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Savings Strategies for Twentysomethings

You know how important it is to save for retirement when you're young. Which type of account you fund first matters, too.

I just read your column on retirement advice for newlyweds. I'm single and in my twenties, and I have a question. I work for the federal government. I have been contributing 5% to my Thrift Savings Plan, which is the maximum the government will match, and I would like to save more. Would it be better to increase my contributions to the plan or open up a separate IRA?

Once you've captured your employer's full match, switch your contributions to a Roth IRA.


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As a single person, you can contribute the full $4,000 to a Roth in 2007 if your income is $99,000 or less, and make a partial contribution if your income is $114,000 or less. Once you've maxed out the Roth, you can save even more by switching back to the Thrift Savings Plan.

Dividing your money between an employer-sponsored retirement plan -- such as the federal government's TSP or a private 401(k) plan -- and a Roth IRA is a good idea because it lets you diversify your retirement savings between taxable and tax-free income.

With an employer-sponsored plan, you get a tax deduction up front but your money will be taxed when you make withdrawals in retirement. With a Roth, there's no up-front deduction but your retirement withdrawals are tax-free.

When you don't have a 401(k)

My company doesn't offer a 401(k) plan. I am contributing the maximum $4,000 to an IRA, dividing it between a traditional IRA and a Roth. What other options do I have to save more than $4,000 a year for retirement? I've put extra money into a savings account, but I'd like to do more.

First off, you deserve a pat on the back for being a super saver. Not only are you putting money aside, but your strategy is a good one.

You can easily get at the money in your savings account if you need it in an emergency. And dividing your retirement savings between a traditional IRA and a Roth IRA combines a current tax break (traditional IRA) with tax-free retirement income (Roth).

To save more for retirement, open a taxable account with a mutual fund. To minimize the tax bite, go with a fund that invests in stocks, which benefit from the 15% rate on qualified dividends and long-term capital gains (investments held at least one year).

Consider a "tax-efficient" fund, such as an index fund, that doesn't generate a lot of capital gains because it trade stocks infrequently.