Roth IRA rules

TAX TIP No. 63

Retirement accounts get added attention during tax-filing season. That's because you must put money in an individual retirement account no later than the April return-filing deadline. It doesn't matter whether your contribution is to a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA.

In this tax tip:

If you opt for a Roth account, you won't get an immediate tax break, but you won't pay any tax on your money when you eventually take it out. The Internal Revenue Service, however, has specific rules on just who can have a Roth IRA and how much money can be contributed each year.

Contribution limits
In general, Roth contributions are the same as traditional IRAs. For 2007 tax purposes, contributions of up to $4,000 are allowed. The maximum annual contribution increases for 2008 to $5,000.

If you were 50 years old or older last year, you're allowed to contribute an extra $1,000. That means older IRA holders can put in a total of $5,000 for 2007. The catch-up contribution amount remains the same for 2008, pushing the 50-plus limit this tax year to $6,000.

However, you can't put more money than you make in any IRA. So if your income is only $1,500, then $1,500 is the most you can contribute to a Roth.

Speaking of income, you must earn money to open any IRA. That means your only income can't be from unearned sources, such as investments. You must get paid wages, a salary, tips, professional fees or bonuses.

There is an exception that allows Roth accounts for nonworking spouses. If you and your spouse file a joint return but one does not work, the employed spouse can open and contribute to a Roth IRA for the unemployed partner.

Generally, the contribution limits for a spousal IRA are the same as for the account held by the working wife or husband. IRS Publication 590, "Individual Retirement Arrangements," has complete guidelines on opening a Roth spousal IRA.

But if you make too much money, you're not eligible to open a Roth or to contribute to the account you opened when you were earning less. For a Roth, your earned income (with some deductions you might have taken, such as for student loan interest, added back in), must meet certain criteria.

No 2007 Roth if you make more than:
$166,000 if you're married filing jointly.
$114,000 if you file as single, head of household or married filing separately and did not live with your spouse during the year.
$10,000 if you lived with your spouse at any time during the tax year but decide to file separately.

You have until April 15 to make contributions to your Roth and have them count toward the 2007 tax year. If you've already done so and now want to contribute for 2008, the income limits are increased this tax year to $169,000 for married joint filers and $116.000 for single taxpayers. The married filing separately limit remains the same.

And even if you're not quite at the top of these pay ranges, your Roth contribution could be limited if your modified adjusted gross income falls within certain limits.

Roth limited for income:
$156,000 to $166,000 for married couples filing jointly in 2007;
$159,000 to $169,000 for the 2008 tax year.
$99,000 to $114,000 for single or head-of-household taxpayers or married couples filing separately and who did not live with their spouse in 2007; $101,000 to $116,000 for 2008 filings.
Zero to $10,000 for married couples filing separately who lived together at any time during either the 2007 or 2008 tax year.

You still can add to your Roth in these cases, but not the full allowable amount. Publication 590 contains work sheets and examples to help you determine your reduced Roth IRA contribution amount.

There is no age limit for Roth accounts. Whereas traditional IRA contributions are barred for individuals older than 70�, you can be any age and still contribute to a Roth IRA.

And you can leave money in your Roth for as long as you live. The IRS doesn't require minimum distributions from Roths as it does with traditional IRAs.

If you find a Roth is the right IRA for you, you have until the tax-filing deadline of April 15 to open one or contribute to your existing account and have it count toward the prior year's limit. After that, the money will be counted as a contribution in the next filing season.

For complete information on Roths and definitions of terms, check out IRS Publication 590, "Individual Retirement Arrangements."

-- Updated: April 4, 2008

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