Which of These 9 Retirement Accounts Is Right for You?


You might think that the simplest way to put away money for retirement would be to save or invest your money as you see fit — without reporting your contributions to anyone, and without following any special rules. The problem with following a freestyle retirement plan like this is taxes. You would pay full income taxes on the money that goes into your account, and you would pay capital gains taxes as your investment grows.

Fortunately, there are many retirement savings plans out there that can reduce your tax burden now and in the future, all while avoiding capital gains tax. And while there are many types of retirement accounts, you can — and should! — contribute to more than one. The 2018 contribution limit for traditional and Roth IRAs is $5,500 ($6,500 if you're age 50 or older). For 401(k) plans, the current contribution limit is $18,500 (plus an additional catch-up contribution of $6,000 if over age 50). (See also: Which Retirement Account Is Right for You?)

Here are some of the most popular tax-advantaged retirement plan options.

1. Traditional IRA

Contributions made to a traditional IRA are tax-deductible, which can reduce your current year income tax bill. However, you will have to pay income tax when you withdraw funds starting at age 59½. If your income is high now and you will be in a lower tax bracket after retirement, contributing to a traditional IRA may be a good move.

2. Roth IRA

Contributions to a Roth IRA are post-tax, so contributing to one of these accounts won't reduce your tax bill upfront. But when you withdraw the funds in the future, you won't have to pay income tax. A Roth IRA can be favorable if you are a young investor in a low tax bracket now. Also, if you are concerned that tax rates could go up in the future, contributing to a Roth IRA allows you to pay a known tax now versus a potentially higher tax in the future when you withdraw funds. (See also: 6 Reasons Every Millennial Needs a Roth IRA)

3. Traditional 401(k)

Employees can contribute wages to a 401(k) investment account as elective salary deferrals. The traditional 401(k) account works much like a traditional IRA where income can be contributed before taxes, but you will have to pay income tax on future withdrawals. Some employers provide matching contributions to 401(k) plans, and if you are not participating enough to obtain that match, you are leaving free money on the table. Keep in mind, however, that employer plans have fewer investment options than traditional IRAs, and that there may be limits on whether you can withdraw employer contributions early in, for example, a hardship distribution. (See also: 401K or IRA? You Need Both)

4. Roth 401(k)

The Roth 401(k) is an alternate 401(k) plan where employees can contribute after-tax funds. As with a Roth IRA, the Roth 401(k) allows you to pay a known tax today at your current tax bracket instead of an unknown tax rate in the future. A Roth 401(k) is also an attractive option to younger workers who are in a lower tax bracket now and who have a lot of time for funds to grow. If your employer offers matching funds, again, try to contribute at least the minimum required amount to receive the match. (See also: Things You Should Know About Your 401(k) Match)


An SEP (Simplified Employee Pension) plan allows business owners — often the self-employed — to contribute to traditional IRAs on behalf of themselves and any employees they have. An SEP IRA has many of the same rules as a traditional IRA, but the employer is required to make all contributions to the SEP IRA, and employees can't make any.

An SEP IRA allows employers to adjust how much they contribute to an employee's account depending on the company's cash flow that year. Contributions cannot exceed the lesser of 25 percent of the employee's compensation, or $55,000, in 2018.

Money contributed to an SEP IRA is tax-deductible for the current year, and is subject to income tax when withdrawn in retirement. (See also: The SEP-IRA Is How the Self-Employed Do Retirement Like a BOSS)


A SIMPLE (Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employee) IRA is a retirement savings plan for businesses of any size, although it is still aimed at small businesses. A SIMPLE IRA allows employees to invest in their own accounts, in addition to receiving employer contributions of 1-3 percent of the employee's compensation. An employee may contribute up to $12,500 to a SIMPLE IRA in 2018.

Contributions made to a SIMPLE IRA (by both the employer and employee) are tax-deductible upfront and subject to income tax rates upon withdrawal.

7. 403(b) plans

A 403(b) plan, also known as a tax-sheltered annuity or TSA plan, is similar to a 401(k) — but is offered by public schools and 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations. Like 401(k) plans, 403(b) plans may be offered in either a traditional tax-advantaged or after-tax Roth version. (See also: 403(b) vs. 401(k): How Are They Different?)

8. Payroll deduction IRAs

Payroll deduction IRAs allow employees or even self-employed workers to automatically contribute to a traditional or Roth IRA through payroll deductions. The employees set up the account and then let the employer know how much they'd like to contribute from each paycheck. This is perhaps the simplest retirement program that a business can establish for its employees.

9. HSA "IRA"

A HSA (health savings account) is available to those who are enrolled in a high-deductible health plan (HDHP). An HSA allows you to contribute pretax funds into a savings or investment account, and you can withdraw funds tax-free at any time for qualified health expenses. Once you reach age 65, money left in an HSA basically acts like a traditional IRA — there is no restriction that the funds must be spent on health expenses, but they will be subject to income tax upon withdrawal. (See also: How an HSA Could Help Your Retirement)

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