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>>Are there penalties if I withdraw some of my money from a Roth earlier than a certain age?

Not on the principal you invest- you can take it out anytime, tax and penalty free (you will pay taxes/penalties on the earnings if you're under 59.5, however). You can also withdraw up to $10,000 for a first time home purchase tax and penalty free, but only if your Roth account has been open for five years. Yet another reason to open one today!

Personally I wouldn't worry about future home and car needs- the power of an investment growing tax free for (in your case) 50+ years is too great to ignore. Invest $3K/year from age 20 to 30, never invest another dime, and you'll be a millionaire when you're 60, if the investment grows at 10% per year. And if that money's in a Roth, you'll be able to withdraw & spend it tax free.

Nick
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