an individual retirement account explained

Individual Retirement Account (IRA): Everything You Should Know

An Individual Retirement Account (IRA) is a type of investment plan that comes with tax benefits and is designed for long-term savings toward retirement.

IRAs offer various options, including traditional, Roth, SEP, rollover, custodial, inherited, and SIMPLE.

Each type has different contribution rules and tax implications. Therefore, it is important to understand how IRAs work, compare them to other retirement accounts, and know the respective tax implications.

For a smooth retirement transition, our comprehensive guide simplifies the complexities of IRAs —covering definitions, purposes, types, rules, tips, and more.

Understanding Individual Retirement Account (IRA)

An IRA is a tax-advantaged investment account designed to secure your financial future. We’ll go into a more in-depth discussion of it in this section.

Definition of an IRA

Financial institutions in the United States often provide IRAs as a personal savings arrangement that helps individuals save money for retirement.

These tax-advantaged investments are held for the taxpayer’s benefit during old age.

As you contribute, the account grows over time through diverse investments like stocks, bonds, mutual funds, or even gold.

IRAs have different types: traditional, Roth, SEP, SIMPLE, rollover, inherited, and custodial. The type of IRA you choose determines whether your funds will grow tax-free or tax-deferred.

The Purpose and Importance of an IRA

Social Security benefits may not cover all your retirement expenses. Fortunately, IRAs provide an additional income stream during your golden years.

IRAs allow you to save for retirement in a tax-advantaged way, and their primary purpose is to help you accumulate wealth for your retirement years. The tax advantages offered by IRAs encourage consistent contributions and wise investment choices.

By providing financial security and peace of mind, IRAs allow you to live comfortably in retirement without worrying about making ends meet.

How an IRA Works

When you contribute to an IRA, you have the option to invest your money in the stock market or put it into an interest-bearing account. 

Contributions to an IRA can be made annually, with various investment options available.

The specific details of your IRA account, such as the contribution limit or tax benefits, will depend on your IRA type. So when you retire, you can withdraw your savings, and the tax implications will depend on the type of IRA and your age.

It’s important to adhere to withdrawal rules to avoid penalties.

Key Features of an IRA

Knowing the most important features of any IRA can help you make informed decisions about your retirement savings.

  • Tax-advantaged growth: IRAs provide tax advantages, allowing investments to grow without immediate tax implications, depending on the IRA type.
  • Contribution limits: The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) sets yearly caps on IRA contributions. For 2024, it’s $7,000 for individuals under 50 and $8,000 for those 50 and over.
  • Investment options: Customize your IRA portfolio with various investment choices to match your risk tolerance and financial goals.
  • Early withdrawal penalties: Typically, taking money out of your IRA before age 59½ incurs a 10% penalty, with some exceptions for specific circumstances.

Advantages of an IRA

While contributing automatically to a 401(k) for retirement is common, there are other options as well.

Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) not only enable additional savings beyond an employer-sponsored plan but also provide the following advantages:

  • Tax incentives: IRAs offer tax incentives that can help you save money for retirement.
  • Flexibility and control: Unlike employer-sponsored plans, IRAs are yours. Manage your portfolio, roll over old funds, and enjoy wider investment options on your own terms.
  • No age limit to start: Various IRA savings welcome contributions from any age as long as you have earned income.
  • Easy access and setup: Open an IRA with most banks or firms in minutes, regardless of age or income.

NOTE: A Roth account has limitations based on income.

Diverse Types of IRAs

Traditional, Roth, SEP, SIMPLE, rollover, inherited, and custodial are some of the diverse IRA types you can consider.

Take some time to check your options to choose the right IRA for your future.

Traditional IRA Explained

Traditional IRA contributions offer tax advantages as a retirement savings avenue.

The contributions you make are often tax-deductible — which means you can reduce your taxable income according to the amount you contribute. The deductibility hinges on factors like income and a workplace retirement plan.

You will have to pay taxes on your withdrawals in retirement, and early withdrawals before age 59½ may incur a 10% penalty. There are also RMDs starting at age 73.

For married individuals, the deductibility of traditional IRA contributions is influenced by income and workplace retirement plans.

Roth IRA: An Overview

A Roth IRA differs from a traditional IRA in that contributions aren’t tax-deductible.

You can contribute if you have taxable income within certain limits and may convert amounts from other IRAs or qualified retirement plans.

Designated as a Roth IRA at setup, it also allows tax-free funds withdrawals after age 59½ and five years of account opening, with no penalties for contributions withdrawal after age 70½.

