Roth IRA vs. Traditional IRA: Which is better?

Sep 26, 2020

Written by:
Ella Vincent

When people are saving for retirement, many debate whether to open a Roth IRA vs. traditional IRA. Whether there is a bull or bear market, investors can decide which method will help them rebalance their portfolios. This TradingSim article will assist investors who want to decide which method is best for them.

 What is the difference between a Roth IRA vs. traditional IRA?


In the comparison between a Roth IRA vs. a traditional IRA, there are many differences.

A traditional IRA has these key characteristics :

  1. Traditional IRA’s are offered by employers to workers.
  2. An account holder can put away a significant part of their pre-tax earnings.
  3. With a traditional IRA, taxes are delayed until funds are withdrawn.
  4. Funds can’t be withdrawn penalty-free until the account holder is 59 1/2.
  5. If an account holder makes large contributions to the IRA, it can lower their taxable income.
  6. Compound interest can help account holders build more wealth in retirement.
  7. Traditional IRA’s don’t have income limits.
  8. Account holders can’t make contributions after they turn 70 1/2.
  9. When account holders turn 70 1/2, they take required minimum distributions.

On the other hand, a Roth IRA has these characteristics:

  1. Roth IRA’s are purchased by an individual.
  2. In 2020, the maximum contribution limit is $6,000.
  3. There is no age limit to Roth IRA contributions.
  4. In contrast to traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs don’t have required minimum distributions.
  5. When a person makes a withdrawal at any time, there are no penalties.

What are the advantages of a traditional IRA?

Steve Frazier is president of financial firm Frazier Investment Management. He says that people that earn too much for a Roth IRA could benefit more from a traditional IRA.

“It’s possible (to be) disqualified from the Roth in the first place,” said Frazier.

David Johnson is a financial adviser at Modern Horizons Wealth Advisors. He said the pretax contributions to traditional IRA’s can help people save money.

“Pretax contributions are one of the few tax reduction strategies many workers have available. Especially now, since fewer are able to itemize because of the increased standard deduction,” said Johnson.

What are the downsides to a traditional IRA?

Some financial experts like Ed Slott says account holders that have a traditional IRA can be affected by increased tax rates.

“With a traditional IRA, you’re at the mercy or uncertainty of what future higher tax rates might do to your retirement savings. With a Roth IRA, you don’t have to worry about future rates, because your tax rate in retirement will be zero,” said Slott.

Young people may also balk at traditional IRAs if they want to make withdrawals before the assigned age of 59 1/2. Slott noted that Millennial account holders may see that requirement as a downside to a traditional IRA.

“That’s a big deal for lots of younger people who are worried, ‘What if I need to get to my money?’” said Slott.

Chris Chen is a financial adviser at Insight Financial Strategists. He said that going from a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA can cause tax liabilities.

“Going from a traditional to Roth is giving up a lot of assets and income. The name of the game is not to pay no taxes on distribution, but to minimize taxes over a lifetime,” said Chen.

Financial experts say Roth IRA has advantages

Some financial experts say that Roth IRAs have a benefit. He said that even though Roth IRA holders have to pay taxes up front when they open an account, they can make tax-free withdrawals in retirement.

“Most people are better off taking a tax hit now,” said Frazier.

Steven Elwell is a certified financial planner and partner with Level Financial Advisors. He believes that as a person’s income increases, the lack of withdrawal taxes make Roth IRA’s more attractive.

“If you expect your income to go up, then something like a Roth might make sense,” said Elwell.

As financial expert Ed Slott noted, Frazier agrees that the Roth may be a better option for younger people saving for retirement.

“If you’re looking for flexibility, the Roth is the superior saving vehicle for the younger generation,” said Frazier.

Clayton Alexander is a registered investment advisor and founder of Teton Wealth Group. He said that starting a Roth IRA has benefits for people open one at an early age.

“One of the benefits of starting a Roth at an earlier age is the concept of compounding interest that can occur inside the investment, tax-free,” says Alexander.

Roth IRA vs. traditional IRA
Compound interest impacts comparison of Roth IRA vs. traditional IRA

Elwell isn’t sure that a traditional or Roth IRA is better.

