The Roth IRA is misnamed.
It's not that it honors the wrong person or is a snoozer of a moniker.
It's the Individual Retirement Arrangement part. It's so much more than a retirement account.
It's time to stop thinking of a Roth IRA as a retirement account. Instead, think of it as a versatile savings accounts: savings for emergencies, college, home and heirs.
First, a Roth IRA is a no-brainer for any young adult. It's also a no-brainer for your minor children, as the Military Guide and Parenting Family Money point out. A Roth IRA allows them to have their contributions grow tax-free and to withdraw the savings tax-free after age 59 1/2 . If they want.
Such tax-free withdrawals are especially appealing in view of the huge national debt, for which we'll likely require higher tax rates to pay down, as Personal Finance by the Book points out.
It's true that unlike with traditional IRAs, you can't deduct Roth IRA contributions from taxes. The tradeoff is that your withdrawals are tax-free in retirement, which should be much more valuable.
How can Roth IRAs be used to save? Let us count the ways:
*Emergency savings account. Aside from tax-free withdrawals in retirement, here's the other big Roth IRA advantage: You can always withdraw your Roth IRA contributions. There's no waiting period. There's no penalty. What you put in is always yours to take out, largely because you've already paid taxes on it.
*Home savings account. You can use up to $10,000 in principal or earnings from a Roth IRA to buy a home, provided you've had the money in your Roth IRA for five years and you haven't owned a home in two years. Your spouse can also put $10,000 of a Roth IRA toward the same home. That's up to $20,000 for a down payment.
*Backup college savings account. Remember, you can always withdraw your contributions. You can also withdraw earnings on education-related expenses for yourself or extended family members without paying a 10 percent penalty, provided you've held the Roth IRA for five years. You'll pay taxes on the earnings amounts, though.
*Inheritance account for heirs. You don't have to take required minimum withdrawals after you turn 70 1/2 , so you can pass on a large account balance in your Roth IRA to your beneficiaries. Their withdrawals, or distributions, also are tax-free, provided they follow the rules.
Another emergency savings aspect: You can also avoid paying the 10 percent early distribution penalty on Roth IRA withdrawals if you use the money toward health insurance premiums while you're unemployed, medical expenses that exceed 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income or to set up distributions of equal and periodic payments over the course of the rest of your life. Before undertaking that last option, talk with a financial planner or tax consultant.
For details on Roth IRAs, read the IRS rules for Roths in Publication 590. Also, My Dollar Plan offers unusual Roth IRA strategies.