How retirement savings are taxed

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A key step in retirement planning is identifying what your future income will be and where it will come from. Another task is determining how to arrange that income to save as much on taxes as possible, which requires understanding how each source is taxed.

For a quick overview, check out this guide to how different kinds of income are taxed under federal law.

Taxable income

You’ll generally pay taxes on:

  • Distributions from traditional retirement accounts, such as 401(k), 403(b) and 457(b) accounts, IRAs and SEP IRAs1
  • Distributions from most defined benefit pension plans
  • Earnings from stocks, bonds and mutual funds held for more than a year, which are subject to capital gains tax at either 0%, 15% or 20% depending on your income
  • Earnings from investments held less than a year, which are taxed as ordinary income
  • Withdrawals from qualified annuities — that is, annuities purchased with pretax money2

Partially taxable income

You may pay taxes on a portion of income from these:

  • Earnings from non-qualified annuities — that is, annuities purchased with after-tax money2
  • Social Security benefits, depending on how much other income you earn and your tax filing status; however, a minimum of 15% of your benefit is always tax free3
  • Withdrawals from a permanent life insurance policy depending on the amount; the portion you paid into the policy is non-taxable, but gains are taxed as ordinary income

Tax-free income

Income you won’t typically pay taxes on includes:

  • Withdrawals from Roth IRAs as well as Roth 401(k), Roth 403(b) and Roth 457(b) accounts, as long as you meet certain requirements4
  • Distributions from health savings accounts (HSAs), if used for qualified medical expenses
  • Interest earned from municipal bonds5
  • Payments from a reverse mortgage
  • Capital gains from the sale of your primary home, up to $250,000 if you’re single or $500,000 if you’re married and file jointly, provided you meet certain requirements6

Keep in mind that states typically, but not always, follow federal laws on taxation.

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Cutting your tax bill in retirement requires planning

Federal tax law is complex and can change from year to year. When you’re ready to start thinking about how to convert your retirement assets into income, consider meeting with your Retirement Specialist.

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[1] Withdrawals before age 59½ are also subject to a 10% early-withdrawal penalty except in certain circumstances.
[2] “How 13 Types of Retirement Income Get Taxed,” Kiplinger (June 30, 2022); withdrawals before age 59½ are generally subject to a 10% penalty.
[3] “How Your Retirement Savings and Income Are Taxed,” Kiplinger (April 28, 2022)
[4] You must have held the account for at least 5 years and be age 59½ or older.
[5] You may also be exempt from state and local taxes if the bond was issued in the state where you live; capital gains from selling municipal bonds may be subject to federal tax.
[6] You must have owned the home for at least two of the last five years and lived in the home as your main residence for at least two of the last five years; this exclusion can be claimed once in a two-year period.