Taxing Pension and Annuity Income

Reporting the taxable portion of your pension and annuity payments

A young woman putting money into jar on her desk labeled 401K.

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Tax time can be particularly confusing when you have a pension or annuity income. According to the Internal Revenue Service, "If you receive retirement benefits in the form of pension or annuity payments from a qualified employer retirement plan, all or some portion of the amounts you receive may be taxable."

That's ambiguous, to say the least. Which is it? How do you determine how much of your retirement income is taxable? Fortunately, the IRS offers various tools for calculations.

Pension and Annuity Income

Separate the 1099-R statements into two piles: those from your IRA, and those from your pension or annuity plans. Report your IRA distributions on line 15a of Form 1040. Report your pension and annuity distributions on line 16a.

The Taxable Portion of Your Pensions and Annuities

The IRS indicates that if you contributed after-tax dollars to your pension or annuity, your pension payments are partially taxable. You won't pay tax on the portion of the payments that represent a return of the after-tax amount you paid. This amount is your cost in the plan or investment, and it includes amounts that your employer might have contributed that were taxable to you as income at the time.

In other words, any contributions you made with after-tax income and for which you never took a tax deduction are not taxable to now. You've already paid taxes on that money once. This includes contributions your employer made on your behalf but which were attributed to you as income, so you paid taxes on the amounts when they were contributed.

That's the easy part. Now you have to determine the method by which the remaining amounts are taxed. Partly taxable pensions are taxed under either General Rule or the Simplified Method.

You must use General Rule if your annuity or pension payments began on or before November 18, 1996. If your pension or annuity payments began after this date, you can use the Simplified Method to calculate your taxable portion.

The General Rule

"Under the General Rule, you figure the taxable and tax-free parts of your annuity payments using life expectancy tables that the IRS issues," according to the IRS. 

Read IRS Publication 939, General Rule for Pensions and Annuities to figure your taxable pension and annuity under General Rule. If you don't want to risk making a mistake, the IRS will calculate your taxable pension income under General Rule for you for a nominal user fee.

The Simplified Method

The IRS says that "if the starting date of your pension or annuity payments is after November 18, 1996, you generally must use the Simplified Method to determine how much of your annuity payment is taxable and how much is tax-free." A qualified retirement plan is a qualified employee plan, a qualified employee annuity, or a tax-sheltered annuity plan. Under the Simplified Method, you figure the taxable and tax-free parts of your annuity payments by completing the Simplified Method Worksheet."

The Simplified Method Worksheet can be found on page 26 of the Instructions for Form 1040 if you want to use it to figure your taxable pension and annuity payments. The taxable portion is then reported on Form 1040 Line 16b.

Tax Information About Pensions and Annuities

You can reference the following IRS Publications to learn more about the taxes on your pension and annuity income.

  • Pension and Annuity Income (Publication 575)
  • General Rule for Pensions and Annuities (Publication 939)
  • U.S. Civil Service Retirement Benefits (Publication 721)

The Balance does not provide tax, investment, or financial services and advice. The information is being presented without consideration of the investment objectives, risk tolerance or financial circumstances of any specific investor and might not be suitable for all investors. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Investing involves risk including the possible loss of principal.

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