Why Taxes Could Be Higher in Retirement: A Comprehensive Look

BY  ON NOVEMBER 29, 2023

Carl Fischer says retirement is often seen as a time to relax and enjoy the fruits of one’s labor. However, many retirees are surprised to discover that their tax burden doesn’t necessarily decrease in their golden years. Click here to read more.

Several factors can contribute to higher taxes in retirement, including changes in Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs), the widower tax, lump sum distributions, tax code modifications, Social Security, legacy planning considerations, and the impending tax changes set to sunset in 2026. Additionally, savvy retirement planning can harness the benefits of Roth IRAs and 401(k)s to mitigate these challenges.

1. Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) Changes

One significant factor impacting retirement taxes is the RMD, which applies to certain tax-advantaged retirement accounts like Traditional IRAs and 401(k)s. RMDs dictate that retirees must withdraw a minimum amount each year once they reach a certain age, typically starting at 72. These withdrawals are taxed as ordinary income. As life expectancies increase, RMDs can potentially push retirees into higher tax brackets, leading to increased tax liability in retirement.


2.  Widower Tax

The loss of a spouse can be emotionally devastating, but it can also have financial implications. Tax laws sometimes treat widows and widowers differently, potentially resulting in higher taxes. For example, the widower tax penalty occurs when a surviving spouse loses access to certain tax deductions and credits that were available when they filed jointly. This change in filing status can lead to a higher tax bill.


3.  Lump Sum Distributions

Some retirees may receive lump sum distributions from retirement plans or pensions. While these one-time payments can provide a significant financial boost, they can also result in a substantial tax liability if not properly managed. Lump sum distributions are typically taxed in the year they are received, potentially pushing retirees into a higher tax bracket.


4.  Tax Code Changes and the Sunset Clause

Tax laws are subject to change, and these changes can have a direct impact on retirees. Governments may decide to increase tax rates, reduce deductions, or modify credits, all of which can affect retiree’s; tax bills. It’s worth noting that some of the recent tax changes, such as those introduced by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, are set to sunset in 2026. This means that without further legislative action, tax rates could revert to previous levels, potentially significantly increasing the tax burden on retirees.


5.  Social Security

Many retirees rely on Social Security benefits as a significant source of income during retirement. However, depending on your overall income and filing status, a portion of your Social Security benefits may be subject to taxation. This means that even though you’ve paid into the system throughout your working years, you could still owe taxes on those benefits in retirement.


6.  Legacy Planning

Estate planning and legacy considerations also play a role in retirement taxation. Passing on assets to heirs can trigger estate taxes, depending on the size of the estate and current tax laws. Moreover, inheriting retirement accounts, like IRAs, can lead to income tax obligations for the beneficiaries. Careful estate planning is essential to minimize tax implications while ensuring a smooth transfer of assets.


7.  Harnessing Roth IRAs and 401(k)s

To mitigate the potential tax challenges in retirement, individuals can strategically utilize Roth IRAs and Roth 401(k)s. Contributions to these accounts are made with after-tax dollars, which means that withdrawals in retirement are generally tax-free. By diversifying retirement savings between traditional and Roth accounts, retirees can have more flexibility in managing their taxable income, potentially reducing their overall tax liability. Consider converting pretax dollars to Roth accounts overtime as RMDs are not required with Roth accounts increasing your control over taxes.



While retirement should be a time of relaxation and enjoyment, it’s crucial to recognize that taxes can remain a significant financial concern during this phase of life. Factors such as RMD changes, the widower tax, lump sum distributions, tax code modifications, Social Security, legacy planning, and the impending tax changes set to sunset in 2026 can all contribute to higher taxes in retirement. To navigate these challenges successfully, retirees should consider seeking advice from financial professionals and staying informed about tax laws and regulations that may affect their retirement plans. Additionally, leveraging Roth IRAs and 401(k)s can provide valuable tax benefits and enhance financial security in retirement.


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Carl Fischer is one of the founders and principals of CAMA Self-Directed IRA, LLC (dba CamaPlan).  CamaPlan is a national, self-directed tax advantaged plan administrator company headquartered in Ambler, PA.

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  • Hamza Ashfaq
    published this page in Updates 2023-12-19 08:58:14 -0700