“I don’t think there is a hard and fast rule that (one) is better,” said Elwell.

Jeannette Bajalia is president and principal advisor of Petros Financial. She said either option is good for investors saving for retirement.

“It’s not whether you should take a Roth over a traditional 401(k), but what is the right mix of savings to achieve your life and retirement goals,” says Bajalia.

Financial expert Chris Hogan says to consult a tax professional before opening a traditional IRA.

“If you have the money to pay the taxes on that money, it is a fantastic thing to do each and every year,” said Hogan.

Financial experts say people can use Roth to save

For many people who are struggling with finances, some withdrawals may be acceptable if they held the accounts for at least five years. Mark Jaeger is the director of tax development at TaxAct. He said that Roth IRA’s can be used as emergency funds in emergency situations.

“People are starting to be laid off, and it’s difficult to find that money when you start being put out of work. But you can always get your basis back from the Roth IRA,” said Jaeger.

Financial experts recommend Roth vs. traditional IRA

Another financial expert for Roth IRAs is retirement expert Jeanne Fisher. She is the managing director at Strategic Retirement Partners. She says that Roth IRA’s are beneficial for its low federal tax rate.

“If they are in a very low effective federal tax rate, or even a negative tax rate, the Roth is very beneficial. Finally, it can be used as a flexible bucket in retirement for high-income, high-net-worth clients,” Fisher says. “We consider all things like: How is the rest of the nest egg saved? Is it all tax-deferred? Are they expecting a pension? Do they need all of their retirement savings or do they intend to pass it to the next generation? Will they need all of their projected RMDs? I’m not exaggerating when I say—especially particular to the 401k—that eight out of 10 times I will recommend a Roth contribution,” said Fisher.

Fisher and other financial advisers show how Roths help people save on taxes.

“We illustrate the total growth of the portfolio and what the cumulative account balance could be in retirement. We also educate to how it affects their paycheck. Electing the Roth in the 401k isn’t going to result in a big tax bill when you file your taxes. Instead, the tax withholdings are adjusted on your paycheck, and in most cases, you are seeing only a minor adjustment each pay period,” said Fisher.

Fisher also touts the tax-free growth in Roth IRA’s.

“For one, investors always decide how much they want to save first, and then we talk about taxes. I have never, in my 12-year career, had someone walk back in my office with their ‘tax savings’ and ask to invest it. It just doesn’t happen. Also, most people max out the IRA contributions, which completely negates the argument,” said Fisher.

Financial experts say to talk to advisors before converting to Roth vs. traditional IRA

Jennifer Weber is vice president of financial planning at Weber Asset Management. She said that it’s key to consult a financial advisor before choosing a Roth vs. traditional IRA.

“It’s important to understand the following: what your company offers, does your company offer a match on retirement contributions and are you eligible to contribute directly to a Roth IRA (based on income limits),” said Weber.

Clark Howard is a financial expert that recommends traditional IRA’s because of potential rising tax rates.

“Our tax rates today are unusually low because we’re running a massive budget deficit. At some point, those tax rates will increase. That means there’s a good chance tax rates will be higher when you go to spend your nest egg in 25 or 30 years,” said Howard.

Howard said that Roth IRA’s may be taxed at a higher rate later, so people should choose traditional retirement accounts.

“Remember, in general, tax rates are likely to go higher over the years no matter which political party is in power. That means it may make more sense to skip the deduction of a traditional IRA now to avoid tax later with a Roth IRA,” said Howard.

Financial experts say Roth IRAs have tax benefits

Financial expert Suze Orman said Roth IRA’s could be best for investors while tax rates are low. She suggests people should invest in a Roth before taxes increase to pay off the increasing national debt.

“Do you really think that tax brackets aren’t going to have to go up five, 10, 15 years from now in order to pay for all the debt that we’re carrying? Of course, they’re going to have to,” said Orman.

While Suze Orman recommends Roth IRA’s, there are financial analysts that disagree with the world-renowned financial analyst. Monica Dwyer is vice president at Harvest Financial Advisors. She thinks that Orman’s advice may be too general. Dwyer said people should pick a traditional IRA or Roth based on their own financial situations.

