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I had a son 8 months ago and we opened a savings account for him that already has a few thousand in it from various family members, and I have set up an auto transfer of $50/month into it from my account.

I am now thinking it may be better to create a mutual fund or even a Roth IRA for him instead, but I'm not a very smart man and don't even really know what a Roth IRA is. Does anyone have any suggestions on how I could safely invest money for his future?

Edit: While the linked duplicate and the UGMA answer are currently the way I'm leaning, I have no fear of stealing funds from my child so I'm not sure the proposed duplicate is quite a duplicate. (I'm not opposed to investment options that I can withdraw from, especially if they have a better return. I also would sort of like to be able to withhold the money until he is maybe 25-30, so options that allow for that are welcome as well.)

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    Contributing to an IRA requires earned income, so that's not an option for now. You may be able to get a regular brokerage account for him. Do you expect him to go to college? You could open a tax-sheltered 529 account for education expenses. – Kevin Aug 1 at 14:51
  • @Kevin: Thanks. I wouldn't mind if he does or does not go to college. Personally I don't think college is worth the investment depending on what your career choice is and from my experience one can be much happier in a trade field than an office job...However if he wants to go to college I would like to be able to support that. If I did setup a 529 account and he decides not to go to college, what kind of penalties would there be for withdrawing the money? – Jesse_b Aug 1 at 14:56
  • Non-education withdrawals would be taxed (as normal income, I believe) plus a 10% penalty. For certain people in certain circumstances (very high income, lots of trades, holding over at least a decade or two), the penalty could be worth the tax shelter, but it's unlikely to work out that way for you. – Kevin Aug 1 at 15:03
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    partial note: there is no penalty as long as the 529 money is used for higher education (i.e., it can be transferred to the benefit of a younger sibling/cousin who does wish to attend college with no penalty). – user4556274 Aug 1 at 15:03
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The limitations of 529 accounts have been mentioned in comments, so think about an UGMA (Uniform Gifts to Minors Act) account.

https://www.investopedia.com/terms/u/ugma.asp

https://www.troweprice.com/personal-investing/products-and-services/non-retirement-accounts/ugmas-utmas.html

Up to $1,050 in earnings tax-free.

The next $1,050 is taxable at the child's tax rate.

Any earnings over $2,100 are taxed at the parent's rate.

The earning are dividends and interest, not capital gains, and you'd need a big account to earn $2,100 in dividends and interest.

Since the money isn't dedicated to college funds, there's more flexibility if your child decides not to go to college.

Of course, since it is your child's money, once they turn 18 (or 21, depending on the state) you must turn control over to them if they ask for it, and they can do whatever damned fool thing they want with it. So, train them well first!!

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    "once they turn 18 (or 21, depending on the state) you must turn control over to them" My dad used the UGMA to save for my college and just never told me that's what he did so when I turned 18 I had no idea that money was "mine". Of course, I wouldn't have done anything differently because had I demanded the money that would have been all I got. – user1723699 Aug 2 at 14:58
  • @user1723699 good point in that they do need to ask for it. – RonJohn Aug 2 at 15:42
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Unless your child has earned income an IRA or Roth IRA is not available.

You can use a 529 plan to save money. It has several advantages in that the money grows tax deferred. Some states give you a state tax break on contributions. You have to check for your state.

It can be used for post-secondary education, which means that it can be used for vocational schools in addition to colleges. If they aren't ready for college or vocational school at 18, it can stay in the account until they are ready, or it can be transferred for use to another relative.

The 2018 tax law changes allow 529 plans to be used for K-12 education also. Check with your state 529 website to understand the limitations.

If the money is pulled out for non-education purposes there are penalties at the federal level, and maybe at the state level.

Many 529 plans automatically move the investments to more conservative investments as the child ages. This is great for accounts where the years of use are known. Many will also allow you to pick the risk level. Each program is different.

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Stocks for the long run!

If you're saving for your newborn son, chances are he will need the money only 20 years from now. 20 years is long enough time period that the investment should include a very hefty amount of stocks. In fact, I would advise you to invest ONLY in stocks, gradually, for the next 20 years. Purchasing stocks for the next 20 years will diversify based on time.

If you're not an experienced stock investor, I would recommend you to purchase a selection of very low cost index funds. But, you can achieve the same (or perhaps even more) by investing into a well diversified portfolio where you pick individual stocks. As long as the diversification is good, the only difference in return between these two options are fees.

Since you're in United States and the US stock market is quite highly valued, I will recommend you to diversify internationally as well. Only less than half of your investments should be in US stocks; the others should be in international stocks.

Don't save into a savings account! You son will thank you for making the bold decision to invest in stocks, instead, should you make that decision.

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