The Ultimate Roth 401(k) Guide

More and more companies are now starting to offer Roth 401(k)s to their employees, which is great. If you have the option to invest in a Roth 401(k), I highly recommend it. However, there are important things you should know about this account, just like every other tax-deferred account.

What is a Roth 401(k)

A Roth 401(k) is a retirement savings plan that combines the best of a 401(k) and a Roth IRA. This plan was only created into law in 2006, and as such, many firms don’t offer it as an option yet. A Roth 401(k) is great because the employee contributes after-tax dollars, and as such, doesn’t pay tax on withdrawals from the fund.

Contributions to a Roth 401(k)

Just like a regular 401(k), employees make contributions from their paychecks to the Roth 401(k). With a Roth 401(k), however, the contributions are made from after-tax dollars. As of 2012, the maximum contribution to all 401(k)s (both traditional and Roth) cannot exceed $17,000 if you are under 50, and $22,500 if you’re over 50. Matching funds from an employer are not included in this cap.

Employees can contribute to both traditional and Roth 401(k)s as long as the limit above is not exceeded and the employer offers both. Here are the current 2012 401(k) contribution limits:

Year Employee
Contribution Limit
Maximum Employer
Annual Maximum for
All Contributions
Catch-up Contribution
Limit (age > 50)
2013 ~
Indexed to Inflation
Released Oct. 2012
2012 $17,000
2011 $16,500

One of the biggest benefits of a 401(k) is that employers can match contributions as an incentive to employees. Today, the maximum match for employers is $50,000.

If you have a Roth 401(k), however, and you get an employer match, it cannot go into your Roth 401(k) because it cannot receive the after-tax treatment. Instead, any employer matches must be deposited into a pre-tax traditional 401(k).

Withdrawals and Transfers

Moeny Withdrawals and Tranfers for Roth 401(k)With Roth 401(k)s there are some restrictions on withdrawals and transfers, but they aren’t that complicated.

First, withdrawals. Earnings on Roth 401(k)s will be tax-free as long as the distribution is made at least five years after the first Roth 401(k) contribution and the attainment of the current retirement age of 59½.

As for contributions, you cannot withdraw them penalty-free like you can with a Roth IRA. Once you make a contribution to a Roth 401(k), it is irrevocable.

You can roll your Roth 401(k) into a Roth IRA upon termination of employment.

Finally, unlike a regular Roth IRA, you must take required minimum distributions on a Roth 401(k) at age 70½ , just like a regular 401(k).

The Verdict

If you have access to a Roth 401(k), it is a great way to save for retirement. There are a few special circumstances involved, but they aren’t that hard to understand. Your money can grow and be withdrawn tax-free, which is great!

This article was republished with permission from The College Investor.

About the Author: Robert Farrington

Robert Farrington is the founder and chief editor of The College Investor, a website dedicated to personal finance for young adults and college students. Robert earned his MBA from the Rady School of Management at UC San Diego, and his B.A. in Political Science from UC San Diego.

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