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The Best IRA Accounts
Ultimate Buyers Guide

The Best IRA Accounts

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An IRA or individual retirement account is a tool used by individuals to set aside money for retirement. They offer a solid retirement option, especially to those who don't have access to a 401(k).

I've reviewed the best IRA accounts to make your quest for the most lucrative investment a bit easier. Analyze the advantages and disadvantages of each one in relation to your current economic status.

The Best IRA Accounts: Our Top Picks

TradeKing Review

  • Pros
  • Very low trade fees
  • Low trade commissions
  • No account minimum
  • No set-up/ annual fees
  • Use-friendly website
  • Cons
  • $50 fee for opening and closing account
  • Customer service only available on weekdays
  • Low BBB Rating

TradeKing is a discount online broker, where you can fund your IRA with mutual funds, stocks and more for very low trading fees. They offer an excellent variety of mutual funds. There are some account fees that can crop up, such as a $50 annual fee if your IRA account balance falls under $2,500. There is a termination fee of $50 if you close your account.

TD Ameritrade Review

  • Pros
  • Virtual trading options to help practice strategies
  • Third party investment research
  • Excellent platforms
  • Reliable customer service
  • Cons
  • Some high fees

TD Ameritrade is renowned as a full service online broker who gets it right. They offer great service and superior online tools and resources. While their fees are on the high end, some features are included for free that discount brokers might charge for, such as live streaming quotes. TD Ameritrade is a great choice for an IRA invested in mutual funds for the long term.

Scottrade Review

  • Pros
  • Excellent customer service
  • No fees for account maintenance/inactivity
  • 3,000+ mutual funds to choose from
  • 500+ local branches
  • IRA calculator
  • Cons
  • 0.5% of principal value commission for stocks under $1

Scottrade is an online broker offering traditional and Roth IRA accounts with over 3000 mutual funds to choose from, no account maintenance fee and excellent customer service. The trading fees are reasonable, right between the discount and full service brokers, and the online knowledge center keeps investors up to date on maximizing their returns.

Betterment Review

  • Pros
  • Lower fees the more you invest
  • Excellent customer service
  • No minimum deposit
  • Intuitive technology
  • Cons
  • Percentage fees can be high

Betterment sets up IRA accounts via its online Retirement Guide, conducting a complete analysis of your retirement goals and financial situation. They fund your IRA account according to your needs via their ingenious in-house software, maximizing results while charging a tiny percentage of your balance for the service. For balances of less than $10,000, you must auto deposit $100 per month, or face a $3 per month fee.

OptionsHouse Review

  • Pros
  • Low stock trading fees
  • No custodial fees
  • Designed around options platforms
  • Good mobile management
  • Low contract fees and commissions
  • Cons
  • Very little mutual fund access
  • High fees for trading within mutual funds
  • $20 fee to close IRA

OptionsHouse is another discount online broker offering IRA accounts. They are a great option if you are an active trader, with their low fees per trade. OptionsHouse offers online tools geared towards developing trading strategies, and also hosts a virtual account for trading practice. OptionsHouse does not offer a large variety of mutual funds.

Key Considerations When Looking for an IRA Account

The best IRA accounts and 401(k)s share many similarities which is why Americans often confuse the two. An IRA differs from a 401(k) in that the latter is provided by your employer or company whereas the most common IRAs (Traditional and Roth) are opened by the individual. 68% of working age Americans do not use employer - provided savings plans.

1. Personal Income

Your personal income has a significant impact on whether you should opt for a Traditional IRA account or Roth IRA. Take a look at your income and filing status to determine which type of account you're eligible for. As income rises, you may be ineligible for a Roth IRA. For those who are married filing jointly, at a modified gross adjusted income (MAGI) of $183,000, your ability to contribute to a Roth IRA is gradually reduced, and at a MAGI OF $193,000, you are ineligible for the Roth account.

Those with single filing status see their contributions gradually reduced for a Roth IRA at a MAGI of $116,000, and they become ineligible for a Roth IRA when they hit a MAGI of $131,000. Over these income limits, you must contribute to a traditional IRA instead.

