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Tax Strategies for Retirees

Nothing in life is certain except death and taxes. —Benjamin Franklin

That saying still rings true roughly 300 years after the former statesman coined it. Yet, by formulating a tax-efficient investment and distribution strategy, retirees may keep more of their hard-earned assets for themselves and their heirs. Here are a few suggestions for effective money management during your later years.

Less Taxing Investments

Municipal bonds, or "munis" have long been appreciated by retirees seeking a haven from taxes and stock market volatility. In general, the interest paid on municipal bonds is exempt from federal taxes and sometimes state and local taxes as well (see table).1 The higher your tax bracket, the more you may benefit from investing in munis.

Also, consider investing in tax-managed mutual funds. Managers of these funds pursue tax efficiency by employing a number of strategies. For instance, they might limit the number of times they trade investments within a fund or sell securities at a loss to offset portfolio gains. Equity index funds may also be more tax-efficient than actively managed stock funds due to a potentially lower investment turnover rate.

It's also important to review which types of securities are held in taxable versus tax-deferred accounts. Why? Because the maximum federal tax rate on some dividend-producing investments and long-term capital gains is 20%.* In light of this, many financial experts recommend keeping real estate investment trusts (REITs), high-yield bonds, and high-turnover stock mutual funds in tax-deferred accounts. Low-turnover stock funds, municipal bonds, and growth or value stocks may be more appropriate for taxable accounts.

The Tax-Exempt Advantage: When Less May Yield More



Which Securities to Tap First?

Another major decision facing retirees is when to liquidate various types of assets. The advantage of holding on to tax-deferred investments is that they compound on a before-tax basis and therefore have greater earning potential than their taxable counterparts.

On the other hand, you'll need to consider that qualified withdrawals from tax-deferred investments are taxed at ordinary federal income tax rates of up to 39.6%, while distributions—in the form of capital gains or dividends—from investments in taxable accounts are taxed at a maximum 20%.* (Capital gains on investments held for less than a year are taxed at regular income tax rates.)

For this reason, it's beneficial to hold securities in taxable accounts long enough to qualify for the favorable long-term rate. And, when choosing between tapping capital gains versus dividends, long-term capital gains are more attractive from an estate planning perspective because you get a step-up in basis on appreciated assets at death.

It also makes sense to take a long view with regard to tapping tax-deferred accounts. Keep in mind, however, the deadline for taking annual required minimum distributions (RMDs).

The Ins and Outs of RMDs

The IRS mandates that you begin taking an annual RMD from traditional IRAs and employer-sponsored retirement plans after you reach age 70½. The premise behind the RMD rule is simple—the longer you are expected to live, the less the IRS requires you to withdraw (and pay taxes on) each year.

RMDs are now based on a uniform table, which takes into consideration the participant's and beneficiary's lifetimes, based on the participant's age. Failure to take the RMD can result in a tax penalty equal to 50% of the required amount. TIP: If you'll be pushed into a higher tax bracket at age 70½ due to the RMD rule, it may pay to begin taking withdrawals during your sixties.

Unlike traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs do not require you to begin taking distributions by age 70½.2 In fact, you're never required to take distributions from your Roth IRA, and qualified withdrawals are tax free.2 For this reason, you may wish to liquidate investments in a Roth IRA after you've exhausted other sources of income. Be aware, however, that your beneficiaries will be required to take RMDs after your death.

Estate Planning and Gifting

There are various ways to make the tax payments on your assets easier for heirs to handle. Careful selection of beneficiaries of your money accounts is one example. If you do not name a beneficiary, your assets could end up in probate, and your beneficiaries could be taking distributions faster than they expected. In most cases, spousal beneficiaries are ideal, because they have several options that aren't available to other beneficiaries, including the marital deduction for the federal estate tax.

Also, consider transferring assets into an irrevocable trust if you're close to the threshold for owing estate taxes. In 2016, the federal estate tax applies to all estate assets over $5.45 million. Assets in an irrevocable trust are passed on free of estate taxes, saving heirs thousands of dollars. TIP: If you plan on moving assets from tax-deferred accounts, do so before you reach age 70½, when RMDs must begin.

Finally, if you have a taxable estate, you can give up to $14,000 per individual ($28,000 per married couple) each year to anyone tax free. Also, consider making gifts to children over age 14, as dividends may be taxed—or gains tapped—at much lower tax rates than those that apply to adults. TIP: Some people choose to transfer appreciated securities to custodial accounts (UTMAs and UGMAs) to help save for a grandchild's higher education expenses.

