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5 Tax Strategies for Your Retirement Income


Retirement planning can be complicated. But ignoring the tax consequences of your retirement income can take a bite out of your nest egg. Luckily, you can take a few strategic steps to minimize your tax liability. Here are five common strategies to consider. And, if you prefer a more hands-on approach, a financial advisor can help you create a personalized retirement plan.

1. Be Mindful of Social Security Taxes

As you plan for retirement, you should understand how your Social Security benefits may be taxed. If you have additional retirement income, such as from a 401(k) or part-time employment, you should anticipate owing some taxes on your Social Security benefits. However, if Social Security is your sole income source, you’re less likely to owe taxes on these benefits.

For 2024, individual retirees with a combined income between $25,000 and $34,000 could get taxed on a maximum of 50% of their benefits. While those over $34,000, could get taxed on a maximum of 85% of benefits.

For retired couples, the thresholds are between $32,000 to $44,000 for 50% taxation, and over $44,000 for 85% taxation.

Finally, you should note, however, that some states exempt Social Security benefits from state income tax.

2. Optimize Your Investment Portfolio for Taxes

Your investment portfolio can increase your tax liability in retirement through capital gains taxes, taxable dividends, interest income, and required minimum distributions (RMDs) from tax-deferred retirement accounts, all of which may push you into higher tax brackets and impact the taxation of your Social Security benefits.

To minimize tax liability from your investment portfolio in retirement, consider tax-efficient investment strategies such as holding investments long-term to qualify for lower capital gains rates, consider converting your retirement savings into tax-advantaged accounts like Roth IRAs, optimize asset location to place tax-inefficient investments, which can reduce the amount of taxable income generated each year in tax-deferred accounts, harvest tax losses to offset gains, and be strategic about when to take withdrawals to manage taxable income levels.

3. Plan Your Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs)

A couple reviewing tax strategies to lower their tax liability in retirement.

Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) are the annual withdrawals that the U.S. federal government mandates individuals to make from tax-deferred retirement accounts once they turn age 73. And these could potentially increase your taxable income by pushing you into a higher tax bracket.

You can mitigate your tax liability from RMDs by considering strategies such as donating directly to charity through qualified charitable distributions (QCDs), using the “still-working” exception if applicable, converting traditional IRA assets to Roth IRA assets, or strategically managing other sources of income to stay within lower tax brackets.

Take note: Failing to comply with RMD rules can result in a hefty penalty — up to 50% of the required distribution that was not taken.

4. Put Your Money in a Deferred Annuity

A deferred annuity can help lower your tax liability in retirement by allowing you to invest funds on a tax-deferred basis. This means that you don’t have to pay taxes on any investment gains until you start receiving distributions. So, for example, you can time your withdrawals strategically to coincide with lower tax brackets later in retirement.

One thing to keep in mind: If you can buy an annuity within your IRA or 401(k), you can use pre-tax dollars to fund the annuity and effectively reduce your taxable income for your contribution year.

Furthermore, instead of taking large lump-sum withdrawals from the annuity, consider taking partial withdrawals over time to manage your taxable income more effectively and potentially stay within lower tax brackets.

Finally, take a look at different types of deferred annuities, such as fixed or variable annuities, as they could offer different tax advantages and features that are suited to your specific retirement goals and tax situation.

5. Use Tax-Advantaged Accounts Before Retirement

Tax-advantaged accounts like traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs, 401(k)s, and health savings accounts (HSAs), offer many tax benefits to build a substantial retirement nest egg over time. These benefits can include:

  • Tax-deferred growth: Traditional IRAs and 401(k)s allow contributions to grow tax-deferred until withdrawal, meaning investment gains are not taxed until funds are withdrawn in retirement. This will allow your investments to compound over time without annual taxation and potentially lead to larger retirement savings.
  • Tax-free growth: Roth IRAs and Roth 401(k)s offer tax-free growth, which means that you can make qualified withdrawals in retirement that are tax-free. This could benefit you specifically if you expect to be in a higher tax bracket in retirement or want to diversify your tax liabilities.
  • Tax deductions or credits: Contributions to traditional retirement accounts, such as traditional IRAs and 401(k)s, are often tax-deductible, which reduce your taxable income for the year of contribution and can potentially lower your current tax bill. Additionally, certain retirement contributions may qualify for tax credits, further reducing your tax liability.
  • Healthcare expenses: If you have a high-deductible health plan, a health saving account (HSA) will allow you to save for medical expenses with pre-tax dollars. Your contributions are tax-deductible, and withdrawals for qualified medical expenses are tax-free, which offers you a triple tax advantage.
  • Penalty-free withdrawals for specific purposes: Some tax-advantaged accounts, such as Roth IRAs, allow penalty-free withdrawals of contributions (not earnings) before retirement age for certain purposes like buying a first home or paying for qualified education expenses, providing flexibility and liquidity in emergencies.

Bottom Line

A senior couple estimating their tax liability in retirement.

Developing an effective tax strategy for your retirement can help you maximize savings, minimize current tax liabilities and plan for future goals strategically. Being aware of Social Security taxes, optimizing your investment portfolio, planning your RMD withdrawals, investing in a deferred annuity and using tax-advantaged accounts before retirement can position you on a path toward a sustainable retirement.

Tips for Retirement Planning

  • A financial advisor can help you create a personalized retirement plan for your needs. Finding a financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three vetted financial advisors who serve your area, and you can have a free introductory call with your advisor matches to decide which one you feel is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • You can also utilize a free retirement calculator to help you determine exactly how much you might need to save to live the retirement you desire.

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