Maximizing Your Retirement Contributions: Calculating Your Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI)

 Samantha Dombek By: Samantha Dombek

Each year as tax season approaches, it's increasingly relevant for high earners and astute savers to understand the relationship between their Individual Retirement Account (IRA) contributions and tax filings. This understanding is a key component of an effective financial strategy. 

Knowing how your Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI) influences these contributions is essential. Knowing this can greatly assist in optimizing your savings and avoiding potential penalties. We'll explore the complexities of MAGI and its impact on your IRA contributions and deductions.

The IRS sets specific IRA contribution limits that your MAGI influences, and these can affect your ability to deduct IRA contributions. These MAGI thresholds differ based on various factors, including your tax filing status and whether an employer-sponsored retirement plan covers you or your spouse.

Staying informed about your MAGI and adhering to these contribution limits is crucial for maximizing the benefits of your retirement savings each tax year. It is also highly relevant for high-earners to keep in mind as they develop their tax strategy.

What is Your Adjusted Gross Income (AGI)?

Your AGI is like the foundation of your tax calculation. It starts with all the money you earn in a year, including your salary, capital gains on your investments, and other sources. Then, subtract things you've spent money on, like interest on student loans, adoption expenses, or money you invested in a tax-deferred retirement account like a traditional IRA.

What you get after these subtractions -- or deductions -- is your AGI. This number determines which tax breaks you can get and how much you'll ultimately need to pay.

What is Your Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI)? 

MAGI is your AGI with a few tweaks. It's like taking your AGI and adding back some of the things you subtracted. These might include the money you put into an IRA, and/or what you paid in student loan interest or qualified tuition expenses. 

MAGI is important because it determines if you qualify for certain tax benefits, particularly those related to retirement plans and traditional IRA contributions. It's like a modified version of your income that the tax system uses to see if you're eligible for specific tax perks.

How to Calculate Your Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI)

Calculating your MAGI starts with your AGI. Then, you add back certain expenses like contributions to retirement accounts (IRAs), student loan interest, and qualified tuition expenses you've paid. The specifics can vary, but these are common items to add back. 

This calculation is crucial for managing your taxes effectively and making smart decisions about saving for retirement. It's a step that helps you understand your tax situation better, especially when planning for your future financial needs.

IRA Contribution and Deduction Limits Based on MAGI

Your MAGI is the decisive factor in determining the limits on your IRA contributions and deductions. Why does this matter? Because it impacts your ability to both contribute to tax-advantaged IRAs, as well as deduct these contributions from your income (if the situation allows).

Illustrating how MAGI impacts IRA contributions and deductions:

  1. Let's assume you're a single taxpayer under 50 years old with no employer-sponsored retirement plan. You can contribute up to $6,500 to a traditional IRA and deduct the full amount from your taxable income.
  2. Suppose you're married filing jointly, and you and your spouse have employer-sponsored retirement plans. If your MAGI is $116,000 or less, you can contribute up to $6,500 each to traditional IRAs and deduct the full amount from your taxable income. But if your MAGI is between $116,000 and $136,000, your IRA deduction limit gradually phases out, and if your MAGI is over $136,000, you can’t deduct any of your contributions.
  3. Finally, let's say you're a single taxpayer over 50 years old and eligible for catch-up contributions, with an employer-sponsored retirement plan. If your MAGI is $73,000 or less, you can contribute up to $7,500 to a traditional IRA and deduct the full amount from your taxable income. But if your MAGI is between $73,000 and $83,000, your IRA deduction limit gradually phases out, and if your MAGI is over $83,000, you cannot deduct any of your contributions.

Maximizing Retirement Savings Beyond a Maxed-Out 401(k)

Reaching the maximum contribution limit in your 401(k) is a significant achievement, signaling a strong commitment to your retirement planning and responsible use of any cash flow surplus. But what should you do when you've maxed out your 401(k) and still wish to save more? Understanding alternative saving avenues is crucial for continued financial growth and security.

IRA Contributions

Once your 401(k) contributions are maxed out, turning to an IRA (Individual Retirement Account) is a logical next step. Whether a Traditional IRA or a Roth IRA, they both offer unique tax advantages and can be a key component of your retirement strategy. The right one for you depends on your Modified Adjusted Gross Income and overall tax strategy.

Health Savings Account (HSA)

Consider contributing to a Health Savings Account (HSA) if you have a high-deductible health plan. HSAs offer triple tax advantages: tax-deductible contributions, tax-free growth, and tax-free withdrawals for qualified medical expenses. After age 65, you can withdraw funds for any purpose without penalty, though withdrawals for non-medical expenses are taxable as ordinary income.

Taxable Investment Accounts

For additional savings, a taxable investment account can be a versatile option. While these accounts don't offer the same tax advantages as 401(k)s or IRAs, they provide more flexibility with no contribution limits or withdrawal restrictions. This makes them ideal for saving above and beyond retirement-specific accounts, especially if you  have financial goals that require decumulating your assets before you're permitted to withdraw without penalty from those retirement-specific accounts.

Education Savings Accounts

If you have children and are also considering their educational future, 529 plans or Coverdell Education Savings Accounts can be beneficial. These accounts offer tax-free growth and withdrawals for qualified educational expenses. Your eligibility may vary depending on the rules of your state's plan.

