Established by the Tax Reform Act (TRA) of 1986, (Pub.L. 99-514, 100 Stat. 2085), a Traditional IRA is an individual retirement account (IRA) in the United States. The IRA is held at a custodian institution such as a bank or brokerage, and may be invested in anything that the custodian allows (for instance, a bank may allow certificates of deposit, and a brokerage may allow stocks and mutual funds). Unlike the Roth IRA, the only criterion for being eligible to contribute to a Traditional IRA is sufficient income to make the contribution. However, the best provision of a Traditional IRA — the tax-deductibility of contributions — has strict eligibility requirements based on income, filing status, and availability of other retirement plans (mandated by the Internal Revenue Service). Transactions in the account, including interest, dividends, and capital gains, are not subject to tax while still in the account, but upon withdrawal from the account, withdrawals are subject to federal income tax (see below for details). This is in contrast to a Roth IRA, in which contributions are never tax-deductible, but qualified withdrawals are tax free. The traditional IRA also has more restrictions on withdrawals than a Roth IRA. With both types of IRA, transactions inside the account (including capital gains, dividends, and interest) incur no tax liability.
According to IRS pension/retirement department as of July 13, 2009, Traditional IRAs (originally called Regular IRAs) were created in 1975 and made available for tax reporting that year as well. The original contribution amount in 1975 was limited to $1,500 or 15% of the wages/salaries/tips reported on line 8 of the Federal form 1040 (1975).
Traditional IRA contributions are limited as follows:
|Year||Age 49 and Below||Age 50 and Above|
|2011 and beyond||Indexed to inflation (in $500 increments)||Indexed to inflation (in $500 increments)|
- While many people think that the reduction in taxes in the year of contribution is a benefit, it is not. The unpaid taxes are like a loan from the government. The loan is repaid when money is withdrawn in retirement. There is no benefit from the deferral because the debt increases in size at the same rate as the investments in the account grow. The reduction in taxes on contribution does not provide any additional cash flow because the tax effect will be smaller than the cash contribution itself. This perception of a benefit provides a strong carrot to encourage savings, and a strong selling tool for the account providers. The reality that tax must be paid before funds can be accessed is a strong disincentive for withdrawing funds early.
- The only benefit that everyone receives is the income's protection from tax. This equals the dollars of tax that would have been paid on the income if earned in a taxable account. It exactly equals the benefit of a Roth IRA.
- Unlike a Roth IRA, there is another possible benefit (or penalty) equal to the reduction (or increase) in tax rates between the contribution and withdrawal, multiplied by the dollars withdrawn. Many taxpayers expect to be in a lower tax bracket in retirement. While the tax benefits from contributions are considered to be at the contributor's marginal tax rate, the withdrawals may add income at lower progressive tax brackets.
- The recognition of taxable income in retirement instead of when working may affect a person's qualification of government benefits that are income-tested. The loss of these benefits can be evaluated by including them in the calculation of the tax rate on withdrawals.
- An IRA protects wealth from creditors, but also cannot be used as collateral when borrowing.
- With a Traditional IRA, one always has an option to convert to a Roth IRA; whereas a Roth IRA cannot be converted back into a Traditional IRA. One can choose an optimal (lowest tax rate) time to convert over one's life. Because you have a right, but not an obligation, to convert, this is like an option in finance. As with options in finance, this flexibility, which allows one to hedge future uncertainty, adds some additional value to the Traditional IRA.
- One must meet the eligibility requirements to qualify for tax benefits. If one is eligible for a retirement plan at work, one's income must be below a specific threshold for your filing status. If one's income (and thus tax rate) is that low, it might make more sense to pay taxes now (Roth IRA) rather than defer them (Traditional IRA).
- All withdrawals from a Traditional IRA are included in gross income and subject to federal income tax (with the exception of any nondeductible contributions; there is a formula for determining how much of a withdrawal is not subject to tax). This tax is a repayment of the original tax on employment income deferred in the contribution year. It is not tax on the growth inside the account.
- Because taxes (and maybe penalties) must be paid before cash in the account can be withdrawn and used, this account is hard to use for emergencies.
- The size of an IRA account may mislead people into believing their wealth is larger than it actually is. The tax benefit from contributions is essentially a loan that must be paid back on withdrawal. Net wealth calculations must subtract an estimate of that tax. This effect means that $xx saved in a traditional IRA is not equal to $xx saved in a Roth IRA. Contributions to a traditional IRA are from pre-tax income and contributions to a Roth are from after-tax income.
- Withdrawals must begin by age 70½ (more precisely, by April 1 of the calendar year after age 70½ is reached) according to a formula. If an investor fails to make the required withdrawal, half of the mandatory amount will be confiscated automatically by the IRS. The Roth is completely free of these mandates. This creates taxable income. Any withdrawal not needed for spending has lost its tax shelter on future growth.