When you retire, the gains from your investments are also zero tax.

SEP IRA: Basics and Benefits

A Simplified Employee Pension plan (SEP) is a business retirement savings option. This IRA allows employers to contribute to traditional IRAs (SEP-IRAs) that are set up for their employees.

The basics and benefits of SEP IRA include the following:

  • Self-employed individuals can make tax-deductible (traditional) or after-tax retirement contributions (Roth).
  • This account has higher contribution limits than traditional and Roth IRAs and most employer-sponsored 401(k)s.
  • Any business, regardless of size, including self-employed individuals, can set up a Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) plan.

simple individual retirement account employee benefits

SIMPLE IRA: An Introduction

A SIMPLE IRA plan (Savings Incentive Match PLan for Employees) qualifies employees and employers to contribute to traditional IRAs set up for employees.

In a SEP IRA, only employers can contribute — while in a SIMPLE IRA, employees can also control their savings by adding money through elective deferrals.

It’s particularly suitable for small business owners or startups looking to kickstart retirement savings.

If you’re self-employed or own a business with 100 or fewer employees and want a straightforward retirement plan, you can establish a SIMPLE IRA, as long as it’s your only funded retirement plan.

Rollover IRA: What You Need to Know

A rollover IRA is a process that permits the transfer of assets from an old employer-sponsored retirement account to a traditional IRA. Rollover IRAs aim to sustain those assets’ tax-deferred status.

Most payments from retirement plans or IRAs before retirement can be deposited in another retirement plan through a rollover.

There are three methods available to complete the process of transferring funds in rollover IRAs.

  1. Direct rollover: The plan administrator transfers the payment directly to another plan or IRA.
  2. Trustee-to-trustee transfer: The financial company or broker moves funds directly between IRAs or to a retirement plan.
  3. 60-day rollover: Individuals can deposit a distribution from an IRA or retirement plan into another within 60 days. Taxes are withheld if the distribution is directly paid to the individual.

NOTE: You may refer to the Rollover Chart PDF from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to check which IRA type allows you to roll over your money.

Inherited (Beneficiary) IRA: Key Points

An inherited (beneficiary) IRA is when an individual inherits an IRA or employer-sponsored retirement plan after the original owner’s death.

When an IRA owner dies, the beneficiary receives the IRA.

The beneficiary (who can be a spouse, relative, or unrelated party) has options like rolling it over into their IRA or taking minimum distributions over their lifetime. Each beneficiary must follow specific withdrawal rules.

A key aspect of this IRA type is the ability to name a successor beneficiary, which creates a succession plan.

Custodial (Minor) IRA: A Guide

A custodial (minor) IRA is an account held by a custodian, typically a parent, for a minor actively receiving earned income.

The funds in the account belong to the child, enabling early savings with compounded growth. However, the custodian manages all assets until the child reaches age 18 (or 25 in some states).

This IRA operates similarly to traditional or Roth IRAs, with the distinct feature of involving minors.

Whether a custodial Roth IRA or custodial traditional IRA, the account offers benefits like potential use for future needs such as college or retirement.

Rules and Limits for IRA Contributions

For 2023, IRA contribution limits were $6,500 for those under 50 and $7,500 for those 50 and older. In 2024, these limits increase to $7,000 and $8,000, respectively.

Below is a quick breakdown of rules and limits on contributions.

IRA Contribution Limits: Current and Future

Understanding contribution limits is crucial for maximizing the benefits of an IRA, with periodic adjustments to keep pace with inflation.

Here’s a quick timeline of how IRA contributions evolved through the years.

  • 1974: IRA established, no inflation adjustments — maximum contribution: $1,500.
  • 1981: The Economic Recovery Tax Act increases the limit to $2,000.
  • 2001-2002: Same contribution limits at $2,000. Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act introduces:
    • Temporary inflation indexing (effective 2002)
    • Catch-up provision for individuals 50 and above ($500 extra)
  • 2002 onwards: Inflation indexing becomes permanent, stabilizing the relationship between contribution and income limits. Adjustments are based on cost-of-living figures, not income.
  • 2010: Contribution limit reaches $5,000 (10.1% of median income).
  • 2022: The limit for those under 50 climbs to $6,000 (8.9% of median income), with a $7,000 catch-up option for those 50 and above.
  • 2023: The contribution limit for those under 50 increases to $6,500 and $7,500 for those 50 and older.
  • 2024: The limit for under 50 further increases to $7,000 and $8,000 for those 50 and older.

