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  • Writer's pictureMark Fonville, CFP®

How Can I Avoid Paying Taxes on Retirement Income

Updated: Apr 15

How Can I Avoid Paying Taxes on Retirement Income

As people gear up for retirement, there is a whirlwind of concerns and challenges to plan for, with taxes playing a lead role.

One big worry is how retirement income from sources such as pensions, Social Security, and investments, will be taxed.

Broken down even further, how can you solve the problem of paying too much in taxes by reducing the amount of taxes you pay?

The taxes on these income streams can impact your financial well-being and navigating the tax regulations can be a daunting task. The taxes on withdrawals from tax-deferred accounts alone are tough to manage and that compounds as you factor in taxable accounts as well. 

Financial planning for retirement can help you secure a comfortable post-career life. The best retirement planning involves a fully integrated approach to managing your finances.

This may include factors such retirement income planning, investment planning, and other tax planning. Planning can help you estimate future financial needs, set realistic goals, and implement strategies to achieve them.

In this article, we will answer the question: How can I avoid paying taxes on retirement income?

Taxable retirement income: social security, pension, withdrawals from retirement accounts
Taxation on dividends, capital gains, and interest should also be considered.

Understanding Taxable Retirement Income Sources

One key aspect of retirement is getting a handle on taxable retirement income. As you plan for your post-career life, understanding taxes becomes crucial. Taxable retirement income can come from many sources, including:

  • Social Security: Social Security is a program in the United States that helps provide financial support to people who are retired, disabled, or families of deceased workers. Think of it as a safety net that catches people when they need help the most, like when you get older and stop working, if you get hurt and can't work, or if a family loses someone who used to make money for them. When you work, you pay a little bit of your earnings into the Social Security system through a program called FICA or Federal Insurance Contributions Act.

  • Pension: A pension is a retirement plan that typically provides taxable monthly income to individuals after they retire from work, often based on their previous earnings and years of service. If you are lucky enough to have one, it's important to choose the best pension options when you retire to maximize benefits.

  • Withdrawals from Retirement Accounts: Withdrawals from accounts, such as 401(k)s and traditional IRAs, are considered taxable income. The taxation occurs at your ordinary income tax rate, and the amount withdrawn is added to your total income for the year. Roth accounts, however, can provide tax-free withdrawals.

Taxes you should expect to pay in retirement

What is the Impact of Taxes on Retirement?

Taxes can have a huge impact on your retirement savings. Here are a few areas to consider:

  • Taxation of Withdrawals: Withdrawals from tax-deferred retirement accounts, such as 401(k)s and traditional IRAs, are subject to federal and in some situations, state income taxes. The higher your tax bracket, the more you may owe in taxes. 

  • Social Security Taxation: Social Security benefits can be subject to federal and state income tax. The taxes on your benefits are determined by your combined income. This can include your adjusted gross income, nontaxable interest, and some of your Social Security benefits. Proper planning can help you structure your retirement income to reduce the taxes.

  • Capital Gains Tax: If you sell investments for a profit, capital gains taxes may apply. A strategic plan can help manage the timing of selling assets. This can improve tax efficiency and minimize the impact on overall retirement savings.

  • Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs): Once retirees reach a certain age, recently bumped up to 73, they are required to take distributions from certain retirement accounts. These distributions may be taxable.

Retirement planning should take into account taxes at each stage of retirement. By doing so, you can lower your total taxes and potentially secure a better financial future. 

Discover the key to a secure retirement with Covenant Wealth Advisors' free retirement assessment. Benefit from expert retirement planning, investment management, and tax planning services.

Common Misconceptions About Tax-Free Retirement

In the maze of retirement planning, misconceptions about tax-free income often lurk in the shadows. This can cast doubt on the financial strategies retirees employ. Let’s debunk common myths with tax-free retirement income. Here are some myths:

  • Social Security Taxation:

    • Misconception: Many believe Social Security benefits are tax-free. However, depending on your income, up to 85% of your benefits may be subject to federal and state income tax. Strategic planning is essential to minimize these taxes.

  • Part-Time Work and Social Security:

    • Misconception: Some people underestimate the impact of part-time work on Social Security benefits. Earnings from part-time work can reduce Social Security benefits and increase taxes, particularly if you haven't reached full retirement age.

  • Traditional 401(k) and IRA Withdrawals:

    • Misconception: There's a common oversight regarding the taxes of traditional 401(k) and IRA withdrawals. These withdrawals are taxable income, potentially resulting in higher taxes during retirement. Your strategic planning around the timing and amount of withdrawals should start in your early 60s.

  • State Taxes:

    • Misconception: While some states don't levy income taxes, many people underestimate the impact of state taxes on their retirement income. It's crucial to consider state tax laws when planning for retirement, as they can affect your overall tax burden.

