What Is a Roth Option?

A Roth option is an option to invest retirement savings in a special Roth account. Roth options can be available in some public and private retirement benefit plans. A Roth option may also be available through small business retirement plans. A Roth option allows an employee to contribute after-tax dollars to a special Roth account that usually reaps all of the advantages that individual Roth IRAs have to offer.聽

Key Takeaways

  • A Roth option is an option to invest retirement savings in a special Roth account.
  • Roth contributions are made from after-tax income at the current tax rate.
  • One of the greatest benefits for most Roth options is access to the account with no penalties after five years.

Understanding a Roth Option

A Roth option is basically an iteration of the Roth IRA, offered especially for employees through a retirement plan package. A Roth option is created with the same characteristics as a Roth IRA. Money is contributed after-tax. The accumulated funds are not subject to any further taxes after being invested. This means all withdrawals in retirement are tax-free. One special advantage of most Roth accounts is that contributions can be withdrawn without any penalties prior to age 59陆 if the account has been open for .

On the other hand, a traditional 40l(k) plan or traditional IRA offer immediate tax savings. The money paid in is subtracted from the employee's taxable income for that year. For after-tax contributors to a traditional IRA or other tax-advantaged retirement accounts, those contributions can be taken as a lump sum deduction for the year. Taxes are therefore required when the person withdraws funds after retiring. Traditional IRAs and IRA options also generally have a 10% early withdrawal penalty if any funds are taken out before the age of 59陆.

Who Needs a Roth Option?

A Roth option can be a good choice for a few reasons. Mainly, it is best for investors who may want to draw on the account as an emergency fund sometime in the future. It can also be optimal for investors who think they will be in a higher tax bracket in retirement, though this is usually not the case for most people.

A Roth option is typically matched by an employer in the same way that a traditional 401(k) is matched. Any Roth option can be optimal for people who want to contribute savings to a fund that may be used for emergencies if they arise. Roth options usually have the same liquidity feature as Roth IRAs; contributions can be withdrawn without penalty after five years. This means an investor could draw on the contributions made to the account far earlier than the age 59陆 threshold for any reason, with no tax.

For those investors who are secure in their financial planning, the Roth option is not necessarily superior theoretically (especially if matching is offered in both traditional and Roth options). With the Roth option, investors contribute funds with after-tax dollars. This means funds are taken from an employee鈥檚 wages after taxes have been applied, not before. This results in the current tax rate being paid on income rather than the applicable tax rate in retirement, which is usually lower.

For most people, deferring taxes until retirement is optimal because after leaving a job, many people live on their retirement savings as income, and that is usually equal to or less than their regular earnings, often putting them in a lower bracket. In retirement, investors may also have the option to withdraw funds at will rather than getting a steady paycheck, which can make income lumpy but also more eligible for lower tax rates.

Ultimately, the decision between a Roth option vs. a tax-deferred option can be somewhat marginal. For many people, the advantage of accessing funds for any reason after five years usually outweighs any tax-advantaged benefit from deferring to a lower tax rate in the future.

However, as you can see from the chart below, it can be wise to view the government鈥檚 tax brackets when making this decision.

2020 Tax Brackets and Rates
2020 Tax Brackets and Rates.

Given tax rates in 2020, a single taxpayer who believes they might move from the income range of $40,526鈥$86,3755 down to the range of $9,951鈥$40,525 in retirement would be the most vulnerable since the tax rate differential is 10%. This person would probably much rather pay a tax rate of 12% in retirement than 22% at the current rate if they can afford to wait until those funds are available without penalty after 59陆.


Roth 401(k)s were introduced in 2006.

IRS Rules for Retirement Investing

The IRS has a variety of rules for retirement investing. Namely, limits on the amount an investor can invest in different types of retirement vehicles. The IRS鈥檚 limits on allowable retirement investments by vehicle each year can influence investing decisions. They may also lead to splitting contributions between the pre-tax and after-tax versions,聽providing for the best features of both accounts.聽

For tax year 2021, individuals can contribute $6,000 to an IRA account with a $1,000 catch-up contribution allowed for those 50 and older. This limit applies to any type of IRA account (meaning $6,000 is the maximum contribution allowed to all IRA accounts comprehensively).

A Roth option may or may not be considered an IRA depending on how it is customized by an employer. The Roth 401(k) is subject to the 401(k) investing limits, which are much higher. For tax year 2021, employees can contribute $19,500 to a 401(k), 403(b), 457 plan, and the federal government's Thrift Savings Plan. People age 50 and above can contribute up to $6,500 more as a "catch-up contribution" for 2020.

Different Types of Roth Options

The聽Roth 401(k)聽option is one of the most popular Roth options. A Roth 401(k) is offered in more than 50% of private company 401(k) plans. Roth options can also be offered in public 403(b) plans and used by small business owners.

403(b) Roth options typically work in the same way as Roth 401(k)s. Small businesses can offer a variety of Roth options with their benefit plans, many of which may be considered Roth IRA accounts.

Small business Roth options vary more widely because of the many different options employers have, such as Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) and Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees of Small Employers (SIMPLE) plans. Within the small business realm, self-employed workers can also potentially take advantage of Roth options through an individual Roth 401(k).