Understanding Roth IRA vs. Traditional IRA with MAGI

Regarding retirement planning, the Roth IRA and the Traditional IRA are two popular vehicles. Each has unique features, especially in interacting with your Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI). Understanding these similarities and differences is crucial for high earners and those keen on maximizing their retirement contributions.


  1. Contribution Limits: Both Roth and Traditional IRAs share the same annual contribution limits. The IRS sets these limits, and they're subject to change yearly.
  2. Tax Advantages: Each IRA offers tax benefits, albeit in different forms. These advantages are central to why IRAs are a cornerstone of retirement planning.


  1. Tax Deduction Eligibility: For Traditional IRAs, your ability to deduct contributions on your tax return depends on your MAGI. Your deduction may be reduced or eliminated if your MAGI exceeds certain thresholds. This is particularly relevant for high earners. Roth IRAs, conversely, do not offer tax-deductible contributions as these contributions are made with after-tax dollars.
  2. Taxation Upon Withdrawal: Traditional IRA distributions are taxed as ordinary income at your then-current tax rate. In contrast, Roth IRA withdrawals are generally tax-free, provided certain conditions are met. This difference is significant in retirement planning, as Roth IRAs can offer tax-free growth and withdrawals, a powerful benefit for those who expect to be in a higher tax bracket in retirement.
  3. Income Limits for Contributions: Roth IRAs have income limits that can restrict high earners from contributing directly. If your MAGI exceeds these limits, you cannot contribute to a Roth IRA. Traditional IRAs do not have income limits for contributions, but as mentioned, MAGI affects the deductibility of these contributions.
  4. Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs): Traditional IRAs require you to start taking minimum distributions at a certain age, while Roth IRAs do not have RMDs during the owner's lifetime. This can be a significant advantage for those wishing to leave their retirement funds untouched or pass them on to heirs.

Relevance to High-Earners and Tax Strategy

For high-earning individuals, these differences are vital in strategizing for retirement. If you're phased out of deductible contributions to a Traditional IRA due to high MAGI, a backdoor Roth IRA may be more appealing despite its income limits, especially if you anticipate a higher tax rate in retirement. Conversely, if your MAGI allows for deductible contributions to a Traditional IRA, this could provide a valuable tax break now, reducing your taxable income.

In summary, understanding how Roth and Traditional IRAs differ with MAGI is key to making informed decisions about retirement planning. Each type of IRA offers distinct advantages, and your choice should align with your overall financial goals, income level, and tax planning strategy. Remember, the right IRA can be a powerful tool in your retirement arsenal, but its efficacy depends on how well it integrates with your unique financial situation.

How to Avoid Excess IRA Contributions

Avoiding excess contributions to your IRA requires proactive management and a deep understanding of MAGI-related contribution limits. Regularly monitoring your MAGI will help you align your contributions with the prevailing income limits, safeguarding you from potential penalties associated with over-contributions.

The penalty for making excess contributions to an IRA is 6% of the extra amount for each year it remains in the account. The penalty is enforced annually until the excess amount is withdrawn.

To avoid penalties, it's essential to regularly monitor your MAGI and align your contributions with the income limits. If you make excess contributions, it's crucial to take timely action to correct the situation before the tax filing deadline.

How to Correct Excess Contributions

If you have made excess contributions to your retirement account, you must take corrective action to avoid penalties with the IRS. First, notify your plan administrator of the excess contributions and request a correction.

You may be able to withdraw the excess contributions and any earnings before the tax-filing deadline without penalty, or you may need to take additional steps to correct the error. It is important to consult with a financial advisor or tax professional to determine the best course of action for correcting excess contributions.

A financial advisor or tax professional can help correct excess contributions by reviewing your tax return and retirement account statements to identify excess contributions. They can then advise you on the best course to correct the error before the tax filing deadline.

This may include withdrawing the excess contributions and any earnings or recharacterizing the excess contributions as non-deductible contributions. They can also help you avoid future penalties from the IRS by ensuring your contributions align with the income limits based on your MAGI.

Next Steps

Understanding and applying the intricacies of MAGI concerning IRA contributions can be a complex task. However, the right guidance can become an empowering element of your financial strategy. Our team is ready to work with you, offering personalized insights and solutions tailored to your unique retirement plan.

Knowing tax strategies forms the basis for making informed decisions and achieving long-term financial security. When dealing with the complexities of IRA contributions and MAGI, it's essential to adopt a proactive approach and seek expert guidance to explore new avenues of financial growth and stability.

Download our worksheet to calculate your AGI MAGI and understand the limits.

If you max out your tax-free contributions and deductions, it's a sign you've outgrown basic financial advice. Take our analysis or schedule time to discuss what Wealth Management could do for you.

Sam joined Plancorp in 2021 as a Senior Financial Planner. After graduating with her master’s degree, Sam joined a public accounting firm working in their tax department. She worked there for four years and was licensed as a Certified Public Accountant during her time there. Sam primarily worked with high net worth individuals and closely held businesses. Her experience in tax preparation and planning makes her a great addition to the Plancorp team. More »