Roth IRA for Beginners: How to Start Investing in a Roth IRA

Written by 
Tommy Syrmolotov
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October 17, 2022

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This article is about Roth IRA for dummies. We will explain a bit of Roth IRA 101, what this individual retirement account is and how it’s different from a traditional IRA, what makes it useful for building wealth over the long term. How to invest in Roth IRA, how to start a Roth IRA with basic steps for beginners. We’ll also mention other solutions that can help you secure a worry-free retirement.

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Roth IRA Explained for Beginners 

Let’s start with a bit of IRA for beginners. An individual retirement account (IRA) is a tax-advantaged retirement account or savings plan for individuals. It lets people make contributions towards all kinds of investments and get a tax break within a certain allowance. These investments can include stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and other investments. An IRA account is not an investment in itself, it’s more like a vault for all your different types of investments.

There are two types of IRA accounts: traditional and Roth IRA. The main difference is in the way they are taxed. 

A traditional IRA is funded with pre-tax dollars, which means you can make contributions for your future wealth before you pay taxes. It is also tax deductible, so instead of paying tax, you pay a bigger part of your income to your future self. However, when your future self starts withdrawing funds from your IRA, you will have to pay tax.

A Roth IRA, on the other hand, is funded with after-tax dollars. The contributions work in the same way but you have to pay tax first on the whole taxable amount. They do not bring down your tax bill, but you won’t have to pay any tax later on when you start making withdrawals once you retire.

If you think your taxes will be higher when you retire, the best option may be Roth IRA for beginners. So if you believe that an investment will grow significantly by the time you retire, it makes perfect sense to contribute this portion of your investment portfolio to a Roth IRA. Let’s say you decide to invest in something conservative like government bonds. Considering their annual return rate of 6-8%, they are unlikely to outperform even the S&P 500 due to the crazy inflation these days. In this case, it will make sense to put them in a traditional IRA.

To put it simply, the more “traditional” an investment is, the better it fits a traditional IRA. The more optimistic an investment, like a tech stock, the more sense it makes to put it in are better Roth IRA investments. 

Another difference between a traditional and a Roth IRA is that you’ll have to make required minimum distributions or RMDs with traditional IRAs but with Roth IRA you don’t have to do that. Probably that’s because they don’t want you to be too rich and want you to pay a bit more tax.

However, with a Roth IRA RMDs are required after your death, but who cares about that? That’s about it for Roth IRA information for beginners.

How does a Roth IRA Work? 

Ok, so we’ve clarified the difference between traditional and Roth IRAs. But how does a Roth IRA work? As we’ve already explained, you can put money that you’ve already paid taxes on into a Roth IRA. It will then grow, and when you come to withdraw once you retire, you won’t have to pay any further taxes. This is great if you believe your investments will grow significantly as you won’t have to pay any tax on something like a tech stock that may grow 100x by the time you’re 59 and a half years old.

A Roth IRA can be funded in different ways. The different sources of funding include regular contributions, transfers, contributions to a spouse’s account, rollover contributions, and conversions.

Being married increases the overall Roth IRA allowance for your family, even if your spouse doesn’t earn income. That’s just IRA for dummies, not specifically Roth IRA.

Once you contribute funds to a Roth IRA, you will have a variety of investment options to go for, including stocks, bonds, mutual funds, ETFs, certificates of deposit, and even cryptocurrency. Even though the IRS prohibits making contributions in crypto directly into your Roth IRA account, recently Bitcoin IRAs have emerged that let you invest in cryptocurrencies once you fund your account.

Assets that are not permitted in an IRA include derivatives such as options or futures, or more exotic tools like life insurance contracts. Maybe that’s because who wants you to make extra money on a contract that helps you benefit from dying when you’re already old?

In order to start making withdrawals from your Roth IRA, you need to be at least 59 and a half years old and have held the account for at least 5 years before you can make tax-free withdrawals on your earnings.

How to Start a Roth IRA: X Common Steps for Beginners 

Now let’s look at a practical Roth IRA guide. How to start investing in a Roth IRA? 

Step 0 is knowing whether you’re eligible for a Roth IRA. If you are a U.S. taxpayer and you or your spouse has an annual income under $144,000 for individuals (or $214,000 for couples), you can make contributions to a Roth IRA. Let’s talk about how to open up an account and start investing for your retirement.

Step 1: Find out what kind of investor you are

Because IRA accounts are investment accounts, unlike 401k or other pension plans, you need to approach it like an investor. The main two types of investors are active and passive. If you’re passionate about different companies and picking stocks, you may want to have more control over your Roth IRA.

Otherwise, you might want to focus on your main job or business and find someone you trust to handle your investments. That’s not easy to come by these days and you may find that money managers’ fees may eat up all your gains. The basics of Roth IRA investing for beginners may include investing in a broad index like the S&P 500 (SPY), which will grow along with the US market.

Step 2: Decide where to open your account

Roth IRA accounts are available through banks and brokerage firms. Look around on the internet to find the best Roth IRA for your needs. If you already have an investment account, maybe your broker can give you a good explanation about Roth IRAs for dummies. These days you don't have to go to a branch or visit your broker physically and even set up a Roth IRA online, and accounts for beginners don’t differ from accounts for those who know how to invest, it’s just a place for your retirement investments.

