Our picks for
For people who want to pick their own investments, opening an IRA at an online broker makes a lot of sense. At the best brokers, you’ll find a large list of low-cost investments to choose from, including index mutual funds and exchange-traded funds. Here are the favorites from this year's analysis:
Our picks for
Summary of Best IRA Accounts of April 2020
|Broker||Commissions||Promotion||Account Minimum||Learn More|
Merrill Edge IRA
Up to $600
cash credit with qualifying deposit
TD Ameritrade IRA
$100 to $600
in cash bonus with a qualifying deposit
Up to $750
cash bonus with qualifying deposit
Up to 1 year
of free management with a qualifying deposit
SoFi Automated Investing
career counseling plus loan discounts with qualifying deposit
Up to $200
in Transfer Fee Rebates
Ally Invest IRA
Up to $3,500
in cash bonus with a qualifying deposit
Charles Schwab IRA
No promotion at this time
free trades with a qualifying deposit
No promotion available at this time
Schwab Intelligent Portfolios®
no promotion currently offered
Schwab Intelligent Portfolios Premium™
no promotion available at this time
$100 to $2,500
cash credit with a qualifying deposit or transfer
Note: Some of these promotions won’t apply for first-time depositors, due to IRA contribution limits of $6,000 per year in 2020. We’ve included promotions with low deposit requirements where available.
Last updated on March 25, 2020
To recap our selections...
NerdWallet's Best IRA Accounts of April 2020
- Merrill Edge IRA: Best for Hands-On Investors
- TD Ameritrade IRA: Best for Hands-On Investors
- Ellevest: Best for Hands-Off Investors
- Betterment IRA: Best for Hands-Off Investors
- SoFi Automated Investing: Best for Hands-Off Investors
- Firstrade: Best for Hands-On Investors
- Ally Invest IRA: Best for Hands-On Investors
- Charles Schwab IRA: Best for Hands-On Investors
- Fidelity IRA: Best for Hands-On Investors
- Fidelity Go: Best for Hands-Off Investors
- Schwab Intelligent Portfolios®: Best for Hands-Off Investors
- Schwab Intelligent Portfolios Premium™: Best for Hands-Off Investors
- E*TRADE IRA: Best for Hands-On Investors
Frequently asked questions
Picking the best IRA account will depend a bit on what matters most to you. Below we detail some criteria to keep in mind, but don’t forget that the most important thing is to get started saving for retirement. The sooner you get started, the better off you’ll be. Before decision paralysis slows you down, consider simply opening an account at one of our top picks — we’ve done hours of research already.
Here are some important criteria to keep in mind as you pick the best IRA account:
- Low-cost investments: For long-term retirement-savings success, make sure high fees don’t eat into your investment returns. Open your IRA at a broker or robo-advisor that offers low-cost investments (if you’re thinking of opening your IRA at a bank, check out the FAQ below for more on bank IRAs). For many retirement investors, a smart investment is a low-cost mutual fund. Investing in a handful of mutual funds is an easy way to own a diversified portfolio, because each mutual fund invests in dozens, hundreds or even thousands of companies. With mutual funds, one of the main fees to focus on is the expense ratio. Ideally, you’re investing in mutual funds with an expense ratio of less than about 0.5%.
- Low fees: While you’re keeping an eye on expense ratios, also keep others fees in mind. If you’re a do-it-yourself investor who plans to open an IRA at a broker, make sure you pick a broker with low trading commissions (or a high number of commission-free ETFs and no-transaction-fee mutual funds) and low transfer and other fees.
- Investment help: If you want guidance picking investments, a robo-advisor likely is a better choice for you than a broker. All robo-advisors offer either ready-to-go investment portfolios or provide some help picking investments.
- Customer support: Make sure the broker or robo-advisor offers customer support that meets your needs, whether that’s live chat, telephone support or access to human financial planners.
You might have noticed we don’t include any bank IRA accounts in our roundup of the best IRAs. Generally, an investment broker or robo-advisor is a better option than a bank for an IRA account, because for a long-term goal like retirement you want to tap into the power of the stock market to grow your money.
Bank IRAs generally offer access to savings products such as certificates of deposit. CDs are savings products that guarantee a rate of return as long as you leave your money in for a specific period of time. Historically, stock market returns average about 10% a year. CDs are currently offering about 3%. Yes, the stock market comes with the risk that, in any given year, your account may lose value — but investors who leave their money in the market, even through those down days, generally enjoy hefty gains over time.
