Enriching a Teen with a Roth IRA
Teenagers with part-time or seasonal jobs earn some spending money while gaining valuable work experience. They also have the chance to contribute to a Roth IRA — a tax-advantaged account that can be used to save for retirement or other financial goals.
Minors can contribute to a Roth IRA provided they have earned income and a parent (or other adult) opens a custodial account in the child’s name. Contributions to a Roth IRA are made on an after-tax basis, which means they can be withdrawn at any time, for any reason, free of taxes and penalties. Earnings grow tax-free, although nonqualified withdrawals of earnings are generally taxed as ordinary income and may incur a 10% early-withdrawal penalty, unless an exception applies.
A withdrawal of earnings is considered qualified if the account is held for at least five years and the distribution is made after age 59½. However, there are two penalty exceptions that may be of special interest to young savers. Penalty-free early withdrawals can be used to pay for qualified higher-education expenses or to purchase a first home, up to a $10,000 lifetime limit. (Ordinary income taxes will apply.)
Flexible College Fund
A Roth IRA may have some advantages over savings accounts and dedicated college savings plans. Colleges determine need-based financial aid based on the “expected family contribution” (EFC) calculated in the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
Most assets belonging to parents and the student count toward the EFC, but retirement accounts, including a Roth IRA, do not. Thus, savings in a Roth IRA should not affect the amount of aid your student receives. (Withdrawals from a Roth IRA and other retirement plans do count toward income for financial aid purposes.)
Last summer, the number of employed youth (ages 16 to 24) grew from 20.2 million in April to 21.6 million in July, as high school and college students took seasonal jobs and graduates joined the labor force permanently. Here are the three industries that employed the most young people in July 2023:
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2023
Financial Head Start
Opening a Roth IRA for a child offers the opportunity to teach fundamental financial concepts, such as different types of investments, the importance of saving for the future, and the power of compounding over time. You might encourage your children to set aside a certain percentage of their paychecks, or offer to match their contributions, as an incentive.
In 2023, the Roth IRA contribution limit for those under age 50 is the lesser of $6,500 or 100% of earned income. In other words, if a teenager earns $1,500 this year, his or her annual contribution limit would be $1,500. Parents and other individuals may also contribute directly to a teen’s Roth IRA, subject to the same limits.