“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 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, let me say 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 I always emphasize, feel free to reach out to me 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 me.
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. (SSA.gov Benefits Planner: Income Taxes and Your Social Security Benefits).
Additionally, 13 states–Colorado, Connecticut, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont and West Virginia–tax Social Security.
Please note that Social Security retirement benefits are only taxable when they are combined with another source of taxable income, such as IRA distributions, pension income, or earned income if you are still working while receiving Social Security. If your Social Security benefit was your only reportable income, you would likely pay NO income taxes during retirement. How is this possible? Please contact me for a full explanation.
3. Beware of the required IRA minimum distribution
Let me 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, RMDs must begin once the account holder is 70½, regardless of whether he or she is retired (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 RMD by April 1, you must take the RMD by December 31 of the year. The RMD 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 RMDs 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 (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. (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.
Shorter term, I believe the market is trying to push higher. The tech-heavy NASDAQ Composite, and key measures of mid-sized and small companies touched new highs in June (MarketWatch data).
Much of the underlying momentum can be traced to faster economic growth, rising corporate profits, and still-low interest rates.
Another factor that lends support–S&P 500 companies repurchased a record $189.1 billion of their own shares in the first quarter, according to S&P Dow Jones Indexes Senior Analyst Howard Silverblatt. He expects buybacks to remain strong through the rest of 2018.
But the Dow Jones Industrials and the S&P 500 Index failed to recapture their January highs. These indexes are made up of the nation’s largest companies, some of which derive a significant share of sales from overseas.
Though not far from the January highs, a strong dollar may be putting modest pressure on these stocks. Moderation in overseas growth may also be a factor. I believe much of the uncertainty stems from escalating trade tensions between the U.S. and its major trading partners. Free trade/fair trade–it’s a very complex issue that’s being fought with simple soundbites. The President believes America has not been treated fairly, and he is using his authority to selectively levy tariffs against offending nations.
It’s a risky strategy that may eventually break down barriers. Or, it could escalate into a series of retaliatory measures that impede the U.S. and global economy. But a quick review of the economic data strongly suggests the noise from the trade headlines isn’t affecting the U.S. economy, and GDP growth in the second quarter appears poised to surpass 4%. You may agree or disagree with the President’s actions. But the market, which is collectively made up of millions of large and small investors, hates heightened uncertainty. Tit-for-tat levies increase short-term economic uncertainty. Currently, it has injected volatility and uncertainty into the headline-grabbing major averages. Like many obstacles that will crop up, I believe this will eventually pass.