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The Roth IRA

Students with Retirement Plans

A retirement plan…for college? You may be surprised to find that the Roth Individual Retirement Account (IRA) is one of the best options for putting college money aside—even if a parent is nowhere near retirement. Roth IRAs are a good option for parents interested in opening up a college savings account. They are an even better idea for those interested in setting aside money for both college and retirement.

As you probably figured, larger accounts have greater earning potential. A 5% interest rate on $100 is greater than a 5% interest rate on $50. This is why combination accounts such as the Roth may yield greater profits than separate accounts. If a parent is worried about using up their retirement funds for a college education, a separate account is always an option.

Although Roth IRA deposits are not tax-deductible (the amount you deposit each year must be recorded as income on your tax return), they do grow tax-free. They may also be withdrawn tax-free under certain conditions. Five years after the account is opened, the deposited sum may be withdrawn without penalty or tax charges. A withdrawal of the earnings from that deposit will be taxed. Before the five-year mark, withdrawals will be penalized by 10% unless they are used for qualifying expenses; luckily, education is one of them.

Money used for an education may be taken out of an IRA without a penalty charge. Unfortunately, any profits made from your deposit will be taxed. Let’s say, for example, a parent has contributed $5,000 to their Roth IRA. After four years, the money has grown to $7,000. Although the 5 year mark has not passed, the parent can take out money to pay for qualified education expenses without having to pay a penalty. The parent may take out $5,000 dollars and not worry about taxes. Any additional withdrawals will be taxed (but not charged a penalty fee).

One of the best parts of the Roth IRA is that, unlike the 529 and Coverdell, account money may be used for more than just an education—after 5 years. Even young depositors can appreciate the idea of having leftover money,money that can grow tax-free, money that allows for greater spending freedom.

Once a student graduates, they can also take advantage of the first-time homeowner rule to take out tax-free funds. Money from the Roth IRA can be withdrawn, tax and penalty free, before the age of 59.5 if it is to be used for the purchase of a first home. While the average graduate is likely to wait a few years before purchasing property, the prospect of tax-free savings is there for the taking.

One must keep in mind that there are restrictions, as with the 529 and the Coverdell, on penalty-free goods bought with money withdrawn before five years. Also, in order to avoid the penalty, the amount of money used for an education must not exceed the costs needed for attendance. If tuition, fees, and books only amount to $3,000, you may only take out this amount.

Roth IRA accounts may be one of the best options for those with college and retirement savings needs. Older parents are most likely to profit from this plan. Once one reaches the age of 59.5, they may take out their savings, both tax-free and penalty-free, and use them for whatever they need. At that point, charges for money not spent on tuition may get a bit irritating.

For more information on the Roth IRA, you may visit: http://www.irs.gov/retirement/article/0,,id=137307,00.html

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