The Tax Break You’re Missing Out On

Over half of retirement savers fail to max out their IRA.

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Most workers are eligible to contribute up to $5,500 to an IRA in 2013 and get a tax deduction on the amount they save. A worker in the 25 percent tax bracket who contributes $5,500 to a traditional IRA this year would pay $1,375 less on his 2013 tax bill. But few people save enough to maximize this tax break.

[Read: 10 Trendy 401(k) Plan Perks.]

A recent Fidelity Investments analysis of nearly 7 million IRAs found that the average IRA contribution was $3,920 for tax year 2012, down $10 from $3,930 in 2011. Average traditional IRA contributions ranged from $3,170 among 20-somethings to $4,840 for people in their 60s.

An Employee Benefit Research Institute analysis of just over 1.6 million IRA accounts found that the average amount contributed in 2011 was $3,723. An IRA contribution of $3,723 will save you $930.75 if you are in the 25 percent tax bracket or $558.45 if you pay a 15 percent income tax rate. Taxes won’t be due on these traditional IRA contributions until you withdraw the money from the account.

People age 50 and older are eligible to contribute $1,000 more to IRAs than younger people, up to $6,500 in 2013. And the average IRA contribution does jump from $4,090 for 40-somethings to $4,780 among people in their 50s, Fidelity found. Once you turn age 70 1/2 you can no longer make traditional IRA contributions, but you can still save in a Roth IRA.

To completely max out an IRA, you would need to save about $458 per month, or $542 monthly if you are age 50 or older. Alternatively, you could also contribute the money as a lump sum or other installments of your choosing throughout the year. But less than half (47 percent) of people who participated in 2011 contributed the maximum amount, EBRI found.

[Read: How to Tell if You Have a Lousy 401(k) Plan.]

The ability to claim a tax deduction for your traditional IRA contributions is limited if you are also eligible for a 401(k) or similar type of retirement account at work. The IRA tax deduction is phased out for couples with a modified adjusted gross income over $95,000 ($59,000 for singles) in 2013. And couples who earn $115,000 or more ($69,000 for singles) are not eligible for this tax deduction if they also have a retirement account at work. If you are not covered by a retirement plan but your spouse is, the deduction begins to be phased out once your joint modified AGI exceeds $178,000 and is eliminated when your AGI hits $188,000.

You can additionally claim a tax credit for your 2013 IRA contribution if your AGI is below $59,000 for couples, $44,250 for heads of household or $29,500 for singles and you are not a full-time student or dependent on someone else’s tax return. The amount of the credit ranges from 10 to 50 percent of the amount you contribute to a retirement account up to $2,000 for individuals and $4,000 for couples. The maximum possible credit is $1,000 for individuals and $2,000 for couples.

[Read: Why You Should Open a Roth IRA.]

IRA contributions for 2013 must be made by April 15, 2014. If you wait until April to deposit money in an IRA you can get nearly immediate tax savings, but you also miss out on a year’s worth of tax-deferred investment growth.