Most soon-to-be and recent retirees don’t think about taxes when heading into retirement. This can be a problem. Don’t worry, if this is you. Keeping taxes at the forefront of your retirement plans will help you not only avoid mistakes, but allow you to take advantage of certain opportunities. (Flower Mound CPA Advisor: Common Retirement Tax Mistakes)
Mistake #1: Not grasping how your taxes will change in retirement
The type of tax you pay is the first key way your taxes change during retirement. While working, most of your income likely comes from wages and is taxed as “ordinary income.” Most of your earnings come from a regular paycheck and bonus and are taxed at the ordinary income tax rates shown in Figure 1 below.
When you retire, you’ll likely replace your lifestyle spending with multiple sources of cash flow: 1.) Social Security benefits, pension benefits and distributions from retirement accounts, like traditional IRAs, are all taxed at ordinary rates. 2.) Qualified dividends and long-term capital gains will be taxed at lower capital gains rates. 3.) Distributions from tax advantaged accounts like Roth IRAs may not be taxed at all.
The Three Biggies of Cash Flow
These different tax treatments create the opportunity to potentially create the same after-tax cash flow with less pre-tax income. You may be able to stretch out the value of your retirement nest egg for a longer period of time.
For example, qualified withdrawals from tax-advantaged accounts like Roth IRAs are tax free and do not count as income. A portion of your Social Security could avoid taxation if you keep your “provisional income” within certain ranges. If some of your income comes from taxable accounts you may benefit from a lower 0% or 15% capital gains tax, reducing the total amount you owe. On the other hand, if all of your income is coming from a tax-deferred account like a traditional IRA, your situation might be worse. This is because withdrawals from tax-deferred accounts are taxed as ordinary income.
Taxes in Retiremet
How you pay taxes also changes during retirement. While working, your employer makes this easy by withholding income tax from your earnings. In retirement, most cash flow sources do not automatically have withholding. This means you’ll underpay your tax due without some proactive efforts on your part. Failure to set aside enough to pay your tax bill could mean you have to withdraw more money than you had planned.
To solve this potential problem, setting up withholding on recurring income sources (Social Security, pensions and distributions from retirement accounts) is a core first step to ensuring sustainable retirement income. While modifying withholding on Social Security and pensions can be cumbersome, withholding on IRA distributions can manage this quagmire. Depending on your custodian, up to 100% of a distribution can be allocated to federal or state income taxes, which avoids the need to make estimated tax payments. But just make sure to watch out, as those tax withholding distributions are still taxable!
Mistake #2: Failing to create tax diversification
Diversification is a familiar term. In an investment context, diversification can help mitigate your risk. It also ensures your investments are on track to manage your retirement goals. But diversification is also important when it comes to your taxes both while working and in retirement. Tax diversification means owning assets in different types of accounts so you have the flexibility to better balance the tax impact of utilizing those assets to pursue your financial objectives.
Since not all investments are treated equally by the IRS, categorize the tax treatment of investments into three groups: taxable, tax-deferred and tax-advantaged.
- Tax-deferred. You get an income tax deduction on your investment now. Your earnings grow tax-free. Taxes are deferred until distributions begin, generally by age 70.5. Examples include traditional IRAs and 401(k)s.
- Taxable. Investments made after taxes where any earnings are fully taxable at year end. Examples include taxable brokerage accounts.
- Tax-advantaged. Contributions are made after taxes. Your earnings grow tax-free. No tax due on distributions, assuming certain requirements are met. Examples include Roth IRAs and Roth 401(k)s.
Most workers incorrectly over-prioritize saving in tax-deferred accounts, such as 401(k)s and 403(b)s. This is because they are easily accessible through employers, and they offer an immediate tax deduction and corresponding current cash flow benefit. The thought of how this will benefit you 10, 20 or 30 years down the road is usually not considered.
Why is this a problem? Because, what you see is not what you get. Just because you have $1 million in an IRA, doesn’t mean you have $1 million to spend. Tax-deferred accounts come with tax liabilities upon distribution. After federal and state taxes, it is more likely you’ll only get to spend closer to 50% to 70% of what you see on your statement.
So what is a worker or retiree to do? Workers need to take advantage of smart saving strategies. They need to understand what strategies are available through their employers and ensure they are correctly funding the right programs at the right times. Similarly, if you have a side gig or are self-employed, you need to understand that additional opportunities exist to save for retirement beyond what might be offered by your employer, including the taxable and tax-advantaged examples above.
Retirees need to create tax-efficient retirement cash flow and evaluate whether and when Roth IRA conversions make sense in order to create the tax diversification they may currently lack.
Roth conversions are one of the most effective tools for paying off Uncle Sam and reallocating assets into the tax advantaged bucket. These opportunities are more prevalent prior to when required minimum distributions (RMDs) start at age 70.5, but certainly can make sense even after this age when preparing your net worth for a future transition to your heirs.
Mistake #3: Getting stuck with big RMDs
An RMD is the minimum amount you must withdraw from your retirement accounts each year and starts at age 70.5. It generally starts out at 3.6% of the account balance and grows each year as you age (nice birthday present, I know).
Most retirees often find that their spending is higher in early retirement as they finally have the time to knock off many items on their bucket lists. Inevitably though, spending does typically decline as life slows down.
While retirement is first funded from Social Security, pension and retirement savings, taxable income kicks up a notch when RMDs start at 70.5. For many retirees, they had already established a consistent lifestyle prior to this time. Consequently, the amount of income you pay tax on ends up being greater than the amount of cash flow you need. This is the RMD problem: having to pay tax on assets you don’t need to spend to live your lifestyle.
In other words, you are paying taxes for no reason. This is why tax diversification and being aware of how your retirement will be taxed is so important. Address the RMD problem before it starts (planning pre-70.5 to create tax diversification as discussed above). For the charitably minded, qualified charitable distributions (QCDs) allow you to send payments directly from your IRA to the charitable organization(s). Those donations then count toward your RMD. This reduces your adjusted gross income and corresponding tax liability. This special treatment does not apply to donations made after the distribution has been received.
A Comprehensive Financial Plan is the Key to Avoiding these Tax Mistakes
Paying unnecessary tax is not a prudent use of your hard-earned savings. When working with an adviser, make sure you are addressing the opportunities specific to your situation. Also, craft a strategy to create tax diversification, tax-efficient retirement income and integrating this with your estate plan. Consider these questions as part of your discussion:
- Is the 0% capital gains tax rate a possibility for my situation? What can I do to intentionally position myself to take advantage of it?
- Does my portfolio minimize taxable income/gains annually?
- What is my annual Roth conversion strategy? (Flower Mound CPA Advisor: Common Retirement Tax Mistakes)
Call Williams & Kunkel CPA today in Flower Mound at 972-446-1040 to have a chat and find out how you can save money on your taxes as a real estate professional.
Source: Yahoo Finance