How Retirement Income is Taxed

How Retirement Income is Taxed

How Retirement Income is Taxed

Today we look at how the most common types of retirement income are taxed.  We look at:

  • The common types of accounts retirees use
  • The types of income taxed at the highest rates
  • Types of income which receive favorable tax treatment

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how Retirment Income is Taxed

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When you retire, you go from earning a paycheck to using your savings to create a paycheck. You will still have to pay income taxes. Today, we look at the common types of accounts retirees use to create income, and how they are taxed.

Retirement Plans and IRA's

This might be a 401k, a 403b or even a 457 deferred compensation plan. Many people roll those over into an IRA.

The taxation of the income generated from those accounts depends on the contributions. If you made pre-tax contributions—meaning you took a tax deduction—the income is taxable. Your contributions, your employer’s contributions, and the earnings are taxed as ordinary income. Tax rates for ordinary income start at 10%. The maximum tax rate is 37%.

If you used the Roth type accounts, the contributions happened on an after tax basis. This means withdrawals from these accounts are not taxed.

Individual and Joint Accounts

The second type of account that retirees use is an individual or a joint account. If you have this type of account, you pay taxes “as you go”. The investments in those accounts often pay dividends or interest. Interest is usually taxed as ordinary income. Dividends paid by a common stock get favorable tax treatment. In most cases, the highest tax rate for qualified dividends is 15%.

You may also have capital gains. A capital gain happens when you or one of the investments you own sells an investment. If you own a mutual fund, that mutual fund may buy and sell stocks and bonds inside the mutual fund. The gains pass to you as a shareholder.

If you own an individual investment, and you sell those shares, you can generate a capital gain as well. If you owned the position for at least a year, the gain is a long-term capital gain. Long-term gains get favorable tax treatment. The highest capital gains rate is 20%. Most people will pay 15%. The full amount of the sale is not usually taxed. Taxes are due on the amount above what you originally paid for the investment.

This can be a factor if you are using a systematic withdrawal. This strategy involves selling shares of your investments to generate monthly income. Part of the income is going to be taxable, and part of it is going to be return of your principal. The taxable part may get taxed at lower rates.

Pension Plans

The other type of account used to create income in retirement is a pension plan. If your company offered a pension plan, the income is taxable as ordinary income.


Another common type of account is an annuity. If you annuitize a contract, part of the income is taxable. The balance is a return of your principal.

Social Security

The last type of income source that’s taxable in retirement is Social Security. We will cover taxes of Social Security benefits next week.

Talk to a Certified Financial Planner™ Professional

Knowing how taxes impact retirement can help you plan for a better future. If you have questions or concerns, talk to a financial planner.


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About the Author

Neal Watson is a Certified Financial Planner™ Professional and a Financial Advisor with Fleming Watson Financial Advisors.    He specializes in helping hard working, middle class families plan for retirement.

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How Could Your Taxes Change in 2021?

How Could Your Taxes Change in 2021?

How could your income taxes change in 2021? We’re still waiting on election results. But we can look ahead to the potential changes to your taxes if Joe Biden wins the election.

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Here’s what we know about Mr. Biden’s tax plan.

Improving and Adding Certain Tax Credits

He wants to improve and add tax credits.  His plan calls for:

  • increasing the Child and Dependent Care tax credit. (this is for daycare costs)
  • expanding the earned income tax credit for people over 65.
  • renewable energy credits for electric vehicles and solar panels.
  • restoring the first-time homebuyers tax credit.
  • for 2021—and as long as economic conditions dictate—increasing the child tax credit.

Tax Credits for Retirement Savings

His plan also wants to equalize the tax benefits of retirement plan contributions. Right now, people get a deduction for some of those retirement plan contributions. He wants to change this to a tax credit.

What is the difference between a tax deduction and a tax credit? Which is better?

A Tax Deduction is something which reduces your income. If you earned $1,000, and have a $200 deduction, your adjusted income is $800. You compute your tax using the reduced amount. If your tax rate is 15%, your $200 deduction will lower your taxes by $30.
A Tax Credit is a direct reduction of your income tax liability. If your tax liability is $1,000, and you have a $200 credit, your tax bill is $800.
In most cases tax credits are better than tax deductions.

Tax Increases for High Earners and Corporations

Mr. Biden also wants to increase taxes for those people who make a lot of money. If you make over $400,000, you can expect a significant tax increase.

  • your social security taxes will go up.
  • The maximum tax rate that you pay on your income will also increase.
  • If you are a business owner, you will lose the qualified business deduction.
  • It will also tax capital gains and qualified dividends as ordinary income for those making over $1 million.
  • It will also limit the benefits of itemized deductions.

He also wants to increase the taxes on businesses. The corporate tax rate under Mr. Biden’s proposal goes from 21% to 28%.

Lastly, he wants to restore federal estate taxes back to 2009 levels.

The Most Concerning Tax Change

There is something in Mr. Biden’s tax plan that will impact a lot of people. It involves how your cost basis is treated at a person’s death.

What is cost basis? 

Your “cost basis” is what you pay for an asset. Whether you buy a house, a stock, a rental property or a bond, whatever you pay for that asset is your cost basis. If you add money to it, it increases your cost basis.

The cost basis is important when you sell that asset. You pay capital gains tax on the difference between the sale price and your cost basis. Let’s look at an example. Let’s say you buy a stock for $10,000. After several years, the value has grown to $50,000. If you sell that stock, you pay capital gains on the difference between the sale proceeds of $50,000 and your cost basis ($10,000). You would owe taxes on $40,000.

How Could Your Taxes Change in 2021

If you had reinvested the dividends from that stock, your cost basis increased. Let’s say you reinvested $5,000 of dividends, the cost basis increases to $15,000. If you sell the stock, you pay capital gains taxes on the difference between the $50,000 and $15,000.

Current Law vs What Could Change

Under current law, your cost basis steps up or steps down when you die. What Mr. Biden wants to do is eliminate the step-up in basis. Consider this. You paid $10,000 for your stock. It’s worth $50,000 at your death. Under current law, your heirs have a cost basis of $50,000.

Likewise, let’s say your parents bought a house several years ago for $50,000. When they die, the house is worth $200,000. Under current law, the basis increases to $200,000.

Under Mr. Biden’s proposal, there would be no step-up in basis.  This means you would have a capital gain of $150,000 when you sold your parents house.

The other disturbing thing about Mr. Biden’s tax plan is the deemed sale at death. This means the tax code would treat a person’s assets as being sold at the date of death (rather than sold when the heirs want to sell them). It would make that capital gains tax due immediately.

Right now, most of those assets pass to others with little to no tax bill. Eliminating the step-up in basis will hit the wallets of many Americans.

Don't Worry Yet

None of this has happened yet. We still do not know who the President-elect is, and we do not know who is going to control the Senate or the House. But this is something to monitor. If you have a question about how any of this could impact you, talk to a financial advisor or a tax professional.
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About the Author

Neal Watson is a Certified Financial Planner™ Professional and a Financial Advisor with Fleming Watson Financial Advisors.    He specializes in helping hard working, middle class families plan for retirement.

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