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Making These 2 Moves Now Could Ensure an Almost Tax-Free Retirement

By Christy Bieber – Oct 5, 2020 at 6:41AM

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You should start now if you want to owe the IRS less later!

For far too many Americans, retirement is filled with financial worries. But with the right moves, you can eliminate one big concern: paying income taxes on most (or even all) of your retirement income.

This doesn't involve fleeing to an offshore tax haven. If you take just two steps now, you could potentially ensure an income-tax-free retirement -- or at least keep your taxes to the minimum.

Retirement Savings Plan with calculator, coffee, and pen on top of it.

Image source: Getty Images.

1. Invest in Roth accounts

Retirees primarily get their income from two sources: investment accounts and Social Security. And by using a Roth IRA or Roth 401(k), you could reduce or even avoid taxes on either source. 

When you invest in a Roth and comply with all of the withdrawal rules, you take money out tax-free. As for Social Security, your benefits become taxable only if you have provisional income above a certain threshold. Provisional income includes half your Social Security benefits, other taxable income, and some nontaxable income such as municipal bond interest. Distributions from a Roth won't count as provisional income, so no matter how much you withdraw, it won't make your Social Security benefits taxable. 

If you aren't currently invested in a Roth, you may be able to do a conversion to move your money into this type of retirement account. But this is a taxable event and, if you're nearing retirement, it could create additional complications for when and how you can access your money. A market crash is a good time to do a Roth conversion, as you'd end up paying taxes on a lower asset base. So if you see your investments fall again, then it may be worth considering this step. 

Roths don't provide the up-front tax break that traditional 401(k) or IRA accounts do, but if your goal is to avoid taxes as a retiree, they can help make that happen. 

2. Plan a possible relocation

Some states have much more favorable tax rules than others, so where you live can have a profound impact on what taxes, if any, you're charged on retirement income. If you want to keep your state tax bill as low as possible, you may want to investigate tax policies where you currently live and in a few alternative locations.

If you find your current home base isn't very favorable in its rules for taxes on retirees, it may be worth planning a relocation. Knowing where you'll likely live as a retiree can shape other financial decisions, such as how much you need to save based on the local cost of living and whether you'll likely be selling your home and potentially having the option of downsizing. 

It can be hard to think about where you'll live decades in advance, but if you don't want to worry about the effect of income taxes on your retirement nest egg, it's worth thinking about this choice sooner rather than later. 

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