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How to efficiently turn savings into income

Consider our step-by-step plan—with taxes in mind—to help make the transition.

How to efficiently turn savings into income

If you're like many people, you reach retirement with a mix of investments and accounts. After all, there were many tax-advantaged ways to tuck money away for retirement, such as a 401(k) or 403(b), a traditional or Roth IRA, or a deferred annuity.

So how do you transition what you've saved into an income-generating retirement portfolio that has the potential to last as long as you do?

Here are three steps to consider to help you do just that

Step one: Establish guaranteed lifetime income.

We believe that most investors should strive to cover essential expenses with guaranteed income sources such as Social Security, pensions, and certain annuities. Because Social Security and pensions aren’t always enough, many people may need to purchase an annuity. Income annuities are one of the other ways to generate lifetime income.

If you’re looking to provide additional lifetime income, here’s a way to consider which savings to tap first. When purchasing an annuity, knowing how to fund it—and in what order—can potentially help minimize taxes and maximize your retirement savings:

  • Annuitize an existing tax-deferred annuity.
    If you've saved for retirement in a tax-deferred annuity, now may be the time to annuitize it, turning it into a steady stream of guaranteed1 income payments. You aren’t taxed when you do this. Instead, each annuity payment will be taxed appropriately.
  • Tap tax-deferred accounts—401(k)s, 403(b)s, or traditional IRAs.
    If you don’t own an annuity, you may want to consider rolling over the money from a traditional IRA, 401(k), or 403(b) to purchase one. You aren’t taxed on the amount you roll over (provided certain conditions are met). Instead each annuity payment will be considered taxable income and will be subject to ordinary income tax, assuming all contributions had been made pretax.
  • Use taxable accounts—brokerage or bank.
    After utilizing tax-deferred balances, you may want to consider turning to taxable bank or brokerage accounts. If you need to sell an investment from a taxable account, consider these suggestions, which have the potential to help minimize the tax impact:
  • Consider selling investments that have lost value, and which can generally be used to offset capital gains and up to $3,000 a year in ordinary income. First, realize short-term capital losses to offset short-term capital gains, which are taxed at ordinary income tax rates. Then, realize long-term capital losses to offset long-term gains, which are taxed at lower capital gains rates.
  • Use available cash.
  • Realize long-term capital gains, which are taxed at lower capital gains rates.
  • Realize short-term gains, which are taxed at higher ordinary income tax rates.

Consider working with a tax adviser before taking any of these steps.

  • Tax-free accounts—Roth 401(k) and Roth IRA.
    Typically, this would be the least favorable of the three for funding an annuity, because the funds in a Roth account can be used tax-free for other purposes and can continue to grow on a tax‐free basis, if you don’t use them. But if you have exhausted the other three options, and you still want to set up an annuity, you could use savings in a Roth account to purchase an annuity. Thereafter, each annuity payment will be tax free.
 How to fund an annuity: a hierarchy
 Order Why
 1. Annuitize tax-deferred anuity. Transaction is tax free. Each annuity payment will be taxed appropriately.
 2. Rollover from tax-deferred account. Transaction is tax free (provided certain conditions are met). Each annuity payment will be taxed as ordinary income.
 3. Use money from taxable account. Transaction maybe taxable. Only a portion of each annuity payment will be tax free.
 4. Use money from a tax-free account. Transaction is tax free. Each annuity payment will be tax free.

Be choosy, too: some annuities have high embedded fees, so you want to look for a low-cost annuity from a well-established and financially strong company. “Do a quality check,” says Roy Benjamin, vice president and actuary at Fidelity. “Consider the issuing insurance company. Ask yourself: Is the company in strong and stable financial health?”

Step two: Create an appropriate mix of investments.

In determining your asset allocation, don’t automatically assume that you should invest conservatively just because you’re retired. Today’s 65-year-old retirees may need their portfolio to last 25 years or more. Plus, if your essential expenses are covered by Social Security, pensions, and annuities that provide lifetime income, you may be able to take on some additional risk with your remaining assets.

As you can see in the illustration below, a growth portfolio (70% stocks, 25% bonds, and 5% short-term investments) would have lasted 39 years in an average market, versus only 32 years for a balanced portfolio (50% stocks, 40% bonds, and 10% short-term) and 24 years for a conservative one (20% stocks, 50% bonds, and 30% short-term). In an extended down market, the growth portfolio would have lasted 17 years; the balanced, 18 years; and the conservative, 19 years.

