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How to Save for Retirement

Between paying for your regular expenses including groceries, rent or mortgage, student loans, and bills, it can seem nearly impossible to find a few dollars left over for saving for retirement — especially when that might be decades away. However, building up a nest egg isn’t just important, it’s urgent. The sooner you start, the more financially secure you should be by the time retirement rolls around.

So, how to save for retirement? Finding a solid retirement plan to suit your needs may be easier than you think. Here are 10 ways to save for retirement to help make those golden years feel, well, golden.

This article is part of SoFi’s Retirement Planning Guide, our coverage of all the steps you need to create a successful retirement plan.


money management guide for beginners

Assess Your Retirement Goals and Needs

When it comes to saving for retirement, first do an inventory of your current financial situation. This includes your income, savings, and investments, as well as your expenses and debts. That way you’ll know how much you have now.

Next, figure out what you want your retirement to look like. Are you wondering how to retire early? Do you plan to travel? Move to a different location? Pursue hobbies like tennis, golf, or biking? Go back to school? Start a business?

You may not be able to answer these questions quickly or easily, but it’s important to think about them to determine your retirement goals. Deciding what you want your lifestyle to look like is key because it will affect how much money you’ll need for retirement saving.

💡 Quick Tip: Before opening an investment account, know your investment objectives, time horizon, and risk tolerance. These fundamentals will help keep your strategy on track and with the aim of meeting your goals.

Boost your retirement contributions with a 1% match.

SoFi IRAs now get a 1% match on every dollar you deposit, up to the annual contribution limits. Open an account today and get started.


Only offers made via ACH are eligible for the match. ACATs, wires, and rollovers are not included.

Determine How Much You’ll Need to Retire

Now the big question: How much money will it take for you to retire comfortably? You may also be wondering, when can I retire? There are several retirement savings formulas that can help you estimate the amount of your nest egg. And there are various calculators that can help generate an estimate as well.

While using a ballpark figure may not sound scientific, it’s a good exercise that can help lay the foundation for the amount you want to save. And it may inspire you to save more, or rethink your investment strategy thus far.

As an example, you can use the following basic formula to gauge the amount you might need to save, assuming your retirement expenses are similar to your present ones. Start with your current annual income, subtract your estimated annual Social Security benefits, and divide by 0.04.

Example

Let’s say your income today is $100,000, and you went on the Social Security website using your MySSA account (the digital dashboard for benefits) to find out what your monthly benefits are likely to be when you retire: $2,000 per month, or $24,000 per year.

$100,000 – $24,000 = $76,000 / 0.04 = $1.9 million

That’s the target amount of retirement savings you would need, theoretically, to cover your expenses based on current levels. Bear in mind, however, that you may not need to replace 100% of your current income, as your expenses in retirement could be lower. And you may even be contemplating working after retirement. But this is one way to start doing the math.

10 Ways to Save For Retirement

So, how to save money for retirement? Consider the following 10 options part of your retirement savings toolkit.

1. Leverage the Power of Time

Giving your money as much time to grow as you possibly can is one of the most important ways to boost retirement savings. The reason: Compounding returns.

Let’s say you invest $500 in a mutual fund in your retirement account, and in a year the fund gained 5%. Now you would have $525 (minus any investment or account fees). While there are no guarantees that the money would continue to gain 5% every year — investments can also lose money — historically, the average stock market return of the S&P 500 is about 10% per year.

That might mean 0% one year, 10% another year, 3% the year after, and so on. But over time your principal would likely continue to grow, and the earnings on that principal would also grow. That’s compound growth.

2. Create and Stick to a Budget

Another important step in saving for retirement is to create a budget and stick to it. Calculating your own monthly budget can be simple — just follow these steps.

•   Gather your documents. Gather up all your bills including credit cards, loans, mortgage or rent, so that you can document every penny coming out of your pocket each month.

•   List all of your income. Find your pay stubs and add up any extra cash you make on the side using your after-tax take-home pay.

•   List all of your current savings. From here, you can see how far you have to go until you reach your retirement goals.

•   Calculate your retirement spending. Decide how much money you need to live comfortably in retirement so that you can establish a retirement budget. If you’re unsure of what your ideal retirement number is, plug your numbers into the formula mentioned above, or use a retirement calculator to get a better idea of what your retirement budget will be.

•   Adjust accordingly. Every few months take a look at your budget and make sure you’re staying on track. If a new bill comes up, an expensive life event occurs, or if you gain new income, adjust your budgets and keep saving what you can.

3. Take Advantage of Employer-Sponsored Retirement Plans

Preparing for retirement should begin the moment you start your first job — or any job that offers a company retirement plan. There are many advantages to contributing to a 401(k) program (if you work at a for-profit company) or a 403(b) plan (if you work for a nonprofit), or a 457(b) plan (if you work for the government).

