Roth 401(k)

Roth vs. Traditional Retirement Plans

Roth vs. Traditional Retirement Plans

As more employers incorporate Roth options into work-based retirement accounts, many of you have written to ask which one is preferable. As always, the answer depends on your situation. The big difference between a traditional retirement option and a Roth is about when you pay taxes. With a traditional option, you pay in the future and with a Roth, you pay today.

Traditional or Roth 401(k)?

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We start the show this week with Shirley from D.C. who’s wondering if she should be using the Roth 401(k) that’s available to her. Most large companies nowadays offer the Roth option, the problem is that many employees aren’t familiar with what it is or how it works.

Next up was Laura from Seattle who has one main question: is our financial picture solid and sound? Sounds simple, but you guys know there’s a lot more to it than that.

Since 1973, our productivity has grown almost six times faster than our wages. Most of us rank so far below the top earners in the country that the "winners" might as well inhabit another planet.

But work is about much more than earning a living. Work gives us our identity, and a sense of purpose and place in this world. And yet, work as we know it is under siege.

Joining us today to discuss is Ellen Ruppel Shell, author of The Job: Work and Its Future in a Time of Radical Change.

Through exhaustive reporting and keen analysis, The Job reveals the startling truths and unveils the pervasive myths that have colored our thinking on one of the most urgent issues of our day: how to build good work in a globalized and digitalized world where middle class jobs seem to be slipping away.

Traveling from deep in Appalachia to the heart of the Midwestern rust belt, from a struggling custom clothing maker in Massachusetts to a thriving co-working center in Minnesota, Shell presents evidence from a wide range of disciplines to show how our educational system, our politics, and our very sense of self have been held captive to and distorted by outdated notions of what it means to get and keep a good job.

Work, in all its richness, complexity, rewards and pain, is essential for people to flourish. Ellen Ruppel Shell paints a compelling portrait of where we stand today, and points to a promising and hopeful way forward.

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Rescuing Retirement with Teresa Ghilarducci and Tony James

At a time when Congress can’t seem to agree on much, lawmakers are acknowledging that the main retirement savings vehicle, the 401(k), needs some fixing. Before you get too excited, the changes being considered are more like touch ups, rather than a complete renovation.

Early conversations include: requiring plan sponsors to let participants know how much their total savings would translate into monthly income; a repeal of the age limit on IRA contributions; a more liberal approach to pooled 401(k) plans, which would help more small businesses offer retirement benefits to their employees; and the option to use a portion of a tax refund to fund retirement.

While none of these ideas represents a game-changer for retirement savers, it would be the first major enhancement since 2006. But if lawmakers wanted to seek a more radical approach, they would consult with Teresa Ghilarducci and Tony James, co-authors of Rescuing Retirement: A Plan to Guarantee Retirement Security for All Americans, who claim that "The U.S. experiment with 401(k)s and IRAs, launched in the early 1980s, has failed miserably to deliver on its promises."

Ghilarducci, a labor economist and leading expert in retirement security, and James, Executive Vice Chairman of the investment firm Blackstone Group, have a detailed, well-researched and more extreme recommendation for rescuing the U.S. retirement system. It starts with a concept called a “Guaranteed Retirement Account” (“GRA”), which would be offered to every worker, "from Uber drivers to CEOs."

The GRA would be portable, whether you work for a number of different companies or for yourself – and each individual would control his or her account. It would be funded by a minimum 3 percent of salary, half contributed by the worker and half by the employer.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the GRA is that it fixes some of the big problems that are prevalent in current plans, the biggest of which is that right now, saving for retirement is voluntary. The GRA would mandate retirement savings for everyone, including those who work part-time or are self-employed.

If it all sounds too good to be true, I encourage you to check out the book. I was a cynic, but after reading it and interviewing Ghilarducci and James, I’m a convert.

“Better Off” is sponsored by Betterment.

Have a money question? Email me here or call 855-411-JILL.

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"Better Off" theme music is by Joel Goodman, www.joelgoodman.com.