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  • Rethinking Tax Planning in Retirement from a Risk Perspective


    Tax Planning In Retirement

    When building a financial plan for every stage of your journey, from early working years to retirement, consider saving, investing and tax planning in retirement as foundational elements.

    Starting early, saving as much as possible, and being thoughtful about how you allocate your portfolio to balance risk and return potential are the basics for most investors. As you begin to have more income, and your investments start to grow through the power of compounding, taxes begin to become more important.

    But the traditional way of thinking about taxes is that they often take a backseat to investing.

    A good basis for an argument exists that one should always consider taxes along with investing. After all, they are both at the core of maximizing income. They are just different sides of the same coin. Investing can help you grow income, and tax planning can help you keep the growth you’ve achieved.

    When it comes to retirement, tax planning is even more important, because you are no longer making an income. If you are going to have the retirement you want, you need to have tax planning working alongside your investing. Many investors already do this to some extent. They plan for tax loss harvesting when they rebalance their portfolio allocation. They may convert a 401(k) to a Roth to eliminate RMDs and have better control over taxable income in retirement. But often, it’s a piecemeal approach.

    Taking a more comprehensive approach to tax planning that borrows from two key investing concepts can yield a better result. Incorporating tax allocation and diversification into your retirement plan can keep it on track and minimize the impact of surprises.

    Updating Some Retirement Tax Assumptions

    The common assumption was that you would pay lower taxes in retirement than in your working years because you aren’t earning a salary and are living on investments.

    If you’ve been diligently saving in a 401(k) or other tax-advantaged vehicle, that might not be the case. Depending on what you have saved, required minimum distributions may be high enough to create a larger tax burden. You also may have other taxable income, and up to 85% of social security is actually taxable. For many people, retirement tax brackets may not be all that much lower than when you were working.

    Planning your retirement strategy to understand your income and the amount subject to tax is critical, as this tax burden directly impacts your spending capacity and the longevity of your money.

    Minimizing Tax Risk Through Diversification

    Tax risk accounts for the amount you are taxed in retirement. Looking at income through an investing lens, investors often focus on downside risk and how much market risk may impact the level of income in retirement. They also often analyze growth projections to determine whether the past levels of growth can be sustained in the future or whether different investments are necessary. It’s all about asset allocation, and building a diversified portfolio that can weather ups and downs and generate a given level of income.

    From a tax perspective, it’s about how much of a bite will taxes take out of income, and how can you plan for that? Just like diversifying your investments to create an income stream. Diversifying your tax situation can help even out your tax bite. This means ensuring you have investments with different tax treatments, that offer specific tax advantages.

    These could be tax-free accounts, where contributions are made with after-tax dollars, and as long as certain conditions are met, no further taxes are due. Roth accounts are an example of this type of account. Taxable account contributions are also made with after-tax dollars, but the income generated by these accounts is generally taxable. Tax-deferred accounts are made with pre-tax dollars, and distributions are taxed as ordinary income.

    Setting up a strategy that places the right assets and investment strategies in the right tax treatment can minimize tax risk and help ensure a sustainable level of income.

    Tax Legislation Risk Requires Foresight and Planning

    But there’s also the reality that over time, taxes may increase. Our aging population, unavoidable infrastructure spending, and increased spending on climate-related disasters are all increasing costs. Tax revenue is what fuels the mandatory spending of the federal government. Increasing taxes on the super-wealthy has become a political football, but for many people, it looks even more likely that taxes may increase on the middle class at some point.

    This is a tax legislation risk. As the government looks to increase funding, there may be changes to different parts of the whole taxation picture. One could view it as the structure of taxation. Covering the expiration of tax cuts, closing of loopholes, and changes in tax brackets. Changes may also occur in estate taxes and the way assets are valued.

    This isn’t something that is dependent on any one party having control of the levers of government. Planning for ongoing tax realities is vital in a solid retirement plan to avoid pitfalls and seize timely opportunities.

    Just like the overall return of your portfolio comprises the return of many different investments, the risk of taxes increasing comes from a lot of different impacts. Thinking about it the same way you do investment returns or market expectations can help clarify thinking. The changes to taxation over time will add up to a significant percentage of your income – before it ever gets into your wallet. Not planning for that is missing an opportunity.

    The Bottom Line

    Taxes, particularly in retirement, are a meaningful part of the risk that you should plan for. Strategies to diversify your tax allocation can help minimize taxes throughout your financial journey.

    Let Hennion & Walsh Offer a Second Opinion

    Curious to learn more? Our unmatched client experience will give you peace of mind. Just as you may seek a second opinion about your health, we believe successful investors can gain value and peace of mind by getting a second opinion on their financial health. So, whether you’re worried about today’s uncertain economic environment or looking for increased peace of mind, we can help. Get a complimentary second opinion on all your investment accounts not held at Hennion & Walsh today!

    Hennion & Walsh Experience

    We have investment professionals, planners, and portfolio managers who can collectively analyze your situation through the lens of their respective disciplines. Each member brings valuable insights to apply to your situation. Whether you are looking for income strategy guidance or growth strategy guidance, a second opinion of all your investment accounts not currently held at Hennion & Walsh could be beneficial to your financial health.

    This commentary is not a recommendation to buy or sell a specific security. The content is not intended to be legal, tax or financial advice. Please consult a legal, tax or financial professional for information specific to your individual situation. Investing involves risk including possible loss of principal. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

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