Though Social Security will help you pay the bills once you retire and give up your paycheck, those benefits alone can’t sustain you. That’s why you need savings of your own, and if you don’t have access to a 401(k) through your job, an IRA is another great option for building a nest egg. But the last thing you want to do is mismanage that account in the coming year and put your retirement at risk as a result. Here are three big IRA mistakes to steer clear of to avoid that fate.
1. Not knowing your annual contribution limits
The more money you put into your IRA, the greater your chances of retiring with enough of a nest egg to cover your senior living costs without stress. But if you don’t know how much money you’re entitled to contribute, you could end up underfunding your account.
For the current year, you can put up to $6,000 into an IRA if you’re under the age of 50. If you’re 50 or older, you get a $1,000 catch-up that raises that limit to $7,000. If you’re saving in a traditional IRA, that means you have an opportunity to exclude up to $6,000 or $7,000 of your 2020 income from taxes, depending on your age. And while you may not be able to max out this year, you should at least know what limit to aim for.
2. Not making catch-up contributions when you’re older and behind on savings
An estimated 48% of Americans aged 55 and over have no savings in a retirement plan, reports the U.S. Government Accountability Office. If you’re one of them, or are behind on savings, then it’s crucial that you take advantage of catch-up contributions in your IRA. Eking out that extra money could mean having to cut back on spending in a meaningful way, or even getting yourself a second job to drum up the cash. But if you don’t make an effort to catch up, you’re likely to fall short once retirement rolls around.
Here’s the good news, though: If you’re 55 years old and you max out your IRA for the next 15 years at today’s limit of $7,000, you’ll wind up with about $176,000 if your IRA investments generate an average annual 7% return (which is feasible if you load up on stocks). And while that’s not a ton of money to work with in retirement, it’s far better than entering your golden years with no savings at all.
3. Passing up the opportunity to fund a Roth IRA
Unlike traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs don’t offer an immediate tax break on contributions. As such, you may be more drawn to a traditional IRA so you can reap some savings up front. But while Roth IRAs may not give you an instant tax break, they offer a number of key benefits.
For one thing, the money in your Roth IRA gets to grow completely tax-free, and withdrawals aren’t taxed in retirement. Traditional IRA withdrawals do get taxed, which leaves you to deal with that burden during your golden years. Furthermore, Roth IRAs are the only tax-advantaged retirement savings plan that don’t impose required minimum distributions. That gives you more flexibility with your savings later in life.
If you earn too much money to contribute to a Roth IRA directly in 2020, you can always fund a traditional IRA and convert it to a Roth after the fact. You’ll be barred from putting money into a Roth IRA if your earnings exceed $139,000 as a single tax filer, or $206,000 as a married couple filing jointly.
The savvier you are with your IRA, the better it’ll serve you. Avoid these mistakes to put yourself in a stronger financial position in the future.
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