Traditional and Roth Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs): A Primer

In response to concerns over the adequacy of retirement savings, Congress has created incentives to encourage individuals to save for retirement through a variety of retirement plans. Some retirement plans are employer-sponsored, such as 401(k) plans, and others are established by individual employees, such as Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs).

This report describes the primary features of two common retirement savings accounts that are available to certain individuals—traditional and Roth IRAs. Although the accounts have many features in common, they differ in some important aspects. Both traditional and Roth IRAs offer tax incentives to encourage individuals to save for retirement. Contributions to traditional IRAs may be tax deductible for taxpayers who (1) are not covered by a retirement plan at their place of employment or (2) have income below specified limits. Contributions to Roth IRAs are not tax deductible and eligibility is limited to those with incomes under specified limits.

The tax treatment of distributions from traditional and Roth IRAs differs. Distributions from traditional IRAs are generally included in taxable income, whereas certain distributions from Roth IRAs are not included in taxable income. Some distributions may be subject to an additional 10% tax penalty, unless the distribution is for a reason specified in the Internal Revenue Code (e.g., distributions from IRAs after the individual is aged 59½ or older are not subject to the early withdrawal penalty).

Individuals may roll over eligible distributions from other retirement accounts (such as an account balance from a 401(k) plan upon leaving an employer) into IRAs. Rollovers preserve retirement savings by allowing investment earnings on the funds in the retirement accounts to accrue on a tax-deferred basis, in the case of traditional IRAs, or a tax-free basis, in the case of Roth IRAs.

The Retirement Savings Contribution Credit (also known as the Saver’s Credit) is a nonrefundable tax credit of up to $1,000. It was authorized in 2001 to encourage retirement savings among individuals with income under specified limits.

This report explains IRAs’ eligibility requirements, contribution limits, tax deductibility of contributions, and withdrawal rules, and it provides data on the accounts’ holdings. It also describes the Saver’s Credit and provisions enacted after the Gulf of Mexico hurricanes in 2005, the Midwestern storms in 2008, the hurricanes in 2012 and 2017, the California wildfires in 2017, and certain other federally declared disasters occurring on or after January 1, 2018, to exempt distributions to those affected from the 10% early withdrawal penalty.

Traditional and Roth Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs): A Primer

Updated March 2, 2020 (RL34397)
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Contents

Summary

In response to concerns over the adequacy of retirement savings, Congress has created incentives to encourage individuals to save for retirement through a variety of retirement plans. Some retirement plans are employer-sponsored, such as 401(k) plans, and others are established by individual employees, such as Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs).

This report describes the primary features of two common retirement savings accounts that are available to certain individuals—traditional and Roth IRAs. Although the accounts have many features in common, they differ in some important aspects. Both traditional and Roth IRAs offer tax incentives to encourage individuals to save for retirement. Contributions to traditional IRAs may be tax deductible for taxpayers who (1) are not covered by a retirement plan at their place of employment or (2) have income below specified limits. Contributions to Roth IRAs are not tax deductible and eligibility is limited to those with incomes under specified limits.

The tax treatment of distributions from traditional and Roth IRAs differs. Distributions from traditional IRAs are generally included in taxable income, whereas certain distributions from Roth IRAs are not included in taxable income. Some distributions may be subject to an additional 10% tax penalty, unless the distribution is for a reason specified in the Internal Revenue Code (e.g., distributions from IRAs after the individual is aged 59½ or older are not subject to the early withdrawal penalty).

Individuals may roll over eligible distributions from other retirement accounts (such as an account balance from a 401(k) plan upon leaving an employer) into IRAs. Rollovers preserve retirement savings by allowing investment earnings on the funds in the retirement accounts to accrue on a tax-deferred basis, in the case of traditional IRAs, or a tax-free basis, in the case of Roth IRAs.

The Retirement Savings Contribution Credit (also known as the Saver's Credit) is a nonrefundable tax credit of up to $1,000. It was authorized in 2001 to encourage retirement savings among individuals with income under specified limits.

This report explains IRAs' eligibility requirements, contribution limits, tax deductibility of contributions, and withdrawal rules, and it provides data on the accounts' holdings. It also describes the Saver's Credit and provisions enacted after the Gulf of Mexico hurricanes in 2005, the Midwestern storms in 2008, the hurricanes in 2012 and 2017, the California wildfires in 2017, and certain other federally declared disasters occurring on or after January 1, 2018, to exempt distributions to those affected from the 10% early withdrawal penalty.


Introduction

Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) are tax-advantaged accounts that individuals (or married couples) can establish to accumulate funds for retirement. Depending on the type of IRA, contributions may be made on a pretax or post-tax basis, and investment earnings are either tax-deferred or tax-free.1

IRAs were first authorized by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA; P.L. 93-406). IRAs were originally limited to workers without pension coverage, but the Economic Recovery Act of 1981 (P.L. 97-34) made all workers and spouses eligible for IRAs. The Tax Reform Act of 1986 (P.L. 99-514) limited the eligibility for tax-deductible contributions to individuals whose employers do not sponsor plans and to those whose employers sponsor plans but who have earnings below certain thresholds. The Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997 (P.L. 105-34) allowed for certain penalty-free withdrawals and authorized the Roth IRA, which provides tax-free growth from after-tax contributions.

The Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 (P.L. 107-16) significantly affected the contribution limits in these plans in three ways: it (1) increased the limits, (2) indexed the limits to inflation, and (3) allowed for individuals aged 50 and older to make additional "catch-up" contributions. Among other provisions, the Pension Protection Act of 2006 (PPA; P.L. 109-280) made permanent the indexing of contribution limits to inflation, allowed taxpayers to direct the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to deposit tax refunds directly into an IRA, and temporarily allowed for certain tax-free distributions for charitable contributions (which was later made permanent by P.L. 114-113).2

The Setting Every Community up for Retirement Enhancement Act of 2019 (SECURE Act), enacted as Division O of the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020 (P.L. 116-94), included multiple provisions related to IRAs. The SECURE Act

  • repealed the maximum age at which individuals can contribute to traditional IRAs;
  • increased the age at which required minimum distributions (RMDs) from traditional IRAs must begin;
  • treated certain nontuition fellowship and stipend payments as compensation for IRA contribution purposes;
  • treated tax-exempt "difficulty of care" payments to home healthcare providers as compensation for IRA contribution purposes;
  • allowed penalty-free early withdrawals for qualifying birth and adoption purposes; and
  • modified distribution rules for inherited IRAs.

