 5%) + (20% x -8%)

Expected return = 10% + 2% – 2%

Expected return = 10%

Based on the historical data, the expected rate of return for this investment would be 10%.

However, when using historical data to determine expected returns, you may want to consider if you are using all of the data available or only data from a select period. The sample size of the historical data could skew the results of the expected rate of return on the investment.

How to Calculate Expected Return Based on Probable Returns

When using probable rates of return, you’ll need the data point of the expected probability of an outcome in a given scenario. This probability can be calculated, or you can make assumptions for the probability of a return. Remember, the probability column must add up to 100%. Here’s an example of how this would look.

Expected Rate of Return for a Stock of Company ABC

Scenario

Return

Probability

Outcome (Return * Probability)

1 14% 30% 4.2%
2 2% 10% 0.2%
3 22% 30% 6.6%
4 -18% 10% -1.8%
5 -21% 10% -2.1%
Total 100% 7.1%

Using the expected return formula above, in this hypothetical example, the expected rate of return is 7.1%.

Calculate Expected Rate of Return on a Stock in Excel

Follow these steps to calculate a stock’s expected rate of return in Excel:

1. In the first row, enter column labels:

•   A1: Investment

•   B1: Gain A

•   C1: Probability of Gain A

•   D1: Gain B

•   E1: Probability of Gain B

•   F1: Expected Rate of Return

2. In the second row, enter your investment name in B2, followed by its potential gains and the probability of each gain in columns C2 – E2

•   Note that the probabilities in C2 and E2 must add up to 100%

3. In F2, enter the formula = (B2*C2)+(D2*E2)

4. Press enter, and your expected rate of return should now be in F2

If you’re working with more than two probabilities, extend your columns to include Gain C, Probability of Gain C, Gain D, Probability of Gain D, etc.

If there’s a possibility for loss, that would be negative gain, represented as a negative number in cells B2 or D2.

Limitations of the Expected Rate of Return Formula

Historical data can be a good place to start in understanding how an investment behaves. That said, investors may want to be leery of extrapolating past returns for the future. Historical data is a guide; it’s not necessarily predictive.

Another limitation to the expected returns formula is that it does not consider the risk involved by investing in a particular stock or other asset class. The risk involved in an investment is not represented by its expected rate of return.

In this historical return example above, 10% is the expected rate of return. What that number doesn’t reveal is the risk taken in order to achieve that rate of return. The investment experienced negative returns in the years 2014 and 2016. The variability of returns is often called volatility.

Recommended: A Guide to Historical Volatility

Standard Deviation

To understand the volatility of an investment, you may consider looking at its standard deviation. Standard deviation measures volatility by calculating a dataset’s dispersion (values’ range) relative to its mean. The larger the standard deviation, the larger the range of returns.

Consider two different investments: Investment A has an average annual return of 10%, and Investment B has an average annual return of 6%. But when you look at the year-by-year performance, you’ll notice that Investment A experienced significantly more volatility. There are years when returns are much higher and lower than with Investment B.

Year

Annual Return of Investment A

Annual Return of Investment B

2011 16% 8%
2012 22% 4%
2013 1% 3%
2014 -6% 0%
2015 8% 6%
2016 -11% -2%
2017 31% 9%
2018 7% 5%
2019 13% 15%
2020 22% 14%
Average Annual Return 10% 6%
Standard Deviation 13% 5%

Investment A has a standard deviation of 13%, while Investment B has a standard deviation of 5%. Although Investment A has a higher rate of return, there is more risk. Investment B has a lower rate of return, but there is less risk. Investment B is not nearly as volatile as Investment A.

Systematic and Unsystematic Risk

All investments are subject to pressures in the market. These pressures, or sources of risk, can come from systematic and unsystematic risks. Systematic risk affects an entire investment type. Investors may struggle to reduce the risk through diversification within that asset class.

Because of systematic risk, you may consider building an investment strategy that includes different asset types. For example, a sweeping stock market crash could affect all or most stocks and is, therefore, a systematic risk. However, if your portfolio includes bonds, commodities, and real estate, you may limit the impact of the equities crash.

In the stock market, unsystematic risk is specific to one company, country, or industry. For example, technology companies will face different risks than healthcare and energy companies. This type of risk can be mitigated with portfolio diversification, the process of purchasing different types of investments.

Expected Rate of Return vs Required Rate of Return

Expected return is just one financial metric that investors can use to make investment decisions. Similarly, investors may use the required rate of return (RRR) to determine the amount of money an investment needs to generate to be worth it for the investor. The required rate of return incorporates the risk of an investment.

What is the Dividend Discount Model?

Investors may use the dividend discount model to determine an investment’s required rate of return. The dividend discount model can be used for stocks with high dividends and steady growth. Investors use a stock’s price, dividend payment per share, and projected dividend growth rate to calculate the required rate of return.