  • Taxation of Gains and Dividends:

    • Misconception: It's a myth to assume that all gains and dividends in retirement are tax-free. Depending on the type of investment account and the holding period, you might have to pay taxes on capital gains and dividends. Understanding the tax treatment of different investments is essential for financial planning. Moreover, not all capital gains are taxed at the same tax rates.

Tax efficient investment ideas

What are Tax-Efficient Investment Strategies?

Unlocking a tax-efficient strategy is like unlocking a treasure chest. In this section, we delve into the art and science of making investment decisions to minimize taxes. 

Here's an overview of different investments that offer tax advantages. These can be for both retirees and people in the pre-retirement stage:

  • Municipal Bonds: Municipal bonds have tax-free interest income. The interest earned on these bonds is typically exempt from federal income tax. If you invest in bonds issued by your state, it may also be exempt from state income tax.

  • Tax-Efficient ETFs or Exchange Traded Funds: Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs) can reduce taxation in retirement through several mechanisms, primarily due to their unique creation and redemption process. This process provides ETFs with a potential tax advantage over mutual funds, making them a tax-efficient investment choice for retirees.

  • Roth IRAs: Roth IRAs offer tax advantages for both pre-retirees and retirees. You make contributions to a Roth IRA with after-tax dollars, meaning that withdrawals can be tax-free during retirement. You also can avoid RMDs. This and the tax-free status makes Roth IRAs beneficial for people who are in a higher tax bracket in retirement.

Importance of Diversification and Asset Allocation

Diversification and asset allocation stand as a cornerstone for building resilient portfolios. Let’s delve into what makes these indispensable for a strategic investment strategy. Here's why they’re crucial:

  • Risk Mitigation with Diversification: Diversification involves spreading investments across asset classes, industries, and geographical regions. This may help reduce the impact of poor-performing investments on the overall portfolio. From a tax perspective, a diversified portfolio allows may allow for more flexibility when implementing tax strategies such as tax-loss harvesting. Keep in mind that diversification does not guarantee against a loss.

  • Asset Allocation: Asset allocation is a strategy used in managing investments, where you spread your money across different types of assets, like stocks, bonds, and cash. Think of it as not putting all your eggs in one basket. The main goal is to balance risk against the potential for returns (profit). Stocks might be riskier but can offer higher returns, while bonds are generally safer but with lower returns. Cash is the safest but usually offers the least growth.

Moving towards tax-efficient investing is like navigating a financial maze with a treasure map in hand. And for people aged 50 and above, tax-efficient investments can become more useful. Here are some examples:

  • Tax-Efficient Asset Location: Allocate tax-inefficient investments, such as bonds generating interest income, within tax-advantaged accounts like IRAs or 401(k)s. Also, consider placing tax-efficient investments, like stocks with lower dividend yields and potential capital gains, in taxable accounts. This asset location aims to minimize taxable income and may help improve your after-tax wealth today and for your heirs.

  • Roth IRA Conversion Strategy: People in their 50s may consider a Roth IRA conversion. You can convert a portion of traditional IRA funds into a Roth IRA, paying taxes on the converted amount. This strategy sets the stage for tax-free withdrawals in retirement. This helps with flexibility in managing taxable income.

  • Tax-Loss Harvesting: Take advantage of tax-loss harvesting by selling underperforming investments in taxable accounts to offset capital gains. This approach can be useful for people in their 50s who have diversified portfolios.

  • Tax-Efficient Mutual Funds: If you don't like ETFS, you may consider investing in tax-efficient mutual funds that focus on minimizing capital gains distributions. These funds manage their portfolios to reduce taxable events. This can make them suitable for investors aiming to minimize their taxes.

Ways to Minimize Taxes on Withdrawals

As people approach the stage of withdrawing from their retirement accounts, minimizing taxes takes center stage. This section is your compass in the world of withdrawal strategies. Let’s explore ways to minimize taxes effectively. Here are two key strategies – Roth conversions and timing withdrawals – to help optimize tax efficiency:

Roth Conversions:

  • Overview: Roth conversions move funds from a traditional IRA or 401(k) to a Roth account. While this incurs immediate tax liability on the converted amount, future qualified withdrawals from the Roth IRA are tax-free.

  • Potential Benefits:

    • Tax Diversification: Roth conversions provide diversification in retirement by creating a pool of tax-free income alongside taxable income.

    • Managing Future Tax Brackets: You can time your conversions during lower-income years and when tax rates are favorable. This might increase short-term taxes but lead to lower overall taxes.

Withdrawal Timing:

  • Overview: Timing withdrawals and their amounts can reduce overall taxes. You might also consider setting up regular monthly or annual distributions.

  • Benefits:

    • Predictable Income: Systematic withdrawals provide a predictable income stream, helping your budgeting during retirement.

    • Controlling Taxable Income: By managing the amount and timing of withdrawals, retirees can control their taxable income, potentially staying within lower tax brackets.