This report describes the two types of IRAs that individual workers can establish: traditional IRAs and Roth IRAs.3 It describes the rules regarding eligibility, contributions, and withdrawals. It also describes a tax credit for retirement savings contributions. An Appendix explains rules related to penalty-free distributions for those affected by the 2005 Gulf of Mexico hurricanes and the 2008 Midwestern floods. The Appendix also describes the relief provided to those affected by Hurricane Sandy in 2012; Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria in 2017; the California wildfires in 2017; and certain other federally declared disasters taking place on or after January 1, 2018.

Traditional IRAs

Traditional IRAs are funded by workers' contributions, which may be tax deductible. The contributions accrue investment earnings in an account, and these earnings are used as a source of income in retirement. Among the benefits of traditional IRAs, two are (1) pretax contributions, which provide larger bases for accumulating investment earnings and, thus, may provide larger account balances at retirement than if the money had been placed in taxable accounts; and (2) taxes are paid when funds are distributed. Because income tax rates in retirement are often lower than during working life, traditional IRA holders are likely to pay less in taxes when contributions are withdrawn than when the income was earned.

Eligibility

Individuals who receive taxable compensation can set up and contribute to IRAs.4 Examples of compensation include wages, salaries, tips, commissions, self-employment income, nontaxable combat pay, and alimony (which is treated as compensation for IRA purposes).5 Compensation also includes nontuition fellowship and stipend payments (i.e., payments to individuals that are used in the pursuit of graduate or postdoctoral study) and tax-exempt "difficulty of care" payments to home healthcare workers (i.e., payments for the additional care needed for certain qualified foster individuals).6 Individuals who receive income only from noncompensation sources cannot contribute to IRAs.

Contributions

Individuals may contribute either their gross compensation or the contribution limit, whichever is lower. In 2020, the annual contribution limit is $6,000. Since 2009, the contribution limit has been subject to cost of living adjustments.7 Individuals aged 50 and older may make additional annual $1,000 catch-up contributions. For households that file a joint return, spouses may contribute an amount equal to the couple's total compensation (reduced by the spouse's IRA contributions) or the contribution limit ($6,000 each, if younger than the age of 50, and $7,000 each, if 50 years or older), whichever is lower. Contributions that exceed the contribution limit and are not withdrawn by the due date for that year's tax return are considered excess contributions and are subject to a 6% "excess contribution" tax. Contributions made between January 1 and April 15 may be designated for either the current year or the previous year.

Because IRAs were intended for workers without an employer-sponsored pension to save for retirement, contributions to an IRA may only come from work income, such as wages and tips. The following noncompensation sources of income cannot be used for IRA contributions:

  • earnings from property, interest, or dividends;
  • pension or annuity income;
  • deferred compensation;
  • income from partnerships for which an individual does not provide services that are a material income-producing factor; and
  • foreign earned income.

Investment Options

IRAs can be set up through many financial institutions, such as banks, credit unions, mutual funds, life insurance companies, or stock brokerages. These financial institutions offer an array of investment choices. Individuals can transfer their accounts from one financial institution to another at will.

Several transactions could result in additional taxes or the loss of IRA status. These transactions include borrowing from IRAs; using IRAs as collateral for loans; selling property to IRAs; and investing in collectibles like artwork, antiques, metals, gems, stamps, alcoholic beverages, and most coins.8

Deductibility of Contributions

IRA contributions may be non-tax-deductible, partially tax-deductible, or fully tax-deductible, depending on whether the individual or spouse is covered by a pension plan at work and their level of adjusted gross income (AGI). Individuals are covered by a retirement plan if (1) the individuals or their employers have made contributions to a defined contribution pension plan or (2) the individuals are eligible for a defined benefit pension plan (even if they refuse participation).

For individuals and households not covered by a retirement plan at work, Table 1 outlines the income levels at which they may deduct all, some, or none of their IRA contributions, depending on the spouse's pension coverage and the household's AGI. Individuals without employer-sponsored pensions and, if married, whose spouse also does not have pension coverage, may deduct up to the contribution limit from their income taxes regardless of their AGI.

For individuals and households who are covered by a retirement plan at work, Table 2 outlines the income levels at which they may deduct all, some, or none of their IRA contributions, depending on the individual's or household's AGI.

Individuals may still contribute to IRAs up to the contribution limit even if the contribution is nondeductible. Nondeductible contributions come from post-tax income, not pretax income.9 Only contributions greater than the contribution limits as described above are considered excess contributions. Worksheets for computing partial deductions are included in "IRS Publication 590-A, Contributions to Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs)."10

Table 1. Deductibility of IRA Contributions for Individuals
Not Covered by a Retirement Plan at Work for 2019 and 2020

Filing Status

2019 Adjusted Gross Income

2020 Adjusted Gross Income

Deduction Allowed

Single, head of household, qualifying widow(er), or married filing jointly or separately with a spouse who is not covered by a plan at work

Any amount

Any amount

Full deduction

Married filing jointly with a spouse who is covered by a plan at work

$193,000 or less

$196,000 or less

full deduction

 

More than $193,000 but less than $203,000

More than $196,000 but less than $206,000

Partial deduction

 

$203,000 or more

$206,000 or more

No deduction

Married filing separately with a spouse who is covered by a plan at work

Less than $10,000

Less than $10,000

Partial deduction

 

$10,000 or more

$10,000 or more

No deduction

Source: IRS Publication 590-A, at http://www.irs.gov/publications/p590a/ and 2020 Limitations Adjusted As Provided in Section 415(d), etc., Notice 2019-59, at https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-drop/n-19-59.pdf.

Table 2. Deductibility of IRA Contributions for Individuals
Covered by a Retirement Plan at Work for 2019 and 2020

Filing Status

2019 Adjusted Gross Income

2020 Adjusted Gross Income

Deduction Allowed

Single or head of household

$64,000 or less

$65,000 or less

Full deduction

 

More than $64,000 but less than $74,000

More than $65,000 but less than $75,000

Partial deduction

 

$74,000 or more

$75,000 or more

No deduction

Married filing jointly or qualifying widow(er)

$103,000 or less

$104,000 or less

Full deduction

 

More than $103,000 but less than $123,000

More than $104,000 but less than $124,000

Partial deduction

 

$123,000 or more

$124,000 or more

No deduction

Married filing separately

Less than $10,000

Less than $10,000

Partial deduction

 

$10,000 or more

$10,000 or more

No deduction

Source: IRS Publication 590-A, at http://www.irs.gov/publications/p590a/ and 2020 Limitations Adjusted As Provided in Section 415(d), etc., Notice 2019-59, at https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-drop/n-19-59.pdf.

Withdrawals

Withdrawals from IRAs are subject to income tax in the year that they are received. Early distributions are withdrawals made before the age of 59½. Early distributions may be subject to an additional 10% penalty.

