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Source: IRS.gov www.irs.gov

Generally, compensation is what you earn from working. For a summary of what compensation does and does not include, see Table 1-1. Compensation includes all of the items discussed next (even if you have more than one type).

Wages, salaries, etc. Wages, salaries, tips, professional fees, bonuses, and other amounts you receive for providing personal services are compensation. The IRS treats as compensation any amount properly shown in box 1 (Wages, tips, other compensation) of Form W-2, Wage and Tax Statement, provided that amount is reduced by any amount properly shown in box 11 (Nonqualified plans). Scholarship and fellowship payments are compensation for IRA purposes only if shown in box 1 of Form W-2.
Commissions. An amount you receive that is a percentage of profits or sales price is compensation.

Self-employment income. If you are self-employed (a sole proprietor or a partner), compensation is the net earnings from your trade or business (provided your personal services are a material income-producing factor) reduced by the total of:

  • The deduction for contributions made on your behalf to retirement plans, and
  • The deduction allowed for one-half of your self-employment taxes.

Compensation includes earnings from self-employment even if they are not subject to self-employment tax because of your religious beliefs.

Self-employment loss. If you have a net loss from self-employment, do not subtract the loss from your salaries or wages when figuring your total compensation.
Alimony and separate maintenance. For IRA purposes, compensation includes any taxable alimony and separate maintenance payments you receive under a decree of divorce or separate maintenance.
Military differential pay. For IRA purposes, compensation includes military differential pay you receive. Military differential payments are those payments made by some employers to employees who have been called to active duty in the uniformed services for a period of more than 30 days. Beginning in 2009, these payments will be reported in box 1 (Wages, tips, other compensation) of Form W-2.

Nontaxable combat pay. If you were a member of the U.S. Armed Forces, compensation includes any nontaxable combat pay you received. This amount should be reported in box 12 of your 2009 Form W-2 with code Q. If you received nontaxable combat pay in 2004 or 2005, and the treatment of the combat pay as compensation means that you could contribute more for those years than you already have, you could have made additional contributions to an IRA for 2004 or 2005 by May 28, 2009. The contributions are treated as having been made on the last day of the year you designate. If you have already filed your return for a year for which you make a contribution, you must file Form 1040X, Amended U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, by the latest of:

  • 3 years from the date you filed your original return for the year for which you made the contribution,
  • 2 years from the date you paid the tax due for the year for which you made the contribution, or
  • 1 year from the date on which you made the contribution.

Table 1-1. Compensation for Purposes of an IRA

Includes Does not include
earnings and profits from
wages, salaries, etc.
interest and
dividend income.
pension or annuity
self-employment income.
deferred compensation.
alimony and separate maintenance.
income from certain
military differential pay.
any amounts you exclude
from income.
nontaxable combat pay.

What Is Not Compensation?

Compensation does not include any of the following items.

  • Earnings and profits from property, such as rental income, interest income, and dividend income.
  • Pension or annuity income.
  • Deferred compensation received (compensation payments postponed from a past year).
  • Income from a partnership for which you do not provide services that are a material income-producing factor.
  • Any amounts (other than combat pay) you exclude from income, such as foreign earned income and housing costs.