What are the Differences between a Self-Directed Roth IRA and a Roth 401(k)?

A Self-Directed Roth IRA and a Roth 401(k) have some similarities. With both types of accounts, you make your contributions after you have paid the taxes on them. And, when you reach the age of 59 ½, you can take out your earnings without paying additional taxes.

But aside from a few parallels, there are significant differences between the two. While you are allowed to have both a Self-Directed Roth IRA and a Roth 401(k) at the same time, your employer must offer a Roth 401(k) for you to participate.

Take a look at some of the other differences so you can decide which plan works best for you:

Contribution and income limits

Whether it’s a Roth or traditional 401(k), the contribution limits are much higher than the IRA. In 2019, employees will be allowed to save up to $19,000 for the year. Workers over 50 may save up to $25,000. There are no income limits for the 401(k).

Roth and Traditional IRA contributions are limited to $6,000 or the amount of earned income, whichever is less. Those over 50 may set aside $7,000. There are income limitations, however, on Self-Directed Roth IRA contributions for 2019. If your modified adjusted gross income is $203,000 or more for married couples filing jointly or $137,000 or more for single filers, you are not allowed to contribute.

Distributions are handled differently

A Self-Directed Roth IRA account can continue forever, and there are no required minimum distributions as with Traditional IRAs. The Roth can also be passed along through generations, and it continues to accumulate free earnings for each generation.

A Roth 401(k) is treated differently.  Distributions from a Roth 401(k) account must begin by age 70 ½ or when the account holder retires, whichever comes later. If you want to continue getting tax-free savings, rolling over to a Self-Directed Roth IRA is an option to consider.

Withdrawals from both the Self-Directed Roth IRA and the Roth 401(k) are tax-free as long as the accounts were held for at least five years, the distributions were made because of disability or death, or the account holder has reached the age of 59 ½.

Also, with a Self-Directed Roth IRA, you are allowed to withdraw up to $10,000 to buy or build a first home, without paying taxes and the 10 percent early withdrawal penalty, even if you are under age 59½.

Your employer can match your Roth 401(k) contributions

In addition to having higher contribution limits than Self-Directed Roth IRAs, the Roth 401(k) has another distinct advantage: Your employer can match any contributions you make up to a certain percentage. It’s free money from your employer that’s on top of your elective deferrals.

One caveat: Your employer’s match will be deposited into a traditional 401(k). Since you never receive the employer’s match, it cannot be completed on an after-tax basis. For that reason, the company match must be applied to a traditional 401(k).

You will have more investment options in a Roth IRA

Employees generally have little or no control over the investment choices that an employer’s Roth 401(k) plan offers. And those options are minimal most of the time. Those who hold a Self-Directed Roth IRA, on the other hand, will have greater control and more investment opportunities from which to choose.

And when retirement savers open a Self-Directed Roth IRA, they give themselves a virtually unlimited selection that includes alternative assets such as real estate, precious metals, private stock, and private lending.

Remember, even if you have a 401(k) plan through your employer, you may open and contribute to a Roth or traditional Self-Directed IRA. If you are interested in learning more about Self-Directed IRAs, call American IRA, LLC at 866-7500-IRA (472) for a free consultation or visit us online at

Two Self-Directed Roth IRA Funding Options for High-Income Earners

Retirement savers with high incomes have options for saving but putting them into a Self-Directed Roth IRA is not one of them. One of the critical differences between Traditional IRAs and Self-Directed Roth IRAs is income limits on contributions. It is a shame because a Roth could provide tax-free growth and tax-free withdrawals in retirement.

For the 2018 tax year, here are the income eligibility limits:

  • Single filer – $135,000
  • Married filing a joint return – $199,000
  • Married filing a separate return – $10,000

If you are part of any of these categories, you are probably not eligible to contribute to a Self-Directed Roth IRA. But that does not mean you have to rule it out completely. Your income does not have to be a total obstacle. Here are two suggestions to consider:

Think about a Roth conversion

Converting some or all of the funds in a Traditional IRA into a Self-Directed Roth IRA is a viable option. Of course, the conversion would trigger a tax bill on the converted funds up front, but your money would be growing tax-free from that point on. And since you pay the tax today, your distributions will be tax-free when you retire. This option makes particularly good sense if you think you will be in a higher tax bracket when you withdraw the funds and retirement is down the road a few years.

You can roll it over

While your Self-Directed 401(K) plan might not have a Roth option, you may still roll over to a Self-Directed Roth IRA if a triggering event occurs. Some of the most common events include:

  • Reaching retirement age
  • Termination of employment
  • Disability
  • Death

Talk to your employer to ensure that you meet one of your plan’s triggering events. Then, make sure that the amount you are taking is eligible for a rollover. Most distributions from retirement plans may be rolled over, but there are some that are ineligible. For instance, you may not roll over any required distributions you must take after reaching the age of 70 ½, and you will not be allowed to roll over any excess contributions you made.