The formula for the required rate of return using the dividend discount model is:

RRR = (Expected dividend payment / Share price) + Projected dividend growth rate

So, if you have a stock paying $2 in dividends per year and is worth $20 and the dividends are growing at 5% a year, you have a required rate of return of:

RRR = ($2 / $20) + 0.5
RRR = .10 + .05
RRR = .15, or 15%

What is the Capital Asset Pricing Model?

The other way of calculating the required rate of return is using a more complex model known as the capital asset pricing model.

In this model, the required rate of return is equal to the risk-free rate of return, plus what’s known as beta (the stock’s volatility compared to the market), which is then multiplied by the market rate of return minus the risk-free rate. For the risk-free rate, investors usually use the yield of a short-term U.S. Treasury.

The formula is:

RRR = Risk-free rate of return + Beta x (Market rate of return – Risk-free rate of return)

For example, let’s say an investment has a beta of 1.5, the market rate of return is 5%, and a risk-free rate of 1%. Using the formula, the required rate of return would be:

RRR = .01 + 1.5 x (.05 – .01)
RRR = .01 + 1.5 x (.04)
RRR = .01 + .06
RRR = .07, or 7%

The Takeaway

There’s no way to predict the future performance of an investment or portfolio. However, by looking at historical data and using the expected rate of return formula, investors can get a better sense of an investment’s potential profit or loss.

There’s no guarantee that the actual performance of a stock, fund, or other assets will match the expected return. Nor does expected return consider the risk and volatility of assets. It’s just one factor an investor should consider when deciding on investments and building a portfolio.

If you’re ready to build your portfolio, SoFi Invest® can help. With a SoFi Invest investment account, you can trade stocks and exchange-traded funds (ETFs) with no commission for as little as $5. And if you would like help creating an investment portfolio, SoFi automated investing uses a portfolio of ETFs based on your goals, risk tolerance, and projected timeline.

For a limited time, opening and funding an Active Invest account gives you the opportunity to get up to $1,000 in the stock of your choice.

FAQ

How do you find the expected rate of return?

An investment’s expected rate of return is the average rate of return that an investor can expect to receive over the life of the investment. Investors can calculate the expected return by multiplying the potential return of an investment by the chances of it occurring and then totaling the results.

How do you calculate the expected rate of return on a portfolio?

The expected rate of return on a portfolio is the weighted average of the expected rates of return on the individual assets in the portfolio. You first need to calculate the expected return for each investment in a portfolio, then weigh those returns by how much each investment makes up in the portfolio.

What is a good rate of return?

A good rate of return varies from person to person. Some investors may be satisfied with a lower rate of return if its performance is consistent, while others may be more aggressive and aim for a higher rate of return even if it is more volatile. Ultimately, it is up to the individual to decide what is considered a good rate of return.


SoFi Invest®
INVESTMENTS ARE NOT FDIC INSURED • ARE NOT BANK GUARANTEED • MAY LOSE VALUE
SoFi Invest encompasses two distinct companies, with various products and services offered to investors as described below: Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of these platforms.
1) Automated Investing and advisory services are provided by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC-registered investment adviser (“SoFi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC.
2) Active Investing and brokerage services are provided by SoFi Securities LLC, Member FINRA (www.finra.org)/SIPC(www.sipc.org). Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above please visit SoFi.com/legal.
Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform.

Claw Promotion: Customer must fund their Active Invest account with at least $10 within 30 days of opening the account. Probability of customer receiving $1,000 is 0.028%. See full terms and conditions.

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IRA vs 401(k): What Is the Difference?

IRA vs 401(k): What Is the Difference?

The biggest difference between an IRA vs. a 401(k) is the amount you can save. You can save over three times as much in a 401(k) vs. an IRA — $23,000 versus $7,000 for tax year 2024, and $22,500 versus $6,500 for tax year 2023. But not everyone has access to a 401(k), because these are sponsored by an employer, typically for full-time employees.

Other than that, a traditional IRA and a 401(k) are similar in terms of their basic provisions and tax implications. Both accounts are considered tax deferred, which means you can deduct the amount you contribute each year — unless you have a Roth account, which has a different tax benefit.

Before you decide whether one or all three types of retirement accounts might make sense for you, it helps to know all the similarities and differences between a 401(k) and a traditional IRA and Roth IRA.

Key Points

•   An IRA (Individual Retirement Account) and a 401(k) are both retirement savings accounts, but they have different features and eligibility requirements.

•   IRAs are typically opened by individuals, while 401(k)s are offered by employers to their employees.

•   IRAs offer more investment options and flexibility, while 401(k)s may have employer matching contributions and higher contribution limits.

•   Both accounts offer tax advantages, but the timing of tax benefits differs: IRAs provide tax benefits during retirement, while 401(k)s offer tax benefits upfront.

•   Choosing between an IRA and a 401(k) depends on factors like employment status, employer contributions, investment options, and personal financial goals.

How Are IRAs and 401(k)s Different?

The government wants you to prioritize saving for retirement. As a result, they provide tax incentives for IRAs vs. 401(k)s.

