How Do I Avoid Taxes in Retirement?

Written By Jeff Hindenach
Last updated January 28, 2021

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Personal Finance
December 29, 2016

Simple. Thrifty. Living.

Taxes are a well-known part of every employee’s life, but unfortunately they don’t disappear even when people retire. Considering that many people are financially unprepared for retirement, keeping one’s tax liability low is important. It is never too early to plan for retirement, so both recent college graduates and those who are winding down their careers can benefit from tax advice.

The amount of taxes one pays correlates with one’s retirement income. Someone with minimal expenses doesn’t need to withdraw as much from their accounts as someone with a more lavish lifestyle. This is why financial experts advise retirees to keep their expenses as low as possible. Paying off one’s mortgage early is one way to do this, since most people can get by on a lot less money once they’ve paid off their largest asset.

Retirees should try to stay in the 15 percent tax bracket or even lower if they want to minimize their tax obligations. This is because most tax breaks are meant for people under this bracket. For 2015, the most a single filer can make while remaining in the 15 percent tax bracket is $37,450, while married couples who are filing jointly can make no more than $74,900. Retirees who are far above these limits and do not wish to reduce their income will need to take advantage of other ways to decrease their taxes.

A Roth IRA is considered a great way to reduce tax liabilities during retirement by many financial experts. This is because qualified withdrawals are not taxed. Generally, withdrawals are considered “qualified” as long as the account was opened over five years ago, and the retiree is more than 59 and a half years old.

Even the beneficiaries of people with Roth IRAs tend to be thankful for this type of retirement account because their withdrawals will be tax-free. This is why many retirees choose to convert their traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. They still get taxed when they withdraw the money from their traditional IRA, but once they put it in the Roth IRA, they can withdraw it from that account without any financial consequences. It is even possible to convert a 401(k) to a Roth IRA, which can further reduce tax liability at retirement age. Learn more about Roth IRAs here.

Social Security payments are taxable, and the amount of taxes they require depends on the amount of combined income one has. Combined income is defined as the adjusted gross income, in addition to half of the Social Security payments and any nontaxable interest.

In general, single filers with an income of more than $25,000 per year will be taxed on up to 50 percent of that income, while those with an income of over $34,000 will need to pay taxes on up to 85 percent of that. On the other hand, single filers who make less than $25,000 do not need to pay taxes on Social Security income. Clearly, this means that the more money a retiree receives, the more he or she will pay in taxes. This makes minimizing expenses, and the income needed to pay for those expenses, is a good idea.

These are just some of the simplest ways to reduce taxes in retirement. Some seniors choose to open other lesser-known types of investment or retirement accounts to further reduce tax liabilities. In fact, diversifying retirement accounts is encouraged, since having several sources of income is a great way to reduce taxes. Retirees who are interested in discovering other tax reduction options should talk to a financial planner.

About the Author

Jeff Hindenach

Jeff Hindenach is the co-founder of Simple. Thrifty. Living. He graduated from Bowling Green State University with a Bachelor's Degree in Journalism. He has a long history of financial journalism, with a background writing for newspapers such as the San Jose Mercury News and San Francisco Examiner, as well as writing on personal finance for The Huffington Post, New York Times, Business Insider, CNBC, Newsday and The Street. He believes in giving readers the tools they need to get out of debt.

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