Seven things you may not know about IRAs

Make sure you aren’t overlooking some IRA strategies and potential tax and savings benefits.

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It’s the time of year when IRA contributions are on many people’s minds—especially those doing their tax returns and looking for a deduction. The deadline for making IRA contributions for the 2016 tax year is April 18, 2017.

Chances are, there may be a few things you don’t know about IRAs. Here are seven commonly overlooked things about IRAs.

1. Even if you don’t qualify for tax-deductible contributions, you can still have an IRA.

If you’re covered by a retirement savings plan at work—like a 401(k) or 403(b)—and your 2016 modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) exceeds certain income limits, your contribution might not be tax deductible.1 But getting a current-year tax deduction isn’t the only benefit of having an IRA. Nondeductible IRA contributions still offer the potential for your money and earnings to grow tax free until the time of withdrawal. You also have the option of converting to a Roth IRA (see No. 7, below).

2. A nonworking spouse can open and contribute to an IRA.

Non-wage-earning spouses can open and contribute to their own traditional or Roth IRA, provided the other spouse is working and the couple files a joint federal income tax return. A nonworking spouse can contribute as much to a spousal IRA as the wage earner in the family. For 2016 and 2017, the IRA contribution limits are $5,500, or $6,500 for those over age 50.

3. Alimony counts as earned income.

Although former spouses receiving alimony might not like having to pay tax on these payments, the fact that alimony counts as earned income may qualify them to contribute to an IRA. Keep in mind, however, that tax-deductible contributions to an IRA can’t exceed total taxable earned income. So if the total of your alimony payments and other taxable earned income is less than $5,500 ($6,500 if you’re 50 or older), your deductible IRA contribution will be limited to the lower amount.

4. Self-employed, freelancer, side gigger? Save even more with a SEP IRA.

If you are self-employed or have income from freelancing, you can open a Simplified Employee Pension plan—more commonly known as a SEP IRA. Even if you have a full-time job as an employee, if you earn money freelancing or running a small business on the side, you could take advantage of the potential tax benefits of a SEP IRA. The SEP IRA is similar to a traditional IRA where contributions may be tax deductible—but the SEP IRA has a much higher contribution limit. The amount you can put in varies based on your earned income. For SEP IRAs, you can save 25% of pretax income up to a $53,000 limit for 2016 and a $54,000 limit for 2017 contributions. The deadline to set up the account is the tax deadline—so for 2016 it will be April 18, 2017 (for a calendar-year filer). But, if you get an extension for filing your tax return, you have until the end of the extension period to set up the account or deposit contributions.

5. "Catch-up" contributions can help those age 50 or older save more.

If you’re age 50 or older, you can save an additional $1,000 in a traditional or Roth IRA each year. This is a great way to make up for any lost savings periods and make sure that you are saving the maximum amount allowable for retirement. For example, if you turn 50 this year and put an extra $1,000 into your IRA for the next 20 years, and it earns an average return of 7% a year, you could have almost $44,000 more in your account than someone who didn’t take advantage of the catch-up contribution.2

6. You can open a Roth IRA for a child who has taxable earned income.3

Helping a young person fund an IRA—especially a Roth IRA—can be a great way to give him or her a head start on saving for retirement. That’s because the longer the timeline, the greater the benefit of tax-free earnings. Although it might be nearly impossible to persuade a teenager with income from mowing lawns or babysitting put part of it in a retirement account, gifting the contribution to an IRA on behalf of a child or grandchild can be the answer. The contribution can’t exceed the amount the child actually earns, and even if you hit the maximum annual contribution amount of $5,500, that’s still well below the annual gift tax exemption ($14,000 per person in 2016 and 2017).

The Fidelity Roth IRA for Kids, specifically for minors, is managed by an adult until the child reaches the appropriate age for the account to be transferred into a regular Roth IRA in his or her name. This age varies by state. Bear in mind that once the account has been transferred, the account’s new owner would be able to withdraw assets from it whenever he or she wished, so be sure to educate your child about the benefits of allowing it to grow over time and about the rules that govern Roth IRAs.

