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Should I start a Roth IRA in college or when I get my first job?

Asked Severna Park, Maryland

1 answer

Dhairya’s Answer

Updated Boston, Massachusetts

Hi Hannah,

Great question and good job being proactive with your finances. It's always a good idea to start saving early and a Roth IRA is great long term savings vehicle.


If you have money saved up today, it's not a bad idea to put away a portion into a Roth IRA. Just be careful that its money you won't require near future (e.g. bills or emergencies). Once you put money into a Roth IRA, you won't be able withdraw make withdrawals until the account matures around retirement age (currently 59 for Roth IRA). Technically you can withdraw funds earlier, but it'll be expensive as you'll pay penalty on top of the taxes for funds you've withdrawn.


If you want to be less risk averse, you can wait till you have a job and put save a portion of your paycheck to the Roth IRA. This way you'll be a steadier stream of income and more flexibility in how you save.


In general though, the earlier you start a Roth IRA, the better because of the compound interest effects.


Also here's my general strategy for finances which maybe helpful. I have four accounts.

  • The first is my checking account, which my paychecks get direct deposited to. I like to keep enough money in here that I can pay bills for the next 2 -3 months (rent, electricity, and groceries). That usually accounts for about 50 % of my paycheck.
  • The second is hight yield savings account. This is a different bank than my checking account, and the money in here I never touch. The interest rate on this account is about 1.5% and its main purpose to be emergency cash reserves. If I lose my job, or get injured and anything happens, this account will protect me. I usually deposit about 30% goes my paycheck here.
  • The third is a Roth IRA and my companies 401k. 10% of my paycheck is automatically deposited to the 401k. And I try contribute the max allowed to the Roth IRA each year.
  • The last is more riskier investment account. About 10% of my paycheck goes into an ETF funds managed by a robot (e.g. Wealthfront, Betterment, etc) that track the index. In general passive investing has shown to be very effective in the long run and generally a conservative strategy. However, in the short term the volatility of the market can have a direct impact on the funds. So I'm careful to put money here only after I saved cash for bill and my rainy day found.

Dhairya recommends the following next steps:

  • Read more about Roth IRAs here: https://www.investopedia.com/university/retirementplans/rothira/
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