If you’ve arrived at this page and are making concrete plans to save for retirement, you’re already in better shape than most of your peers. But which retirement account or accounts is best for you?
What the major retirement savings plans all offer is major tax advantages for those who contribute. 401ks, Traditional IRAs and SEP IRAs are all called tax-deferred accounts, meaning that the government won’t tax any money you deposit in the account up to the yearly maximum contribution — so if you make $60,000 and contribute $5,000, the government will only tax you on $55,000 of income. (The IRS will, however, tax the money after you withdraw it during retirement.)
401ks are employer administered plans, meaning that if you work a full time job for a big company, chances are they’ll offer a 401k, which has one major advantage over all other plans: employers will often match some percentage of your annual contribution. The downside of 401ks is that since your employer runs it, you have limited options on how your money will be invested.
Traditional IRAs work much the same as 401ks, but since you open them on your own, you’re free to invest your retirement savings however you like. SEP, or Simplified Employee Pensions, are specifically designed as a 401k alternative for those who are self employed, and have a much higher contribution limit than any other retirement plan — as of 2017, a full 25% of your income or $54,000, whichever is less can be tax deferred.
Roth IRAs are designed differently than any of the other plans in that any contributions you make out of you income are taxable now—but any gains you make between now and your retirement won’t be taxed upon withdrawal. They have relatively low contribution limits—as of 2017, you cannot contribute more than $5,500 in total to your Roth and/or Traditional IRA. If you are a big earner, Roth IRAs will likely not even be available to you; any single tax filer who earns more than $131,00 is not eligible to open a Roth.