While many choose different paths for their retirement, there is one thing that stays constant: taxes. No, taxes don’t stop once you’re retired. They’re probably even more important to keep an eye on during retirement as you’re on a fixed income—meaning you don’t want to pay the IRS any more than need be. Let’s start with the basics—what’s taxable and what isn’t? The short answer is basically everything. This includes work income, regular investments, IRAs and 401(k)s. When you’re planning for retirement it’s important to understand exactly what and how things are taxed. Whether you’re just starting the planning process or already retired, there are things you can do to lower your taxes and keep more of your hard-earned money.
1. Have a variety of retirement accounts.
By having a diverse pool of retirement accounts, you can use them to balance your withdrawals in a tax-friendly way. If you have a mix of taxable and non-taxable accounts, you can pull from your non-taxable accounts when your income is high and draw from the taxable accounts when it’s lower. Basically, you want to draw money from your sources in a way that cuts your taxes in the best way possible.
2. Minimize taxes on Social Security.
Depending on your income, your Social Security benefits can be taxed. If you’re single and your income is less than $25,000, or if you’re married and your income is less than $32,000, your benefits aren’t taxable. If you make more than this amount, you can be taxed on up to 85% of your benefits. You can avoid this by either not working, only working enough to make less than the amounts listed above or by delaying your benefits for as long as possible.
3. Plan for estate taxes.
Estate planning can be complicated, but avoiding it can result in a nightmare for your loved ones. It’s important to have a plan in place that’s mindful of estate tax—it can be as high as 40%. Considering this, structuring your estate plan in a way that reduces the amount of potential taxes your estate will owe is crucial. Proper planning can keep your assets in the hands of your heirs and not tax collectors.
4. Pay off your mortgage before retiring.
A great way to minimize your expenses and therefore taxes, is to pay off your mortgage before retiring. A mortgage payment is often a person’s largest monthly expense. By eliminating this expense, you’ll reduce how much income you’ll need to achieve within a tax year. It will also allow you to have more flexibility in retirement as it’s difficult to minimize your taxes when you need to withdraw a large amount of money each month to pay your mortgage. However, we know that for some this is no easy feat. Another option is to try and get your mortgage payment down as much as possible.
5. Choose where you live wisely.
Some retirees decide to relocate for various reasons—wanting to be closer to family or friends, wanting better weather or perhaps for a change of pace/scenery. Whatever the reason is, it’s important to be smart when choosing this location as it can affect your taxes. Some states have lower income levies combined with fair rates for sales and property taxes, while others don’t impose income taxes at all! While taxes shouldn’t be an end-all be-all reason for moving somewhere, they’re worth taking into consideration.