Income Eligibility for IRA Contributions

This refers to the criteria based on modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) that determines whether individuals can contribute directly to an IRA and the type of IRA they can contribute to.

MAGI thresholds influence eligibility for deductions, credits, and specific retirement plans.

For instance, when high-income earners are ineligible for a Roth IRA, contributions may be directed to a traditional IRA.

For singles, MAGI limits are $153,000 (2023) and $161,000 (2024). If you are married filing jointly (spousal IRA), limits are $228,000 (2023) and $240,000 (2024).

REMEMBER: These are only broad guidelines. Check with the IRS or consult online brokers for specific details regarding your situation, such as if you’re married filing separately.

Additional IRA Rules: Wash-Sale Rule

The wash-sale rule is a regulation established by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to prevent using losses to unfairly lower the amount of pre-tax contributions.

It states that if an investor sells a security at a loss and then purchases the same or substantially similar security within 30 days before or after that sale, they cannot claim the loss for tax purposes.

This rule applies to stocks, bonds, mutual funds, exchange-traded funds, options sold in a taxable account, and securities repurchased in a different account — including a traditional IRA or Roth IRA.

Insights on Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) in IRAs

Mandatory withdrawals, called Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs), are the minimum amounts retirees must withdraw annually from their retirement accounts.

To plan for a successful retirement, it’s important to understand IRA withdrawal guidelines and learn about RMDs.

individual retirement account required minimum distributions

Defining RMDs

Required minimum distributions (RMDs) are the minimum amounts you must withdraw annually from certain retirement accounts, may it be traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs, SEP IRAs, or SIMPLE IRAs.

Taking these distributions out of your IRA account is mandatory to avoid tax penalties or account fees.

Typically starting at age 72 (73 if you turn 72 after Dec. 31, 2022), the RMD is calculated by dividing the account’s previous year-end value by a distribution period determined by your age.

The RMD amount is based on your account balance and life expectancy.

Guidelines for IRA Withdrawals

Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) are valuable tools for saving for retirement and enjoying benefits.

Here are the basics of understanding withdrawal procedures for withdrawing funds from your IRA.

Types of withdrawals

There are only two types of withdrawals:

  • Qualified withdrawals: Meet specific IRS criteria to withdraw tax and penalty-free. Aside from being age 59½ and above, qualified withdrawals also include:
    • Medical expenses exceed 7.5% of MAGI.
    • Up to $10,000 annually for qualified higher education expenses or a first home purchase.
    • Beneficiaries can generally withdraw funds penalty-free if the IRA owner dies.
  • Non-qualified withdrawals: When you don’t meet Internal Revenue Service (IRS) criteria, you’re usually subject to taxes and penalties.

Age-based rules:

Take note of these ages to prevent penalties.

  • Age 59½: Generally, wait until this age to avoid a 10% early withdrawal penalty.
  • Age 73 (72 for those born before 1952): Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) start for traditional IRAs. Roth IRAs don’t have RMDs.

Tax implications:

Your tax implications depend on the type of IRA you have.

  • Traditional IRA contributions: Qualified withdrawals of contributions (not earnings) are tax-free, while non-qualified withdrawals are taxed as income, with a 10% penalty before 59½.
  • Roth IRA contributions: Qualified withdrawals are generally tax-free, while non-qualified withdrawals of earnings are taxed as income, but there’s no early withdrawal penalty.

NOTE: You may visit the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) website for more information on IRA contribution withdrawals.

Comparing IRA Options: An In-depth Analysis

Don’t limit your research to just comparing Roth and traditional IRAs — understanding the difference between IRAs and 401(k) plans is also necessary.

Therefore, we further recommended speaking with a CPA or a certified financial planner to determine which retirement savings account will work for you.

IRA vs. 401(k): Major Differences

The major differences between IRA and 401k lie in how the accounts are created and how contributions are made.

While an IRA is an individual retirement account opened through a brokerage account or bank, a 401(k) is a retirement plan provided by employers.

IRAs generally offer more investment options, allowing greater control, but 401(k)s permit higher annual contributions on a pretax basis.

Additionally, IRAs are often self-directed, providing more flexibility, whereas the employer or plan administrator determines 401(k) investments.

When you retire with a 401(k), the distributions, including earnings, will be included in your taxable income (except for qualified distributions of designated Roth accounts).

Benefits of an Individual Retirement Account (IRA)

IRAs have long been considered a key part of retirement planning due to their tax incentives and investment flexibility.