Strategies for making the most of your money and reducing taxes are complex. Your best recourse? Plan ahead and consider meeting with a competent tax advisor, an estate attorney, and a financial professional to help you sort through your options.


Source(s):

1.  Capital gains from municipal bonds are taxable and interest income may be subject to the alternative minimum tax.

2.  Withdrawals prior to age 59½ are generally subject to a 10% additional tax.
*Income from investment assets may be subject to an additional 3.8% Medicare tax, applicable to single-filer taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income of over $200,000, and $250,000 for joint filers.


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© 2017 DST Systems, Inc. Reproduction in whole or in part prohibited, except by permission. All rights reserved. Not responsible for any errors or omissions.


Robert J. Pyle, CFP®, CFA is president of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. (DAMI). DAMI is licensed as an investment adviser with the State of Colorado Division of Securities, and its investment advisory representatives are licensed by the State of Colorado. DAMI will only transact business in other states to the extent DAMI has made the requisite notice filings or obtained the necessary licensing in such state. No follow up or individualized responses to persons in other jurisdictions that involve either rendering or attempting to render personalized investment advice for compensation will be made absent compliance with applicable legal requirements, or an applicable exemption or exclusion. It does not constitute investment or tax advice. To contact Robert, call 303-440-2906 or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

The views, opinion, information and content provided here are solely those of the respective authors, and may not represent the views or opinions of Diversified Asset Management, Inc.  The selection of any posts or articles should not be regarded as an explicit or implicit endorsement or recommendation of any such posts or articles, or services provided or referenced and statements made by the authors of such posts or articles.  Diversified Asset Management, Inc. cannot guarantee the accuracy or currency of any such third party information or content, and does not undertake to verify or update such information or content. Any such information or other content should not be construed as investment, legal, accounting or tax advice.

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15 Worst States to Live in During Retirement

Here is a nice article provided by Stacy Rapacon of Kiplinger:


Number crunching alone can't tell you where to retire. That's a choice you'll ultimately need to make on your own. But identifying the places that hold the lowest appeal for retirees can at least help narrow your search.

We rated all 50 states based on quantifiable factors that are important to many retirees. Our rankings penalized states with high living expenses—especially taxes and health care costs—and rewarded states with relatively prosperous populations of residents age 65 and up. We also ranked states lower if their populations are medically unhealthy, or if the state has fiscal health problems (red ink in state budgets could lead to tax hikes and program spending cuts for seniors).

Using our methodology, the following 15 states rank as the least attractive for retirees. That doesn't make them terrible places to live. They might, indeed, be great states in which to work or raise a family. You might even choose to stick around in retirement simply to be close to your grandchildren. But in dollars-and-practical-sense terms, retirees might be better off looking to settle elsewhere.

The average health care cost in retirement of $387,731 we cite is a lifetime cost for a 65-year-old couple who are expected to live to 87 (husband) and 89 (wife). For a complete explanation of our methodology and our data sources, see the Methodology slide at the end of this slide show.

15.  Minnesota

Population: 5.4 million

Share of population 65+: 13.6% (U.S.: 14.5%)

Cost of living: 2% above the U.S. average

Average income for 65+ households: $43,623 (U.S.: $50,291)

Average health care costs for a retired couple: About average at $387,007 (U.S.: $387,731)

Minnesota's tax rating for retirees: Least Tax Friendly

The Land of 10,000 Lakes is a hard place for retirees to stay afloat. Above-average living expenses and below-average incomes can equate to imbalanced budgets in retirement. Plus, the tax situation adds an extra burden. One of the 10 Worst States for Taxes on Retirees, Minnesota taxes Social Security benefits the same as the feds. Most other retirement income, including military, government and private pensions, is also taxable. And the state's sales and income taxes are high.

On the other hand, Minnesota is a great place for health-focused retirees. The state is the third-healthiest in the country for seniors, according to the United Health Foundation rankings, which are based on people's behaviors, such as physical activity, as well as community support and clinical care provided. In fact, Rochester, home of the renowned Mayo Clinic, ranks seventh among the best small metro areas for successful aging, according to the Milken Institute, in part due to its abundance of health care providers.

14.  West Virginia

Population: 1.9 million

Share of population 65+: 16.8%

Cost of living: 3% below the U.S. average

Average income for 65+ households: $38,917

Average health care costs for a retired couple: Below average at $370,403

West Virginia's tax rating for retirees: Tax Friendly

Despite its below-average living costs and positive tax rating, the Mountain State offers some rocky terrain for retirees. According to a recent report from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, West Virginia ranks as the eighth-worst state in terms of fiscal soundness, indicating low confidence that it can keep up with short-term expenses and long-term financial obligations.