2. Variety of Investment Products

Look for a provider which offers a variety of investment products to choose from. One of the best benefits of funding an IRA account vs. a 401k is that you typically have more diverse investment options rather than be limited to the selections that your employer has chosen for the 401k plan. Diversification is the name of the game so allocate your funds strategically.

The best IRA account providers profiled here offer an excellent range of investment products, but they also offer different styles of managing your investments. The time-honored, typical IRA investment strategy is to define the level of risk you are comfortable with and choose a mutual fund at that risk level to fund your IRA account with. Younger savers tend to tolerate more risk, while older savers closing in on retirement age look to less risky mutual funds and investments.

Some providers like Betterment offer tools to assess your retirement strategy, and once you define your savings goals and level of risk tolerance, they do the rest for you, adjusting the mix of funds in your account to maximize returns over the long haul.

Other providers like OptionsHouse allow IRA account holders to actively trade stocks, mutual funds and other investment products to fund their retirement accounts with. They facilitate the active trader by offer discount trading fees. Those who actively trade to fund their IRA accounts encounter a higher level of risk as they try to beat the market.

3. Low Custodial/Account Fees

Custodial fees are the fiscal amount a financial organization or brokerage charges a client to hold onto their securities. There are a range of fee structures from these IRA account providers. Some are discount online brokers, like TradeKing, opening the door for active traders with low fees for individual trades. Discount brokers may charge fees for other items beyond making trades, so be sure to review the details of their fee structure before opening an account.

Others are full-service brokers with a full range of sophisticated tools and educational resources like TD Ameritrade. The trading fees are higher, but some clients feel that the overall resources and customer support are worth the extra money.

While we're discussing fees, also inquire about any introductory offers on new accounts or rollovers. These offers come and go, but can be quite lucrative when in force.

Types of IRAs

There are several types of IRA accounts, the most common being the Traditional IRA and the Roth IRA. There is also the SEP IRA, offering distinct advantages to the self-employed.

What is a Traditional IRA?

A Traditional IRA account allows you to deposit cash and have that money sheltered from taxes until it's withdrawn. In other words, you'll watch your tax-deferred earnings grow over time. This has a number of benefits including the ability to keep dividends, any income earned from interest and the capital gains, without the need to pay the IRS.

When you withdraw the money you'll then be taxed at your then income tax level. If, for whatever reason, you decide to withdraw money before you hit 59 ½, you'll be penalized by an additional 10 percent on top of the income taxes you will pay.

What is a Roth IRA?

A Roth IRA is available to individuals who have "earned income" in the sense that they're working or earning wages from a salary or business at the time of the contribution. Unlike a traditional IRA, however, this type of account has income limits for the amount you can contribute.

Since you fund the account with dollars you've already paid taxes on (and therefore receive no up-front tax breaks) when it's withdrawn at retirement you do not pay taxes on it.

You can contribute a combined total of up to $5,500 to all your Traditional and Roth IRA accounts in a given year. Those aged 50 and up can contribute up to $6,500 per year.

What is a SEP IRA?

A SEP IRA, or simplified employee pension, is a straightforward way to establish pre-tax retirement savings for the self-employed. You can contribute up to 25 percent of your net self-employment income, up to a maximum of up to $53,000 (for 2015 and 2016), quite a bit more than the contribution limits on Traditional or Roth IRA accounts.

The SEP IRA offers the flexibility to wait until you file your return to fund the account. Depending on the ups and downs of your business, you can settle on your yearly retirement savings contribution at the last minute.

What is a Simple IRA?

A SIMPLE IRA, or a savings incentive match plan for employees, is very similar to a 401(k). This type of IRA can be offered by employers or accessed by self-employed individuals. Employees make pre-tax contributions to the account and employers match their contribution.

What is a Rollover IRA?

A Rollover IRA is a retirement account that allows you to move existing IRAs and 401(k) funds into a new account. This is often used to combine several IRA accounts into one larger fund.

Roth IRA vs Traditional IRA

With a traditional individual retirement account (IRA), you can make tax-deferred (pre-tax) contributions to a specific account while working, with the hope that the account's balance will grow substantially by the time you retire. A Roth IRA allows you to make contributions that are not tax-deductible, meaning you fund a Roth IRA with your net income.

