Active Participant Status

What Is Active Participant Status?

Active participant status is a reference to an individual's current participation in various employer-sponsored retirement plans such as 401(k) plans or defined-benefit pensions, and who is, therefore, eligible to receive plan benefits upon retirement.

Having this status provides certain tax benefits, but also limits your potential ability to take a tax deduction on contributions made to a personal individual retirement account (IRA).

Key Takeaways

  • Active participant status refers to an individual who is currently taking part in a qualified retirement plan.
  • Active participant status refers to someone who is contributing and/or eligible to receive plan benefits.
  • Active participants can receive generous tax benefits on contributions made to accounts such as a SEP or 401(k) plan.
  • However, active participant status may limit the tax-deductibility of your traditional IRA contributions per the IRS.

Understanding Active Participant Status

An active plan participant has the right to receive benefit payments from a pension plan, whether it is a defined-benefit (DB) or a defined-contribution (DC) pension plan, as long as the requirements under the plan's contract have been fulfilled.

Active participant status applies to individuals who are currently participating in one or more of the following types of retirement plans:

Under most defined-benefit pension plans, the member is required to complete a minimum number of years of service in order to qualify for their maximum allowable pension. The tax law definition of an "active participant" for a company plan could thus include employees not currently participating in the employer's plan.

Active Participants and IRA Contributions

The specification of an active participant has important implications as to whether or not someone is eligible to claim a tax deduction for a contribution to a traditional IRA, and certain rules around the designation can be hard to clarify. If you and/or your spouse are active participants for a given year, you may need to perform a calculation to determine whether you are able to deduct your IRA contributions for that year.

If you are not able to deduct the full amount, you may be able to deduct a smaller portion, depending on your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI).

Tax Deduction Phase-Out Ranges

Below are the income phase-out ranges for deducting a contribution to a traditional IRA in 2021 and 2022 as outlined by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

In 2021, if you're single, covered by a workplace retirement plan, and earn more than $66,000 but less than $76,000 in income, you can deduct a portion of your traditional IRA contributions. You are eligible for the full deduction if you earn less than $66,000, and are ineligible for any deduction if you earn $76,000 or more. For 2022 IRA contributions, the income phase-out range is slightly higher: $68,000 to $78,000. 

In 2021, if you are married, filing jointly, or a qualified widow(er), and your spouse is covered by a workplace plan, the income limit range is $105,000 to $125,000, and in 2022, the range is $109,000 to $129,000. 

However, if you're an IRA contributor who isn't covered by a workplace retirement plan, but you're married to someone who is covered, the income phase-out range for you both as a couple is $198,000 and $208,000 in 2021, and $204,000 to $214,000 for 2022. For example, in 2021, your tax deduction begins to get reduced at $198,000, and the deduction gets eliminated at $208,000 and higher.

The IRS adds that employers are required to check box 13 on your Form W-2 if they are active participants for the year, where the employer will check off the "Retirement Plan" box. Individuals should check with their employers to be sure. Ultimately, you may want to consult with your tax professional for assistance with determining whether your IRA contribution is deductible.

What Is an Active Participant in a 401(k) Plan?

An active participant in a 401(k) plan is an individual that is employed at a company in the year in question and that is eligible to participate in the plan even if they do not make contributions.

Can an Active Participant Contribute to a Roth IRA?

Yes, an active participant can contribute to a Roth IRA. It is common for people to contribute to both employer-sponsored plans and Roth IRAs. Individuals have to be mindful of their modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) to see if they are eligible to contribute to a Roth IRA.

Can I Contribute to Both a Traditional IRA and a Roth IRA?

Yes, you can contribute to both a traditional IRA and a Roth IRA. You will have to ensure that the total contributions into both accounts don't exceed the contribution limits provided by the IRS: $6,000 in 2021 and 2022, and $7,000 if you are aged 50 and older.

Article Sources
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  1. Internal Revenue Service. "Income Ranges for Determining IRA Eligibility Change for 2021." Accessed Dec. 6, 2021.

  2. Internal Revenue Service. "IRS Announces Changes to Retirement Plans for 2022." Accessed Dec. 6, 2021.

  3. Internal Revenue Service. "Request for Information Instructions for Question 2." Accessed Dec. 6, 2021.

  4. Internal Revenue Service. "Retirement Topics - IRA Contribution Limits." Accessed Dec. 6, 2021.

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