In many cases, your employer can automatically deduct your contributions from your paycheck, so you don’t have to think about it. This can help you save more, effortlessly. And in some cases your employer may offer a matching contribution: e.g. up to 3% of the amount you save.

Starting a 401(k) savings program early in life can really add up in the future thanks to compound growth over time. In addition, starting earlier can help your portfolio weather changes in the market.

On the other hand, if you happen to start your retirement savings plan later in life, you can always take advantage of catch-up contributions that go beyond the 2024 annual contribution limit of $23,000 and 2023 annual contribution limit of $22,500. Individuals 50 and older are allowed to contribute an additional $7,500 a year to a 401(k), to help them save a bit more before hitting retirement age.

If you have a 403(b) retirement plan, it’s similar to a 401(k) in terms of the contribution limit and automatic deductions from your paycheck. Your employer may or may not match your contributions. However, the range of investment options you have to choose from may be more limited than those offered in a 401(k).

With a 457(b) plan, the contribution limit is similar to that of a 403(b). But employers don’t have to provide matching contributions for a 457(b) plan, and again, the investment options may be narrower than the options in a 401(k).

4. Add an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) to the Mix

Another strategy for how to save for retirement, especially if you’re one of the many freelancers or contract workers in the American workforce, is to open an IRA account.

Like a 401(k), an IRA allows you to put away money for your retirement. However, for 2024 the maximum contribution you can put into your IRA caps at $7,000 ($8,000 for those 50 and older). For 2023 the maximum contribution you can put into your IRA caps at $6,500 ($7,500 for those 50 and older).

Both the traditional IRA and 401(k) offer tax-deductible contributions. Roth IRAs are another option: With a Roth IRA, your contributions are taxed, which means your withdrawals in retirement will be tax free.

You control your IRA, not a larger company, so you can decide which financial institution you want to go with, how much you want to contribute each month, how to invest your money, and if you want to go Roth or traditional.

For those who can afford to invest money in both an IRA and a 401(k), and who meet the necessary criteria, that’s also an option that can boost retirement savings.

5. Deal With Debt

Should you save for retirement or pay off debt? And, more specifically, if you’re dealing with student loans, you may be wondering, should I save for retirement or pay off student loans? That is a financial conundrum for modern times. A good solution to this problem is to do both.

Just as it can be helpful to create a budget and stick to it, it can be helpful to create a loan repayment plan as well. Add those payments to your monthly budgeting expenses and if you still have dollars left over after accounting for all your bills, start socking that away for retirement.

If your student loan debt feels out of control, as it does for many Americans, you may want to look into student loan refinancing. By refinancing your student loan, you could significantly lower your interest rate and potentially pay off your debt faster. Once the loan is paid off, you will be able to reallocate that money to save for retirement.

6. Add Income With a Side Hustle

Working a side gig in your spare time can seriously pay off in the future, especially when you consider that the average side hustle can bring in several hundred dollars a month, according to one survey.

There are several things to consider when thinking of adding an extra job to your résumé, including evaluating what you’re willing to give up in order to make time for more work. But, if you can put your skills to use — such as copy editing, photography, design, or consulting — you can think about this as less of a side hustle and more of a way to hone your client list.

A side hustle should be one way to save for retirement that you’ll enjoy doing. And it could help if you find yourself dealing with a higher cost of living and retirement at some point.

7. Consider Putting Your Money in the Market

There’s no one best way to save for retirement — sometimes a multi-pronged approach can work best. If you already have a budget and an emergency savings account, and you’re maxing out your contributions to your 401(k), 403(b), 457, or IRA, then investing in the market could be another way to diversify your portfolio and potentially help build your nest egg. For instance, historically, stocks have been proven to be one of the best ways to help build wealth.

Putting your money in the market means you’ll have a variety of options to choose from. There are stocks, of course, but also mutual funds, exchange-traded funds, and even real estate investment trusts (REITs), which pool investor assets to purchase or finance a portfolio of properties.

However, investing in any of these assets, and in the market in general, comes with risk. So you’ll want to keep that in mind as you choose what to invest in. Consider what your risk tolerance is, how much you’re investing, when you’ll need the money, and how you might diversify your portfolio. Carefully weighing your priorities, needs, and comfort level, can help you make informed selections.

Once you have your asset allocation, be sure to evaluate it, and possibly rebalance it, to stay in line with your goals each year.

8. Automate Your Savings

Setting up automated savings accounts takes the thought and effort out of saving your money because it happens automatically. It could also help you hit your financial goals faster, because you don’t have to decide to save (or agonize over giving in to a spending temptation) and then do the manual work of putting the money into an account. It just happens like clockwork.

