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You MUST Have Earned Income to Contribute to an IRA

Prior to April 18, 2011, several articles posted in The Slott Report contained reminders about the importance of making your 2010 IRA contribution. Among other things, we indicated that $5,000 was the maximum amount you could contribute to your IRA for 2010, with an additional "catch up" contribution of $1,000 if you were age 50 or older on December 31, 2010.

We also indicated the circumstances in which your level of income impacts your ability to either deduct contributions to a Traditional IRA or make contributions to a Roth IRA. We further explained that you (or your spouse) must have “earned income” at least equal to the amount of your contribution. Several individuals have since asked us to define earned income for this purpose. In response, we provide the following comprehensive chart that identifies various types of income that are considered to be earned income or not for IRA contribution purposes:

What is Compensation for IRA and Roth IRA Contribution Eligibility

Not Compensation

Any amount shown in box 1 of Form W-2:
Wages, Salaries, Commissions, Professional Fees, Bonuses, Other Amounts Received for Personal Services
Pension and Annuity Income:
IRA, Roth IRA, Company Plan Distributions and Non-Qualified Annuity Distributions, Social Security Benefits

Net Self-Employment Income (reduced by contributions to employer plans and the deduction for self-employment taxes)

Rental Income (Unless it is the taxpayer's business)

Net Self-Employment Income from personal services (e.g., clergy, professional traders) even if it is not subject to self-employment tax (reduced by contributions to employer plans and the deduction for self-employment taxes)

Interest Income, Dividend Income, Capital Gain Income, certain income from partnerships, S-Corp Income, amounts excluded from income (other than combat pay)

Taxable Alimony and/or Maintenance Payments

Child Support

Combat Pay (even though it may be excluded from federal income tax)

Life Insurance Proceeds

Accrued Vacation Pay

Deferred Compensation

Director's Fees, Jury Fees

Severance Pay

Scholarship or Fellowship Payments if included in Box 1 of a W-2

Disability Payments and Unemployment Income

By Marvin Rotenberg and Jared Trexler
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*Copyright 2011 Ed Slott and Company, LLC


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Thursday's Slott Report Mailbag

Consumers: Send in Your Questions to [email protected]

You recently said that a 401(k) distribution would add to your MAGI (modified adjusted gross income) for the purpose of determining if you are subject to the 3.8% healthcare surtax. What about Roth IRA distributions? Would they also count towards your total MAGI income for surtax purposes?


IRA distributions are exempt from the 3.8% surtax, but taxable distributions from IRAs can push income over the threshold amount, causing other investment income to be subject to the surtax. Because Roth IRA distributions are generally tax-free, they don’t count towards your total MAGI.