    • Minimizing RMD Impact: Timing withdrawals can help meet RMDs while avoiding the risk of pushing into higher tax brackets.

Benefits of Tax-Deferred Accounts

1. Tax Deferral:

  • Benefit: Contributions to tax-advantaged accounts, such as traditional IRAs and 401(k)s, are made with pre-tax dollars. This defers taxes until you make withdrawals.

  • Impact: Tax deferral can lead to higher initial contributions, potentially resulting in greater compounded growth over time.

2. Tax Deductions:

  • Benefit: Contributions to certain retirement accounts, like traditional IRAs and 401(k)s, may be tax-deductible, providing immediate tax benefits.

  • Impact: People can reduce their taxable income during their working years, potentially placing them in a lower tax bracket.

3. Qualified Charitable Distributions:

  • Benefit: Withdrawals after age 70 1/2 may be tax free if used specifically for qualified charities.

  • Impact: This can reduce the amount of taxes you pay and charitable donations from your IRA count toward your RMD.

Impact of RMDs

1. Mandatory Withdrawals:

  • Impact: RMDs require people to withdraw a minimum amount from certain retirement accounts, such as traditional IRAs and 401(k)s. This ensures that the government collects taxes on these funds.

2. Taxable Income:

  • Impact: The IRS treats RMDs as taxable income, potentially pushing you into a higher tax bracket. This can increase taxes during retirement.

3. Managing Tax Brackets:

  • Impact: Planning for RMDs allows retirees to manage their taxable income. They can spread withdrawals over the years to control the tax impact.

4. Penalties for Non-Compliance:

  • Impact: Failing to take the full RMDs can result in penalties. It's crucial to adhere to RMDs to keep more of your savings.

5. Impact on Social Security Taxation:

  • Impact: RMDs can increase a retiree's overall income, potentially affecting the taxation of Social Security benefits. Plan carefully to manage the combined impact on taxes.

Navigating the benefits of tax-advantaged accounts and RMDs is crucial for retirees. This can help optimize financial resources during their post-career years. Seeking guidance from financial professionals can provide personalized strategies. 

Covenant Wealth Advisors can tailor your retirement account to suit your financial situation. Contact our team today, and schedule a free retirement consultation.

Final Thoughts: How Can I Avoid Paying Taxes on Retirement Income

In conclusion, understanding and managing taxes in retirement is a bit like solving a puzzle. It can seem complicated at first, but with the right strategies and planning, you can fit all the pieces together to create a picture of financial security and comfort in your retirement years.

By getting to know the ins and outs of taxable retirement income, debunking common misconceptions, and employing tax-efficient investment strategies, you can take charge of your financial future. Remember, it's not just about saving for retirement; it's also about smartly managing your savings during retirement to ensure you keep more of your hard-earned money.

Whether it's deciding when to start taking Social Security benefits, choosing the right type of retirement accounts for your investments, or figuring out the best time to withdraw from your accounts, each decision plays a crucial role in your overall tax strategy.

The good news is, you don't have to navigate this journey alone. With the help of financial advisors and tax planners, like those at our firm, Covenant Wealth Advisors, you can develop a plan that not only meets your retirement goals but also minimizes your tax burden.

So, take the step today by requesting your free retirement assessment to secure your financial future and make your retirement years truly golden.


Mark Fonville, CFP

Author: Mark Fonville, CFP®

Mark is a fiduciary, fee-only financial advisor at Covenant Wealth Advisors specializing in helping individuals aged 50 plus plan, invest, and enjoy retirement without the stress of money.

Forbes nominated Mark as a Best-In-State Wealth Advisor* and he has been featured in the New York Times, Barron's, Forbes, and Kiplinger Magazine.


Disclosure: Covenant Wealth Advisors is a registered investment advisor with offices in Richmond and Williamsburg, VA. Past performance is no guarantee of future returns. Investing involves risk and possible loss of principal capital. The views and opinions expressed in this content are as of the date of the posting, are subject to change based on market and other conditions. This content contains certain statements that may be deemed forward-looking statements. Please note that any such statements are not guarantees of any future performance and actual results or developments may differ materially from those projected. Please note that nothing in this content should be construed as an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to purchase an interest in any security or separate account. Nothing is intended to be, and you should not consider anything to be, investment, accounting, tax, or legal advice. If you would like accounting, tax, or legal advice, you should consult with your own accountants or attorneys regarding your individual circumstances and needs. No advice may be rendered by Covenant Wealth Advisors unless a client service agreement is in place. Hypothetical examples are fictitious and are only used to illustrate a specific point of view. Diversification does not guarantee against risk of loss. While this guide attempts to be as comprehensive as possible but no article can cover all aspects of retirement planning. Be sure to consult an advisor for comprehensive advice.

Registration of an investment advisor does not imply a certain level of skill or training.


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