You may also want to consider a longer-term strategy for drawing from your qualified retirement accounts. That's because withdrawals from a traditional IRA generally will be included in your taxable income calculations. Qualified withdrawals from a Roth IRA, however, are generally not included. So if you have both, you may want to carefully consider whether you should make withdrawals from your Roth or traditional IRA first.
A word of caution if you are considering converting a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA: Any pre-tax amount you convert will be counted as income in the year of the conversion. That may be worth it, though, because of the Roth IRA's other tax advantages. Another option is to convert an investment that earns taxable income, such as a taxable bond portfolio, into a tax-deferred account, such as a deferred annuity. You could structure the annuity to begin paying income in a few years, when you expect your taxable income, as well as your overall tax rate, to decline.
Know the Earnings Limits
Those hoping to work in retirement need to be especially careful if they're planning to claim Social Security benefits early. Even if you’re just working part-time, it’s important to consider how that continuing income will affect your benefits.
The SSA caps how much you are allowed to earn if you start taking your benefits before full retirement age, which is 66 for most baby boomers. In 2021, the annual earned income cap is $18,960, and for every $2 you earn over that limit, the SSA withholds $1 off the top of your benefits. So if you earn $20,960 this year and you haven't yet reached the year you will turn full retirement age, your benefits will be reduced by $1,000—on top of any income taxes you may have to pay on the remaining benefits. Once you reach the year that you'll turn full retirement age, the earned income cap goes up to $50,520 and for every $3 you go over, it's a $1 withholding.
There is some good news, however: Because the penalty is determined by your individual earned income, if you retire early but your spouse doesn't, your spouse's earned income will not be factored into the earnings limit. Additionally, when you reach your full retirement age, the earnings limit disappears and Social Security will recalculate your benefit amount if you were negatively impacted by the earnings limit.
Keep in mind, if you file your tax return jointly, your spouse's earnings will be included when calculating your combined income for purposes of determining the taxation of your benefits.”1
Forewarned Is Forearmed
Lastly, do a bit of homework. Worksheets in IRS Publication 915, “Social Security and Equivalent Railroad Retirement Benefits,” available at www.irs.gov, can help you compute your tax liability. Then check with your state to see whether it taxes benefits. You might not be able to avoid tax liability, but at least you'll know what to expect and will be able to plan accordingly. As always, your financial advisor can work with your tax professional to find appropriate solutions.