In that respect, a traditional IRA and a 401(k) are somewhat similar; both offer tax-deferred contributions, which may lower your taxable income, and tax-deferred investment growth. Also, you owe taxes on the money you withdraw from these accounts in retirement (or beforehand, if you take an early withdrawal).

There is a bigger difference between a Roth IRA and a 401(k). Roth accounts are funded with after-tax contributions — so they aren’t tax deductible. But they provide tax-free withdrawals in retirement.

And while you can’t withdraw the contributions you make to a traditional IRA until age 59 ½ (or incur a penalty), you can withdraw Roth contributions at any time (just not the earning or growth on your principal).

These days, you may be able to fund a Roth 401(k), if your company offers it.

Other Key Differences Between IRAs and 401(k)s

As with anything that involves finance and the tax code, these accounts can be complicated. Because there can be stiff penalties when you don’t follow the rules, it’s wise to know what you’re doing.

Who Can Set Up a 401(k)?

As noted above, a key difference between an IRA and a 401(k) is that 401(k)s are qualified employer-sponsored retirement plans. You typically only have access to these plans through an employer who offers them as part of a full-time compensation package.

In addition, your employer may choose to provide matching 401(k) funds as part of your compensation, which is typically a percentage of the amount you contribute (e.g. an employer might match 3%, dollar for dollar).

Not everyone is a full-time employee. You may be self-employed or work part-time, leaving you without access to a traditional 401(k). Fortunately, there are other options available to you, including solo 401(k) plans and opening an IRA online (individual retirement accounts).

Who Can Set Up an IRA?

Anyone can set up an individual retirement account (IRA) as long as they’re earning income. (And if you’re a non-working spouse of someone with earned income, they can set up a spousal IRA on your behalf.)

If you already have a 401(k), you can still open an IRA and contribute to both accounts. But if you or your spouse (if you’re married) are covered by a retirement plan at work, you may not be able to deduct the full amount of your IRA contributions.

Understanding RMDs

Starting at age 72, you must take required minimum distributions (RMDs) from your tax-deferred accounts, including: traditional IRAs, SEP and SIMPLE IRAs, and 401(k)s. Be sure to determine your minimum distribution amount, and the proper timing, so that you’re not hit with a penalty for skipping it.

It’s worth noting, though, that RMD rules don’t apply to Roth IRAs. If you have a Roth IRA, or inherit one from your spouse, the money is yours to withdraw whenever you choose. The rules change if you inherit a Roth from someone who isn’t your spouse, so consult with a professional as needed.

However, RMD rules do apply when it comes to a Roth 401(k), similar to a traditional 401(k). The main difference here, of course, is that the Roth structure still applies and withdrawals are tax free.

A Closer Look at IRAs

An IRA is an individual retirement account that has a much lower contribution limit than a 401(k) (see chart below). Anyone with earned income can open an IRA, and there are two main types of IRAs to choose from: traditional and Roth accounts.

Self-employed people can also consider opening a SEP-IRA or a SIMPLE IRA, which are tax-deferred accounts that have higher contribution limits.

Traditional IRA

Like a 401(k), contributions to a traditional IRA are tax deductible and may help lower your tax bill. In 2024, IRA contribution limits are $7,000, or $8,000 for those aged 50 or older. In 2023, IRA contribution limits are $6,500, or $7,500 for those aged 50 or older.

With a traditional IRA, investments inside the account grow tax-deferred. And unlike 401(k)s where an employer might offer limited options, IRAs are more flexible because they are classified as self-directed and you typically set up an IRA through a brokerage firm of your choice.

Thus it’s possible to invest in a wider range of investments in your IRA, including stocks, bonds, mutual funds, exchange-traded funds, and even real estate.

When making withdrawals at age 59 ½, you will owe income tax. As with 401(k)s, any withdrawals before then may be subject to both income tax and the 10% early withdrawal penalty.

What Are Roth Accounts?

So far, we’ve discussed traditional 401(k) and IRA accounts. But each type of retirement account also comes in a different flavor — known as a Roth.

The main difference between traditional and Roth IRAs lies in when your contributions are taxed.

•   Traditional accounts are funded with pre-tax dollars. The contributions are tax deductible and may provide an immediate tax benefit by lowering your taxable income and, as a result, your tax bill.

•   Money inside these accounts grows tax-deferred, and you owe income tax when you make withdrawals, typically when you’ve reached the age of 59 ½.

Roth accounts, on the other hand, are funded with after-tax dollars, so your deposits aren’t tax deductible. However, investments inside Roth accounts also grow tax-free, and they are not subject to income tax when withdrawals are made at or after age 59 ½.

As noted above, Roths have an additional advantage in that you can withdraw your principal at any time (but you cannot withdraw principal + earnings until you’ve had the account for at least five years, and/or you’re 59 ½ or older — often called the five-year rule).

Roth accounts may be beneficial if you anticipate being in a higher tax bracket when you retire versus the one you’re in currently. Then tax-free withdrawals may be even more valuable.

