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IRA vs. Roth IRA

Individual Retirement Accounts can be part of the foundation of a financially secure retirement.  For many years, millions of individuals have made annual contributions to IRAs or used them to receive distributions from retirement plans on changing jobs or retiring.  In 1998, a new form of IRA was created called the Roth IRA.  The Roth IRA offers some advantages over the Traditional IRA but comes with some limitations. 

Here is a comparison of some of the key features of each: 


Anyone under the age of 70 ½ with earned income can contribute to a Traditional IRA.  

For a Roth IRA, you must still have earned income but there is no age restriction.  However, there are income limits for Roth IRAs.  For 2023 Roth IRAs, single tax return filers can make full contributions to their Roth IRA if their income is less than $138,000.  The limit for joint filers in 2023 is $218,000.  Partial contributions are allowed if your income exceeds those amounts. 

Taxability of Earnings

Earnings on funds in a Traditional IRA are tax deferred. Roth IRAs provide for tax-free growth.

Contribution Limits

The contribution limits for both types of IRAs are the same. In all cases, contributions must not exceed earned income.  For 2023, the contribution limit is $6,500 and will be adjusted for inflation in subsequent years. In addition, workers ages 50 and over can make additional “catch-up” contributions of $1,000 in 2023.

Deductibility of Contributions

Contributions to Traditional IRAs are deductible if you do not participate in another qualified plan. If you are a plan participant, contributions may be deductible depending on your adjusted gross income.

For 2023 contributions to Traditional IRAs – Single return filers – full deductibility if AGI is $73,000 or less and partial deductibility with AGI up to $83,000. For joint return filers in 2023, the limits are $116,000 and $136,000. 

Contributions to a Roth IRA are not tax deductible.

Taxability of Withdrawals.

For Traditional IRAs, any earnings and deductible contributions are subject to tax on withdrawal.  All distributions from a Roth IRA are tax-free. 

Penalty for Early Withdrawals

Both types of IRAs impose a 10% early withdrawal penalty tax on distributions taken before reaching age 59 ½.  There are a few exceptions for death, severe hardship and other situations. 

Mandatory Distributions

For a Traditional IRA, you must start taking distributions in the year you reach age 70 

Which IRA is right for you?

If your income level precludes you from getting a deduction for contributions, the answer is easy – choose the Roth IRA. 

If your contributions to a Traditional IRA would be deductible, the question is harder.  Generally, if you are younger, the attraction of tax-free distributions would outweigh the immediate benefit of the deductions.  If you expect your marginal tax rates to remain at their current level or increase, the odds favor the Roth IRA.

If you have significant other assets and would like to use your IRA to pass significant wealth on to future generations, the tax-free nature of the Roth IRA is extremely attractive. 

Should You Convert Your Traditional IRA to a Roth IRA?

There are some special rules that enable you to convert a Traditional IRA into a Roth IRA.  Many people find that the attractions of tax-free distributions and no required distributions make a Roth IRA conversion worth considering.  Beginning in 2010, the income limitations for conversions to Roth IRAs were eliminated and many people may now find this opportunity attractive.  However, converting a Traditional IRA to a Roth IRA requires you to pay tax on the amount in the account.  Be sure to consult your tax advisor if you believe converting makes sense.