5 Things for Seniors to Consider About Income Taxes

If you’re in or nearing retirement, your income sources are likely to change. And that means your income taxes are likely to change, too.

Retirement is changing. People are working longer and relying more on self-funded retirement accounts and IRAs instead of pensions. This can make planning your taxes in retirement more complicated.

To help you come up with a game plan, we spoke with award-winning financial journalist AJ Smith, Vice President of Content Strategy and Financial Education for SmartAsset. She breaks it down into five primary considerations.

1. Will You Have to Pay Taxes on Your Social Security?

You might. Whether you’ll need to pay taxes on your Social Security income depends largely on how much taxable income you (and potentially your spouse) have.

"If you continue working in retirement and are collecting Social Security benefits, depending on your retirement age and income, you may have to pay federal income tax on Social Security benefits above a certain threshold," Smith says. The likelihood that you’ll pay taxes increases with your overall income, so if you continue working in retirement, your benefits are more likely to be taxed. That's in addition to the taxes paid on income earned from part-time work.

Tip: Delay receiving your Social Security benefits until you're ready to stop working. Waiting may also mean you’re able to receive higher monthly payments. While you’re eligible to start receiving benefits as early as 62, waiting longer generally results in higher monthly benefits.

Read more about how income tax is calculated on Social Security benefits.

2. What About Taxes on Your Retirement Account?

Whether you pay federal income tax on money you withdraw from a 401(k) or IRA depends on whether it is a traditional or Roth account.

For a traditional retirement account, withdrawals are generally subject to federal income tax based on your ordinary income tax rate. There is one exception: If some of the funds in your account were after-tax contributions they wouldn’t be subject to a second income tax bill.

A distribution from a Roth IRA or Roth 401(k) is generally not subject to federal income tax if certain conditions are met. While the portion of the distribution that equals the historical contributions to the Roth IRA is not taxable, earnings might be, depending on how old you are and when you set up the account.

If you withdraw funds from any retirement account before you reach 59 ½ years of age, you’re generally required to pay a 10 percent early withdrawal federal tax penalty, in addition to regular income taxes and potential state income tax penalties.

3. What State Taxes Will You Pay?

Most of the tax information covered so far in this article has been specific to federal taxes. While you’re probably familiar with the income tax structure of the states and cities you’ve lived in, if you plan to relocate during your retirement, your state income taxes may change. Here are a few additional questions to research:

  • Does your new state impose an income tax?
  • Does your new state tax Social Security benefits?
  • Does it tax pensions?
  • Does it have sales tax? If so, does it tax food or clothing?

There are also property and estate taxes to consider. Property taxes are implemented by states and municipalities but can vary widely. If you’re living on a fixed income, it’s important to consider this expense. Additionally, if you plan to leave an inheritance to your children, you may want to consider whether the state has an estate or inheritance tax. An estate tax is a tax on the transfer of funds to the next generation, paid by the executor or trustee. Inheritance tax is paid by the recipient of property, and varies depending on their relationship the deceased. Most states do not have estate or inheritance taxes, but it’s important to understand all state and local taxes to avoid potential surprises.

4. Are There Potential Tax Credits to Consider?

Some retirees, particularly those with disabilities or those with lower income, may be eligible for the Tax Credit for the Elderly or the Disabled. Eligibility depends on age, filing status, and income. The IRS interactive tax assistant can walk you through whether you might qualify.

Seniors can generally qualify for a higher standard deduction amount on their federal tax returns. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2018 significantly increased the standard deduction, and many seniors may find that it is no longer beneficial to itemize.

5. What Is the Tax Impact of a Reverse Mortgage?

Some seniors consider reverse mortgages as a source of income in retirement. If you’re thinking of doing this, there are a few tax considerations.

First, you will still be responsible for property taxes. However, because the income you receive from the reverse mortgage is considered a loan, it’s not considered income, and you won’t pay income taxes on it.

Taxes aren’t the only financial consideration when talking about reverse mortgages, though. It’s important to also understand associated fees and costs. Work with a financial professional to evaluate if this is a good option for you.

For a quick-reference list of these tax tips and more, view our senior tax checklist. And for more information on taxes in retirement, visit the Regions Tax Center.


This information is general in nature and is not intended to be legal, tax, or financial advice. Although Regions believes this information to be accurate, it cannot ensure that it will remain up to date. Statements or opinions of individuals referenced herein are their own—not Regions'. Consult an appropriate professional concerning your specific situation and irs.gov for current tax rules. Regions, the Regions logo, and the LifeGreen bike are registered trademarks of Regions Bank. The LifeGreen color is a trademark of Regions Bank.