Question: Nowhere in any articles on IRAs have I found out whether a person has to be continuously employed to participate. Can I have a part-time job one year and not the next year and still be able to deposit the $2,000 from dividends, interest, etc.?

Answer: You were doing great up to the last part of your question. You do not have to be continuously employed to be eligible for an IRA.

That is, you can--as you suggest--work one year, either full time or part time, and not the next and still keep your IRA and have it accumulate tax-deferred earnings for you.

But you may only make additional deposits in those years in which you have earned income from such things as wages, tips, commissions or self-employment. You can put away up to 100 percent of your earned income up to the $2,000 ceiling.

If you have no earned income in any year, you may not deposit additional funds in the account for that year, even though the IRA may continue to function. Dividends and interest do not qualify as earned income.

Q: My wife is currently employed and I am a government retiree. Since my retirement pay is taxable, can we take advantage of the married couple's reduction on one salary? Do I qualify for a spousal IRA?

A: No and yes. To use the reduction of taxable pay available to a married couple, both partners must be currently employed. Even though your retirement pay is taxable, it does not qualify as compensation for employment.

And that is precisely the reason why you are eligible for a spousal IRA. As long as your wife is employed for pay and qualifies for a regular IRA, you are considered not employed and eligible for a spousal IRA (until you reach age 70 1/2). You can deduct up to $2,250 each year and split the investment any way you like but not more than $2,000 in either account.

Q: My wife worked for the federal government for several years and accumulated a few thousand dollars in her retirement account. She is not now employed. Wouldn't it make sense to take $2,250 from that account and invest the money in an IRA? We could deduct the $2,250 from our income tax and get a higher rate of return than under the federal retirement system.

A: Yes--providing you are working and eligible for an IRA. You can open two IRAs--one for you and a spousal IRA for her--and divide the $2,250 between the two accounts (as I explained in the previous answer).

The new $2,250 ceiling applies only for 1982 and later years. For 1981 the principle would have been the same but the amounts different. The combined ceiling last year was $1,750, and the money had to be split equally with not more than $875 going to each account. And it wouldn't have worked at all if your wife had held her civil service job for any part of 1981.

Q: In your column for March 15 you said that in the event of death before age 59 1/2 the money in the IRA is immediately payable to the beneficiary without penalty. Were you referring to the bank penalty, the 10 percent IRS tax penalty or both?

A: I was talking about the 10 percent tax penalty imposed by the IRS on a premature withdrawal. The law provides for payment to the beneficiary without penalty, regardless of age, following the death of the account owner.

The bank penalty you are talking about is the forfeiture of interest for termination of a CD before maturity; this is not covered by the IRA rules.

Banks and other financial institutions like savings and loans and credit unions that offer CDs are authorized--but not required--to waive this interest forfeiture for early termination in the event of the death of the certificate holder.

If you prefer to use CDs as the vehicle for your IRA, ask your savings institution what its policy is on the subject--preferably before you open the account.