BOSTON (CBS) – A Roth IRA is a new twist on an old product. This is my favorite IRA.

Congress was looking for ways to help people save more for retirement but at the same time get some of its tax dollars upfront. They introduced Roth IRAs in 1997. Roth IRAs have features that the traditional IRA does not.

With a Roth IRA, you use after-tax dollars to make your contribution but when you withdraw the funds in retirement, you will not owe income tax on the withdrawals. You must have earned income to contribute to a Roth IRA, and if you’re working you can continue to contribute past age 70½. But as with all the IRAs, you are limited to a $5,000 annual contribution and can add an additional $1000 if you are over 50 or turn 50 this calendar year.

There are some other rules you must live with. Withdrawals from the account will be free of income taxes if the owner has held the Roth IRA for at least five years and has attained the age of 59½. With a Roth IRA you are always permitted to get at your contributions without a penalty because you have already paid taxes on them.

The minimum distribution rules do not apply to the Roth IRA and funds can stay in the account past the owner reaching age 70½.

As with all good things, there are limitations. Contributions are phased out for single taxpayers if your adjusted gross income (AGI) is between $107,000 and $122,000 and for married couples filing jointly with an AGI between $169,000 and $179,000.

A Roth IRA can be good choice for retirement savings. The younger you are, the sweeter the deal. You can also convert a regular IRA to a Roth IRA. The proceeds of your IRA will be taxable in the year you make the conversion and there will not be a 10 percent penalty due if you are under age 59½.

A conversion works best if you do not need to take money out of the IRA to pay the taxes that will be due. And if you will be able to leave the IRA intact for another 10-20 years.

You can choose to convert only part of your IRA. This feature will allow you to convert only the amount you can afford the taxes on each year. Check out the various calculators on line to see if it is worth making the conversion.

Beware that the extra income that a Roth conversion generates may bump you into a higher tax bracket and the consequences could be taxable Social Security benefits, higher Medicare premiums and higher estimated taxes for 2011.

One more thing:  Because there is no mandatory withdrawal age with a Roth IRA they make a great wealth transfer tool. You can name a grandkid your beneficiary and upon your death they can begin withdrawals based on their life expectancy. It is really the gift that keeps on giving for the account may earn more than is required to be withdrawn thus extending it for many years.


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