Enrolling in a 401(k), 403(b), or 457 at work is one way to automate savings for retirement. Another way to do it is to set up direct deposit for your paychecks. You could even choose to have a portion of your pay deposited into a high-interest savings account to help increase your returns.

9. Downsize and Cut Costs

To help save more and spend less, pull out that monthly budget you created. When you look at your current bills vs. income, how much is left over for retirement savings? Are there areas you can be spending less, such as getting rid of an expensive gym membership or streaming service, dialing back your takeout habit, or shopping a bit less?

This is when you need to be very honest with yourself and decide what you’re willing to give up to help you hit that target retirement number. Finding little ways to save for retirement can have a big impact down the road.

10. Take Advantage of Catch-Up Contributions

If you’re getting closer to retirement and you haven’t started saving yet, it’s not too late! In fact, the government allows catch-up contributions for those age 50 and older.
A catch-up contribution is a contribution to a retirement savings account that is made beyond the regular contribution maximum. Catch-up contributions can be made on either a pre-tax or after-tax basis.

For 2023 and 2024, catch-up contributions of up to $7,500 are permitted on a 401(k), 403(b), or 457(b).

💡 Quick Tip: Look for an online brokerage with low trading commissions as well as no account minimum. Higher fees can cut into investment returns over time.

Common Retirement Savings Mistakes to Avoid

These are some of the biggest retirement pitfalls to watch out for.

•   Not having a retirement plan in place. Neglecting to make any kind of plan means you’ll likely be unprepared for retirement and won’t have enough money for your golden years.

•   Failing to take advantage of employer-sponsored plans. If you haven’t enrolled in one of these plans, you’re potentially leaving free money on the table. Sign up for a 401(k), 403(b), or 457(b) to tap into employer-matching contributions, when available.

•   Underestimating how much money you’ll need for retirement. Financial specialists typically advise having enough savings to last you for 25 to 30 years after you retire.

•   Accumulating too much debt. Try to avoid taking on too much debt as you get closer to retirement. And work on paying down the debt you do have so you won’t be saddled with it when you retire.

•   Taking Social Security too early. It’s possible to file for Social Security at age 62, but the longer you wait (up until age 70), the higher your benefit will be — approximately 32% higher, in fact.

The Takeaway

It’s never too early to start planning for retirement. And there are many ways to start saving, and set up a system so that you’re saving steadily over time. You can contribute to a retirement plan that your employer offers; you can set up your own retirement plan (e.g. an IRA); and you can choose your own investments.

The most important thing to remember is that you have more control than you think. While your retirement vision may change over time, starting to save and invest your nest egg now will give you a head start.

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).

Easily manage your retirement savings with a SoFi IRA.

FAQ

What is the fastest way to save for retirement?

Take a two-pronged approach: First, invest as much as you can in your employer-sponsored retirement account like a 401(k). You’ll likely get some matching contributions from your employer, as well as tax advantages. You can invest up to $23,000 in a 401(k) in 2024 and $22,500 in a 401(k) in 2023, plus an extra $7,500 if you are 50 or older.

Second, if you qualify you can also set up and invest in a Roth IRA. You can contribute $7,000 in a Roth IRA in 2024 and $6,500 in a Roth IRA in 2023 ($7,500 if you’re 50 or older).

Having these two accounts could really help you start building up your retirement savings.

How much do I need to save for retirement?

To estimate how much you need to save for retirement, use this retirement savings formula: Start with your current income, subtract your estimated Social Security benefits, and divide by 0.04. That’s the approximate amount of total retirement savings you’ll need, based on your current income and expenses. You can try other calculators or formulas that might indicate that you’ll need less in retirement. It all depends.

Financial professionals typically advise having enough savings for 25 to 30 years’ worth of retirement.

How do I save for retirement without a 401(k)?

If you don’t have a 401(k), you can set up another type of tax-advantaged account for retirement, such as a traditional IRA and/or a Roth IRA. With a traditional IRA, the money grows tax free and is taxed when you withdraw it during retirement.

A Roth IRA, on the other hand, doesn’t provide a tax break upfront, but the funds you withdraw after age 59 ½ are tax free, as long as you’ve had the Roth IRA account for at least five years. You can contribute up to $7,000 to both types of IRAs for 2024 and $6,500 to both types of IRAs for 2023 ($7,500 if you’re 50 or older).

What is the average monthly income for a person who is retired?

The average monthly retirement income for a person who is retired, adjusted for inflation, is $4,381, according to a 2022 U.S. Census report.

How do taxes affect retirement income?

You will need to pay taxes on any withdrawals you make from tax-deferred investments like a 401(k) or traditional IRA. You will also have to pay federal taxes on a pension, if you have one. At the state level, some states tax pensions and some don’t. Additionally, you might have to pay tax on a portion of your Social Security benefits, depending on your overall income.

