This tutorial explains the basics of IRAs and how to get the most out of them. Thinkstock By the editors of Kiplinger's Personal Finance Updated January 2015 Even if you're saving with a 401(k) or other employer-based account, an individual retirement account should be an integral part of your retirement plan. The reason: Your earnings accumulate inside an IRA tax free, supercharging the already powerful effect of compound interest.The biggest decision you'll face these days is not whether to open an IRA, but rather what type of IRA to go with -- the more traditional tax-deductible IRA or the Roth IRA, which lets you take tax-free withdrawals in retirement. This tutorial explains the basics of each, provides the tools to help you make the right decisions and describes the techniques needed to keep your IRA running smoothly. Do You Qualify? If you're interested in starting an IRA, the first thing you need to find out is if you can. What's Your Deduction? Roth or Deductible IRA? The answer depends a lot on your tax bracket today and tomorrow. How to Get Your IRA Up and Running Bank, broker or go it alone? IRAs give you the flexibility to choose who will manage your account and what will go into it. Converting Your Deductible IRA to a Roth You won't be penalized, but you will owe taxes. Here's how to soften the blow. Moving your IRA Money Direct transfers and rollovers let you add funds or switch sponsors. Cashing Out Early Generally you'll pay tax penalties for draining your IRA early, but there are exceptions. Tapping Your IRA in Retirement Here's what you'll need to consider when retirement day comes.