“I think that Suze is concerned that future taxes will be much higher because we cannot continue on the spending parade that we have been on, our deficit is ballooning and, just like someone with a lot of credit card debt, this debt will have crushing consequences at some point,” said Dwyer.

“Does that mean her advice is good? Not necessarily. It just depends on the person,” added Dwyer.

Roth IRAs have advantages for young investors

Thomas Scanlon is an adviser at Raymond James. He said that a Roth IRA can give tax-free advantages to young investors.

“Folks just starting out might have almost 40 years of tax-free growth. What a great way to build wealth,” said Scanlon.

Financial Expert
Financial Experts can help people decide between Roth vs. traditional IRA

Mark Beaver is a financial adviser at Keeler and Nadler. He said that a favorable tax code can help investors save more money.

“The tax code today is about as favorable as it’s ever been and the likelihood of that changing (to be higher) in the future is pretty good. Because of that, we look to add to Roths directly or do things like backdoor Roth contributions or conversions where it makes sense,” said Beaver.

Financial experts recommend Roth IRA for young people

Because Roth IRAs don’t have age withdrawal limits, young people can let money grow tax-free. Ryan Marshall is a New Jersey-based certified financial planner. He said young investors should consider a Roth IRA.

“This is an area most young people don’t consider. We have seen a lot of clients who are withdrawing more from their 401(k) account than they actually need to live on in retirement. The Roth IRA currently does not force you to withdraw funds and continues to grow tax-free so long as you leave money invested,” said Marshall.

“It is great to build up those Roth funds when you are younger because you may not qualify when you are older,” added Marshall.

Pete Hunt is a certified financial planner and director of client services at Exencial Wealth Advisors. He recommends Roth IRA’s for most of his clients. However, he doesn’t recommend Roths for high-income clients.

“I recommend it to all my clients, unless they are in a situation where they think they will make significantly less income in the future,” said Hunt.

‘I like having a Roth IRA, if they are eligible for it, just because it gives a lot of flexibility that if they need that money, they can pull the contributions at any time for any reason,” Hunt said.

What are the disadvantages of a Roth IRA vs. traditional IRA?

While the Roth IRA can have benefits, there can be a tax downside. Dwyer said Congress can still add increased taxes to Roth IRA’s.

“Congress can get pretty creative about where they are going to collect taxes from and there is no guarantee that they won’t someday go after Roths,” said Dwyer.

How can a person make a Roth conversion?

Since many people want to save money on their Roth IRA’s, there can be an advantage with reduced required minimum deductions. Maria Erickson is a financial adviser. She said taxpayers can save on taxes without a required minimum distribution.

“This year is an unprecedented opportunity. The numbers are pretty compelling. You can reduce your tax bill by 30% to 40%,” said Erickson.

How can Roth IRA’s help with homeownership?

In addition to Roth IRA’s helping people save for retirement, Roths also can be used for another purpose. If a person meets certain requirements, they can withdraw $10,000 from their Roth IRA’s to purchase a home. Daniel Galli is the principal of Daniel J. Galli & Associates. He suggests that young people can use their Roth IRA’s to buy a home.

“We’ve long suggested that young people use a Roth IRA to save the considerable amount needed for a first-time home purchase,” said Galli.

“As long as we can meet the five-year rule, they can use all contributions plus up to $10,000 of gain, free of tax and penalty,” Galli said. 

While people can use their Roth IRA’s to buy a home, Galli notes that people have to aggressively invest to fund the accounts in the future.

“This strategy requires some market risk in order to enjoy some gains, but the rewards can balance that,” said Galli.

While Galli is for people using the Roth IRA for buying homes, some financial planners are opposed. Certified financial planner and CPA Jeffrey Levine is the director of advanced planning at Buckingham Wealth Partners. He said that Roth withdrawals should be rare and reduced over time.

“You might want to make it more conservative over time,” Levine said.

Financial experts advise caution witth Roth IRA home ownership

In addition to Levine, there are other experts who think that people should save their Roth IRA funds. Shon Anderson is president of Anderson Financial Strategies.

“These accounts are designed to help people accumulate as much money as possible for retirement,” said Anderson.