How can I supplement my income in retirement?

In addition to any retirement plans and pensions you have plus Social Security, you can supplement your retirement income with such strategies as: making investments generally considered to be safe, like investing in CDs (certificate of deposit), getting a part-time job or starting a small business, or renting out any additional property you might own, such as a vacation cabin, to make some extra money.


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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.

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.

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Roth IRA vs Traditional IRA: Main Differences, Explained

Two of the most popular types of IRA are the traditional IRA and the Roth IRA. It’s helpful to understand the difference between Roth vs. traditional IRA when saving for retirement.

Traditional IRAs are funded with pre-tax dollars, while a Roth IRA is funded with after-tax contributions. The same annual contribution limits apply to both types of IRAs, including catch-up contributions for savers aged 50 and older. For 2024, the annual contribution limit is $7,000, with an additional $1,000 allowed in catch-up contributions. For 2023, the annual contribution limit is $6,500, with an additional $1,000 allowed in catch-up contributions.

Whether it makes sense to open a traditional IRA vs Roth IRA can depend on eligibility and the types of tax advantages you’re seeking. With Roth IRAs, for example, you get the benefit of tax-free distributions in retirement but only taxpayers within certain income limits are eligible to open one of these accounts. Traditional IRAs, on the other hand, offer tax-deductible contributions, with fewer eligibility requirements.

In weighing which is better, traditional IRA vs. Roth IRA, it’s important to consider what you need each plan to do for you.

Key Differences Between Roth and Traditional IRAs

When choosing which type of retirement account to open, it’s helpful to fully understand the difference between Roth vs. traditional IRA options. Here are the main differences between the two types.

Eligibility

Anyone who earns taxable income can open a traditional IRA. Previous rules that prohibited individuals from opening or contributing to a traditional IRA once they reached a certain age no longer apply.

Roth IRAs also have no age restriction—individuals can make contributions at any age as long as they have earned income for the year.

Roth IRAs, however, have a key restriction that a traditional IRA does not: An individual must earn below a certain income limit to be able to contribute. In 2024, that limit is $146,000 for single people (people earning more than $146,000 but less than $161,000 can contribute a reduced amount). For those individuals who are married and file taxes jointly, the limit is $230,000 to make a full contribution and between $230,000 to $240,000 for a reduced amount.

In 2023, that limit is $138,000 for single people (people earning more than $138,000 but less than $153,000 can contribute a reduced amount). For those individuals who are married and file taxes jointly, the limit is $218,000 to make a full contribution and between $218,000 to $228,000 for a reduced amount.

The ceilings are based on modified adjusted gross income (MAGI).

💡 Quick Tip: How much does it cost to open an IRA account? Often there are no fees to open an IRA, but you typically pay investment costs for the securities in your portfolio.

Taxes

With a traditional IRA, individuals can deduct the money they’ve put in (aka contributions) on their tax returns, which lowers their taxable income in the year they contribute. Come retirement, investors will pay income taxes at their ordinary income tax rate when they withdraw funds. This is called tax deferral. For individuals who expect to be in a lower tax bracket upon retirement, a traditional IRA might be preferable.

The amount of contributions a person can deduct depends on their modified adjusted gross income (MAGI), tax filing status, and whether they have a retirement plan through their employer. This chart, based on information from the IRS, illustrates the deductibility of traditional contributions for the 2023 tax year.

2023 Filing Status

If You ARE Covered by a Retirement Plan at Work

If You ARE NOT Covered by a Plan at Work

Single or Head of Household You can deduct up to the full contribution limit if your MAGI is $73,000 or less. You can deduct up to the full contribution limit, regardless of income.
Married Filing Jointly You can deduct up to the full contribution limit if your MAGI is $116,000 or less. You can deduct up to the full contribution limit, regardless of income, if your spouse is also not covered by a plan at work.

If your spouse is covered by a plan at work, you can deduct up to the full contribution limit if your combined MAGI is $218,000 or less.

Married Filing Separately You’re allowed a partial deduction if your MAGI is less than $10,000. You’re allowed a partial deduction if your MAGI is less than $10,000.

With a Roth IRA, on the other hand, contributions aren’t tax-deductible. But individuals won’t pay any taxes when they withdraw money they’ve contributed at retirement, or when they withdraw earnings, as long as they’re at least 59 ½ years old and have had the account for at least five years.

For people who expect to be in the same tax bracket or a higher one upon retirement—for example, because of high earnings from a business, investments, or continued work—a Roth IRA might be the more appealing choice.

Contributions

Contributions are the same for both Roth and traditional IRAs. The IRS effectively levels the playing field for individuals saving for retirement by setting the same maximum contribution limit across the board.

