What are the Roth IRA income limits?

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In a Nutshell

A Roth IRA can help you save for retirement and reap some tax advantages. But your income and tax-filing status affect how much you’re allowed to contribute to a Roth IRA — or if you’re even allowed to open one at all.
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This article was fact-checked by our editors and CPA Janet Murphy, senior product specialist with Credit Karma. It has been updated for the 2020 and 2021 tax years.

If you’re among the 54% of Americans who participate in a retirement plan at work — great going! And if you’re among the 33% who have less than $5,000 saved for retirement, you may be wondering if a Roth IRA could help you further build your nest egg.

A Roth IRA allows you to save after-tax dollars in a retirement account. Roth IRAs work a bit differently than traditional IRAs or employer-sponsored savings plans like 401(k)s. But they also have some unique advantages.

Let’s look at some things to know about Roth IRAs, who can contribute to them, and the Roth IRA income limits for the 2020 and 2021 tax years.

What is a Roth IRA?

Like a traditional IRA (or individual retirement arrangement), a Roth IRA allows you to contribute money into an account to save for retirement. But Roth IRAs differ from traditional IRAs in several important ways.

  • Contributions are post-tax (meaning you pay income tax on the money in the year you make the contribution), and you can’t deduct those contributions on your federal income tax return.
  • You can contribute regardless of your age, as long as you (or your spouse if filing jointly) have taxable compensation and you meet certain income limits.
  • Your qualified withdrawals are not taxable in the year you take the distribution. A qualified distribution is any money you withdraw after your account has been open for at least five years, and you’re at least 59 ½, are disabled, are using the money to purchase your first home (as defined by the IRS), or if the money is withdrawn after your death to pay your beneficiaries or estate.
  • You’re not required to take a minimum distribution by a certain age as long as you’re the original owner of the account.

“[With a Roth IRA], you have complete accessibility to your contribution,” says René Nourse, a certified financial planner and founder and CEO of Urban Wealth Management. “It’s a dual manner of saving for now and saving for the future.”

As long as you’re 59 ½ or older and your withdrawals are qualified distributions, “you can pull out the principal and these contributions aren’t taxable because you’ve already paid taxes on them,” Nourse says. But if you’re younger than 59 ½, you may need to pay a 10% additional tax on withdrawals, unless you qualify for an exception.

What is the IRA contribution deadline?

Can I open and contribute to a Roth IRA?

You can open and contribute to a Roth IRA on two conditions: You (or your spouse if filing jointly) have taxable compensation and your modified adjusted gross income (your income after adjustments like deductions) meets the limitations. But contribution limits can prevent certain people from contributing to a Roth IRA.

If you meet the income limitations, you can make a maximum contribution of $6,000 to a Roth IRA if you’re younger than 50 (up to $7,000 if you’re 50 or older) in both 2020 and 2021.

But if your taxable compensation for the year was less than the maximum contribution limit, your taxable compensation amount for the year then becomes your maximum contribution limit. For example, say your taxable compensation for the 2020 tax year was just $5,000 and you’re younger than 50 — the most you could put into your Roth IRA for the year would be $5,000.

How much you can contribute also depends on your tax-filing status.

Here’s a chart that details 2020 and 2021 Roth IRA contributions and how they phase out depending on your filing status and income.

Tax filing status

2020 Modified AGI

2021 Modified AGI

Contribution limit

Single, head of household or married filing separately (and didn’t live with your spouse during the year)

Less than $124,000

Less than $125,000

Up to the $6,000 limit($7,000 if 50 or older)

$124,000 or more, but less than $139,000

$125,000 or more, but less than $140,000

Reduced contribution

$139,000 or more

$140,000 or more

No contribution allowed

Married filing jointly or qualifying widow(er)

Less than $196,000

Less than $198,000

Up to the contribution limit

$196,000 or more but less than $206,000

$198,000 or more but less than $208,000

Reduced contribution

$206,000 or more

$208,000 or more

No contribution allowed

Married filing separately (and lived with spouse at any time during the year)

Less than $10,000

Less than $10,000

Reduced contribution

$10,000 or more

$10,000 or more

No contribution allowed

While your contribution limit is clearer if you’re at the bottom of these ranges, figuring out your reduced contribution if you’re in the middle can be tricky. Fortunately, the IRS provides worksheets to help you sort this out. Once you’ve determined your modified AGI, you can use Worksheet 2.2 in IRS Publication 590-A to help determine your contribution limit.

Do Roth IRAs have age limits for contributing?

Unlike traditional IRAs, you can continue to make contributions to a Roth IRA even after age 70½.

What happens if I exceed my contribution limit?

While a Roth IRA can help you save for retirement, it’s also important to stay within your annual contribution limit. If you don’t, you could be hit with a tax penalty on the extra contribution amount.

For example, if you use Worksheet 2.2 and find that you’re only allowed a $3,000 contribution for the year and you’ve already contributed $5,000, Nourse says the best thing to do is withdraw your excess contribution. Otherwise, the IRS will apply a 6% tax to the excess.

“If you discover it before you file your tax return, you can pull it before your tax-filing deadline,” she says.

Bottom line

Maybe retirement seems as if it’s years away, but the choices you make today can help secure your future tomorrow. A Roth IRA can be a valuable retirement savings tool, if you’re eligible to participate in one. Consider maximizing your contributions and stay within the limit designated for your income and filing status.

Nourse says it’s important to remember that you can make contributions to your Roth or traditional IRA up until the federal filing deadline for a given tax year (excluding extensions). So even if it’s Dec. 31 of the tax year and you haven’t made your full Roth IRA contribution, you still have some time to save as much as possible and potentially grow your retirement savings.

A senior product specialist with Credit Karma, Janet Murphy is a CPA candidate with more than a decade in the tax industry. She’s worked as a tax analyst, tax product development manager and tax accountant. She has accounting degrees and certifications from Clemson University and the U.S. Career Institute. You can find her on LinkedIn.

About the author: Satta Sarmah Hightower is a writer, editor and content marketing manager with a decade of experience in the media industry. Her writing focuses on healthcare, personal finance and technology. Satta has produced sponso… Read more.