It’s possible to hold both traditional and Roth IRAs at the same time, though combined contribution limits are the same as those for traditional accounts. And those limits can’t be exceeded.

Additionally, the ability to fund a Roth IRA is subject to certain income limits: above a certain limit you can’t contribute to a Roth. There are no income limits for a designated Roth 401(k), however.

Is your retirement piggy bank feeling light?

Start saving today with a Roth or Traditional IRA.


A Closer Look at a 401(k)

Contributions to your 401(k) are made with pre-tax dollars. This makes them tax-deductible, meaning the amount you save each year can lower your taxable income in the year you contribute, possibly resulting in a smaller tax bill.

In 2024, you can contribute up to $23,000 to your 401(k). If you’re 50 or older, you can also make catch-up contributions of an extra $7,500, for a total of $30,500. In 2023, you can contribute up to $22,500 each year to your 401(k). If you’re 50 or older, you can also make catch-up contributions of an extra $7,500, for a total of $30,000.

401(k) catch-up contributions allow people nearing retirement to boost their savings. In addition to the contributions made, an employer can also match their employee’s contribution, up to a combined employer and employee limit of $69,000 in 2024 and $66,000 in 2023.

An employer may offer a handful of investment options to choose from, such as exchange-traded funds (ETFs), mutual funds, and target date mutual funds. Money invested in these options grows tax-deferred, which can help retirement investments grow faster.

When someone begins taking withdrawals from their 401(k) account at age 59 ½ (the earliest age at which you can start taking penalty-free withdrawals), those funds are subject to income tax. Any withdrawals made before 59 ½ may be subject to a 10% early withdrawal penalty, on top of the tax you owe.

When Should You Use a 401(k)?

If your employer offers a 401(k), it may be worth taking advantage of the opportunity to start contributing to your retirement savings. After all, 401(k)s have some of the highest contribution limits of any retirement plans, which means you might end up saving a lot. Here are some other instances when it may be a good idea:

1. If your employer matches your contributions

If your company matches any part of your contribution, you may want to consider at least contributing enough to get the maximum employer match. After all, this match is tantamount to free money, and it can add up over time.

2. You can afford to contribute more than you can to an IRA

For tax year 2024, you can only put $7,000 in an IRA, but up to $23,000 in a 401(k) — if you’re over 50, those amounts increase to $8,000 for an IRA and $30,500 for a 401(k).

For tax year 2023, you can only put $6,500 in an IRA, but up to $22,500 in a 401(k) — if you’re over 50, those amounts increase to $7,500 for an IRA and $30,000 for a 401(k). If you’re in a position to save more than the IRA limit, that’s a good reason to take advantage of the higher limits offered by a 401(k).

3. When your income is too high

Above certain income levels, you can’t contribute to a Roth IRA. How much income is that? That’s a complicated question that is best answered by our Roth IRA calculator.

And if you or your spouse are covered by a workplace retirement plan, you may not be able to deduct IRA contributions.

If you can no longer fund a Roth, and can’t get tax deductions from a traditional IRA, it might be worth throwing your full savings power behind your 401(k).

When Should You Use an IRA?

If you can swing it, it may not hurt to fund an IRA. This is especially true if you don’t have access to a 401(k). But even if you do, IRAs can be important tools. For example:

1. When you leave your company

When you leave a job, you can rollover an old 401(k) into an IRA — and it’s generally wise to do so. It’s easy to lose track of old plans, and companies can merge or even go out of business. Then it can become a real hassle to find your money and get it out.

You can also roll the funds into your new company’s retirement plan (or stick with an IRA rollover, which may give you more control over your investment choices).

Recommended: How to Roll Over Your 401(k)

2. If your 401(k) investment choices are limited

If you have a good mix of mutual funds in your 401(k), or even some target date funds and low-fee index funds, your plan is probably fine. But, some plans have very limited investment options, or are so confusing that people can’t make a decision and end up in the default investment — a low interest money market fund.

If this is the case, you might want to limit your contributions to the amount needed to get your full employer match and put the rest in an IRA.

3. When you’re between jobs

Not every company has a 401(k), and people are not always employed. There may be times in your life when your IRA is the only option. If you have self-employment income, you can make higher contributions to a SEP IRA or a Solo 401(k) you set up for yourself.

4. If you can “double dip.”

If you have a 401(k), are eligible for a Roth IRA, or can deduct contributions to a traditional IRA, and you can afford it — it may be worth investing in both. After all, saving more now means more money — and financial security — down the line. Once again, you can check our IRA calculator to see if you can double dip. Just remember that the IRA contribution limit is for the total contributed to both a Roth and traditional IRA.

The real question is not: IRA vs. 401(k), but rather — which of these is the best place to put each year’s contributions? Both are powerful tools to help you save, and many people will use different types of accounts over their working lives.

When Should You Use Both an IRA and 401(k)?

