An Individual retirement arrangement (IRA) is the blanket term for a form of retirement plan that provides tax advantages for retirement savings in the United States. The term encompasses an individual retirement account — a trust or custodial account set up for the exclusive benefit of taxpayers or their beneficiaries — and an individual retirement annuity, by which the taxpayers purchase an annuity contract or an endowment contract from a life insurance company
Individual retirement arrangements were introduced in 1974 with the enactment of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). Taxpayers could contribute up to $1,500 a year and reduce their taxable income by the amount of their contributions. Initially, ERISA restricted IRAs to workers who were not covered by a qualified employment-based retirement plan. In 1981, the Economic Recovery Tax Act (ERTA) allowed all taxpayers under the age of 70½ to contribute to an IRA, regardless of their coverage under a qualified plan. It also raised the maximum annual contribution to $2,000 and allowed participants to contribute $250 on behalf of a nonworking spouse.
The Tax Reform Act of 1986 phased out the deduction for IRA contributions among higher-earning workers who are covered by an employment-based retirement plan. However, those earning above the amount that allowed deductible contributions could still make nondeductible contributions to their IRA. The maximum amount allowed as an IRA contribution was $1500 from 1975 to 1981, $2000 from 1982 to 2001, $3000 from 2002 to 2004, $4000 from 2004 to 2007, and $5000 from 2008 to 2010. Beginning in 2002, those over 50 could make an additional contribution called a “Catch-up Contribution.”
- Roth IRA – contributions are made with after-tax assets, all transactions within the IRA have no tax impact, and withdrawals are usually tax-free. Named for Senator William V. Roth, Jr.. The Roth IRA was introduced as part of the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997.
- Traditional IRA – contributions are often tax-deductible (often simplified as “money is deposited before tax” or “contributions are made with pre-tax assets”), all transactions and earnings within the IRA have no tax impact, and withdrawals at retirement are taxed as income (except for those portions of the withdrawal corresponding to contributions that were not deducted). Depending upon the nature of the contribution, a traditional IRA may be referred to as a “deductible IRA” or a “non-deductible IRA.”
- SEP IRA – a provision that allows an employer (typically a small business or self-employed individual) to make retirement plan contributions into a Traditional IRA established in the employee’s name, instead of to a pension fund in the company’s name.
- SIMPLE IRA – a simplified employee pension plan that allows both employer and employee contributions, similar to a 401(k) plan, but with lower contribution limits and simpler (and thus less costly) administration. Although it is termed an IRA, it is treated separately.
- Self-Directed IRA – a self-directed IRA that permits the account holder to make investments on behalf of the retirement plan.