To ensure that IRAs are used for retirement income and not for bequests, IRA holders must begin making withdrawals by April 1 of the year after reaching the age of 72 (i.e., the required beginning date).11 The minimum amount that must be withdrawn (i.e., the required minimum distribution, or RMD) is calculated by dividing the account balance on December 31 of the year preceding the distribution by the IRA owner's life expectancy as found in IRS Publication 590-B.12 Although females live longer on average than males, the IRS does not separate life expectancy tables for males and females for this purpose.13 RMDs must be received by December 31 of each year. Failure to take the RMD results in a 50% excise tax on the amount that was required to have been distributed. Congress suspended the RMD provision for 2009.14

Beginning in 2007, distributions from IRAs after the age of 70½ could be made directly to qualified charities and excluded from gross income. This provision for Qualified Charitable Distributions was made permanent in P.L. 114-113.15

Early Distributions

Early distributions are withdrawals made before the age of 59½. Early distributions—just like distributions after the age of 59½—are subject to federal income tax. To discourage the use of IRA funds for preretirement uses, most early distributions are subject to a 10% tax penalty.16 The early withdrawal penalty does not apply if the IRA owner is younger than age 59½ and the distributions

  • occur if the individual is a beneficiary of a deceased IRA owner;
  • occur if the individual is disabled;
  • are in substantially equal payments over the account holder's life expectancy;
  • are received after separation from employment after the age of 55;
  • are for unreimbursed medical expenses in excess of 7.5% of AGI (10% if under age 65);
  • are for medical insurance premiums in the case of unemployment;
  • are used for higher education expenses;
  • are used to build, buy, or rebuild a first home up to a $10,000 withdrawal limit;
  • are used for expenses related to the qualified birth or adoption of a child (up to a $5,000 withdrawal limit taken within one year following the event);17
  • occur if the individual is a reservist called to active duty after September 11, 2001;
  • were distributions to residents in areas affected by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma from around the storms' landfalls to January 1, 2007;
  • were distributions to residents in areas affected by the Midwestern floods in 2008 from after the applicable disaster date and before January 1, 2010;
  • were distributions to residents in areas affected by the California wildfires in 2017 on or after October 8, 2017, and before December 31, 2017;
  • were distributions to residents in areas affected by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria from around the storms' landfalls to January 1, 2019; or
  • were distributions to residents in an area that was declared to be a federal disaster zone from January 1, 2018, to 60 days after the enactment of P.L. 116-94 on December 20, 2019.

Although early withdrawals from IRAs are permitted without reason, individuals will be subject to the 10% tax penalty unless they meet one of the conditions above. There are no other general "hardship" exceptions for penalty-free distributions from IRAs.

Rollovers

Rollovers are transfers of assets from one retirement plan to another upon separation from the original employer. Rollovers are not subject to the 59½ rule, the 10% penalty, or the contribution limit. Rollovers can come from traditional IRAs, employers' qualified retirement plans (e.g., 401(k) plans), deferred compensation plans of state or local governments (Section 457 plans), tax-sheltered annuities (Section 403(b) plans), or the Thrift Savings Plan for federal employees.

Rollovers can be either direct trustee-to-trustee transfers or issued directly to individuals who then deposit the rollovers into traditional IRAs.18 Individuals have 60 days from the date of the distribution to make rollover contributions. Rollovers not completed within 60 days are considered taxable distributions and may be subject to the 10% early withdrawal penalty. In addition, in cases where individuals directly receive a rollover, 20% of the rollover is withheld for tax purposes. Direct trustee-to-trustee transfers are not subject to withholding taxes. In cases where individuals directly receive a rollover, they must have an amount equal to the 20% withheld available from other sources to place in the new IRA. If the entire distribution is rolled over within 60 days, the amount withheld is applied to individuals' income taxes paid for the year.

Rollovers Limited to One Per Year

A January 2014 U.S. Tax Court decision required that, in certain circumstances, individuals are limited to a total of one rollover per year for their IRAs.19 Rollovers subject to this rule are those between two IRAs in which an individual receives funds from an IRA and deposits the funds into a different IRA within 60 days. The one-rollover-per-year limit applies to rollovers between two traditional IRAs or two Roth IRAs. It does not apply to rollovers from a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. The limitation does not apply to trustee-to-trustee transfers (directly from one financial institution to another) or rollovers from qualified pension plans (such as from 401(k) plans).

Distributions After Traditional IRA Owner's Death

When the owner of an IRA dies, ownership passes to the account's designated beneficiary or, if no beneficiary has been named, to the decedent's estate. Federal law has different distribution requirements depending on whether the new owner is a

  • designated spouse beneficiary,
  • designated nonspouse beneficiary,
  • eligible designated beneficiary, or
  • nondesignated or estate beneficiary.20

Some distribution rules depend on whether the IRA owner died prior to the required beginning date, the date on which distributions from the account must begin. This is April 1 of the year following the year in which the IRA owner reaches the age of 72.

Designated Spouse Beneficiaries

A designated spouse beneficiary is allowed to (1) become the new account owner; (2) roll over the account to the spouse's own traditional or Roth IRA or qualified employer plan, such as a 401(k), 403(a), 403(b), or 457(b) plan; or (3) be treated as a beneficiary rather than account owner (in this case, see the rules for eligible designated beneficiaries below). A nonspouse beneficiary cannot take ownership of an inherited account. Instead, the account becomes an inherited IRA designated for the nonspouse beneficiary in the name of the deceased account owner.

A spouse who takes ownership of an inherited traditional IRA must determine the RMD using his or her own life expectancy. A spouse who takes ownership of an inherited Roth IRA (rather than becoming a beneficiary) does not have to take an RMD. A spouse who is the sole beneficiary and chooses to be treated as beneficiary (rather than as owner) may postpone distributions until the original owner would have reached age 72. This rule applies to both traditional and Roth IRAs.

Designated Nonspouse Beneficiaries

Under the SECURE Act, a designated nonspouse beneficiary of an account owner who dies after December 31, 2019, must distribute the entire account balance by the end of the 10th calendar year following the account owner's year of death (the "10-year rule"), regardless of whether the original account owner dies before or after the required beginning date. Beneficiaries may choose the frequency and timing of distributions so long as the account is depleted within the 10-year period.