Step 3: Get the docs ready and set up your account

This can be done while you’re looking for the right account provider for you, but you’ll need to have a range of ID and financial documents. If you’re a complete Roth IRA beginner, don’t worry these are very basic, just the kind you would need with any type of account. Starting a Roth IRA is surprisingly easy. The documents you’ll need include your social security, government ID like a driver’s license or passport, bank routing account number, the numbers for your checking and savings accounts, your employer’s details, and beneficiary information. 

Once you have all the documents ready, give them to your IRA account provider and they’ll take you through the account opening process.

Step 4: Choose your investments

This step is key. IRA investing for beginners in the right way can make the difference between losing everything in a market crash and having a stress-free retirement full of fun and joy, as well as being able to afford to pay your children’s college fees and so on. It’s good to secure your investments for the long term by having a Roth IRA. Investment strategies for beginners include having a considerable portion of your portfolio in an index fund like the S&P 500 and a variety of blue-chip stocks. The question is not how to invest in a Roth IRA, what’s more important is how to invest in the first place.

While you can’t invest in risky assets like derivatives anyway, it’s still possible to waste your contributions on risky, small-cap companies. There is always a risk that a disingenuous money manager may advise the wrong things for you, so you have to think for yourself. Learn about the risk/reward ratio for investments, learn about different types of assets and build a diversified portfolio built for the long term. Don’t chase the latest hype like Tesla or biotech, these companies like this may not exist in a couple of decades.

Step 5: Start making contributions

Last but not least, start making contributions. This is no different from ordinary investment. While there is a maximum of $6,000 for people under 50, make sure you live within your means and make your contributions regular. You might even want to set up a recurring payment from your employment or other income to make this process automatic.

How much Money to Start a Roth IRA?

There are some specific requirements for making contributions to a Roth IRA. You can only do so if you or your spouse has an income. So as long as you’re making some money, you can contribute up to $6,000, or $7,000 for those over 50 in a year.

The IRS doesn’t require a minimum amount to open an IRA, but some providers do require a minimum. So if you’re only planning to invest a small amount, find a provider with the lowest possible minimum, sometimes it can even be $0.

If a provider charges a maintenance fee for the Roth IRA, you might have to pay around $25-50 a year just to have your account.

Because the Roth IRA is just a box for other assets and not an asset in itself, sometimes the minimum will depend on the actual investments. For example, some mutual funds have minimums of $1,000 or more.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, this article contained enough Roth IRA information for beginners. This type of retirement investment account is a useful way to prepare for a stress-free retirement and financial freedom, but it’s not the only way. You may want to look online and read opinions from different people to learn about their experience with this account and if it’s worth it. 

If you don’t know where to start, don’t worry. It’s not restrictive in any way. You can open a Roth IRA and put a little money in it, you’re not losing anything that way. The best way to open it is to just do it, it's possible to move your assets to a different account at a later date. You can have both a Roth IRA and a traditional IRA and use your contribution limits depending on your situation and the type of investments you go for. If you think an asset will grow significantly, it makes sense to invest in it through a Roth IRA, because you’ll pay tax not and will get all the rewards later. For very conservative investments like bonds, it makes sense to buy them and get a tax break straight away while protecting your retirement cash at least to an extent. That’s Roth IRA explained for dummies. 

The most important thing is not the type of account you have for this but to have a plan in the first place, to make sure you think about how you’re going to support yourself when you retire, because the Social Security Trust Fund is expected to be depleted in 15 years and don’t expect the government to care for you, you need to take control.

If you want something in between, Gainy offers autopilot investing that lets you invest in thematic trading fractional stock collections (TTFs) so you can invest in your favorite industries without having to do too much technical research to support your favorite causes or try new investment strategies. An IRA is not the only way to prepare for retirement even though it offers you a tax break. What’s more important is to have quality investments that will do well over the long term.

If you’ve enjoyed this Roth IRA guide, make sure to check out other articles on our blog.

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What is a Roth IRA for dummies?

Roth IRA is a type of retirement investment account that lets you into a variety of assets for your retirement. You need to be making at least some money or be married to someone who is and there is a limit on how much you can contribute annually, usually up to $6000. Also, if you make over a certain maximum income then you can’t make contributions to an IRA.

What’s the difference between traditional IRA and Roth IRA?

The key difference is in the way they are taxed. Traditional IRAs are funded with pre-tax dollars. This means your contributions are tax-deductible and bring down your tax bill, but you’ll have to pay taxes once you retire and start making withdrawals. With Roth IRA, you pay your usual tax and then fund your account. So you’ll pay slightly more tax throughout your life, but after you retire all the gains are yours! The allowances and limits for both these types are the same, and you can even have both if you decide to do so.

Should I start investing with a Roth IRA?

It might be a good idea to invest in a Roth IRA as part of your portfolio. But you’ll only be able to use the funds after you are 59 ½. Technically you’ll be able to make withdrawals before that, but you’ll end up paying fines and additional taxes and you might end up losing money on your investments. Ideally, you should invest for the long term anyway, so having a Roth IRA might give you a good incentive to invest for the future. But of course, having a good quality diversified portfolio of stocks, ETFs and other assets is much more important than the type of account you have.

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