How to Maximize the Retirement Saver's Tax Credit

This frequently overlooked break for moderate-income savers can be worth up to $2,000 per couple.

What must my income be to qualify for the retirement savers tax credit? Do I need to max out my IRA to get the full credit?

For 2014, you can qualify for the retirement saver's credit if your adjusted gross income is $60,000 or less if married filing jointly, $45,000 or less if filing as head of household, or $30,000 or less if you’re a single filer. The lower your income, the larger the credit you can take. And you don’t need to max out your IRA to get the maximum credit.

The credit is a frequently overlooked way to get a bonus for contributing to a retirement savings plan. Contributions to a traditional or Roth IRA, 401(k), 457, 403(b) or other retirement-savings plan count. You claim it when you do your 2014 tax return. The credit is worth 10%, 20% or 50% of your contribution, up to a maximum credit of $1,000 per person or $2,000 per couple.

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The credit can be worth 50% of your contribution, for example, if you’re married filing jointly and your joint income is $36,000 or less -- so you’d get a $2,000 credit if you each make at least $2,000 in contributions. The credit is worth 20% of your contribution if you earn $36,001 to $39,000 -- resulting in an $800 credit if you each make at least $2,000 in contributions. And you can get a 10% credit if you earn $39,001 to $60,000 -- getting a $400 credit if you each make at least $2,000 in contributions. You can’t take the credit if your joint income is more than $60,000. See the IRS factsheet for a table showing the income cutoffs for each type of filer.

Pre-tax contributions to 401(k)s, 403(b)s, 457s and other retirement-savings plans, and tax-deductible contributions to a traditional IRA, can lower your adjusted gross income and could help you qualify for the credit.

The income limits rise slightly in 2015, when you can qualify for the credit if your income is less than $30,500 if single, $45,750 if head of household, and $61,000 if married filing jointly.

To qualify for the credit, you must be 18 or older, not a full-time student and not claimed as a dependent on another person’s tax return.

Kimberly Lankford
Contributing Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance

As the "Ask Kim" columnist for Kiplinger's Personal Finance, Lankford receives hundreds of personal finance questions from readers every month. She is the author of Rescue Your Financial Life (McGraw-Hill, 2003), The Insurance Maze: How You Can Save Money on Insurance -- and Still Get the Coverage You Need (Kaplan, 2006), Kiplinger's Ask Kim for Money Smart Solutions (Kaplan, 2007) and The Kiplinger/BBB Personal Finance Guide for Military Families. She is frequently featured as a financial expert on television and radio, including NBC's Today Show, CNN, CNBC and National Public Radio.