One Day, the Gains on Your Roth IRA Will Equal the Annual Contribution

You have to set an investment goal and strategize how to fulfill it

The investments held in a Roth individual retirement account (Roth IRA) determine the return, not the interest rate. One day, those returns will exceed the annual contributions, thanks to the power of compounding.

When you save for retirement in your Roth account, it’s important that you work toward a specific investment goal rather than just maximizing your yearly contributions to minimize your tax bill. When you save and invest, you should have a target in mind and a portfolio designed to ensure your future financial health. Until you establish such a goal, there is no objective way to know if you are saving enough.

If you have not yet determined an investment goal, here is a formula for estimating how much you’ll need in your nest egg to fund the retirement lifestyle that you want.

Key Takeaways

  • A Roth individual retirement account (Roth IRA) is a tax-advantaged way to save for retirement.
  • Your earnings will exceed your annual contributions because of the magic of compounding.
  • When you save through a Roth IRA, make sure that you work toward a specific investment goal rather than maximizing your annual contributions.
  • Most experts suggest using 80% of your current income as a guide to help you plan your retirement savings.
  • Factor into your plans your current age, the age when you plan to retire, and your life expectancy after you leave the workforce.

Step 1: Estimate the Income That You’ll Need in Retirement

This step is tricky because you are estimating expense levels for a life you are not yet living. Many financial planners recommend using 80% of your current income as a yardstick to make it simple for you.

We’ll use a hypothetical figure and time frame for this article. In this case, let’s assume an income of $10,000 per month, which at 80% is $8,000, or $96,000 per year.

Step 2: Subtract Social Security and Pension Benefits

You can find this information in your Social Security Earnings Record (viewable on the agency’s website) and your company’s human resources department. Subtract these benefits from your expected monthly retirement income in Step 1. If you have other sources of guaranteed income (such as monthly annuity payments), subtract those, too.

For our example, we assume that monthly Social Security and pension income will be $4,000 per month. This reduces the income needed at retirement to $4,000 per month, or $48,000 per year.

Step 3: Factor in Time Horizons

There are three numbers you should be concerned with here:

  • Your current age
  • Your expected retirement age
  • The number of years that you expect to live after you leave work

You can use life expectancy charts to determine how long you can expect to live as a retiree, but it can be just as easy to consider the longevity of your close relatives and then round up.

For our example, we’ll assume a current age of 35, a retirement age of 65, and that you’ll live as a retiree for 20 years.

About one-third of American workers say they’re saving less than 5% of their salaries for retirement.

Step 4: Determine the Return on Your Retirement Assets

Of course, there is no way to precisely calculate the return on investment (ROI) for your savings, but the long-term ROI in the stock market is about 8%. You can expect a lower rate of return on your retirement assets once you retire since, in all probability, your investments will be relatively conservative. For our example, we assume an ROI of 8% until retirement, and 5% after that.

Step 5: Account for Inflation

It is a good idea to account for inflation, as it can have a major effect on the outcome of your plans. For our example, we assume a 3% inflation rate.

Step 6: Put It All Together

Here’s what we have so far:

  1. Required yearly retirement income: $48,000
  2. Current age, 35; retirement age, 65; and 20 years in retirement
  3. Rate of return of 8% before retirement and 5% during retirement
  4. Annual expected inflation rate of 3%

You can use an online calculator to do the math. Using the figures from our example, you will need to accumulate approximately $1.97 million to retire at age 65 with 80% of your current income.

Now you have a goal to aim for with your retirement investments: $1.97 million. When you make contributions, you will know how close you are to reaching your goal.

Saving for retirement can seem like a daunting task. You have to be incredibly disciplined with your savings month after month, year after year, until you hit retirement age. You also need the willpower to avoid jumping into hot stocks or risky sectors of the market and, instead, continue to maintain your portfolio diversification.

As difficult as saving for retirement can be, you can use compound interest to help you achieve your goals while you save for your retirement.

Planning to never retire is not a realistic plan, because you may be forced into retirement unexpectedly. 

Your Retirement Ally: Compound Interest

Even if you contribute the maximum amount to your Roth IRA and are incredibly disciplined in doing so year after year, your contributions alone will not be enough to build that retirement nest egg. That’s why compound interest is so important.

Compound interest accrues on your contributions and the accumulated interest of that principal. In short, it’s interest on the interest that you’ve earned in the past. Compounding interest allows an invested sum to grow at a faster rate than simple interest, which is calculated on the principal alone.

Compound Interest for Retirement Accounts

Let’s look at an example using $12,000 in annual contributions. Assume that you and your spouse each contribute $6,000 a year to a Roth IRA as a lump sum at the beginning of each year. (The maximum annual contribution is $6,500 starting in 2023, with an additional $1,000 catch-up contribution for those over 50).

If your $12,000 deposit earns 8%, the simple interest for that year would be $960. Your accounts would collectively end the year at $12,960 ($12,000 + 960). At the end of the next year, the combined balance would be $25,920 ($24,000 × 1.08) because you only earn interest on contributions.

Let’s say that your Roth IRAs earn interest at an 8% compounded rate instead. At the end of the first year, you would have the same balance as if you earned simple interest: $12,960. But at the end of the second year, you would have $26,957 instead of $25,920 because of the extra interest earned on the first year’s interest ($12,000 + 12,960 = $24,960 × 1.08 = $26,957). It may not yet be a huge difference, but still more than the simple interest would earn.