The state also scores poorly for the health of its 65-and-over population, ranking 45th in the country, according to the United Health Foundation. While 41.8% of older adults nationwide enjoy excellent or very good health, only 29.5% of those in West Virginia can say the same.

13.  Maine

Population: 1.3 million

Share of population 65+: 17.0%

Cost of living: 6% above the U.S. average

Average income for 65+ households: $38,504

Average health care costs for a retired couple: Below average at $367,832

Maine's tax rating for retirees: Not Tax Friendly

The Pine Tree State can be a bit prickly when it comes to its retirees. While Social Security benefits are not subject to state taxes, most other retirement income is taxable. There's even an estate tax. Plus, the Mercatus Center at George Mason University ranks Maine as the ninth-worst state in the country in terms of fiscal soundness.

Individuals in the state may have an equally difficult time balancing their own budgets. With below-average household incomes, retirees may struggle to cover Maine's above-average living costs.

12.  Kentucky

Population: 4.4 million

Share of population 65+: 14.0%

Cost of living: 9% below the U.S. average

Average income for 65+ households: $39,935

Average health care costs for a retired couple: About average at $384,317

Kentucky's tax rating for retirees: Tax Friendly

Kentucky seniors suffer the third-worst state of health in the country, according to the United Health Foundation's rankings. Among its challenges are a high rate of smoking, limited access to low-cost, nutritious food, and a low number of quality nursing homes. Also, physical inactivity among residents age 65 and up has increased to 40.2% over the past two years, compared with a national rate of 33.1%.

The Bluegrass State does offer low living costs, as well as a number of tax breaks for retirees. Social Security benefits, as well as up to $41,110 of other retirement income, are exempt from state taxes. However, with a low ranking of 45th in the country for fiscal soundness, those tax benefits may not be very secure. Also, despite the state's overall affordability, plenty of older residents struggle to make ends meet: 11.4% of those age 65 and older are living in poverty, compared with 9.4% for the U.S. as a whole.

11.  Indiana

Population: 6.5 million

Share of population 65+: 13.6%

Cost of living: 4% below the U.S. average

Average income for 65+ households: $39,260

Average health care costs for a retired couple: About average at $388,954

Indiana's tax rating for retirees: Not Tax Friendly

With its below-average living expenses, Indiana might seem like a winner for retirees. But when you consider the well-below-average household income, the older residents of the Hoosier State start looking more like underdogs. And the tax situation doesn't help their cause much. Most retirement income other than Social Security benefits is taxable at ordinary rates.

The state's health ranking is also among the 10 worst in the country. Some of the challenges Indiana's older residents face are high rates of obesity, physical inactivity and premature deaths, according to the United Health Foundation.

10.  Wisconsin

Population: 5.7 million

Share of population 65+: 14.4%

Cost of living: 10% above the U.S. average

Average income for 65+ households: $37,673

Average health care costs for a retired couple: About average at $387,705

Wisconsin's tax rating for retirees: Mixed

High living costs and low average incomes can put a yoke on retirees in Wisconsin. In fact, the state's average household income for seniors is the second-lowest in the country, behind only Montana. The tax situation in the Badger State doesn't help, either. Social Security benefits are exempt from state taxes, but most other retirement income is subject to taxation (though there are some breaks for low-income residents).

If you can afford it, though, the state capital of Madison holds its charms for retirees, offering an abundance of quality health care facilities, as well as plenty of museums, libraries and the University of Wisconsin.

9.  Vermont

Population: 626,358

Share of population 65+: 15.7%

Cost of living: 19% above the U.S. average

Average income for 65+ households: $42,599

Average health care costs for a retired couple: Below average at $373,830

Vermont's tax rating for retirees: Least Tax Friendly

It's not easy being retired in the Green Mountain State. Exorbitantly high living costs and taxes weigh heavily on below-average incomes. Social Security benefits, as well as most other forms of retirement income, are subject to state taxes, and the top income tax rate is a steep 8.95% (which kicks in at $411,500 for both single and married filers).

On a positive note, Vermont boasts the healthiest seniors in the country, according to the United Health Foundation's rankings. Burlington, a small city on the shores of Lake Champlain, rates as a great place to retire thanks to beautiful surroundings that surely help boost physical activity and overall health among the locals.

8.  Montana

Population: 1.0 million

Share of population 65+: 15.7%

Cost of living: 1% above the U.S. average

Average income for 65+ households: $36,933

Average health care costs for a retired couple: Below average at $377,877

Montana's tax rating for retirees: Least Tax Friendly

Despite its Treasure State nickname, it can be hard to hold onto your fortune in Montana. Living costs are about average, but incomes are well below the norm. In fact, the average household income for residents age 65 and up is the lowest in the country. The tax situation certainly doesn't help. One of the 10 Worst States for Taxes on Retirees, Montana taxes most forms of retirement income, and the top rate of 6.9% kicks in once taxable income tops just $17,000.

