BOSTON (CBS) – Many of our listeners are worried about their jobs, they are paying down debt, and they are definitely more frugal. But recent surveys have shown many have stopped contributing to their retirement plans. Not a good idea. So I thought a primer on IRAs was in order.

IRAs, Individual Retirement Arrangements have been around for a long time now, since 1974.

According to the ICI, the Investment Company Institute, 40% of all households have at least one IRA and there is almost $5 trillion invested in IRAs.

If your employer does not sponsor a retirement plan at work such as a 401(k) you can start your own retirement plan using an IRA. As always whenever the government is involved with money the IRS and Congress set rules:

  • You must have earned income, the W-2 kind of income. Alimony also is eligible.
  • Contributions are limited to $5,000 for 2011. There is a catch up provision for workers over age 50. They can contribute an additional $1000.
  • You may be eligible for a deduction for the amount you contribute
  • Money in the IRA grows tax-deferred
  • Withdrawals from your IRA will be taxed as ordinary income.
  • Withdrawals must begin once you reach age 70½, the IRS is strict about this.
  • Withdrawals before age 59½ usually result in a 10% penalty, but there are some exceptions:
    • Death
    • Disability
    • Medical expenses in excess of 7.5% of AGI
    • Health insurance premiums if unemployed for 12 consecutive weeks
    • Qualifying higher education expenses for family members
    • Qualifying first time home purchase ($10,000 lifetime limit)
    • Substantially equal payments made over life expectancy (IRS rule 72t)

If you have a retirement plan at work, fund that first. If your employer does not offer a retirement plan use an IRA for your retirement savings. For more help, check out the IRS website and download publication 590.

If your employer offers a retirement plan but you want to contribute more money using an IRA depending on the amount of income you earn you may not be able to get a deduction for the IRA.

If you are single and your adjusted gross income (AGI) is less than $56,000, you’re golden and can deduct the full $5,000 and once you reach $66,000 there is no deduction. If you are married filing jointly, the limit is phased out between $90,000 and $110,000 of AGI. I know it’s not fair that the married folks filing jointly limit is not twice as much as the single taxpayer limit.

Comments (2)
  1. J.C.A. says:

    It’s tough to contribute when the cost of food and transportation have risen so dramatically. Priorities get skewed, while the working class gets s….d.
    Just because the costs go up doesn’t mean the bills stop showing up or don’t have to be paid . JCA

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