Tax Planning for Retirement

by Ryland Hanstad
March 25, 2017

Managing taxes for maximum benefit in retirement requires careful planning, a critical factor when investing in retirement

Managing taxes for maximum benefit in retirement requires careful planning. You’ll need to consider the tax implications of different investments. You’ll also want to think through how you make withdrawals from taxable and tax-deferred accounts. Following are a few key considerations for effective money management during your later years.

Less Taxing Investments

Municipal bonds, or "munis," have long been used by retirees seeking a tax-advantaged investment. In general, the interest paid on municipal bonds is exempt from federal taxes and in some cases state and local taxes as well.1 Municipal bonds are issued by a state or local municipalities, which may support general government needs or fund a variety of public works projects, such as new roads, schools, bridges, or hospitals. Therefore, in addition to providing federally tax-exempt earnings, municipals can be a good way to invest in the growth and development of your community.
Municipal bonds usually have a yield below the yield on corporate bonds of comparable maturity. This means that a municipal bond may potentially provide the same--or equivalent--after-tax yield as a taxable bond paying a higher interest rate. If you are in a high tax bracket, using municipal bonds in the fixed-income portion of your portfolio may be beneficial.

Which Accounts to Tap First?

Another major decision facing retirees is when to liquidate various types of assets. The advantage of holding on to tax-deferred investments is that they compound on a before-tax basis and therefore may have greater earning potential than their taxable counterparts.

On the other hand, you'll need to consider that qualified withdrawals from tax-deferred investments are generally taxed at ordinary federal income tax rates of up to 39.6%, while long-term capital gains and qualified dividends from investments in taxable accounts are generally taxed at a maximum rate of 20%.2 (Capital gains on investments held for one year or less are generally taxed at ordinary income tax rates.)

General investment wisdom states that it may be better to tap assets in taxable accounts first, allowing assets in Traditional IRAs and other tax-deferred retirement accounts to continue compounding as long as possible. Remember that, with some exceptions, the IRS requires individuals to begin withdrawing money from tax-deferred accounts no later than age 70½, at which point you may want to rethink your withdrawal strategy. When planning withdrawals from taxable accounts, try to hold these securities long enough to qualify for the more favorable long-term tax rates on capital gains and/or qualified dividends.

The Ins and Outs of RMDs

The IRS generally requires that you begin taking annual required minimum distributions (RMDs) from traditional IRAs and employer-sponsored retirement plans after you reach age 70½. The premise behind the RMD rule is simple -- the longer your life expectancy, the smaller the percentage the IRS requires you to withdraw (and pay taxes on) each year. Failure to take the RMD can result in a tax penalty equal to 50% of the required amount that wasn’t distributed.

Unlike traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs do not require that you begin taking distributions by age 70½.3 In fact, you're never required to take distributions from your own Roth IRA, and qualified withdrawals are tax free.3 For this reason, you may wish to liquidate investments in a Roth IRA after you've exhausted other sources of income. Be aware, however, that your beneficiaries will be required to take RMDs after your death.

Strategies for making the most of your money and reducing taxes are complex. Your best recourse? Plan ahead and consider meeting with a competent tax advisor and a financial professional to help you sort through your options.


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