“You can obtain a loan for a home, car, business venture, college tuition … but no one will ever receive a loan to retire,” said Anderson.

Galli said some younger account holders should use Roths to buy homes.

“If the person is contributing to a 401(k), getting a decent match, they’re on a good track for retirement and the Roth is just a nice addition, I might consider it,” said Galli.

However, he doesn’t advise Roth IRA’s for home ownership if people are closer to retirement.

“But if their only retirement savings is the Roth and they’re, say, in their 40s, I probably wouldn’t,” said Galli.

IRS lets people take more from IRAs

With the current economic volatility, the IRS has stepped in to help IRA holders. The IRS lets people withdraw up to $100,000 from their retirement accounts. The CARES(Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security) Act says that spouses of account holders can also withdraw up to $100, 000 from their accounts. Jeffrey Levine is CPA and director of advanced planning at Buckingham Wealth Partners. He notes that the changes are helpful to account holders’ spouses.

“The spouse thing is pretty big. I had a lot of people in that camp, where the spouse was out of work and didn’t have significant retirement account assets,” said Levine.

Retirement plan consultant Denise Appleby says eligibility can help people who encounter economic difficulties.

“If you experience adverse financial consequences, because a member of your household, related to you or not, had their income adversely affected by COVID-9, you are eligible for the $100,000 coronavirus-related distributions,” she said.

Some financial advisors against extra Roth borrowing

While some financial advisors want their clients to take advantage of the new IRS rule, some disagree. Certified public accountant Ed Slott doesn’t think people should take extra funds out of their Roth IRA’s. He says the withdrawal now will lead to more taxes later.

“Remember, it’s still not a good thing: You’re taking your own money and you’ll owe the taxes,” said Slott.

Financial planner Mark Scribner also wants people to borrow from Roth IRA’s as a last resort.

 “If you have investment accounts, you should think about liquidating taxable accounts first, traditional IRAs and 401(k)s second, and Roth IRAs last,” said Scribner.

“Consider taking money first from pre-tax accounts or traditional retirement accounts before Roth IRA accounts,” added Scribner.

“Evaluate a personal loandepending on what type of interest rate you might build a qualify for,” said Poppy.

Poppy still advocates for IRA’s over other online trading apps.

“You have a little bit more flexibility since you can take out different shares, and you can really control the tax consequences a little bit better,” said Poppy.

While Poppy is against Roth IRA borrowing, he says people can borrow tax-free if they meet certain requirements.

“If taking from a Roth IRA, it can be beneficial since you can access your basis or contribution tax-free without penalties,” said Poppy.

Poppy says people should consult financial planners before borrowing from a Roth.

“Input from a good CPA and a good financial planner is really helpful. [They can help] you model it out in terms of what the impact long-term will be,” said Poppy.

Poppy also wants people to consider whether they can afford to replace the withdrawn funds later.

“The key thing to remember is that you are reducing your future retirement income. Do you have a plan to replenish that?” 

Can a new administration change traditional IRAs?

The new election may bring new changes to traditional IRA’s. Presidential candidate Joe Biden has promised to reform traditional IRA’s in a new plan. His website had these details:

“Under current law, the tax code affords workers over $200 billion each year for various retirement benefits—including saving in 401k-type plans or IRAs. While these benefits help workers reach their retirement goals, many are poorly designed to help low- and middle-income savers—about two-thirds of the benefit goes to the wealthiest 20% of families. The Biden Plan will make these savings more equal so that middle class families can enter retirement with enough savings to support a healthy and secure retirement,” noted Biden’s website.

J. Mark Iwry is a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. He said that the changes may not affect traditional IRA’s.

“Don’t assume the private pension tax expenditure would necessarily be a deficit reduction target in a Biden-Harris administration. The private pension system plays a unique role in our economy,” said Iwry.

The Tax Foundation noted that Biden’s plan will “shift some of the benefits of tax deferral in traditional retirement accounts toward lower- and middle-income earners with the goal of encouraging additional saving by those taxpayers.

Would auto-IRA’s replace Roth or traditional IRA’s?

Biden’s plan would also implement auto-IRA’s for workers whose employers don’t offer retirement accounts. Iwry said the new system will help traditional IRA’s.