Eligible Designated Beneficiaries

The SECURE Act allows for exceptions to the 10-year rule for an eligible designated beneficiary, which include (1) a surviving spouse, (2) the account owner's child who has not reached the age of majority, (3) an individual who is disabled, (4) a chronically ill individual, and (5) an individual who is not more than 10 years younger than the account owner. These eligible designated beneficiaries may generally take distributions over their remaining life expectancy rather than adhere to the 10-year rule. A minor child of an account owner who is a beneficiary may calculate distributions based on his or her remaining life expectancy until reaching the age of majority (age 18 in most states), at which point the remaining account balance must be distributed within 10 years.

Nondesignated or Estate Beneficiaries

If the account owner dies before the required beginning date and (1) does not designate a beneficiary or (2) designates a trust as beneficiary, the account balance must be distributed within five years ("the 5-year rule"). Nondesignated and estate beneficiaries of a Roth IRA must take distributions as if the account owner died before the required beginning date (i.e., within five years). If the account owner dies after the required beginning date, the account balance must be distributed at the same rate or faster than the original account owner was taking distributions (i.e., the distribution period is based on the deceased account owner's life expectancy as of the year of death; life expectancy is reduced by one year for each subsequent RMD). The SECURE Act did not change distribution rules for nondesignated beneficiaries.

The distribution rules are summarized in Table 3. Distributions from inherited traditional IRAs are included in taxable income but are not subject to the 10% early withdrawal penalty. An individual who fails to take an RMD will generally incur a 50% excise tax of the amount that was required to have been withdrawn.

In some cases, IRAs have beneficiaries' distributions requirements that are more stringent than those summarized in Table 3. For example, an IRA's plan documents could require that a designated spouse or designated nonspouse beneficiary distribute all assets in the IRA by the end of the fifth year of the year following the IRA owner's death. In such a case, the beneficiary would not have the option to take distributions over a longer period of time. Unless the IRA's plan documents specify otherwise, it is possible to take distributions faster than required in Table 3. For example, a beneficiary may elect to distribute all assets in a single year (i.e., a lump sum distribution). In such a case, the entire amount distributed is included in taxable income for that year.

Table 3. Inherited IRA Distribution Rules

 

 

Owner Dies Before Required Beginning Date

Owner Dies After Required Beginning Date

Designated Spouse Beneficiary

Treat as own, does not have to take any distribution until the age of 72, but is subject to the 59½ rule, or

Keep in decedent's name and take distributions based on own life expectancy. Distributions do not have to begin until decedent would have turned 72.

Treat as own, does not have to take any distribution until the age of 72, but is subject to the 59½ rule, or

Keep in decedent's name and take distributions based on own life expectancy.

Designated Nonspouse Beneficiary

Take distributions within 10 years.

Eligible Designated Beneficiariesa

Take distributions over the beneficiary's remaining life expectancy.

Nondesignated or Estate Beneficiaries

Must distribute all IRA assets by the end of the fifth year of the year following the IRA owner's death.

Must distribute IRA assets at least as quickly as the owner had been taking them (i.e., take a yearly distribution based on the owner's age as of birthday in the year of death, reduced by one for each year after the year of death).

Source: 26 U.S.C. § 401(a)(9) and P.L. 116-94.

Notes: The required beginning date is the date on which distributions from the account must begin. It is April 1 of the year following the year in which the owner of an IRA reaches the age of 72.

a. An eligible designated beneficiary includes a surviving spouse of the account owner (options for a spouse are described separately in the table); the account owner's child who has not reached the age of majority (minor child distributions are calculated based on the child's remaining life expectancy through the year that the child reaches the age of majority, after which the 10-year rule applies); an individual who is disabled, a chronically ill individual, and an individual who is not more than 10 years younger than the account owner.

Roth IRAs

Roth IRAs were authorized by the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997 (P.L. 105-34). The key differences between traditional and Roth IRAs are that contributions to Roth IRAs are made with after-tax funds and qualified distributions are not included in taxable income; investment earnings accrue free of taxes.21

Eligibility and Contribution Limits

In contrast to traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs have income limits for eligibility. Table 4 lists the AGIs at which individuals may make the maximum contribution and the ranges in which this contribution limit is reduced.22 For example, a 40-year-old single taxpayer with income of $90,000 may contribute $6,000 in 2020. A similar taxpayer making $125,000 would be subject to a reduced contribution limit, whereas a taxpayer with income of $140,000 would be ineligible to contribute to a Roth IRA.

Like traditional IRAs, Roth IRA contributions must come from earned income, excess contributions are subject to the 6% tax, and contributions made between January 1 and April 15 may be designated for either the current year or the previous year.

Table 4. Roth IRA Eligibility and Annual Contribution Limits for 2019 and 2020

Filing Status

2019 Modified Adjusted Gross Income (AGI)

2019 Contribution Limits

2020 Modified Adjusted Gross Income (AGI)

2020 Contribution Limits

Single, head of household, married filing separately (and did not live with spouse at any time during the year)

Less than $122,000

$6,000 ($7,000 if 50 years or older) or AGI, whichever is smaller

Less than $124,000

$6,000 ($7,000 if 50 years or older) or AGI, whichever is smaller

 

At least $122,000 but less than $137,000

Reduced contribution limit

At least $124,000 but less than $139,000

Reduced contribution limit

 

$137,000 or more

Ineligible to contribute

$139,000 or more

Ineligible to contribute

Married filing separately and lived with spouse at any time during the year

Less than $10,000

Reduced contribution limit

Less than $10,000

Reduced contribution limit

 

$10,000 or more

Ineligible to contribute

$10,000 or more

Ineligible to contribute

Married filing jointly,
qualifying widow(er)

Less than $193,000

$6,000 ($7,000 each if 50 and older) or AGI, whichever is smaller

Less than $196,000

$6,000 ($7,000 each if 50 and older) or AGI, whichever is smaller

 

At least $193,000 but less than $203,000

Reduced contribution limit

At least $196,000 but less than $206,000

Reduced contribution limit

 

$203,000 or more

Ineligible to contribute

$206,000 or more

Ineligible to contribute

Source: IRS Publication 590-A, available at http://www.irs.gov/publications/p590a/ and IRS News Release IR-2019-179, at https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/401k-contribution-limit-increases-to-19500-for-2020-catch-up-limit-rises-to-6500.

Notes: Individuals aged 50 and older can make additional $1,000 catch-up contributions. The adjusted gross income (AGI) limit for eligibility has been adjusted for inflation since 2007; beginning in 2009, the traditional and Roth IRA contribution limit has also been adjusted for inflation. A worksheet for computing reduced Roth IRA contribution limits is provided in IRS Publication 590-A.

Investment Options

Roth IRAs must be designated as such when they are set up. As with traditional IRAs, they can be set up through many financial institutions. Transactions prohibited within traditional IRAs are also prohibited within Roth IRAs.

