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Table of Contents

Which Accounts Should I Withdraw From in Retirement?

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If you have multiple retirement accounts, you'll have to decide which ones to withdraw from and in what order. A retirement withdrawal strategy can help you see which withdrawal approach will be most beneficial to you over the long run.

There are three main retirement withdrawal strategies to consider, and each has many variations. Using the right approach for your situation can result in tax savings. A customized approach can save thousands in taxes over a 30-year retirement for many retirees.

Key Takeaways

  • A conventional strategy asks retirees to withdraw from non-retirement savings early on, while waiting to use IRAs/Social Security until age requirements are met.
  • A reverse-order strategy withdraws from IRAs/401(k)s first while letting any Roth IRAs and non-retirement investments continue to accumulate.
  • With the hybrid approach, you withdraw from multiple account types within the same year; that works best when it's customized to your situation.

Conventional Strategy

The conventional withdrawal strategy involves using non-retirement account savings and investments to support living expenses while waiting to withdraw from IRAs until age 72, when required minimum distributions begin. This approach is combined with starting Social Security early at age 62. However, delaying the start of Social Security to age 68 or 70 will provide more long-term security due to receiving a permanent higher monthly retirement benefit.

The age to receive full Social Security benefits is 67 if you were born in 1960 or later. Those born between 1943 and 1954 can receive full benefits at 66, and those born between 1955 and 1959 have staggered full retirement dates (e.g., 66 and two months, 66 and four months).

You'll still have to decide which accounts to draw from while you're delaying Social Security. The answer depends on your tax bracket. For those with pension income, the conventional withdrawal strategy often makes the most sense. While collecting the pension, you withdraw from non-retirement savings and investments, and don’t touch your IRAs, 401(k)s, or 403(b)s until you're required to do so.

For those with no pension income, or very small pensions such as a few hundred dollars a month, the next two strategies—reverse order or hybrid—may result in fewer taxes paid in retirement than the conventional approach.

Reverse-Order Strategy

A reverse-order retirement withdrawal strategy involves withdrawing from retirement accounts such as IRAs and 401(k)s first, while letting any Roth IRAs and non-retirement account investments continue to accumulate. That can be the most tax-efficient approach for folks who have no pension, have a decent amount of savings in IRAs, and are delaying the start of Social Security until age 70.

Why would that approach be better? If you're retiring before age 70 and have no pensions, it's likely your taxable income will be low between the ages of 60 and 70. By withdrawing from IRAs during the years when your taxable income is low, you can maximize the 10% and 12% tax brackets. That makes a lot of sense if your required distributions from IRAs are likely to bump you into the 24%-or-higher tax bracket when you reach age 72.

Hybrid Strategy

With the hybrid approach, you withdraw from multiple account types within the same year. For example, you may withdraw $20,000 from a non-retirement account by selling a mutual fund or cashing in a CD while also withdrawing $20,000 from an IRA. That approach works well when it's customized to your situation by projecting your tax rate over each year in retirement.

There are a few versions of the hybrid retirement withdrawal strategy. One involves Roth IRA conversions. You spend down your non-retirement accounts while converting a portion of your IRA to a Roth IRA each year. The amount converted is determined by calculating what amount would fill up the 12% or 24% tax bracket. That approach works if you have enough funds in non-retirement accounts to pay the taxes on the Roth conversion amounts. The Roth conversions lower your future required minimum distributions and lower the amount of taxes you’ll pay at age 72 and beyond in many cases.

Another way to implement that approach is to withdraw from both IRA and non-retirement accounts simultaneously without doing Roth conversions. That is often the best approach if you don’t have enough non-retirement account savings to cover both the tax on the Roth conversions and a portion of your living expenses.

A good retirement planner or tax professional can run a 20- to 30-year projection that estimates taxes and shows you how much should come from which accounts to result in the lowest amount of taxes paid over your retirement years.

Article Sources

  1. Internal Revenue Service. "Retirement Plan and IRA Minimum Distributions FAQs."

  2. Social Security Administration. "When To Start Receiving Retirement Benefits." Page 1.

  3. Social Security Administration. "Retirement Benefits." Page 3.

  4. Internal Revenue Service. "IRS Provides Tax Inflation Adjustments for Tax Year 2021."

  5. Internal Revenue Service. "Rollovers of Retirement Plan and IRA Distributions."

  6. Internal Revenue Service. "Traditional and Roth IRAs."