Retirement Account Setup Checklist

Quick Look

Setting up your retirement account (or any investment account) involves three distinct steps:

    1. Choosing the company (i.e. “brokerage firm”)
    2. Choosing the account type
    3. Setting up and funding the account


3 Steps to Setting Up Your Retirement Accounts

Below is an overview of your retirement account setup checklist. But to make an informed decision, read additional detail in each sub-task.


  1. Choose a Company: If you have an employer-sponsored retirement plan and you get an employer match for your contributions, enroll in that plan. Note that once you sign up for an employer-sponsored plan, funding your account will automatically take place through deductions from your paycheck. If you don’t have an employer-sponsored plan (or you want one that is separate from your employer) you can sign up for your own account from brokerage companies like Vanguard, Fidelity, Charles Schwab (all highly regarded institutions for retirement accounts) or many others.
  2. Choose an Account Type: Decide between accounts you fund with “pre tax” dollars and “post tax” dollars. The choice will depend on your personal strategy but the rule of thumb is that if you are in a high tax bracket now, you may benefit from a “pre tax dollars” account (e.g. traditional IRA, 401k etc.) whereas if you’re in a lower tax bracket now you may benefit most from a “post tax dollars” account (e.g. Roth IRA, Roth 401k etc.). If you’re unsure, a good tax diversification strategy is to have accounts that are funded with both pre-tax and post-tax dollars.
  3. Set Up & Fund the Account: The precise process differs between brokerage companies but you’ll generally need to provide your name, address, social security number, date of birth, and employment information. You’ll also need to fund the account, typically with a transfer from either an internal or external checking or savings account.

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