Is an IRA Right for You?

August 29, 2023 Beginner
IRAs can help you build wealth for retirement and potentially get tax breaks, either up front or in the future.

When it comes to retirement, you need to sock enough money away for a comfortable future. But there's also the here and now to consider. IRAs are savings vehicles that can help you build wealth for retirement and potentially get tax breaks, either up front or in the future. There are two main types of IRAs to consider:

  • Traditional IRA: Can allow you to make pre-tax contributions and defer the taxes you owe until you withdraw the money after age 59½. Withdrawals in retirement are taxed as ordinary income.1
  • Roth IRA: Contributions are made with after-tax dollars, so you pay taxes up front. But your money can potentially continue to grow tax-free, and withdrawals are tax-free after age 59½ if you've had the account for at least five years.2

Whether either IRA is right for you, or both, depends on your specific situation and goals. Here are five common scenarios in which an IRA could be a good option for you.

1. Your employer doesn't offer a 401(k), or you're self-employed

Employer-sponsored 401(k) plans are called the backbone of retirement savings for two reasons:

  1. Most employers offer some form of match on employee 401(k) contributions—that's free money you shouldn't pass up.
  2. 401(k)s have generous contribution limits that usually come out of your paycheck on a pre-tax basis ($22,500 for tax year 2023, plus a $7,500 catch-up if you're 50 or older).

But what if you don't have access to a 401(k) through your employer? In that case, your next best option is likely a tax-advantaged IRA. In 2023, you can contribute up to $6,500 to a traditional IRA (plus a $1,000 catch-up if you're 50 or over).

If you're self-employed, you can also consider another type of IRA called a Simplified Employee Pension or SEP-IRA. These plans allow small business owners to set aside much more for retirement than a regular traditional IRA will allow.

"Whether you're saving in a regular traditional IRA, a Roth IRA, or a SEP-IRA, the tax savings can potentially put you miles ahead of where you'd be if you only put money in a taxable account," said Hayden Adams, CPA, CFP® and director of tax and financial planning at the Schwab Center for Financial Research.

2. You maxed out your 401(k)

Even if you have a 401(k), an IRA might still make sense if you want to set aside more than your 401(k) allows. In that case, a traditional or Roth IRA could help you save even more.

With an IRA, you may also have access to a wider range of investment options, including stocks, bonds, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), mutual funds, certificates of deposit (CD), and more. By comparison, most 401(k)s generally include only a limited set of investment funds.

3. You could use a tax break this year

Contributing to a traditional IRA is one of only a few tax-smart moves you can make right up until Tax Day. As long as you open and fund your account before the IRS filing deadline, your tax-deferred contributions can usually be subtracted from your taxable income. And that might be enough to drop you into a lower tax bracket, reducing what you owe at tax time. However, there are some rules to be aware of when it comes to determining if your contributions will be tax deductible based on your income level and if you or your spouse is covered by an employer plan.3

4. Your priority is tax-free growth

On the other hand, if you don't need the tax break now, you might prefer to contribute to a Roth IRA to take advantage of the potential tax-free growth and tax-free withdrawals. Your contributions will be made with after-tax dollars, so they won't reduce your taxable income now. But your money can grow tax-free, which can provide tax savings when you start making withdrawals in retirement.

In addition, if you pass your Roth IRA onto your heirs, their withdrawals will also be income-tax free, making them a tax-efficient way to transfer wealth from one generation to the next.

There are income limitations when it comes to contributing to a Roth IRA, so be sure you check those limits before putting money into a Roth account.4

5. You want financial flexibility in retirement

Because they're each taxed differently, traditional and Roth IRAs can be used not only to cut your tax bills in the short term and invest tax-efficiently over the long term but also to give you added tax flexibility when it's time to withdraw your money. This is often called tax diversification.

For example, you could save for retirement in a traditional IRA (pre-tax) and a Roth IRA (after-tax). When it's time to take your money out, you'll have the flexibility to tap the account that makes the most sense for you. And this may help you manage your taxable income5 and how much tax you owe in retirement.

Traditional IRA withdrawals are subject to ordinary income tax and prior to age 59½ may be subject to a 10% federal tax penalty.

2 If you take a distribution of Roth IRA earnings before you reach age 59½ and before the account is five years old, the earnings may be subject to taxes and a 10% federal tax penalty.

3 To learn more about the limits on tax deductible traditional IRA contributions check out the IRS website at

4 To learn more about the limits on Roth IRA contributions, check out the IRS website at

5 Retirees are required to take required minimum distributions (RMDs) from tax-deferred retirement accounts starting at age 73. Those who are subject to RMDs should first take those distributions, then decide which account they should take additional distributions from.

Which IRA is right for you?


Roth vs. Traditional IRAs: Which Is Right for You?

Traditional and Roth IRAs have distinct requirements, including eligibility and contribution limits. Here's a guide to help you decide which may be better for you.

What Is a Roth IRA?

Roth IRAs are individual retirement accounts that you contribute to with after-tax dollars (income you've already paid taxes on). The benefit? Your savings can grow tax-free.

3 Strategies for Reducing Roth IRA Conversion Taxes

How to make the most of a Roth IRA conversion.

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The information provided here is for general informational purposes only and should not be considered an individualized recommendation or personalized investment advice. The investment strategies mentioned here may not be suitable for everyone. Each investor needs to review an investment strategy for his or her own particular situation before making any investment decision.

All expressions of opinion are subject to change without notice in reaction to shifting market conditions. Data contained herein from third-party providers is obtained from what are considered reliable sources. However, its accuracy, completeness, or reliability cannot be guaranteed.

Examples provided are for illustrative purposes only and not intended to be reflective of results you can expect to achieve.

This information does not constitute and is not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized tax, legal, or investment planning advice. Where specific advice is necessary or appropriate, Schwab recommends consultation with a qualified tax advisor, CPA, financial planner, or investment manager.

Diversification strategies do not ensure a profit and do not protect against losses in declining markets.

The Schwab Center for Financial Research is a division of Charles Schwab & Co., Inc.