Savers are buzzing about the new Roth Individual Retirement Account. Roth IRAs start up in January and will let you take investment gains from stocks, bonds, mutual funds or savings accounts entirely tax free.

But deciding whether to use a Roth isn't as simple as it sounds.

You'll probably have at least two retirement plans to choose from. There's more than one way of calculating which plan will yield more, and the experts disagree.

The basic rules for Roth IRAs are clear. Workers can salt away up to $2,000 a year ($4,000 for married couples). You cannot tax-deduct the money. You're funding this plan with after-tax dollars.

The full contribution is available to singles with adjusted gross incomes under $95,000 and couples under $150,000. Singles can make partial contributions on incomes up to $110,000 and couples up to $160,000.

You can take out your own contribution, tax free, anytime you want. You also get the earnings tax free if you hold the IRA at least five years and withdraw the money under one of the following circumstances: you're over 59 1/2; you're taking up to $10,000 to buy a first home; you're disabled; or your heirs take the IRA after your death.

Should you use the Roth instead of some other retirement plan?

I've put together some of the things you should think about.

For employees with company 401(k) plans:

- If your company matches the money you put in, invest enough to get the maximum match.

- If you can afford to put the maximum into two retirement plans, fund a Roth IRA and a 401(k).

- If you don't get an employer match, consider putting up to $2,000 of your retirement contribution into a Roth IRA and the rest into your 401(k). (For when to make this choice, see below.)

The 401(k) retains one big advantage. Payroll deduction forces you to save the money, whereas Roth contributions depend on your personal discipline.

For the self-employed:

- You have a variety of tax-deductible plans available a simplified employee pension (SEP), a Keogh plan, and a SIMPLE IRA. All of them allow larger contributions than you'd have with a Roth.

- If you can spare enough income, put the maximum into a deductible plan and fund a Roth IRA, too.

- If you can't fund two plans in full, a Roth IRA might make sense for the first $2,000 you put aside.


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