Expat: Individual Retirement Accounts {IRA} and Foreign Income

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If you are a U.S citizen living abroad, you could continue to contribute to a retirement account. An expatriate's tax life is complicated as we know-different tax issues, elections and levels of income have to be considered before one can determine if an expat can make an IRA contribution based on their foreign income. 

There are complex technical rules that we have to sift through in order to seek eligibility for a taxpayer with foreign income to be able to contribute into an IRA. I found a lot of information out there on the World Wide Web about this matter, this article is my attempt to bring it all together. 

Income Limits for IRA Contributions:

In order to contribute to a traditional or a Roth IRA:
  • You must have taxable compensation for the year. 
  • You must have foreign income in excess of your foreign housing and foreign earned income exclusion ($105,900/ taxpayer for 2019 indexed for inflation).  
  • Your Modified Adjusted Gross Income (In the charts attached below) will add back the foreign earned income exclusion. 

2019 Roth IRA Income Limits for a $6,000 ($7,000 for those 50 years or older) Contribution are as follows: 

2019 traditional IRA Income Limits for a $6,000 ($7,000 for those 50 years or older) Contribution for those covered by a retirement plan at work are as follows:

2019 traditional IRA Income Limits for a $6,000 ($7,000 for those 50 years or older) Contribution for those not covered by a retirement plan at work are as follows:

Taking the above aspects into consideration, how can one contribute into an Individual Retirement Account if one has foreign income?  
Since the Roth IRA has overall income limits in order to make a contribution, and the Traditional IRA further limits amounts based on whether one is already contributing to an employer provided retirement account, the range of income that is available for a contribution is narrow at best. This could only be wages or net self-employed income that is in excess of the foreign earned income exclusion. 

Can taking the Foreign Tax Credit be more advantageous so one can make an IRA Contribution?
In some situations, claiming a foreign tax credit on taxable wages or net self-employed income can yield a more opportune scenario to fund an IRA in the United States. This would not only provide a reduction in US taxes but will also provide the tax-payer a higher "taxable" income to work with. 

How do IRA Roll-overs work for those who have moved out of the U.S?
There is a possibility that you have worked in the US before moving abroad and have accumulated retirement savings, possibly accounts in 401K's, 403B's or other employer retirement plans or traditional IRA's.You may have long term plans of staying abroad or do not have plans of drawing your retirement accounts at the age of 72. 

You could take advantage of the lower tax brackets in case you are making use of the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion and roll over these retirement accounts into a Roth IRA. If the numbers line up favorably, this Roth IRA conversion may even be tax-free. You could then leave the Roth IRA to grow tax-free and not have to take Required Minimum Distributions from it. 

Consultation WIth An Enrolled Agent or Experienced Tax Professional: 
It is very important, you seek the help of an experienced tax professional in order to execute any of the above. If the IRA's are rolled over incorrectly, there will be penalties on early withdrawals or excise taxes to be paid on incorrect set-up. Please contact our office for consultations, we have experience in guiding you with the correct set up and rollover. 

Bibliography: Section 911; Individual Retirement Accounts § 408
I am an Enrolled Agent and owner of MN Tax and Business Services PLLC (www.mntaxbiz.com), based in the Metro Detroit area in Michigan. The firm provides Tax Preparation, Planning services to Individuals, Small Businesses, Trusts and Non-Profit Organizations. Get my latest posts by subscribing to my blog. 

You can also find me tweeting @ManasaSogNadig where I have been @Forbes Top 100 Tax Tweeters for 2018, 2019 and 2020. 

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