IRAs: A Flexible Tool for Life’s Goals

When people think IRAs, they think retirement savings. And why not? IRA stands for “Individual Retirement Account,” after all. But IRAs can be used for many purposes. If you need to save for multiple goals, or maybe aren’t sure how much to save, setting up an IRA can be a flexible way to plan for the future.

First some basics: There are two types of IRAs for most investors, Traditional and Roth. As the table shows, these types have different tax advantages and qualifications. But at heart, IRAs encourage people to save for retirement by deferring the taxes that would have to be paid each year on their gains. And they keep people focused by assessing a penalty on withdrawals prior to retirement age. 

Traditional versus Roth IRAs: Which One Is Right For You?
Traditional IRARoth IRA
2019 Contribution LimitsUnder age 50, you can contribute up to $6,000/year.
Over 50, you can contribute up to $7,000/year.
Note: You can’t contribute more in a year than you earn.
Same
TaxesYou may receive a tax deduction on your contributions.
You pay taxes when you withdraw from your account at your then income tax rate.*
You pay tax on the amount when you contribute, but no taxes are due on withdrawals if the following withdrawal conditions are met.
Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs)You must start taking required minimum distributions from your account, and pay tax on them, no later than age 70 ½.No withdrawals are required until the death of the original account holder.
2019 Eligibility RequirementsAnyone who receives taxable compensation – unless that person is over age 70 ½. Available to those who have taxable income and whose modified adjusted gross income is up to $122,000, or $193,000 for married couples filing jointly. But you may be able to make a partial contribution if your income is higher.
Withdrawal of ContributionsYou are subject to a 10% IRS penalty if you withdraw funds from your account before age 59 ½, with some exceptions.The same rules apply. Plus, withdrawals must be taken after a five-year holding period.

* For a more detailed comparison of Traditional and Roth IRAs, check out “Building Your Retirement Savings” in Homestead’s Helpful Tips series.

But don’t let that last requirement fool you. Federal tax law allows people to tap their IRAs before retirement for many life events, like buying a home or pursuing a postgraduate degree. You would have to pay taxes on the money you take out — just as you would if you saved in a taxable account — but you don’t incur the 10% penalty for withdrawing before age 59 ½. That makes the IRA a flexible savings tool.

There are several ways you can tap an IRA without incurring penalties. We recommend you consult with a tax advisor prior to using any of these strategies.

An IRA Is There When You Need It The Most

Buy a Home

You can use up to $10,000 from an IRA to buy, build or rebuild your first home or help other immediate family members buy a home. The $10,000 is a lifetime limit, and you can’t have owned a home in the past two years. If you’re married, your spouse can also withdraw from his or her IRA, for a total of $20,000.

Higher-Education Expenses

You can use IRA money to pay for college for yourself, your spouse, or your children or grandchildren without penalty. Qualifying higher education expenses include tuition, room and board, fees, books and supplies. Using an IRA isn’t necessarily the best way to save for college; our typical guidance to clients is to focus on Coverdell Education Savings Accounts and Uniform Gift/Transfer to Minor Account (UGMA/UTMA) accounts. But having a well-funded IRA is an appealing backup when those college bills come due.

Help Secure Your Spouse’s Future

Ordinarily, you can’t open an IRA without earned income. But that doesn’t apply to spouses. A “spousal IRA” allows a nonworking spouse to have a Traditional IRA without having earned income. The working spouse contributes to the IRA, and the money can benefit your spouse or enhance the overall savings of a married couple.

Educate a Young Person About Money

Encourage your children to open a low minimum IRA to learn saving habits and how investing works. To qualify, the child’s money must come from “earned income” — income from babysitting and mowing lawns, for example, but not an allowance. You must be able to document where the money came from; a tax advisor can help you sort out the rules if need be. Your children can contribute income they earn each year up to a maximum of $6,000, but they don’t need that much to get started. Your child can open an account with just $50 a month.

Military Service

If you’re a qualified military reservist and called into active service, you can withdraw money from your IRA without penalty. To qualify, you must have been called to active duty for more than 179 days.

Help Pay for a Serious Illness

If you have unreimbursed medical expenses greater than 10% of your adjusted gross income, you can tap your IRA without penalty to pay for them. You can also use the funds to pay for medical insurance if you lose your job and to provide income for yourself if you can’t work if you become disabled.

Invest in Your Own Business

A rollover for business startups (ROBS) enables you to use IRA funds to start up or invest in your own business. A ROBS isn’t a loan, so you don’t have to pay it back or make interest payments.

A Staple for Retirement Savings

Of course, you could use IRA savings for retirement. Even if you have an established workplace retirement account, opening an IRA and maximizing your annual IRA contributions is a great way to supplement your retirement income and reinforce your retirement readiness.

If you want to take advantage of this flexible savings option, we’re here to help. We’ll work with you to help you consider your goals, evaluate your account options and select your appropriate portfolio. Call or click today, and we’ll help you make the right choice for your situation.

Homestead Funds does not offer legal or tax advice. Please consult the appropriate professional regarding your individual circumstance.