A Roth individual retirement account (IRA) can be a helpful tool for retirement planning. These tax-advantaged accounts offer a way to save money in addition to what you might be contributing to a 401(k) or similar workplace plan. And if you don’t have a retirement plan at work, you may still be able to use a Roth IRA to invest for the future. Your ability to contribute to a Roth IRA and the amount you can invest each year is determined by your filing status and income. Each year, the IRS updates the Roth IRA income limits and contribution limits to keep pace with inflation. For more guidance on how a Roth IRA can fit into your financial plan, consider connecting with a trusted financial advisor.
Roth IRA: How It Works
A Roth IRA allows you to save after-tax dollars for retirement. That means you’ve already paid taxes on any money you contribute.
The advantage of that is that once you retire and begin taking qualified distributions from your Roth IRA, those distributions are 100% tax-free. This is the opposite of a traditional IRA, in which you make pretax contributions that may be tax-deductible, while paying taxes on withdrawals in retirement.
A Roth IRA could be a good option if you expect to be in a higher tax bracket when you retire. You can contribute money during your working years at a lower tax rate and then withdraw those contributions and their earnings tax-free later on.
For 2020, the maximum amount you can contribute to a Roth IRA is $6,000. You’re allowed to increase that to $7,000 if you’re age 50 or older. These same limits apply to traditional IRAs. And it’s also worth noting that this is a cumulative limit. If for some reason you have both a traditional and Roth IRA, your total contributions to both accounts can’t exceed the annual limit when combined.
Unlike traditional IRAs, there’s no deadline for taking money from your Roth IRA. Traditional IRAs have required minimum distributions that must begin starting at age 72. With a Roth IRA, you can keep adding money to your account as long as you’re working and have earned income. And you can leave the money you’re investing in your Roth IRA for as long as you want so it can continue to grow.
Who Can Contribute to a Roth IRA?
Roth IRAs can offer unique tax advantages but there’s a caveat; not everyone is eligible to contribute to one. Your ability to make a contribution to a Roth IRA is based on your income and tax filing status. The Roth IRA income limits are set by the IRS and updated annually. There are different thresholds for income, based on filing status.
So you may be able to make a full Roth IRA contribution if you fall below one income threshold but your contribution amount may be reduced if your income is above that same threshold.
That’s different from a traditional IRA, which limits your ability to deduct your full contributions based on your income, filing status and whether you’re covered by an employer’s workplace retirement plan.
Roth IRA Income Limits for 2020
Roth IRA contributions for 2020 can be made up until the April filing deadline for your 2020 taxes. But before making a contribution, you first have to determine whether you’re eligible to do so, based on your income.
You can make the full contribution for 2020 if:
- You’re married filing jointly or a qualifying widow(er) and have an adjusted gross income (AGI) of less than $196,000
- You file single or head of household and have an AGI of less than $124,000
- You’re married, file separately, don’t live with your spouse and have an AGI of less than $124,000
Note that if you’re married and file separately but live with your spouse, you can’t contribute anything to a Roth IRA if your AGI is more than $10,000.
The IRS also allows you to make Roth IRA contributions on a reduced basis if your income exceeds the threshold to make a full contribution. For 2020, you can contribute a reduced amount if:
- You’re married filing jointly or a qualifying widow(er) and have an AGI between $196,000 and $206,000
- You file single or head of household and have an AGI between $124,000 and $139,000
- You’re married, file separately, don’t live with your spouse and have an AGI between $124,000 and $139,000
Finally, the IRS phases out your ability to contribute to a Roth IRA completely once your income hits certain limits.
Here are the Roth IRA income limits for 2020 that would reduce your contribution to zero:
- You’re married filing jointly or a qualifying widow(er) with an AGI of $206,000 or more
- You file single or head of household and have an AGI of $139,000 or more
- You’re married, file separately, don’t live with your spouse and have an AGI of $139,000 or more
Remember, your ability to contribute to a Roth IRA is based on AGI, which may not represent your actual earnings or take-home pay. AGI is your gross income, minus adjustments.
Gross income includes:
Adjustments to income include:
- Student loan interest
- Alimony payments
- Contributions to a retirement account
- Self-employment tax if you’re self-employed
- Health savings account contributions
Aside from determining whether you can contribute to a Roth IRA and how much you can contribute, your AGI is also used to determine your eligibility for other tax deductions and credits. For example, whether you can deduct medical expenses paid out of pocket or not is based on your AGI.
|2020 Roth IRA Contribution Amounts|
|Filing Status||Modified AGI||Contribution Amount|
|Married filing jointly or qualifying widow(er)||Less than $196,000||Up to the limit|
|$196,000 – $205,999||Reduced amount|
|$206,000 and up||Zero|
|Married filing separately (lived with your spouse during the year)||Less than $10,000||Reduced amount|
|$10,000 and up||Zero|
|Single, head of household or married filing separately (did not live with your spouse during the year)||Less than $124,000||Up to the limit|
|$124,000 – $138,999||Reduced amount|
|$139,000 and up||Zero|
When You Earn Too Much to Contribute to a Roth
If you can’t make contributions to a Roth IRA because your income is too high, you can still make contributions to a traditional IRA. And you may still be able to contribute to a Roth IRA using a Roth conversion, also known as a backdoor Roth. A Roth conversion involves converting assets in a nondeductible IRA (meaning one that you didn’t deduct contributions to) into a Roth IRA. You’d have to pay taxes on the amount being converted for the tax year in which you’re moving assets.
But going forward, you could make contributions to a Roth IRA and potentially reap big tax benefits when it’s time to withdraw those assets later.
Roth IRA conversions can also make sense if you’d like to avoid required minimum distributions starting at age 72. But it’s important to weigh the current tax costs to you against future tax benefits to make sure it’s the right move.
The Bottom Line
Roth IRAs are just one way to save for retirement but they’re worth considering if you’re interested in making tax-free withdrawals. Being aware of the Roth IRA income limits and the annual contribution limits can help ensure that you’re making the most of these accounts in your retirement planning strategy.
Tips for Investing
- Consider talking to a financial advisor about opening a Roth IRA if you don’t already have one. And if you don’t have a financial advisor yet, finding one doesn’t have to be difficult. SmartAsset’s financial advisor matching tool can help you connect with professional advisors in your local area in a few minutes by answering a few questions online. If you’re ready, get started now.
- Roth IRAs have another unique feature, in that you can withdraw your original contributions tax-free at any time. You may, however, pay an early withdrawal penalty if your account has been open for less than five years. Before making an early withdrawal from a Roth IRA, consider what it may mean tax-wise and how that could affect your account’s growth over the long-term.
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