As an Investor, if you want to get the New Year off to a good start, consider fully funding your IRA right away. It’s a smart move that can pay off for you — perhaps even more than you’d think.
You’ve got until April 15 to put in the maximum of $3,000 (or $3,500 if you’re 50 or older) into either your traditional or Roth IRA for 2003. So, if you haven’t completely funded your IRA for this year, take care of that first. But after you’ve “maxed out” on your IRA, don’t wait another year to fund it for 2004 — because the earlier you contribute, the sooner your money can start working for you.
Do early contributions really make that much of a difference? Consider this: To fund an IRA for any given year, you’ve got 15 months, from January 1 of one year until April 15 of the next. By consistently funding your IRA at the beginning of that 15-month time frame, rather than at the end, you could accumulate a lot more money.
How much more? Suppose Mary Smith is 35, and, for the next 30 years, she puts the maximum allowable amount into a traditional IRA that earns a hypothetical 8 percent a year. At the end of that time, she will have accumulated $521,117 if she had waited until April 15 every year to make her contribution. But if she had fully funded her IRA at the beginning of each year, she’d end up with $610,372 — a difference of nearly $90,000. (This calculation assumes you make the maximum contribution each year, including “catch-up” contributions, based on future IRA limits, as established by recent tax law changes. Also, the 8 percent rate of return, which is calculated on an annual basis, is for illustrative purposes only; it does not represent any currently available investment.)
Overcoming obstacles to early funding
As you can see, you’ve got some pretty tangible reasons to fund your IRA early. So, what’s stopping you?
If you’re like most people, you’ll face at least two barriers to getting your IRA contributions in early. The first of these obstacles, not surprisingly, is procrastination. Whether we like it or not, many of us put things off until we absolutely have to take care of them. So, if we know that we’ve got until April 15 to put funds in an IRA, we wait until April 15.
How can you combat this tendency to delay taking action? Try sending yourself reminders. During the early weeks of the new year, put notes on your calendar or your electronic organizer, reminding yourself to put money In your IRA. By pestering yourself, you just might make the right moves.
The second barrier to funding your IRA early is a potentially more serious one: lack of money. It’s certainly not always easy to come up with $3,000 or $3,500 at one time. After all, you’ve got your share of bills to pay — and, in the early part of the year, when you’re just coming off the holiday season, you may have taken on more debt. Where can you get the money for your IRA?
There’s no easy answer — but try to be creative. Perhaps you’ll get a tax refund. Or maybe you’ve got some funds sitting in a money market account. Or, you could possibly cut back on some of your expenses. You know your situation better than anyone — if you look for ways to free up money, you’re likely to find them.
No matter when you do it, it’s important to fully fund your IRA. But try to get accustomed to contributing the maximum early in the year, every year. That’s a habit you won’t want to break.
Cardella is a financial representative of Edward Jones in Hinesville.