How To Protect Your 401(k) and IRA from Taxes

How To Protect Your 401(k) and IRA from Taxes


Approximately 10,000 people will reach the age of 65 each day between now and 2038. This is the age that usually indicates retirement, although the actual retirement age varies depending on a person’s health and professional status.

Using a 401(k) and IRA to save for retirement has tax advantages, but when you withdraw the money it is subject to taxes. What can you do to protect your savings and reduce taxes during your retirement years?

Here are some suggestions that can help.


Know Your Taxes

What sorts of taxes will you pay in retirement? It depends on the type of account you have.

If you have a traditional account, like a 401(k) or IRA, you’ll pay regular income taxes at ordinary tax brackets (as well as a 10% penalty if you take income before age 59½). If you withdraw too much, it may push you into a higher tax bracket since it’s all considered taxable income. If you take a qualified withdrawal from a Roth account (meaning you are age 59½ or older and the account has been open for at least five years), you’ve paid the taxes on your contributions upfront and the earnings are not taxed. As a result, the distributions have no impact on your tax bracket.

Finally, if you have some of your assets in a taxable brokerage or bank account, you will pay capital gains taxes when you make a withdrawal. You may pay a 0% long-term capital gains rate if your taxable income is within specific guidelines. Holding periods apply to determine the tax rate. A long-term investment held for one year or more will have more favorable capital gains tax rates than a shorter-term investment, so be sure to understand the difference.


Take a Look at Your Company Stock

If you hold company stock in your portfolio, you might be able to distribute that portion to a taxable bank or brokerage account instead of rolling it into an IRA like the rest of your account. If you move to a brokerage account, you pay taxes on the original purchase price of the stock and may be able to exercise Net Unrealized Appreciation (NUA) to help reduce your taxes on the gains.

The process of rolling over company stock in this way can be complicated, so you probably want to work with an investment and tax professional to make sure it’s done correctly.


Consider Tax-Loss Harvesting

Do you have some assets in your portfolio that simply aren’t doing well? Instead of holding them and hoping they recover, you may want to sell them for a bit of a loss. You then replace it with a similarly sized asset.

If you do this correctly, the loss will offset some or all of the tax burden that might come from, say, your 401(k) distributions. You don’t want to go into a freefall with investment losses, and there are limitations — it only applies to taxable investment accounts, not an existing 401(k) or IRA.

A married couple filing jointly can use up to $3,000 per year in realized losses to offset capital gains taxes or taxes on ordinary income.


Decide What Accounts to Withdraw Income From

There are different strategies to use for withdrawals. Some advisors will tell you to withdraw from taxable accounts first, then traditional, then Roth. This allows your tax-deferred and tax-free accounts more time to grow.

However, you may want to consider other approaches as well, such as a proportional approach. This will help you target a specific income and withdraw a certain percentage of that from each account. This will reduce your taxes today and help keep your taxes more level over time.

Once you’ve determined your strategy, it’s time to relax and enjoy your retirement. You’ve worked hard — you deserve it!

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