Your Money, Your Future
Your Money, Your Future

This is a Tax Day retirement deadline you don't want to miss

Key Points
  • In addition to Tax Day, April 17 also marks one key deadline: the last day you can fund an individual retirement account for 2017.
  • While some investors may be spooked by recent market volatility, experts say there are ways to invest those funds conservatively.
  • Retirement savers should consider four key things when making those last-minute IRA contributions.
Jason York | iStock | Getty Images

In the rush to get your taxes done by April 17, don't forget to do one more thing: Make your contributions to your individual retirement account for 2017.

April 17 marks the final deadline for IRA contributions for tax year 2017. You can contribute as much as $5,500 total to a pre-tax IRA or a post-tax Roth IRA for the year. If you're 50 or older, you can contribute an additional $1,000.

Even if you get a tax extension, you still need to fund those retirement accounts by April 17 for it to count for last year, according to Ed Slott, an IRA expert and founder of Ed Slott & Co.

"That's probably the No. 1 mistake people make, thinking, 'I'm on an extension. Everything else goes with it,'" Slott said. "But not this one."

That deadline for IRA contributions also comes at a time when stock market fluctuations have been high.

That could leave you with questions on if — and how — to best invest in an IRA.

"It's understandable that people have their eyes on the red and the green and become a bit sensitized to the idea of: Is this a good time?" said Ken Hevert, senior vice president of retirement and retirement income solutions at Fidelity Investments.

Here are the four things you need to do as Tax Day approaches with this deadline in mind.

Make retirement a priority

If your goal is to get to build your retirement nest egg and you haven't reached the 15 percent savings target for the year, you should consider funding an IRA.

"Regardless of what the day's market conditions are, it's clear that saving money is by far the most important thing you can do," Hevert said.

The exception to that is if you have more pressing financial needs. That could include building up your emergency fund if those savings have been depleted or paying off debt.

If you have not contributed enough to your employer's 401(k) plan to meet the match, then you want to focus on building up those contributions first, Hevert said.

Choose a traditional or Roth IRA

Traditional IRA versus Roth IRA

A traditional IRA lets you put away pre-tax funds and pay taxes on that money when you eventually take it out.

A Roth IRA, on the other hand, requires you to contribute post-tax money, which can then be taken out tax-free during retirement.

Traditional IRAs and Roth IRAs have different requirements in order to invest in them.

For a traditional IRA, you cannot contribute past age 70½. Roth IRAs have income limits depending on your tax filing status.

Investing in a Roth IRA will benefit you the most in retirement, Slott said. That is because that money will be taxed now when tax rates are low, versus later, when tax rates could be significantly higher.

"We're probably at the lowest rates we'll ever see in our lifetime, especially after this last tax cut," Slott said.

Income from a Roth IRA in retirement will have a zero percent tax rate.

"I'm a big Roth fan because I like the idea of knowing everything is tax-free in retirement," Slott said.

Consider other ways to invest

A spousal IRA lets you put away retirement funds for a non-working spouse, but you must have the wages or earned income to qualify.

A back-door Roth IRA allows you to invest in a traditional IRA and then convert those funds to a Roth IRA. This strategy may work for you if your income is too high to invest directly in a Roth IRA.

Because you initially invest in a traditional IRA, you face the same requirements for investing in that IRA: You must be younger than 70½ and have income in order to invest.

The contributions to a back-door Roth IRA must be made by April 17 to count for the 2017 tax year. The conversion to a Roth, however, can be done at any time, according to Slott.

Stay focused on the future

If you are concerned about market volatility, you can keep your IRA contribution for 2017 in cash.

You can opt to gradually dollar cost average the money into your portfolio, Hevert said. By incrementally investing your money, you can mitigate the effect of the rising and falling market.

To position your money for the most gains, you should ideally invest that money early in the year.

If you can, Slott suggests funding both your 2017 and 2018 IRAs now. If you have to choose just one, contribute the funds for 2017 before your ability to do that expires.

Remember that you stand to miss out the most by not having your money invested at all, even when the market is rocky or there is a correction.

"When things turn around they tend to turn around fast," Hevert said. "Not being in the market when they do turn is a sure way to not capture those returns."