Can I Contribute to an IRA With No Earned Income?

by Deborah Barlowe

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) typically requires a person to earn income to make a contribution to either a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA. If an individual does not work and records no taxable income during a tax year, the IRS may allow his wife to contribute to an IRA on his behalf, however. The IRS maintains the same criteria when determining if a worker may contribute to her spouse's retirement account regardless of whether it is a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA.


In order for a non-working spouse's IRA to receive funds contributed by his employed wife, the IRS requires the couple to live together for at least some of the year during which the worker contributes to the account. The IRS also requires the couple to file a joint federal tax return.

Contribution Limits

Even if the IRS allows a worker to contribute to her husband's spousal IRA based on the couple's tax filing status and living arrangements, the IRS limits the amount she can contribute to her husband's account in a single year depending on her husband's age. If a worker's husband is 50 or older, the IRS permits his wife to contribute either 100 percent of her taxable pay or $6,000, whichever is less, as of the date of publication. If, on the other hand, the worker's husband is less than 50 years old, the IRS allows her to contribute up to $5,000. If a working wife chooses to contribute to her own IRA, her contributions are subject to the same age and contribution limitations. If a worker elects to contribute to both her IRA and her husband's, the IRS allows her to do so only up to the limits applicable to each individual.

Income Limits

If a working spouse reports a modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) of under $169,000, the IRS permits her to contribute the maximum permissible amount to both her IRA and her husband's. The IRS phases out a worker's ability to contribute to her IRA or her husband's spousal IRA if her MAGI is more than $169,000 and less than $179,000. If a worker's joint federal tax return reveals a MAGI that equals or exceeds $179,000, the IRS will not allow her to contribute to an IRA owned by her or her unemployed husband.

Account Ownership

If a working spouse funds a spousal IRA during the years in which her husband earns no income, the money she contributes to his IRA becomes his property at the time she makes deposits into his account. Even if a working spouse deposits all of the funds that equal the total held in her husband's spousal IRA, the husband retains ownership of his retirement account regardless of whether he remains married to the spouse who made the deposits.

About the Author

Deborah Barlowe began writing professionally in 2010. With experience in earning securities and insurance licenses and having owned a successful business, her articles have focused predominantly on finance and entrepreneurship. Barlowe holds a bachelor’s degree in hotel administration from Cornell University.

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