When retirees look at all their sources of retirement income, including Social Security benefits, 401(k) plans, pensions, savings and other investments, they need to keep in mind: Some of that will go to the government in taxes.
To shed light on the tax burdens retirees face, researchers Anqi Chen and Alicia H. Munnell of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College estimated lifetime federal taxes for a group of recent retirees in a paper presented at the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium 22nd Annual Meeting symposium in early August.
The researchers looked at households in which at least one earner claimed Social Security benefits between 2010 and 2018, which produced a sample of 3,419 individuals and 1,907 households. Average indexed monthly earnings are used to calculate Social Security earnings.
Here are some highlights from the findings, which the researchers warned were “preliminary and partial.”
How much retirement money does the average household have?
Researchers totaled the financial resources available to the households in their first year of retirement. They divided the households into quintiles, from the bottom quintile, which had less than $20,000 from all potential revenue streams — Social Security, defined benefit pensions, defined contribution plans like 401(k)s, and financial wealth — to the top quintile, which averaged $323,000. The top 1% had roughly $1.7 million in retirement resources.
The Researchers’ Assumptions
The researchers assumed that households wouldn’t draw from their 401(k)s or IRAs until required to do so and would follow required minimum distribution rules.
Here, researchers saw two alternative decumulation strategies. First, they looked at households that began withdrawing before they were required to. But they assumed withdrawals at the rate implied by the RMD rules.
Another alternative they considered was using 401(k)/IRA balances at Social Security claiming age to purchase an immediate annuity.
Finally, the researchers assumed that households with assets “outside of these retirement arrangements” used only interest and dividends to support their retirement, or used their assets (paying taxes on accrued capital gains) to buy an annuity while claiming their Social Security benefits.