5 Secrets About Traditional IRAs

An individual retirement account (IRA) is a perfect way to supplement a work-based retirement vehicle. Individual taxpayers can open either a traditional individual retirement account (IRA) or a Roth IRA. For 2023, the maximum contribution you can make to an IRA is $6,500 ( $7,500 for those 50 or older).

Only the traditional IRA allows a tax deduction when it's opened. It also has no income restrictions limiting who can open one, though the ability to deduct contributions can be limited for those with a retirement plan at work (or a spouse who has one). Finding further information on the traditional IRA isn’t difficult, but a few important factors aren’t overly apparent. Below are five.

Key Takeaways

  • A traditional IRA is an investment vehicle that earns money tax-free until funds are withdrawn.
  • The IRS allows taxpayers to deduct the amount of their traditional IRA contributions from their taxes.
  • An IRA can hold equities, bonds, real estate, and other investments.

1. There Are Limits on Investments

A traditional IRA is a type of investment vehicle that earns money tax-free until funds are withdrawn and is not an actual investment. For example, the custodian—the financial company that offers and oversees the traditional IRA—will also offer a choice of investments varying in return and risk, such as Treasury bills, money market funds, mutual funds, stocks, and bonds.

You can't invest in just anything, however. Certain types of investments are prohibited from being in IRAs, such as life insurance, antiques, or collectibles.

2. The Beneficiary Form Needs to Be Kept Updated

The beneficiary form tells the custodian what to do with the funds should the account holder die. Without the form, loved ones run the risk of not receiving the money quickly or in full. This form also needs to be kept updated, especially if the account holder goes through a divorce or other major life changes.

3. There Are Mandatory Withdrawals

Not all retirees need to rely on an IRA for living expenses. But regardless of the income you might have after you retire, the IRS imposes required minimum distributions (RMDs). So, you'll need to begin withdrawing money from your traditional IRA generally by April 1 of the year following the year in which you turn age 73.

Failing to do so results in hefty tax penalties—50% for every dollar not withdrawn. This is one area where Roth IRAs are a better alternative—they have no RMDs until the account holder dies.

4. No Borrowing Is Allowed

Some retirement plans allow short-term loans, but the traditional IRA isn’t one of them. Borrowing from a traditional IRA incurs taxes at the account holder's income tax rate, possibly on the entire value of the IRA, if the account is pledged as collateral. According to the IRS,

"If the owner of an IRA borrows from the IRA, the IRA is no longer an IRA, and the value of the entire IRA is included in the owner's income."

5. Real Estate Is a Valid Holding

An IRA doesn’t have to hold only equities, bonds, and other Wall Street-type investments. The account can hold real estate, too. The catch is that the real estate has to be a business property; the account holder can’t purchase a second home or pay off a current home. A house can be bought and flipped as an investment property.

The IRS has strict rules regarding real estate in an IRA. Because of the higher dollar value and the less liquid nature of real estate, this option is only for the more sophisticated investor and requires having a self-directed IRA (SDIRA), a type that allows you to have a wider range of investments. Talk to the appropriate experts before considering adding real estate or opening an SDIRA.

Is a Traditional IRA Better than a 401(k)?

A 401(k) allows you to contribute much more to your retirement than a traditional IRA. But, not everyone has access to a 401(k), so an IRA is a good alternative.

Is a Traditional IRA the Same as a 401(k)?

A traditional IRS follows different rules, and it is an account for an individual. A 401(k) is sponsored by an employer and allows the employer and employee to contribute to retirement.

What Is the Benefit of Traditional IRAs?

If you don't have access to an employer-sponsored 401(k), an IRA is the next best retirement savings instrument. You make tax-deferred contributions, and they earn compounding returns. Many retirees will be in lower tax brackets than when working full time, so it can also act as a tax shelter.

The Bottom Line

Traditional IRAs offer a great chance to save for retirement, but several details and restrictions aren't generally known, such as accessibility of funds and what is and isn't a proper investment within the account.

Article Sources
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  1. Internal Revenue Service. “401(k) Limit Increases to $22,500 for 2023, IRA Limit Rises to $6,500.”

  2. Internal Revenue Service. “IRA FAQs.”

  3. Internal Revenue Service. "Retirement Plan and IRA Required Minimum Distributions FAQs."

  4. Internal Revenue Service. "Retirement Plans FAQs Regarding Loans."

  5. Internal Revenue Service. "Retirement Topics - Prohibited Transactions."

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