What’s the Best IRA For You?

by Junior Boomer on February 16, 2010

Many investors debate what’s the best IRA for them-the traditional IRA or the Roth IRA.   What most investors don’t know is that there are other types of IRA’s than just these two.  Just like choosing a tool in your tool box, you have to decide which one is best to complete the job. With additional IRA’s to choose from, now you’re really wondering which IRA is the best for you?  Don’t worry.  Unless your a self-employed or a business owner, a few of the IRA options won’t apply to you.  Here’s a rundown at all the basic types of IRA’s, as well some additional info.

What's the Best IRA For You?
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Traditional IRA.

  • (2009/2010 contribution limit of $5,000, $6,000 if you are 50 or older)

A traditional IRA (or deductible IRA) is an individual savings plan for anyone who receives taxable compensation. IRA assets may be invested in any number of vehicles, and contributions may be tax-deductible. Earnings in a traditional IRA grow tax-deferred until withdrawal, but they will be taxed when withdrawal begins – and withdrawals must begin by the time the IRA owner reaches age 70½. If these Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) are not taken at that age, a 50% penalty will be assessed on the amount not distributed. You cannot contribute to a traditional IRA after age 70½. The IRS considers all IRAs other than Roth and SIMPLE IRAs as traditional IRAs.

Roth IRA.

  • (2009/2010contribution limit of $5,000, $6,000 if you are 50 or older)

A Roth IRA offers you a) tax-free compounding, b) tax-free withdrawals if you are older than age 59½ and have owned your account for at least five years, c) the potential to make contributions to your IRA after age 70½ without having to take RMDs. While contributions to a Roth IRA are not tax-deductible, a Roth IRA has an advantage on the back end, with fewer requirements and limitations regarding withdrawals.

In 2010, anyone with a traditional IRA may convert it to a Roth IRA. Before 2010, you have to meet an eligibility test to do that: your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) must be less than $100,000 in the year you convert the IRA, not counting the income that would result from the conversion.


  • (Contribution limit of $11,500 for 2009/2010;$2,500 catch-up contribution allowed if you are 50 or older)

SIMPLE IRAs are qualified retirement plans for businesses with 100 or fewer employees. They are much easier (and more affordable) to administrate than 401(k) or 403(b) plans. Simple IRA‘s are funded by “elective deferrals” (salary reduction contributions from employees), and generally the employer has to match employee contributions on a dollar-for-dollar basis up to 3% of an employee’s compensation.


  • (Contributions cannot exceed $49,000 for 2009/2010,or a maximum of 25% of employee compensation)

SEP stands for Simplified Employee Pension. These traditional IRAs are set up by an employer for employees, and like a pension plan, funded by employer contributions only. Contributions are tax-deductible, but qualified withdrawals taken after age 59½ are taxed at standard income tax rates. If an employer implements a SEP IRA plan, allocations to all employees’ SEP-IRAs must be proportional to their salary/wages.

Individual Retirement Annuity.

Some annuity contracts allow you to set up a traditional or Roth IRA with a life insurance company. Payments to the annuity may be made by the annuity owner or another party. The annuity owner’s entire interest must be fully vested, and the owner cannot transfer any of the balance to someone else.

Spousal IRA.

  • (2009/2010 contribution limit of $5,000, $6,000 if you are 50 or older)

This is actually a rule that lets a working spouse make traditional or Roth IRA contributions on behalf of a non-working or retired spouse. The working spouse’s income is the determining factor as to whether or not a “Spousal IRA” contribution can be made. Contribution limits and eligibility requirements are the same as those for a regular IRA.

Inherited IRA.

  • (No contributions allowed in some cases)

A Roth or traditional IRA inherited by a non-spousal beneficiary. You cannot treat this IRA as your own. (If you inherit your spouse’s IRA, you can name yourself as the new owner and sole beneficiary and make contributions and withdrawals from it.) Distributions from inherited IRAs are subject to the minimum distribution rules; they must be taken over your lifetime, and the inherited IRA assets cannot be rolled over into an IRA you own. Inherited traditional IRAs may not be converted into Roth IRAs, but thanks to IRS Notice 2008-30, non-spouse beneficiaries of company retirement plan assets may now convert those inherited assets into Roth IRAs.

