Anyone can invest and make money. But if you want to get rich from your investments, you have to take advantage of every edge you can get -- and defend every penny you make from the tax man.

One of the best ways to get a head start against Uncle Sam and the IRS is to use tax-favored accounts like IRAs and employer-sponsored retirement accounts. But without the right stocks in your retirement accounts, you won't make the most of the potential for riches that they give you.

Later in this article, I'll explain why four stocks from the Dow Jones Industrials (INDEX: ^DJI) make top prospects for smart traditional IRA holdings, thanks to their blue-chip status and overall reliability. But first, I'd like to give you a refresher on why IRAs in particular can give you the flexibility and tax-efficiency you need to succeed in your quest to retire rich.

Don't blow this chance!
You've heard it all before: Even though millions of workers put off their retirement saving as long as possible -- and much longer than they should -- the sooner you start, the better off you'll be after you retire. And if you're going to save for retirement, traditional IRAs are particularly useful because you can get an up-front tax deduction that can save you thousands on your tax bill right now.

But personally, I think the biggest benefit from IRAs is convenience. Ordinarily, when you invest, you have to keep track of every purchase, every sale, and every dividend payment to make sure you don't pay more tax than you have to. But in an IRA, you don't have to track anything -- you can trade in and out at will without any tax consequences at all. Moreover, unlike 401(k) plans, you're in charge of picking nearly any investment you want -- you'll never get stuck with a menu of bad choices that you don't like.

The best Dow stocks for your traditional IRA
So which stocks are the best to own in your retirement account? In general, I look at three factors: dividend yield, whether I can foresee needing to make short-term trades, and tax convenience. That leads me to these four picks for a traditional IRA.

Pfizer (NYS: PFE)
Pfizer has the unique distinction of combining all three of the factors I like in a traditional IRA stock. The stock's 4.1% dividend yield makes the value of tax deferral quite high.

But more important, Pfizer is considering a spinoff of its nutritional and animal-health business in the near future. Assuming that goes through, investors will have to decide whether to hang on to both stocks or sell one. By keeping the stock in an IRA, you can ignore complicated tax-basis splitting issues and can sell either part without taking a tax hit.

Microsoft (NAS: MSFT)
Big Softy may not be considering a spinoff, but the big consideration for IRA investors is its big cash hoard. It already pays a 2.8% yield now, but with more than $50 billion in cash and short-term investments -- amounting to about $6 per share -- the software giant has the wherewithal to make a big special dividend payout if it's so inclined.

If it does, shareholders in regular accounts will lose much of that to taxes -- especially if a payout happens after current low tax rates expire. But IRA investors can just take that money and run, either reinvesting in Microsoft shares or buying something else.

Chevron (NYS: CVX)
Big Oil means big dividends, and at 3%, Chevron's yield tops the Dow's energy contingent. But with oil prices already having seen big gains, shareholders may need to rely more on Chevron's payout for return than on further share price appreciation.

That said, Chevron could end up mulling the same sort of breakup of its various divisions that Marathon Oil already did and that ConocoPhillips is planning to do. Again, if a split-up occurs, having the shares in an IRA will make your life a lot easier.

Johnson & Johnson (NYS: JNJ)
Already, many investors see J&J as the ultimate health-care conglomerate, with exposure to medical devices, pharmaceuticals, and consumer products. Although it hasn't announced any plans to do so, if J&J were to consider something like Abbott Labs plans to do in dividing its segments, the resulting companies would be very popular -- and attractive.

J&J may never go this route. But even if it doesn't, J&J's current yield of 3.6% makes it a smart IRA holding.

Start getting richer today
Procrastination is the enemy of a rich retirement, so don't wait another minute. It's easy to open and fund an IRA, and the rewards are huge. Stay tuned tomorrow, and I'll talk about some Dow stocks that I think would make good Roth IRA candidates.

If you're willing to go beyond the Dow, you can find even more smart stocks for a traditional IRA. You'll find several in The Motley Fool's latest special report on building a successful retirement plan. It's absolutely free, but it won't be around forever, so click here and read it today.

At the time this article was published Fool contributor Dan Caplinger always looks for a boost. You can follow him on Twitter here. He doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned in this article. The Motley Fool owns shares of Johnson & Johnson and Microsoft. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, Chevron, and Microsoft, as well as creating a bull call spread position in Microsoft and a diagonal call position in Johnson & Johnson. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Fool's disclosure policy isn't taxing.

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