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Which Retirement Plan Is Best?

Denise Appleby

With the different features and benefits that apply to the various types of individual retirement accounts (IRAs) and plans, choosing the one that is most suitable can give you gray hairs before they are due. In some cases, the process is easier because choices can be narrowed down by eliminating the plans for which an individual is ineligible. In this article, we'll look at some scenarios and the factors that should be considered when you are faced with choosing which IRA is best for your golden years.

See: Introduction To Retirement Plans

Eligible for a Roth IRA and a Traditional IRA
For an individual who is eligible for both a Traditional IRA and a Roth IRA, making the choice usually depends on whether the individual is eligible (or wants) to claim the deduction for the Traditional IRA contribution, and the individual's current tax bracket compared to the projected tax bracket during retirement. This choice is determined by which plan results in lower taxes and more income. For more on this see, Roth Or Traditional IRA ... Which Is The Better Choice?

Eligible for a Roth IRA, a Traditional IRA and a Salary Deferral Contribution
For an individual who is eligible for a Traditional IRA contribution, a Roth IRA contribution and a salary deferral contribution to a 401(k) plan, but cannot afford to contribute the maximum amount to the 401(k) plan and the IRA at the same time, a decision must be made as to whether it is more beneficial to choose to make one, two, or all three work. Some of these concepts can also apply if the individual has the option of contributing to both a traditional 401(k) and a Roth 401(k).

Choosing One
Let's take a look at Casey, who works for Company A and is eligible to make a salary deferral to Company A's 401(k) plan.

  • Casey's annual compensation is $50,000.
  • Casey can afford to contribute only $2,000 each year.
  • Casey feels that the fees that will be charged to each accounts makes it cost prohibitive to split the contribution into more than one account. Therefore, Casey must decide whether it makes better financial sense to contribute to the 401(k) or an IRA.

The 401(k) will likely be the better choice if Casey will receive a matching contribution on his salary deferral contribution. Let's look at the growth of his accounts over a 10-year period, assuming a matching contribution of $1 for each $1 Casey contributes, up to 3% of his salary. This means that Casey will receive a matching contribution of $1,500 ($50,000 x 3%).


No Matching Contributions Made


If no matching contribution is being made to the 401(k) account, Casey will need to consider the following:

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  • The investment choices available: Large corporations typically limit investment choices to mutual funds, bonds and money-market instruments. Smaller companies may do the same, but are more likely to allow self-direction of investments, allowing the participant to choose among stocks, bonds, mutual funds and other available investments, similar to the investment options available in a self-directed IRA. If investments in the 401(k) are limited, Casey will need to decide whether he prefers to contribute to an IRA, which would provide a broader range of investments from which to choose.

Choosing All Three
Now, let's take a look at TJ, who can afford to fund his 401(k), his Traditional and his Roth IRA. If he can afford to contribute the maximum permissible amounts to all his accounts, then he may have no need to be concerned with how to allocate his savings. On the other hand, let's assume Casey can afford to save only $7,000 for the year. The points of consideration for Casey (above) may also apply to TJ. In addition, TJ may want to consider the following:

  • Getting the maximum match: If a matching contribution is being made to the 401(k) plan, consider the maximum amount that needs to be contributed to the plan in order to receive the maximum available matching contribution. For instance, if TJ's compensation is $80,000 per year and the matching contribution formula is $1 for $1 up to 3% of compensation, he will need to contribute at least $2,400 to his 401(k) plan in order to receive the maximum available matching contribution of $2,400.



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