Making Roth IRA Contributions – Single, Head of Household and Married Filing Joint – Eligibility & Examples

Making Roth IRA contributions has gotten ever more complex with increased rules & regulations that control your contribution limits, eligibility, modified adjusted gross income, etc. In this article, we will explore Roth IRA contributions in greater detail and compare them with making contributions to other IRAs.

A Roth IRA investor can make an annual non tax-deductible contribution to a Roth IRA that may not exceed

i) the maximum Roth IRA contribution limit set by the IRS or

ii) 100% of the individual’s earned income for the year


iii) the sum of all contributions to all other individual retirement plans for that year (other than an Education IRA).

Do you see how a simple Roth IRA concept can get so complicated? Let’s explain these clauses. This means that the total contributions you make towards both a traditional IRA and a Roth IRA cannot exceed the defined contribution limit for that year. It is therefore better to pick only 1 out of the two options; traditional IRA or Roth IRA and make the total allowable contribution to it. For example if John has $5000 to contribute towards his IRAs, he would be better off putting all the $5000 to a Roth IRA, as opposed to contributiong $1500 to a traditional IRA and $3500 to a Roth IRA. This eliminates the administrative costs of maintaining & signing up for two different retirement programs, as well as broker fees, etc.

Here are 2 important notes to remember about Roth IRA contributions:

i) You can contribute to a Roth IRA and a Simple/SEP/Education IRA at the same time. The annual contribution limit to IRAs is applicable only to traditional & Roth IRAs; not the Simple/SEP/Education IRAs. Therefore if you have the money to make 100% of allowable contributions to a Roth IRA as well as a Simple or SEP or Education IRA, then by all means you can do so!

ii) You can contribute to a Roth IRA even if you are already enrolled in a company sponsored 401k/profit sharing plan.


Consider Mohammed who is a programmer and earns $60,000 a year. Mohammed contributes to his employer sponsored 401k plan as well as the company’s pension plan. In his spare time, Mohammed runs an auto detailing shop from his basement that nets him an extra $10,000 a year. Mohammed will therefore make an SEP IRA contribution based on his net business income. Mohammed also contributes to an Education IRA for the benefit of his son, Ahmed. The beauty of Roth IRAs is that despite of all these contributions to a 401k, SEP IRA and an Education IRA, Mohammed can contribute a further $5000 to a Roth IRA for the year 2010. This is because $5000 is the total allowable contribution that can be made to a Roth IRA in 2010.

Note: A qualified rollover contribution to a Roth IRA does not count in the maximum annual contribution limit. In the example above, Mohammed could make a qualified rollover contribution from his SEP IRA to his Roth IRA and that amount would not count as part of the $5000 contribution limit; meaning MOhammed could contribute an additional $5000 on top of his qualified rollover contribution. Beauty!

Roth IRA Conversions – Eligibility, Types of Conversions and Adjusted Gross Income Limits

The Roth IRA is a better choice than traditional IRA because contributions are made after-tax adding greater tax leverage to your retirement savings allowing you to grow your savings tax-free and withdraw them tax-free! What happens if you already have a traditional IRA and would like to convert it to a Roth IRA? This is where Roth IRA conversions come into play!

Qualified Roth IRA Conversion

In order to successfully convert a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, the conversion must be ‘qualified.’ Roth IRA conversions are treated as rollovers at all times, regardless of the method used. There are 3 of these methods, discussed below:

i) Rollover – You can take a distribution from a traditional IRA and roll it over to a Roth IRA within 60 days. To meet the 60 day rule, count the day you receive the check and include the day when you deposit the money into your Roth IRA. For example if you get the check on April 1st, 2010, you must have it deposited by May 30th, 2010. There is no extension granted for holidays and weekends.

ii) Trustee-to-trustee transfer – You can instruct the trustee of your traditional IRA to make a direct payment to the trustee of your Roth IRA. This is also considered a qualified rollover.

iii) Same-trustee transfer – If you have only 1 trustee for both your traditional IRA and your Roth IRA, you should instruct the trustee to transfer directly from traditional to Roth IRA.

