Are You Eligible for the IRA Deduction? It Depends

Your ability to take an IRA deduction is subject to some limitations

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Many taxpayers can take a deduction for money they contribute to a traditional IRA each year, but it depends on some rules. You must have earned income to qualify, and certain types of IRAs aren't eligible. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) also sets a cap on the total amount of contributions that can be deducted.

What IRAs Are Eligible?

You can claim a deduction for traditional IRA contributions, but not for Roth IRA contributions. Roth accounts are treated differently for tax purposes. Withdrawals from Roths are tax-free after retirement because you don't get a tax break on the money at the time you contribute it. You can't take a tax deduction for contributions to a Roth IRA.

Unlike Roth accounts, traditional IRA distributions are taxed when they're withdrawn.

SEP, SIMPLE, and SARSEP IRA plan contributions are deductible, but these can be subject to slightly different rules. These guidelines apply only to traditional IRAs.

The Basics

You must have earned income to make IRA contributions. Interest and dividend income and earnings from property, such as rental income, do not count.

You and your spouse can take an IRA deduction regardless of how much you earn. There are no caps on income, but your IRA deduction is subject to income limitations if you or your spouse are also participants in an employer-sponsored retirement plan.

The deadline for making deductible contributions is Tax Day of the year following the tax year in which you're claiming them. This is usually April 15.

You'd have until April 15, 2021, to make contributions for the 2020 tax year.

Annual Contribution Caps

You can take an IRA deduction for up to $6,000 in contributions in 2021 if you're age 49 or under. This increases to $7,000 if you're age 50 or older.

These limits can increase annually, although they don't always do so. They were $5,500 and $6,500 for tax years 2015 through 2018.

You can't contribute more than your annual earnings. These limits apply to all IRA accounts that you hold. They're not $6,000 or $7,000 for each IRA. They're $6,000 or $7,000 for all your accounts collectively.

Spousal IRA Contributions

You can make a spousal IRA contribution—a contribution for your non-working spouse—if you have enough earned income to cover the contributions in addition to your own. And yes, you can claim an IRA deduction for doing so.

You'd be entitled to $7,000 in deductible contributions for each of you for a total of $14,000 if you and your unemployed spouse are age 50 and older.

If You Have an Employer-Sponsored Retirement Plan

Your IRA deduction can be limited if you also contribute to a company-sponsored retirement plan. It depends on the amount and the type of income you report.

A taxpayer is considered to be a participant in a company-sponsored retirement plan if their account balance receives any contributions at all in a given year, even if all the contributions were made by the employer. In this case, your ability to deduct your IRA contribution breaks down like this:

  • The IRA deduction is phased out if you have between $66,000 and $76,000 in modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) as of 2021 if you're single or filing as head of household. You'll be entitled to less of a deduction if you earn $66,000 or more, and you're not allowed a deduction at all if your MAGI is over $76,000.
  • The IRA deduction is phased out between $105,000 and $125,000 if you're married and filing jointly as of 2021, or if you're a qualifying widow(er). Those with MAGIs over $125,000 aren't allowed a deduction.

These limits plunge significantly for married taxpayers who file separate returns. They're limited to a partial deduction in 2021 for MAGIs up to $10,000. There's no deduction over this income threshold.

You can calculate your MAGI for purposes of claiming the IRA deduction by adding certain other deductions you might have taken back to your adjusted gross income (AGI), including the student loan interest deduction, the domestic production activities deduction, and the tuition and fees deduction.

You must also add back certain income exclusions when calculating your MAGI, including foreign earned income and housing, employer adoption benefits, and savings bond interest. 

If Your Spouse Has a Company Retirement Plan

The IRS allows a full deduction up to the contribution limits in 2021 if you're not a participant employer-sponsored plan but your spouse is, and if your household income falls below certain ranges.

The deduction is phased out between $198,000 and $208,000 of adjusted gross income in 2021 for taxpayers who are married and filing jointly when one spouse is a company retirement plan participant. A modified AGI over $208,000 allows for no deduction. ​

How to Claim the Deduction

The IRA deduction is an "above the line" adjustment to income, and that's a good thing. You don't have to itemize to claim it. You can take this deduction and itemize, too, or you can take it and claim the standard deduction.

Enter the amount on line 19 of Schedule 1 of the 2020 Form 1040, and file the schedule with your tax return. Schedule 1 covers numerous adjustments to income. The total of all of them will transfer to line 10a of Form 1040.

These lines and forms apply to the 2020 tax return, the one you'd file in 2021. The IRS has redesigned the 1040 tax return three times since 2017, so this information won't necessarily appear in the same place on other years' returns.

Non-Deductible IRA Contributions

You can still make contributions even if you're not eligible for the IRA deduction. This is called a non-deductible IRA contribution, and the funds inside the account will grow tax-deferred until a distribution occurs.

Article Sources

  1. IRS. "IRA Deduction Limits." Accessed Nov. 19, 2020.

  2. IRS. "IRA-Based Plans." Accessed Nov. 19, 2020.

  3. MassMutual. "A Comparison of Qualified Retirement Plans," Page 3. Accessed Nov. 19, 2020.

  4. IRS. "Topic No. 451 Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs)." Accessed Nov. 19, 2020.

  5. IRS. "IRA Year- End Reminders." Accessed Nov. 19, 2020.

  6. IRS. "Retirement Topics - IRA Contribution Limits." Accessed Nov. 19, 2020.

  7. IRS. "Publication 590-A (2019), Contributions to Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs) - Kay Bailey Hutchison Spousal IRA Limit." Accessed Nov. 19, 2020.

  8. IRS. "Income Ranges for Determining IRA Eligibility Change for 2021." Accessed Nov. 19, 2020.