Roths turn traditional IRA and 401(k) rules on their head. Rather than getting a tax break for money when it goes into the account and paying tax on all distributions, with a Roth, you save after-tax dollars and tax-free withdrawals in retirement.
By accepting the tax breaks for traditional accounts, you accept the government as your partner. If you’re in the 25% tax bracket, for example, 25% of all earnings will effectively belong to the IRS to be collected when you withdraw the money. With a Roth, 100% of all future earnings are yours.
The Roth strategy of paying taxes sooner rather than later will pay off particularly well if you’re in a higher tax bracket when you withdraw the money than when you passed up the tax break offered by the traditional account. If you’re in a lower tax bracket, though, the Roth advantage will be undermined.