To determine whether you should look for the best Roth IRA provider or whether a traditional IRA would do the trick, go through all features of both features, apply them to your situation, seek help from a specialist if investing and taxation are not your forte, and make a decision that meshes well with your budget and existing financial condition.

IRA Contribution Limits

  • Roth IRA: You can contribute sums to the account up to the year's regular threshold. There is a catch-up contribution the law grants to people who are age 50 or older by the end of the year.
  • Traditional IRA: Same thing.


  • Roth IRA: You can never deduct contributions you made.
  • Traditional IRA: You can deduct contributions, depending on your income, status when filing your income tax return, and active participant status. According to Internal Revenue Service directives, you are an active participant if you are enrolled in a company-sponsored retirement plan, such as a qualified annuity plan, SIMPLE IRA or SEP IRA.

Mandated Minimum Distribution

  • Roth IRA: As an account owner, you are not subject to mandated minimum distribution rules, also called required minimum distribution rules – but your beneficiaries are.
  • Traditional IRA: When you turn 70 ½, you can start distributing small amounts of your IRA beginning April 1 of the following year.

Distribution Procedures

  • Roth IRA: You can take distributions at any time, and you do not pay taxes and penalties on the withdrawals if qualified. Penalty-free distributions include unreimbursed health care costs, disability, medical insurance, home purchases and inherited IRA assets.
  • Traditional IRA: You can take distributions whenever you want. If you are age 59 ½ or younger, you would pay income tax on the distribution because the IRS would treat the earnings are ordinary income.

IRA Investment Income

  • Roth IRA: Income you earn on your IRA assets is tax deferred. You don't pay taxes on qualified distributions, such as money you fork over to treat disability.
  • Traditional IRA: Income also grows tax-deferred but is added to your taxable income in the year when the distribution occurs.

Income Limits for Contributions

  • Roth IRA: You may be subject to income caps for the contribution that the IRS periodically updates. Check the agency's website and ask your investment adviser to learn more about the limits you could face.
  • Traditional IRA: Depending on your income, you would not be subject to income caps for contribution. Again, the best way to determine whether you are subject to caps is to enquire with your investment advisor or IRA plan administrator.

You should do a quick "compare and contrast" analysis to determine whether looking for the best Roth IRA providers or a traditional IRA is more advantageous to your situation. To make a fast and effective determination, pay attention to things like contribution limits, deductibility, and required minimum distribution. Other elements to heed include distribution procedures, income limits for contributions, and how to treat earnings derived from your Roth IRA or traditional IRA.

In a nutshell, just remember that you make a pre-tax contribution to a traditional IRA and you pay taxes upon withdrawal, whereas in a Roth IRA scheme, you make contributions from your take-home pay but the withdrawals are tax-free – subject, of course, to myriad rules the IRS has implemented over the years.

Customer Satisfaction

Access to a team of certified and trained representatives is central to your own personal satisfaction. Whether they have local branches you can visit or are available via telephone or the web, communication is key. You should feel like the company is doing the best they can to keep you informed and up-to-date on your earnings. Scottrade has over 500 local offices, the most of any online broker.

Before opening an IRA account, review the customer service options of each company you are considering, visiting their customer service and FAQ pages. Check into customer ratings and feedback on their customer service record.

After many hours of research and analyzing, I've collated all providers into a list of the best IRA accounts for this year.

Tips & Advice

As you consider your options for opening an IRA account, take a few minutes to explore our advice guides to round out your knowledge on the ins-and-outs of individual retirement accounts. Here are a few examples of what to consider prior to opening an IRA, and choosing investments to fund it with:

