Should you open a Roth IRA for kids?

A teenage boy is mowing the lawn.

If your child has earned income, there could be benefits to opening a Roth IRA in your child’s name.

It may seem premature to help your children prepare for retirement before they’ve even graduated from high school. But thinking about ways to help them save now — including opening a Roth IRA for them — may help provide a significant head start on saving for retirement.

Kids have more time on their side, which can be a big advantage, says Travis Huber, IRA product manager for Wells Fargo Advisors. The money set aside in a Roth IRA for kids may compound and grow tax-free for decades. “The earlier they get the money in, the more it could work for them,” Huber says. “Every little bit helps later in life.”

Consider this: A one-time contribution of $1,000 to a Roth IRA could grow to more than $12,000 in 50 years, assuming a conservative 5% annual investment return and monthly compounding.

Now imagine the total if your child made annual contributions, Huber says. It’s best to work with your tax advisor with any eligible Roth IRA contribution amounts for a minor.  (Individuals age 20 and older can use this free tool to estimate potential outcomes with a Roth IRA. You can enter your own details, such as age, contribution amount, and possible rate of return.)

Here are a few other things Huber says to keep in mind regarding setting up a Roth IRA for kids.

Your child must have earned income

Kids of any age can contribute to a Roth IRA as long as they have earned income, Huber says. It can be income and wages earned from a W-2 job. Self-employment income from a yardwork or babysitting business can qualify as well, as long as it’s classified as earned income reported to the IRS.

There are no age limits

Even babies can have Roth IRAs, as long as they have income. Yes, babies. For example, Huber knows a couple whose young son received compensation after being cast in a commercial. The couple funded a Roth IRA with the money. That’s an uncommon case, however. In most cases, children aren’t earning income until they’re older.

There are contribution limits 

In 2021, the contribution limit to a Roth IRA is $6,000 a year or the total of earned income — whichever is less. For example, if your child earns $1,000 babysitting in 2021, the contribution toward a Roth IRA is capped at that $1,000 amount.

Other benefits beyond retirement

Many parents don’t realize that the money in a Roth IRA for a child can be used for more than just retirement, Huber says. For example, your child can take out contributions, or principal amounts, from the Roth IRA for any reason without taxes or penalty.

Under IRS rules, children can also tap into earnings without incurring an early withdrawal penalty if the money is used for qualified higher education expenses, but they may have to pay income tax on those distributions.

Another exception allows your child to withdraw up to $10,000 of earnings for a first-time home purchase without paying income tax or a penalty. But be sure to discuss this further with your tax consultant, Huber says.

Keep in mind that your child will receive full control of the account once they are a legal adult, Huber says. You can surprise them with it when they turn 18, or use the account as a tool to teach them about saving and investing as they grow from child to teen to legal adult.

“You give your child a head start by building their retirement early, or maybe your child taps some of the principal to pay for school or to start their own business,” he says. “Whatever’s decided, a Roth IRA is an excellent long-term tool with a lot of flexibility.”