Conversions and Rollovers

Individuals may convert amounts from traditional IRAs, SEP-IRAs, or SIMPLE-IRAs to Roth IRAs.23 Since 2008, individuals have been able to roll over distributions directly from qualified retirement plans to Roth IRAs. The amount of the conversion must be included in taxable income. Conversions can be a trustee-to-trustee transfer, a same trustee transfer by redesignating the IRA as a Roth IRA, or a rollover directly to the account holder. Inherited IRAs cannot be converted.

Contributions (not rollovers or conversions) made to a traditional or Roth IRA can be recharacterized as having been made to the other type of IRA. However, conversions and rollovers to a Roth IRA made during or after 2018 cannot be recharacterized to a traditional IRA.24

Rollover rules that apply to traditional IRAs, including completing a rollover within 60 days, also apply to Roth IRAs. In addition, withdrawals from a converted IRA prior to five years from the beginning of the year of conversion are nonqualified distributions and are subject to a 10% penalty (see the "Nonqualified Distributions" section of this report).

Tax-free withdrawals from one Roth IRA transferred to another Roth IRA are allowed if completed within 60 days. Rollovers from Roth IRAs to other types of IRAs or to employer-sponsored retirement plans are not allowed.

Withdrawals

The three types of Roth IRA distributions are (1) returns of regular contributions, (2) qualified distributions, and (3) nonqualified distributions. Returns of regular contributions and qualified distributions are not included as part of taxable income.

Return of Regular Contributions

Roth IRA distributions that are a return of regular contributions, which are withdrawals of original contributions, are neither included in taxable income nor subject to the 10% penalty.

Qualified Distributions

Qualified distributions, which include earnings on contributions, must satisfy both of the following:

  • they are made after the five-year period beginning with the first taxable year for which a Roth IRA contribution was made, and
  • they are made on or after the age of 59½; because of disability; to a beneficiary or estate after death; or to purchase, build, or rebuild a first home up to a $10,000 lifetime limit.25

Nonqualified Distributions

Distributions that are neither returns of regular contributions nor qualified distributions are considered nonqualified distributions. A 10% penalty applies to nonqualified distributions unless one of the exceptions in 26 U.S.C. §72(t) applies. The exceptions are identical to those previously listed for early distributions from traditional IRAs. Although individuals might have several Roth IRAs from which withdrawals can be made, for tax purposes nonqualified distributions are assumed to be made in the following order:

  • 1. the return of regular contributions,
  • 2. conversion contributions on a first-in-first-out basis, and
  • 3. earnings on contributions.

The taxable portion of any nonqualified distribution (e.g., earnings on contributions) may be included in taxable income. A worksheet is available in IRS Publication 590-B to determine the taxable portion of nonqualified distributions.

Distributions After Roth IRA Owner's Death

The Roth IRA's original owner does not have to take an RMD (and therefore, has no required beginning date). Following the initial account owner's death, the Roth IRA beneficiary must take an RMD using the same rules that apply to traditional IRAs as if the account owner had died before the required beginning date.

Distributions from inherited Roth IRAs are generally free of income tax. The beneficiary may be subject to taxes if the Roth IRA owner dies before the end of (1) the five-year period beginning with the first taxable year for which a contribution was made to a Roth IRA or (2) the five-year period starting with the year of a conversion from a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. The distributions are treated as described in the "Nonqualified Distributions" section of this report.

Retirement Savings Contribution Credit

The Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 (P.L. 107-16) authorized a nonrefundable tax credit of up to $1,000, or $2,000 if filing a joint return, for eligible individuals who contribute to IRAs or employer-sponsored retirement plans. The Retirement Savings Contribution Credit, also referred to as the Saver's Credit, is in addition to the tax deduction for contributions to traditional IRAs or other employer-sponsored pension plans. To receive the credit, a taxpayer must be at least 18 years old, not be a full-time student, not be a dependent on someone else's tax return, and have AGI less than certain limits. The limits are in Table 5. For example, individuals who make a $2,000 IRA contribution in 2020, have income of $15,000, and list their filing status as single would be able to reduce their 2020 tax liability by up to $1,000.26

Table 5. Retirement Saving Contribution Credit Income Limits
for 2019 and 2020

Filing Status

2019 Income Limits

2020 Income Limits

Percentage Credit

Single, Married Filing Separately, Qualifying Widow(er)

$1 to $19,250

$1 to $19,500

50%

 

$19,251 to $20,750

$19,501 to $21,250

20%

 

$20,751 to $32,000

$21,251 to $32,500

10%

 

more than $32,000

more than $32,500

0%

Head of Household

$1 to $28,875

$1 to $29,250

50%

 

$28,876 to $31,125

$29,251 to $31,875

20%

 

$31,126 to $48,000

$31,876 to $48,750

10%

 

more than $48,000

more than $48,750

0%

Married Filing Jointly

$1 to $38,500

$1 to $39,000

50%

 

$38,501 to $41,500

$39,001 to $42,500

20%

 

$41,501 to $64,000

$42,501 to $65,000

10%

 

more than $64,000

more than $65,000

0%

Source: IRS Publication 590-A, at http://www.irs.gov/publications/p590a/; IRS News Release IR-2017-64, at https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-drop/n-18-83.pdf; and 2020 Limitations Adjusted As Provided in Section 415(d), etc., Notice 2019-59, at https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-drop/n-19-59.pdf.

Data on IRA Assets, Sources of Funds, Ownership, and Contributions

Table 6 contains data on the end-of-year assets in traditional and Roth IRAs from 2008 to 2018. According to the Investment Company Institute, traditional IRAs held much more in assets than Roth IRAs. At the end of 2018, total traditional IRA balances were $7.4 trillion and total Roth IRA balances were $810 billion. Within traditional IRAs, more funds flowed from employer-sponsored pension rollovers than from regular contributions.27 For example, in 2016 (the latest year for which such data are available), funds from rollovers were $430.8 billion, whereas funds from contributions were only $18.3 billion.28 In contrast, within Roth IRAs in 2016, more funds flowed from contributions ($22.2 billion) than from rollovers ($8.6 billion).29

Table 6. Traditional and Roth IRAs: End of Year Assets

(in billions of dollars)

 

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

2018

Traditional IRAs

3,257

3,941

4,340

4,459

4,969

5,828

6,225

6,387

6,824

7,742

7,392

Roth IRAs

177

239

355

360

439

548

600

625

697

820

810

Source: The Congressional Research Service (CRS) using data from the Investment Company Institute, The U.S. Retirement Market, Third Quarter 2019, Table 10, at https://www.ici.org/info/ret_19_q3_data.xls.

