Both 401(k)s and Roth IRAs allow your savings to grow tax-free, but you can’t put your money in any of these accounts if you haven’t put it into an employer-sponsored retirement plan. You can opt to contribute to a traditional or Roth IRA (not to both) each year.
If you plan to contribute to your 401(k) or IRA, be sure to pick a company that offers a match. A payroll deduction that allows you to contribute to a company-sponsored retirement plan is allowed, but it won’t cover part or all of the match, so you’ll have to pay tax on the contribution. You may also want to take advantage of company matching if you have high-deductible health care or other workplace benefits that allow you to pay part of your contribution.
If you don’t have a retirement plan at work, there’s one big difference between 401(k)s and IRAs. Retirement plans give you and your employer an investment allocation of money based on your goals. With an IRA, however, your employer also knows what you’re saving for in retirement. And you can add money to your IRA tax-free after you retire.
Both 401(k)s and Roth IRAs allow you to save money tax-free in a way that’s more tax efficient than a traditional IRA. But Roth IRAs make it possible to invest your savings so that you don’t pay income tax on your contributions until you withdraw them, while a 401(k) or other employer plan limits your contributions and leaves it to your employer to tax your earnings. So for an American who isn’t afraid to work and has a 401(k) or IRA, the decision really boils down to whether you want to stick it to your employer, saving for retirement on your own, or help out a family member in need.
If you’re unsure whether to contribute to a 401(k) or IRA, you can always ask your financial professional for a tax-sheltered 401(k) or IRA, you may also see this page to read a comparison.