Using an IRA and a 401(k) at the same time may be a good way to save for your retirement goals. Funding a traditional or Roth IRA and 401(k) at once can allow you to save more than you would otherwise be able to in just one account.

Bear in mind that if you or your spouse participate in a workplace retirement plan, you may not be able to deduct all of your traditional IRA contributions, depending on how high your income is.

Having both types of accounts can also provide you some flexibility in terms of drawing income when you retire. For example, you might find a 401(k) as a source of pre-tax retirement income. At the same time you might fund a Roth IRA to provide a source of after-tax income when you retire.

That way, depending on your financial and tax situation each year, you may be able to strategically make withdrawals from each account to help minimize your tax liability.

The Takeaway

What is the difference between an IRA and a 401(k)? As you can see now, the answer is pretty complicated, depending on which type of IRA you’re talking about. Traditional IRAs are tax deferred, just like traditional 401(k)s — which means your contributions are tax deductible in the year you make them, but taxes are owed when you take money out.

Roth accounts — whether a Roth IRA or a Roth 401(k) — have a different tax treatment. You deposit after-tax funds in these types of accounts. And then you don’t pay any tax on your withdrawals in retirement.

The biggest difference is the amount you can save in each. For tax year 2023, it’s $23,000 in a 401(k) ($30,500 if you’re 50 and over) versus only $7,000 in an IRA ($8,000 if you’re 50+). For tax year 2023, it’s $22,500 in a 401(k) ($30,000 if you’re 50 and over) versus only $6,500 in an IRA ($7,500 if you’re 50+).

Another difference is that a 401(k) is generally sponsored by your employer, so you’re beholden to the investment choices of the firm managing the company’s plan, and the fees they charge. By contrast, you set up an IRA yourself, so the investment options are greater — and the fees can be lower.

Generally, you can have an IRA as well as a 401(k). The rules around contribution limits, and how much you can deduct may come into play, however.

If you’re ready to open an IRA, it’s easy when you set up an Active Invest account with SoFi Invest.

Not sure what the right strategy is for you? SoFi Invest® offers educational content as well as access to financial planners. The Active Investing platform lets investors choose from an array of stocks, ETFs or fractional shares. For a limited time, funding an account gives you the opportunity to win up to $1,000 in the stock of your choice. All you have to do is open and fund a SoFi Invest account.

For a limited time, opening and funding an Active Invest account gives you the opportunity to get up to $1,000 in the stock of your choice.

FAQ

Is a 401(k) considered an IRA for tax purposes?

No. A 401(k) is a completely separate account than an IRA because it’s sponsored by your employer.

Is it better to have a 401(k) or an IRA?

You can save more in a 401(k), and your employer may also offer matching contributions. But an IRA often has a much wider range of investment options. It’s wise to weigh the differences, and decide which suits your situation best.

Can you roll a 401(k) Into an IRA penalty-free?

Yes. If you leave your job and want to roll over your 401(k) account into an IRA, you can do so penalty free within 60 days. If you transfer the funds and hold onto them for longer than 60 days, you will owe taxes and a penalty if you’re under 59 ½.

Can you lose money in an IRA?

Yes. You invest all the money you deposit in an IRA in different securities (i.e. stocks, bonds, mutual funds, ETFs). Ideally you’ll see some growth, but you could also see losses. There are no guarantees.


External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third-party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.

SoFi Invest®
INVESTMENTS ARE NOT FDIC INSURED • ARE NOT BANK GUARANTEED • MAY LOSE VALUE
SoFi Invest encompasses two distinct companies, with various products and services offered to investors as described below: Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of these platforms.
1) Automated Investing and advisory services are provided by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC-registered investment adviser (“SoFi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC.
2) Active Investing and brokerage services are provided by SoFi Securities LLC, Member FINRA (www.finra.org)/SIPC(www.sipc.org). Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above please visit SoFi.com/legal.
Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform.

Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs): Investors should carefully consider the information contained in the prospectus, which contains the Fund’s investment objectives, risks, charges, expenses, and other relevant information. You may obtain a prospectus from the Fund company’s website or by email customer service at [email protected]. Please read the prospectus carefully prior to investing.
Shares of ETFs must be bought and sold at market price, which can vary significantly from the Fund’s net asset value (NAV). Investment returns are subject to market volatility and shares may be worth more or less their original value when redeemed. The diversification of an ETF will not protect against loss. An ETF may not achieve its stated investment objective. Rebalancing and other activities within the fund may be subject to tax consequences.


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What Is a Roth IRA and How Does It Work?

A Roth IRA is an individual retirement account that allows you to contribute after-tax dollars, and then withdraw the money tax free in retirement. A Roth IRA is different from a traditional IRA, which is a tax-deferred account: meaning, you contribute pre-tax dollars — but you owe tax on the money you withdraw later.

Many people wonder what a Roth IRA is because, although it’s similar to a traditional IRA, the two accounts have many features and restrictions that are distinct from each other. Roth accounts can be more complicated, but for many investors the promise of having tax-free income in retirement is a strong incentive for understanding how Roth IRAs work.

