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What are the different types of IRAs?

By Ashlyn Brooks & Farran Powell

Key points

  • There are several IRA options.
  • Tax advantages will vary based on the type of IRA.
  • Contribution limits may vary based on your age.

Retirement planning is an essential aspect of securing your financial future. One of the key ways to do this is by taking advantage of the various types of retirement accounts available such as individual retirement accounts, or IRAs.

“It’s important to consider IRAs for retirement because they are generally more tax-efficient than investing in taxable accounts,” says Jeremy Finger, a certified financial planner and founder of Riverbend Wealth Management in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. “Either you get a tax deduction upfront as with a traditional IRA, or you get tax-free growth as you would with a Roth IRA.”

It’s important to understand all the nuances of IRAs so you can choose one that best suits your needs and goals. By selecting the right retirement account, you can ensure you are well-prepared for your golden years and can afford to sit back and enjoy a comfortable retirement.

What is an IRA?

An individual retirement account, aka IRA, is an excellent vehicle for stashing money away for retirement.

“IRAs allow you to invest in a broad array of choices that give your money a chance to grow with significant tax benefits,”  says Craig Reid, president and retirement advisor at Marsh McLennan Agency.

Roth and traditional IRAs are often the go-to options but don’t be quick to overlook other contenders. Spousal IRAs, Simplified Employee Pension Plans, Savings Incentive Match Plans, and other IRAs offer similar, and in some cases more favorable, tax and investment benefits.

Choosing the right IRA for you can be research-intensive. The right account will depend on your income, employment status and whether your employer offers a retirement plan.

Types of IRAs

1. Traditional IRA

The leader of the pack, the traditional IRA is a favorite among individuals taking control over their retirement savings. The investment parameters for this IRA are:

  • 2023 contribution limit of $6,500.
  • 2023 contribution limit of $7,500 (for those 50 years or older).
  • Account earnings are tax-free.

Your contributions may be tax-deductible. For instance, if your filing status is single, head of household, and not covered by a retirement plan at work, you can deduct up to your contribution limit.

Example: If you file as the “head of household” and your AGI is $73,000 or less, you can deduct your full contribution limit.

Tip: You can access more information on IRA deduction limits on IRS.gov to check whether you can claim a deduction on your federal tax return.

Also, if you take out money from your traditional IRA before age 59½, that amount might be subject to a 10% tax penalty fee. But there are a few exceptions to the 10% penalty. Usually, the exceptions involve some sort of hardship, such as using the funds to pay for health insurance premiums if you’re unemployed.

2. Roth IRA

A Roth IRA differs from a traditional IRA in that your contributions are made with after-tax dollars and qualified withdrawals are tax-free. The investment parameters for a Roth account are:

  • 2023 contribution limit of $6,500.
  • 2023 contribution limit of $7,500 (for those 50 years or older).

The contributions you make to your Roth IRA account are not tax deductible. This is because you are contributing with after-tax dollars. Since your contributions are already taxed, your retirement withdrawal will be tax-free.

Roth IRAs are also more forgiving when it comes to early withdrawals. You can withdraw your contributions at any time without penalty.

If you’ve held your Roth IRA for at least five years and are older than 59½, you can withdraw your earnings without an early withdrawal penalty. Early withdrawals on earnings might be subject to penalty fees.


A Simplified Employee Pension, or SEP IRA, offers a convenient way for employers to set aside money for retirement, not just for themselves but for their employees, too. Unlike traditional retirement plans, SEP plans have minimal startup and operational costs.

For an employee of your business to be eligible to enroll in this account, they must meet the following requirements:

  • Be 21 years or older.
  • Been a company employee for at least three of the last five years.
  • Received at least $750 in 2023.

For the employer, the contribution limits are:

  • Percentage based on the earnings limit of $330,000 in 2023.
  • Limited every year to either 25% of earnings or $66,000 in 2023, whichever is smaller.

A plus with SEP IRA is that there is no vesting. That means any contribution that your employer makes becomes yours completely. That said, employees can’t contribute directly to their own SEP IRA.