Of course, the more years that pass, the greater the effect of compounding. Below, we list the total profit accrued over each subsequent year:

  • Year 1: $960
  • Year 2: $2,957
  • Year 3: $6,073
  • Year 4: $10,399
  • Year 5: $16,031

Long-Term Impact of Compound Interest

Your account growth suddenly exceeds your annual contributions in the fifth year. As your account continues to grow, that increase gets greater and greater, eventually adding $67,746 to your account in Year 10. That’s 564% more than your annual contribution.

Granted, this is based on a fixed rate of return of 8% for 10 years in a row. In real life, the stock market and your investments will not see such steady returns. You could see 25% growth some years, 15% losses other years. Still, 8% is the long-term ROI in the stock market, so it’s a reasonable average to target.

Your contributions will exceed what you put into the account on an annual basis over time. But just because your account grows more than $12,000 in a given year doesn’t mean that you should stop making contributions. A key component of growth is having a large contribution base. So stay dedicated and keep funding the account every year (to the maximum amount, if possible).

Develop a Well-Rounded Investment Plan

Will a Roth IRA be sufficient for you to build your $1.97 million nest egg? Probably not, since you could only contribute up to $6,000 a year for 2022 ($6,500 in 2023, since the Internal Revenue Service periodically adjusts the limits for inflation). If you are older than age 50, you can make an additional contribution of $1,000 each year.

Roth Income Limitations

The Roth IRA has income limitations, which means that you may not be able to contribute to a Roth if you earn more than the limit. If this is the case, your contributions could be limited or phased out entirely. The income phaseout limitations also depend on your tax filing status.

You cannot contribute to a Roth IRA in 2022 if you were a single filer and earned more than $144,000. The income phaseout range for contributions was $129,000 to $144,000 in 2022. That range increases to $138,000 to $153,000 for 2023, which means that you can’t contribute if you earn more than $153,000 in 2023.

For married couples who file a joint tax return, the Roth income phaseout range was $204,000 to $214,000 in 2022 and $218,000 to $228,000 in 2023. In other words, if you (and your spouse) made more than $214,000 in 2022, you could not contribute to a Roth for that year. For 2023, the income limit is $228,000.

Combined Approach

A Roth IRA has valuable tax advantages, such as tax-free withdrawals in retirement and no required minimum distributions (RMDs). But this is only one part of a well-rounded retirement savings plan. If you have a 401(k) with your employer, that is another good option, particularly if your employer offers matching contributions.

You only get one shot at retirement planning, so it can be helpful to work with a qualified financial planner or advisor. An advisor will help you set goals for retirement and develop a plan to reach them.

What Is the Best Way to Fund a Roth Individual Retirement Account (Roth IRA?)

The best way to fund your Roth individual retirement account (Roth IRA) is to invest the maximum amount permitted each year. It’s a bad idea to withdraw funds, incurring penalties and taxes, if you withdraw the earnings before age 59½ and before the funds have been in the account for five years. (Your contributions can be withdrawn at any time, penalty free.) This strategy allows you to benefit from compound interest—interest that is accrued on the interest previously earned. This results in higher earnings than simple interest.

Should I Contribute the Maximum Even When Market Prices Are High?

Generally speaking, yes. Even if you think stock funds are overpriced, it’s generally worth making the maximum contributions to your Roth IRA. The money will grow tax free, and the tax savings that you will eventually realize are likely to be far larger than the slightly inflated cost of stocks, shares, and funds.

Can You Get Rich From Compound Interest?

Yes. In fact, compound interest is arguably the most powerful force for generating wealth ever conceived. There are records of merchants, lenders, and various businesspeople using compound interest to become rich for literally thousands of years. More recently, Warren Buffett became one of the richest people in the world through a business strategy that involved diligently and patiently compounding his investment returns over long periods of time.

How Does the 5-Year Rule Work?

The Roth IRA five-year rule states that you cannot withdraw earnings tax free until at least five years since you first contributed to a Roth IRA. This rule applies to everyone who contributes to a Roth IRA, whether they’re 59½ or 105 years old.

The Bottom Line

The benefit of compound interest is a great advantage, especially if you begin your savings and retirement plan early in your career. Being disciplined about the purpose of these savings, and not making early withdrawals that can incur penalties and fines, will help you reach your goals and provide a better retirement for you.

Researching what costs you will need to cover after you stop working (rent, healthcare, incidental expenses, taxes, emergencies) can give you a realistic idea of how much you should be saving to reach a comfortable retirement lifestyle.

Starting savings early is your “magical” way of self-funding your IRA. Compound interest over the long term will help grow your retirement savings.

Article Sources
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  1. Internal Revenue Service. “Traditional and Roth IRAs.”

  2. Social Security Administration. “Retirement & Survivors Benefits: Life Expectancy Calculator.”

  3. Insured Retirement Institute. “Retirement Readiness Among Older Workers 2021,” Page 9.

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

  5. Internal Revenue Service. "Amount of Roth IRA Contributions That You Can Make for 2022."

  6. Internal Revenue Service. "Amount of Roth IRA Contributions That You Can Make for 2023."

  7. Internal Revenue Service. “Publication 590-B (2020), Distributions from Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs).”

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The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Investopedia receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where listings appear. Investopedia does not include all offers available in the marketplace.