Like sands through the hourglass, America's 76 million Baby Boomers have come of age: retirement age, that is. If you were born in the 1950s or '60s, you're a surefire candidate for retirement, whether you've thought about it or not. And if you haven't thought about it, now is the time, if for no other reason than the impact on your tax situation.
The American work force is shifting. Millennials-- born 1977 to 1995-- are moving more and more into the middle and upper ranks of corporate life as boomers leave conventional full-time jobs. Also shifting is the way retirement income is planned, which affects not only your after-work years, but also your tax status.
To borrow from an advertisement: What's in your portfolio? As boomers know, the longstanding tradition of company pension plans has been disappearing in favor of 401(k) plans. There are also Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs), which come in two types: Traditional and Roth. Do you have enough money in either of these plans to support you in retirement? Do you intend them as a supplement to your Social Security, or the other way around? Will you be drawing down another government pension, likely from government work or military service? What's all this got to do with your taxes? Plenty, as it turns out. Here are 5 "ifs" to consider.
1. If retirement is a few years away and you're expecting retirement income from more than one source, you may want to switch from a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. Your contributions to a Roth IRA are not tax-deductible, but its most appealing feature is that distributions are tax-free upon retirement. Also, traditional IRAs require you to take a minimum distribution by age 70½, while Roth IRAs have no such restriction. That means that as long as you can live on other assets, you can let the Roth IRA continue to grow and you can continue to contribute to it as long as you have taxable compensation. However, there are income limits for contributing to a Roth IRA.
2. If you have socked away a Roth IRA for your retirement, there is no age requirement for when you must start taking withdrawals. However, you do need to be careful how much you withdraw or you may get stuck with a penalty. In order to make "qualified distributions" in retirement, two events must have occurred. Generally, you must have been contributing to your Roth IRA for at least five years, and second, you must be at least 59½ years old.
3. If the traditional IRA will be your primary source of income and your retirement is near at hand, you may prefer to keep your money where it is and consider beefing it up by adding to your plan before the April 18 filing deadline. The contribution limit to a traditional IRA and/or a Roth IRA is generally up to $5,500 for each taxpayer. Taxpayers age 50 or over can contribute up to $6,500. Best of all, whatever you put into your traditional IRA grows tax-deferred and depending on your adjusted gross income it may even be deductible on your tax return.
4. If you do plan to draw on your traditional IRA to support you at retirement, keep in mind that your contributions have been tax-deferred, which means you will have to pay taxes upon withdrawal. Also, there may be penalties for early withdrawal before age 59½, so you will want to factor that in to your retirement date.
5. If you will not have enough money in either a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA to support you upon retirement and you're perhaps looking to Social Security to give you that boost, it's possible that you may have to pay taxes on some of your benefits. Knowing the differences between non-taxable and taxable income is key. If your total is more than the base amount, some of your benefits may be taxable.
Don't think that your only interaction with the IRS in retirement is paying more taxes. If you continue to itemize your tax returns, you'll find there are some tax-deductible benefits to retirement as well. For example, if you will be on Medicare and participate in any of the various alphabet-soup supplemental plans, some of the premiums are deductible. There is one catch: the total amount of the premiums must exceed 7.5% of your retirement income-- but only if you're 65 or older. (That will change next year, by the way. Beginning Jan. 1, 2017, you can only deduct total medical expenses-- including Medicare premiums --that exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income, no matter your age).
The bottom line is this: Retirement is not as simple as leaving the work force. Circumstances vary and are best not left to guesswork, especially for your taxes. Get a trusted pro to help you. Then, you can get on with the business of enjoying the journey now and in your golden years.