This article was originally published in, and has been reprinted with permission from, Retirement Daily.
When you contemplate your life, you can usually pinpoint pivotal moments that changed the trajectory of who you are today. Often times, there are one or more magical moments that you will never forget.
In the retirement planning world, age 62 is that moment. Until then, you accumulate assets for some unspecified future date when you will transition from working full time to perhaps part time, and then, in most cases, fully retire. Your primary source of income, i.e., employment, will eventually come to a grinding halt.
Beginning at age 62, several things will begin to quickly unfold that will require you to change your retirement planning mindset from asset to income accumulation. You will need to figure out how to convert the assets that you worked hard to save into a predictable income stream beginning on a specified date, or within a range of dates, that will enable you to match your projected financial needs in retirement. Furthermore, you will need to develop various strategies for creating after-tax retirement income in order to optimize the longevity of your assets for the rest of your life. Needless to say, this is no small task.
This article provides an overview of six proven strategies that can be implemented beginning at age 62 that are at the core of the transition from retirement asset to retirement income planning. Strategies #4 and #5 should be considered before age 62 whenever possible and strategy #6 when applicable. Most important, all potential strategies should be evaluated as part of a holistic retirement income plan.
Strategy #1: Defer Social Security Start Date
You can start your Social Security retirement benefits as early as age 62 or as late as age 70. Unless you’re no longer working and have no other sources of income or you have a life-threatening illness, it generally isn’t advisable to start receiving Social Security at age 62. This is due to the fact that benefits may be 30 percent less than what they would be at your full retirement age which is between 66 and 67 depending upon the year you were born.
Your Social Security benefits will increase by 8% per year plus cost-of-living adjustments for each year that you defer your start date between full retirement age and age 70. Social Security can be used to insure your, and, if married, your spouse’s longevity risk.
The decision regarding when to begin receiving Social Security retirement benefits should be carefully analyzed, especially if you’re married. In addition to locking in the amount of your benefit, you are also potentially establishing the amount of your spouse’s monthly payment in the event that you die first.
Strategy #2: Gain Unrestricted Access to Home Equity
As discussed in my 5 Key Financial Metrics When Evaluating a HECM Reverse Mortgage article, housing wealth, although it represents about one half of an average household’s net worth, is often ignored as a retirement income planning tool. There are numerous strategies that can be used to provide readily available tax-free liquidity to pay for planned and unforeseen expenses throughout retirement by monetizing a portion of the equity in one’s home.
Several of the strategies can be used in conjunction with home equity conversion mortgages, or HECMs, the most popular reverse mortgage program. You can qualify for a HECM beginning at age 62. All homeowners age 62 or older with or without a mortgage should evaluate a potential HECM for its ability to provide unrestricted access to an increasing tax-free line of credit without the downsides of a home equity line of credit, or HELOC.
When implemented early and used strategically to unlock illiquid home equity, a HECM reverse mortgage can be used to increase after-tax cash flow at opportune times throughout retirement while providing peace of mind.
Strategy #3: Reduce Medicare Part B and D Premiums
Medicare Part B and D premiums are determined using modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) from your federal income tax return two years prior to the current year. Assuming you enroll in Medicare when you become eligible at age 65, your MAGI from two years prior, or age 63, will determine your Medicare premiums at 65. 2021 Medicare Part B monthly premiums range from $148.50 to $504.90 per person depending upon tax filing status and 2019 MAGI
Medicare Part B and D premium planning should begin at age 62 when you’re one year away from having your income determine your premiums when you turn 65. You should incorporate the Medicare income brackets into your income tax projections every year for the rest of your life to determine the amount of your projected Medicare Part B and D monthly premiums. Using this information, you can develop strategies to reduce your projected MAGI and associated premiums.
You need to always keep in mind when planning Medicare premium reduction strategies that it’s a year-by-year proposition given the fact that premiums are determined using your MAGI from two years prior to the current year. If your income in a particular year is projected to experience an unusual spike that’s attributable to a one-time or infrequent event that will otherwise optimize your projected after-tax retirement income for several years, it will usually make sense to pay the increased Medicare Part B and D premiums in that year. Examples include a sizable strategic or market-sensitive Roth IRA conversion or an unusual increase in a business owner’s income that will enable a larger qualified business income (QBI) deduction that will result in a large amount of income tax savings.
Strategy #4: Roth IRA Conversion Window of Opportunity
A multi-year, or staged, Roth IRA conversion strategy is a great example of a retirement income planning technique that should ideally be implemented beginning 20 years before retirement. A ten-year window of opportunity begins at age 62 for doing a Roth IRA conversion, creating a greater sense of urgency for implementing this strategy. This corresponds to the ten years prior to the age 72 commencement of lifetime annual required minimum distributions, or RMDs, from retirement plans.
Roth IRA conversions beginning at age 62 will reduce your annual RMDs for the rest of your life. This can, in turn, potentially reduce your annual taxable income, Medicare Part B and D premiums, taxable Social Security benefits, and net investment income tax. To the extent that this occurs, this will increase after-tax retirement income and contribute to the overall goal of optimizing asset longevity. Reduced RMDs also reduce the survivor’s exposure to the widow(er)’s income tax penalty for couples.