7. Even if you exceed the income threshold, you might still be able to have a Roth IRA.

Roth IRAs can be a great way to achieve tax diversification in retirement. Distributions of contributions are available any time without tax or penalty, all qualified withdrawals are tax free, and you don’t have to start taking minimum required distributions at age 70½.4 But some taxpayers make the mistake of thinking that a Roth IRA isn’t available to them if they exceed the income thresholds.5 In reality, you can still establish a Roth IRA by converting a traditional IRA, regardless of your income level.

If you don’t have a traditional IRA you’re still not out of luck. You could open a traditional IRA and make nondeductible contributions, which aren’t restricted by income, then convert those assets to a Roth IRA. If you have no other traditional IRA assets, the only tax you’ll owe is on the account earnings between the time of the contribution and the conversion. However, if you do have deductible contributions in another IRA, you’ll need to pay close attention to the tax consequences. That’s because of an IRS rule that calculates your tax liability based on all your traditional IRA assets, not just the after-tax contributions in a nondeductible IRA that you set up specifically to convert to a Roth. For simplicity, just think of all IRAs in your name (other than inherited IRAs) as being a single account. For more information, read Viewpoints: “Answers to common Roth conversion questions.”

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1. If neither you nor your spouse (if you have one) is covered by a workplace plan, then there are no income limits on income for deductible contributions to a traditional IRA. For those who are covered by a workplace plan, the tax deduction for traditional IRA contributions for 2016 begins to phase out at $98,000 of MAGI for married couples filing jointly and is eliminated at $118,000. The 2016 phase-out range for single taxpayers is $61,000 to $71,000. If you’re not covered by a workplace plan but your spouse is, the phase-out range is $184,000 to $194,000. For 2017, for those who are covered by a workplace plan, the tax deduction for traditional IRA contributions for 2017 begins to phase out at $99,000 of MAGI for married couples filing jointly and is eliminated at $119,000. The 2017 phase-out range for single taxpayers is $62,000 to $72,000. If you’re not covered by a workplace plan but your spouse is, the phase-out range is $186,000 to $196,000.
2. This hypothetical example is for illustrative purposes only and is not intended to represent the performance of any security in a Fidelity IRA. The example assumes annual tax-deferred compounding in an IRA; that annual contributions are made each January 2 for 20 years; an annual contribution limit of $5,500; a hypothetical 7% annual return; and the reinvestment of income dividends and capital gains distributions. Assumes additional "catch-up" annual limits of $1,000. Investing in this manner does not ensure a profit or guarantee against loss. Final account balances are prior to any distributions, and taxes may be due upon distribution.
3. In general, anything that can be legitimately reported as taxable income on a Form W-2 is acceptable (although the fact that the income is taxable doesn’t necessarily mean that taxes are paid—the amount could be below the child’s exemption). So money a child earns on a paper route is OK, but money given to him or her by his or her parents as an allowance probably isn’t. Money earned by a child employed in a family business may be acceptable, but documentation will be required and the amounts must be reasonable—you wouldn’t be able to claim to have paid your 10-year-old $300 for one hour of sealing envelopes. Always consult with a tax expert when in doubt.
4. A distribution from a Roth IRA is tax free and penalty free, provided that the five-year aging requirement has been satisfied and at least one of the following conditions is met: you reach age 59½, become disabled, make a qualified first-time home purchase ($10,000 lifetime limit), or die. Minimum required distributions do not apply to the original account owner, although heirs will be subject to them.
5. If you’re single, or file as head of household, the ability to contribute to a Roth begins to phase out at MAGI of $117,000 and is completely phased out at $132,000 for 2016 contributions. If you’re married filing jointly, the phase-out range is $184,000 to $194,000 for 2016. For 2017, If you’re single, or file as head of household, the ability to contribute to a Roth begins to phase out at MAGI of $118,000 and is completely phased out at $133,000. If you’re married filing jointly, the phase-out range is $186,000 to $196,000 for 2017.
Fidelity does not provide legal or tax advice. The information herein is general and educational in nature and should not be considered legal or tax advice. Tax laws and regulations are complex and subject to change, which can materially impact investment results. Fidelity cannot guarantee that the information herein is accurate, complete, or timely. Fidelity makes no warranties with regard to such information or results obtained by its use, and disclaims any liability arising out of your use of, or any tax position taken in reliance on, such information. Consult an attorney or tax professional regarding your specific situation.
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