Saving for retirement is hard — especially when you’ve got so many bills to pay today. You’re probably already using every trick you can find to stretch your budget.
But the government is really keen on having Americans build up retirement nest eggs, so it tries to nudge you along with a nice tax break for squirreling some extra money away.
Here’s how you could score up to $2,000 in free money for retirement through a little-known tax break called the saver’s credit.
What is the saver’s credit?
The saver’s credit — formerly called the retirement savings contributions credit — is a tax credit that can be claimed by middle- and lower-income taxpayers who contributed to a retirement account during the tax year. The credit is worth up to $1,000 for individuals, and a maximum $2,000 for a married couple filing jointly.
If this is the first you’re hearing about the saver’s credit, well, that’s common. A survey from the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies found only 38% of U.S. workers were aware of the tax break.
In fact, in a new piece of retirement savings legislation, lawmakers specifically ask the Treasury Department to improve public awareness.
The saver’s credit is just too helpful to ignore.
Who can claim the saver’s credit?
To be eligible, you must be at least 18 years old, cannot be a full-time student and cannot be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return.
Next, you must contribute to a retirement plan, which can be a 401(k) or other employer-sponsored plan, or a traditional or Roth IRA. And, your earnings must not top the credit’s income thresholds.
How do you qualify for the saver’s tax credit?
You can take the saver’s credit if your adjusted gross income falls below these limits:
$65,000 for a married couple filing jointly in 2020, $66,000 in 2021.
$48,750 for a head of household in 2020, $49,500 in 2021.
$32,500 for all other taxpayers (including individuals) in 2020, $33,000 in 2021.
Not eligible? You can probably find plenty of other ways to get more from your retirement savings, especially by working with a financial adviser. Did you know that certified financial planners are even available online today?
What is the saver’s credit worth?
The dollar value of the saver’s credit is calculated based on your income, your tax filing status, and the amount you contribute to an eligible retirement account during a tax year. You may be eligible to claim 50%, 20% or 10% of the first $2,000 you put in if you’re an individual, or $4,000 if you’re a married couple who files a joint return.
What that means is the saver’s credit is worth up to $1,000 for individuals, or $2,000 for married couples filing jointly.
If you want to use the credit when you file in 2021 — on your 2020 tax return — use the table below to see if your income would qualify you for the 50%, 20% or 10% credit.
If you’re married and file jointly
You can take the 50% credit if your adjusted gross income is $39,000 or less.
You can take the 20% credit if your adjusted gross income is between $39,001 and $42,500.
You can take the 10% credit if your adjusted gross income is between $42,501 and $65,000.
You get no credit if your adjusted gross income is over $65,000.
If you file as a head of household
You can take the 50% credit if your adjusted gross income is $29,250 or less.
You can take the 20% credit if your adjusted gross income is between $29,251 and $31,875.
You can take the 10% credit if your adjusted gross income is between $31,876 and $48,750.
You get no credit if your adjusted gross income is over $48,750.
For all other taxpayers (including individuals)
You can take the 50% credit if your adjusted gross income is $19,500 or less.
You can take the 20% credit if your adjusted gross income is between $19,501 and $21,250.
You can take the 10% credit if your adjusted gross income is between $21,251 and $32,500.
You get no credit if your adjusted gross income is over $32,500.
So how much can I get?
The saver’s credit math isn’t too difficult.
For example, let’s say you’re a married couple filing jointly, you earned $38,000 last year, and contributed $1,000 to an eligible account.
The value of your credit would be 50% of your $1,000 in contributions — or $500. If you put in $5,000, only the first $4,000 would count, and your credit would reach the cap of $2,000.
Keep in mind, a credit is way better than a tax deduction. A deduction just reduces the amount of your income that’s subject to taxes, but a credit actually cuts your tax bill dollar for dollar.
So yes, in a way it’s free money — enough to meet other financial goals, like buying affordable life insurance or making a down payment on a car.
What accounts are eligible?
The IRS gives you several tax-advantaged options for saving for retirement — and taking advantage of the saver’s credit.
In addition to a 401(k), you can contribute to a traditional or Roth IRA, a SIMPLE IRA, 403(b) plan (for certain employees of public schools and tax-exempt organizations) or through the Thrift Savings Plan, which is open to federal employees and members of the uniformed services.
The IRS also extends the saver’s credit to Americans with ABLE accounts, which are savings plans for people with disabilities.
Make sure you meet the deadline
The cutoff for many tax breaks is the end of the calendar year. For example, any donations to charity that you write off on your 2020 return must have been made during 2020. Makes sense, right?
But, you can make retirement contributions right up to the April tax deadline that count toward the saver’s credit for that tax year.
To claim the saver’s credit, you must complete IRS form 8880 and include it with your tax return. You’ll need two key pieces of information to fill out Form 8880: your adjusted gross income you calculated on your income tax return, and documents that show your retirement contributions for the year.
Does the thought of having to complete yet another tax form make your head spin? Claiming your saver’s credit is a lot easier with the help of good tax software and tax pros.