4. Simple IRA

A Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees IRA, known as a SIMPLE IRA, is a retirement savings option that allows both employees and employers to contribute to a traditional IRA. It is a perfect solution for small businesses that have yet to offer a retirement plan. Companies with 100 or fewer employees typically use this choice. It has the following contribution criteria:

  • The employer will match up to 3% of the employee’s compensation (if the employee elects to contribute).
  • The employer must contribute 2% of the employee’s compensation (even if the employee elects not to contribute).
  • $15,500 contribution limit for 2023.
  • 2023 catchup contribution of $3,500 for anyone 50 years or older.

The employer will select the contribution method annually, whether it’s a nonelective or matching contribution.

5. Nondeductible IRA

As previously mentioned, contributions to a traditional IRA are tax-deductible. But if you (or your spouse) have a retirement plan at work and your income exceeds the IRA income limits, you won’t be able to deduct the excess amount. But that doesn’t mean you can’t contribute to the IRA.

Though you won’t have a tax advantage on these contributions, you must still report them to the IRS using Form 8606. You might not see the point in nondeductible contributions, but the benefit is that you will receive tax-deferred growth on your earnings.

Properly reporting your nondeductible contributions can also save you money in the long run. This is because the government doesn’t want your money to be subject to federal income tax twice. By filling out Form 8606, you are officially documenting that a portion of the money in your IRA has already been taxed. Later, when you withdraw money from the account, a portion will be tax-free.

6. Spousal IRA

According to the IRS, an individual must have earned income to be qualified to contribute to an IRA. But for married taxpayers, there’s a way around this rule. Even if one spouse is not working or has a low income, the couple can still contribute to separate IRAs (either Roth or traditional) of their own. The contribution limits and criteria for a spousal IRA are:

  • Same as traditional and Roth IRAs: $6,500 limit and $7,500 for people 50 years or older in 2023 (per spouse).
  • Couples must file a joint tax return.

The spousal IRA can be funded by either spouse, even if one spouse is making all the contributions. The only caveat is that the spousal IRA must be opened under the nonworking spouse’s name.

7. Self-directed IRA

Self-directed IRAs, in both traditional and Roth varieties, follow the same guidelines for eligibility and contributions as those same counterparts. But there’s one major difference—the types of assets you can hold in the account.

Unlike other IRAs that usually limit investments to conventional options such as stocks, bonds and mutual funds, a self-directed IRA allows you to own assets like real estate, gold and privately-held companies.

To establish a self-directed IRA, you must find a trustee or custodian experienced in handling these less traditional investments. Also, several transactions are prohibited within a self-directed IRA—such as borrowing money from it or using it as security for a loan—that the IRS considers equivalent to taking a distribution. These actions can result in taxes and penalties on the entire account.

This is a lot of information to digest. If you’re still not sure which IRA is best for you, here is a quick table highlighting the key points of each IRA mentioned above.

Traditional IRA Roth IRA SEP IRA SIMPLE IRA Nondeductible IRA Spousal IRA Self-directed IRA
Contribution limits 2023 $6,500 $7,500 (50 or older $6,500 $7,500 (50 or older The smaller of 25% of employee earnings or $66,000 $15,500 $3,500 extra for 50 or older $6,500 $7,500 (50 or older $6,500 per spouse/ $7,500 per spouse (50 or older) $6,500 $7,500 (50 or older
Tax-deductible contributions? Yes No Yes No No Traditional – Yes Roth – No Traditional – Yes Roth – No
Tax-free withdrawals? No Yes No No No Traditional – No Roth – Yes Traditional – No Roth – Yes

The IRA lowdown

So you’re ready to take control of your retirement? IRAs, or individual retirement accounts, are a great way to do that. Unlike a 401(k), IRAs don’t require an employer sponsor—so you’re in complete control.

But there are several IRAs to choose from, and it’s important to understand their differences to open the right account for you. Keep in mind that IRAs are meant to be long-term retirement savings accounts. If you take money out early, you could miss out on a lot of potential growth.


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