Key Points

•   A Roth IRA is a retirement savings account that offers tax-free growth and tax-free withdrawals in retirement.

•   Contributions to a Roth IRA are made with after-tax dollars, but qualified withdrawals are not subject to income tax.

•   Roth IRAs have income limits for eligibility, and contribution limits that vary based on age and income.

•   Unlike traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs do not require minimum distributions during the account holder’s lifetime.

•   Roth IRAs can be a valuable tool for long-term retirement savings, especially for individuals who expect to be in a higher tax bracket in the future.

What Is a Roth IRA?

A Roth IRA is a retirement account for people who want to make after-tax contributions. The trade-off for paying taxes upfront is that when you retire, all of your withdrawals will be tax free, including the earnings and other gains in your account.

That said, because you’re making after-tax contributions, you can’t deduct Roth deposits from your income tax the way you can with a traditional IRA.

Understanding Contributions vs Earnings

An interesting wrinkle with a Roth IRA is that you can withdraw your contributions tax and penalty-free at any time. That’s because you’ve already paid tax on that money before initially depositing or investing it.

Withdrawing investment earnings on your money, however, is a different story. Those gains need to stay in the Roth for a minimum of five years before you can withdraw them tax free — or you could owe tax on the earnings as well as a 10% penalty.

It’s important to know how the IRS treats Roth funds so you can strategize about the timing around contributions, Roth conversions, as well as withdrawals.


💡 Quick Tip: Want to lower your taxable income? Start saving for retirement with a traditional IRA. The money you save each year is tax deductible (and you don’t owe any taxes until you withdraw the funds, usually in retirement).

Roth IRA Eligibility

Technically, anyone can open any type of IRA, as long as they have earned income (i.e. taxable income). The IRS has specific criteria about what qualifies as earned income. Income from a rental property isn’t considered earned income, nor is child support, so be sure to check.

There are no age restrictions for contributing to a Roth IRA. There are age restrictions when contributing to a traditional IRA, however.

Get a 2% IRA match. Tax season is now match season.

Get a 2% match on all your SoFi IRA contributions* through Tax Day (up to the annual contribution limits). Plus, you can still contribute to your 2023 IRAs until April 15th.


*Offer lasts through Tax Day, 4/15/24. Only offers made via ACH are eligible for the match. ACATs, wires, and rollovers are not included.

Roth IRA Annual Contribution Limits

For 2024, the annual limit is $7,000, and $8,000 for those 50 and up. The extra $1,000 is called a catch-up provision, for those closer to retirement.

For 2023, the annual contribution limits for both Roth and traditional IRAs was $6,500, or $7,500 for those 50 or older. So, there was a $500 increase in contribution limits between 2023 and 2024.

Remember that you can only contribute earned income. If you earn less than the contribution limit, you can only deposit up to the amount of money you made that year.

One exception is in the case of a spousal Roth IRA, where the working spouse can contribute to an IRA on behalf of a spouse who doesn’t have earned income.

Other Roth IRA Details

Since Roth IRAs are funded with after-tax income, contributions are not tax-deductible. One exception for low- and moderate-income individuals is something called the Saver’s Credit, which may give someone a partial tax credit for Roth contributions, assuming they meet certain income and other criteria.

Note that the deadline for IRA contributions is Tax Day of the following year. So for tax year 2023, the deadline for IRA contributions is April 15, 2024. But, if you file an extension, you cannot further postpone your IRA contribution until the extension date and have it apply to the prior year.

Roth IRA Income Restrictions

In addition, with a Roth there are important income restrictions to take into account. Higher-income individuals may not be able to contribute the full amount to a Roth IRA; some may not be eligible to contribute at all.

It’s important to know the rules and to make sure you don’t make an ineligible Roth contribution if your income is too high. Those funds would be subject to a 6% IRS penalty.

For 2023:

•   You could contribute the full amount to a Roth as long as your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) was less than $138,000 (for single filers) or less than $218,000 for those married, filing jointly.

•   Single people who earned more than $138,000 but less than $153,000 could contribute a reduced amount.

•   Married couples who earned between $218,000 and $228,000 could also contribute a reduced amount.

For 2024 the numbers have changed and the Roth IRA income limits have increased:

•   For single and joint filers: in order to contribute the full amount to a Roth you must earn less than $146,000 or $230,000, respectively.

•   Single filers earning more than $146,000 but less than $161,000 can contribute a reduced amount. (If your MAGI is over $161,000 you can’t contribute to a Roth.)

•   Married couples who earn between $230,000 and $240,000 can contribute a reduced amount. (But if your MAGI is over $240,000 you’re not eligible.)

