401k vs Roth IRA

Differences Between 401k and Roth IRA

401 (k) is the retirement account plan which is sponsored by the companies where the employees can make the defined contribution so that they can divert their salary portion in the long term investments and the same is eligible for the special tax benefits as per the guidelines of IRS whereas Roth IRA  is a retirement saving account in which the person contributes it’s after-tax amount and can withdraw the amount tax-free and it is preferred by employees that are low salaried and are capable of making decent contributions towards the same.

People earn, spend, and save. The earn and save components are the two factors that decide the future economic status of people. So generally, during their young age, people tend to earn and save more so that they can use the corpus at some later point in time or during their retirement period. There are many retirement plans that can help people in achieving their long-term or retirement financial goals or commitments.

In this article, we are going to discuss two such financial plans which aim at helping people in saving money for retirement goals. Both the 401k plan and Roth IRA are retirement plans with some technical differences between them.

What is a 401k?

401(k) is a financial retirement plan which is sponsored by employers that enable their employees to make contributions towards their retirement fund. Employers may choose to make a matching contribution on behalf of their employees. The employer may choose to add a profit-sharing feature as well to the plan. One thing to note in the 401(k) plan is that the earnings accrue on a tax-deferred basis.

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What is Roth IRA?

IRA refers to an Individual Retirement Account. Roth IRA is a special type of retirement account that can be funded by the people with their post-tax income. There is a very lucrative type of retirement savings plan as all the future withdrawals are tax-free. Unlike the traditional IRA, there is no up-front deduction of tax to the contributions made to Roth IRA.

401k vs Roth IRA Infographics

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Key Differences

401k vs Roth IRA Comparative Table

Basis401(k)Roth IRA
DefinitionA retirement plan, sponsored by employers, allowing employees to make salary deferral contributions.A special retirement account is allowing people to save post-tax income for future financial commitments.
ContributionContributions made form salary deferrals.Contributions made are from post-tax income.
DistributionDistributions are taxable as per the tax slab of the person at the time of withdrawal.Distributions are not taxable and hence allows the entire corpus to be available at the disposal of the investor.
UsageIt is beneficial for those who want to minimize their current tax payments and hence deferring the tax during their retirement when they will fall in lower tax brackets due to lesser income during retirement as compare to present income.It is beneficial for those who want to minimize tax payments during retirement. Also, it also useful as an instrument for those who want to leave tax-free assets for their heirs.


401(k) plan’s main feature comes to the surface, especially when an employer matches the contribution of the employee by contributing additional money to the employee’s 401(k) account, which is normally based on a certain percentage of the employee’s contribution. Some key features of the 401(k) plan include that the contributions lower the taxable income in the year in which they were made, the fund is less expensive as compared to other identical funds, etc. There is some downside to this plan as well as limited control over investment selection, minimum distribution required, distributions being taxed at normal income tax rate, etc.

Roth IRA proves to be more relevant for individuals who believe that they will fall in a higher than current income tax bracket when they retire. There are two primary benefits of the Roth IRA. First, not only the withdrawals of contribution but also that of the returns earned over the years are tax-free. Second, there are no mandatory minimum distributions during the lifetime of the Roth IRA, unlike the traditional IRA. This helps in keeping and allowing the corpus to grow for heirs and that too tax-free.

Having seen both plans in detail, one could come to the conclusion that both provide excellent instruments to save for the future and save on tax at the same time. No one has to think about the timing of the tax benefitThe Timing Of The Tax BenefitTax benefits refer to the credit that a business receives on its tax liability for complying with a norm proposed by the government. The advantage is either credited back to the company after paying its regular taxation amount or deducted when paying the tax liability in the first place.read more. If an individual thinks that his/her current tax bracket is very high, then the 401(k) plan makes more sense as it lowers the taxable income and saves for the future at the same time. Whereas if the individual thinks that the ultimate goal of the savings is to have a tax-free corpus during retirement or to leave tax-free assets for the heirs, then Roth IRA is the way to go.

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