For the 2024 tax year the IRA contribution limit is $7,000, with an extra $1,000 catch-up contribution for those age 50 or older. Individuals have until the April tax filing deadline to make IRA contributions for the current tax year. For instance, to fund an IRA for the 2024 tax year, investors have until the April 2025 tax filing deadline to do so.

For the 2023 tax year the IRA contribution limit is $6,500, with an extra $1,000 contribution for those age 50 or older. Individuals have until the April tax filing deadline to make IRA contributions for the current tax year. To fund an IRA for the 2023 tax year, investors have until the April 2024 tax filing deadline to do so.

As mentioned above, there is no age limit to making contributions to a Roth IRA or a Traditional IRA. As long as a person has income for the year, they can keep adding money to either type of IRA account, up to the limit.

Boost your retirement contributions with a 1% match.

SoFi IRAs now get a 1% match on every dollar you deposit, up to the annual contribution limits. Open an account today and get started.


Only offers made via ACH are eligible for the match. ACATs, wires, and rollovers are not included.

Withdrawals

Generally with IRAs, the idea is to leave the money untouched until retirement. The IRS has set up the tax incentives in such a way that promotes this strategy. That said, it is possible to withdraw money from an IRA before retirement.

With a Roth IRA, an individual can withdraw the money they’ve contributed (but not any money earned). They can also withdraw up to $10,000 in the earnings they’ve made on investing that money without paying penalties as long as they’re using the money to pay for a first home (under certain conditions).

With a traditional IRA, an investor will generally pay a 10% penalty tax if they take out funds before age 59 ½ . There are some exceptions to this rule, as well.

These are the IRS exceptions for early withdrawal penalties:

•   Disability or death of the IRA owner. In this case, disability means “total and permanent disability of the participant/IRA owner.”

•   Qualified higher education expenses for you, a spouse, child or grandchild.

•   Qualified homebuyer. First-time homebuyers can withdraw up to $10,000 for a down payment on a home.

•   Unreimbursed medical expenses that are more than 7.5% of your adjusted gross income.

Health insurance premiums paid while unemployed.


💡 Quick Tip: Before opening any investment account, consider what level of risk you are comfortable with. If you’re not sure, start with more conservative investments, and then adjust your portfolio as you learn more.

Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs)

The IRS doesn’t necessarily allow investors to leave money in your IRA indefinitely. Traditional IRAs are subject to required minimum distributions, or RMDs. That means an individual must start taking a certain amount of money from their account (and paying income taxes on it) when they reach age 73—whether they need the funds or not. Distributions are based on life expectancy and your account balance.

If an individual doesn’t take a distribution, the government may charge a 25% penalty on the amount they didn’t withdraw.

For those who, in their retirement planning, don’t want to be forced to start withdrawing from their retirement savings at a specific age, a Roth IRA may be preferable. Roth IRAs have no RMDs. That means a person can withdraw the money as needed, without fear of triggering a penalty. Roth IRAs might also be a vehicle for passing on assets to your heirs or beneficiaries, since you can leave them untouched throughout your life and eventual death if you choose to.

For a helpful at-a-glance comparison of all the differences between a Roth vs traditional IRA, this chart looks at each guideline individually.

Roth IRA

Traditional IRA

Good for… Individuals who are income-eligible and want the benefit of tax-free withdrawals in retirement Individuals who want an upfront tax break in the form of deductible contributions
Age Limit No, you can make contributions at any age as long as you have earned income for the year No, you can make contributions at any age as long as you have earned income for the year
Income Eligibility Yes, you must earn below a certain income limit to be able to contribute No, anyone with earned income for the year can contribute
Funded With Funded with after-tax contributions Funded with pre-tax dollars
Annual Contribution Limits (2024 Tax Year) $7,000, plus an additional $1,000 in catch-up contributions if you’re 50 or older $7,000, plus an additional $1,000 in catch-up contributions if you’re 50 or older
Tax-Deductible Contributions? No Yes, based on income, filing status and whether you’re covered by a retirement plan at work
Withdrawal Rules Contributions can be withdrawn penalty-free at any time; earnings can be withdrawn penalty-free and tax-free after 5 years and age 59 ½ Penalty-free withdrawals after age 59 ½; taxed as ordinary income
Early Withdrawal Penalties Early withdrawals of earnings may be subject to a 10% penalty and ordinary income tax Early withdrawals of contributions and earnings may be subject to a 10% penalty and ordinary income tax
Required Minimum Distributions? No Yes, beginning at age 73
Tax Penalty for Missing RMDs N/A 25% of the amount you were required to withdraw

Deciding Which Is Right for You

Still debating which type of IRA is best for your particular situation? Taking this traditional vs. Roth IRA quiz can give you a better idea of how each IRA works and which might be best suited to your needs.