Table 7 and Table 8 provide additional data on IRA ownership amounts among U.S. households. The data are from CRS analysis of the 2016 Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF).30 The SCF is a triennial survey conducted on behalf of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve and contains detailed information on U.S. household finances, such as the amount and types of assets owned, the amount and types of debt owed, and detailed demographic information on the head of the household and spouse.31 The SCF is designed to be nationally representative of the 126 million U.S. households in 2016.

Table 7 categorizes IRAs by the amount in the account. Among households that have IRAs, 61.2% have account balances of less than $100,000 and 4.4% have account balances of $1 million or more.32

Table 7. Distribution of Individual Retirement Account (IRA) Balances in 2016

 

Percentage of All U.S. Households

Percentage of U.S. Households with IRAs

No IRA

70.2%

-

Account balance

 

 

$1 to $24,999

10.6%

35.6%

$25,000 to $49,999

3.7%

12.4%

$50,000 to $99,999

3.9%

13.2%

$100,000 to $249,999

5.5%

18.3%

$250,000 to $999,999

4.8%

16.1%

$1,000,000 to $2,499,999

1.1%

3.8%

$2,500,000 or more

0.2%

0.6%

Source: CRS analysis of 2016 Survey of Consumer Finances.

Notes: Analysis does not include households with Keogh accounts. Balances represent the aggregate value of all IRAs within a household.

Table 8 provides data on IRA ownership and account balances among households that owned IRAs in 2016.

The following are some key points from Table 8 regarding IRA ownership:

  • In 2016, 29.8% of U.S. households had an IRA. Among households that owned IRAs, the median account balance ($52,000) was smaller than the average account balance ($201,240), which indicates that some households likely had very large IRA account balances.
  • Households were more likely to own IRAs as the age of head of household increased. The median and average account balances also increased as the head of the household increased.
  • The percentage of households with an IRA and the median and average account balances increased with the income of the household. Among the explanations for this finding are that (1) households with more income are better able to save for retirement and (2) households with higher income are more likely to participate in a defined contribution (DC) plan (like a 401(k)) and therefore have an account to roll over.33
  • Married households were more likely to have an IRA than single households and their median and average account balances were also larger. The explanations could include the following: both spouses in a married household might have work histories, enabling both to save for retirement or married household might need larger retirement savings because two people would be using the retirement savings for living expenses in retirement.

Table 8. Ownership and Account Balances for IRAs in 2016

 

Percentage of U.S. Households with Account

Median Account Balance

Average Account Balance

All Households

29.8%

$52,000

$201,240

Age of the Head of the Household:

Younger than 35

15.0%

$10,000

$19,672

35 to 44

26.7%

$25,000

$63,888

45 to 54

29.7%

$48,000

$135,070

55 to 64

37.5%

$80,000

$262,733

65 and older

38.0%

$117,000

$313,785

 

 

 

 

Household Income:

Less than $30,000

8.7%

$16,000

$54,430

$30,000 to $49,999

19.3%

$31,700

$71,670

$50,000 to $74,999

28.7%

$32,000

$116,001

$75,000 to $124,999

41.7%

$39,500

$136,682

$125,000 or more

64.9%

$140,000

$361,951

 

 

 

 

Household Marital Status:

Married

36.3%

$68,000

$236,711

Single

21.3%

$32,000

$122,150

 

 

 

 

Race of the Head of the Householda:

 

 

 

White, non-Hispanic

37.1%

$60,000

$212,818

Black/African-American

12.1%

$15,000

$62,096

Hispanic

9.8%

$14,000

$64,459

Otherb

32.1%

$78,000

$283,407

Source: CRS analysis of the 2016 Survey of Consumer Finances.

Note: Median and average account balances are calculated using the aggregate value of all IRAs within households that owned IRAs in 2016. Analysis does not include households with Keogh accounts.

a. The SCF's question about race is only asked of the designated respondent. In 77% of sampled households, the designated respondent was the head of household.

b. A race of "other" includes respondents who indicated that they identified as Asian, American Indian/Alaska Native, or Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, among others. The SCF combined these categories in the public dataset.

Table 9 and Table 10 describe taxpayer contributions to traditional and Roth IRAs in 2016. As shown in the tables, in 2016, 2 million more taxpayers contributed to Roth IRAs than traditional IRAs. Almost half of taxpayers who contributed to traditional IRAs made the maximum contribution for their age group, whereas slightly over one-third of taxpayers who contributed to Roth IRAs made the maximum contribution.34

Table 9. Contributions to Traditional IRAs in 2016

Age Group

Number of Contributing Taxpayers

Average Contribution of Taxpayers Who Did Not Contribute the Maximum Amount

Percentage of Taxpayers Contributing the Maximum Amount ($5,500 or $6,500)

20 under 30

221,781

$1,518

33.2%

30 under 40

629,484

$1,804

46.7%

40 under 50

859,990

$2,007

48.7%

50 under 60

1,381,019

$2,589

48.5%

60 under 70½

1,264,843

$2,732

53.4%

All age groups

4,362,119

$2,320

48.9%

Source: CRS Analysis of Internal Revenue Service Statistics of Income 2016 Tax Stats—Accumulation and Distribution of Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRA), Table 5.

Notes: The latest year for which data are available is 2016. Taxpayers under age 20 are included in the "all age groups" category. In 2016, the IRA contribution limit for individuals under age 50 was $5,500. Individuals aged 50 and older could contribute an additional $1,000 "catch-up" contribution, or $6,500. Prior to 2020, traditional IRAs did not permit contributions after age 70½. Maximum contributions refer only to taxpayers who contribute the exact amount of the limit. The maximum contribution for taxpayers whose earned income falls below the contribution limit is lower and is not captured in this table.

Table 10. Contributions to Roth IRAs in 2016

Age Group

Number of Contributing Taxpayers

Average Contribution of Taxpayers Who Did Not Contribute the Maximum Amount

Percentage of Taxpayers Contributing the Maximum Amount ($5,500 or $6,500)

20 under 30

1,017,169

$1,754

33.4%

30 under 40

1,565,034

$1,838

30.2%

40 under 50

1,292,640

$2,014

26.5%

50 under 60

1,441,486

$2,496

35.1%

60 under 70

933,987

$2,719

50.2%

70 or older

136,266

$2,732

54.7%

All age groups

6,454,422

$2,116

34.3%

Source: CRS Analysis of Internal Revenue Service Statistics of 2016 Income Tax Stats–Accumulation and Distribution of Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRA), Table 6.