If, despite that, you decide to go with a bank CD, be sure to pick among the IRA accounts with the best IRA CD rates so you know you’re getting the best possible rate of return for that type of account.
While unlikely, it is possible for an IRA account to lose value and, potentially, drop to zero. That’s much likelier to happen if you invest in a single company stock. The key to sidestepping this risk is to make sure your investments are diversified. That means investing in a variety of companies — of different sizes and in different industries and locations — and in both stocks and bonds. That way, when any one slice of your investments faces trouble, the others are there to keep your overall portfolio on a steady course.
The easiest path to a diversified portfolio is with mutual funds and exchange-traded funds. One single fund can invest in thousands of companies, making it a simple one-stop shop for investment diversification.
Anyone can open a traditional IRA — there are no income limits — but if you’re also covered by a workplace retirement plan like a 401(k), the amount of your contribution that you can deduct on your tax return may be phased down or eliminated based on your income.
If you exceed the income limits, you can still make the maximum annual contribution, but a portion or all of it will be considered a nondeductible contribution. There’s no immediate tax benefit on nondeductible contributions, but you’re still able to defer taxes on investment income until retirement. Read more about the traditional IRA deduction limits.
Roth IRAs have income limits for eligibility; if you earn too much, your contribution limit is phased down or eliminated completely. To see if you’re affected, use our Roth IRA calculator.
IRA accounts offer significant tax benefits over traditional savings and brokerage accounts. As long as your money stays in an IRA, you’ll owe no tax on your investment earnings — that means you have a bigger nest egg to compound and grow each year. In contrast, with a traditional brokerage account, taxes may eat into your savings every year, depending on how you invest.
And if you qualify for a deductible IRA, the benefits are even greater, because you’ll reduce your taxable income for the year you contribute. For example, if your marginal tax rate is 25%, a $6,000 IRA contribution can reduce your tax bill by $1,500. See if you’re eligible for a deductible IRA here.
There are a few differences between these accounts, but the main way they differ has to do with taxes:
- A traditional IRA earns you a tax deduction on contributions for the year they are made. You’ll then pay income taxes on the distributions you take in retirement. Because you’re delaying taxes until retirement, the investment growth in a traditional IRA is tax-deferred.
- A Roth IRA offers no tax deduction when you make contributions, but qualified distributions in retirement are not taxed. That makes the investment income in a Roth IRA tax-free — you won’t pay taxes on it at all, so long as you wait until retirement to access it.
Generally, a traditional IRA is best if you expect your tax rate to be lower in retirement than it is now — by putting off taxes until retirement, you’ll pay that lower rate. If you expect the opposite to be true — your taxes are lower now and will be higher in retirement — you may want to choose a Roth IRA.
For more on this decision, dig into our comprehensive comparison of Roth and traditional IRAs.
You can contribute up to $6,000 to an IRA each year, or $7,000 if you’re 50 or older. (Those are the annual contribution limits in 2019 and 2020.) That’s a combined limit shared by the two types of IRA — you can have both a Roth and a traditional IRA, but that maximum limit applies to all of your IRA contributions combined. But the contribution limit doesn’t include amounts rolled over, such as from a 401(k).
This is a retirement account, so the money is intended to stay put until age 59 ½ or later.
That said, traditional IRA withdrawal rules are stricter than Roth IRA withdrawal rules: With a traditional IRA, you may be taxed and hit with a 10% early withdrawal penalty if you pull money out before age 59 ½. There are a few exceptions.
With a Roth IRA, you can pull your contributions out at any time — remember, you’ve already paid taxes on them. You may be taxed or penalized on early distributions of investment earnings, however.
It’s a simple process: You can open an IRA online, at any broker or robo-advisor (though we’re partial to the ones above, for the reasons we outlined). It takes about 15 minutes and you’ll need to provide some personal information, including your name, birthdate, mailing address and Social Security number. Here’s our guide to opening an IRA, which also includes information about how to fund and invest the account.
Unlike savings accounts, IRAs don’t pay a set interest rate or return. Once you’ve put money into the account, you need to select investments; otherwise, your money will sit in cash, which isn’t ideal for a long-term goal like retirement. Most IRA providers offer a wide range of investment options, including individual stocks, bonds and mutual funds.
If that sounds out of your league, you can open your IRA at a robo-advisor — like the two mentioned above — which will manage your investments for you for a small fee.