Retirement Planning

Roth IRA vs. Traditional IRA – Which Retirement Account is Better?

Published by Bob Gustafson

Roth IRA vs. Traditional IRA – Which Retirement Account is Better?

If you’re planning for retirement, you should be looking at putting money in an IRA. But, it’s important to know the difference between various types of IRAs. They differ with regard to how they’re funded and how they will be taxed when you’re ready to withdraw money. Let’s compare a Roth IRA to a traditional IRA on four important areas.


  • A Roth IRA is always funded with after-tax dollars. Earnings on your investments grow tax-free. This means that if you retired and withdrew all of your money from a Roth IRA, assuming you are over the age of 59½, there would be no taxes on your gains, nor on your principal.
  • A traditional IRA can be funded by either pre-tax or after-tax dollars, depending upon your level of income. This means that you might possibly reduce your income taxes now by contributing to the IRA. However, a traditional IRA is considered tax deferred. You will need to pay taxes when you take distributions in retirement or if you make withdrawals prior to retirement.

Contribution Limits

Both traditional and Roth IRAs come with eligibility rules and restrictions that determine how much you can contribute. For both retirement plans, you are eligible to contribute up to $6,000 per year. If you are age 50 and over, you can contribute $7,000. In 2023, the limit increased to $6,500 (plus the additional $1,000 for those 50 and older.)

  • Traditional IRAs have no income restrictions but your income can affect how much of your IRA contribution you’re allowed to deduct, if any, from your taxes.
  • Roth IRA contribution limits are based on household income and those at higher incomes often find themselves either partially eligible or not at all.

Note: If you are single, you have to have earned income in order to contribute to either a Roth or a traditional IRA. If you are married and one spouse has earned income then the non-working spouse can contribute to either.

Minimum Distributions

With a traditional IRA, you are subject to taking required minimum distributions at age 70½ for the account owner. There is that ongoing ‘maintenance’ with an IRA in which you’ll be required to take a portion of your IRA out regularly, with taxes paid on those required distributions. Plus if you are over 70½, you cannot make contributions to a traditional IRA.*

* Note: There are exceptions. Please contact your financial advisor for details.

With a Roth IRA, there are no minimum distributions beginning at age 70½ for the account owner. If you are still working and don’t need the funds, you can leave the money in the account. You can also continue to contribute to the account. You are able to let it continue to grow tax free as long as you live.

Early withdrawals

Putting money into a retirement account is for, well your retirement. Withdrawing money from your retirement savings before you retire is normally not a good idea, but sometimes having to do so is unavoidable.

  • If you withdraw from a traditional IRA, the IRS charges a 10% early-withdrawal penalty if you are under the age of 59½ and taxes the money you take out as income at your current tax rate.
  • A Roth IRA allows you to withdraw contributions at any time without having to pay income taxes or an early withdrawal penalty.

Be aware that there are various rules on early withdrawal of earnings from both traditional and Roth IRAs. Be sure to investigate those rules before you take money from your savings.

What should you do?

The ideal choice between a Roth IRA and a regular IRA can be confusing. It gets more complicated when the decision may also involve a 401k plan or other retirement plan offered through an employer. Choosing the right retirement savings plan is a decision that will impact you in your later years. You’ll have to look at your situation and make assumptions about what might work best for you in the future.

As you can see, there are a lot of rules regarding eligibility, contribution limits, early withdrawal and minimum distributions. This is one area that you should get a financial professional to help you out.

A reputable financial advisor knows the different types of IRAs inside and out. Their job is to guide you on which is the best choice for you. They can advise you based on your age, current tax bracket, income, retirement goals, lifestyle requirements, plus anything else that may affect your income and tax picture, such as a possible inheritance or other financial situations.

It’s well worth it to invest in the custom assistance of a qualified financial advisor. Their guidance can result in you possibly paying less in taxes in the future by making the right choice for your situation. Having an expert on your side can reveal tax considerations you haven’t taken into account for your own retirement and tax burdens, as well as those of your family members.

So which retirement plan is better for you? Well as you can see, it depends. There are a lot of factors that go into your particular use and benefits of a Roth IRA or a traditional IRA. The main difference is when and if you pay taxes on your investment.

For more details, listen to our podcast below. Contact us if you’d like us to help you decide which course to take.