Roth vs 401k

A Roth IRA is an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) allowed under the tax law of the United States. Named for its chief legislative sponsor, Senator William Roth of Delaware, a Roth IRA differs in several significant ways from other IRAs.


Established in 1996 (Public Law 105-34), a Roth IRA can invest in securities, usually common stocks or mutual funds (although other investments, including derivatives, notes, certificates of deposit, and real estate are possible). As with all IRAs, there are specific eligibility and filing status requirements mandated by the Internal Revenue Service. A Roth IRA’s main advantage is its tax structure. Depending on with whom a Roth IRA is set up, it can be managed in creative ways, including investments in non-typical assets (self-directed IRA).

The total contributions allowed per year to all IRAs are limited as seen below (this total may be split up between any number of traditional and Roth IRAs. In the case of a married couple, each spouse may contribute the amount listed):

Age 49 and Below Age 50 and Above
19982001 $2,000 $2,000
20022004 $3,000 $3,500
2005 $4,000 $4,500
20062007 $4,000 $5,000
2008* $5,000 $6,000

*Starting in 2009, contribution limits will increase in $500 increments based on inflation.

The 401(k) plan is a type of employer-sponsored defined contribution retirement plan under section 401(k) of the Internal Revenue Code (26 U.S.C. § 401(k)) in the United States, and some other countries.

A 401(k) plan allows a worker to save for retirement while deferring income taxes on the saved money and earnings until withdrawal. The employee elects to have a portion of his or her wage paid directly, or “deferred,” into his or her 401(k) account. In participant-directed plans (the most common option), the employee can select from a number of investment options, usually an assortment of mutual funds that emphasize stocks, bonds, money market investments, or some mix of the above. Many companies’ 401(k) plans also offer the option to purchase the company’s tax deferred. Before the January 1, 2006, effective date of the designated Roth account provisions, all 401(k) contributions were on a pre-tax basis (i.e., no income tax is withheld on the income in the year it is contributed), and the contributions and growth on them are not taxed until the money is withdrawn. With the enactment of the Roth provisions, participants in 401(k) plans that have the proper amendments can allocate some or all of their contributions to a separate designated Roth account, commonly known as a Roth 401(k). Qualified distributions from a designated Roth account are tax free, while contributions to them are on an after-tax basis (i.e., income tax is paid or withheld on the income in the year contributed). In addition to Roth and pre-tax contributions, some participants may have after-tax contributions in their 401(k) accounts. The after-tax contributions are treated as after-tax basis and may be withdrawn without tax. The growth on after-tax amounts not in a designated Roth account are taxed as ordinary income.

The above information and more can be found here and here.

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