Roth IRAs are tax-favored financial vehicles that enable investors to save money for retirement. They differ from traditional IRAs in that taxpayers cannot deduct contributions made to a Roth. However, qualified Roth IRA distributions in retirement are free of federal income tax and aren’t included in a taxpayer’s gross income. That can be advantageous, especially if the account owner is in a higher tax bracket in retirement or taxes are higher in the future.
A Roth IRA is subject to the same contribution limits as a traditional IRA ($5,500 in 2014). (The maximum combined annual contribution an individual can make to traditional and Roth IRAs is $5,500 in 2014.) Special “catch-up” contributions enable those nearing retirement (age 50 and older) to save at an accelerated rate by contributing $1,000 more than the regular annual limits.
Another way in which Roth IRAs can be advantageous is that investors can contribute to a Roth after age 70½ as long as they have earned income, and they don’t have to begin taking mandatory distributions due to age, as they do with traditional IRAs; however, beneficiaries of Roth IRAs must take mandatory distributions.
Roth IRA withdrawals of contributions (not earnings) can be made at any time and for any reason; they are tax-free and not subject to the 10% federal income tax penalty for early withdrawals. In order to make a qualified tax-free and penalty-free distribution of earnings, the account must meet the five-year holding requirement and you must be age 59½ or older. Otherwise, these withdrawals are subject to the 10% federal income tax penalty (with certain exceptions including death, disability, unreimbursed medical expenses in excess of 10% of adjusted gross income, higher-education expenses, and for the purchase of a first home ($10,000 lifetime cap).* However, these withdrawals would be subject to ordinary income tax.