If your filing status is…

If your 2023 MAGI is…

If your 2024 MAGI is…

You may contribute:

Married filing jointly or qualifying widow(er) Up to $218,000 Up to $230,000 For 2023 $6,500 or $7,500 for those 50 and up.
For 2024 $7,000 or $8,000 for those 50 and up.
$218,000 to $228,000 $230,000 to $240,000 A reduced amount*
Over $228,000 Over $240,000 Cannot contribute
Single, head of household, or married filing separately (and you didn’t live with your spouse in the past year) Up to $138,000 Up to $146,000 For 2023 $6,500 or $7,500 for those 50 and up.
For 2024 $7,000 or $8,000 for those 50 and up.
From $138,000 to $153,000 From $146,000 to $161,000 Reduced amount
Over $153,000 Over $161,000 Cannot contribute
Married filing separately** Less than $10,000 Less than $10,000 Reduced amount
Over $10,000 Over $10,000 Cannot contribute

*Consult IRS rules regarding reduced amounts.
**You did live with your spouse at some point during the year.

Advantages of a Roth IRA

Depending on an individual’s income and circumstances, a Roth IRA has a number of advantages.

Advantages of a Roth IRA

•   No age restriction on contributions. With a traditional IRA, individuals must stop making contributions at age 72. A Roth IRA works differently: Account holders can make contributions at any age as long as they have earned income for the year.

   * You can fund a Roth and a 401(k). Funding a 401(k) and a traditional IRA can be tricky, because they’re both tax-deferred accounts. But a Roth is after-tax, so you can contribute to a Roth and a 401(k) at the same time (and stick to the contribution limits for each account).

•   Early withdrawal option. With a Roth IRA, an individual can generally withdraw money they’ve contributed at any time, without penalty (but not earnings on those deposits). In contrast, withdrawals from a traditional IRA before age 59 ½ may be subject to a 10% penalty.

•   Qualified Roth withdrawals are tax-free. Investors who have had the Roth for at least five years, and are at least 59 ½, are eligible to take tax- and penalty-free withdrawals of contributions + earnings.

•   No required minimum distributions (RMDs). Unlike IRAs, which require account holders to start withdrawing money after age 73, Roth IRAs do not have RMDs. That means an individual can withdraw the money as needed, without fear of triggering a penalty.

Disadvantages of a Roth IRA

Despite the appeal of being able to take tax-free withdrawals in retirement, or when you qualify, Roth IRAs have some disadvantages.

•   No tax deduction for contributions. The primary disadvantage of a Roth IRA is that your contributions are not tax deductible, as they are with a traditional IRA and other tax-deferred accounts (e.g. a SEP IRA, 401(k), 403(b)).

•   Higher earners often can’t contribute to a Roth. Affluent investors are generally excluded from Roth IRA accounts, unless they do what’s known as a backdoor Roth or a Roth conversion. (There are no income limits for converting a traditional IRA to a Roth, but you’ll have to pay taxes on the money that goes into the Roth — though you won’t face a penalty.)

•   The 5-year rule applies. The 5-year rule can make withdrawals more complicated for investors who open a Roth later in life. If you open a Roth or do a Roth conversion at age 60, for example, you must wait five years to take qualified withdrawals of contributions and earnings, or face a penalty (some exceptions to this rule apply; see below).

Last, the downside with both a traditional or a Roth IRA is that the contribution limit is low. Other retirement accounts, including a SEP-IRA or 401(k), allow you to contribute far more in retirement savings. But, as noted above, you can combine saving in a 401(k) with saving in a Roth IRA as well.


💡 Quick Tip: Did you know that you must choose the investments in your IRA? Once you open a new IRA and start saving, you get to decide which mutual funds, ETFs, or other investments you want — it’s totally up to you.

Recap: Roth IRA Withdrawal Rules

Because Roth IRA withdrawal rules can be complicated, let’s review some of the ins and outs.

Qualified Distributions

Since you have already paid tax on the money you deposit, you’re able to withdraw contributions at any time, without paying taxes or a 10% early withdrawal penalty.

For example, if you’ve contributed $25,000 to a Roth over the last five years, and your investments have seen a 10% gain (or $2,500), you would have $27,500 in the account. But you could only withdraw up to $25,000 of your actual deposits.

Withdrawing any of the $2,500 in earnings would depend on your age and the 5-year rule.

The 5-Year Rule

What is the 5-year rule? You can withdraw Roth account earnings without owing tax or a penalty, as long as it has been at least five years since you first funded the account, and you are at least 59 ½. So if you start funding a Roth when you’re 60, you still have to wait five years to take qualified withdrawals.

The 5-year rule applies to everyone, no matter how old they are when they want to withdraw earnings from a Roth.

There are some exceptions that might enable you to avoid owing tax or a penalty.

Non-Qualified Withdrawals

Non-qualified withdrawals of earnings from a Roth IRA depends on your age and how long you’ve been funding the account.

•   If you meet the 5-year rule, but you’re under 59 ½, you’ll owe taxes and a 10% penalty on any earnings you withdraw, except in certain cases.

•   If you don’t meet the 5-year criteria, meaning you haven’t had the account for five years, and if you’re less than 59 ½ years old, in most cases you will also owe taxes and a 10% penalty.