“The pension tax expenditure will be even easier to defend when auto-IRA makes the system far more inclusive and progressive,” said Iwry.

Iwry noted that partisan politics hurt the chances of enacting the auto-IRA program.

“The Obama-Biden administration made auto-IRA the centerpiece of their retirement proposals, but then Obamacare was enacted,” Iwry continued. “The ensuing divisive politics and toxic partisanship meant it was no longer the right moment.”

However, Iwry believes that the idea can grow with some states enacting auto-IRA’s and have “been steadily acquiring proof of concept as seven states have enacted it; others are considering it, and three of those seven states have begun implementation, which is going smoothly,” Iwry said.

Iwry hopes that an act of Congress to enact nationwide auto-IRAs will help compliment Roth and traditional IRA’s.

“Congress can achieve nationwide uniformity with a federal auto-IRA that builds on, preserves and integrates the state auto-IRAs”, said Iwry.

Top 5 stocks for Roth IRA vs. traditional IRA

No matter which IRA a person chooses, they can choose these top stocks for investment.

1. Amazon

If some people want to invest their IRA, Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) is the best stock choice. During the pandemic, Amazon has become the go-to online marketplace. The e-commerce giant’s latest line of products, including its new Amazon Fire TV stick, will bring in new revenue. Amazon’s vice-president, Sandeep Gupta, spoke about the new Fire TV features.

Amazon stock
Amazon stock is a top choice for Roth IRA vs. traditional IRA investment

“Today, you can search for comedies, or stuff by Tom Cruise, but we’ve tried to make a landing spot for when you don’t know what you want to watch. This shows you stuff that’s free, movies and TV shows, broader categories, apps and more,” said Gupta. 

Financial expert Puja Tayal noted that Amazon’s varied revenue streams like grocery delivery and cloud technology make it an attractive investment for Roth vs. traditional IRA’s.

“AMZN’s biggest win was its entry in grocery. Grocers were reluctant to go online. But the lockdown forced people to buy almost everything online. AMZN increased its grocery delivery capacity by over 160% to cater to the threefold surge in online grocery demand,” wrote Tayal.

“The e-commerce giant also saw a 29% year-over-year surge in Amazon Web Services (AWS), as companies shifted their work to the cloud to facilitate remote working. Moreover, it saw a 29% uptick in its subscription services like Amazon Prime videos,” added Tayal.

CNBC financial analyst Jim Cramer also rates Amazon as a buy for retirement accounts.

“I don’t care that it’s up 50% for the year, it has more catalysts than nearly any other stock under the sun: new revenue streams, great balance sheet, stay-at-home economy exposure and, of course, 5G. Now that it’s come down from its highs … I think you have to buy it,” said Cramer.

Amazon is a top stock for Roth and traditional IRA’s.

2. Netflix

Netflix( NASDAQ: NFLX) is a growth stock that is a great investment for Roth or traditional IRA’s. Because of the worldwide quarantine, many people stayed home and binge-watched Netflix shows like Tiger King. Netflix’s chief financial officer, Spence Neumann, spoke about the streaming company’s future.

“So Netflix 2021 is going to be a much better service than Netflix 2020, which gives those newer members and existing members even more reason to stay highly engaged and stick around and also to entice future members to join. So we think that the growth opportunity is as big as ever. There’s just that kind of near-term pull forward that you’re seeing,” said Neumann.

Netflix stock
Netflix stock a top stock for Roth vs. traditional IRA

Financial analysts bullish on Netflix stock

With Netflix’s popularity and international expansion, Jefferies analyst Alex Giaimo says Netflix stock is a buy.

“While the soft third-quarter outlook may put the stock in the penalty box near-term, there is no change to our positive long-term thesis. We view Netflix as a consistent high double-digit growth story with sizable margin expansion over time,” said Giaimo.

Netflix is a top stock for Roth and traditional IRA investment because of its growth.

3. Apple

In addition to Netflix, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) is a stock that outperformed during the COVID-19 crisis. Apple’s chief financial officer Luca Maestri touted the tech company’s Q2 2020 results.

