Traditional or Roth IRA: It May Be Possible to Have Both – Should You?

By Keith Blazek3 Comments

It’s a common decision investors face when selecting which retirement account to open: should I choose a Traditional or a Roth IRA?
 
While this is a personal decision that depends on your unique situation and should be made by consulting with your financial advisor or tax professional, it doesn’t necessarily have to be an “either-or” decision.
 
It may be possible to have both. 
Types of IRAs Held by U.S. Households
(total of 126.2 million households)
  • Traditional IRA: 27.8% (35.1 million households)
  • Roth IRA: 19.7% (24.9 million households)
  • Both Traditional and Roth: 13.9% (17.5 million households)
  • SEP, SIMPLE or SAR-SEP IRA: 6.0% (7.6 million households)
  • Any IRA: 34.8% (43.9 million households)
  • No IRA: 65.2% (82.3 million households)
  • Neither an IRA nor an employer-sponsored retirement plan: 39% (49.2 million households)
Source:
Holden, Sarah, and Daniel Schrass. 2017. “The Role of IRAs in US Households’ Saving for Retirement, 2017.” ICI Research Perspective 23, no. 10 (December). Available at www.ici.org/pdf/per23-10.pdf.


According to the Investment Company Institute’s report titled The Role of IRAs in U.S. Households’ Saving for Retirement, 2017, just under 14 percent of U.S. households have both a Traditional and a Roth IRA.

What’s the Difference Between a Traditional and Roth IRA?

The primary difference between the two account types is the timing of taxation. This difference is whether taxes are paid on the IRA contributions or if they are paid at the time of distribution.
 
As outlined in the table below, contributions to a Traditional IRA are made pre-tax and may provide a tax deduction for the year of contribution (pending eligibility requirements).
 
Investments and earnings within the IRA are tax-deferred, but funds distributed after age 59½ are taxed at the account owner’s ordinary income tax rate.
 
Conversely, contributions to a Roth IRA are made after-tax and do not provide a tax deduction. However, investments and earnings within a Roth IRA are tax-free and funds distributed after age 59½ are tax-free and not taxed as ordinary income as long as the account has been established for at least five years.

 

Feature Traditional IRA Roth IRA
Taxes on Contributions to the IRA
Contributions are made pre-tax and may provide a tax deduction (pending eligibility).
 
Cannot contribute after age 70½.
Contributions are made after-tax and do not provide a tax deduction.
 
No age limit for contributions.
Taxes on Funds/
Investments Inside the IRA
Contributions and earnings/growth are not taxed while inside the account (tax-deferred) as long as IRS rules are followed. Contributions and earnings/growth are not taxed while inside the account (tax-free) as long as IRS rules are followed.
Taxes on Withdrawals from the IRA
Taxed as ordinary income when withdrawn from the account after age 59½ (contributions or earnings).
 
If withdrawn before age 59½ (contributions or earnings), taxed as ordinary income and penalized 10%.
 
Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) begin at age 70½.
Tax-free when withdrawn from the account after age 59½ (contributions or earnings) after the account has been established for at least 5 years.
 
Contributions can be removed from the account tax- and penalty-free before age 59½ after the account has been established for five years. Early distribution of any earnings may be taxed as ordinary income and subject to a 10% penalty.
 
No Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) for original account owner.
Download the Traditional & Roth IRA Comparison infographic:


 
Accounts with Different Tax Advantages Could Provide Benefits Now and During Retirement

“You can't control market returns, and you can't control tax law, but you can control how you use accounts that offer tax advantages—and good decisions about their use can add significantly to your bottom line,” says Matthew Kenigsberg, a senior vice president with Strategic Advisers, Inc. in a recent article from Fidelity Viewpoints.
 
As the table above details, the Traditional IRA and Roth IRA provide different tax advantages. If you and your financial professional decide having both accounts is right for you, the flexibility could potentially be beneficial now and in retirement. Here are three scenarios to consider.

1) Having both accounts may let you decide between tax-deferred or after-tax contributions and impact potential tax deductions.

Having both account options allows you to work with your advisor or tax professional to decide whether a tax-deferred or after-tax contribution makes more sense in a particular year.
 
Additionally, your income levels may change as you move through your career. In past years, you may have fallen under the MAGI limits and qualified for a full or partial deduction on Traditional IRA contributions. But in years where a full or partial tax deduction is unavailable, investors may be less inclined to contribute funds with no tax advantage, knowing those funds will also be taxed when withdrawn from the account down the road.
 
Having both accounts may also provide investors the ability to continue contributing to an IRA after age 70½. A Traditional IRA doesn’t allow contributions after age 70½, but it’s possible to contribute to a Roth IRA at any age (assuming you have taxable income and fall under the MAGI limits).
 
It’s important to note that the IRA contribution limits set by the IRS each year apply to all IRAs an individual may have. For the 2017 and 2018 tax years, the maximum contribution limit is $5,500 (or $6,500 if over 50). That’s the limit on what can be contributed between both a Traditional and a Roth IRA in a given year. However, it may be possible to split contributions between the two accounts – providing the flexibility and control for you to decide what’s best each year.
 
2) Having both accounts may provide flexibility when planning and managing your investment portfolio.

Which account is best for growth or value stocks? Should income-producing assets be held in a Traditional or Roth? What about REITs, rental properties, notes or other alternative investments?
 
These are questions for your advisor or financial professional, but having both a Traditional and a Roth IRA arms you and your advisor with options.
 
3) Having both accounts may provide tax flexibility during retirement when withdrawing funds.

After age 59½, it’s possible to withdraw funds from both Traditional and Roth IRAs without penalty (assuming the Roth IRA has been established for at least 5 years). After years of tax-advantaged growth inside the IRA, taxes are once again front-and-center in the distribution phase.
 
Distributions from a Traditional IRA are considered ordinary income (thus adding the amount you distribute to your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) levels for that year) and are taxed at your ordinary income tax rate. Roth IRA distributions, on the other hand, are tax-free.
 
Due to its complexity, you should work closely with your financial advisor or tax professional when planning IRA distributions. However, those with both Traditional and Roth accounts may have added flexibility and can elect how much, when, and from which account they plan to distribute funds.
 
When the account holder reaches age 70½, required minimum distributions (RMDs) begin for Traditional IRAs. A Roth IRA doesn’t have that requirement. Having both account types could provide options and flexibility during this phase as well.
 
As mentioned earlier, Roth accounts may provide an added benefit after the IRS retirement age of 59½. Unlike Traditional IRAs, there is no age limit for making contributions to a Roth IRA – allowing those with earned income to continue saving money in a tax-free environment.
 
Finally, since the Roth IRA is not subject to RMDs, it may be possible to pass down a Roth IRA (and all cash and assets held in the account) to a beneficiary when the account owner passes. The beneficiary can maintain the tax-free account and continue investing or may immediately distribute cash and assets tax-free.

As you’ve read, it’s possible to have both a Traditional IRA and a Roth IRA and there could be potential benefits to having both. Since everyone’s situation is unique, it’s important to consult with your financial advisor, CPA or tax professional before making any financial decisions.

Download the Traditional & Roth IRA Comparison infographic for a handy resource detailing features of each account.