Generally, individuals who are unemployed are not allowed to contribute to retirement accounts such as IRAs because they do not have eligible compensation. However, there is an exception for individuals with spouses who are employed and meet certain requirements. The employed spouse is allowed to make an IRA contribution on behalf of a non-working spouse or a spouse who has little income. These contributions are referred to as "spousal IRA contributions." Here we review the requirements for making spousal IRA contributions.

Eligibility

To make a spousal IRA contribution, you must meet the following requirements:

  • You must be married.
  • You must file a joint income-tax return.
  • You must have compensation or earned income of at least the amount you contribute to your IRAs.

Age Limit

If you decide to fund a Traditional IRA for your spouse, he or she must be under age 70½ for the year for which the contribution is being made. No age limits apply to Roth IRA contributions.

Compensation Limit

While there is no cap on the amount you may earn in order to fund a Traditional IRA, this is not so for a Roth IRA. You may contribute 100% of your compensation or the tax year's IRA contribution limit, whichever is less, to your IRA. Bear in mind that the contribution limit that applies to you also applies to your spouse. Click here for the most recent IRA contribution limits. For more information, read Roth vs. Traditional IRA: Which Is Right for You?)

Deductions

If you do not participate in an employer-sponsored plan, such as a 401(k), you will be able to deduct the full amount of your spousal IRA contribution (To read more, see Traditional IRA Deductibility Limits.) If you are covered by an employer-sponsored plan, your ability to deduct your spousal IRA contribution depends on your income and your tax filing status.

If you are able to deduct your spouse's Traditional IRA contribution – but not the Traditional IRA contributions made to your own Traditional IRA – you may decide to fund a Roth IRA for yourself instead, if you are eligible to do so.

IRAs Must Be Held Separately

Unlike your regular checking or savings account, your IRAs cannot be held jointly. The IRA you establish for your spouse must be in his or her name and tax identification number. Similarly, any IRA you establish for yourself must be established in your name and tax identification number.

General Reminders

  • IRA contributions must be made in cash (which includes checks). Securities, including mutual funds and stocks, may not be used to make an IRA participant contribution.
  • Contributions for a tax year must be deposited or mailed to your IRA custodian by April 15 of the following year. Make sure you obtain a receipt if you mail your contributions, or send them by traceable mail. You may need to provide proof of the date of mailing should your contribution reach your IRA custodian/trustee after April 15. Note that for any year that the deadline falls on the weekend, then the deadline is extended to the next business day.
  • Remember to indicate the tax year for which your contribution should be applied. IRA custodians/trustees will generally deposit your contribution for the current year unless you indicate on the check or accompanying documentation that the contribution should be made for the previous year.
  • It is not required that your full contribution amount be made in one payment. Contributions may be made in small amounts until your goal or limit is reached.
  • You may make a year's IRA contribution even after you have filed that year's income tax return, providing you meet the April 15 deadline for making the contributions.

The Bottom Line

Helping to fund your spouse's retirement nest egg may be equally as important as funding your own, as retirement assets may be shared during your retirement years. Should you decide to contribute to your spouse's IRA, be sure to consider deductibility, including whether either of your contributions can be deducted, and if not, whether a Roth IRA should be funded instead. In addition, be sure to consider eligibility should you decide to contribute to a Roth IRA. Most importantly, discuss your plans with your financial consultant, who should be able to assist you with making the choices that are right for you.

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