But here are some notable benefits of each type of IRA:

  • Traditional IRA – a traditional IRA contribution may be tax-deductible, giving you a lower tax bracket for the year and potentially lowering your overall tax liability.
  • Roth IRA – offers a significant benefit of tax-free withdrawals, including earnings. This enables tax-free income during retirement and provides flexibility and potential savings.
  • SEP IRA – employers can make tax-deductible contributions to employees’ SEP IRAs, fostering retirement funds with potentially higher annual contributions than traditional IRAs.
  • SIMPLE IRA – provides a simplified way for small business owners or self-employed individuals to contribute toward their employees and their own retirement money.
  • Rollover IRA – allows tax-free asset transfer from old employer-sponsored IRA while maintaining tax-deferred status.
  • Inherited (Beneficiary) IRA – allows for stretching distributions, minimizing taxes, and enabling tax-advantaged growth over the beneficiary’s lifetime.
  • Custodial (Minor) IRA – allows early savings with compounded growth and funds belonging to the child for future needs.

Guide to Opening an IRA

Opening an IRA is possible through various financial institutions — including banks, credit unions, and online brokers, as well as employee contributions, mutual fund providers, and other investment firms.

Steps to Open a Roth or Traditional IRA

The opening process for a Roth IRA or traditional IRA is straightforward for anyone with earned income who meets eligibility requirements.

Nonetheless, here are four easy-to-follow steps when opening an IRA.

  1. Decide on IRA type: Choose between a traditional or Roth account based on your financial goals and how you want to pay taxes. Decide whether to manage it yourself or opt for a retirement plan at work instead.
  2. Select a financial firm: Choose a financial institution that aligns with your preferences, offering either self-directed investing or robo-advisory options.
  3. Open and fund IRA: Visit the chosen provider’s website and initiate the application process. Provide necessary personal information and, if funding from your bank account, supply your bank’s routing number and account number.
  4. Select investments: Once your IRA is set up, choose your investments from options like mutual funds, bonds, gold, stocks, ETFs, and other eligible assets.

Top IRA Accounts in 2024

Investing in an IRA is a great way to save money for your retirement, especially if you don’t have a retirement plan at work.

To choose the best custodian for your IRA, research and compare options based on account fees, investment gains, and investment advisory services.

Top IRA accounts 2024 include Goldco, Charles Schwab, Fidelity Investments, and many others.

  1. Goldco – Goldco specializes in precious metals IRAs, providing transparent fees and personalized customer service. It offers the unique advantage of diversification with physical assets, making it an ideal option for those seeking to hedge against inflation and add diversity to their retirement portfolio.
  2. Charles Schwab – Charles Schwab Corporation is a multinational financial services company offering various services such as banking, investing, and wealth management.  It provides diverse investment options like stocks, bonds, mutual funds, CDs, and ETFs.
  3. Fidelity Investments – Fidelity Investments is distinguished by its zero cost for opening and no annual fees for traditional, rollover, SEP, and Roth IRA. With a user-friendly platform, it offers investment options, including stocks, bonds, ETFs, shared funds, CDs, options, and fractional shares.

Effective Management of Your IRA

Effectively managing your IRA involves choosing between self-management and hiring a human advisor or certified financial planner.

They will craft a portfolio strategy and help you invest in diverse financial assets, such as stocks, bonds, mutual funds, gold, and ETFs, among others.

Also, unlike SEP IRAs managed by employers, you must take charge of making individual retirement arrangements.

Switching Your IRA: What to Know

Switching your IRA involves a thorough evaluation of fees, investment choices, and potential tax consequences.

That’s why choosing not to roll over may result in taxable payments and potentially additional taxes — unless eligible for exceptions to the 10% early distribution tax.

It’s important to note limitations, such as making only one rollover or switch within a 1-year period from the same IRA.

IRA Investment Strategies: A Primer

Building a well-balanced and resilient retirement portfolio within an IRA requires understanding diverse investment strategies, such as:

  1. Diversify wisely: Diversification across different asset classes like stocks, bonds, and gold is often recommended for a balanced portfolio.
  2. Align with goals: Match investments to your risk tolerance, time horizon, and financial objectives.
  3. Review and adjust: Periodically assess and rebalance your portfolio for optimal performance.
  4. Consider tax implications: Understand and leverage tax advantages.
  5. Name a beneficiary: This safeguards against probate fees, protects from creditors, and preserves tax-deferred compounding.

Tax Implications of IRAs

IRAs are personal retirement savings accounts that offer tax benefits and investment options.

They’re a popular way for investors to save for retirement and can complement your retirement plan at work, like the 401(k).