Of course, you’ll need to be comfortable with fluctuation in the value of your portfolio, and this is just an example. You’ll need to decide on an appropriate mix of investments and level of risk for your situation.

See how long different portfolios may have lasted

There’s another companion strategy that many investors often overlook. Known as “asset location,” it involves strategically positioning investments in taxable, tax-deferred, or tax-free accounts to potentially help minimize the overall tax hit to your portfolio.

For example, most taxable bonds generate interest, which is taxed at ordinary income rates. So, you may want to consider holding such bonds in traditional IRAs or 401(k)s, where interest income is tax deferred, or in Roth-type accounts, where interest is federally tax free, if certain conditions are met. By contrast, stocks that you plan to own long term are often better held in taxable accounts, because gains are taxed at long-term capital gains rates, which are generally lower than ordinary income tax rates.

For a quick summary of which assets to put in which accounts for tax efficiency, see the table below. But don’t let the tax tail wag the investment dog; maintaining an appropriate asset mix should still take precedence.

Match investments to savings vehicles

Of course, if you need to reposition your investments, you’ll want to do it tax efficiently. For example, you may want to offset gains with losses where possible. Consider working with a tax adviser to understand your current tax situation before taking any steps.

Also, give some thought to what type of investor you may be in retirement. Do you still want to choose investments and manage your portfolio? Even if you were a hands-on investor in your savings years, you might want help from a financial professional in retirement.

Step three: Take taxes on withdrawals into consideration.

Consider building a withdrawal plan around your current tax rate and your general expectations of future effective tax rates (combined federal, state, and local income rates), particularly if you expect your tax rates to rise in retirement.

After you have made annuity purchases, you may need additional income, which may come from the remaining portion of your portfolio. When making withdrawals in retirement, it may make sense to use money from your taxable accounts first. This is because long-term capital gains are taxed at significantly lower rates than the ordinary income tax rates you’d pay on withdrawals from traditional tax-deferred retirement accounts. What’s more, using your taxable assets for retirement withdrawals leaves the money in your tax-advantaged accounts in place, where it has the potential to grow tax deferred or tax free.

If you’ve depleted your taxable accounts, next consider starting to take distributions from tax-deferred accounts, such as traditional IRAs and 401(k)s. You’ll pay income tax on these withdrawals, but it may leave more money in tax-free accounts such as a Roth IRA or a Roth 401(k), which can have significant benefits. In general, you must begin withdrawing money from a traditional 401(k) or IRA by April 1 of the year following the year in which you turn 70½ anyway.

Lastly, consider tapping investments in Roth IRA or 401(k) accounts where neither withdrawals nor any earnings are taxed.3 Again, the longer you keep assets in these accounts, the longer they can potentially grow tax free. And if you’re planning to leave money to others, inherited Roth IRAs are not subject to federal income taxes, provided certain conditions are met.


 Withdrawals from an investment portfolio: a hierarchy
OrderWhy
1. Taxable: Brokerage, bank.Cash withdrawals are tax free. Long-term capital gains are taxed at relatively low rates, and can potentially be offset with capital loses.
2. Tax-deferred: Traditional IRA, 401(k), 403(b), or governmental 457(b).Taxable portion of withdrawals are taxed as ordinary income. If no after-tax contributions are made, then withdrawal is 100% taxable as ordinary income.
3. Tax free: Roth IRA, Roth 401(k).Earnings and withdrawals are tax free, provided certain conditions are met. The longer you keep assets in these accounts the longer they have the potential to grow tax free and/or be tapped for unexpected expenses, or be left to heirs.
4. Tax-deferred Annuity.For annuities funded with non-qualified investments, withdrawals are treated as earnings and taxed at ordinary income tax rates until all earnings have been withdrawn. After all earnings have been withdrawn, withdrawals of principal are tax free. Withdrawals from annuities funded with tax-deferred or tax-free investments are subject to the tax provisions outlined above.

