An IRA account gives you tax benefits, but there is a penalty if you withdraw early from an IRA.
A regular investment account doesn't give you tax benefits other than write-offs of losses, but it offers better liquidity. In case you need it, you can liquidate your assets into cash.
So it depends on your financial goals, are you investing for retirement, or are you saving up for shorter terms, such as buying a house?
Another option you can also consider is a Roth IRA, which is like an IRA except that you will pay taxes up front, but will have tax-free earnings. This will give you the flexibility during retirement: you can choose to withdraw from the pre-tax 401k, or from the after-tax Roth IRA. Plus, at the age of 26, you have many years until retirement and your tax-free earnings can amount to a big saving over the years.
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