Understanding retirement accounts

Key Points

  • Plan for a retirement that could last longer than your career.
  • An employer-sponsored plan may be the foundation of your retirement savings.
  • You'll likely need more than one type of account to save for retirement.

 There are many types of accounts that can help you save for a lengthy retirement — and most people rely on more than one account to reach their retirement goals. Understanding the features and benefits of each will make it easier to choose the right ones.

Employer-sponsored plans with employee contributions

A good starting point for retirement saving is your employer-sponsored plan. Employer plans usually accept automatic contributions from your paycheck, and the money you contribute generally grows tax-deferred.

In addition, if your employer offers to match your plan contributions, you should consider taking full advantage of this opportunity. An employer match will supplement your savings without any extra effort on your part. If you're not sure if you have an employer match, you can ask your HR or benefits department for your employer summary plan description.

Pre-Tax vs. Roth deferrals

Some employer plans offer you the option to make Roth 401(k) or Roth 403(b) contributions instead of the standard pre-tax contribution to your 401(k) or 403(b) account. Determining which contribution option to choose depends in part on your tax bracket now and in retirement, in addition to the amount of time you have before you retire.

  • Pre-tax contribution. When you make a pre-tax contribution to a retirement plan, you receive a tax benefit right away, but you will have to pay taxes on the money when you withdraw it. In general, a person in a higher tax bracket who anticipates being in a lower tax bracket at retirement may find a pre-tax deferral more favorable.
  • Roth contribution. You won't receive a current tax benefit but qualified distributions are tax-free in retirement. In general, a person in a lower tax bracket who anticipates being in a higher tax bracket in retirement may find a Roth contribution more favorable.

There are other factors to consider as well so be sure to talk with your Ameriprise financial advisor and tax professional before making a decision.

Employer-funded plans

Some employers offer plans where all eligible employees automatically benefit, without having to make contributions from their salary. Even though you do not need to personally contribute to these plans, you'll still need to select beneficiaries, may need to choose the investments and will want to factor them into your overall plan for retirement.

 

Individual retirement accounts (IRAs)

If you're already participating in an employer-sponsored plan but are able to save more, or if you don't have access to an employer plan, you should consider contributing to an IRA. IRAs allow you to hold almost any kind of investment and offer different tax benefits depending on your income level and the type of IRA you select.

Traditional IRAs can offer a particular tax advantage if you expect to be in a lower tax bracket when you retire. If you qualify for pre-tax contributions, your current taxes may be reduced and the taxes you pay when you withdraw the money may be less than you would pay now. However, as you consider a traditional IRA, keep in mind that at age 70½ you must take required minimum distributions (RMDs), and can no longer contribute to your IRA.

A Roth IRA may be an advantageous way for you to invest if you are in a lower tax bracket, especially if you anticipate being in a higher tax bracket in retirement. The earnings in your Roth IRA are tax-free upon withdrawal (if certain requirements are met). This can be a powerful advantage. Assuming that you expect your tax bracket to be higher in retirement than it is now, there may be a significant benefit to giving up the current tax deduction and making do with less today in order to gain the tax-free growth and withdrawal.

 

More ways to save

While employer-sponsored plans and IRAs offer important opportunities for retirement savings, they may not be enough to provide the retirement you want. Personal savings will likely play a critical role in funding your retirement as well. It is important to think about all of the vehicles available as you plan for a secure retirement.

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