Withdraw from several accounts for tax diversification

You may also take withdrawals from more than one type of account at the same time to strategically manage the impact on your taxable income, and potentially avoid being pushed into a higher marginal income tax bracket (see tax rate table above). For instance, you may want to consider withdrawing an amount from tax-deferred retirement accounts, taxed as ordinary income, up to the next tax bracket. Then, if you need more income, consider withdrawing from a taxable or tax-free account, because it isn’t taxed as ordinary income, and won’t move you into a higher bracket.Consider your income tax bracket

Here’s a hypothetical example. Sal is 63 years old and files his taxes jointly with his wife, Sarah. He anticipates that his federal taxable income will be $61,700 in 2013. However, he needs to withdraw an additional $14,000 after tax during the year for expenses. He has both a traditional IRA, funded with pretax dollars, and a Roth IRA, eligible for qualified tax-free distributions. He’d need to take $17,227 from his traditional IRA to meet his need, owing $3,227 in taxes to get a net amount after tax of $14,000. The first $10,800 of his withdrawal would be taxed at 15% and the next $6,427 at 25%.

Instead, he could withdraw $9,000 from his traditional IRA, which would be subject to income taxes at a 15% rate so that after tax he’d have $7,650, and then withdrawal $6,350 to reach his $14,000 after-tax target from the Roth IRA. Since this is not counted as taxable income he avoids paying taxes at the higher 25% marginal rate. In this case, his total tax on the withdrawals would be $1,350 ($9,000 @15%) for a potential tax savings of $2,117. This strategy is more complex, so you may want to work with tax professional before implementing it.

Transitioning a portfolio to retirement: a hypothetical example

Let’s take a look at a transition strategy for a hypothetical couple, using the Fidelity Income Strategy EvaluatorSM 4 tool. Marsha and Charles Wilson are both age 63 and retired. They have $600,000 in savings invested in a balanced portfolio of 50% stocks, 40% bonds, and 10% short-term investments. Their monthly expenses add up to $4,200, of which $3,000 are essential and $1,200 are discretionary. Social Security and income from pensions put $2,635 in their pocket after taxes (they have a 15% effective income tax rate), so they’ll need $1,565 more a month from their savings, of which $365 is for essential expenses. They would like this income stream to last until the end of their plan (in 31 years).

Based on the Wilsons’ situation, the Evaluator suggested a Fidelity Target Income Mix® with an investment component and a guaranteed component (a fixed income annuity and a variable annuity).5 Based on the Evaluator’s analysis, this approach was estimated to provide enough income to meet their $1,565 need, including more than enough guaranteed income to meet their gap for essential expenses. It also estimated it would leave them with $122,084 for emergencies or other purposes. View the details (PDF) Opens in a new window. on the income payments over 31 years for the fixed and variable annuities and withdrawals from the investment portfolio in this hypothetical example.

The Wilsons' retirement income plan: investment portfolio plus guarantee

How could the Wilsons transition their portfolio to this suggested Target Income Mix model should they decide to? The Evaluator assumed they could use $238,958 from tax-deferred sources like Charles’s 401(k) to roll it over to purchase the two suggested annuities; this would help ensure that they can pay all their essential expenses. It would also give that income some potential to grow (through the variable annuity). Then they can continue to invest the remainder of their portfolio ($238,958) in a balanced allocation (50% stocks, 40% bonds, and 10% short-term investments) in their tax-deferred accounts, from which they can withdraw for discretionary expenses. Continuing to have investments in taxable, tax-deferred, and tax-free accounts can enable them to better manage the potential tax impact of withdrawals.

Next steps

There is much to consider when transitioning your life savings into an income-generating portfolio. We’re here to help you devise and implement a strategy.
 

  • Call your plan's toll free number to speak with a Fidelity Representative.

Before investing, consider the investment objectives, risks, charges, and expenses of the fund or annuity and its investment options. Contact Fidelity for a prospectus or, if available, a summary prospectus containing this information. Read it carefully.


1. Guarantees are subject to the claims-paying ability of the issuing insurance company.

2. A distribution from a Roth IRA is tax free and penalty free provided that the five-year aging requirement has been satisfied and at least one of the following conditions is met: you reach age 59½, die, become disabled, or make a qualified first-time home purchase.