Notes: The latest year for which data are available is 2016. Taxpayers under age 20 are included in the "all age groups" category. In 2016, the IRA contribution limit for individuals under age 50 was $5,500. Individuals aged 50 and older could contribute an additional $1,000 "catch-up" contribution, or $6,500. Maximum contributions refer only to taxpayers who contribute the exact amount of the limit. The maximum contribution for taxpayers whose earned income falls below the contribution limit is lower and is not captured in this table.

Appendix. Qualified Distributions Related to Natural Disasters

As part of the response to the 2005 hurricanes that affected the communities on and near the Gulf of Mexico, Congress approved provisions that exempted individuals affected by the storms from the 10% penalty for early IRA withdrawals. Congress approved similar provisions in response to the storms and flooding in certain Midwestern states in 2008, the hurricanes in 2017, the California wildfires in 2017, and certain other federally declared disasters occurring after January 1, 2018. Following Hurricane Sandy in October 2012, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) eased certain requirements for hardship distributions from defined contribution plans. However, the IRS was unable to exempt distributions from retirement plans from the 10% early withdrawal penalty because such an exemption requires congressional authorization.

Qualified Distributions Related to Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma

In response to Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma, Congress approved the Gulf Opportunity Zone Act of 2005 (P.L. 109-135). The act amended the Internal Revenue Code to allow residents in areas affected by these storms who suffered economic losses to take penalty-free distributions up to $100,000 from their retirement plans, including traditional and Roth IRAs. The distributions must have been received after August 24, 2005 (Katrina), September 22, 2005 (Rita), or October 22, 2005 (Wilma), and before January 1, 2007. The distributions were taxable income and could be reported as income either in the year received or over three years (e.g., a $30,000 distribution made in May 2006, could have been reported as $10,000 of income in 2006, 2007, and 2008). Alternatively, part or all of the distribution could have been repaid to the retirement plan within three years of receiving the distribution. Amounts that are repaid are treated as a trustee-to-trustee rollover (as if they were made directly from one financial institution to another).

Qualified Distributions Related to the Midwestern Disaster Relief Area

In response to severe storms, tornados, and flooding that occurred in certain Midwestern states, the Heartland Disaster Tax Relief Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-343) allowed residents of specified Midwest areas to take penalty-free distributions up to $100,000 from their retirement plans, including traditional and Roth IRAs. This act was passed as Division C of P.L. 110-343, the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008. The bill amended 26 U.S.C. 1400Q, which was enacted as part of the Gulf Opportunity Zone Act of 2005 (P.L. 109-135). The distributions must have been received after the date on which the President declared an area to be a major disaster area and before January 1, 2010.35 Apart from the dates and the areas affected, the provisions were identical to the provisions for individuals who were affected by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma.

Qualified Distributions Related to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria

In response to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, Congress approved the Disaster Tax Relief and Airport and Airway Extension Act of 2017 (P.L. 115-63). The act amended the Internal Revenue Code to allow residents in areas affected by these storms who suffered economic losses to take penalty-free distributions up to $100,000 from their retirement plans, including traditional and Roth IRAs. The distributions must have been made on or after August 23, 2017 (Harvey), September 4, 2017 (Irma), or September 16, 2017 (Maria), and before January 1, 2019. The distributions are included in taxable income and can be reported either in the year received or over three years. Alternatively, part or all of the distribution may be repaid to the retirement plan within three years of receiving the distribution. Amounts that are repaid are treated as a trustee-to-trustee rollover (as if they were made directly from one financial institution to another).

Qualified Distributions Related to the California Wildfires

In response to the California wildfires in 2017, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 (P.L. 115-123) included a provision that amended the Internal Revenue Code to waive the 10% early penalty fee for distributions up to $100,000 for individuals whose principal residence sustained damage from the fires. The distributions must have been made on or after October 8, 2017, and before December 31, 2017. The distributions are included in taxable income and can be reported either in the year received or over three years, or be repaid through additional contributions to a retirement account within three years. Amounts that are repaid are treated as a trustee-to-trustee rollover (as if they were made directly from one financial institution to another).

Qualified Distributions Related to 2018 and Later Disasters

A provision in Division Q of the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020 (P.L. 116-94) allows for penalty-free distributions up to $100,000 from retirement accounts for individuals who live in an area that had a major federally declared disaster from January 1, 2018, to 60 days after the enactment of the legislation on December 20, 2019.36 The distributions are to be included in taxable income and can be reported either in the year received or over three years, or be repaid through additional contributions to a retirement account within three years. Amounts that are repaid are treated as a trustee-to-trustee rollover (as if they were made directly from one financial institution to another). Another provision allows qualified individuals—those who took a distribution for the purposes of constructing or purchasing a principal residence but who were unable to do so due to a disaster—to recontribute the amount of the distribution to their IRA.

Hurricane Sandy Relief

In the case of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, no legislation was passed that would have (1) exempted individuals in areas affected by this natural disaster from the 10% penalty for early withdrawals from IRAs or defined contribution retirement plans or (2) eased requirements for loans from defined contribution pensions for individuals affected by this natural disaster.37

The IRS eased requirements for hardship distributions in areas affected by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Among the relief offered by the IRS in Announcement 2012-44, "Plan administrators may rely upon representations from the employee or former employee as to the need for and amount of a hardship distribution" rather than require documentation from the employee of the need.38 The IRS relief did not include an exemption from the 10% penalty for distributions before the age of 59½. Exemptions from the 10% penalty require congressional authorization. In addition, in the announcement, the IRS suspended the provision that requires an individual to suspend contributions to 401(k) and 403(b) plans for the six months following a hardship distribution.

Author Contact Information

Elizabeth A. Myers, Analyst in Income Security ([email address scrubbed], [phone number scrubbed])

Acknowledgments

John Topoleski was the original author of this report. Emma Sifre provided research assistance.

Footnotes

1.

For more information on the tax treatment of retirement savings, including Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs), see U.S. Congress, Joint Committee on Taxation, Present Law And Background Relating To The Tax Treatment Of Retirement Savings, prepared by Joint Committee on Taxation, 112th Cong., 2nd sess., April 13, 2012, JCX-32-12.

2.

See also 26 U.S.C. §408 for traditional IRAs and 26 U.S.C. §408A for Roth IRAs.

3.

There are also two types of IRA-based retirement plans available to small employers: Simplified Employee Pensions (SEP-IRA) and Savings Incentive Match Plans for Employees (SIMPLE-IRA). These are not discussed in this report.

4.

The SECURE Act (P.L. 116-94) repealed the maximum age at which individuals may contribute to IRAs. Prior to the SECURE Act, individuals were not allowed to contribute to traditional IRAs after reaching age 70½.

