5 Strategies to Help Lower Your Taxes in Retirement

  • By John Brown, CFP®
  • March 2024

5 Strategies to Help Lower Your Taxes in Retirement

When you envision your retirement and imagine the future, it’s likely that taxes may not be the first thing on your mind. Typically, people only start considering taxes around February, and after filing their returns a month or two later, they tend to forget about them entirely. However, if you have a goal to reduce your tax burden and better position your financial portfolio, it’s crucial to keep taxes in mind throughout the year. This is especially important during retirement when you’re withdrawing from your accounts instead of adding to them. In this article, we explore five strategies for cutting your taxes in retirement.

1. Limit Your Exposure to the 3.8% Medicare Surcharge Tax

There is a 3.8% Net Investment Income Tax that applies to net investment income for singles with a modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) of over $200,000 and couples with a MAGI over $250,000. The MAGI is adjusted gross income with some deductions added back in, such as tax-free foreign income, IRA contributions, and student loan interest. The surcharge tax is due on the smaller of net investment income (which includes interest, dividends, annuities, gains, passive income, and royalties) or the excess of MAGI over the thresholds. 

If your MAGI is near or above the thresholds, there are steps you can take to limit your exposure. First, you will want to review the tax efficiency of your investment holdings. It may be worthwhile to move less efficient investments into tax-deferred accounts and capitalize on tax-loss harvesting. Other moves you can make include investing in municipal bonds, which have tax-free interest, and taking capital losses to offset gains. Installment sales can spread out large gains and minimize your adjusted gross income, and real estate like-kind exchanges can also defer gains and their taxability.

2. Utilize Roth IRA Conversions

Distributions from Roth IRAs are tax-free, so they are a great tool to have in retirement. However, many people cannot contribute directly to a Roth IRA because of income limitations. Instead, you have to convert traditional IRA funds to a Roth account by paying the related income taxes. You can take advantage of low-income years, such as when you have stopped working but are not yet collecting Social Security, to convert your funds to a Roth IRA so you’ll have tax-free income later. It is important to be mindful of tax brackets when you do conversions so you don’t inadvertently push yourself into higher tax rates.

3. Take Advantage of the 0% Rate on Long-Term Capital Gains

If the Medicare surcharge tax is irrelevant to you because your income is lower, then you may be able to take advantage of the 0% long-term capital gains rate. Profits on the sales of assets owned over a year are tax-free if your income is below $47,025 for singles or $94,050 for married couples filing jointly. Once you exceed those thresholds, long-term capital gains are taxed at 15% until your income gets above $518,900 for singles or $583,750 for couples, at which point the tax rate goes up to 20%.

Claiming more deductions or making deductible IRA contributions can help keep your income within the 0% capital gains tax range while also providing their usual tax benefits. However, you will want to be strategic about taking tax-free gains as they can raise your adjusted gross income and affect the taxability of your Social Security benefits. Also, taking those gains may incur state tax liabilities as well.

4. Be Strategic About Inherited IRAs

At the beginning of 2020, the laws surrounding IRAs inherited by non-spouses changed. You no longer have to take out a specific amount of money from the account each year, but you do have to empty the account within 10 years. If you fail to be strategic about withdrawals, you could be forced to empty the entire account at once with 10 years’ worth of growth. The problem with that is that it would greatly increase your taxable income for the year, pushing you into higher tax brackets and subjecting you to added taxes, like the Medicare surcharge tax. If you inherit an IRA from someone other than your spouse, you need to be strategic about your withdrawals and time them so as to limit your tax liability.

5. Donate Effectively

If you are charitably inclined, one of the best ways to save on taxes is through donations. You can get a tax deduction on donations up to 60% of your adjusted gross income. If you have appreciated assets, you can get an even greater tax break. When you donate an appreciated asset that you have owned for over a year, such as stocks, to a charity, you do not have to pay capital gains taxes on the appreciation, but you still get to claim the full value for your deduction. This allows you to avoid the capital gains tax altogether. If your assets have declined in value, it is best to sell them yourself and donate the proceeds so you can claim the loss when filing your taxes.

Another strategy to consider is the use of a charitable lead annuity trust or a donor-advised fund, which allow you to take an up-front write-off that can help offset other income, such as from a Roth IRA conversion or withdrawal from an inherited IRA. 

Work With a Qualified Professional

As you can see, there are ways to potentially reduce the amount of taxes you pay during retirement. However, navigating these approaches involves various factors and details, but thankfully, you don’t have to handle this alone. If you’re considering these tax-efficient retirement strategies, teaming up with a knowledgeable financial advisor can provide clarity and confidence in your retirement plan.

If you’re without a qualified advisor, I’d like to discuss how our team at Wealth Advocate Group could assist you. Take the initial step toward your desired retirement by calling 440-505-5704 or emailing jbrown@Wadvocate.com to schedule an appointment.

About John

John Brown is a wealth advisor at Wealth Advocate Group, LLC, an independent, fee-based wealth management company. With over 10 years of experience in the financial industry and a background in accounting, John provides sophisticated and specialized services to his senior executive clients who need the expertise of someone well-versed in concentrated securities and restricted stock strategies, as well as the risk and tax burdens that come along with their compensation. John has a bachelor’s degree in accounting and financial management from Hillsdale College and is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® professional. John is known for his thorough approach, often asking questions and bringing up details his clients have not considered. He strives to address every piece of his clients’ financial picture to make sure they are on the path toward their goals and financial confidence. In his spare time, John and his wife, Christina, enjoy traveling and staying active. You can often find him spending quality time with his friends and family. To learn more about John, connect with him on LinkedIn.

The opinions voiced in this article are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. To determine which strategies or investments may be suitable for you, consult the appropriate qualified professional prior to making a decision.

This information is not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized tax or legal advice. We suggest that you discuss your specific situation with a qualified tax or legal advisor. Wealth Advocate Group, LLC and LPL Financial do not offer tax advice or strategies.

When you link to any of the websites mentioned, we make no representation as to the completeness or accuracy of information provided at these websites. The opinions found therein are those of the author(s) of the article or website.

Municipal bonds are subject to availability and change in price. They are subject to market and interest rate risk if sold prior to maturity. Bond values will decline as interest rates rise. Interest income may be subject to the alternative minimum tax. Municipal bonds are federally tax-free but other state and local taxes may apply.  If sold prior to maturity, capital gains tax could apply.

Traditional IRA account owners have considerations to make before performing a Roth IRA conversion. These primarily include income tax consequences on the converted amount in the year of conversion, withdrawal limitations from a Roth IRA, and income limitations for future contributions to a Roth IRA. In addition, if you are required to take a required minimum distribution (RMD) in the year you convert, you must do so before converting to a Roth IRA.