Starting Early

John Yeigh

ONE WAY TO MAXIMIZE long-term family wealth is through a teenager’s summer or after-school job. How do these small paychecks add up to serious money? Probably the best investment we can make for our children and grandchildren: Stash their earnings in a Roth IRA.

A teenager’s Roth has three things going for it: little or zero taxes owed on the small bits of income earned, 70 or 80 years of investment compounding, and zero taxes owed when those gains are withdrawn.

As Warren Buffett said, “My wealth has come from a combination of living in America, some lucky genes, and compound interest.” Parents or grandparents who help children make Roth contributions can set up these kids to capture the third part of Buffett’s wealth equation—compound interest—on a tax-free basis.

To get started, a child must have earned income, such as wages or tips, to contribute to a Roth. I know some folks with family businesses who set their kids up to “earn” a paycheck. They might manage inventory, work the website, or help with marketing and shipping activities.

The maximum IRA contribution in 2021 and 2022 is $6,000 for those under age 50. Unlike a traditional IRA, Roth contributions are made with after-tax dollars. But Roth withdrawals are tax-free, providing the account is held for at least five years and the account holder reaches age 59½.

Some people might be scared away by the requirement to lock up their kids’ money for such a long time. They shouldn’t be. Roth owners can withdraw their contributions at any time. No taxes or penalties are owed, provided the account’s investment earnings aren’t withdrawn.

Since the account has decades to grow, I’d suggest a 100% allocation to low-cost stock index funds. Our daughter’s initial Roth contributions have generated about a 250% gain. She’s in her late 20s—with decades of additional compounding ahead of her.

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