  • Is the lowest fee IRA really the best deal? Certainly, you want to keep the fees and trading commissions associated with your IRA account to a minimum, but also consider choices of financial product to invest in, and the fit of any IRA account provider with your financial situation and goals as you look for the best low-fee IRA account.
  • Is a SEP IRA the right choice for you? It may be just the thing if you are self-employed and enjoy a high income, as you can contribute up to 25% of your net earnings to a SEP IRA. If you have employees, watch out, as you may be required to contribute an employer's share to their SEP-IRAs. Check into what is a SEP IRA to see if it will work for your financial situation.
  • Certainly, it's a great idea to maximize your retirement savings via an IRA account, but what other moves can you make as you plan for retirement? Have you considered investing in real estate? Here's our guide to three smart ways to plan for retirement.
  • As you consider which type of IRA account to open, it's important to look at Traditional vs. Roth IRAs and scrutinize the pros and cons of each as they relate to your financial situation and retirement goals.
  • Are you familiar with the details of your 401k retirement account offered by your employer? Your company's human resources department should have all the pertinent info you need, but the onus is on you to ensure that you are taking advantage of all the features of your 401k. If you do not have a 401k account, take a look at your options for saving for retirement without a 401k.
  • Those who decide to set up a traditional IRA account can read through our tips on making it work for your financial situation and retirement goals, including how to pick a mutual fund in line with your risk tolerance and overall savings goal.
  • While an IRA account is a key element in your retirement, don't neglect to do your estate planning to ensure ease of transition for your family and heirs. Take a few moments to read our article on simple steps to making a will.
  • As you plan your retirement, make a checklist of expenses you'll need to cover. These include medical expenses, housing and vacation costs, and possibly even care of your elderly parents. Here's our primer on retirement expenses to look out for.


Become familiar with the pros and cons of each of the five providers mentioned here before making your decision on which company to choose for your IRA account. Take into consideration their fee structures, investment options, and educational and customer service tools.

Some people enjoy a full-service broker offering a lot of help and a huge array of mutual funds, while others will want a bare-bones discount broker allowing them to trade actively for low fees. I've found that there are a few options that present viable solutions for both financial situations and retirement scenarios.

If you are looking for short-term savings accounts, take a look at our review of the best online savings accounts or our look at the best CD rates. These options give you a place to keep your money for shorter periods to earn minimal returns.

IRA Accounts FAQs

Q What is an Individual Retirement Account?


An individual retirement account (IRA) is an individually owned account at a financial institution, designed to help a person save for retirement. IRAs can be traditional, meaning they are tax-deferred, or Roth, meaning they allow for tax-free growth. A person can use the money he or she puts in an IRA to purchase stocks, bonds or mutual funds. The money can also be placed in a savings account or CD.

Q How do you set up a retirement fund


To set up a retirement fund, you first need to decide between a traditional (tax-deferred) or Roth account. A traditional fund means lower taxes now, a Roth means lower taxes in retirement. Next, you need to find a financial institution. Choose a bank or institution that has low fees and low minimum requirements. Open the account and make your first contribution to get it started.

Q Do I have an IRA?


You only have an IRA if you have taken the steps needed to open an account. Not everyone qualifies for an IRA. You need to have some form of earned income to make contributions to an IRA, for example. If you have a retirement plan at your job and earn more than a certain amount, you might not qualify for a traditional IRA.

Q When did IRA accounts start?


The traditional IRA was first created in 1974 by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. Under the act, individuals were allowed to set aside up to $1,500 per year in a tax deferred account. The Roth IRA was introduced in 1997 under the Taxpayer Relief Act. In 2010, a new type of IRA, called myRA, was created.



Q What's the difference between a Roth IRA and a Traditional IRA?


There are a number of differences between a Roth IRA and a Traditional IRA, and it is important for you to understand those differences, as they will have an impact on not only your tax situation but also your investment returns over time. The biggest differentiation between the two is their income limits.

As long as you are under the age of 70 ½, and you earn an income, you can contribute to a Traditional IRA. If your income is below a certain level based on your household, you can even take a tax deduction up to a specific amount on your tax return. If you earn above that threshold, you can still contribute up to the specific allowable contribution every year. You will not have the tax deduction; however, your investments will grow tax-protected until you begin to withdraw from the account at which point, if you are beyond the age of 59 ½ your withdrawal will be taxed as income based on your current income tax percentage.

Roth IRA accounts, though, have income specifications based on your marital status. If you meet the income threshold, then you are eligible to contribute up to the maximum allowable amount each year, and your investments will not only grow in a tax protected environment like the Traditional IRA; but also when you reach the age of 59 ½ and wish to withdraw from this account, your withdrawals will not be taxed as income as they would with the Traditional IRA.

