The benefits of the Roth IRA are so good, Congress made them exclusive: The contribution limit phases out at certain higher incomes, until the ability to contribute is eliminated completely.
Roth IRA contribution limits
The contribution limit for a Roth IRA is $5,500 ($6,500 for those 50 or older). But the IRS also sets income eligibility rules for the Roth IRA each year. These limits are based on modified adjusted gross income and first phase out the Roth IRA contribution limit before eliminating the ability to contribute altogether.
» MORE: How to Open a Roth IRA
Roth IRA contribution limits for 2017
|Filing status||2017 modified AGI||Maximum contribution|
|Married filing jointly or qualifying widow(er)||Less than $186,000||$5,500 ($6,500 if 50 or older)|
|$186,000 to $195,999||Contribution is reduced|
|$196,000 or more||Not eligible|
|Single, head of household or married filling separately (if you did NOT live with spouse during year)||Less than $118,000||$5,500 ($6,500 if 50 or older)|
|$118,000 to $132,999||Contribution is reduced|
|$133,000 or more||Not eligible|
|Married filing separately (if you lived with spouse at any time during year)||Less than $10,000||Contribution is reduced|
|$10,000 or more||Not eligible|
The fine print on that limit is that you can’t contribute more than your taxable compensation for the year. That means that if your taxable income is $3,000, your cap on Roth IRA contributions is also $3,000. If you don’t have any taxable earnings during the year, you can’t contribute.
The one exception is the spousal IRA, which allows a nonworking spouse to contribute to an IRA based on the taxable income of the working spouse. To be eligible for a spousal IRA, you must file a joint tax return and the working spouse’s income must be enough to cover both of your contributions; that’s at least $11,000, if you each want to max out an IRA.
» MORE: Have more questions about Roths? Check out our Roth IRA explainer.
You can use this calculator to see what your annual Roth contribution limits are:
Contributing a reduced amount
We recommend contributing to a Roth if you’re eligible, even if your contribution is reduced. Because your money will be contributed after taxes, you get to take distributions from a Roth IRA tax-free in retirement. Assuming you follow the Roth IRA withdrawal rules — and you should — you won’t pay taxes on any investment growth.
You’ll gain some valuable tax diversification in retirement: Because Roth IRA distributions aren’t included in your income in retirement, pulling money from that pot in addition to a traditional IRA or 401(k) could allow you to keep your income in a lower tax bracket, potentially reducing the taxes on your Social Security benefits and lowering Medicare premiums that increase at higher income levels.
What to do if you contribute too much to a Roth IRA
No one is going to cry for you if you’ve saved too much for retirement, but in this case, maybe they should: Contributions in excess of the annual limit can trigger a penalty from the IRS that could easily wipe out any investment income.
But here’s the good news: You’re allowed to backtrack. If you realize your mistake prior to filing your tax return, withdraw the excess contributions and the earnings you received on them. If you’ve already filed, you can remove the excess and earnings within six months, and file an amended tax return. In both cases, you’ll pay taxes on the earnings but no penalty.
The other option is to reduce the following year’s contribution by the excess amount, but you’ll pay a 6% penalty on the excess that was contributed, for every year it remains in the account.
The lesson: Keep track of your Roth IRA contributions, especially if you use more than one account. If you have questions about removing excess funds, it may make sense to work with a tax advisor.