Most people associate saving for retirement with tax deferred or non-taxable accounts: 401(k)s, 403(b)s, Traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs, etc. The tax benefits of these types of retirement accounts give individuals advantages over simply investing in a regular taxable brokerage account.  

Savings for retirement in a standard taxable account can also have its place – and the option shouldn’t be ignored. In this article, we’ll look at a handful of reasons why doing so might just be the best option.

Your employer doesn’t offer 401(k), 403(b) or similar type plan

Some employers, especially very small ones, don’t offer retirement plan options to their employees due to the cost or administrative burden. Others have restrictions on participation, such as waiting periods (sometimes up to one year) or cut out part-time employees.

In this situation, your options may be limited to opening an IRA, but contributions are limited ($6,000 or $7,000 per year, depending if under or over 50) so an IRA alone may not allow you to save enough to meet your goals. Savings in a taxable account can help bridge the gap between what the IRA allows and your target needs.

You have maxed out and still want to save more

Even if you have access to a tax advantaged savings plan, contributions are limited. For example, 401(k) plans limit contributions to $19,000 ($25,000 if age 50 or older) in 2019. Depending on your income or projected needs, this might not be enough.

Consider for example that many experts say a target savings rate of approximately 15 percent is needed to give a retiree sufficient income. Someone earning $200,000 a year should be putting away $30,000 per year using the 15 percent rule, considerably more than what a 401(k) permits.

Accessibility to your investments

Retirement accounts come with strings attached to those tax benefits. Taking money out of a 401(k), 403(b) or IRA early can trigger steep costs in terms of penalties and taxes.

If you’re someone who values options and access to long-term investment savings, a taxable account provides flexibility. You can add and remove money without limits, penalties or restrictions. You’ll also have more control in retirement as there will be no required minimum distributions later in life.

Benefits for your heirs

Passing on the balance of a 401(k), 403(b) or Traditional IRA to an heir puts him or her in a taxable situation. Typically, someone who inherits an IRA will have to pay taxes on the distributions as if they were ordinary income, just like the retiree during their lifetime. Generally speaking, someone who inherits a taxable account receives a step-up in basis (at the date of death or other depending on elections).

Let’s look at a simple example to understand this better. Assume you bought 1,000 shares of Apple for $20 ($20,000) and when you passed away it was worth $200 per share ($200,000). If you purchased this in your 401(k), then your heir would have to pay tax on the entire $200,000 as ordinary income as it’s distributed. If this investment was held in a taxable account, however, they could receive a step-up in basis. This means that while your basis was the $20,000 you originally paid, your heir’s basis would step up to the $200,000 value. This means he could sell the $200,000 worth of stock and pay zero in taxes.


As you can see, tax deferred and advantaged accounts offer many perks that make them excellent vehicles for saving; however, taxable accounts are often needed as well. The need to save beyond contribution limits or desire to pass on an inheritance in a tax-advantaged manner can behoove looking beyond 401(k)s and IRAs.


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