Insights & Advice


What are the best avenues to save for retirement?

Today savers are offered a plethora of tax-deferred retirement plans. For those of you who are just starting out the choices can seem overwhelming but it is not as hard as you think.

Start saving now!

Back in the day, before the advent of government-sponsored savings plans, defined benefit pension plans and the odd annuity were the only investment vehicles available to me. As a young stud on Wall Street, it didn’t matter. Retirement saving was for others. I would live forever, make millions in the market and retire when I was thirty. Fortunately, I woke up to the realities of the real world and started saving early in my career. You should too.

In fact, the earlier you recognize that saving for retirement regularly is a no brainer, the easier it will be to retire. So let’s say you recognize that and want to start saving. The choices today can seem overwhelming. Start with the obvious: tax deferred plans where the U.S. government gives you a tax break. There are traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs, employee 401(k) s, 403(B)s, 457 plans, deferred annuities and many more. In my opinion, if you have earned income and your employer offers some kind of tax-deferred plan, that is where you should concentrate.

Any financial planner will tell you to try and take maximum advantage of the amount you can save in your tax-deferred plan. That would be $16,600/year in a 401(k), 403(B) and 457 plan and $5,000 in a traditional IRA or Roth IRA. For those over 50 years old, an additional “catch-up” amount of $1,000/year in your IRA is allowed and $5,500 in your 401 (K) 403 (B) and 457. 

Yet, few of us make enough to contribute the maximum. Instead, the best place to start is your employer plan, especially if it offers a matching contribution to your own. As an example, let’s say you make $50,000/year and your employer will match 3% of your salary ($1,500). It doesn’t take rocket science to figure out that you should put your first $1,500 of savings into your tax deferred employee program since your company is matching that amount as a free employee benefit.

But let’s say you want (and can afford) to save even more, possibly an additional $5,000. Should you just put it into your company’s 403(B) or 401(k) plan or open a traditional, tax-deferred IRA? In my opinion, you should open an IRA. Here’s why.

Both contributions are treated equally (i.e. tax deductible) by the Federal government. However, your company’s retirement plan will offer a limited number of investment choices. In addition, the fees you pay for investing in your company’s plan are quite high compared to opening your own IRA. Although you can’t contribute as much in your IRA, you have much more control over what to invest in and at a lower cost.

There is one caveat however if you are contributing to both your traditional IRA and your company plan, at a certain salary level (above $56,000-$66,000) the amount you can contribute as a single tax payer to a traditional IRA is reduced. For those married couples who file jointly the phase-out range for deductibility of your salary is higher ($90,000-$110,000). If your spouse does not participate in a qualified employer plan but you do, than the cutoff level for your spouse becomes $169,000 to $179,000 if filing jointly.  

You can also put your IRA contribution into a Roth IRA but remember, a Roth is not a tax deductible IRA, However, qualified withdrawals are tax-free while in traditional IRAs withdrawals are taxed as ordinary income. And like traditional IRAs, the Roth contribution is $5,000 yearly and phase-out salary limits also apply.

I suspect most of you will already be tapped out if you contribute the full Monty to both your employer plan as well as a traditional IRA, but in some cases a Roth might work better for you. If you still have money to save then I suggest you give me a call and we can discuss how best to deploy it.

Posted in Financial Planning, The Retired Advisor