4 reasons to contribute to an IRA

Saving in an IRA comes with tax benefits that can help you grow your money.

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Key takeaways

  • Give your money a chance to grow.
  • Get tax benefits.
  • The earlier you start contributing, the more opportunity you have to build wealth.

It can pay to save in an IRA when you're trying to accumulate enough money for retirement. There are tax benefits, and your money has a chance to grow. The deadline for a 2018 traditional or Roth IRA contribution is the same as the 2018 tax-filing deadline—April 15, 2019. Residents of Massachusetts and Maine have until April 17, 2019 because of local holidays. Time is running out to contribute for the 2018 tax year.

Why an IRA? An IRA is one of several tax-advantaged options for saving. If you have a retirement plan at work, an IRA could offer another tax-advantaged place to save.

If your employer doesn't offer a retirement plan—or you're self-employed—an IRA may make sense.

Read Viewpoints on Fidelity.com: No 401(k)? How to save for retirement.

Here are some reasons to make a contribution now

1. Put your money to work

Eligible taxpayers can contribute up to $5,500 per year to a traditional or Roth IRA, or $6,500 if they have reached age 50, for 2018 (assuming they have earned income at least equal to their contribution). It's a significant amount of money—think about how much it could grow over time. For 2019 the limits increase to $6,000 and $7,000 for those age 50 and over.

Consider this: If you're age 35 and invest $5,500, the maximum annual contribution in 2018, that 1 contribution could grow to $82,360 after 40 years. If you’re age 50 or older, you can contribute $6,500, which could grow to about $17,900 in 15 years.1 (We used a 7% long-term compounded annual hypothetical rate of return and assumed the money stays invested the entire time.)

The age you start investing in an IRA matters: It's never too late, but earlier is better. That’s because time is an important factor when it comes to compound growth. Compounding is what happens when an investment earns a return, and then the gains on the initial investment are reinvested and begin to earn returns of their own. The chart below shows just that. Even if you start saving early and then stop after 10 years, you may still have more money than if you started later and contributed the same amount each year for many more years.

2. You don't have to wait until you have the full contribution

The $5,500 IRA contribution limit is a significant sum of money, particularly for young people trying to save for the first time.

The good news is that you don't have to put the full $5,500 into the account all at once. You can automate your IRA contributions and have money deposited to your IRA weekly, biweekly, or monthly—or on whatever schedule works for you.

Making many small contributions to the account may be easier than doing one big one.

3. Get a tax break

IRAs offer some appealing tax advantages. There are 2 types of IRAs, the traditional and the Roth, and they each have distinct tax advantages and eligibility rules.

Contributions to a traditional IRA may be tax-deductible for the year the contribution is made. Your income does not affect how much you can contribute to a traditional IRA—up to the annual contribution limit. But the deductibility of that contribution is based on income limits. If neither you nor your spouse are eligible to participate in a workplace savings plan like a 401(k) or 403(b), then you can deduct the full contribution amount, no matter what your income is. But if one or both of you do have access to one of those types of retirement plans, then deductibility is phased out at higher incomes.2 Earnings on the investments in your account can grow tax-deferred. Taxes are then paid when withdrawals are taken from the account—typically in retirement. Just remember that you can defer but not escape taxes with a traditional IRA: Starting at age 70½, required minimum withdrawals become mandatory, and these are taxable (except for the part—if any—of those distributions that consist of non deductible contributions).

On the other hand, you make contributions to a Roth IRA with after-tax money, so there are no tax deductions allowed on your income taxes. Contributions to a Roth IRA are subject to income limits.3 Earnings can grow tax-free, and, in retirement, qualified withdrawals from a Roth IRA are also tax-free. Plus, there are no mandatory withdrawals during the lifetime of the original owner.4

As long as you are eligible, you can contribute to either a traditional or a Roth IRA, or both. However, your total annual contribution amount across all IRA accounts is still $5,500 (or $6,500 if age 50 or older).

What's the right choice for you? For many people, the answer comes down to this question: Do you think you'll be better off paying taxes now or later? If, like many young people, you think your tax rate is lower now than it will be in retirement, a Roth IRA may make sense.

Need help deciding? Read Viewpoints on Fidelity.com: Traditional or Roth IRA, or both?

4. You may think you can't have an IRA, but make sure

There are some common myths about IRAs—especially about who can and who can't contribute.

Myth: I need to have a job to contribute to an IRA.

Reality: Not necessarily. A spouse with no earned income can contribute to a spousal Roth or traditional IRA as long as their spouse has earned income. Note, however, that all other IRA limits and rules still apply.

Myth: I have a 401(k) or a 403(b) at work, so I cannot have an IRA.

Reality: You can, with some caveats—as mentioned earlier. For instance, if you or your spouse contributes to a retirement plan—like a 401(k) or 403(b)—at work, your traditional IRA contribution may not be deductible, depending on your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI).2 But you can still make a nondeductible, after-tax contribution and reap the potential rewards of tax-deferred growth within the account. You can contribute to a Roth IRA, whether or not you have contributed to your workplace retirement account, as long as you meet the income eligibility requirements.3

Myth: Children cannot have an IRA.

Reality: An adult can open a custodial Roth IRA (also known as a Roth IRA for Kids) for a child under the age of 18 who has earned income, including earnings from typical kid jobs such as babysitting or mowing lawns, as long as this income is reported to the IRS.5

An adult needs to open and maintain control of the account. When the child reaches the age of majority, which varies by state, the account's ownership switches from the parent over to them.

Make a contribution

Your situation dictates your choices. But one thing applies to all: the power of contributing early. Pick your IRA and get your contribution in and invested as soon as possible to take advantage of the tax-free compounding power of IRAs.

Next steps to consider

It's easy—opening your new account takes just minutes.

Determine if you're contributing enough to your savings.

See how small increases in contributions can add up over time.

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