A temporarily unemployed spouse can make contributions to a Roth or a traditional IRA as long as his partner is employed. Nonworking spouses who are staying home indefinitely can also contribute to an IRA. It's a wise move to keep investing in one's retirement during times when either partner's salary is diminished because it keeps the couple in the habit of saving money.
Sources of Income
There are multiple types of income that a non-employed spouse can deposit in an IRA. Such sources of income are alimony, salary that's earned by working as an independent contractor, combat pay and commissions. So if, for example, your wife earns $75 a week for babysitting, she can contribute the money to an IRA, as long as she files an income tax return claiming the income. Other situations where a nonworking spouse's contribution would be eligible include the proceeds from the sale of property or receiving a monetary gift from an employed parent.
There are certain kinds of income that an unemployed partner can't contribute to an IRA. Money from a pension program, dividends and/or interest earned from investments, and annuity income don't qualify for IRA contributions. The IRS' tax code doesn't say specifically whether or not a spouse who is receiving unemployment compensation can deposit those funds in an IRA, even though taxes are deducted from this type of income. Consult your accountant as to whether it's prudent to invest those funds in an IRA.
The unemployed spouse can contribute up to the maximum amount allowed annually to either a traditional or a Roth IRA. For both funds, the maximum contribution allowance is whichever amount is smaller: $5,000, or however much you and your spouse both made in earned income. (The limit rises to $6,000 if you are aged 50 or more.)
For a nonworking spouse to make contributions, the couple must file a joint tax return that verifies that their combined earned income either equaled or exceeded the deposits made in the IRA for that tax year. As of the time of publication, the couple's combined income cannot be more than $169,000 if they wish to contribute the maximum annual amount. (If the couple earns more than $160,000 but less than $179,000, they must consult the IRS' guidelines to see how much they can contribute. Couples whose total incomes are $179,000 or greater cannot contribute to an IRA.)