Brush Up On Your IRA Facts

Brush Up On Your IRA Facts

The question is often asked, “hey, can I contribute to my IRA this year?” To which I reply, “sure…which one?” IRAs are one of the more popular retirement savings vehicles in use today but before you contribute to an IRA, be sure you are familiar with the latest rules governing them, including contribution limits, tax deductibility rules, and distribution guidelines.

First, here are a few statistical highlights:

According to the Investment Company Institute (ICI), the U.S. retirement market had $25 trillion in assets as of September 30, 2016, with $7.8 trillion of that sum attributable to IRAs.

In mid-2016, 42.5 million -- or 34% -- of U.S. households reported owning IRAs.

Traditional IRAs, the most common variety, are held by 25.5% of U.S. households, followed by Roth IRAs, which are held by 17.4% of households, and employer-sponsored IRAs (including SEP IRAs, SAR-SEP IRAs, and SIMPLE IRAs), which are held by 5.7% of households.

Contribution Limits: In general, the most you can contribute to an IRA for 2017 is $5,500. However, if you are age 50 or older, you can make an additional "catch-up" contribution of $1,000, which brings the maximum annual contribution to $6,500.

Eligibility: One potential area of confusion around IRAs concerns an individual's eligibility to make contributions. Tax rules require that you must have compensation to contribute to an IRA. Compensation includes income from wages and salaries and net self-employment income. If you are married and file a joint tax return, only one spouse needs to have the required compensation.

With regard to Roth IRAs, income may affect your ability to contribute. For tax year 2017, individuals with an adjusted gross income (AGI) of $118,000 or less may make a full contribution to a Roth IRA. Married couples filing jointly with an AGI of $186,000 or less may also contribute fully for the year. Contribution limits begin to decline, or "phase out," for individuals with AGIs between $118,000 and $133,000 and for married couples with AGIs between $186,000 and $196,000. If your income exceeds these upper thresholds, you may not contribute to a Roth IRA.

Deductibility. Whether you can deduct your traditional IRA contribution depends on your income level, marital status, and coverage by an employer-sponsored retirement plan. For instance:

If you are single and covered by an employer-sponsored retirement plan, your traditional IRA contribution for 2017 will be fully deductible if your AGI was $62,000 or less. The amount you can deduct begins to decline if your AGI was between $62,000 and $72,000. Your IRA contribution is not deductible if your income is equal to or more than $72,000.

If you are married, filing jointly, and the spouse making the IRA contribution is covered by an employer-sponsored retirement plan, your 2017 IRA contribution will be fully deductible if your combined AGI is $99,000 or less. The amount you can deduct begins to phase out if your combined AGI is between $99,000 and $119,000. You may not claim an IRA deduction if your combined income is equal to or more than $119,000.

If you are married, filing jointly, and your spouse is covered by an employer-sponsored plan (but you are not), you may qualify for a full IRA deduction if your combined AGI is $186,000 or less. The amount you can deduct begins to phase out for combined incomes of between $186,000 and $196,000. Your deduction is eliminated if your AGI on a joint return is $196,000 or more.

If neither you nor your spouse is covered by an employer-sponsored retirement plan, your contribution is generally fully deductible up to the annual contribution limit or 100% of your compensation, whichever is less. Keep in mind that contributions to a Roth IRA are not tax deductible under any circumstances.

Distributions: You may begin withdrawing money from a traditional IRA without penalty after age 59½. Generally, previously untaxed contributions and earnings are taxable at the then-current regular income tax rate. Nondeductible contributions are generally not taxable because those amounts have already been taxed.

You must begin receiving minimum annual distributions from your traditional IRA no later than April 1 of the year following the year you reach age 70½ and then annually thereafter. If your distributions in any year after you reach 70½ are less than the required minimum, you may be subject to an additional federal tax equal to 50% of the difference.

Unlike traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs do not require the account holder to take distributions during his or her lifetime. This feature can prove very attractive to those individuals who would like to use the Roth IRA as an estate planning tool.

IRAs continue to play an increasingly prominent role in the retirement saving strategies of Americans so just make sure you are utilizing the right one.