What To Do if You Forgot To Claim Your IRA Deduction

Know Your IRA Deduction Options

Elderly woman at a laptop looking frustrated while reviewing financial documents
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The tax code is complicated, particularly after all the rules that changed in 2018. It's easy to forget or overlook something, but the opportunity isn't gone forever if you neglect to take certain tax deductions. You can still claim deductions for annual contributions you made to your traditional individual retirement account (IRA) in previous years.

You can fix this situation in a couple of ways, depending on how you want your retirement money to be taxed.

Key Takeaways

  • To claim a tax deduction for your IRA contributions on a previously-filed return, you can file an amended return (as long as the timeframe has not passed).
  • If you do nothing, the IRS will treat your contributions as though they were deductible, and tax them when you make withdrawals at retirement.
  • You can file IRS Form 8606 to declare your IRA contributions as nondeductible, and take withdrawals tax-free later.
  • You can also take this opportunity to convert the funds to a Roth IRA.

Deductible Contributions

You have two options when it comes to IRAs. Your contributions can be either tax-deductible or nondeductible.

You can claim a deduction at tax time for the money you put in, which is what most people do. These contributions reduce your taxable income in the year you make them, then they grow tax-deferred until you retire.

The withdrawals are included in your taxable income when you begin withdrawing money from your IRA in retirement because they weren't taxed the first time around—you claimed those deductions for your contributions.

Note

People who expect to be in a lower tax bracket during their retirement years should typically make deductible IRA contributions and take the tax break before retirement.

Nondeductible Contributions

You can also make nondeductible contributions to a traditional IRA. These contributions don't reduce your income for tax purposes, but they'll grow tax-deferred until your retirement. Contributions that you don't claim a deduction for come back to you tax-free when you begin withdrawing the money.

Roth IRAs vs. Nondeductible IRAs

Many people prefer to contribute to Roth IRAs rather than make nondeductible contributions to traditional IRAs. Contributions aren't tax-deductible with a Roth IRA, either, and they also grow tax-free until you retire. The withdrawals are completely tax-free—even the accrued interest and growth—when you begin withdrawing money from a Roth IRA, as long as you've met all the requirements.

You must have held the account for at least five years and be age 59 1/2 or older as of the date of the withdrawal. Exceptions exist if you're disabled or a first-time homebuyer, or for your beneficiaries after you die. The IRS also makes occasional exceptions to the early-withdrawal taxation for taxpayers who are affected by natural disasters; these are typically focused on a certain part of the population and temporary, and will vary from one year to the next.

Note

People generally prefer to make Roth IRA contributions if they expect to be in approximately the same tax bracket or a higher tax bracket when they retire.

The Decision You Must Make

You must decide how you want your IRA to be taxed if you forgot to claim your IRA deductions in previous years.

You can take the tax deduction now, get some extra tax refund money, then have this income taxed later on when you retire and make withdrawals. Or you can forget about the tax deduction now and take the money tax-free later.

Note

A tax professional can help you figure out which option is best for your circumstances, and you'll want to consult with a professional to make sure you have a full understanding of all the results of your choice.

What If You Do Nothing?

The IRS will treat your contributions as though they were deductible if you don't make a decision. The funds will be taxable when you withdraw the money in retirement because they were deductible when you contributed them. You can avoid that by taking an additional step.

If You Want the Deduction Now

File amended tax returns for any years that are still open for amendment under the IRS statute of limitations. This is usually three years from the date you filed the return or two years from the date when you last made a payment on the return, whichever is later.

Claim the tax deductions for the IRA contributions on your amended returns. You might receive some extra tax refunds for each of these years. File your amended returns by the current year's tax due date, or your refund could pass the statute of limitations, and then the IRS won't send you a check.

If You Want Tax-Free Withdrawals

File IRS Form 8606 to declare your IRA contributions as nondeductible if you want tax-free withdrawals. You must file a Form 8606 for each year that you made contributions to your traditional IRA but forgot to take the deduction.

Then instruct your investment broker to convert your traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. The conversion might be partially taxable or completely tax-free, depending on how much your initial investments have grown.

Converting to a Roth IRA

If you made contributions more than three years ago, follow the same procedure, filing Form 8606 for each year.

You can't get additional refunds from the IRS for tax returns that are more than three years old, so you'll gain no tax benefit by claiming a deduction for those IRA contributions at this point. Just file Form 8606 to establish that these contributions are nondeductible so that you're free to convert the funds to a Roth IRA.

Will Form 8606 Late Risk an Audit?

Jesse Weller, a spokesperson for the IRS, indicates that:

"Although Form 8606 is normally submitted with a timely-filed Form 1040, the IRS will process a late-filed Form 8606, even one that's filed after the normal three-year statute of limitations for claiming a refund has expired. The Form 8606 can be submitted without a Form 1040 if that form isn't otherwise required. If the form is filed by itself, it should be signed on page 2 right below the jurat, the written declaration that verifies that a return, declaration, statement or other document is made under penalties of perjury."

This would be appropriate for taxpayers who made nondeductible traditional IRA contributions. Filing the form establishes your basis in the IRA, and it will help prove that income tax should not be paid on those contributions when distributions are received.

At a minimum, taxpayers who fail or forget to file form 8606 should expect to receive an inquiry from the IRS, asking them to explain and verify their nondeductible contributions. Avoiding such an inquiry—or an audit—is a good reason to file the form.

It's possible that you could be charged a $50 penalty under the terms of Internal Revenue Code section 6693(b)(2) for failing to file a Form 8606 unless the failure is due to reasonable cause.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Do I have to report nondeductible IRA contributions on my tax return?

In most cases, yes. Use Form 8606 to report all nondeductible contributions to your IRA so that the IRS (and you) can keep track of the portion of your account that has already been taxed.

Can I still contribute to my IRA for the previous tax year?

The IRS allows IRA contributions for the given tax year to extend beyond the calendar year. For the most recent filing, the IRS website states, "The due date for making contributions for 2021 to your IRA for most people is Monday, April 18, 2022."

What happens if I claimed a higher IRA contribution than I actually made?

You can use Form 8606 to remedy this type of error also. There is a $100 penalty for overstating your nondeductible contribution unless you can show just cause.

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Sources
The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Internal Revenue Service. "Roth IRAs."

  2. Internal Revenue Service. "Publication 590-B, Distributions from Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs)." Chapter 2: Roth IRAs - Are Distributions Taxable?

  3. Internal Revenue Service. "Publication 590-B (2020), Distributions from Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs)." Disaster-Related Relief.

  4. Internal Revenue Service. "Amended Returns and Form 1040X."

  5. Internal Revenue Service. "Instructions for Form 8606," Page 1.

  6. Internal Revenue Service. "Instructions for Form 8606," Page 6.

  7. Internal Revenue Service. "Instructions for Form 8606 (2021)."

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