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Unlike with Traditional IRAs, you must pay full taxes on your Roth IRA contributions as if the money was still in your pocket. However, Traditional IRA investors must eventually pay taxes on their distributions; this shouldn't be the case for Roth IRA investors.

Qualified Roth distributions can be 100% tax-free if you follow IRS guidelines. You may have to pay taxes on a $5,000 contribution, but if savvy investments balloon your balance to $25,000, you may owe zero taxes on the $20,000 profit if:

  • You're at least 59½ years old.
  • You wait at least five years from the date of your initial Roth contribution to begin taking withdrawals.

In the meantime, you may distribute your $5,000 contribution at any time, regardless of your age, having already paid taxes on those funds in the year you made the deposit. Once you reach age 72, you will not have to take required minimum distributions as you would with a Traditional IRA or another such pre-tax account.

Distribution Timeline

Age 55

You open a new self-directed Roth IRA and make a $5,000 contribution. You put the funds to work in the alternative IRA investments of your choosing and manage to earn $1,000 in your first year.

Age 58

You elect to withdraw your $5,000 contribution. Because you already paid taxes in the year you made the deposit, you will not incur duplicate taxes or penalties even though you're not 59½.

Age 60

You are now older than 59½ and it's been five years since your first contribution. You may therefore distribute the $1,000 your IRA earned without paying a penny in taxes!

Early Distribution Exemption

If you intend to distribute Roth IRA funds prior to the five-year anniversary of your first contribution, you may be exempt from the 10% early distribution penalty if you’re 59 ½ and one of the following conditions apply (any such distributions would be taxed as income):

  • Distributed funds are used to buy, build, or rebuild your first home. Up to $10,000 may be distributed penalty-free in this instance.
  • You owe or seek reimbursement for medical expenses that equal more than 10% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). Medical expenses need only equal 7.5% of your AGI if you or your spouse were born before January 2, 1952.
  • Distributions do not exceed the cost of medical insurance while unemployed.
  • Withdrawals qualify as reservist distributions.
  • Distributions do not exceed your qualified higher education expenses.
  • You are permanently and completely disabled.
  • You hold a non-spouse Inherited IRA, from which RMDs will be due regardless of age.
  • You receive distributions as an annuity.
  • The IRS has levied your account.

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