“So the revenue for the quarter was $58.3 billion, up 1% from a year ago, despite the extreme circumstances from the impact of COVID-19 and a headwind of 100 basis points from foreign exchange,” said Maestri.

Maestri also spoke about Apple’s growing Services profits.

“Services revenue followed a different trend with very strong year-over-year growth of 17%. We set a new all-time revenue record of $13.3 billion, with all-time records in many of our Services categories and in most countries we track,” said Maestri.

With its potential bundling of services like Apple TV+ and Apple Music, Morgan Stanley analyst Katy Huberty rates Apple stock a buy.

“We have long argued that bundling services is a unique tool that Apple has at its disposal,” said Huberty.

UBS analyst David Vogt says Apple stock could rise if the revenue increases in the future.

Apple stock
Apple stock

“If several of Apple’s under monetized Services live TV+, and News mature and contribute to a segment revenue reacceleration back to 17% growth the next three year FY23, consolidated revenue could come in $13 billion higher than our forecast,” added Vogt.

With Apple’s new products, Apple is a stock that can be an impressive investment for Roth or traditional IRA’s.

4. Microsoft

With its established reputation in tech, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) is a top stock for Roth or traditional IRA investment. The company wants to increase its gaming division with its purchase of Bethesda Softworks’ parent, ZeniMax. Joost van Dreunen, founder of video game investment firm New Breukelen, said the deal will help Microsoft’s stock.

Microsoft stock
Microsoft stock top for Roth vs. traditional IRAs

“The ZeniMax acquisition instantly increases the value of GamePass and closes the content gap between Xbox and [PlayStation]. It raises the barriers to entry for aspiring new contenders like Amazon and Google,” said van Dreunen.

Wedbush’s Dan Ives also believes the acquisition will boost Microsoft stock.

“While Xbox and gaming have been successful, [Microsoft] recognizes its need for consumer based revenue growth, which we believe this deal will directly help drive along,” wrote Ives.

In addition to Wedbush, Amana Mutual Funds also rates Microsoft a buy.

“Microsoft has done an excellent job building its Azure cloud services business, while we believe a strong period of semiconductor demand will arrive in the new decade supporting Microchip and Taiwan Semiconductor. Whether the rally starts in 2020 or 2021 remains to be seen but recent signs have been positive,” said Microsoft.

Microsoft is a top stock for Roth and traditional IRA investment.

5. Spotify

In the music streaming world, Spotify (NYSE:SPOT) is king. The streaming service’s growth during the COVID-19 pandemic helped the company increase its subscriber growth. Spotify spoke about its Q2 2020 results.

“After making adjustments to help us weather the pandemic in Q1, consumption returned to normal levels this quarter. Monthly active users increased to 299 million, and subscribers grew to 138 million, both exceeding our expectations. Advertising revenue, which took a significant hit in Q1, improved notably throughout the quarter, and we feel good about our momentum as we enter Q3,” said Spotify.

Financial analysts say Spotify could be top stock for Roth or traditional IRA

Bernstein analyst Todd Juenger said Spotify’s stock should rise with the addition of popular podcaster Joe Rogan. His Joe Rogan Experience podcast will be part of Spotify’s podcast collection.

“The market has added $20B of value to Spotify since the Joe Rogan podcast announcement…However, the analyst continue to believe it is unlikely that Spotify will generate much earnings from podcasts. He sees 37% potential downside in Spotify shares at current levels,” said Juenger.

In addition to Joe Rogan and former first lady Michelle Obama’s podcasts, Spotify’s ad revenue should drive its stock up as well.

“The stock is up sharply since the Joe Rogan podcast deal in mid-May, but there is further upside as podcasts help Spotify drive ad revenue on owned and licensed content, premium subscriptions and gross margins,” said Juenger.

Spotify is a stock with great potential in a Roth or traditional IRA.

Roth vs. traditional IRA’s can be good choice for investors

Whether a person chooses a Roth vs. traditional IRA, investors can sure that either retirement account will help increase wealth. If a person wants to choose the best stock for retirement account investment, they can practice trading those stocks on TradingSim. TradingSim’s blogs and charts can help people find the best stocks for their Roth or traditional IRA investments.

Tags: amazon stock, apple stock, amazon fire tv, amazon fire

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