5.

See IRS, Tax Topic Number 451 - Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs), at https://www.irs.gov/taxtopics/tc451.

6.

Sections 106 and 116 of the SECURE Act (Division O of P.L. 116-94) added these provisions.

7.

26 U.S.C. §415 requires the adjustments be made with procedures used to adjust Social Security benefit amounts. For more information on Social Security adjustments see CRS Report 94-803, Social Security: Cost-of-Living Adjustments.

8.

Gold, silver, and platinum coins issued by the U.S. Treasury, and gold, silver, palladium, and platinum bullion are permissible.

9.

One advantage to placing post-tax income in traditional IRAs is that investment earnings on nondeductible contributions are not taxed until distributed.

10.

The publication is available on the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) website at http://www.irs.gov/publications/p590a.

11.

Section 114 of the SECURE Act (Division O of P.L. 116-94) modified the age at which individuals must begin taking RMDs from 70½ to 72. The provision applies to account owners who turn age 70½ on or after January 1, 2020.

12.

Life expectancy is calculated differently depending on whether the account holder (1) is single and an IRA beneficiary, (2) has a spouse who is more than 10 years younger, (3) has a spouse who is not more than 10 years younger, (4) whose spouse is not the sole beneficiary, or (5) is unmarried.

13.

See, e.g., the Social Security Actuarial Life Table, at https://www.ssa.gov/oact/STATS/table4c6.html. The Supreme Court ruled in Arizona Governing Comm. vs. Norris, 463 U.S. 1073 (1983), that employer-provided pension plans must use unisex tables in calculating monthly annuity benefits. Citing this ruling, the IRS constructs its own unisex life expectancy tables. See 26 U.S.C. §417(e)(3)(A)(ii).

14.

Congress did not enact any of the proposals that were introduced to suspend the RMD in years after 2009. See CRS Report R40192, Early Withdrawals and Required Minimum Distributions in Retirement Accounts: Issues for Congress.

15.

See CRS In Focus IF11377, Qualified Charitable Distributions from Individual Retirement Accounts. The SECURE Act did not modify the age at which qualified charitable distributions can be made.

16.

See 26 U.S.C. §72(t).

17.

Section 113 of the SECURE Act (Division O of P.L. 116-94) added this provision. This provision is effective for distributions made after December 31, 2019.

18.

A trustee-to-trustee transfer is a transfer of funds made directly between two financial institutions. The individual does not take possession of the funds at any point.

19.

See Bobrow v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2014-21 (United States Tax Court 2014), at https://www.ustaxcourt.gov/UstcInOp/OpinionViewer.aspx?ID=377. The court case addressed a situation in which an individual and his spouse used the 60-day rollover period to continuously move amounts from one IRA to another, thereby gaining access to funds for an extended period of time. Prior to this decision, the IRS applied the one-rollover-per-year on an IRA-by-IRA basis.

20.

Section 401 of SECURE Act (Division O of P.L. 116-94) modified distribution rules for designated beneficiaries of account owners who die after December 31, 2019.

21.

Roth IRAs are named for former Senator William Roth.

22.

If warranted, the income limits are increased for cost-of-living adjustments. See 2019 Limitations Adjusted As Provided in Section 415(d), etc., Notice 2018-83, at https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-drop/n-18-83.pdf; and 2020 Limitations Adjusted As Provided in Section 415(d), etc., Notice 2019-59, at https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-drop/n-19-59.pdf.

23.

Simplified Employee Pensions (SEP-IRA) and Savings Incentive Match Plans for Employees (SIMPLE-IRA) are employer-sponsored IRAs available to small employers. SIMPLE-IRAs may be rolled over after two years. Prior to January 1, 2010, only individuals with income under specified thresholds were eligible to make conversions from traditional to Roth IRAs. The Tax Increase Prevention and Reconciliation Act of 2005 (TIPRA; P.L. 109-222) eliminated the income thresholds.

24.

A provision in P.L. 115-97 (a budget reconciliation bill that was originally called the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act) repealed a special rule that allowed conversions and rollovers to be recharacterized. Prior to the repeal of the special rule, an individual could have rolled amounts from a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA and then, prior to the due date of the individual's tax return, could have transferred the assets back to a traditional IRA. In certain circumstances, this could have a beneficial effect on an individual's taxable income.

25.

The five-year period is not necessarily five calendar years. Contributions made from January 1 to April 15 could be considered made in the previous tax year.

26.

For more information on the Saver's Credit, see CRS In Focus IF11159, The Retirement Savings Contribution Credit.

27.

Generally, rollovers are tax-free distributions of assets from one retirement plan that are contributed to a second retirement plan. Regular contributions are contributions to IRAs that are made from individuals' pre- or post-tax income (subject to the rules of the particular type of IRA).

28.

See the Investment Company Institute, The U.S. Retirement Market, Third Quarter 2019, Table 11, at https://www.ici.org/research/stats/retirement/.

29.

See the Investment Company Institute, The U.S. Retirement Market, Third Quarter 2019, Table 12, at https://www.ici.org/research/stats/retirement/.

30.

More information on the Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) is available at http://www.federalreserve.gov/econresdata/scf/scfindex.htm.

31.

The SCF data and codebook are available at https://www.federalreserve.gov/econres/scfindex.htm. In the SCF, the head of the household is the individual in a single household, the male in a mixed-sex couple, or the older individual in the case of a same-sex couple. The SCF codebook indicates that "no judgment about the internal organization of the households is implied by this organization of the data" and that the "term is euphemistic and merely reflects the systematic way in which the data set has been organized."

32.

The first figure is calculated by adding the percentages of U.S. households with IRAs with balances between $1 and $99,999 (35.6% + 12.4% + 13.2% = 61.2%). The second figure is calculated by adding the percentages with balances of $1,000,000 or higher (3.8% + 0.6% = 4.4%).

33.

See CRS Report R43439, Worker Participation in Employer-Sponsored Pensions: A Fact Sheet.

34.

In 2016, the IRA contribution limit for individuals under age 50 was $5,500. Individuals aged 50 and older could contribute an additional $1,000 "catch-up" contribution, or $6,500.

35.

The disaster areas are limited to Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, and Wisconsin.

36.

Under this law, the California wildfires are excluded from the definition of a qualifying disaster.

37.

H.R. 2137, the Hurricane Sandy Tax Relief Act of 2013, introduced by Representative Bill Pascrell on May 23, 2013, would have both provided an exemption to the 10% early withdrawal penalty for retirement account distributions and eased requirements for loans from defined contribution pensions for those affected by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

38.

See 26 CFR 1.401(k)-1.