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Roth IRA vs. 457(b) Retirement Plans

457 vs roth ira

Roth IRA and 457(b) plans give savers tax-advantaged ways to fund a secure retirement. Almost anyone can open a Roth IRA account with after-tax dollars that then grow tax-free. Only state and local government employees can have 457(b) accounts but their contributions are deducted from current income and, in addition to enjoying tax-free growth of their investments,  457(b) savers can withdraw money any time they want without penalty. A financial advisor can help you learn about different types of retirement accounts.

Roth IRA Basics

Roth IRA retirement accounts are funded with after-tax dollars. This means you can’t deduct money contributed to a Roth IRA from your current income when filing your tax return. However, you don’t have to pay taxes on earnings from investments in a Roth IRA. And you can withdraw contributions without owing taxes at any time.

In addition to enjoying tax-free growth, you can make withdrawals of earnings from a Roth IRA without owing taxes or penalties, as long as you are over age 59.5 and it has been at least five years since you opened the Roth account. If you are younger or haven’t had the account for five years, you’ll likely owe taxes plus a 10% penalty on withdrawn earnings.

Unlike most other retirement accounts, Roth IRAs are free from the need to take Required Minimum Distributions in retirement while you are alive. This can be a significant advantage depending on your circumstances.

Anybody can open a Roth IRA as long as they have earned income. A Roth IRA does not have to be sponsored by an employer as, for instance, a 401(k) does.

There are Roth IRA income limitations, however, as well as caps on annual contributions. The maximum you can contribute to a Roth IRA for 2023 is $6,500 or, if you are age 50 or older, $7,500. The amount adjusts annually.

Your annual allowed contribution may be lower if, in 2023, you make more than $138,000 and file singly or $218,000 and file jointly. This amount also adjusts annually for inflation. The allowed Roth IRA contribution may decline as your adjusted gross income grows until, at $153,000 for single filers and $228,000 for joint filers, no contribution is allowed.

You may be able to get around the contribution limits by contributing first to a traditional IRA and then converting that account to a Roth IRA. This is known as a backdoor Roth IRA.

457(b) Basics

457 vs roth ira

Some state and government local employees can use a 457(b) plan to save for retirement. These are tax-deferred accounts, so savers can deduct contributions from current taxable income, providing immediate tax savings.

Only public workers such as teachers, police, firefighters and sanitation workers whose employers offer them can use 457(b) plans. Contributions to 457(b) plans are also limited. For 2023, participants in 457(b) plans can defer up to $22,500 in earnings to contribute to the plan. Savers aged 50 or older can add an additional $7,500.

In addition to providing current tax deductions, contributions to a 457(b) account can be invested and grow tax-free. This is similar to the way traditional IRA and other retirement plans treat contributions and earnings, but 457(b) savers have additional flexibility when it comes to withdrawals.

A 457(b) plan participant has more flexibility than other retirement savers when withdrawing funds. If the employee leaves their job, for instance, they can withdraw funds without any penalties, even if younger than age 59.5. Participants in 457(b) plans can also roll the accounts over into other retirement accounts, including IRAs and 401(k)s, if they leave their jobs.

Comparing Roth IRA and 457(b) Plans

Here’s a table directly comparing important features of Roth IRA and 457(b) plans:

Roth IRA457(b)
Who can own oneAnyone with earned incomeState or local government worker if offered by the employer
Tax treatment of contributionsAfter-tax contributions are not deductible from current incomePre-tax salary deferral deducted from current income
Tax treatment of investment growthCan be withdrawn without owing income tax after age 59.5 if the account is at least five years oldTaxes deferred until withdrawal
Annual contribution limits for savers under the age of 50$6,500$22,500
Penalty on withdrawals before age 59.5No penalty on withdrawals of contributions; 10% penalty on withdrawn earningsNo penalty on withdrawals of earnings or contributions if the saver has left their job
Taxes on withdrawals of investment earnings before age 59.5No taxes on withdrawals of contributions; withdrawn earnings are taxed at a normal rateTaxes applied to withdrawals of contributions and earnings

The Bottom Line

457 vs roth ira

Roth IRA and 457(b) accounts offer tax-advantaged ways to save for retirement. Almost anyone can open a Roth IRA account, while 457(b) plans are only available to employees of state and local governments that sponsor the plans. Roth IRAs are funded with after-tax dollars while deferring salary to 457(b) plans provides a current tax deduction. Both plans allow for tax-free growth from investments.

Tips for Retirement

  • Consider discussing your plan for retirement savings with a financial advisor. Finding a financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three vetted financial advisors who serve your area, and you can interview your advisor matches at no cost to decide which one is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • SmartAsset’s Retirement Calculator tells you how much you will need to save every month in order to have enough to supply your anticipated financial needs in retirement.

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