One of the requirements of establishing and contributing to an individual retirement account (IRA) is that the contributions are made from taxable earned income. This is true for both the traditional and Roth IRA. This stipulation is in place for all taxpayers; however, exceptions are made for military service members who are on active duty. Because combat pay is tax-free, service members who spent an entire calendar year in a designated tax-free zone were previously not permitted to contribute to IRAs because they did not have “earned income.” But that was before the Heroes Earned Retirement Opportunities Act was signed into law. The HERO Act, as it is now known, allows military members to contribute to IRAs even if their sole source of income is tax-free combat pay and other non-taxable income.
What is the Heroes Earned Retirement Opportunities (HERO) Act
The HERO Act was signed into law on Memorial Day 2006, allowing military service members receiving combat pay to use that income as contributions toward IRAs. Before this legislation, service members who received all of their income from tax-free combat pay were ineligible as contributors to a traditional or Roth IRA. Once the legislation was signed, service members were able to not only begin making contributions to their retirement accounts but also amend previous tax returns (retroactive two years) to make and include contributions from previous years.
How the HERO Act Benefits Military Members
The HERO Act benefits members of the military by offering them the same opportunities to save toward retirement as other working Americans. Military service members can choose to make contributions to a traditional or Roth IRA, as well as the federal government-sponsored Thrift Savings Plan. To better understand how this opportunity benefits service members, consider the benefits of these retirement plans.
Benefits of a traditional IRA. The main benefit of the traditional IRA is that contributions you make to your retirement account can be used as a tax deduction when you file your income tax return. This tax-deferred option allows your money to grow over the years. The main drawback of the traditional IRA is that you will pay income tax at the time of distribution.
Benefits of a Roth IRA. The Roth IRA is similar to the traditional IRA, but they are taxed differently. Contributions to the Roth IRA are included in the amount of earned income you report on your tax return. Essentially, this means you are paying tax on that money at the time of contribution. The benefit, of course, is that your money grows tax-free because you can withdraw contributions and earnings without taxation after you reach the age of 59 1/2.
The HERO Act Gives Military Members Investing Opportunities
Clearly the biggest benefit of the HERO Act is that members of the military are no longer excluded from some of the best retirement vehicles available to American citizens. Saving for retirement is essential to ensure the financial independence of individuals and families once they are no longer earning an income from employment. In allowing service members the opportunity to take advantage of the benefits of IRAs as well as the Thrift Savings Plan, the HERO Act provides financial security for those who have answered the call of duty.
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