With both of these accounts, there are contribution limits that may change at any time and are based on your age and income level in the case of the Roth IRA. If you need to withdraw funds before you reach 59 ½, there is a 10% penalty with the Traditional IRA unless the funds are used for a specifically allowed purpose like a first time home purchase or your child's education. In addition, the withdrawal will be taxed as income. If you withdraw funds before 59 ½ from your Roth IRA, there is not a penalty or tax on the contributions; however, you will be taxed on your earnings portion.

Q Should I invest in a Roth IRA or a Traditional IRA?


The biggest question someone is asking when they ask this question is do I want to pay taxes now or do I want to pay them later? Whether you invest in a Traditional IRA or a Roth IRA, both accounts allow you to invest in a tax-protected environment the entire time the funds remain in the account. With a Traditional IRA, depending on your income, you may have the ability to receive a tax deduction on your contribution which saves you tax money immediately and this tax money saved can be invested and grown over a period of time. After you reach the age of 59 ½, though, and start taking withdrawals from your Traditional IRA, you will be taxed on those withdrawals at your income tax rate at the time.

With a Roth IRA, you are investing post tax earnings into the retirement vehicle; however, after the age of 59 ½ if you decide to take withdrawals on your account, those withdrawals will not be taxed at all. Therefore, if you think that you may have higher taxes later on in life, it might make sense for you to contribute to a Roth IRA today. If you think that your taxes may be lower in the future than they are today, then the Traditional IRA may be the solution for you.

It's important to note, though, that any time before 70 ½ you can contribute to a Traditional IRA, although you may not always have the tax benefit. However, the Roth IRA has specific income restrictions based on your marital status and if you expect your income to exceed those restrictions, then a Roth IRA may not be an option for you in the future and it might make sense to take advantage of it while you can.

Q Is a minor eligible to contribute to the IRA?


A child can have a minor IRA, provided he or she has earned income. The account is to be opened by a guardian or a parent in the name of the minor. The minor IRA can be opened as either a Roth or traditional account with a maximum contribution of $5,500 or an equivalent of 100% of the earned income or which comes first.

Q Can my spouse have an IRA?


It is possible for a non-working spouse to pass the eligibility test. He or she can open either a Roth or traditional IRA. However, the maximum contribution he or she can make to the account is $5,500.

Q What's the importance of having an IRA?


The IRA will help you make gradual savings that will be of importance to you once you retire. The money can help you invest, educate your children and cater for your upkeep during old age.

Q Is it possible to invest in both a Roth and Traditional IRA?


It is possible to invest in the two accounts so long as the total contribution amount doesn't exceed the maximum annual contribution. This has made it possible for the earlier users of the Traditional IRA to maintain both accounts.

Q What is the maximum amount to an IRA?


In one financial year, one should have a maximum contribution limit of $5500 and a maximum catch-up contribution limit of $1000.

Q When is the deadline date to make my contribution to the IRA?


The deadline date to make a contribution to your account is on April 15. This date comes after the end of each financial or fiscal year of the company.

Q Is it possible to convert my traditional IRA to a Roth IRA?


Since the lift of the $100,000 income eligibility cap in 2010, it is possible to convert a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. This clause also favored the married individuals who may be willing to convert their IRA.

Q Suppose I take a distribution from my IRA, can I replace the funds and evade a penalty?


With a rollover of only one time in a year, one can replace the distribution funds after sixty days from the day of withdrawing without incurring a penalty 9. Is it advisable to invest in the IRA or the company sponsored retirement plan Though a company-sponsored retirement plan is the best scheme for employees, it is advisable for one to have a look at the IRA options because they have some desirable schemes.

Q Who is eligible to contribute towards an IRA?


A traditional IRA is accessible to anyone under the age of seventy and a half years and with an earned income. A Roth IRA can be owned by anyone with an earned income regardless of his or her age. The open scope of incorporating all ages in the Roth IRA has given it more popularity and hence adopted by many people. In conclusion, having a traditional or Roth IRA is a noble idea to prepare for your retirement.

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