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Who can contribute to a Roth IRA?

Key takeaways

  • You must have an earned income that falls within certain ranges to contribute to a Roth IRA.
  • Age and employment status do not determine whether you can contribute to a Roth IRA.

Although they can offer a powerful and flexible way to save and invest for retirement, not everyone can contribute to Roth IRAs. Here's what you need to know about requirements to utilize this type of retirement account.

Who can contribute to a Roth IRA?

Anyone with both earned income greater than the amount they want to contribute and income that falls within IRS guidelines can contribute to a Roth IRA. To see if you meet these requirements, you'll need to know how much income you've received, as well as your filing status.

First, you'll want to look at your household's modified adjusted gross income (MAGI), which is your adjusted gross income (aka your total income minus certain tax credits, adjustments, and deductions), with some of those credits, adjustments, and deductions added back in. Calculating your MAGI can be complicated, so consult a tax professional if you have questions. Or use IRS Worksheet 2-1 on Publication 590-A to calculate your MAGI.

Depending on your MAGI, filing status, and earned income, you may be able to make the federal maximum contribution to your Roth IRA ($6,500 for those under 50; $7,500 for those 50 or older in 2023), a portion of that maximum amount, or nothing. The table below breaks this down.

Roth IRA income requirements for 2023
Filing status Modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) Contribution limit
Single individuals < $138,000 $6,500
≥ $138,000 but < $153,000 Partial contribution (calculate)
≥ $153,000 Not eligible
Married (filing joint returns) < $218,000 $6,500
≥ $218,000 but < $228,000 Partial contribution (calculate)
≥ $228,000 Not eligible
Married (filing separately)1 Not eligible $6,500
< $10,000 Partial contribution (calculate)
≥ $10,000 Not eligible

"Amount of Roth IRA Contributions That You Can Make for 2023," Internal Revenue Service, October 2022.

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

Keep in mind:

  • Just because you have been eligible to contribute to a Roth IRA in the past does not mean you necessarily will in future years. IRS thresholds are adjusted annually, and you must qualify each year.
  • You cannot contribute more to an IRA than your earned income for the year. So if you earned less than the maximum contribution limit, the dollar value of your earned income is the most you can contribute.
  • If you don't have any earned income yourself but file jointly with your spouse, you may qualify for a spousal IRA. This special type of IRA considers your spouse's income—meaning you can contribute as much as your family's wage earner if you meet the income requirements for married filing jointly.

What qualifies as earned income?

Earned income might take many forms. The IRS defines compensation as what you earn from working.1 Here are a few of the most common scenarios:

  1. You're employed by someone other than yourself. This includes income like your salary, tips, commissions, and even taxable benefits. Usually your earned income is reported on a W-2 in box 1 if you're a full-time employee or on a 1099 if you work part time or are a contractor.
  2. You are self-employed.
  3. You fall under certain military income streams (such as untaxed combat pay).
  4. You receive certain disability benefits you got before hitting retirement age.

Note: This covers most people's earned income but may not account for everything. For an exhaustive list, visit the IRS's guide to earned income.

What doesn't qualify as earned income?

Generally, passive income does not qualify as earned income and is instead considered "unearned income." Pertaining to investments, this includes money generated from taxable interest, ordinary dividends, and capital gain distributions. Unearned income also includes unemployment compensation, taxable Social Security benefits, pensions, annuities, cancellation of debt, and distributions of unearned income from a trust.

If you are unsure if a certain form of income qualifies as earned or unearned, reach out to a tax professional for help.

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Is there an age limit to contribute to a Roth IRA?

Provided you make earned income, there is no age limit to contribute to a Roth IRA. This means that even those under 18 can contribute to Roth IRAs. In fact, parents can open a Roth IRAs for kids to help their children invest for the future. Contributions are subject to the earned income requirement even for those that are 18 or younger.

When do you have to contribute to a Roth IRA by?

The latest you can contribute to a Roth IRA is your unextended tax filing deadline, which for most people is Tax Day in April. This can be helpful as you may not have a good sense of your MAGI until you've begun your taxes.

If you become ineligible after you have already made Roth IRA contributions for the year, you have until the extended filing deadline (normally October 15 the year your taxes are due) to fix the mistake. Depending on the investment income you've earned, you may owe taxes or a penalty. Find out your options if you contributed too much to your IRA.

Alternatives if you can't contribute to a Roth IRA

If you aren't eligible to contribute to a Roth IRA this year, you may have access to other options to save for retirement.

Workplace plans

If you are employed and have access to a retirement plan through work—such as a 401(k) or 403(b)—you can contribute to it, regardless of your income. In fact, your workplace may even provide Roth contributions, like a Roth 401(k) or Roth 403(b), that allows you to potentially lock in future tax-free withdrawals in retirement.

Traditional IRAs

Anyone with an earned income can contribute to a traditional IRA. However, if you earn too much to contribute to a Roth IRA and have access to a retirement plan at work, you may also earn too much to be able to deduct your traditional IRA contributions from your taxes. (Check out our guide to IRA contribution and income limits for a full breakdown.)

You could also consider a backdoor Roth IRA, where you convert nondeductible traditional IRA contributions to a Roth IRA.

Is an IRA right for you?

We can help you decide whether you might want a traditional, Roth, or rollover IRA.

More to explore

1. "Publications 590-A: What is compensation?" IRS, accessed October 10, 2023.

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