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Looking at the Difference Between Roth and Traditional IRA Accounts

Mar 20, 2008
Deciding whether to invest in a Traditional IRA or a Roth IRA can be a difficult decision, especially if you are unaware of the differences. A Traditional IRA is an approach typically taken with an employer sponsored plan where before-tax dollars are contributed, thus allowing the employee/investor to invest more money over the life of the IRA. However, a Traditional IRA is subject to income tax at the time of withdrawal (typically retirement).

On the other hand, a Roth IRA is funded with after tax dollars, and none of the principal or growth of the fund is subject to taxation at withdrawal. All tax has been paid before money is ever invested, and the government allows for tax free growth. Sounds like the better option, huh? Lets look at example and find out.

Let's look at 30 years of investing between a Traditional IRA and Roth IRA, assuming the investor gets an 8% return, contributes $200/month to the Traditional IRA, and only $160/month with a Roth IRA (due to an assumed 20% taxation before investing).

Total amount accumulated after 30 years of investing.

The Traditional IRA accumulates approximately $60,000 more than the Roth IRA. But wait Jeffry, the Roth IRA doesn't get taxed during retirement and the Traditional IRA does, won't I end up with more if I go with the Roth IRA? Maybe, maybe not.

Typically folks that go into retirement tend to have less income, and less expenses (they have already paid off a mortgage, kids are grown up and gone, etc.). So, assuming the tax bracket declined from 20% before retirement to 10% after retirement, the total after tax dollars you would have with the Traditional IRA would be $268,264.70. The total after tax dollars you would have with the Roth IRA would only be $238,457.51.

That's a difference of $29,807.19, quite a difference!

Most financial experts advise their clients to contribute to a Traditional IRA for this reason. It usually turns out to be the better financial choice. Of course, this is based on many assumptions, some of which may or may not turn out to be true. It really depends on your situation. If you have an employer sponsored retirement account, chances are likely that it is a traditional IRA, the employer matches it with some money, and of course, this would be the better approach. But if you are military, without a employer sponsored plan, especially if you are in active duty, then a Roth IRA may be of much more value to you. Because you do not get taxed while on active duty, then in essence, your contributions to your Roth IRA are also tax free (even though they still qualify as after tax dollars).
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Get more great finance and investing tips at my personal finance blog. Invest in a Traditional or Roth IRA? is just one of many great articles you will find at Personal Finance Resources.
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