2016 Roth IRA Rules - Eligibility, Income, Contribution Limits, and More

Quick Summary

  • You may only contribute to a Roth IRA if you make less than a certain amount of money: $132,000 for single filers and $194,000 for married couples.
  • The maximum annual direct contribution to a Roth IRA is $5,500 unless you are age 50 or over in which case it is $6,500.
  • You may make a contribution anytime from January 1 to the tax filing deadline (April 17 in 2017).

Note: The article below refers to the 2016 tax year. You have until the tax filing deadline–April 17, 2017–to make a 2016 contribution. Contribution limits will stay the same for 2016, but income limits increased slightly.

When it comes to a Roth IRA, “rules” is a subjective term. But whether you’re looking for Roth eligibility criteria or what you can and cannot do with an account once you have one, you’ve come to the right place.

First, we’ll tackle the rules for Roth IRA eligibility. See below for additional rules regarding eligibility and rules for investors who already have Roth IRAs.

Are You Eligible?

Two things determine whether you can open a new Roth IRA or continuing to invest in an existing account:

  1. Your current-year income
  2. Your tax filing status.

First, you have to have “earned” income; that’s income you make from working, typically in the form of salary, hourly wages, or profits from a small business.

If you have earned income, you then need to make sure you aren’t going to make more than the federal government allows for Roth IRA account holders. The amounts differ depending on your tax status.

What is My MAGI?

The earning limits are also on based something called your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI). MAGI is calculated by taking the adjusted gross income from your tax forms and adding back deductions for things like student loan interest and higher education expenses. A full explanation of MAGI is available here.

Contribution Limits

Here’s a chart that details the income limits, by tax filing status. It also indicates how much you can contribute each year if you are under those limits.

2016 Roth IRA Income and Contribution Limits
Filing StatusIncome Limit*Contribution Limit
Married filing jointlyLess than $184,000$5,500**
$183,000 to $193,999Begin to phase out
$194,000 or MoreIneligible for a direct Roth IRA (learn more about a “Backdoor Roth IRA”)
Married filing separately***$0$5,500**
$1 to $9,999Begin to phase out
Greater than $10,000Ineligible for a direct Roth IRA (learn more about a “Backdoor Roth IRA”)
SingleLess than $117,000$5,500**
$117,000 to $131,999Begin to phase out
$132,000 or MoreIneligible for a direct Roth IRA (learn more about a “Backdoor Roth IRA”)

*Modified Adjust Gross Income per IRS.

**Individuals age 50 and over can contribute up to $1,000 extra per year to “catch up” for a total of $6,500.

***Married (filing separately) can use the limits for single people if they have not lived with their spouse in the past year.

15 Months to Contribute

One quirk in the IRA laws is that you have 15 months to make a contribution for the current tax year. In 2016, for instance, you can make a contribution any time from January 1, 2016 to April 17, 2017 (the tax filing deadline).

More on Earned Income

And one other thing to keep in mind. If your earned income is less than your eligible contribution amount, your maximum contribution amount equals your income. In other words, if you have $3,000 in earned income, the most you can contribute to the Roth is $3,000 (instead of $5,500).

More Rules That Make Roth IRAs Special

Here are a few other eligibility-related features of a Roth IRA:

  • You can make contributions at any age.
  • You are not required to take a “mandatory distribution” from a Roth (traditional IRA account holders must start withdrawing money at 70 ½).
  • A non-working spouse can open a Roth IRA based on the working-spouse’s earnings (and the couple’s tax filing status).
  • You can still make your annual contribution if you also convert money from a tax-deductible account (like a traditional IRA) to a Roth in the same year.
  • You can contribute to a Roth even if you participate in a retirement plan through your employer.

Rules for Existing Roth Accounts

Now that you know that you’re eligible, here’s are links to some of the most common rules—and frequently asked questions–to consider when managing your account.

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