Traditional vs. Roth IRA

Published: 4 years ago, Last Updated: 4 months ago
Daniel Brown
Writer: Daniel Brown
Jackson Rhodes
Reviewer: Jackson Rhodes

As you start to save for retirement, you will need to choose between a traditional and Roth IRA. There are some big differences. We will help you study your options to make the best decision for your financial future.

What is an IRA?

An individual retirement account, or IRA, is a retirement plan managed by a financial institution or financial advisor. There are tax advantages involved in setting up and using an IRA. These benefits differ based on the type of IRA you choose.

Traditional IRA

A traditional IRA allows you to make contributions with money that you may be able to deduct on your tax return. Any earnings may be tax-deferred until you withdraw them in retirement. Here are a few features of traditional IRAs:

  • No account fees or minimums to open an account
  • Earnings grow federal income tax-deferred
  • Help to choose from a wide range of investment options
  • Commission-free trades

Roth IRA

A Roth IRA allows you to make contributions with money on which you’ve already paid taxes. You can withdraw your contributions without any taxes or penalties, at any time and for any reason. Here are a few features of Roth IRAs:

  • No account fees or minimums to open an account
  • A broad range of investment choices
  • Commission-free trades
  • Potential for tax-free growth and withdrawals

Roth IRA vs. Traditional IRA

A piggy bank sits on a desk. Three post it notes on the desk read "IRA" "ROTH" and "401k."

What is the difference between a traditional IRA versus a Roth IRA? Let us break it down bit by bit. 

Roth IRA Differences

Things to know:

  • Contributions are made with after-tax money 
  • You will be charged a tax on your earnings if you withdraw funds before the age of 59½. 


Income limits are specific regarding a Roth IRA. In 2020, the upper limits are:

  • $124,000 for single
  • $196,000 for married filing jointly

Withdrawal penalties:

If you make any withdrawals to your IRA before you are 59 ½, you may have to pay taxes on your earnings, plus an additional 10% tax.


According to Investopedia, Qualified distributions from a Roth IRA are tax-free and penalty-free. A distribution is qualified if it’s been five years since you’ve contributed to a Roth IRA, and the withdrawal follows these guidelines:

  • The withdrawal is made at the age of 59½ or older
  • You take out a withdrawal due to a permanent disability
  • Your beneficiary makes the withdrawal
  • The withdrawal is made by a first-time homeowner

Non-qualified distributions are any withdrawals that do not meet the guidelines above. In these cases, you will owe taxes at your regular income tax rate.

Traditional IRA Differences

Things to know:

Contributions to a traditional IRA are usually made with after-tax money but may be tax-deductible if you meet the basic income requirements. Any potential earnings will be tax-deferred and are not taxed until you withdraw them after the age of 59½. 


Anyone who is 18 or over with an income can have a traditional IRA. However, there are specific income limits for how much of your income may be tax-deductible.


If you make withdrawals before you are 59½, you may have to pay taxes on your earnings, plus an additional 10% tax.


Early distributions from traditional IRAs will most likely lead to hefty penalties. Contributions are made with pretax dollars subtracted from your taxable income for the year. This will reduce the amount of income tax you will owe. You will get a tax break upfront when you contribute towards your traditional IRA, but you will pay taxes on your withdrawals in retirement. 


The main difference between Roth IRAs and traditional IRAs has to do with their tax advantages. With traditional IRAs, you deduct contributions now and pay taxes later. With Roth IRAs, you pay taxes on contributions now and get tax-free withdrawals later on. Be sure to look over your annual income and your tax bracket before deciding which IRA to choose. 

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