Can a Husband and Wife Each Start a Roth?

by Will Gish

A variety of options exist when it comes to saving for retirement. From pension plans to 401ks to Individual Retirement Accounts, all of these options come replete with their own complex sets of regulations. Roth IRAs prove no exception to this rule. Understanding when a husband and wife can each start a Roth IRA requires a look at the nature of the Roth IRA as a financial entity and the laws concerning these accounts.


Roth IRAs constitute personal retirement accounts created by the Tax Payer Relief Act of 1997. Like traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs maintain an annual contribution limit of $5000 for individuals younger than 50 years of age and $6000 for those aged 50 and older, as of 2011. You can withdraw money tax free from a Roth IRA upon reaching age 59 1/2, though only if you opened the account at least five years before. You can always withdraw your own Roth contributions without paying taxes, because all Roth contributions are made with after-tax dollars. However, earnings withdrawn early are taxed as regular income, plus a 10 percent penalty is imposed on top of that.

Spousal IRAs

Generally, you can only contribute to an IRA to the extent that you have earned income. The IRS does, however, allow a working spouse to contribute to a separate IRA for a nonworking spouse. The maximum limit for spousal contributions to an IRA follows the same rule as the maximum amount for contributions to a personal IRA. An earning spouse could contribute a combined annual maximum of between $10,000 and $12,000 per year, depending on both spouses' ages. The working spouse would also need to have an adjusted gross income that at least equaled the amount of both contributions.

Phase-Out Rules

The amount couples can contribute to a Roth IRA is limited by their adjusted gross income. AGI constitutes gross income from taxable sources after allowable deductions. As of 2011, couples with an AGI below $169,000 can contribute the full amount. From $169,000 to $179,000 the amount they can contribute will be phased out, and over that amount, they cannot contribute to a Roth IRA. A husband and wife can only each start a Roth IRA if both meet these income requirements. Married couples filing separately cannot contribute to a Roth if their AGI exceeds $10,000.

Roth IRA vs. Traditional IRA

Several differences exist between Roth IRAs and traditional IRAs. Money deposited into a traditional IRA constitutes a tax-deductible expense, while money deposited into a Roth IRA does not. However, money withdrawn from a traditional IRA is taxed. Each member of a couple can also start a traditional IRA as long as one is working, however, the amount of contributions that is deductible will be limited if one or both spouses are covered by a retirement plan at work.