Roth IRA Phase-Out Rules

By Kaye A. Thomas
Current as of November 15, 2013

The amount you can put into a Roth IRA as a regular contribution is reduced or eliminated if your income goes above certain levels.

Most people can contribute the same amount to a Roth IRA as they would otherwise be allowed to contribute to a traditional IRA. But the amount you can contribute to a Roth IRA is phased out at certain levels of income. That means your contribution may be reduced — possibly all the way to zero — if your income is too high. This page explains the phase-out rules for regular contributions to Roth IRAs.

Who’s affected

You’re only affected by these rules if your modified adjusted gross income is above certain levels. The level where the reduction occurs is adjusted each year for inflation, and depends on your filing status. The following numbers are in effect for 2014, and the inflation-adjusted numbers for later years are available in our Reference Room:

  • Single: If you’re not married, your contribution limit will be reduced when your modified AGI exceeds $114,000, and completely eliminated when your modified AGI reaches $129,000.
  • Married filing jointly: If you’re married and file a joint return with your spouse, your contribution limit will be reduced when your joint modified AGI exceeds $181,000, and completely eliminated when your joint modified AGI reaches $191,000.
  • Married filing separately, living apart: If you’re married and file a separate return, and live apart from your spouse at all times during the year, your contribution limit will be reduced when your modified AGI exceeds $114,000, and completely eliminated when your modified AGI reaches $129,000 (same rule as if you were single).
  • Married filing separately, other: If you’re married and file a separate return, and live with your spouse at any time during the year, your contribution limit will be reduced when your modified AGI exceeds $0, and completely eliminated when your modified AGI reaches $10,000.*

* Some people say you can’t contribute if you’re married filing separately. Technically that isn’t correct, but it might as well be true. You need to have qualifying income to contribute, but your contribution limit is reduced as soon as your modified AGI is more than zero. Few people with total income (modified AGI) of less than $10,000 are able to set aside cash to contribute to a Roth IRA.

Proportionate reduction

In between the amounts listed above, the annual limit is reduced proportionately. For example, if you’re married filing jointly and your modified AGI is $2,500 above the bottom of the phase-out range (one-fourth of the way between the bottom and top), the limit would be reduced by one-fourth.

You may have noticed that the phase-out range is larger for singles than for married couples. For singles, the range is $15,000, but for married couples the range is $10,000. This seems illogical, but that’s the way Congress wrote the law.

Special rules

There are two special rules for figuring the permitted contribution to a Roth IRA:

  • If the limit doesn’t work out to an even $10 increment, it’s rounded up to the next higher $10 increment. For example, if the math says your limit should be $1371.50, this rule sets your limit at $1,380.
  • Your limit isn’t reduced below $200 until your modified AGI reaches the level where the limit is completely eliminated. For example, if the math says your limit should be $50, you can still contribute $200.