The Takeaway

For most people, an IRA can be a great way to bolster retirement savings, even if they are already invested in an employer-sponsored plan like a 401(k). You just have to decide which type of IRA is better for you—a Roth or traditional IRA.

When it comes to retirement, every cent counts, and starting as early as possible can make a big difference—so it’s always a good idea to figure out which type will work for you sooner than later.

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.

FAQ

Which is better, a Roth or Traditional IRA?

A Roth IRA may be better if you expect to be in a higher income tax bracket in retirement. That’s because with a Roth, you make contributions with after-tax dollars, the money in the account grows tax-free, and you generally withdraw the funds tax-free in retirement. A traditional IRA may be better for you if you expect to be in a lower tax bracket in retirement because you’ll pay taxes on withdrawals then. You can take deductions on your traditional IRA contributions upfront when you make them.

What are the benefits of a Roth IRA vs a Traditional IRA?

Because you make after-tax contributions to a Roth IRA, your money generally grows in the account tax-free and you make tax-free withdrawals in retirement. In addition, with a Roth IRA, you can withdraw your contributions at any time without penalty, and you do not have to take required minimum distributions (RMDs) like you do with a traditional IRA.

What are the disadvantages of a Roth IRA vs a Traditional IRA?

Disadvantages of a Roth IRA include the restriction that you must earn below a certain income limit to be eligible to contribute to a Roth. In addition, you will not get a tax deduction from contributions made to a Roth IRA. However, you will generally be able to withdraw the funds tax-free in retirement.


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.

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.

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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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.

“A 401(k) is probably one of the most common retirement vehicles,” says Brian Walsh, a CFP® at SoFi. “A 401(k) will be available through work. Your employer is going to choose whether or not to make a 401(k) available to all the employees. Generally speaking, 401(k)s are the most popular retirement plan employers provide.”

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.

Roth IRA Eligibility

Technically, anyone can open an IRA account, 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.

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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.

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.

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

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.

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 $25 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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Retirement Plan Options for the Self-Employed

Being your own boss is great, and the retirement plan options when you’re self-employed — like a SEP-IRA or solo 401(k) — can be surprisingly robust.

Not only do you have more options in terms of self-employed retirement plans than you might think, some of these plans come with higher contribution limits and greater tax benefits than traditional plans. That’s especially true since the passage of the SECURE 2.0 Act, which has favorably adjusted the rules of many retirement plans.

What Are Self-Employed Retirement Plans?

In some ways, self-employed retirement plans aren’t so different from regular retirement plans. You can set aside money now, select investments within the account, and continue to contribute and invest for the long term.

Similar to traditional retirement plans, you have two main categories most self-employed plans fall into:

•   Tax-deferred retirement accounts (e.g traditional, SEP, or SIMPLE IRAs and solo 401(k) plans). The amount you can save varies by the type of account. The money you set aside is deductible, and you don’t pay tax on that portion of your income. You do pay taxes on the funds you withdraw in retirement.

•   After-tax retirement accounts (typically designated as Roth IRAs or Roth 401(k) accounts). Here you can also save up to the prescribed annual limit, but the money you save is after-tax income and cannot be deducted. That said, withdrawals in retirement are tax free.

A note about Roth eligibility: Roth IRAs come with income limits. If your income is higher than the prescribed limit, you may not be eligible. Roth 401(k) plans do not come with income restrictions. Details below.

Understanding Beneficiary Rules for Self-Employed Plans

The rules that apply to inherited retirement accounts are extremely complicated. If you’re the beneficiary of an IRA, solo 401(k) or other retirement account, you may want to consult a professional as terms vary widely, and penalties can apply.

Administrative Factors to Consider

When selecting a self-employed retirement plan, it’s important to weigh the set up, administrative, and IRS filing rules. Some plans are easier to establish and maintain than others.

Given that running a plan can add to your overall time and personnel costs, it’s important to do a cost-benefit analysis when choosing a retirement plan when you’re a freelancer, consultant, or small business owner.

💡 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).

Types of Self-Employed Retirement Plans

The IRS outlines a number of retirement plans for those who are freelance, self-employed, or who run their own businesses. Here are the basics.

Traditional and Roth IRAs

What they are: One of the most popular types of retirement plans is an IRA — or Individual Retirement Arrangement.

As noted above, there are traditional IRAs, which are tax deferred, as well as Roth IRAs, which are after-tax accounts.

Suited for: While anyone with earned income can open a traditional or Roth IRA, these accounts can also be used specifically as self-employed retirement plans. They are simple to set up; and most financial institutions offer IRAs.

