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Managing Taxes in Retirement

Managing taxes in retirement can be complex. Thoughtful planning may help reduce the tax burden for you and your heirs.

Nothing in life is certain except death and taxes. —Benjamin Franklin

That saying still rings true roughly 300 years after the former statesman coined it. Yet, by formulating a tax-efficient investment and distribution strategy, retirees may keep more of their hard-earned assets for themselves and their heirs. Here are a few suggestions for effective money management during your later years.

Less Taxing Investments

Municipal bonds, or “munis” have long been appreciated by retirees seeking a haven from taxes and stock market volatility. In general, the interest paid on municipal bonds is exempt from federal taxes and sometimes state and local taxes as well (see table).1 The higher your tax bracket, the more you may benefit from investing in munis.

Also, consider investing in tax-managed mutual funds. Managers of these funds pursue tax efficiency by employing a number of strategies. For instance, they might limit the number of times they trade investments within a fund or sell securities at a loss to offset portfolio gains. Equity index funds may also be more tax-efficient than actively managed stock funds due to a potentially lower investment turnover rate.

It’s also important to review which types of securities are held in taxable versus tax-deferred accounts. Why? Because the maximum federal tax rate on some dividend-producing investments and long-term capital gains is 20%.* In light of this, many financial experts recommend keeping real estate investment trusts (REITs), high-yield bonds, and high-turnover stock mutual funds in tax-deferred accounts. Low-turnover stock funds, municipal bonds, and growth or value stocks may be more appropriate for taxable accounts.

The Tax-Exempt Advantage: When Less May Yield More

Would a tax-free bond be a better investment for you than a taxable bond? Compare the yields to see. For instance, if you were in the 25% federal tax bracket, a taxable bond would need to earn a yield of 6.67% to equal a 5% tax-exempt municipal bond yield.
Federal Tax Rate 15% 25% 28% 33% 35% 39.6%
Tax-Exempt Rate Taxable-Equivalent Yield
4% 4.71% 5.33% 5.56% 5.97% 6.15% 6.62%
5% 5.88% 6.67% 6.94% 7.46% 7.69% 8.28%
6% 7.06% 8% 8.33% 8.96% 9.23% 9.93%
7% 8.24% 9.33% 9.72% 10.45% 10.77% 11.59%
8% 9.41% 10.67% 11.11% 11.94% 12.31% 13.25%
The yields shown above are for illustrative purposes only and are not intended to reflect the actual yields of any investment.


Which Securities to Tap First?

Another major decision facing retirees is when to liquidate various types of assets. The advantage of holding on to tax-deferred investments is that they compound on a before-tax basis and therefore have greater earning potential than their taxable counterparts.

On the other hand, you’ll need to consider that qualified withdrawals from tax-deferred investments are taxed at ordinary federal income tax rates of up to 39.6%, while distributions—in the form of capital gains or dividends—from investments in taxable accounts are taxed at a maximum 20%.* (Capital gains on investments held for less than a year are taxed at regular income tax rates.)

For this reason, it’s beneficial to hold securities in taxable accounts long enough to qualify for the favorable long-term rate. And, when choosing between tapping capital gains versus dividends, long-term capital gains are more attractive from an estate planning perspective because you get a step-up in basis on appreciated assets at death.

While there’s certainly more to consider in the way of tax strategies in retirement, this may be a good beginning.

Source/Disclaimer:

1Capital gains from municipal bonds are taxable and interest income may be subject to the alternative minimum tax.

2Withdrawals prior to age 59½ are generally subject to a 10% additional tax.

*Income from investment assets may be subject to an additional 3.8% Medicare tax, applicable to single-filer taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income of over $200,000, and $250,000 for joint filers.

The Financial Planning Association – Tax Strategies for Retirees

 

 

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