As with all tax-advantaged retirement accounts, you cannot hold a Roth IRA jointly with someone else. That’s even if they are your spouse. Each individual in a household must own and contribute to their own account, although you can name each other as designated beneficiaries to your retirement accounts. Here’s how it works.
A financial advisor can help you expand your plans based on your personal needs.
What Is a Roth IRA?
A Roth IRA is a specialized form of an individual retirement account (IRA). As an IRA, this is a tax-advantaged retirement account that you own and manage yourself. This makes it separate from the traditional 401(k) system, which is owned and operated by employers on behalf of their employees.
In the case of a Roth IRA, you receive your tax advantages in retirement rather than during your working years. Unlike with a traditional IRA or 401(k), you don’t receive any tax deductions for your contributions to this account. So you would earn income, pay taxes on it, and then make contributions with the post-tax money.
However then, when you withdraw money in retirement, you pay no taxes on the account’s gains. For most savers, this makes Roth IRAs by far the best retirement vehicle, since your contributions should be far smaller than your account’s gains.
As with all tax-advantaged retirement accounts, the IRS limits the amount that you can contribute each year. In the case of a Roth IRA, in 2023 you cannot contribute more than $6,500 per year (or $7,500 for those 50 and older).
Can Married Couples Hold Joint Accounts?
Spouses are allowed to establish joint ownership of most financial assets. This is particularly important for tax and estate purposes since it usually changes the income brackets at which you pay taxes and it establishes clear ownership in the case of one party’s death.
However the IRS does not allow you to jointly establish tax-advantaged retirement accounts. Like a 401(k) or an IRA, a Roth IRA must be individually owned. The account must be held in one person’s name and officially managed by that individual.
However being married still interacts with your Roth IRA in several critical ways. Most importantly:
As noted above, every tax-advantaged retirement account has annual contribution limits. For a Roth IRA, those limits are set on a sliding scale based on your household income. That income is based on your tax status, meaning that it’s significantly higher if you are married filing jointly compared with being single.
For example, in 2023, a single filer earning less than $138,000 can contribute up to $6,500 to their Roth IRA each year. A joint filer can contribute the same amount with taxable earnings up to $218,000.
However with joint filers each individual has their contribution limits defined by the household’s overall income. A married couple with combined earnings over $228,000 cannot make any contributions to a Roth IRA. (A 4% change in earnings is the difference between maxing this plan out and not getting to use it at all.)
So, say you earned $50,000 and your spouse earned $210,000. If you choose to file your taxes jointly, neither of you can contribute to a Roth IRA that year.
You contribute to a Roth IRA with post-tax income, meaning that you fund this account with money on which you’ve already paid taxes. This makes your tax status particularly relevant to how you fund a Roth IRA.
Make sure that you choose the correct filing to maximize your tax advantages, which for most couples will be to file jointly.
Joint Roth IRA Alternatives
As mentioned, you can’t open a joint Roth IRA. But you do have other options for making sure that this money is there for both you and your spouse. Two of the most significant are:
Name a Beneficiary
Most retirement accounts allow you to name a beneficiary. This is the individual who will take over the account if there are assets still in it when you die.
For most couples, this will achieve the goals of a joint Roth IRA. The two of you can share the account fully while you are alive to manage it. Then, if they survive you, naming them as a beneficiary ensures that they will continue on as the legal owner and manager of the account.
Naming a beneficiary solves most issues regarding the continuation of assets. But for some couples, the problem is opening a retirement account in the first place.
Individuals must have earned income to open a Roth IRA or make contributions. This can create a problem for single-earner households since it leaves one spouse without an account in their name. It also prevents you from taking both contribution limits.
In a household with two earners, each individual can make their maximum allowed contributions to a retirement account. For example, in a household below the cap, each spouse can contribute $6,500 per person to their Roth IRA. However, if one member of that household doesn’t have earned income, couldn’t open a regular Roth IRA, meaning you could only fund one account.
To fix this, you can establish what is known as a spousal IRA. This is only available to couples that file a joint return.
In that case, you can establish a Roth IRA in the name of a spouse with little or no income as long as you make contributions with earned income from a joint tax return. The combined contributions of both spouses to their traditional and Roth IRAs must not exceed the couple’s claimed income. However, as long as you meet those rules, you can open a Roth IRA for both members of a joint household even if one has no earned income.
In most situations, spouses are allowed to establish joint ownership of financial assets. But in some cases, you can’t. You cannot establish a joint Roth IRA. However, depending on your needs, naming a beneficiary to your Roth IRA would work as an alternative. Or, establishing a spousal Roth IRA may be just as good.
Tips for Getting Retirement Ready
- Industry experts say that people who work with a financial advisor are twice as likely to meet their retirement goals. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three vetted financial advisors who serve your area, and you can interview your advisor matches at no cost to decide which one is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
- If you want to set up and plan your retirement goals, SmartAsset’s retirement calculator can help you figure out how much you will need to save to retire comfortably.
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