That said, IRAs have the lowest contribution limits of any self-employed plans, and may be better suited to those who are starting out, or who have a side hustle, and can’t contribute large amounts to a retirement account.

Contribution limits. There is no age limit for contributing to a traditional or Roth IRA, but there are contribution limits (and for Roth IRAs there are income limits; see below).

For tax year 2024, you can contribute up to $7,000 annually to either type of IRA, with an additional $1,000 catch-up contribution allowed for people over 50 years old. (For tax year 2023, you may contribute $6,500 per year, $7,500 with the catch-up provision, until April 15, 2024.)

Note that your total annual combined contributions across all your IRA accounts cannot exceed those limits. So if you’re 35 and contribute $3,000 to a Roth IRA for 2024, you cannot contribute more than $4,000 to a traditional IRA in the same year, for a maximum total annual contribution of $7,000.

Income limits: There are no income limits for contributing to a traditional IRA, but Roth IRAs do come with income restrictions. In 2024, that limit is $146,000 for single people (people earning more than $146,000 but less than $161,000 can contribute a reduced amount). For those individuals who are married and file taxes jointly, the limit is $230,000 to make a full contribution, and between $230,000 to $240,000 for a reduced amount.

Tax benefits: The main difference between a traditional vs. Roth IRA is the tax treatment of the money you save.

•   With a traditional IRA, the contributions you make are tax-deductible when you make them (unless you’re covered by a retirement plan at work, in which case conditions apply). Withdrawals are taxed at ordinary income rates.

•   With a Roth IRA, there are no tax breaks for your contributions, but qualified withdrawals are tax free.

Withdrawal rules: You owe ordinary income tax on withdrawals from a traditional IRA after age 59 ½. You may owe a 10% penalty on early withdrawals, i.e. before age 59 ½. There are exceptions to this rule for medical and educational expenses, as well as other conditions, so be sure to check with a professional or on IRS.gov.

The rules and restrictions for taking withdrawals from a Roth are more complex. Although your contributions to a Roth IRA (i.e. your principal) can be withdrawn at any time, investment earnings on those contributions can only be withdrawn tax-free and without penalty once the investor reaches the age of 59½ — and as long as the account has been open for at least five years (a.k.a. the 5-year rule).

Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs): You are not required to take minimum distributions from a Roth IRA account. You are required to take minimum distributions from a traditional IRA starting at age 73. RMD rules can be complicated, so you may want to consult a professional to avoid making a mistake and potentially owing a penalty.

Solo 401(k)

What it is: A solo 401(k) is a self-employed retirement plan that the IRS also refers to as a one-participant 401(k) plan. It works a bit like a regular employer-backed 401(k), except that in this instance you’re the employer and the employee. There are contribution rules for each role, but this dual structure enables freelancers and solo business owners to save more than a standard 401(k) would allow.

Suited for: A solo 401(k) covers a business owner who has no employees, or employs only their spouse.

Contribution limits:

•   As the employee: For 2024, you can contribute up to $23,000 or 100% of compensation (whichever is less), with an additional $7,500 in catch-up contributions allowed if you’re over 50, for a total of $30,500.

•   As the employer: You can contribute up to 25% of your net earnings, with separate rules for single-member LLCs or sole proprietors.

Total contributions cannot exceed a total of $69,000, or $76,500 if you’re 50 and over.

You can not use a solo 401(k) if you have any employees, though you can hire your spouse so they can also contribute to the plan (and you can match their contributions as the employer), further reducing your taxable income.

Note that 401(k) contribution limits are per person, not per plan (similar to IRA rules), so if either you or your spouse are enrolled in another 401(k) plan, then the $69,000 limit per person must take into account any contributions to that other 401(k) plan.

Income limits: There is a limit on the amount of compensation that’s allowed for use in determining your contributions. For tax year 2024 it’s $345,000.

Tax benefits: A solo 401(k) has a similar tax setup as a traditional 401(k). Contributions can be deducted, thus reducing your taxable income and potentially the amount of tax you owe for the year you contribute. But you owe ordinary income tax on any withdrawals.

Withdrawal rules: You can take withdrawals from a solo 401(k) without penalty at age 59 ½ or older. Distributions may be allowed before that time in the case of certain “triggering events,” such as a disability (you can find a list of exceptions at IRS.gov), but you may owe a 10% penalty as well as income tax on the withdrawal.

Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs): You are required to take minimum distributions from a solo 401(k) starting at age 73. RMD rules can be complicated, so you may want to consult a professional to avoid making a mistake and potentially owing a penalty.

Simplified Employee Pension (or a SEP-IRA)

What it is: A SEP-IRA, or Simplified Employee Pension plan, is similar to a traditional IRA with a streamlined way for an employer (in this case, you) to make contributions to their own and their employees’ retirement savings. Note that when using a SEP-IRA, the employer makes all contributions; employees do not contribute to the SEP.