Reduced RMDs can also reduce the value of taxable retirement plan accounts at death and, in turn, reduce taxable income for non-spouse beneficiaries. Given the fact that most non-spouse beneficiaries are subject to a 10-year payout rule for taking distributions from retirement plans and IRA accounts, a reduction in the value of taxable accounts will often result in less tax liability for children and other non-spouse beneficiaries.
Per Strategy #3, taxable income from Roth IRA conversions needs to be balanced against potential higher Medicare Part B and D premiums beginning at age 63. The reduction in RMDs and associated lifetime income tax savings beginning at age 72 can more than offset increased Medicare Part B and D premiums between age 63 and 72 if done strategically.
Strategy #5: Lock in Sustainable and Potentially Tax-Favored Lifetime Income
The fifth strategy – locking in sustainable and potentially tax-favored lifetime income, has gained in popularity as a result of the virtual demise of corporate pension plans. Besides Social Security, opportunities for receiving a sustainable lifetime income stream with built-in longevity insurance to reduce the risks associated with the stock market have dwindled in the private sector.
Immediate and deferred fixed income annuities are a natural fit for filling this gap in a holistic retirement income plan beginning at any age. Purchase of fixed income annuities takes on more urgency at age 62 due to the fact that the income start date for the majority of fixed income annuities will occur by age 72, leaving less time for deferred growth and increased lifetime income. The income start date is subject to the RMD rules when purchases are made from qualified accounts and traditional IRAs.
Income optimization is the appropriate benchmark that should be used when evaluating fixed income annuities for inclusion in a retirement income plan. The goal is to design a comprehensive strategy that uses the least amount of assets to purchase the greatest amount of sustainable after-tax lifetime income that’s projected to pay for expenses not covered by Social Security, pensions, and distributions from investment and other assets.
Fixed income annuities come in three flavors: single premium immediate annuities (SPIAs), deferred income annuities (DIAs), and fixed index annuities (FIAs) with income riders. SPIAs and DIAs enjoy a unique income tax advantage when purchased in a nonqualified, or nonretirement account.
Unlike FIAs with income riders that distribute ordinary income that’s fully taxable, SPIAs and DIAs are annuitized. Periodic payments include income and a return of premium, or investment. When held in a nonqualified account, the return of premium portion of each payment, which can be 50% or greater, is nontaxable. Once 100% of one’s investment has been received, future payments are fully taxable.
Strategy #6: Achieve Sizable Tax Savings and Tax-Favored Lifetime Income When Selling Highly Appreciated Nonretirement Assets
The sixth strategy, although it can be used by anyone at any time, tends to be implemented by individuals in their 60’s. Generally speaking, they’re the ones with highly appreciated nonretirement assets who are looking for a tax-favored lifetime income exit plan. This includes real estate, investment securities, and businesses.
This strategy is designed to reduce or eliminate income tax liability attributable to the capital gain that owners will realize from the sale of the highly appreciated asset by transferring a portion, or all, of the ownership of the asset from one or more individuals to a charitable remainder trust, or CRT, prior to the sale while providing tax-favored lifetime income. A CRT, which is a tax-exempt trust, is a long-standing IRS-blessed strategy when properly structured.
There are six benefits associated with a CRT:
- The capital gain on the sale of assets owned by a CRT is exempt from taxation.
- CRT funding creates a sizable income tax deduction equal to the projected remainder interest of the CRT that will eventually pass to one or more charities.
- The proceeds from the sale of CRT assets can be reinvested to provide a lifetime income stream for the beneficiaries.
- Most of a CRT’s annual income will be taxed at favorable long-term capital gains tax rates.
- A CRT is an excellent philanthropic tool since the remainder interest of the assets will be distributed to one or more chosen charities following the death of the surviving lifetime income beneficiaries.
- CRT assets avoid estate tax.
Six Proven Strategies
The six strategies that are highlighted in this article are proven strategies for creating and optimizing after-tax retirement income that can individually and collectively prolong the longevity of one’s assets in retirement. Each strategy can be implemented beginning at age 62 as part of a holistic retirement income plan.
Deferring Social Security start date (strategy #1) is a time-sensitive strategy. Once you start receiving Social Security, with some limited exceptions, it’s an irrevocable decision that, with the exception of potential cost of living adjustments, will lock in the amount of your periodic and lifetime payments and can also affect your spouse’s payments.
Gaining unrestricted access to home equity (strategy #2) through a HECM reverse mortgage should be implemented at age 62, the qualifying age, whenever possible to optimize the growth of, and after-tax distributions from, the credit line. Planning for reducing Medicare Part B and D premiums (strategy #3), which is an annual strategy, should be implemented beginning at age 62 since income from your federal income tax return beginning at age 63 will be used to determine your Medicare Part B and D premiums when you’re 65.
Roth IRA Conversions (strategy #4) and locking in sustainable and potentially tax-favored income (strategy #5) should be considered before age 62 whenever possible since there’s no restriction on the start date and earlier vs. later implementation can optimize after-tax lifetime income in retirement.
Achieving sizable tax savings and tax-favored lifetime income when selling highly appreciated nonretirement assets (strategy #6) is dependent upon (a) owning highly appreciated assets such as real estate, investment securities, or a business and (b) a desire to sell those assets.
Let the magic begin!