How to Max Out Your Roth IRA Contributions

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Roth IRAs are one of my favorite investment vehicles because they offer great tax benefits, especially now that the IRS removed the income limitations for Roth IRA conversions, making Roth IRAs more easily accessible to virtually everyone. That said, there are some limits to how much of a good thing you can have, and the…

Roth IRAs are one of my favorite investment vehicles because they offer great tax benefits, especially now that the IRS removed the income limitations for Roth IRA conversions, making Roth IRAs more easily accessible to virtually everyone. That said, there are some limits to how much of a good thing you can have, and the IRS imposes strict limits for Roth IRA contributions.

In addition to the contribution limits, IRAs are a use it or lose it proposition – you only have one opportunity to make the contribution, and once it is gone, it is gone.

This article will show you how you can take advantage of the tax benefits IRAs offer and maximize your contributions.

How to Max Out Your Roth IRA Contributions

We are going to work with the assumption that you already have an IRA. If you don’t, then here is an article that discusses where to open an IRA. In addition, I frequently reference Roth IRAs because I believe them to be the superior option for most people, however, these tips work or both Traditional and Roth IRAs.

Once your IRA is open you need to fund it. You can do this one of several ways: contribute a lump sum for the entire year, set up a monthly allotment to maximize your contributions on a monthly basis, or a combination of these. Let’s a look at a couple examples and the pros and cons of each.

Maximizing IRA Contributions with a Lump Sum

People under age 50 can contribute up to $6,000 per year in an IRA, or up to $12,000 per couple (people age 50 and over can contribute $1,000 more as a catch-up contribution).

If you have the money available to invest all at once without affecting your cash flow or emergency fund, then this is a good way to max out your contributions and be done with it.

Advantages of Lump Sum Investing

  • Pros: Studies show the lump sum investing at the beginning of the year almost always outperforms market timing or investing via dollar cost averaging, or making regular contributions throughout the year.
  • The markets tend to go up over the long run, so the longer you have your money in the market, the longer it has to grow in value.

Disadvantages of Lump Sum Investing

  • Cons: There are some downsides to investing all at once – the first is you could invest everything right before a market crash or adjustment and lost a lot of money (dollar cost averaging would spread your contributions and minimize your upside and downside).
  • The other risk is contributing too much if you are near the Roth IRA income limits or Traditional IRA deductibility income limits.

Did you contribute too much? Here is what to do about excess Roth IRA contributions.

Maximizing IRA Investments with Dollar Cost Averaging

Dollar Cost Averaging (DCA) is a method of investing where you make contributions on a periodic basis (usually monthly, or with your paycheck) to the same investment. This is a common way to invest in employer-sponsored retirement plans such as a 401k, but also works for individual investments.

There are pros and cons to this approach.

Advantages of Dollar Cost Averaging

  • Pros: Dollar Cost Averaging is easy, more affordable for the average investor, and it removes guesswork and market timing from the equation.
  • Setting up automatic monthly payments ensures you always make the investment, and the monthly investments make it easier to maximize your contributions.
  • It is easier for most people to contribute a few hundred dollars each month vs. making an annual lump sum contribution of several thousand dollars.
  • DCA removes market timing from the equation: since you make the same contribution each period, you buy more shares when the value is low and fewer shares when the value is high.

Disadvantages of Dollar Cost Averaging

  • Cons: There are a couple of things to look out for with dollar cost averaging – because you are making more transactions, you may be subjecting yourself to more fees. This isn’t likely the case when making 401k contributions because there normally aren’t transaction fees, but it may be the case if you are investing through a brokerage or buying individual shares of stocks on a regular basis.
  • Most studies show that lump sum investing is advantageous, with time in the market being more important than timing the market.

How to Maximize Your IRA Contributions with Dollar Cost Averaging

To set your investment contributions on auto-pilot, simply divide your maximum contribution by the number of months (or paychecks).

For example, if you want to max out your IRA with 12 monthly contributions, then you would set up automatic investments for $500.00 per month for a single investor ($6,000 max annual contribution) or $1,000.00 per month for a married couple ($12,000 max contribution). Learn more about spousal IRAs, which allow you to contribute to an IRA for a spouse, even if he or she has no earned income of their own (this is only allowed for married couples filing jointly).

If you are age 50 or over, then divide $7,000 by 12 for $583.33 per month.

Combination of Lump Sum and Dollar Cost Averaging

The third way to max out your IRA contributions is to do a combination of the two methods listed above (Value Averaging is another common method). There are a couple ways this can benefit you.

For example, say you want to maximize your IRA contributions, but it’s May and you haven’t started yet. You can contribute a lump sum of $2,000 to make up for the first 4 months of the year, then set up a monthly contribution of $500.00 per month for the remainder of the year.

This will ensure you are able to maximize your annual Roth IRA contributions this year. The bonus is you will also have automatic contributions set up for maximizing your Roth IRA contributions next year.

Another way to do it is to set up monthly contributions for the amount you can afford on a monthly basis, then try to make contributions for that tax year before the tax filing deadline.

The IRS allows IRA contributions until that tax year’s filing deadline, giving you a few extra months to max out your IRA contributions. For example, if you set up a monthly investment plan of $300 per month at the beginning of the year you would contribute $3,600 by Dec. 31st. You could still contribute the additional $2,400 to max out your IRA by the tax deadline of April 15th.

The benefit of going this route is that it allows you to contribute what you can afford, and still have time to make up for the full contributions if you are able to do so at a later date. It also gives you the ability to reassess your income situation if you are concerned about your ability to make contributions to a Roth IRA based on income limitations.

Maximizing Your IRA Contributions Will Help You Reach your Goals

Maxing out your IRA contributions each year is a great way to set yourself up for retirement. The more you contribute each year, and the longer your time frame, the more money you will likely accumulate in your IRA.

Keep in mind, each retirement account has different rules regarding how and when you can make withdrawals. For example, Roth IRA Withdrawal rules allow you to withdraw contributions at any time, but there are specific rules regarding when you can withdraw earnings. There are also age limitations. We encourage you to understand the impact of making your contributions as well as what happens when you finally tap into your hard-earned investments!

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About Ryan Guina

Ryan Guina is the founder and editor of Cash Money Life. He is a writer, small business owner, and entrepreneur. He served over 6 years on active duty in the USAF and is a current member of the IL Air National Guard.

Ryan started Cash Money Life in 2007 after separating from active duty military service and has been writing about financial, small business, and military benefits topics since then. He also writes about military money topics and military and veterans benefits at The Military Wallet.

Ryan uses Personal Capital to track and manage his finances. Personal Capital is a free software program that allows him to track his net worth, balance his investment portfolio, track his income and expenses, and much more. You can open a free account here.

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  1. Trevon says

    Ryan,

    I don’t make a lot to max out my IRA, not even close ($32,000/yr with family of 5). But what I do right now is contribute $2,000 at the beginning of the year then $50 a month for the remaining of the year. I also have a Roth 401K from work that detucts a percentage and a match per paycheck.

    For the small amount I do invest, should I just lump sum my Roth IRA and count my Roth 401K as my DCA?

    • Ryan Guina says

      Trevon, the best saving method is the one that works for you. Your current saving method is excellent. Many investment analysts recommend lump sum contributions when possible because giving your money more time in the market generally performs better than making smaller contributions over time. So that covers your Roth IRA contributions.

      That said, Dollar Cost Averaging is necessary for many folks who can’t max out their contributions at one time. That is exactly what you are doing with your 401k. (This is how I contribute to my 401k as well). You are making contributions as soon as the cash becomes available.

      So yes, I would say you are doing the right thing with your investments. Great job, and keep it up!

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