Most people are aware that Roth IRAs enable after-tax contributions to grow income tax-deferred. Moreover, provided that certain conditions are met, distributions of not only contributions—but also investment growth—of a Roth IRA can be taken income-free provided that you’ve owned the IRA for at least 5 years. The five-year period begins on Jan. 1 of the year you made your first contribution to your Roth. Once that 5-year period tolls, earnings can only be withdrawn income tax-free if taken after age 59½ unless you qualify for certain exceptions. To be clear, however, if you’ve had your Roth for less than five years, there are also exceptions that can exonerate you from the 10% penalty on withdrawn earnings — but not all income taxes (see below for more detail).
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