Individual retirement accounts provide tax advantages to those who save for retirement. Before investing in an IRA, it can be helpful to understand how IRAs work and what to expect when contributing to an account. Here are the guidelines associated with IRAs, including how much you can deposit in the account each year, what sort of tax savings you will receive and when to withdraw funds.
IRA Contribution Rules
The IRS has limits on how much can be contributed to an IRA. In 2019 and 2020, your total contributions to all IRAs cannot be more than $6,000 if you are age 49 or younger and $7,000 if you are 50 or older.
You need to have earned income from a job or business to be eligible to contribute to an IRA. When putting money into an IRA, “You aren’t able to contribute more than the amount of your earned income,” says Andy Panko, a certified financial planner and owner of Tenon Financial in Iselin, New Jersey. If you earn $1,000 in a year, you won’t be able to contribute more than $1,000 to the IRA.
However, there is an exception to the earned income requirement for married couples. If you are married and your spouse doesn’t work for pay, you may be able to open and contribute to a spousal IRA. This type of account is “an IRA to which a working spouse can contribute on behalf of his or her non-working spouse,” Panko says.
There is no minimum age requirement you have to meet to contribute to an IRA. However, you will no longer be able to make contributions to an IRA after you turn age 70 1/2.
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You may be able to defer paying income tax on the amount you contribute to an IRA. The exact deductible amount will depend on what other retirement accounts you have. “If neither you nor your spouse is covered by a company retirement plan, you can deduct the full amount of your annual contribution, no matter how much money you make,” says Mike Piershale, president of Piershale Financial Group in Barrington, Illinois.
If you or your spouse has a retirement plan through work, such as a 401(k), the amount you will be able to deduct is based on your income and tax filing status. In 2020, you can participate in a 401(k) and still deduct your entire IRA contribution if you are a single tax return filer and earn less than $65,000 or you are married, file jointly and earn less than $104,000.
If you are a 401(k) participant who is taxed as an individual and earn more than $65,000, you won’t be able to deduct the entire IRA contribution. In this case, there is a phase-out range that caps at $75,000. If you earn more than $75,000, you won’t be able to make a tax-deductable IRA contribution.
If you are married filing jointly with a 401(k) and earn more than $104,000, you will face a phase-out period as well. If you earn between $104,000 and $124,000 as a joint filer, you will not be able to deduct the entire contribution. “If you earned more than $124,000 as a joint filer, then you would not be entitled to any pre-tax IRA contribution because you have access to an employer 401(k) plan,” says Adam Bergman, a tax attorney and president of the IRA Financial Trust Company in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
IRA Withdrawal Rules
You can expect to pay income tax on each withdrawal from your traditional IRA. If you take out pre-tax IRA contributions before age 59 1/2, you will also typically face a penalty, which is 10% of the amount withdrawn. This means a distribution of $15,000 before age 59 1/2 would be treated as income and create a $1,500 tax penalty. “If you are over the age of 59 1/2, then only income tax would apply – no early distribution penalty,” Bergman says. However, there are some penalty exemptions for specific circumstances, such as a job loss or high medical expenses.
When you reach age 70 1/2, you’ll need to take required minimum distributions from your IRA every year until the IRA is depleted. “The average RMD is approximately 3% of the value of the IRA as of December 31st of the prior year,” Bergman says.
Roth IRA Rules
Not everyone is eligible to contribute to a Roth IRA. If your income is above a certain level, the option isn’t available. For instance, if you are married and file a joint tax return, you won’t be able to contribute if your income is greater than $206,000.
Roth IRAs do not have a maximum age limit, so you can put money into the account past age 70 1/2.
When you make contributions to a Roth IRA, the amount you put in will not be tax-deductible. Earnings from the account are not subject to taxes if you meet certain requirements before taking them out. “In order to withdraw gains without taxes or penalties, you generally must be at least 59 1/2 and must have had a Roth IRA opened for at least five years,” Panko says.
In addition, you can take out the original contribution amount put in a Roth IRA at any time. It won’t be subject to taxes or penalties. “This can be very helpful to a young family putting money in Roth IRAs, knowing they can always pull their original contribution out if they have an unexpected emergency,” Piershale says.