A traditional IRA is tax-deferred until withdrawal

If you’ve been a diligent saver and keeping an eye on your 401(k) for all these years, it’s important to remember that the tax-man also has been looking on with interest and waiting for his cut. It’s simply too easy to forget, but a traditional IRA is tax-deferred until withdrawal, so that balance is deceiving. What is more, it means that the tax you will owe has yet to be decided. A recent MarketWatch article points out the strong possibility of higher tax rates for 401(k) savers once they reach retirement.

The value of delaying a tax hit into retirement, one of the principal benefits of a traditional IRA, has always been to avoid heftier taxes and secure what are expected to be lower tax rates whilst in retirement. Unfortunately, those expectations may not pan out for diligent savers with large IRAs. If your account is robust enough to keep you at or near your present income, then it’s also enough to keep you at or near your current tax bracket. If you are far from retirement then this may not be too distressing. After all, while you may be paying similar taxes upon withdrawal, your retirement investments are working for you with tax-free appreciation in the meantime.

Given the tax-rate outlook, savers should assess ways to diversify their tax situation in retirement. That means at least considering putting a portion of the amount you save for retirement into a Roth IRA – or a Roth 401(k) if one is offered by your employer.

“If you think taxes are going up, it makes sense to pay your taxes when rates are low, put the after tax amount into the Roth and take out your money tax-free when tax rates are high,” said Alicia Munnell, director of Boston college’s Center for Retirement Research and a professor at the school’s Carroll School of Management.

As summed up by Marcia Wagner of Wagner Law Group, “For the longest time, it seemed like almost a no-brainer that people, when they were in their income-earning stage, would be in a higher tax bracket … That may or may not be true in the future.”

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