While Others Debate New Tax Law, Stay Focused on Your Own Plan

The recent tax law changes may be out of your control, but you still have quite a bit of power over your own tax destiny using tried-and-true tax strategies.

The tax overhaul is a hot topic these days, and investors should stay aware of any changes that could eventually affect their retirement plans.

3. Find out if you’re eligible for a health savings account.

Contributions to an HSA are tax-deductible. (If your contributions are deducted from your paycheck, they’re considered pretax.) The money is also tax-free coming out, as long as you use it to pay for qualified health care expenses. It’s the best of both worlds. In 2018, the contribution limits are $3,450 for individuals and $6,900 of you have family coverage. You can also put in an extra $1,000 if you’re 55 or older.

To qualify, you must be covered under a high-deductible health plan, although be aware that not all high-deductible plans qualify, so it’s best to ask the insurer itself whether your plan is HSA-eligible.

4. Be aware of how Social Security income is taxed, and manage your tax bracket accordingly.

Your Social Security benefits can be taxed when your combined income exceeds the designated threshold ($25,000 for single retirees or $32,000 for couples filing jointly). It’s important to understand that all income is counted, including tax-exempt interest from state and municipal bonds.

The ultimate goal in retirement is to have the income you need and want without taxes eating up your nest egg. And a great way to do that is to keep your money in different “tax buckets.”

  • The taxable bucket includes everything you’ll pay taxes on every year, including your brokerage and bank accounts, certificates of deposit, interest on bonds, etc.
  • The tax-deferred bucket holds your 401(k) and/or IRA. You don’t pay taxes when you put money in or while that money is growing. But eventually you’ll have to pay taxes on 100% of everything that’s in this bucket, which could push you into a higher tax bracket in retirement.
  • The tax-free bucket is for Roth IRAs and Roth 401(k)s, along with specially designed life insurance policies and municipal bonds. (But remember, the interest on municipal bonds can make your Social Security benefits taxable. See No. 4 above.)
  • Your tax obligation doesn’t stop when you die, so if you plan to leave a legacy for your loved ones, the estate- and income tax-free bucket is important. If a big part of what you leave behind is in a tax-deferred retirement account, Uncle Sam will still want his share. By using life insurance and other estate- and income tax-free vehicles, you can either avoid the tax or pay pennies on the dollar.

I’m always bewildered when prospective clients come in with what they think is a comprehensive retirement plan, and it doesn’t include any tax strategies. The financial industry puts such an emphasis on investing — with financial professionals often bragging about returns and their ability to earn more than the next guy — that pre-retirees and retirees tend to ignore the impact taxes can have on their bottom line.

What’s the point of earning an extra 1% if you end up giving it all — and more — back in taxes?

While the nation’s pundits and policymakers debate the pros and cons of the Trump administration’s new tax law, why not turn your attention to what you can control? Talk to your tax professional and your financial adviser about building a solid plan that will help you hold on to more of your money in retirement.

Kim Franke-Folstad contributed to this article.

About the Author

Michael Neuenschwander, CFP, CPA

Partner, Outlook Wealth Advisors LLC

Michael Neuenschwander, CPA, CFP®, teams with his father, Allen Neuenschwander, CPA, CFP®, at their financial planning firm, Outlook Wealth Advisors LLC in Texas. Michael is an Investment Adviser Representative and a licensed insurance professional.

The appearances in Kiplinger were obtained through a PR program. The columnist received assistance from a public relations firm in preparing this piece for submission to Kiplinger was not compensated in any way.

Most Popular

Your Guide to Roth Conversions
Special Report
Tax Breaks

Your Guide to Roth Conversions

A Kiplinger Special Report
February 25, 2021
7 Best Commodity Stocks to Play the Coming Boom

7 Best Commodity Stocks to Play the Coming Boom

These seven commodity stocks are poised to take advantage of a unique confluence of events. Just mind the volatility.
September 8, 2021
Stock Market Holidays in 2021

Stock Market Holidays in 2021

Is the stock market open today? Take a look at which days the NYSE, Nasdaq and bond markets take off in 2021.
September 2, 2021


How to Calculate Your Net Worth

How to Calculate Your Net Worth

Run an inventory of your assets and liabilities to find out how much you're worth.
September 20, 2021
How Exactly Do You Stress-Test Your Financial Plan?
retirement planning

How Exactly Do You Stress-Test Your Financial Plan?

Some tasks are not good for DIYers, and stress-testing your portfolio is probably one of them. Because individuals don’t have access to the same tools…
September 18, 2021
Child Tax Credit Payment Schedule for the Rest of 2021
Tax Breaks

Child Tax Credit Payment Schedule for the Rest of 2021

The IRS has already sent three batches of monthly child tax credit payments. Here's when you can expect the rest of your payments.
September 16, 2021
What Is the Social Security COLA?

What Is the Social Security COLA?

This year especially, cost-of-living adjustments are late to the party, as consumers are feeling the effect of price spikes now.
September 16, 2021