If you think you might need a Roth, you probably do

LauraRoth IRAs are a little like breath mints – if you think you might need one, you probably do.

And, like mints, they offer refreshing relief from common irritants, like taxes, which can leave a sour taste in your mouth and a big hole in your retirement portfolio.

Here’s how the Roth IRA works and why nearly everyone who qualifies, especially younger investors, should open one now.

  1. The money you invest in a Roth IRA grows tax free. Consider the implications of this short statement. The money you put in a Roth IRA is yours alone. The government has no claim on it and, after the account has been opened for five years, you can withdraw those contributions at any time with no taxes and no penalties. None, which means…
  2. You won’t have to worry about pesky RMDs. Maybe you’re too young now to even wonder about Required Minimum Distributions, but you’ll worry about them plenty once you turn 70 ½ and have to make these yearly withdrawals and pay the requisite taxes on them from your traditional IRA. Do your older self a favor and start putting money in a Roth today. Then, you can sit back and watch it grow.
  3. The Roth allows you more freedom than an employer sponsored retirement plan like a 401(k), 403(b), SEP or Simple retirement account. You can contribute up to $5,500 annually to a Roth IRA if you earn less than the threshold set by the IRS. Unlike a 401(k), in which you’re limited to investments selected by your employer, a Roth allows you to choose from a wide range of investment options including stocks, bonds, certificates of deposit, mutual funds, exchange-traded funds and more.
  4. You can open a Roth no matter how young you are, as long as you have compensation income to contribute to it. You just can’t contribute more than you earn. Also, even though you can withdraw from your Roth contributions to pay for college, that money is not counted against the FAFSA when you apply for your federal aid package. That’s a win/win. If you’re older than 59 ½ and have held the Roth for more than five years, you also can withdraw the interest you’ve earned tax free to pay for yours or your child’s college education. In many ways the Roth is a better college planning tool than a 529 plan.
  5. You can dollar cost average into a Roth IRA, which just means you designate a certain amount of money to be invested on a regular basis. Dollar cost averaging takes the stress out of two fundamental aspects of investing. It requires automatic contributions at set intervals so you don’t have to think about it, and, because when you dollar cost average into a fund and you end up purchasing more shares when the fund price dips, it capitalizes on market volatility. If you dollar cost average $115 per week into a Roth IRA you will hit your $5,500 limit painlessly and you won’t have to sweat the swings.
  6. The tax benefits of the Roth IRA live on. Upon your death, your heirs can withdraw tax free from your Roth IRA just like you did. With a traditional IRA, a 401(k), or any of the other employer sponsored retirement plans, your heirs will have to pay taxes on their withdrawals from the account just like you did.

When you’re ready to start thinking about your retirement (and, frankly, if you’re earning money at all you should be thinking about your retirement) you should consider investing in a Roth IRA. It’s such a flexible option that, like a good quality breath mint, it can be a real Lifesaver for your golden years.