Once you've contributed at least up to the match in your employer retirement plan, or if you don't have a plan at work, an individual retirement account (IRA) is often the next best place to save.
"The ability to defer taxes, invest for potential growth, and—with a Roth IRA—make tax-free withdrawals in retirement, are some of the reasons to consider an IRA," says Rob Williams, managing director of financial planning, retirement income, and wealth management for the Schwab Center for Financial Research. "But before you open one, it's important to understand the rules and how each type of IRA differs," says Rob.
Here are eight must-ask questions about IRA contributions—who, how much, pre-tax versus after-tax, and more.
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#1: Who can contribute to an IRA?
Anyone with earned income (salary, wages, or tips from a job or self-employment) can contribute to a traditional IRA. To contribute to a Roth IRA, your income must fall below a certain limit, but there are no age restrictions.
#2: How much can I contribute to an IRA each year?
For 2022, the annual maximum IRA contribution is $6,000 if you're under 50, or $7,000 if you're 50 or older. Keep in mind, your annual IRA contributions can't exceed your income for the year. And if your income goes over the IRS threshold, your contributions to a Roth IRA will be capped or phased out.
You can contribute to multiple IRAs in the same year (for example, a traditional IRA and a Roth IRA), but your combined contributions can't exceed the annual maximum.
#3: What’s the difference between pre-tax and after-tax IRA contributions?
Pre-tax IRA contributions are generally tax-deductible and allow you to delay taxes until you withdraw money from your account. After-tax contributions are made with income you've already paid taxes on. There's no up-front tax break but you may be able to withdraw money tax-free if you meet certain requirements. You can contribute pre-tax or after-tax dollars to a traditional IRA.1 Roth IRA contributions can only be made with after-tax dollars.
#4: Are my contributions tax deductible?
Contributions to traditional IRAs are generally tax-deductible. But if you or your spouse have a 401(k) or other employer retirement plan in addition to a traditional IRA, you'll also need to meet certain income limits to get the deduction. Contributions to Roth IRAs aren't tax-deductible, since they're made with after-tax dollars.
#5: Can I contribute to an IRA that I inherited?
You can treat an IRA that you inherit from your spouse as your own and make contributions. But if you inherit it from someone other than your spouse, you can't make contributions. Certain rules also apply when it comes to taking money out, including when you're required to start withdrawing funds and how long you have to take all of the money out of the account. The rules can be complicated, so consider working with a tax advisor to avoid costly mistakes.
#6: Can I contribute to an IRA once I've retired?
In most cases, you must have earned income to contribute to an IRA. So if you're completely retired, you won't be eligible. One exception is a spousal IRA, which allows a non-working spouse to contribute to an IRA as long as the other spouse is still working and they file a joint return.
#7: What happens if I contribute too much to my IRA?
Contributing more than the annual IRA contribution limits allow can trigger a 6% penalty. In most cases, you can remove the extra funds, but you may still owe a penalty. If you overcontribute to a traditional IRA, you may also owe additional taxes on your withdrawals. For the best outcome, consider talking to a tax advisor about your specific situation.
#8: How will my contributions be invested in my IRA account?
Most IRAs offer a wide selection of investment choices, such as individual stocks, bonds, mutual funds, ETFs, and certificates of deposit (CDs). If you're not comfortable building your own diversified portfolio based on your goals and risk tolerance, consider an IRA that offers portfolio guidance or automated investing.
1 If you make after-tax contributions to a traditional IRA, you must also file Form 8606 (Nondeductible IRAs) with the IRS.