What Is an IRA?

IRA stands for Individual Retirement Account, which is an investment account that offers tax benefits to people saving for retirement. Employees or business owners open an account and deposit funds up to an annual maximum (see 2024 IRA contribution limits). IRAs come with several tax benefits, such as lowering an individual’s taxable income or offering…

IRA stands for Individual Retirement Account, which is an investment account that offers tax benefits to people saving for retirement. Employees or business owners open an account and deposit funds up to an annual maximum (see 2024 IRA contribution limits).

IRAs come with several tax benefits, such as lowering an individual’s taxable income or offering tax-free withdrawals during retirement, depending on the type of IRA they open. Regardless of the type of IRA, once you reach age 59 ½, you can begin withdrawing the money without facing an early withdrawal penalty.

There are different types of IRAs, each with varied guidelines. Varieties include Traditional, SIMPLE, SEP, and Roth IRA account types. You need to understand the nuances of each IRA account to decide which one is best for your needs. In this guide, we’ll walk through how IRAs work, the eligibility requirements and limitations for each type of IRA, and more.

How Do IRAs Work?

IRAs function by enabling people to save money for retirement efficiently. Tax deductions serve as an incentive for people to save for retirement.

Individual retirement account definition

The account connects to banks, brokerages, or other investment providers. The account holder can either direct the investments themselves or rely on finance professionals to manage their accounts for them. Some financial services offer another option: algorithm-powered robo-advisors that suggest investments based on answers to questions about risk tolerance, timeframe, savings goals, and other factors.

You can use IRA contributions for different types of investments. Many retirement savers choose out-of-the-box investments offered by major custodians. Some IRA accounts offer access to other investment vehicles, such as real estate investment trusts (REITs), precious metals, and other investments.

Opening an individual retirement account is usually straightforward. You provide your name, address, social security number, and any other documents required by the bank or brokerage. Then, you deposit funds that match your budget and investment goals (up to the maximum annual deposit allowed by the IRS). If you rely on a robo-advisor or human advice, you will typically answer questions about your goals, budget, and financial plans when opening the account.

Benefits of an IRA

An IRA account can help you save for retirement. However, the benefits go beyond simply having money in the bank to use after you stop working. Here are four of the most important benefits to consider when deciding if an IRA is right for you.

  • Tax Advantages: Traditional IRA contributions are tax-deductible in the year they are made, which can lower your taxable income and reduce the amount you have to pay. Additionally, any gains your investments make are tax-deferred until you withdraw the funds.
    • Roth IRAs do not offer an upfront tax deduction. However, you withdraw the initial deposit and any investment earnings tax-free after retirement.
  • Accessibility: In general, these accounts are set up to simplify saving and investment. Services like portfolio balancing, automatic deposits, or employer contributions help you save and earn enough for a comfortable retirement.
  • Investment options: Most IRAs offer a wide range of investment options. This allows you to select investments you are familiar with or find ones that fit best with your plans.
  • Control: The different choices give you control over your retirement savings. You can choose the type of investment and level of risk and decide whether you want to manage things yourself or hand off the responsibility to a finance professional.

There is a wide range of benefits of individual retirement accounts, and each type of IRA comes with its own unique benefits. Let’s explore these below.

Types of IRAs

All IRA accounts help you save for retirement by allowing you to deposit money and use it for investment activities without worrying about the tax impact.

However, there are several varieties of IRAs to choose from, and you need to understand the nuances of each one to decide on the best fit.

Types of IRAs

Traditional IRA

Traditional IRAs boast tax-deductible contributions. However, when you withdraw the money during retirement (principal and any investment profits from the account), you have to pay taxes at your current income tax bracket.


Unlike Roth IRAs, Traditional IRAs do not have income limits. However, similar to Roth IRAs, Traditional IRAs are subject to contribution limits. To be eligible to contribute to a Traditional IRA, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Contribution requirements: The maximum you can contribute for the 2023 tax year $6,500 and $7,500 if you are over 50.
  • Age requirements: You can start an IRA at any age and begin withdrawing at age 59 1/2.

One of the primary benefits of Traditional IRAs is that your contributions can be fully or partially deducted when you file your taxes for the year. The amount you can deduct depends on your income (modified adjusted gross income), your filing status, and whether you and/or your spouse participate in an employer-sponsored retirement plan.


