Understanding retirement and taxes
- Taxes affect how much of your hard-earned money you get to keep.
- Understanding the tax rules is important for reducing their impact on your income, savings and investments.
- Appropriate tax strategies may help reduce your tax bill.
Taxes are unavoidable, but failure to plan for taxes can result in paying more to the government than necessary. By understanding how tax-efficient strategies can affect your retirement, you have a greater chance of keeping more of your savings for yourself.
Retirement plans typically include either pre-tax or after-tax accounts, or both. Pre-tax contributions may help reduce taxes in your pre-retirement years while after-tax contributions may help reduce your tax burden during retirement. You may also save for retirement outside of a retirement plan, such as in an investment account. Generally, your retirement income come from both retirement plans and after-tax investment accounts.
Investments made with pre-tax contributions, such as 401(k)s1,2 and traditional IRAs1, are also described as "tax-deferred." They allow you to postpone paying taxes on the amount you contribute and the earnings that are generated as long as they remain in the account. When you withdraw funds at retirement, you'll pay taxes on them.
Potential advantages of pre-tax investments:
- The account value may grow faster than a comparable taxable investment since the earnings in the account can grow tax-deferred.
- When you do pay taxes later, there's a chance your investment and earnings will be taxed at a lower rate if your taxable income is taxed at lower rates than in your working years.
If certain qualifications are met, a Roth IRA1 funded with after-tax contributions can create a source of tax-free income in the future. Contributions are not tax-deductible in your saving years, but tax-free withdrawals can help reduce your total taxable income when you reach retirement.
Another option to consider is an annuity. An annuity is a long-term insurance product that pays out income. Many people purchase an annuity to provide a combination of protection, tax deferral and income in retirement.
Tax tips to help you manage retirement more effectively
One goal of tax planning is to reduce your taxable income — and your effective tax rate. There are a number of tax strategies to consider:
- When working, consider taking advantage of any pre-tax deductions available to you. Review your financial position and consider contributions to your 401(k) up to the maximum allowed. Also remember to take advantage of company benefits such as pre-tax payroll deductions for flexible spending accounts, transportation, supplemental insurance, etc.
- Review your assets to identify potential long-term capital gains (gains on assets held longer than one year), which are currently taxed at lower rates than short-term capital gains or ordinary income.
- Consider selling securities in non-qualified accounts that have a capital loss, which may be deductible to the extent of any realized capital gains plus ordinary income of up to $3,000 per year. Please note that for taxpayers whose income, including any realized gains, is below specific thresholds, the tax rate on long-term capital gains is zero percent. In this scenario, recognizing losses simply to offset long-term capital gains may not be advisable since no long-term capital gains tax may be due. See your tax advisor.
- Approach charitable giving in the most advantageous way. For example, you might be better off giving appreciated stock that has been held more than one year to a charity, rather than a cash donation. You may get a tax deduction for the full fair market value of the asset, and an eligible charity could sell it without incurring capital gains tax on the appreciation.
- Think ahead to estate planning to potentially help reduce the impact of estate taxes, if applicable. Annual gifting is one way to reduce the value of your taxable estate. For 2020 the annual gift tax exclusion allows each donor to give up to $15,000 to an unlimited number of donees without paying federal gift tax or using part of their lifetime exclusion. Over time, this is a strategy you might consider to remove assets from your taxable estate.
The tax landscape changes frequently as rates, limits and thresholds adjust, and provisions are introduced or expire. An Ameriprise financial advisor, working with your tax professional, can recommend tax-efficient strategies that are customized to your individual situation, whether your assets are still growing or are already generating retirement income.