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Your 5-Step Guide to Scoring Big Tax Savings

Too many people go through most of their careers before seriously thinking about saving for retirement. The longer you wait, the harder it'll be to reach your financial goals. But fortunately, it's not difficult to get started -- and you'll even find that there are big incentives to getting on the road to a more prosperous retirement today.

As long as you worked and earned income during 2019, then you'll be able to use an IRA to help you set aside a retirement nest egg. Moreover, you don't have to worry about getting your 2019 IRA started by Dec. 31, because the rules give you some extra time. However, the sooner you start moving forward, the easier it'll be to build positive momentum and build your retirement savings over time. The following five-step plan will get you started in no time.

1. Pick your IRA provider

IRAs are some of the most flexible retirement accounts available. There are almost limitless investment options, letting you open an IRA at a bank, brokerage company, mutual fund provider, insurance agency, or money management firm.

Image source: Getty Images.

The key thing to remember, though, is that not every financial institution can offer you every available investment. For instance, insurance companies typically emphasize insurance products for IRAs, so if you want to invest in individual stocks and bonds, you might be happier with a brokerage company. Similarly, banks sometimes limit you to traditional banking products like CDs in an IRA. If you know how you want to invest, it should make it easier for you to pick an IRA provider that'll get the job done for you.

2. Roth or regular?

The next step is to pick from the two types of IRAs. Regular or traditional IRAs are more popular, as they offer many investors an up-front tax deduction for contributions. Roth IRAs get a little less love because you don't get a tax deduction for contributing to one, but the benefit there is that withdrawals in retirement are typically free of income tax entirely.

Deciding which type makes sense for you requires looking at your own financial situation and seeing how much an up-front deduction from a traditional IRA might be worth compared to the future tax savings of a Roth. Also, some high-income taxpayers aren't allowed to contribute to Roth IRAs, but traditional IRAs are still open to them. Lastly, keep in mind that you could open two separate accounts for the same year, one Roth and one regular, as long as your total contributions are under the yearly limit.

3. Find the funds

The contribution limits for IRAs in 2019 are $6,000 if you're younger than 50, or $7,000 if you're 50 or older. However, you can never contribute more than your earned income for the year.

There's no requirement to fund your IRA all at the same time, and you don't have to contribute the maximum amount. Many people find that making automatic contributions is the best way to stick with a savings plan.

4. Get the paperwork done

Different providers have different processes for opening an IRA. The real key here is to understand that it won't necessarily be an instantaneous process, so waiting until the deadline is a risky proposition. Many IRA providers allow people to open accounts over the internet fairly quickly, but the big question is whether you can get required documentation into your provider's hands fast enough to open the account.

The best option is to avoid the mad rush of people trying to get in on the tax savings from IRAs at the last minute. That way, if something gets messed up, there'll still be time to get it fixed.

5. Fund your IRA

Once the IRA is open and your money's available, the last thing you have to do is get the money into the account. The deadline for 2019 IRA contributions is April 15, 2020. So starting Jan. 1, you could make a combined contribution that covered both the 2019 and 2020 tax years if you wanted.

Why wait?

There's still time before you lose the ability to make a 2019 IRA contribution, but there's no need to wait. Start your IRA today, and you'll be well on your way toward a more prosperous retirement.

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