Rules for Investing in a Custodial Roth IRA

Get a head start on saving for your child’s future

A child plays on a playground.
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Saving for your child’s future from a young age gives them a major head start in reaching their future financial goals, and there are several types of accounts that can help you do that.

The Roth IRA is one of the most powerful tax-advantaged retirement accounts available. And while your child’s retirement may not be on your mind yet, this type of account offers plenty of benefits and is worth considering for your child.

If you’re thinking about investing for a minor using a Roth IRA, there are a few special rules to know about, including when you can start contributing, how much you can contribute, and when your child can withdraw from the account.

Key Takeaways

  • A custodial Roth IRA is a tax-advantaged retirement account that offers the same benefits as a typical Roth IRA, but is opened by an adult on behalf of a minor.
  • Custodial Roth IRAs have plenty of benefits, including their tax-free investment growth and flexibility for withdrawing funds.
  • There are several rules to know about opening a custodial Roth IRA, including account ownership, contribution limits, and withdrawal restrictions.
  • You can open a custodial Roth IRA in just a few minutes with most major online brokerage firms.

What Is a Custodial Roth IRA?

A custodial Roth IRA is a tax-advantaged retirement account that a parent or another adult opens on behalf of a minor. Contributions to a custodial Roth IRA are after-tax, meaning unlike some retirement account contributions, they aren’t deductible and they don’t reduce your taxable income. However, the funds grow tax-free in the account, and your child will be able to withdraw them tax-free as long as they meet the IRS distribution requirements.

The major difference between a custodial Roth IRA and a standard Roth IRA is that with a custodial account, the adult controls the account and makes the investment decisions on behalf of the minor.

However, the account remains in the child’s name, and all the funds within the account legally belong to them. Once the child reaches the age of majority (either 18 or 21, depending on the state), they get full control of the account and investment decisions.

Why Open a Custodial Roth IRA?

Roth IRAs are one of the most popular investment accounts available—and for good reasons. These accounts offer tax advantages and flexibility, and a custodial Roth IRA allows your child to start taking advantage of those perks from a young age.

“Starting a Roth IRA for a child is the most powerful savings tool we have available—there is no other account that offers tax-free growth and tax-free withdrawals,” Glen Goland, a senior investment advisor with Arnerich Massena, told The Balance in an email. “Establishing an account for a child who may have over 50 years until retirement gives that account the opportunity to compound tax-free interest for a long time.”

After you pay taxes on the money you earn, you can contribute it to a Roth IRA and never pay taxes on it again. You’ll enjoy tax-free growth on your investments as well as tax-free withdrawals during retirement (and even earlier, in some cases).

Another benefit of contributing to a custodial Roth IRA, Goland said, is the ability to benefit from compound interest for many years. Suppose you contributed $250 per month to a custodial Roth IRA for your child from ages 14 to 18 with an annual return of 8%. By the time your child turns 18, the account will have approximately $13,518 in it.

The key benefit of compound interest is time, and because your child is so far from retirement, their investments have plenty of time to grow. Even if your child never contributed another cent to the account, assuming the same 8% return, that nearly $13,518 would grow to nearly $300,000 after 40 years. And if they continued contributing that same $250 per month, they would amass more than $777,000 before they even reached retirement age.

Another benefit of a custodial Roth IRA—just like any other Roth IRA—is the flexibility. Yes, the money in a Roth IRA is intended to be used for retirement, but there are several situations where your child can withdraw funds early without penalties.

For example, while the earnings in a custodial Roth IRA can only be withdrawn in select situations, contributions can be withdrawn at any time without taxes or penalties. Additionally, the withdrawal rules of a Roth IRA not only make it a particularly useful tool for saving for your child’s retirement, but also for college expenses and other major life events.

Rules for Investing in a Custodial Roth IRA

A custodial Roth IRA can be a powerful tool for saving for your child’s future, but there are a few rules you should know before getting started.

Account Ownership

Like other custodial investment accounts, a custodial Roth IRA has an adult who serves as the custodian, and it’s usually the child’s parent or legal guardian. The custodian can open and control the account as well as make investment decisions. However, the funds in the account legally belong to the child. And once the child reaches the age of majority—either 18 or 21, depending on state laws—the account is transitioned to a regular Roth IRA, and your child will take full control of it.

If you contribute to the account on your child’s behalf, you can’t take back the funds later.

Contribution Limits

To contribute to a Roth IRA or any type of IRA, the account holder must have earned income. In the case of a custodial Roth IRA, this means your child must have earned income to contribute (or for you to contribute on their behalf).

As of 2022, the IRS allows contributions up to $6,000 or 100% of earned income. If your child has earned income but it’s less than $6,000, you can only contribute up to the amount they earned. To calculate their earned income, you can include any wages or tips they earn from a job, as well as income they earn from self-employment, such as mowing lawns in the neighborhood.

“Critically, the funds deposited into a custodial Roth IRA do not have to be those dollars earned by the child,” Goland said. “So if your child earns $5,000 serving ice cream and he or she spends those funds, you may contribute up to $5,000 of your savings to your child’s Roth IRA.”

Withdrawals

A Roth IRA is meant as a retirement savings tool so in general, the account owner must be age 59½ or older to withdraw money from the account. It must be at least five years since the first contribution was made to the account. If these requirements aren’t met, there will be a penalty of 10% on early withdrawals. Additionally, if it hasn’t been five years since the first contribution and they haven’t reached age 59½, withdrawals will also be subject to income taxes.

The good news is there are several exceptions to the rules above that allow for more flexibility. Because you’ve already paid taxes on the contributions to a custodial Roth IRA, your child can withdraw them tax-free and penalty-free at any time for any purpose.

While your child can withdraw custodial Roth IRA contributions tax-free, the same doesn’t apply to investment earnings. Any earnings your child withdraws early that don’t meet one of the IRS exceptions will be subject to income taxes and a 10% penalty.

There are several other situations where your child can withdraw funds from a Roth IRA early:

  • To make a first-time home purchase, up to $10,000
  • To pay for qualified higher-education expenses
  • To pay for qualified birth or adoption expenses
  • If they become disabled
  • To pay for unreimbursed medical bills or health insurance while unemployed
  • In substantially equal periodic payments

How To Open a Roth IRA for Your Child

The process of opening a custodial Roth IRA is simple and can be done in as short as a few minutes. You can open this type of account with any major online broker such as Fidelity and Schwab. To open the account, you’ll typically have to provide the same information you would for any other brokerage account, including:

  • Social Security number
  • Driver’s license number
  • Employer information
  • Funding account

To open a custodial Roth IRA, you’ll have to provide personal information both for the custodian opening the account as well as the child for whom you’re opening the account.

Once the account is open, you can select a way to fund the account, start making contributions, and choose investments.

The Bottom Line

A custodial Roth IRA can offer significant advantages if you want to invest on behalf of your child. Not only is it a powerful retirement-savings tool, but can also be used to help your child pay for college, buy their first home, or reach any of their other financial goals.

But Roth IRAs, including custodial Roth IRAs, have specific rules you have to follow to avoid taxes and penalties. Be sure you understand these rules before opening an account.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

At what age can I open a custodial Roth IRA for my child?

You can open a custodial Roth IRA for your child at any age. The only requirement is that they have taxable income. You can contribute as much as your child earns each year to the account, or up to the IRS limit.

What qualifies as income for a kid’s Roth IRA?

Taxable income for purposes of contributing to a Roth IRA can include “wages, salaries, commissions, tips, bonuses, or net income from self-employment,” according to the IRS.

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