Can You Contribute to a Retirement Account If You Don’t Have Earned Income?

A common question that arises is whether one can contribute to such accounts if they don’t have earned income. The Short answer is : No, you generally cannot contribute to a retirement account if you don’t have earned income, with a few exceptions such as the Spousal IRA.

Earned income typically refers to wages, salaries, bonuses, and other types of compensation received for services performed. It does not include income from investments, rental properties, or other passive sources.

a senior site near a piggy bank surrounded by dollars

Let’s delve in details

Traditional and Roth IRA Contributions

For Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs), both Traditional and Roth, the general rule is that contributions can only be made based on earned income.

This means if you have no earned income for the year, you typically cannot contribute to these accounts.

However, there’s an exception: the **Spousal IRA**. If one spouse has earned income and the other does not, the earning spouse can contribute to an IRA on behalf of the non-earning spouse, provided they file a joint tax return. This allows households with a single earner to double their IRA contributions.

401(k) and Other Employer-Sponsored Plans


401(k) plans and other employer-sponsored retirement accounts are based on compensation received from your employer. If you don’t have earned income from an employer, you won’t be eligible to contribute to these accounts.

However, if you had earned income earlier in the year and then later lost your job, you could contribute based on the income you earned while employed.

SEP IRA and Solo 401(k) for Self-Employed Individuals

Self-employed individuals, even with sporadic or irregular income, can contribute to retirement accounts like the SEP IRA or Solo 401(k). The contribution limits and rules might vary, but as long as there’s some form of self-employment income, contributions can be made.

Other Considerations

  • Age Limits: Some retirement accounts have age restrictions. For example, Traditional IRA contributions are not allowed once you reach age 72, even if you have earned income.
  • Contribution Limits: Even with earned income, there are annual limits to how much you can contribute to retirement accounts. It’s essential to be aware of these limits to avoid penalties.
  • Catch-up Contributions: Individuals aged 50 and above can make additional ‘catch-up’ contributions to certain retirement accounts, allowing them to save more as they approach retirement.


While earned income is a prerequisite for contributing to most retirement accounts, there are exceptions and workarounds, especially for households with a single earner or self-employed individuals.

I hope this article provides a comprehensive overview of the topic. If you have any specific points you’d like to include or expand upon, please let me know!

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