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Retiring Soon? Don't Forget Tax Implications

By Jason Alderman

If your retirement is not far off, you've probably already started to estimate what your living expenses will be after the regular paychecks stop. Most would-be retirees remember to include routine expenses like housing (rent or mortgage), medical bills and prescriptions, insurance premiums, transportation – even food and entertainment.

But don't forget to factor in taxes, which can have a substantial impact on your cost of living, depending on where you live and what your sources of retirement income will be.

Here are a few tax-related issues to consider when budgeting for retirement:

Social Security. Most people can begin collecting Social Security benefits as early as age 62, albeit at significantly reduced amounts than waiting until their full retirement age (65 for those born before 1938 and gradually increasing to 67 for those born in 1960 or later).

Although many states don't tax Social Security benefits, the federal government does. Depending on your "combined income" (adjusted gross income plus nontaxable interest earned plus half of your Social Security benefits), you could end up owing federal income tax on a portion of your benefit. It's complicated, but basically:

  • Single people whose combined income is less than $25,000 aren't taxed on their Social Security benefit. For combined income between $25,000 and $34,000, up to 50 percent of your benefit may be taxed. Over $34,000, up to 85 percent may be taxable.
  • For married couples filing jointly: benefits aren't taxable for combined income below $32,000; benefits for income between $32,000 and $44,000 are up to 50 percent taxable; over $44,000 – up to 85 percent taxable.
  • To learn more about taxation of Social Security benefits, read IRS Publication 915 at www.irs.gov.

Some people discover after beginning to collect a reduced Social Security benefit that they can't make ends meet and must go back to work, which can backfire: If your annual wages exceed $15,120, you will lose $1 of Social Security benefits for every $2 you earn over that amount (investment income doesn't count.)

Rest assured, however: These benefit reductions are not completely lost: Your Social Security benefit will be increased upon reaching full retirement age to account for benefits withheld due to earlier earnings.

IRA and 401(k) withdrawals. After age 59 ½, you can start withdrawing balances from your IRA without paying the 10 percent early withdrawal penalty – although exceptions are made in cases including disability, qualified first-time homebuyer distributions and certain medical expenses. However, you will pay federal (and state, if applicable) income tax on IRA withdrawals – except for Roth IRAs held at least five years, whose contributions have already been taxed.

With 401(k) plans, you can withdraw funds after age 55 without the 10 percent penalty if you are no longer employed by the company sponsoring the plan.

Other taxes. Some people move to another state after retirement thinking they'll lower their tax burden. For example, seven states do not tax personal income; however, another two tax only dividend and interest income. And five states charge no sales tax. But because other taxes and cost-of-living expenses vary significantly by community, you should only consider such moves after doing thorough research.

The Retirement Living Information Center (www.retirementliving.com) features breakdowns of the various kinds of taxes seniors are likely to pay, state by state, including those on income, sales, fuel, property and inheritances.

Bottom line: Be sure to consult a financial advisor long before retirement to make sure you fully understand all the many tax and income implications.




This article is intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to your situation and about your individual financial situation.

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