Jan 19 2017

A case for maxing out IRAs in the beginning of the year

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When do you contribute to your IRA?

When we were getting started, we were contributing up to the last possible day because that’s all we could do. Couldn’t even max out, but it was something. Then, we shifted to regular contributions throughout the year. I’ve since come across some compelling arguments for maxing out your IRA in a lump sum as soon as possible in the tax year.

If you have the extra money and you’re intending to invest it at some point, consider whether doing it ASAP makes sense.

You have several options for when to make your IRA contributions.

  1. You could send the maximum ($5,500 for those under age 50; $6,500 for those age 50+) on the first day of business in the eligible calendar year, so January 3, 2017 for 2017 contributions.
  2. You could make even, regular contributions throughout the year. One way might be twice monthly, so $5,500/24 = $229.16. Or, spreading it out even more and taking 15.5 months or so to do it from January – April (a 15.5 month span). $5,500/31 = $177. This approach is dollar-cost averaging. If you don’t yet have the funds, but will at each paycheck to make a contribution, this option makes the most sense.
  3. You could make deposits any other number of times, perhaps when you have a tax refund or a quarterly bonus.
  4. You could send the maximum $5,500 on the last eligible day of the tax year, which is Tuesday, April 17, 2018 for 2017 contributions.

Is there a best approach? Well, the best is doing it, period, even if it isn’t optimal timing. Do what you can with what you have.

But if you’re already sitting on $5,500 in your savings account and it is earmarked for your IRA anyway, models suggest it is best to invest it in full right away. The reason? The full amount is invested for the longest possible period, a full 15 months more than if you invested it all on the last possible day. It’s 15 months more of potential growth and dividends. Over time, the impact can be substantial. It even usually beats dollar-cost averaging throughout the year.

Betterment ran a model on early IRA contributions vs later using data from the last 100 years, and saw over a 10-year span, the impact of contributing the max on the first possible day resulted in a $14,504 average increase. And that’s just 10 years! Go look at that fascinating article and graphs. Some 10-year spans were particularly booming, with $40k more in accounts by investing on Jan. 1 than 15 months later. Seriously?!

There were some down years and I bet you won’t be surprised to hear they were during the Great Depression and again in the recession of 2008. C’est la vie.

Coming in 2nd place: making regular contributions throughout the year. Still a solid option if you can’t max it out as soon as possible.

For more, see:

As for me, my husband and I have maxed out our IRAs for 2016, but we didn’t do it until early 2017. Due to some cash-flow issues at his work, we stopped our regular IRA contributions for awhile for the sake of hoarding cash. It was a borderline emergency with him uh, not getting paid for awhile (don’t get me started). We had to think for the short-term and I’m good with that choice.

Now that the work situation is turning around, we’re back to investing at Vanguard (love their low fees and index funds!). If the rest of January goes as expected, I plan to fully fund both IRAs for 2017 by the end of the month. The same goes for our strategy for our kids’ 529s. They’re now getting a lump contribution in January and more will follow in one-off situations (a portion from bonuses or gifts or whatnot).

401(k) or other employer-sponsored retirement

If your employer offers a retirement plan and has a match, the mathematically better solution is to make even, regular contributions throughout the year so to capture the greatest employer match. If you did the full $18,000 in oh, the first 3 months of the year (you high-roller, you!) it is likely that your employer would only do the match for your salary for those 3 months, rather than your full 12-month salary. I’m of the persuasion that it makes more sense to get the entire employer match in this case. Check with your HR department.

No match? Well, getting it done ASAP makes sense then for the same reasons as the IRA.

P.S. — thank you to Jayme who reached out to me on Facebook to discuss some different possibilities regarding retirement investments! I’m always delighted to chat with anyone about personal finance.


Posted under Retirement | Comments Off on A case for maxing out IRAs in the beginning of the year
Apr 25 2012

Our plan for maxing out our IRAs this year

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We don’t have any huge financial goals right now, so we thought we’d set one: maxing out both of our IRAs. We’re already contributing to retirement, but we figure more is better while we’re young and don’t have other pressing needs. We skipped out on IRA contributions for most of 2011, so we’d like to catch up.

We’re putting a little bit extra toward our mortgage (since even small contributions make a big impact) and we’re contributing some to our kids’ 529 college plans.

For our age, we can each contribute $5,000 to our IRAs. We’ll have until tax day in April 2013 to make all of our 2012 contributions.

We set up automatic transfers from our bank to our IRAs at Vanguard, to occur a few days after each payday.

Until recently, we were contributing $116/each biweekly ($3,016/year).

The other day, I adjusted our automatic contribution to $125/each biweekly. Bumping it by just $9 means an extra $234 per account, or $3,250.

Even increasing our contribution by $4 on a biweekly basis would add $104 more per year.

Shane was blessed to receive a cost-of-living raise effective in his most recent paycheck. We took most of the increased amount and set up an automatic bi-weekly transfer to go to a new sub-account at our bank at ING Direct. The sub-account is labeled “IRA.”

Bi-weekly, $50 will go to the IRA sub-account. In a year’s time, we’ll have $1,300 there plus a few dollars in interest.

Why not put that $50 in our IRAs at Vanguard from the get-go?

Well, I’d like to have a little bit of a buffer. If the tax laws and credits change this year, it would be nice to have some additional money in savings so we can pay our taxes if we need to. Or, we could use the money for another purpose (like a medical deductible). If nothing comes up between now and then, we’ll put $650 in each IRA.

That brings us to a hypothetical $3,900 in each IRA. “Just” $1,100 each to go.

It sounds like a lot of extra money to scrape together, especially when we’re already doing our darnedest to save.

Before I calculated the exact dollar amount, it was so vague that it wasn’t even a goal. Now, we know we need to come up with an extra $2,200 somewhere, total.

Shane will have a third paycheck in June and again in November. After all the other bills and savings goals are accounted for in those months, we should have a few hundred dollars available to put in the IRA (or IRA savings fund, whichever).

Second, he is supposed to receive a bonus twice per year. Assuming that goes as scheduled, we’ll be able to tap some of the bonus money for the IRA. If the bonus goes away, well…we weren’t counting on it for something critical so it’ll be ok. We’ll be disappointed, but we’ll be ok. :)

Other income sources to fund the remaining $2,200:

  • My blog earnings. It’s drying up fast over here, though and I think it has to do with the “big G’s” search changes. Ugh.
  • Selling unwanted things on eBay, as always
  • Our tax refund from 2011, assuming we don’t spend it all elsewhere we’re replacing our kitchen countertops and doing some things to the yard) and then our medical expenses from a few days ago.
I think we can do it. And if not, well, we’re no worse off than before.
[This post was included in the Carnival of Personal Finance #359 and the Carnival of Retirement #17]


Hey! I'm Kacie, wife and mother of 3. I write about my family's finance: how we save money, improve our spending, and plan for the future.

I hope I can inspire and encourage you to improve your situation. See disclosure.

I'm adopting a much slower-paced posting schedule, and treating this as a hobby blog now.

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