Remember that when you roll over pretax funds, they will be subject to income tax for the year in which you did the rollover. You could be paying a significant tax bill if you roll over a large balance all at once. You might want to think about moving the funds over multiple years.

If your qualified plan has a Roth option, the tax consequences change. If there is a triggering event, you can roll these Roth assets into a Self-Directed Roth IRA. And because this transaction involves after-tax contributions, they are no income taxes due.

What about a Backdoor Roth?

In 2010, Congress passed rules that allowed retirement savers to convert funds in a Traditional IRA to a Self-Directed Roth IRA, paying the taxes on the distributions as they made the conversion. Higher-income earners were able to use this approach to gain access to a Self-Directed Roth IRA. Nicknamed a Backdoor Roth, it involves a two-step process:

Open a non-deductible Traditional IRA and make after-tax contributions. For 2018, you may contribute up to $5,500 ($6,500 if you’re age 50 or older).

Then, transfer the assets from the Traditional IRA to a Self-Directed Roth IRA. You can make this transfer and conversion at any time in the future. Some advisors are warning that the Backdoor Roth might not last forever. Restrictions on them might come at some point, requiring converters to pay a penalty, or they could include a grandfather clause. But for now, it’s an option to consider.

Seek professional help before rolling over or converting

If you are a high-income earner, you should consider everything before using retirement plan rollovers and conversions to fund your Self-Directed Roth IRA. Discuss these strategies with your team of professionals. Give us a call when you’re ready to make a move.

At American IRA, we believe that Self-Directed IRAs are the best vehicles for growing your retirement account. And we have the experience to help you with your transactions.

Interested in learning more about Self-Directed IRAs?  Contact American IRA, LLC at 866-7500-IRA (472) for a free consultation.  Download our free guides or visit us online at

Self-Directed Roth IRA or Solo 401(k)? Which should I Contribute To First?

As it is so often in investing, the answer is “it depends.” Both the Self-Directed Roth IRA and the Solo 401(k) are very popular among investors who embrace the advantages of self-directed strategies. But they are not only taxed differently – they are also structured differently.

Consider prioritizing your Self-Directed Roth IRA first under the following circumstances:

  • You are relatively young, or have an extra long time horizon.
  • You want to pass a lot of money on to heirs
  • You are sensitive to a possible estate tax down the road. Roth IRAs have a lower estate tax footprint, since they move money that your estate will eventually have to pay in taxes out of the taxable estate.
  • Your income is lower now than it will be in the future.
  • Your tax bracket is lower now than it will be in the future. That is, would you rather pay your income tax rate now? Or would you rather pay the rate you’ll be in when you retire? If you’re probably paying a lower rate now, then emphasize the Self-Directed Roth IRA.
  • You’re in a state that provides a lot of creditor protection to IRAs in the event of bankruptcy.
  • You don’t want to have to worry about required minimum distributions down the road
  • You don’t own a company or have a lot of self-employed income you can contribute to a self-directed Solo 401(k)
  • You’re not getting a match from an employer’s 401(k) other than a solo 401(k) that you control
  • You have a weak 401(k) plan at work that won’t let you self-direct, and has lousy mutual funds and other investment options, or only offers high-expense funds.
  • You don’t expect to need to borrow money out of your 401(k) in the future.
  • You want the more flexible hardship withdrawal options that IRAs come with.

On the other hand, maxing out a solo 401(k) plan, or any other 401(k) plan that has your desired features may work best for you under the following circumstances:

  • You can pick up an employers’ matching funds.
  • You own a C corporation and would pay high taxes and double taxation on money that doesn’t go into a tax-deferred 401(k) plan.
  • You want to maximize the amount you can contribute and only run a single plan for the time being.
  • You want to be able to take a loan out of your Solo 401(k)
  • You want to retire early and be able to make early withdrawals. 401(k) rules let you take money out of your plan at age 55 without a 10 percent penalty if you’ve left the company. IRAs make you wait until age 59½.
  • You want to leverage, for example, to buy real estate within your retirement account with a mortgage. In an IRA, you’d have to pay an additional tax, called the unrelated business income tax, on income and capital gains attributable to other peoples’ money. In a 401(k), you may be able to avoid that tax. Speak with your tax advisor for more information.
  • You want extra protection against creditors, including the IRS. 401(k)s are much tougher for creditors to crack.

American IRA, LLC provides top-notch administration for owners of Self-Directed Roth IRAs or self-directed 401(k)s. Our services allow you to tap the tremendous tax advantages of using self-directed retirement accounts but also maximize your choices and options.

For more information, call American IRA, LLC today at 866-7500-IRA(472), or visit us on the Web at

We look forward to working with you.