There are some exceptions that might help you avoid paying a penalty, but you’d still owe tax on the early withdrawal of earnings.

Exceptions

Again, these restrictions apply to the earnings on your Roth contributions. (You can withdraw direct contributions themselves at any time, for any reason, tax and penalty free.)

You can take an early or non-qualified withdrawal prior to 59 ½ without paying a penalty or taxes, as long you’ve been actively making contributions for at least five years, in certain circumstances, including:

•   For a first home. You can take out up to $10,000 to pay for buying, building, or rebuilding your first home.

•   Disability. You can withdraw money if you qualify as disabled.

•   Death. Your heirs or estate can withdraw money if you die.

Additionally you can avoid the penalty, although you still have to pay income tax on the earnings, if you withdraw earnings for:

•   Medical expenses. Specifically, those that exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income.

•   Medical insurance premiums. During a time in which you’re unemployed.

•   Qualified higher education expenses.

Not only are the early withdrawal restrictions looser than with a traditional IRA, the post-retirement withdrawal restrictions are lesser, as well. Whereas account holders are required to start taking distribution of funds from their IRA after age 73, there is no pressure to take distribution from a Roth IRA at any age.

Roth IRA vs Traditional IRA

There are certain things a Roth IRA and a traditional IRA have in common, and several ways that they differ:

•   It’s an effective retirement savings plan: Though the plans differ in the tax benefits they offer, both are a smart way to save money for retirement.

•   Not an employer-sponsored plan: Individuals can open either type of IRA through a financial institution, and select their own investments or choose an automated portfolio.

•   Maximum yearly contribution: For 2023, the annual limit is $6,500, with an additional $1,000 allowed in catch-up contributions for individuals over age 50. For 2024 it’s $7,000, and $8,000 if you’re 50 and older.

There are also a number of differences between a Roth and a traditional IRA:

•   Roth IRA has income limits, but a traditional IRA does not.

•   Roth IRA contributions are not tax deductible, but contributions you make to a traditional, tax-deferred IRA are tax deductible.

•   Roth IRA has no RMDs. Individuals can withdraw money when they want, without the age limit imposed by a traditional IRA.

•   Roth IRA allows for penalty-free withdrawals before age 59 ½. While there are some restrictions, an account holder can typically withdraw contributions (if not earnings) before retirement.

Is a Roth IRA Right for You?

How do you know whether you should contribute to a Roth IRA or a traditional IRA? This checklist might help you decide.

•   You might want to open a Roth IRA if you don’t have access to an employer-sponsored 401(k) plan, or if you do have a 401(k) plan but you’ve already maxed out your contribution there. You can fund a Roth IRA and an employer-sponsored plan.

•   Because contributions are taxed immediately, rather than in retirement, using a Roth IRA can make sense if you are in a lower tax bracket or if you typically get a refund from the IRS. It may also make sense to open a Roth IRA if you expect your tax bracket to be higher in retirement than it is today.

•   Individuals who are in the beginning of their careers and earning less might consider contributing to a Roth IRA now, since they might not qualify under the income limits later in life.

•   A Roth IRA can be helpful if you think you’ll work past the traditional retirement age.

The Takeaway

A Roth IRA has many of the same benefits of a traditional IRA, with some unique aspects that can be attractive to some people saving for retirement. With a Roth IRA you don’t have to contend with required minimum distributions (RMDs); you can contribute to a Roth IRA at any age; and qualified withdrawals are tax free. With all that, a Roth IRA has a lot going for it.

That said, not everyone is eligible to fund a Roth IRA. You need to have earned income, and your annual household income cannot exceed certain limits. Also, even though you can withdraw your Roth IRA contributions at any time without owing a penalty, the same isn’t true of earnings.

You must have been funding your Roth for at least 5 years, and you must be at least 59 ½, in order to make qualified withdrawals of earnings. Otherwise, you would likely owe taxes on any earnings you withdraw — and possibly a penalty. Still, the primary advantage of a Roth IRA — being able to have an income stream in retirement that’s completely tax free — can outweigh some of the restrictions for certain investors.

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FAQ

Are Roth IRAs insured?

If your Roth IRA is held at an FDIC-insured bank and is invested in bank products like certificates of deposit (CDs) or money market account, those deposits are insured up to $250,000 per depositor, per institution. On the other hand, if your Roth IRA is with a brokerage that’s a member of the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC), and the brokerage fails, the SIPC provides protection up to $500,000, which includes a $250,000 limit for cash. It’s important to note that neither FDIC or SIPC insurance protects against market losses; they only cover losses due to institutional failures or insolvency.

How much can I put in my Roth IRA monthly?

For tax year 2023, the maximum you can deposit in a Roth or traditional IRA is $6,500, or $7,500 if you’re over 50. How you divide that per month is up to you. You just can’t contribute more than the annual limit.

Who can open a Roth IRA?

Anyone with earned income (i.e. taxable income) can open a Roth IRA, but your income must be within certain limits in order to fund a Roth.


Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.

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