Doubling Your Retirement Savings as a Married Couple: Joint IRAs, Spousal IRAs, and Other Options

Doubling Your Retirement Savings as a Married Couple: Joint IRAs, Spousal IRAs, and Other Options

You can't have a joint IRA even as a married couple, but you can still invest for retirement together with spousal IRAs, joint brokerage accounts, and more.

Oct 11, 2021

Doubling Your Retirement Savings as a Married Couple: Joint IRAs, Spousal IRAs, and Other Options
Retirement

Retirement

Tax Advantaged

Tax Advantaged

Long Term Growth

Long Term Growth

Investing as a married couple can mean double the funds, but it can also mean double the obstacles. Figuring out how to compromise and invest together in harmony can make the road to retirement a lot less bumpy—and more lucrative—for you and your spouse.

The benefits of combining investments with your spouse are many. You can more easily track your progress toward retirement, you both have full transparency, and you can even reduce the cost of various investment fees. This may prompt you to ask: Can you have a joint IRA once you're married?

The short answer is no. However, that doesn't mean you can't invest together as a married couple. Here's what you need to know about joint IRAs, spousal IRAs, joint brokerage accounts, and other ways to combine investments with your spouse.

Can you have a joint IRA if you're married?

As the name suggests, individual retirement accounts (IRAs) can only be held by a single individual. It's not possible to have a joint IRA, even if you're married. It's also worth noting that you can't have a joint 401(k) either, so combining your employer-sponsored retirement plans isn't an option. But that doesn't mean you can't go in on retirement together.

Married couples can each open up their own retirement accounts and still save together by adding each other as beneficiaries. This also allows you to double your retirement savings in tax-advantaged accounts with contribution limits. You can only contribute up to $6,000 per year to your IRAs, ($7,000 if you're 50 or older). However, both you and your spouse can open your own IRAs and each contribute $6,000 for a total of $12,000 per year.

Adding your spouse as a beneficiary

Rather than trying to merge your IRAs or create a joint IRA after getting married, you can each keep your own account while adding one another as a beneficiary. By adding your spouse as a beneficiary to your IRA account, it gives them access to our accounts and the money you've saved in the event of your death. 

Unlike a company-sponsored retirement plan, such as a 401(k) or pension plan, you're not required to name your spouse as a beneficiary to your IRA. Some people prefer to name children or extended family members as beneficiaries, although spouses are still the most common beneficiary. Only a spouse can be given ownership of your IRA if something should happen to you. Other beneficiaries will be required to start taking distributions shortly after your passing.

Raising the roof on retirement

Let's say you get a $5,000 raise and you and your spouse agree to put that money toward your retirement savings. You already max out your tax-advantaged retirement accounts, so where do you both decide to invest that extra money? Do you take the traditional route or try out something a little more alternative?

Raising the roof on retirement

Combining your retirement savings after marriage: Alternatives to a joint IRA

While you can't have a joint IRA, there are other ways to combine your retirement savings after getting married. Here are a few.

Spousal IRA

Opening a spousal IRA might be an option if one spouse isn't earning income. Usually, you have to have "earned income" to contribute to an IRA. However, a spousal IRA can be opened in the name of the spouse that doesn't earn income. A spousal IRA is not a joint IRA—rather, it's opened as a separate account under the other spouse's name. The income-earning spouse can then contribute to both their own IRA and the spousal IRA. You do have to file a joint tax return if you want to contribute to a spousal IRA.

Spousal IRAs have all the same rules as regular IRAs. They can be opened as a Roth IRA or traditional IRA. They have the same contribution limits and early withdrawal penalties and contribution limits. In other words, as of 2021, if you have an IRA and your spouse has a spousal IRA, you contribute $6,000 to $7,000 per year (depending on your age) to each account. In total, this allows you to contribute up to $12,000 or $14,000 per year to IRAs.

The major benefit of doing this is that it allows you to double your annual contribution limits and receive tax advantages on a greater portion of your retirement savings. If you were to contribute $6,000 to an IRA every year with a 6% rate of return, you'd have around $500,000 in 30 years. Opening a spousal IRA and maxing that out as well would get you close to $1 million in that same time period.

Joint brokerage accounts

Of course, there are plenty of ways to invest outside of your retirement accounts, and brokerage accounts are one of the most common. Unlike tax-advantaged retirement accounts, brokerage accounts can be owned jointly. A joint brokerage account gives ownership to multiple people, and all parties have equal access to the account. Opening a joint brokerage account allows both you and your spouse to deposit and withdraw money from the account as well as direct your investments together.

If both you and your spouse contribute fairly equally to your brokerage accounts and have similar investment goals, it can make sense to open a joint brokerage account to combine your investments. That way, there's full transparency between you and your spouse, and both of you can track and manage your investments all in one place at any time.

Most major brokerage firms, from Charles Schwab to Fidelity to Vanguard, allow you to open a joint brokerage account with your spouse. You can usually do this online in a matter of minutes. Many popular robo advisors also let you open a joint account. With Betterment, for example, you can open a joint account with any other Betterment user to save and invest together. You and your spouse can invest money in low-cost exchange-traded funds (ETFs) that are designed for long-term goals like retirement and adjusted according to your risk profile.

betterment

Betterment

4.5

Robo Advisor

Open two accounts that cater to your different investing styles

One of the difficulties of sharing a joint investment account is that you and your spouse have to agree completely on how the money will be invested and used. Without this agreement in place, one spouse may end up making moves in the account that the other disagrees with, whether that's adjusting you and your spouse's asset allocation or withdrawing money earlier than planned.

It's important to compromise when investing as a married couple, and one way to do that if you have different investing preferences and risk tolerances is by holding two separate investment accounts. That way, each spouse can maintain control over their own account. Remember, though, this isn't a substitute for compromise and communication. You and your spouse should still be transparent with each other about how each is investing. If one spouse is seeing excellent returns and the other is losing money, you'll end up canceling each other out, so it's important to work together even if you maintain separate accounts.

You could also hold one joint investment account where you manage most of your retirement money together and then open a separate account for extra disposable income. For example, say you're comfortable with a high level of risk in exchange for the chance at high returns and really want to invest in crypto but your spouse prefers to play it safe. You could open a self-directed IRA and set aside an amount your spouse is comfortable with to invest in crypto while still enjoying tax advantages.

Track all your investments in one place

Whether you invest all your money into joint accounts as a married couple or you have various IRAs and other individual accounts, the best way to make sure both you and your spouse are on the same page when it comes to your investments is to have them all viewable in one place. If you join MoneyMade (it's free!), you can connect all your financial accounts—from savings accounts to brokerage accounts to alternative investments like crypto and real estate—and track your money in one place. Both you and your spouse can easily work together to make sure you're on track to meet your investment goals.

How much can you save?

It's generally considered wise to max out any tax-advantaged retirement accounts you qualify for before investing in other accounts due to the tax savings. Assuming you're under age 50, how much money would you need to set aside each year to max out your own 401(k), your own IRA, and your spouse's spousal IRA according to the 2021 contribution limits?

How much can you save?

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