There are several limitations of a Traditional IRA to consider. The most important is the required minimum distribution. You must withdraw the minimum amount before age 70. Also, similar to a Roth IRA, there are penalties for withdrawing before age 59 1/2.

Finally, Traditional IRAs are taxed at your regular annual income tax percentage for the year. If you withdraw a lot, the taxes may be higher.

Roth IRA

Roth IRAs are retirement accounts that do not qualify you for upfront tax deductions. Instead, the tax benefits are on the withdrawal end. You do not have to pay taxes on money withdrawn from a Roth IRA after retirement.


To be eligible to contribute to a Roth IRA, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Income Limits: Currently, the maximum adjusted gross income to qualify for Roth IRA deposits is $218,000 for married joint tax filers and $138,000 for single filers.
  • Age Limits: There is no age limit for contributing to a Roth IRA, but you must have earned income to contribute.
  • Contribution Limits: Limits are the same for all types of IRAs. Currently, those under 50 can contribute up to $6,500 and those over 50 can deposit $7,500 for 2023.

You can start withdrawing from a Roth IRA at age 59 ½.


Roth IRAs do not offer upfront tax breaks. Therefore, contributions are counted as taxable income. Also, there are penalties for early withdrawal. In most cases, if you withdraw the money early, you have to pay a 10% penalty on the withdrawn amount. Unlike Traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs do not have required minimum distributions.


A Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) IRA is an account that employers can establish for their employees. In many cases, sole proprietors and small business owners will set this account up for themselves and use business revenue to fund it.


SEP IRAs are slightly different from other retirement accounts.

  • Account holders need to have worked for the business (or owned the business) for three of the past five years.
  • The worker's earnings must exceed $750 per year.
  • The annual contribution cannot exceed 25% of the employee's annual earnings.

SEP accounts are best for self-employed individuals and small businesses.


Only employers can contribute to a SEP IRA. Employees cannot deposit into these accounts. Also, like other IRA accounts, there is a 10% penalty for withdrawing before age 59 1/2.


A SIMPLE IRA, or Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees, is a type of retirement plan that businesses can offer to their employees.


Simple IRAs are for employees in companies with fewer than 100 people.

  • Eligible employees must earn at least $5,000 per year in either of the past two years.
  • Businesses offering this IRA must give employees 60 days at the start of each year to decide whether they want to participate.

Other eligibility requirements are the same as other accounts.


The withdrawal and minimum distribution requirements are the same as with other IRAs. Contributions are always 100% vested (owned by the employee), except for profit sharing or company shares, which may follow a special vesting schedule outlined in the account documents.

What Is the Difference Between a Conventional IRA and Self-Directed IRA?

Both conventional IRAs and self-directed IRAs (SDIRAs) can be set up as one of the four types of IRAs above: traditional, Roth, SEP, or SIMPLE. However, the primary difference lies in the types of assets an account holder can invest in.

An SDIRA can be used to invest in non-traditional assets, such as real estate or precious metals like gold, silver, platinum, and palladium. To be eligible for a self-directed IRA, you must find a custodian to hold the account, as most traditional banks and brokerages do not offer SDIRAs. However, investing in precious metals in an SDIRA can be a great way to diversify your portfolio and protect your savings. SDIRAs give account holders more control over what they can invest in, allowing for greater flexibility and the potential for higher returns.

Key Takeaways: What Is an IRA?

IRAs facilitate savings for retirement. Account holders can choose the variety offering the best tax benefits. In all cases, diversification is important. A varied portfolio can hedge against inflation, economic downturns, and other uncertainties.

How can you help ensure diversification? Precious metals IRAs help investors with storing precious metals in an IRA account. These assets are a popular option for hedging against inflation and economic downturns.

At Birch Gold Group, we’re one of the top companies offering precious metals to invest in that can be placed in a precious metals IRA, with a strong reputation for customer service and transparency. Our team can connect you with leading depository services to keep your precious metals safe.

When investing, you need to do your own due diligence when choosing an IRA. See the Birch Group quick guide and investment kit to find out vital details about this type of IRA.

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