Suited for: A key difference in a SEP-IRA vs. other self-employment retirement plans is that it’s designed for those who run a business with employees. Employers have to contribute an equal percentage of salary for every employee (and you are counted as an employee). Again, employees may not contribute to the SEP-IRA.

That means, as the employer, you can not contribute more to your retirement account than to your employees’ accounts (as a percentage, not in absolute dollars). On the plus side, it’s slightly simpler than a solo 401(k) to manage in terms of paperwork and annual reporting.

Contribution limits: For 2024, the SEP-IRA rules and limits are as follows: you can contribute up to $69,000 or 25% of an employee’s total compensation, whichever is less. Be sure to understand employee eligibility rules.

As the employer you can contribute up to 20% of your net compensation.

Note that SEP-IRAs are flexible: Contribution amounts can vary each year, and you can skip a year.

Income limits: For tax year 2024 there is an income cap of $345,000 on the compensation.

Tax benefits: Employer and employees can deduct contributions from their earnings, and withdrawals in retirement are taxed as income.

Withdrawal rules: You can take withdrawals from a SEP-IRA without penalty at age 59 ½ or older. Distributions may be allowed before that time in the case of certain “triggering events,” such as a disability (you can find a list of exceptions at IRS.gov), but you may owe a 10% penalty as well as income tax on the withdrawal.

Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs): You are required to take minimum distributions from a SEP-IRA starting at age 73. RMD rules can be complicated, so you may want to consult a professional to avoid making a mistake and potentially owing a penalty.

New rules under SECURE 2.0: Starting in 2024, SEP-IRA plans can now include a designated Roth option. But not all plan providers offer the Roth option at this time.

💡 Quick Tip: All investments come with some degree of risk — and some are riskier than others. Before investing online, decide on your investment goals and how much risk you want to take.

SIMPLE IRA

What it is: A SIMPLE IRA (which stands for Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees) is similar to a SEP-IRA except it’s designed for larger businesses. Unlike a SEP plan, individual employees can also contribute to their own retirement as salary deferrals out of their paycheck.

Suited for: Small businesses that typically employ 100 people or less.

Contribution limits for employers: A small business owner who sets up a SIMPLE plan has two options.

•   Matching contributions. The employer can match employee contributions dollar for dollar, up to 3%.

•   Fixed contributions. The employer can contribute a fixed 2% of compensation for each employee.

Employer contributions are required every year (unlike a SEP-IRA plan), and similar to a SEP, contributions are based on a maximum compensation amount of $345,000 for 2024.

Contribution limits for employees: Employees can contribute up to $16,000 to a SIMPLE plan for 2023, and additional $3,500 for those 50 and up.

Tax benefits: Employer and employees can deduct contributions from their earnings, and withdrawals in retirement are taxed as income.

Withdrawal rules: Withdrawals are taxed as income. If you make an early withdrawal before the age of 59 ½ , you’ll likely incur a 10% penalty much like a regular 401(k); do so within the first two years of setting up the SIMPLE account and the penalty jumps to 25%.

Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs): You are required to take minimum distributions from a SEP-IRA starting at age 73. RMD rules can be complicated, so you may want to consult a professional to avoid making a mistake and potentially owing a penalty.

New rules under SECURE 2.0: Starting in 2024, the federal law permits employers that provide a SIMPLE plan to make additional contributions on behalf of employees, as long as the amount doesn’t exceed 10% of compensation or $5,000, whichever is less. This amount will be indexed for inflation.

Under these new rules, student loan payments that employees make can be treated as elective deferrals (contributions) for the purpose of the employer’s matching contributions.

In addition, SIMPLE plans can now include a designated Roth option, but not all plan providers offer the Roth option at this time.

Defined-Benefit Retirement Plan

Another retirement option you’ve probably heard about is the defined-benefit plan, or pension plan. Typically, a defined benefit plan pays out set annual benefits upon retirement, usually based on salary and years of service.

Typically pension plans have been set up and run by very large entities, such as corporations and federal and local governments. But it is possible for a self-employed individual to set up a DB plan.

These plans do allow for very high contributions, but the downside of trying to set up and run your own pension plan is the cost and hassle. Because a pension provides fixed income payments in retirement (i.e. the defined benefit), actuarial oversight is required annually.

The Takeaway

When you’re an entrepreneur, freelance, or otherwise self-employed, it may feel as if you’re out on your own, and your options are limited in terms of retirement plans. But in fact there are a number of options to consider, including various types of IRAs and a solo 401(k).

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).

Easily manage your retirement savings with a SoFi IRA.



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.

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.

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.

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