Can I Contribute to a Roth IRA if I’m Married Filing Separately?

A couple lays on a bed together.
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A Roth IRA is a variation on the traditional individual retirement account that allows for contributions of after-tax dollars under the Internal Revenue Code (IRC). It’s considered more advantageous compared to a traditional IRA in a few ways, depending on your goals and your needs.

But the IRS doesn’t give away tax breaks lightly, and Roth IRAs come with some rules and restrictions for taxpayers who file married filing separately.

Key Takeaways

  • Using the married filing separately status restricts your ability to claim numerous tax breaks, and it significantly limits your contributions to a Roth IRA.
  • You can’t contribute to a Roth IRA if you earn too much, and married filing separately taxpayers are limited to annual incomes of less than $10,000.
  • The Internal Revenue Code only imposes this restriction on married filing separately taxpayers who lived with their spouses at any time during the tax year.

Roth IRA Contribution Rules When You’re Married Filing Separately

If your tax status is married filing separately and you lived with your spouse at any time during the year, here are your Roth IRA contribution limits:

  • You can contribute up to the maximum Roth IRA contribution limit of $6,000 ($7,000 for ages 50 or older) in 2022 if your modified AGI (MAGI) is $0.
  • You can contribute a reduced amount if your MAGI is more than $0 but less than $10,000.
  • You can’t contribute to your Roth IRA if your MAGI is $10,000 or more.

Your MAGI is your adjusted gross income (AGI) with some claimed deductions added back in. These deductions can differ depending on the tax break you’re hoping to qualify for. The IRS provides Worksheet 2-1 in Publication 590-A to help you calculate yours for purposes of contributing to a Roth IRA.

The first and third bullets above are straightforward, but the second bullet takes an additional series of simple calculations to figure it out using Worksheet 2-2 from the IRS’ IRA contributions explainer. Let’s say, for example, your MAGI is $5,000. (It has to be more than $0 or less than $10,000 to qualify for reduced contributions.):

  1. Calculate your MAGI, which, in this case, is $5,000.
  2. Subtract $0 from your MAGI to get $5,000.
  3. Divide $5,000 by $10,000 to get 0.5.
  4. Multiply 0.5 by the IRA contribution limit for your age ($6,000 if you’re under 50) to get $3,000.*
  5. Subtract $3,000 from the contribution limit to get $3,000.
  6. Subtract any contributions you’ve made to other IRAs from $6,000.
  7. Your contribution is the lesser of $3,000 (Step 5) or your contributions to other IRAs subtracted from $6,000.
  8. Assuming you made no contributions to other IRAs, you can contribute a maximum of $3,000 to your Roth IRA.

*The calculation here includes the lesser of your IRA contribution limit or taxable compensation. For the purpose of this example, the IRA contribution limit was lower than the taxable income.

You can make contributions at any point during the tax year until the due date for your tax return.

The limit for married filing separate taxpayers applies only if you lived with your spouse at any time during the tax year. So you’re spared if you’re filing your own tax return because you and your spouse are separated. You’re treated the same as a single or head of household filer in this case.

Why Roth IRAs Have Income Limits

The government needs tax revenue to keep the country running, so it sets limits on certain deductions, credits, and retirement contributions. Roth IRAs are no exception.

Assume the tax code allowed you to live with your spouse and file separately from them using the same contribution rules as single filers. Your and your spouse’s MAGI is $100,000. You could each contribute $6,000 to your Roth IRAs if IRC rules weren’t in place, assuming you’re both younger than age 50. Your family would enjoy tax-free retirement savings growth on an investment of $12,000 per year, or $14,000 if both you and your spouse are age 50 or older. But because the tax code has placed limits on what you can contribute, your combined MAGI of $200,000 disqualifies you from making Roth IRA contributions.

Alternatives to Roth IRAs When Married Filing Separately

Roth IRAs aren’t the only tax-advantaged retirement savings plan out there. Your ability to contribute to a traditional IRA isn’t affected at all if you file a separate married return unless your spouse is covered by a retirement plan at work. If your spouse is covered by a retirement plan at work, you’re limited to the same MAGI threshold of $10,000 if either you or your spouse is covered by a work plan.

Of course, traditional IRAs are pre-tax contributions, which means that money is taxed at withdrawal. With Roth IRAs, since you’ve already paid taxes on the money you put into the plan, barring certain cases, there is no tax implication when you take your money out.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How much money are you allowed to contribute to a Roth IRA each year if you’re married and filing separately?

You can’t contribute up to the full $6,000 limit, or $7,000 if you’re older than age 50, if you’re married and file a separate return. You may be able to contribute a lesser amount if your modified adjusted gross income is less than $10,000 as of 2022.

Why isn’t a Roth IRA contribution tax-deductible?

Contributions to a Roth IRA aren’t tax-deductible because they’re tax-free upon withdrawal. You’re effectively taking a tax break later in retirement rather in the year you make contributions, and the earnings on your contributions are tax-free as well, subject to some rules.

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