IRA Contributions- FAQs

NOTE: IRA Contribution limits listed in this article are for the 2019 tax year.

Everyone wants to minimize his or her taxes, and one way to do this is to contribute as much as possible to tax-deferred retirement plans. The company-sponsored varieties (e.g., 401k, 403b, 457, SEP & Simple IRA) are all great because they have high contribution limits, and you can systematically add to them from every paycheck. However, you can always use the good old-fashioned traditional IRA if your company does not offer a plan. This week, I answer the most frequently asked questions related to IRA contributions:

1) Can I contribute to an IRA if I do not have any income?

No. You must have earned income (e.g., wages, bonuses, commissions) in order to make IRA contributions. Social Security, pensions, and investment income are not considered earned income. There is one exception to the earned income requirement, which is if your spouse has earned income. Both spouses can contribute to an IRA as long as one spouse has earned income.

2) How much can I contribute to an IRA?

$6,000 if you are under 50 and $7,000 if you are 50 or above. You must have at least as much earned income as your IRA contributions. For example, you could only contribute $3,000, if that was all you earned for the year.

3) Can I contribute to a traditional IRA and a ROTH IRA?

You can contribute to either or both, but the total annual contribution limit is the same. In other words, if you are under 50, you can contribute $6,000 to either a traditional IRA or a ROTH, or you can split your IRA contributions between the two. You cannot contribute $6,000 to each.

4) Can I contribute to an IRA if I am over 70½?

YES. This is new starting in 2020.  You can now contribute to a traditional IRA or a ROTH IRA at any age as long as you have earned income.

5) Is there a limit to how much I can earn and still contribute to an IRA?

There is no earnings limit. So, if you earn $1 million or more and still make tax deductible IRA contributions up to $6,000 or $7,000.

6) When is the IRA Contribution deadline?

April 15th is the deadline for the prior year.  So, you still have three and a half months after year-end to make your IRA contribution for the prior year. The IRS gives you until the following Monday in years that April 15th falls on a weekend.

7) Can I contribute to an IRA if I also contribute to a 401k or other company-sponsored retirement plan?

Yes, you can contribute, but before you do, let’s make sure your IRA contribution is going to be tax-deductible. Your contribution will not be deductible if you are an “active participant” in a company-sponsored retirement plan and you earn above the following thresholds:

IRA AGI Limits If contributor is a participant in a company-sponsored retirement plan, deduction is phased out between:
2019 2020
Single $64,000 – $74,000 $65,000 – $75,000
Joint (MFJ) $103,000 – $123,000 $104,000 – $124,000
Contribution for non-participating spouse $193,000 – $203,000 $196,000 – $206,000

I hate non-deductible IRA contributions! They complicate the rest of your life because once you have both before- and after-tax contributions in an IRA, you are responsible for tracking the proportion of the total IRA balances upon which you have already paid taxes. To make matters worse, you have to consider all of your IRA accounts in aggregate. Every distribution from any of your IRA accounts will then be considered partially taxable and partially a return of your after-tax contributions. The custodians (company that holds your account) do not track this. Your 1099 will show the entire distribution being taxable, and then you have to report it differently on your tax-return and be prepared with the documentation if you get audited.

You also must use the proportionality of before- to after-tax dollars if you want to convert any of your IRAs to a ROTH. Trust me, this is a total nightmare and goes on for the rest of your life and then transfers to your beneficiary. In many cases, the beneficiary does not know about this and ends up paying tax again when ultimately withdrawing your after-tax contributions. So, the moral of this story is: Do not make non-deductible IRA contributions.

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