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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Traditional and Roth Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs): A Primer

John J. Topoleski
Analyst in Income Security

In response to concerns over the adequacy of retirement savings, Congress has created incentives to encourage individuals to save more for retirement through a variety of retirement plans. Some retirement plans are employer-sponsored, such as 401(k) plans, and others are established by individual employees, such as Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs).

This report describes the primary features of two common retirement savings accounts that are available to individuals. Although the accounts have many features in common, they differ in some very important aspects. Both traditional and Roth IRAs offer tax incentives to encourage individuals to save for retirement. Contributions to traditional IRAs may be tax-deductible for taxpayers who (1) are not covered by a retirement plan at their place of employment or (2) have income below specified limits. Contributions to Roth IRAs are not tax-deductible and eligibility is limited to those with incomes under specified limits.

The tax treatment of distributions from traditional and Roth IRAs differs. Distributions from traditional IRAs are generally included in taxable income whereas distributions from Roth IRAs are not included in taxable income. Some distributions may be subject to an additional 10% tax penalty, unless the distribution is for a reason specified in the Internal Revenue Code (for example, distributions from IRAs after the individual is age 59 ½ or older are not subject to the early withdrawal penalty).

Individuals may rollover eligible distributions from other retirement accounts (such as an account balance from a 401(k) plans upon leaving an employer) into IRAs. Rollovers preserve retirement savings by allowing investment earnings on the funds in the retirement accounts to accrue on a tax-deferred, in the case of traditional IRAs, or a tax-free basis, in the case of Roth IRAs.

The Retirement Savings Contribution Credit (also known as the Saver’s Credit) is a nonrefundable tax credit of up to $1,000. It was authorized in 2001 to encourage retirement savings among individuals with income under specified limits.

The report explains the eligibility requirements, contribution limits, tax deductibility of contributions, and rules for withdrawing funds from the accounts. It also describes the Saver’s Credit and provisions enacted after the Gulf of Mexico hurricanes in 2005 and the Midwestern storms in 2008 to exempt distributions to those affected by the disasters from the 10% early withdrawal penalty.

Date of Report: January 30, 2013
Number of Pages: 19
Order Number: RL34397
Price: $29.95

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