What are the disadvantages of a custodial Roth IRA?

The Roth Individual Retirement Account (IRA) is a popular investment vehicle, known for its tax-free growth and withdrawals in retirement. However, when it comes to opening a Roth IRA for a minor, the account becomes custodial, meaning it is managed by an adult until the child reaches adulthood. While a custodial Roth IRA can be a powerful tool for teaching kids about investing and saving for the future, it’s not without its drawbacks. Let’s explore some of the disadvantages associated with custodial Roth IRAs.

Key Disadvantages of Custodial Roth IRAs

Loss of Control Over the Account

One of the primary disadvantages of a custodial Roth IRA is that once the minor becomes an adult (18 or 25 depending on the state), control over the account must be transferred to them. This means that despite the custodian’s best efforts to teach the child about financial responsibility, there’s no guarantee that the funds will be used as originally intended. The young adult could decide to withdraw the funds for immediate use, facing no legal barriers but potentially incurring taxes and penalties if the withdrawal is not qualified.

Contribution Limits and Eligibility

Contributions to a Roth IRA are limited by earned income. For a custodial Roth IRA, this means the child must have verifiable earned income from a job or self-employment. This can be a significant barrier, as many minors have limited opportunities to earn income that qualifies. Additionally, the annual contribution limit for 2023 is $6,500 (or $7,500 for those 50 and older), which may restrict the amount of money that can be invested annually.

Impact on Financial Aid

Assets in a custodial Roth IRA are considered the child’s assets for purposes of financial aid calculations. This can adversely affect eligibility for need-based financial aid, as assets owned by the child are assessed at a higher rate than parental assets. While retirement accounts are generally not reported as assets on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), distributions from an IRA (if the child decides to withdraw money for education expenses) are counted as income, which can significantly impact financial aid eligibility in the following year.

Tax Consequences and Penalties

While the Roth IRA is celebrated for its tax-free growth and withdrawals, early withdrawals that do not meet the criteria for qualified distributions are subject to taxes and penalties. For a custodial Roth IRA, this means that if the child decides to withdraw funds before age 59½ and does not meet any of the exceptions for a qualified distribution, they could face a 10% penalty on earnings in addition to being taxed at their current income tax rate.

Make an Informed Decision

A Custodial Roth IRA presents a unique opportunity to foster early financial growth and education for minors. However, it’s crucial to weigh these advantages against potential drawbacks, including loss of control, contribution limits, financial aid implications, and tax penalties. By carefully considering these factors, parents can make informed decisions that align with their child’s long-term financial well-being.

Have questions? Feel free to contact us.

Casey Smith
President, Wiser Wealth Management

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