Tax Traps to Avoid in Retirement

By Charles Sherry, M.Sc.

“Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
 
It’s a quote that comes down to us from Benjamin Franklin, who uttered the phrase in 1789.
 
Taxes–federal, state, local, sales tax, property tax, gasoline tax, payroll tax, tolls, fees, taxes on capital gains, dividends and interest, gift tax, inheritance tax, and taxes cigarettes and alcohol. There has even been a rising chorus that is calling for a special tax on junk food.
 
Yes, Ben Franklin nailed it. We can’t escape taxes.
 
If you have already retired, you are aware that taxes don’t end when retirement begins. For those who are nearing retirement, it is important to recognize, plan for, and minimize the tax bite that awaits.
 
Before we jump in, we want to point out that this is a high-level summary. It’s designed to educate and avert surprises. Planning for tax outlays doesn’t reduce the discomfort that goes with paying Uncle Sam. But preparation can reduce the tax bite and eliminate unexpected surprises.
 
As we always emphasize, feel free to reach out to us with specific questions, or consult with your tax advisor.
 
That said, let’s get started.

1. Estimated quarterly tax payments may be required

If you have never been self-employed, you are accustomed to having federal, state (if your state has an income tax), and payroll taxes withheld from each paycheck.
 
When you stop working, there are no more W-4s to complete and no one is withholding taxes for you. But that doesn’t absolve you of your year-end tax liability.
 
You can make estimated payments each quarter. You can also have taxes withheld from your pension, social security, or IRA distribution.
 
If you have yet to file for social security, you may choose to have Social Security withhold 7%, 10%, 12% or 22% of your monthly benefit for taxes. Or you may decide not to have anything withheld.
 
But make sure enough is withheld or your estimated quarterly payments are sufficient. Otherwise, you may face a penalty.
 
Does it sound complicated? You don’t have to go it alone. Tax planning is a part of retirement income planning. If you have any concerns or questions, please reach out to us.

2. Social security may be taxed
 
If you file as an individual and your combined income (adjusted gross income + nontaxable interest + half of your Social Security benefits) is between $25,000 and $34,000, you may have to pay income tax on up to 50% of your benefits.
 
If the total is more than $34,000, up to 85% of your benefits may be taxable.
 
If you file a joint return and you and your spouse have a combined income that is
between $32,000 and $44,000, you may have to pay income tax on up to 50% of your benefits. If combined income is more than $44,000, up to 85% of your benefits may be taxable. (Ref: SSA.gov Benefits Planner: Income Taxes and Your Social Security Benefits). 
 
3. Beware of the required IRA minimum distribution
 
Let's put this right up front: Failure to take the required distribution could subject you to a steep penalty.
 
Required minimum distributions (RMDs) are minimum amounts that retirement plan account owners must withdraw annually starting with the year they reach 70½ years of age or, if later, the year in which they retire.
 
However, if the retirement plan account is an IRA or the account owner is a 5% owner of the business sponsoring the retirement plan, Required Minimum Distributions must begin once the account holder is 70½, regardless of whether he or she is retired (Ref: IRS: Retirement Plan and IRA Required Minimum Distributions FAQs).
 
Distributions are not required from a Roth IRA.
 
The first payment can be delayed until April 1 of the year following the year in which you turn 70½. For all subsequent years, including the year in which you were paid the first Required Minimum Distribution by April 1, you must take the Required Minimum Distribution by December 31 of the year.
 
The Required Minimum Distribution rules also apply to SEP IRAs and Simple IRAs, 401(k), profit-sharing, 403(b), 457(b), profit sharing plans, and other defined contribution plans.
 
If you expect to have large Required Minimum Distributions that could push you into a higher tax bracket, it may be beneficial to begin taking distributions prior to 70½. Or, you could convert some of your IRA into a Roth, which will help shelter gains and future distributions from taxes. You pay a tax upfront, but it’s one strategy that can help minimize taxes long-term.
 
4. The hidden cost of selling your primary residence
 
Downsizing can generate cash and reduce your daily expenses. But beware that it may also trigger a tax liability.
 
If you’ve lived in your primary residence for at least two of the last five years prior to selling, you can exempt up to $250,000 of the profit from taxes if you are single and up to $500,000 if you are married. If you are widowed, you may still qualify for the $500,000 exemption (Ref: IRS Publication 523 (2017), Selling Your Home).
 
The sale may also trigger the 3.8% tax on investment income. It’s a complex calculation that can ensnare single filers who have net investment income and modified adjusted gross income above $200,000 and $250,000 for married filers. (Ref: IRS: Questions and Answers on the Net Investment Income Tax).
 
The decision to sell shouldn’t be strictly governed by the tax code. However, it’s important to understand the tax ramifications. Timing income streams might be beneficial if a sale will trigger a taxable event.
 
There are other methods to lower your taxes, including charitable donations. How we structure retirement income, your investments, and distributions from retirement accounts can help to reduce the tax burden. If you need assistance on any of the points shared here, we are happy to assist. Please email us at info@twpfinancial.com or call us at 424-288-4254 and we can talk.