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What Is a Spousal IRA?

We all know that saving for retirement is a good thing. We often think of retirement savings in terms of a percentage of our paychecks, but what about when someone doesn’t work? The IRS has a solution that allows a non-working member of a married couple to save for retirement in an IRA. It’s called, appropriately enough, a spousal IRA. Here’s how it works.

Spousal IRA: The Basics

A spousal IRA is a traditional IRA or Roth IRA in the name of a non-working spouse. The working spouse can contribute to a spousal IRA. That way, both members of the couple can be saving at once, even if only one is working outside the home. If the working spouse has maxed out his or her own retirement contributions for the year, contributing to a spousal IRA is a great way to boost the couple’s total retirement savings. For the non-working spouse, having a retirement account in his or her own name is an important form of financial independence. The two accounts must be held separately; they cannot be held as joint accounts, like a bank account can.

Depending on whether you choose a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA, there are different tax advantages. Traditional IRAs are deductible in the year you make your contribution. Roth IRAs provide you with future income that will be tax-free when you draw on it in retirement.

Spousal IRA Rules

What Is a Spousal IRA?

In order to open a spousal IRA you must be married and file your taxes jointly. The contributing spouse’s income must be at least equal to the contributions to the spousal IRA. Or, if the contributor has his or her own IRA, taxable income must be at least equal to the sum of the contributions to both IRAs. In other words, you can’t contribute more than you earn.

If you choose a traditional IRA you’ll make pre-tax contributions that you deduct at tax time. Then, when you take distributions in retirement you’ll pay income tax on those distributions. You’ll also have to take Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) starting at age 70.5.

If you instead opt for a Roth IRA you’ll make after-tax contributions. You won’t have to take RMDs and the distributions you take in retirement won’t be taxed. If you think your tax bracket will be higher in retirement than it is now you may be better off with a Roth account. Another option is to make one spouse’s IRA a traditional account and open a spousal Roth IRA. That way you’re hedging your tax risk.

Spousal IRA Contribution Limits

What Is a Spousal IRA?

The contribution limits for spousal IRAs are the same as for regular IRAs. In 2019, that limit is $6,000 per year, or $7,000 if you’re 50 or older. You can also contribute for the 2018 tax year if you make the contribution before April 15; the limit for 2018 is $5,500, or $6,500 if you’re over 50. Note that the limit is equal to your taxable compensation if that compensation is below these limits.

This limit doesn’t apply to rollover contributions.

The Bottom Line

Establishing a spousal IRA is a great way to make sure you’re maxing out your savings as a couple. It’s also a good insurance plan for the non-working spouse. Women are more likely than men to reach retirement with insufficient savings. Don’t let this happen to you or your spouse. And while you’re in the personal finance zone, make sure both the working and non-working members of your household are covered by life insurance plans.

Retirement Tips

  • For help in planning your retirement, consider finding a financial advisor to help. Find one with SmartAsset’s free financial advisor matching service. You answer a few questions and we match you with up to three advisors. We fully vet our advisors and make sure they are free of disclosures. Talk to each advisor, ask any questions you have and make a choice about how to proceed.
  • Don’t forget, you’ll be getting a check from the government to supplement your retirement plans. See how much the check could be for with our free Social Security calculator.
  • Investing is another key part of getting ready for retirement. You want to make sure what you are investing in matches the current stage of your life, though. Use SmartAsset’s asset allocation calculator to see what your investment mix should look like now — and how it should change as you get older and move closer to your ultimate retirement date.

Photo credit: © iStock/michaeljung, © iStock/Aldo Murillo, © iStock/mtreasure

Amelia Josephson Amelia Josephson is a writer passionate about covering financial literacy topics. Her areas of expertise include retirement and home buying. Amelia's work has appeared across the web, including on AOL, CBS News and The Simple Dollar. She holds degrees from Columbia and Oxford. Originally from Alaska, Amelia now calls Brooklyn home.
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