If you’re retired or approaching retirement, it’s essential to understand the role taxes play over your lifetime.
Income taxes can significantly impact your tax bill and retirement income, and failing to plan for your taxable income could leave you with less money than you expected.
That’s why developing a tax planning strategy for your retirement savings and income is essential.
In this post, we’ll explore some of the critical factors to consider when it comes to tax planning in retirement. We’ll discuss the different sources of retirement income, tax rules, and strategies for minimizing taxes on retirement account withdrawals. And you’ll better understand how taxes will impact your retirement income and what steps you can take to minimize your tax bill and maximize your after-tax retirement income.
Understand Your Retirement Income Sources
Retirement income comes from various sources, including Social Security, pensions, and retirement accounts such as 401(k)s and IRAs. Each of these sources is taxed differently, so it’s important to understand the tax implications of each one.
Social Security Benefits
Many retirees mistakenly believe Social Security benefits are tax-free. Indeed, some beneficiaries do not pay taxes on their benefits, but Social Security is not tax-free.
Social Security benefits are subject to federal taxes. However, the tax you’ll owe on your Social Security is based on your other taxable income.
If your combined taxable income (which includes half of your Social Security benefits plus all other sources of income) is below a certain threshold, your benefits won’t be taxed. If your combined income exceeds the threshold, up to 85% of your benefits could be subject to ordinary income tax.
Also, Social Security can be subject to state and local taxes in certain states.
Pensions, for the most part, are taxable income taxed at ordinary income tax rates.
However, many pensions require employee contributions. If these contributions were made with after-tax dollars, that portion of the income is tax-free.
Pension income may be subject to state income tax, although many states provide exemptions from state and local taxes.
Tax Deferred Accounts
Withdrawals from retirement accounts such as Traditional 401(k)s and Traditional IRAs are also taxable income subject to federal income tax and, in most cases, state and local taxes (although some states exempt these withdrawals).
Traditional accounts are funded with pre-tax dollars and allow for an upfront tax deduction. These accounts have tax advantages and grow tax-deferred. However, when you withdraw money from tax-deferred accounts, it’s taxed as ordinary income.
Remember, there are certain instances where you could have made an after-tax contribution into a Traditional IRA. In this case, your after-tax contributions are tracked on tax form 8606, and when withdrawing from an IRA, the pro-rata basis is tax-exempt.
If you have a Roth 401(k) or Roth IRA, you make contributions with after-tax dollars so that you won’t owe taxes on qualified withdrawals. Also, a Roth IRA is not subject to Required Minimum Distributions.
Create a Withdrawal Strategy for Retirement Accounts
The traditional advice for withdrawing money from retirement savings went as follows: Withdraw from your taxable account first (at primarily long-term capital gains taxes), then withdraw from tax-deferred accounts while keeping tax-free withdrawals last.
However, tax laws have become complex, and these old rules no longer apply.
Choosing the best withdrawal strategy involves assessing the full range of tax implications and tailoring your approach to the unique characteristics of your retirement plan. You must evaluate the tax consequences of different strategies, such as tax bracket management and strategic withdrawals from your taxable accounts and retirement assets.
You must also account for all planned cash flows, including Social Security, pensions, investment income, and capital gains, and factor in their varying tax rules. And don’t forget about tax-exempt and tax-free income, as these items contribute to potential Medicare IRMAA surcharges!
Finding the right withdrawal strategy
Here are a few strategies to consider. Of course, these examples are not meant to be specific recommendations or tax advice. You must work with a competent financial advisor or tax professional to determine your tax strategy.
- Manage your tax bracket. Your taxable income determines your tax bracket, so managing your withdrawals is essential to stay in a lower tax bracket. However, in certain situations, forcing yourself into a higher tax bracket may be advantageous if doing so reduces your projected future tax bills and IRMAA surcharges.
- Plan ahead for Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs). Once you turn 72, you’ll need to start taking RMDs from your traditional retirement accounts, including a 401(k) (but not from a Roth IRA). These withdrawals are subject to ordinary income tax, so planning ahead is essential to manage your tax liability. Consider taking early withdrawals before your RMDs, or consider Roth Conversions. If you take early withdrawals from Traditional IRAs and don’t need the money, you can reinvest them into your taxable account.
- Use Roth conversions strategically. If you have a traditional IRA, you can convert some or all of it to a Roth IRA. As mentioned above, it could be advantageous to complete Roth Conversions as doing so could minimize taxes in the future.
- Take advantage of charitable giving. If you’re over 70½, the tax rules allow for a qualified charitable distribution (QCD) directly from your IRA to a qualified charity. This counts toward your required minimum distribution (RMD) and is not included in your taxable ordinary income, so it can be a tax-efficient way to make charitable contributions.
- Engage in Tax-Loss Harvesting. Tax-loss harvesting is a popular technique that allows investors to offset the effects of capital gains tax by recognizing losses in their portfolio. But remember that the 30-day wash sale rule prohibits you from buying identical securities within 30 days after selling an investment at a loss, but tax-loss harvesting can still be performed outside this period throughout the year.
In conclusion, taxes play a crucial role in retirement planning. Understanding how different sources of retirement income are taxed is essential to minimizing your taxes in retirement and maximizing your after-tax retirement income.
Social Security benefits, pensions, and withdrawals from tax-deferred accounts are all taxed differently. Therefore, strategically planning your withdrawals to manage your tax bracket and account for required minimum distributions is essential.
Additionally, considering tax-efficient investments, reducing capital gains from mutual funds, and taking advantage of tax credits and tax deductions can help reduce taxes.
By working with a competent financial advisor or tax professional, you can develop a tax planning strategy tailored to your unique circumstances to help you achieve your retirement goals.
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