- In addition to the distribution being included as taxable income, the IRS will also assess a 10% early distribution penalty if the participant is under age 59½. The IRS will waive this penalty with some exceptions, including first time home purchase (up to $10,000), higher education expenses, death, disability, un-reimbursed medical expenses, health insurance, annuity payments and payments of IRS levies, all of which must meet certain stipulations.
All United States taxpayers can make IRA deposits and defer the taxation of earnings. However, as explained below, the deposits are not deductible from income under certain circumstances. Accordingly, traditional IRAs are sometimes referred to as either "deductible" or "non-deductible."
If a taxpayer's household is covered by one or more employer-sponsored retirement plans, then the deductibility of traditional IRA contributions are phased out as specified income levels are reached (Modified Adjusted Gross Income is between).
|Year||Married Filing Jointly or Qualified Widow||Married Filing Jointly (and you were not covered by an employee-sponsored retirement plan but your spouse was)||Single, Head of Household or Married Filing Separately (and you did not live with your spouse)||Married Filing Separately (and you lived with your spouse at any time during the year)|
|2007||$83,000 and $103,000||$156,000 and $166,000||$52,000 and $62,000||$0 and $10,000|
|2008||$85,000 and $105,000||$159,000 and $169,000||$53,000 and $63,000||$0 and $10,000|
|2009||$89,000 and $109,000||$166,000 and $176,000||$55,000 and $65,000||$0 and $10,000|
|2010||$89,000 and $109,000||$167,000 and $177,000||$56,000 and $66,000||$0 and $10,000|
|2011||$90,000 and $110,000||$169,000 and $179,000||$56,000 and $66,000||$0 and $10,000|
|2013||$95,000 and $115,000||$178,000 and $188,000||$59,000 and $69,000||$0 and $10,000|
The lower number represents the point at which the taxpayer is still allowed to deduct the entire maximum yearly contribution. The upper number is the point as of which the taxpayer is no longer allowed to deduct at all. The deduction is reduced proportionally for taxpayers in the range. Note that people who are married and lived together, but who file separately, are only allowed to deduct a relatively small amount.
To be eligible, you must meet the earned income minimum requirement. In order to make a contribution, you must have taxable compensation (not taxable income from investments). If you make only $2000 in taxable compensation, your maximum IRA contribution is $2000.
Converting a Traditional IRA to a Roth IRA
Conversion of all or a part of a Traditional IRA account to a Roth IRA results in the converted funds being taxed as income in the year they are converted (with the exception of non-deductible assets).
Prior to 2010, two circumstances prohibit a conversion to a Roth IRA: Modified Adjusted Gross Income exceeding $100,000 or the participant's tax filing status is Married Filing Separately. With recent legislation, as part of the Tax Increase Prevention and Reconciliation Act of 2005 (TIPRA), the modified AGI requirement of $100,000 and not be married filing separately criteria were removed in 2010.
There may be a benefit from conversion in addition to the preferential timing of tax. The taxes due need not deplete the account balance converted. If the taxes are paid from another taxable account, the effect is as if the income from those dollars are sheltered from tax. 
Transfers vs. Rollovers
Transfers and rollovers are two ways of moving IRA sheltered assets between financial institutions.
A transfer is normally initiated by the institution receiving the funds. A request is sent to the disbursing institution for a transfer and a check (made payable to the other institution) is sent in return. This transaction is not reported to the IRS
A rollover (sometimes referred to as a 60 day rollover) can also be used to move IRA money between institutions. A distribution is made from the institution disbursing the funds. A check would be made payable directly to the participant. The participant would then have to make a rollover contribution to the receiving financial institution within 60 days in order for the funds to retain their IRA status. This type of transaction can only be done once every 12 months with the same funds. Contrary to a transfer, a rollover is reported to the IRS. The participant who received the distribution will have that distribution reported to the IRS. Once the distribution is rolled into an IRA, the participant will be sent a Form 5498 to report on their taxes to nullify any tax consequence of the initial distribution.
"Borrowing Money" from an IRA
A loan from an IRA is prohibited. It is considered a prohibited transaction and the IRS may disqualify your plan and tax you on the assets. Some use the 60 day rollover as a way to temporarily take funds from an IRA. A participant will take a distribution and, in turn, all or some of the distribution that the participant takes may be rolled back into the same IRA plan within the allowed period to retain its tax deferred status. One 60 day rollover is allowed every rolling 12 months, per IRA. For instance, if you withdraw any amount from IRA-1 and deposit it into IRA-2 (as a tax-free rollover), you cannot make another tax-free rollover of any funds from IRA-1 or IRA-2 for 365 days. However, this would not prevent you from making a tax-free rollover from another IRA.
- Individual Retirement Accounts at the Open Directory Project
- IRA Publication 590 (IRAs) (pdf)
- IRS Traditional IRA publication 590 (html)
- Which IRA Is Right for You: Roth or Traditional?
- IRA issues for overseas filers