Still, Big Sky Country seems to retain a large number of retirement-age folks: The state's 65-and-older population is 15.7%, compared with 14.5% for the U.S. The great (albeit cold) outdoors, including Yellowstone and Glacier national parks, may be what trumps the state's drawbacks for adventurous retirees. Great Falls, on the high plains of Montana's Rocky Mountain Front Range, proves particularly popular with the over-65 crowd, which makes up 16.1% of the metro area's population.

7.  Rhode Island

Population: 1.1 million

Share of population 65+: 15.1%

Cost of living: 13% above the U.S. average

Average income for 65+ households: $55,802

Average health care costs for a retired couple: Above average at $392,592

Rhode Island's tax rating for retirees: Least Tax Friendly

Tiny Rhode Island packs in big bills for older folks. On top of the above-average living costs, it's one of the 10 Worst States for Taxes on Retirees, taxing virtually all sources of retirement income at ordinary rates. (Note: Starting in 2016, the state will begin to give residents a break on Social Security taxes.) The state sales tax is 7%.

On the bright side, the above-average incomes for older residents can make those burdensome costs a bit more bearable.

6.  Massachusetts

Population: 6.7 million

Share of population 65+: 14.4%

Cost of living: 17% above the U.S. average

Average income for 65+ households: $61,436

Average health care costs for a retired couple: Above average at $413,007

Massachusetts's tax rating for retirees: Not Tax Friendly

The Bay State harbors some heavy costs for retirees. On top of the high overall living costs, the total a couple can expect to pay for health care throughout their retirement is the second-highest in the country, trailing only Alaska.

And though the average household income for seniors is high, taxes can take a big bite out of those earnings. Social Security benefits are exempt, but effective in 2016 most other retirement income is taxed at the state's flat rate of 5.1%.

5.  Illinois

Population: 12.9 million

Share of population 65+: 13.2%

Cost of living: 4% above the U.S. average

Average income for 65+ households: $51,079

Average health care costs for a retired couple: Above average at $398,927

Illinois's tax rating for retirees: Mixed

The Prairie State's fiscal standing has been sliding downward for years. Illinois has weighty long-term debts, large unfunded pension liabilities and big budget imbalances. All this puts it squarely at the bottom of the state rankings for fiscal soundness, according to George Mason University's Mercatus Center. In October 2015, ratings agency Fitch downgraded the state's credit rating to near-junk status.

On the plus side, the state doesn't tax distributions from a variety of retirement income sources, including 401(k) plans and individual retirement accounts. For now, that is. Given such a poor fiscal state, tax breaks are hardly assured, and higher taxes are on the table. Already, state and local sales taxes rise above a combined 10% in some areas, and they will be even higher effective July 1, 2016.

4.  Connecticut

Population: 3.6 million

Share of population 65+: 14.8%

Cost of living: 29% above the U.S. average

Average income for 65+ households: $63,726

Average health care costs for a retired couple: Above average at $402,594

Connecticut's tax rating for retirees: Least Tax Friendly

The Constitution State does little to promote the general welfare of its resident retirees. In fact, Connecticut ranks among the 10 tax-unfriendliest states for retirees. Real estate taxes are the second-highest in the country. Some residents face taxes on Social Security benefits, and most other retirement income is fully taxed, with no exemptions or tax credits to ease the burden. Because Connecticut ranks 47th out of all states for fiscal soundness, state taxes are not likely to go down any time soon.

All those taxes come on top of high living costs, the second-highest in the country, tied with New York and behind only Hawaii. One plus: Connecticut residents can often afford the costs. The state's average household income for seniors is the fourth-highest in the U.S., and its poverty rate for residents age 65 and older is a low 7.1%, compared with 9.4% for the U.S.

3.  California

Population: 38.1 million

Share of population 65+: 12.1%

Cost of living: 15% above the U.S. average

Average income for 65+ households: $62,003

Average health care costs for a retired couple: Above average at $394,831

California's tax rating for retirees: Least Tax Friendly

Another one of the 10 Worst States for Taxes on Retirees, the Golden State could be fool's gold as a retirement choice. Except for Social Security benefits, retirement income is fully taxed, and California imposes the highest state income tax rates in the nation (the top rate is 13.3% for single filers with $1 million incomes and joint filers with incomes above $1,039,374). The state sales tax combined with additional local levies can reach as high as 10%.

