5 Ways to Reduce Taxes When You Are in Retirement

Taxes and death are the two certainties in life, but there are lots of ways to reduce your tax burden in retirement without getting into trouble with the Internal Revenue Service. From making withdrawals with taxes in mind to gifting appreciated stock, here’s a look at five ways to reduce the amount of taxes you pay after you have left the workforce for good.

1. Draw from Retirement Savings Accounts Smartly

When it comes to using the money you saved in tax-advantaged accounts for retirement, rules abound. For instance, you can start taking distributions at age 59.5 without facing a penalty, but if you don’t start withdrawing the required minimum by the age of 70.5, you will face big penalty fees.

In addition to knowing the rules, you can also take your distributions in ways that will lower your tax bill. You may want to take a distribution, for instance, in a year when you were hit with expensive medical bills or are planning to donate to charity. Both of those instances will reduce your taxable income, presenting a good situation where you can take a distribution from your retirement savings account and not owe the government a ton of money. (Read more in 9 Penalty-Free IRA Withdrawals.)

2. Convert Your IRA into a Roth IRA

When it comes to saving for retirement outside of a company sponsored 401 (K) plan, savers can go with an IRA or a Roth IRA. With a traditional IRA, the money contributed goes in tax-free while the person has to pay taxes on contributions once they start making withdrawals. With a Roth IRA, the contributions are taxed up front, but any withdrawals, including gains, are tax-free. (Read more in Roth Vs. Traditional IRA: Which Is Right for You?).

While you may have to pay taxes when converting to a Roth IRA from a traditional IRA, it is better to grow your money and withdraw it tax-free down the road when you are going to need more income to live off, rather than pay taxes at the start. Not to mention, you won’t face any limits on your withdrawals with a Roth IRA, which can come in handy.

Required minimum distributions (RMDs) on traditional IRAs can potentially push you into a higher tax bracket in retirement. By converting a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, you essentially don’t have to guess what the tax rates will be in the future, since the Roth IRA is tax-free,” says Carlos Dias Jr., wealth manager, Excel Tax & Wealth Group in Lake Mary, Fla.

3. Be Mindful of the Tax Rate in the State Where You Are Relocating

A big surprise for some retirees when they downsize their home and move to a different state is the property tax increase they face. (Read more in Avoid the Downsides of Downsizing in Retirement.) After all, taxes vary from state to state with some states charging in the low thousands and other states charging $10,000 or more in property taxes.

If you have a choice when it comes to where deciding where to retire, be mindful that the property tax rate can go a long way in reducing the amount you owe Uncle Sam. According to Kiplinger, some of the most tax-friendly states for retirees include Florida, Wyoming and Nevada. Some of the worst states from a tax perspective include California, New York and Nebraska.

4. Give the Gift of an Appreciated Stock

Making charitable donations of any kind will lower your tax hit in retirement, but if you want to see an even greater tax break, consider donating an appreciated stock. With a non-monetary donation like an appreciated stock, the investor gets to write off the full market value of the stock and avoid a capital gains tax hit. Not to mention, you can feel good knowing you donated to your charity of choice.

“Make sure that the gift is made in stock form,” says James B. Twining,CFP®, wealth manager, Financial Plan, Inc., in Bellingham, Wash. “The charity can then sell the stock without paying capital gains tax. If instead the donor sells the stock and then gives the cash proceeds, capital gains tax will have to be paid.”

If you are gifting the stock to a child or family member, they will have to pay capital gains taxes, so it’s best to gift it to someone in a low tax bracket. If the person is in the 10% to 15% tax bracket, they won’t pay any capital gains taxes at all. (Read more in What Are Gift Taxes?)

5. Limit Income from Retirement Plans to Reduce a Social Security Tax Hit

The chances are that once you are in retirement you are going to start collecting Social Security benefits. What many retirees may not realize is that those benefits may be taxed depending on how much income from other sources you report on your tax return. According to IRS rules, 50% to 85% of your annual Social Security benefit is taxable when one-half of your Social Security income plus other income is more than $25,000 for single people and $32,000 for those filing jointly. Because of the potential tax hit it’s a good idea to limit income from other sources when collecting Social Security benefits.

“One strategy that can be used to mitigate taxes in retirement is to draw from IRA and 401(k) money for income at the beginning of retirement while at the same time opting for deferred Social Security benefits at age 70,” says Matthew J. Ure, VP, Southwest Region, Anthony Capital, LLC, in San Antonio, Texas. “This both decreases taxable income later in retirement from RMDs by decreasing the amount in tax-deferred accounts and helps retirees avoid taxes on Social Security by keeping income below taxable levels.”

Larry McClanahan, principal of SecondHalf Planning & Investment in Portland, Ore., agrees. “Virtually everybody’s now heard of the benefits of waiting to claim Social Security up to age 70 when the payout will be larger. But few are also thinking about the potential tax benefit of doing so. Drawing on your retirement accounts during the intervening retirement years and deferring Social Security is potentially one of the smartest ways to simultaneously boost retirement income while reducing taxes.”

The Bottom Line

Taxes are a part of life, but retirees don’t have to pay more than their fair share to Uncle Sam. Cash in retirement is precious, so retirees have to find ways to make their money last, and one way to do that is by reducing their taxes. There are several ways to cut taxes – from drawing down money from retirement savings accounts advantageously to limiting income to avoid tax on Social Security benefits.