Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Reader question: How do I open an IRA?

Hi Mandy,

How are you? A quick question..I plan to contribute 4000 to IRA this year (I believe this is the max)...Can I contribute anything additional to Roth IRA?

Would you suggest that I put in Roth IRA or traditional IRA?

Also what is the yield I get out of this account?

I am planning to open it with Citibank, since it is close by




You can only contribute $4k total to both accounts. Since I believe you have a 401k at your job, odds are very good that you cannot deduct your traditional IRA contribution so I'd strongly suggest you do the Roth instead. And even if you can deduct it, typically a Roth is a much better investment in the long run. See my article: What's so great about a Roth IRA?

Also, you should never invest through a bank. They are the worst places for investments since they typically offer loaded funds that have high annual expenses and underperform. Instead you should open your account with Vanguard or Fidelity.

As for what kind of yield you can expect, that is completely dependent upon what you invest in. IRAs are only accounts within which you buy an investment. You can choose almost any investment. Considering your age, you should be as aggressive as you are comfortable with. Since your balance in this account will only be $4k to start (assuming you don't have an existing IRA that you could add to) you probably don't want to invest in more than one fund (to minimize fees). If you're ok being very aggressive, or it's balanced out with your other investments, you could choose a total stock market index fund as it will give you great diversification and be 100% stock. If you prefer to be a bit more conservative and/or you just don't want to think about it again besides to put more money in, you should consider a Target Retirement Fund.

Target Retirement Funds are funds that hold a basket of funds that ensure that you are completely diversified and have an appropriate asset allocation based on your expected retirement date. They are a one-stop investment and you can put your money in and never think about it again because it automatically gets more conservative as you get older.

Final thing, assuming you didn't make a contribution in 2006 (otherwise you'd just add to it right?) when you open this account you should identify this money as 2006 money. You have until tax day to do this. Then you still have all of 2007 to contribute another $4k.

Let me know if you have any questions and unless I hear differently from you I'm going to post this (with your name removed) onto the meetin forums since it's a great question that lots of people probably have.

Have a great day!


thanks Mandy,

I was planning on Citibank since some of my friends have opened accounts there...they don't charge any fees too.

Does Vanguard charge any fees?

However the trick is to find the mutual funds that I should be investing in.

I do not mind being aggressive...but i need to know how and what to look for in mutual funds...Any pointers on links, details that i should look for?

and no, I do not have a 401K account, since my company does not contribute...



Ok. Well, since your company offers a 401k and you just choose not to participate you still may not be able to take the deduction. Check your tax form and see if there's a mark on it that indicates you're covered by a retirement plan. If that box is checked then you can't take the deduction.

Even if you can take the deduction you should still probably consider the Roth. The advantages are much better with a Roth than a Traditional IRA.

Regarding Citibank, they may not charge fees up front, but odds are great that the products they offer are loaded funds (means you have to pay a sales charge to buy them) and have high annual expenses (anything over .5% is too high unless it's a very specialized fund).

Vanguard charges $10/year/fund for investments under $10k which is why you only want to do one fund at a time. $10 may sound like a lot compared to Citibank's $0, but when you take into account that a load is typically 5%, that means on a $4k investment you're paying $200 just to buy the fund. That doesn't even include the difference that a .25% expense ratio will make over one that's 1%.

The main things you should look for in a fund are: Load (never pay a sales load. They're a waste of money), ER (stands for annual expense ratio) and should definitely be below 1% and ideally below .5%. You also want to look at what the fund is invested in. Funds can invest in almost anything so you want to make sure that whatever it is invested in meets your needs.

As a younger person you want your investment to be much more heavily weighed towards stocks than bonds. You also want to make sure that you have a little bit of everything (small, mid, large-cap and international) which will keep you diversified and boost returns and lower risk.

Since you're just learning how to pick funds, I would definitely recommend the Target Retirement fund. I would choose the 2050 fund which is the most agressive. I would do this just to get the account set up and then you can spend some time learning more about how to choose funds. After learning more you may decide to just stick to the target fund (they are great investments) or take a more active hand in your investment choices.

On my book recommendation page I list 2 books which I think are must reads for everyone. The first is The Automatic Millionaire and the second is Investing for Dummies. I'd recommend reading both since they'll give you a great educational foundation to get you started.



Money Minx said...

Actually, you CAN contribute more on some ROTH accounts (in a manner of speaking). I have a Vanguard Star fund Roth. They let me contribute the $10 annual fee from outside the fund. That way all $4000 gets to stay in the fund. So ask if you can pay any fees with outside money.