Group IRA.

  • (2009/2010 contribution limit of $5,000, $6,000 if you are 50 or older)

These retirement trusts are created by employers, unions, and other employee associations to provide traditional IRAs for workers and members.

What's the Best IRA For You?
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Rollover IRA.

  • (2009/2010 contribution limit of $5,000, $6,000 if you are 50 or older)

Assets distributed from a qualified retirement plan may be rolled over into a traditional IRA, which may be converted later to a Roth IRA (Restrictions, limitations and fees may apply). Assets can be commingled within the IRA and rolled into another employer plan in the future.

Education IRA (Coverdell ESA).

  • (2009/2010 contribution limit of $2,000)

A way for middle-class investors to save for a child’s education. Parents and guardians can make nondeductible contributions totaling up to $2,000 annually into this IRA on behalf of a minor. You get tax-free growth and tax-free withdrawals, provided the money is used for education expenses. Money from a Coverdell ESA must be distributed to the beneficiary before age 30 (unless he or she has special needs). single filers must have a modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) of $95,000 or less, and joint filers must have a MAGI of $190,000 or less. Coverdell ESAs face a sunset provision in 2010: if no Congressional action is taken, yearly contribution limits will only be $500 starting in 2011.  Read here if you want to know the difference between Coverdell Education Savings Accounts vs. 529 College Savings Plans.

Many Types of IRA’s

There are many choices available, and it is vital that you understand how your choice could affect your financial situation. No one IRA is the “right” IRA for everyone, so do your homework and seek advice before you proceed.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Patrick February 17, 2010 at 9:14 am

Great overview! I’m a big believer for Roth IRAs for most people if they are eligible. The tax benefits are great, especially for younger people who may be in a lower income tax bracket now than they will be as their earning power increases.
.-= Patrick´s last blog ..Roth IRA Withdrawal Rules =-.

Patrick February 17, 2010 at 9:35 am

Forgot to mention that I think the Roth is also a great option for most military members because they have special provisions regarding investing in Roth IRAs in years they deployed (tax free pay from deployment zones can be invested in a Roth IRA, meaning money that was never subjected to income taxes can be withdrawn tax free in retirement – score!). They can also get extensions to contribute to their Roth IRA if they were deployed to a war zone (and an extension to file their taxes or request a refund).
.-= Patrick´s last blog ..Why Military Members Should Open Roth IRAs =-.

Money Reasons February 20, 2010 at 12:28 pm

Great compilation of the various forms of IRAs!

I’ve hear of all of them except “Group IRAs”, thank for schooling me a bit ;)

Currently, I just have a Roth IRA, although I’m thinking of switching my regular 401(k) to a Roth 401k (since it has similar properties of a Roth IRA)…

sep ira maximum contribution student October 31, 2010 at 1:44 pm

With the SEP IRA maximum contribution levels so generous, seems like it would be a great plan if I want to accumulate savings rapidly.

John Lengyel August 26, 2011 at 11:58 pm

Just to be clear…I will have to pay taxes on any 401k or IRA when I start taking the money out at retirement ? Yes ? (that is if I dont die before then) The big benifit is that my pre tax contributions are compounding so that more of my GROSS pay is working for me now which transalates into more NET pay when I do make retirement and pay the taxes at that time (who knows what the tax rate will be in 20-30 yrs). So the most significant issue of an early withdrawl is the 10% penalty and the loss of that compounding gross pre-tax contribution ?? So if I really need the money now…and I have a fairly sizable inheritance coming in the next 10-15 years…my spouse has a huge 401k and is still contributing the max level with employer match…would it be ok ?? I really only need about 30k of the 75k in the acct right now.

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