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Tax Breaks

Don’t Overlook the Retirement Savers’ Tax Credit

To encourage retirement saving, Uncle Sam offers a generous credit to middle-and low-income people.

You mentioned the retirement savers’ tax credit in your article about President Obama’s MyRA plan. How does this credit work, and who is eligible?

The credit is 10%, 20% or 50% of your contribution to a retirement account, depending on your income, up to a maximum of $1,000 per person or $2,000 per couple. You can qualify for the retirement savers’ tax credit if your adjusted gross income in 2014 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. To qualify, you must contribute to a traditional or Roth IRA (MyRA’s count), 401(k), 457, 403(b) or other retirement-savings plan.

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If you are married filing jointly, for example, the credit can be worth 50% of your contribution (a $2,000 credit for a $4,000 contribution) if your joint income in 2014 is $36,000 or less. The credit is worth 20% of your contribution if you earn $36,001 to $39,000 and 10% if you earn $39,001 to $60,000. Married couples can’t qualify for the credit if they earn more than $60,000. See the IRS factsheet for a table showing the income cutoffs for each level of the credit for joint filers, heads of household and singles for both 2013 and 2014 returns (the income numbers are slightly lower for 2013).

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To qualify for the credit, you must be at least 18 years old and not a full-time student, and no one else (such as your parents) can claim an exemption for you on their tax return. You can qualify for this credit even if you make pretax contributions to an employer’s retirement plan or nondeductible contributions to a traditional or Roth IRA, or if you get other tax breaks for your retirement-savings contributions -- such as a tax deduction for a traditional IRA contribution.

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Keep in mind that this is a credit, not a deduction, so it lowers your income tax dollar for dollar. It is a nonrefundable tax credit, however, which means it cannot reduce your tax liability below zero. See IRS Publication 4703 for more information about the credit.

Complete IRS Form 8880 to determine the rate and amount of the credit, and file it with your income tax return. If you realize that you would have qualified for the credit in previous years but didn’t claim it, you can file an amended return (Form 1040X) as far back as 2010 and still get the money. A 2010 amended return is due by April 15, 2014; a 2011 amended return is due by April 15, 2015; and a 2012 amended return is due by April 15, 2016. See Instructions for Form 1040X for more information about filing an amended return.

You still have until April 15, 2014, to contribute to an IRA for 2013 and qualify for the credit for 2013. See Often Overlooked Opportunities to Save in a Roth IRA for more information about Roth contributions if you’re a nonworking spouse, retiree or freelance worker.

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