Retirement Planning

A Guide to Retirement Savings Accounts in the US

Planning for retirement requires selecting the right savings accounts to meet your financial goals. This comprehensive guide examines the various retirement savings account options available in the United States along with their unique benefits, limitations, and considerations.

Key Takeaways:

  • Retirement savings accounts include employer-sponsored retirement plans, IRAs, and investment accounts.
  • Employer-sponsored retirement plans, such as 401(k) or 403(b) plans, offer matching contributions and higher contribution limits.
  • IRAs provide tax benefits and offer a wide range of investment options, including mutual funds and ETFs.
  • Traditional IRAs allow for tax-deductible contributions, while Roth IRAs allow for tax-free withdrawals in retirement.
  • SEP IRAs and SIMPLE IRAs are suitable for self-employed individuals and small business owners, with SEP IRAs having higher contribution limits and SIMPLE IRAs providing employer matching contributions.

Overview of Retirement Savings Accounts

The main accounts used for retirement savings include:

  • Employer-sponsored retirement plans (401k, 403b)
  • Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs)
  • Self-Employed Retirement Accounts (SEP IRA, SIMPLE IRA)
  • Taxable Investment Accounts

Each type of account provides different advantages in terms of tax benefits, investment options, contribution limits, and more. Evaluating all options based on your specific retirement needs and goals is key to creating your savings strategy.

Employer-Sponsored Retirement Plans

Employer-sponsored plans like 401(k)s and 403(b)s allow employees to contribute directly from their paycheck into a retirement account. The employer may also make matching contributions up to a set limit.

Key Benefits

  • Matching Contributions – Free extra retirement savings from employer.
  • Higher Limits – Contribute more per year than IRAs.
  • Convenience – Automatic contributions from paycheck.


  • Limited investment options set by plan.
  • Changes jobs may require rolling over funds.
  • Penalties for early withdrawal before retirement age.

Contribution Limits

Plan2021 LimitOver 50 Catch-Up

Taking full advantage of employer match maximizes these plans.

Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs)

IRAs allow individuals to contribute to tax-advantaged retirement savings accounts each year outside of work. There are two main types – traditional and Roth IRAs.

Traditional IRAs

  • Contributions are tax-deductible.
  • Withdrawals taxed as income in retirement.
  • Wide investment options like stocks, bonds, mutual funds.

Roth IRAs

  • No tax deduction for contributions.
  • Qualified withdrawals are tax-free in retirement.
  • Flexibility in withdrawing contributions anytime.

IRA Contribution Limits

IRA Type2021 LimitOver 50 Catch-Up
Traditional IRA$6,000$1,000
Roth IRA$6,000$1,000

Lower income limits apply for deducting traditional IRA contributions.

Self-Employed Retirement Accounts

Self-employed individuals and small business owners can save for retirement using SEP or SIMPLE IRAs.


  • High contribution limits up to $58,000 per year.
  • Allows contributions for employees.
  • Minimal administrative requirements.


  • Mandatory employer contributions/matching.
  • Lower administrative burden than 401(k).
  • Limited to small businesses with under 100 employees.

SEP IRAs suit those with high self-employment income, while SIMPLE IRAs make it easy for small employers to offer retirement plans.

Taxable Investment Accounts

Taxable accounts don’t have the tax benefits of dedicated retirement accounts but provide more flexibility.


  • No contribution limits.
  • No penalties for early withdrawals.
  • Greater control over investments.
  • Can take advantage of long-term capital gains tax rates.


  • No tax benefits for contributions.
  • Investment earnings taxed.
  • Capital gains taxes applied on profitable investments sold.

Taxable accounts supplement other retirement savings vehicles once limits are maxed out.

Choosing the Right Accounts

Consider these key factors when selecting retirement savings accounts:

  • Income – Higher earners can maximize SEP IRAs.
  • Tax Situation – Weigh current vs. future tax scenarios.
  • Investment Goals – Growth, income, or conservative?
  • Risk Tolerance – Willingness and ability to accept risk.
  • Employer Plan Availability – Take advantage of any available work plans.

Diversifying across account types helps optimize advantages and mitigate risks.

Maximizing Retirement Savings

Follow these tips to turbocharge retirement savings:

  • Contribute up to annual limits – Don’t leave any money on the table.
  • Claim full employer match – Maximize free retirement funds.
  • Use catch-up contributions if 50+ – Add up to $7,000 more to accounts per year.
  • Rebalance investments over time – Manage risk as retirement needs change.
  • Review asset allocation – Diversify investments in each account.
  • Consider tax implications – Balance pre-tax and after-tax savings vehicles.


With employer-sponsored plans, IRAs, self-employed accounts, and taxable investment accounts, individuals have various options to save for retirement. It’s important to understand the unique benefits, limitations, and tradeoffs of each type of account. Assessing your financial situation and retirement goals allows you to create the optimal strategy. Using all available tools and maximizing contributions gives you the best chance for a comfortable retirement.