Understanding IRA Tax Benefits

Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) provide financial security for your retirement funds.

Key advantages include potential tax deductions, investment growth, and tax-free withdrawals (in the case of Roth IRAs).

Understanding these benefits is vital for optimizing your retirement money.

Leveraging these benefits minimizes tax liability, enhances fund growth, and informs strategic decisions for a financially secure retirement.

Tax Deductions for IRA Contributions

Investing in an IRA can have a significant impact on your paid taxes, and it’s important to understand the different types available.

Whether you choose a traditional IRA contribution, SEP IRA, SIMPLE, Rollover, inherited, custodial, or Roth IRA, your tax bill could be affected by your eligibility, income limits, and the specific rules of each type.

Note that you may be able to claim a deduction on your federal income tax return for the amount you contribute to your IRA.

early withdrawal penalties for gold ira

Tax Penalties for Early IRA Withdrawals

Early withdrawal from an IRA before the age requirement is subject to a 10% tax penalty unless you qualify for an exception, such as:

  • First-time Home purchase: Up to $10,000 for qualified expenses.
  • Higher education expenses: Tuition, fees, books, and supplies.
  • Permanent disability: Total and permanent disability.
  • Medical expenses: Exceeding 7.5% of adjusted gross income (AGI).
  • Health insurance premiums during unemployment: While unemployed for 12 consecutive weeks.
  • Substantially Equal Periodic Payments (SEPP): Series of substantially equal payments.
  • Qualified reservist distributions: Called to active duty for at least 180 days.
  • IRS Levy: To pay an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) levy on the IRA.

Planning for Retirement with an IRA

By planning with an IRA, you can confidently achieve financial independence in retirement and maintain your desired lifestyle.

This ensures you’re not solely relying on Social Security or other sources of income.

Role of IRA in Retirement Planning

When you contribute to an IRA, you can invest your money or assets in the market or an interest-paying account. As that money grows tax-deferred, your savings could also grow faster.

Your IRA’s specific details and benefits depend on whether you choose a traditional or Roth IRA (or another IRA type).

Here’s how to effectively integrate IRAs into your overall plan:

  1. Start early: Begin early for maximum compounding growth.
  2. Contribute regularly: Make consistent, modest contributions with automatic transfers.
  3. Review strategy: Adapt your strategy to changing circumstances.
  4. Consider diversification: Diversify with stocks, bonds, and gold for balanced returns.
  5. Seek professional guidance: Consult advisors for IRA selection and tax guidance.

IRA and Social Security: A Comparison

An IRA is a tax-sheltered savings plan allowing tax- and penalty-free withdrawals from age 59 1/2.

Social Security offers broader benefits, including survivor benefits, disability benefits, and retirement benefits at 62, along with Medicare coverage.

While an IRA provides tax advantages, it’s not a replacement for the comprehensive protection offered by Social Security.

Frequently Asked Questions

Still wondering about the right type of IRA for your needs? Below are some FAQs that can help you decide.

What Are the Tax Benefits of an IRA?

Having an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) means getting tax deductions, investment growth, and tax-free withdrawals (for Roth IRAs). These advantages help minimize tax liability, enhance fund growth, and make informed decisions for a financially secure retirement.

Can I Contribute to Both a 401(K) and an IRA?

Yes, you can contribute to both a 401(k) and an IRA. However, the IRS has specific limits for each type of account, so it’s important to keep that in mind when deciding how much to contribute to each.

What Happens to My IRA if I Change Jobs?

If you change jobs, your IRA remains intact and continues to grow as long as you keep contributing to it. You can also transfer the funds to a new IRA or to your new employer’s retirement plan through a rollover IRA.

Can I Withdraw Money From My IRA Before Retirement?

Yes, you can withdraw money from your IRA before retirement, but you may be subject to taxes and penalties depending on the circumstances. Nonetheless, there are some exceptions that allow for penalty-free withdrawals.

What Are the Penalties for Early Withdrawal From an IRA?

The penalties for early withdrawal from an IRA can vary depending on the circumstances. However, it typically includes a 10% penalty fee in addition to regular income taxes.


An Individual Retirement Account (IRA) is a valuable tool for securing your financial future.

However, it’s important to do your research and weigh all the options before choosing the type of IRA that’s right for you.

Whether you choose a traditional, Roth, SEP, SIMPLE, rollover, inherited, or custodial IRA, it’s important to keep in mind the tax implications, limits, investment opportunities, and potential penalties that come with early withdrawals.

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