Adjusted Gross Income Limits

The law states that if your adjusted gross income (AGI) is greater than $100,000, you cannot convert from a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. This law applies to both singles, married filing joint & head of household filers. Note that if you are filing a married-filing-separate tax return, you are not eligible to convert a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA at all, no matter what your adjusted gross income is.

An interesting question asked is, what if you made a Roth conversion last January and find out that your adjusted gross income will exceed $100,000? If this happens, there is nothing to worry about. You can convert your Roth IRA back to a traditional IRA via a few simple procedures known as IRA Recharacterizations.


John has an AGI of $85,000. He also has a traditional IRA of $55,000 that he would like to convert to a Roth IRA. John’s official adjusted gross limit (AGI) threshold for the year would be $85,000. Note we do not include the $55,000 conversion in the AGI limit because the law forbids that.

Taking Qualified Roth IRA Distributions – Eligibility & Examples

Any ‘qualified distributions’ you take from a Roth IRA will NOT be included in your taxable income, hence making you exempt from paying taxes. You won’t have to pay taxes on the original principal you contributed nor any taxes on capital gains & earnings you have accumulated. Pretty sweet you think for Roth IRAs, eh? In order for the distribution to be classified as ‘qualified’, it must be taken under 1 of the following circumstances:

the Roth IRA investor must be 59 and 1/2 years or older at the time of the distribution
the Roth IRA investor becomes disabled at the time of taking the distributions
the Roth IRA investor dies and his/her beneficiary receives the assets contained in the plan
the distributions taken from the Roth IRA will be used in the purchase or building of a new home for the Roth IRA holder or qualified family member.This is limited to $10,000 per person per lifetime. Qualified family members include:
–> the Roth IRA investor
–> the Roth IRA investor’s spouse
–> children of the Roth IRA investor
–> grandchildren of the Roth IRA investor
–> parent or ancestor of the Roth IRA investor

Note: Even if one of the above prerequisites is met, the Roth IRA must be atleast 5 years old before any distributions can be taken. This is a very important point to consider. For example if you set up your Roth IRA in March 22nd, 2003, you cannot take any distributions, even if they are qualified, until March 22nd, 2010. If you do, this distribution will not be qualified and you will have to pay the 10% early withdrawal penalty as well as income taxes. A few examples to illustrate these concepts would be useful. Here they are.

Example #1

Jim makes Roth IRA contribution on March 1st, 2002 for $3000. 6 years later on March 1st, 2010, Jim withdraws $5500 from his account (the principal $3000 + $2500 earnings). Jim’s withdrawal is not qualified because he does not plan to purchase a home for the first time, nor is he disabled, plus Jim is not 59 and 1/2 years old or more. Jim will face a 10% early withdrawal penalty + have to pay income taxes on his withdrawal. If Jim had withdrawn only $3000 from his Roth IRA which equals the total contributions he made, he would not be subject to income taxes nor the 10% early withdrawal penalty. This is because Roth IRAs allow you to withdraw up to the maximum contributions you have made and not any earnings on those contributions. Since withdrew the whole $5500 consisting of $3000 principal + $2500 earnings, he will be penalized.

Example #2

Rishi who is 58 years old makes a $3500 contribution to his Roth IRA on April 12th, 1999 for the tax year 1998. On February 5th, 2003, Rishi withdraws $6000 from his Roth IRA consisting of $3500 original principal + $2500 earnings. At this time, Rishi is 62 years old. Will this distribution be treated as ‘qualified’? You bet it is! This is because the 5 year waiting rule has passed. Even though Rishi made his contribution on April 12th, 1999, this contribution was designated for the tax year 1998. Thus from 1998 – February 5th, 2003, the 5 year waiting rule is met. As you can see from here, it is not necessarily the calender years that count; it is when the first contribution was made and for what year it was designated. Also, Rishi is 62 years old which meets the 59 and 1/2 year old requirement. Thus this distribution of $6000 will not be included in Rishi’s taxable income.