Everything seems bigger in California, including high living expenses. Indeed, plenty of older residents are unable to bear it: 1 in 10 Californians age 65 and over are living in poverty.

2.  New Jersey

Population: 8.9 million

Share of population 65+: 14.1%

Cost of living: 22% above the U.S. average

Average income for 65+ households: $66,409

Average health care costs for a retired couple: Above average at $403,420

New Jersey's tax rating for retirees: Least Tax Friendly

Retirees planning to plant themselves in the Garden State might want to reconsider. Both living costs and taxes in New Jersey take a big bite out of retirement nest eggs. The combined state and local tax burden is the second-highest in the nation. And it doesn't ease up after you die—the money you leave behind is subject to both an estate tax and inheritance tax (though there are exemptions for spouses and some others). Plus, with the second-worst ranking for fiscal soundness, behind only Illinois, the tax picture is unlikely to improve soon.

More bad news: New Jersey's living costs are the fourth-highest in the country, with retiree health care costs ranking third-highest in the nation. Still, residents seem to bear the burden well. The average income for 65-and-up residents is the third-highest in the U.S., and the poverty rate for the age group is a low 7.9%.

1.  New York

Population: 19.6 million

Share of population 65+: 14.1%

Cost of living: 29% above the U.S. average

Average income for 65+ households: $63,174

Average health care costs for a retired couple: Above average at $397,107

New York's tax rating for retirees: Least Tax Friendly

One (pricey) Big Apple spoils the entire Empire State. Manhattan reigns as the most expensive place to live in the U.S., with costs soaring 127.4% above the national average, according to the Council for Community and Economic Research. New York sports the second-highest living costs of any state, behind only Hawaii.

Despite boasting an average income for residents age 65 and older that's among the top five in the country, the same age group suffers a poverty rate of 11.4%, worse than the national 9.4% rate.

Worst States for Retirement 2016

Our Methodology

To rank all 50 states, we weighed a number of factors:

Taxes on retirees, based on Kiplinger's Retiree Tax Map, which divides states into five categories: Most Tax Friendly, Tax Friendly, Mixed, Not Tax Friendly and Least Tax Friendly.

Cost-of-living, with data provided by FindTheData.com.

Average health care costs in retirement are from HealthView Services and include Medicare, supplemental insurance, dental insurance and out-of-pocket costs for a 65-year-old couple who are both retired and are expected to live to 87 (husband) and 89 (wife). With a national average of $387,731, the average couple can expect to spend about $8,400 per person per year in retirement on health care costs. Note: Some of the worst states for retirees have less than average costs in this category, a positive factor for most retirees, but other factors drove the lower rankings.

Rankings of each state's economic health are provided by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and are based on various factors including state governments' revenue sources, debts, budgets and abilities to fund pensions, health-care benefits and other services.

Rankings of the health of each state's population of residents 65 and over are from the United Health Foundation and are based on 35 factors ranging from residents' bad habits (smoking and excessive drinking) to the quality of hospital and nursing home care available in the state.

Household incomes and poverty rates are from the U.S. Census Bureau. While many of the worst states for retirees in our rankings have above-average household incomes, high average living costs in those states tend to offset the higher incomes.

Final note: Population data, including the percentage of the population that is age 65 and older, is also provided by the Census data. They are highlighted in these rankings, but were not a factor in our methodology for ranking the states. We provided this additional information for readers to decide for themselves whether they are important factors. Some retirees may want to live in states with higher-than-average retiree populations. For others, this isn't important.


Robert J. Pyle, CFP®, CFA is president of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. (DAMI). DAMI is licensed as an investment adviser with the State of Colorado Division of Securities, and its investment advisory representatives are licensed by the State of Colorado. DAMI will only transact business in other states to the extent DAMI has made the requisite notice filings or obtained the necessary licensing in such state. No follow up or individualized responses to persons in other jurisdictions that involve either rendering or attempting to render personalized investment advice for compensation will be made absent compliance with applicable legal requirements, or an applicable exemption or exclusion. It does not constitute investment or tax advice. To contact Robert, call 303-440-2906 or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

The views, opinion, information and content provided here are solely those of the respective authors, and may not represent the views or opinions of Diversified Asset Management, Inc.  The selection of any posts or articles should not be regarded as an explicit or implicit endorsement or recommendation of any such posts or articles, or services provided or referenced and statements made by the authors of such posts or articles.  Diversified Asset Management, Inc. cannot guarantee the accuracy or currency of any such third party information or content, and does not undertake to verify or update such information or content. Any such information or other content should not be construed as investment, legal, accounting or tax advice.

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