Traditional individual retirement arrangements let you save money, usually on a tax-deferred basis, for retirement. The eligibility requirements to contribute to a traditional IRA are the same when you're married filing separately as they are when you're single, but the deduction rules differ greatly. If you're not eligible to deduct your contributions, you can still make nondeductible traditional IRA contributions.
You must have your own compensation as you can't rely on your spouse's when you're married filing separately -- only when you file jointly. Compensation includes wages, salaries and self-employment income. If your compensation is less than your annual limit, you can only contribute up to your annual compensation. For example, in 2012, the limits are $5,000 if you're under 50 and $6,000 if you're 50 or older. In 2013, the limits increase to $5,500 and $6,500, respectively. Suppose you have $3,500 of compensation. Since that's lower than your contribution limit, you can only put $3,500 in your IRA.
You also have to meet the age limits to contribute to a traditional IRA. As of 2012, you can continue to add contributions to your traditional IRA until the year you turn 70 1/2 years old. Once you hit that age, you have to start taking money out each year rather than adding it.
Though you may meet all the requirements to contribute to your traditional IRA, you might not be able to deduct your traditional IRA contribution when married filing separately. If either you or your spouse is covered by an employer-sponsored plan, you can't deduct any of your contribution if your modified adjusted gross income exceeds $10,000. If it's between zero and $10,000, you must calculate your reduced deduction limit. Your MAGI equals your adjusted gross income plus several deductions and inclusions, such as student loan interest, traditional IRA contributions and foreign earned income. If neither of you are employer plan participants, your contribution is fully deductible -- up to the annual limits of course.
Reduced Deduction Limit Formula
To figure your reduced deduction limit, subtract your MAGI from the upper limit of the phaseout range -- $10,000. Then, divide the result by the size of the phaseout range -- again, $10,000 because it runs from $0 to $10,000. Finally, multiply the result by your annual limit to find the amount you can deduct. For example, suppose you MAGI is $8,000. Subtract $8,000 from $10,000 to get $2,000 and divide the result by $10,000 to get 0.2. If your annual limit is $6,500, multiply $6,500 by 0.2 to find you can deduct up to $1,300.
Based in the Kansas City area, Mike specializes in personal finance and business topics. He has been writing since 2009 and has been published by "Quicken," "TurboTax," and "The Motley Fool."