Roth IRA, a must-have tax benefit for graduate students and young professionals!


One common enemy on wealth accumulation for busy young fellows is not to start now. A few years ago, I started to work on my financial plan. The first thing I realized was how much I had missed by not using Roth IRA.

IRA is the abbreviation for individual retirement account. There are two types of IRA, traditional IRA and Roth IRA, sharing the same annual quota ($4000 for 2006) set by the Congress. For a traditional IRA account, you take a tax deduction up front for the money you put into the account, the contributions and earnings are not taxed until its distribution after retirement, which is called tax deferment. For a Roth IRA account, you put in after-tax money as contributions, your contributions and earnings grow tax-free even when it is distributed after your retirement.

For young professionals and poor graduate students, Roth IRA is better for the following reasons:
1. You will be likely in a higher tax bracket at your retirement compared to your tax brackets now. Most graduate students on a stipend are in the tax bracket of 15%. Compared to a 25% plus tax bracket with a real salary, Roth IRA is a big saving. Also, if you are an optimist believing in brighter future and higher earnings down the road, or if you are a pessimist believing in increasing Federal tax rates, you should contribute to Roth IRA instead of traditional IRA. Of course, if you are extremely pessimistic and worried about the Congress removing the tax benefits of existing Roth IRA in the future, you probably should store up gold and avoid investing.

2. It is more flexible. You can have early withdraws any time up to the total contributions without penalty. Of course, you won’t be able to put them back in later. So it’s NOT recommended. However, it was really attractive to me when I started as I was considering graduation and buying a house after getting a job.

3. No mandatory age-based distribution schedule like other tax-deferred retirement accounts. This allows you to manage your income stream after retirement, and enable you to pass all the dough to your descendants even.

4. You contribute more with Roth. Because the quota is applied on your after-tax contributions, $4000 in a Roth IRA is really worth more than the pre-tax $4000 in a traditional IRA. Therefore, it’s very attractive to a late-starter who is trying to catch up with the retirement contributions.

Now let’s see how much you can accumulate with Roth IRA only. Assuming an annual contribution of $4,000.00 in 2006 and 2007, and $5000 afterwards (the limit will be increased to $5000 in 2008), you will see $1,049,385 in 2041 if the annualized rate of return is 9%. Assuming you start at the age of 30, more than 1 million dollars will be there for you at the age of 65 tax-free. After considering an annual inflation rate of 3%, it’s still worth $544,822 of current dollars. Half a million in today’s dollar is probably worth more than most people’s equity in their house after they have paid off a thirty-year mortgage. Find a soul-mate and do it together? That will be even sweeter!

So if you haven’t taken advantage of the Roth IRA, I highly recommend you to do it. The deadline for 2006 contributions is 04/16/2007. You’ve still got time!

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5 Responses to “Roth IRA, a must-have tax benefit for graduate students and young professionals!”

  1. Yannick Says:

    Roth IRA is certainly my favorite. Just came across the following article on morningstar Tips for Managing Your Roth IRA. I was first surprised to learn that you could claim loss with Roth IRA, however, later found out it can only be claimed when you take out all contributions, which makes it almost never a good decision. The loss can not be carried over.

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