3. See How Long Different Portfolios May Have Lasted Chart: Short term portfolio represents 100% short term investments; aggressive growth portfolio represents 85% stocks and 15% bond investments; most aggressive portfolio represents 100% stock investments. Domestic stocks are represented by the S&P 500; bonds by U.S. Intermediate Term Government Bonds; and short-term assets are based on the 30-day U.S. Treasury bill. Foreign equities are represented by the Morgan Stanley Capital International Europe, Australasia, Far East Index for the period from 1970 to the last calendar year. Foreign equities prior to 1970 are represented by the S&P 500. Historical returns for the various asset classes are based on performance numbers provided by Ibbotson Associates in the Stocks, Bonds, Bills, and Inflation (SBBI) 2007 Yearbook (annual update work by Roger G. Ibbotson and Rex A. Sinquefield). This chart is for illustrative purposes only and is not intended to project or predict the present or future value of the actual holdings in an investor’s portfolio or the performance of a given model portfolio of securities. It is not possible to invest directly in an index.

Generally, among asset classes, stocks may present more short-term risk and volatility than bonds or short-term instruments but may provide greater potential return over the long term. Although bonds generally present less short-term risk and volatility than stocks, bonds contain interest rate risk (as interest rates rise bond prices usually fall); the risk of issuer default; and inflation risk. Finally, foreign investments, especially those in emerging markets, involve greater risk and may offer greater potential returns than U.S. investments.

Several hundred historical financial market return scenarios were run to determine how the asset mixes may have performed. The Average Market and Extended Down Market results are based on 50% and 90% confidence levels, respectively. The results for the Average Market highlight the number of years the hypothetical portfolio would have lasted in 50% of the scenarios. The results for the Extended Down Market highlight the number of years the portfolio would have lasted in at least 90% of the scenarios generated.

The purpose of the graphic is not to suggest that an investor use a 6% rate, but to illustrate the variations in the expected longevity of a portfolio under different target asset mixes. Different withdrawal rates will result in variations in the expected longevity of a portfolio under different asset allocation strategies.

4. Calculations based on a proprietary Fidelity investment analysis tool. The tool generates hypothetical income and asset projections based on real-time pricing of annuity products and certain market assumptions regarding invested assets. The tool uses hypothetical asset class performance estimates that are based on Monte Carlo simulations that run several hundred hypothetical financial market scenarios to project a range of potential outcomes for various retirement income portfolios. The tool does not run multiple hypothetical market scenarios; rather, it uses certain market performance assumptions derived from this analysis. There are a number of simplifying assumptions (such as the leveling of expenses and income streams, and estimating assets) and inherent natural mathematical imprecision (including the tools approach to confidence levels) that could cause variation over time.  The tool uses certain assumptions and modeling to attempt to combine products that may provide income based on those assumptions.

Estimates of potential income and assets illustrated by the tool are in future dollars and are based on data entered, product attributes, and assumptions. Other investments not considered by may have characteristics that are similar or superior to those being analyzed. Numerous factors make the calculations uncertain, such as the use of assumptions that historical returns and inflation, as well as the data provided. Our analysis assumes a level of diversity within each asset class consistent with a market index benchmark that may differ from the diversity of your own portfolio. Results may vary with each use and over time. Fund fees and/or other expenses will generally reduce your actual investment returns and, other than the applicable annual annuity charges for the variable annuity, are not reflected in the hypothetical projections generated by this tool.

IMPORTANT: The projections or other information generated by the tool regarding the likelihood of various investment outcomes are hypothetical in nature, do not reflect actual investment results, and are not guarantees of future results.

The Wilsons' retirement income plan chart: Essential expenses are matched at an assumed 0% return level and total expenses (essential and discretionary together) at the 50% confidence level. The average market conditions (50% confidence level) are used to match the total income need.

Investment portfolio assumption: Illustrations of investment component are based on a balanced target asset mix. The balanced target asset mix is composed of 35% domestic and 15% foreign stocks, 40% bonds, and 10% short-term investments. See footnote 3 above for details on indexes used. Several hundred historical financial market return scenarios were run to determine how the asset mixes may have performed. The results are based on Average Market (50%) confidence level. The result for the Average Market highlight the number of years the hypothetical portfolio would have lasted in 50% of the scenarios generated.

Fixed-income annuity assumption: The fixed income annuity is assumed to be a lifetime annuity with a 10-year guarantee period, 3% cost of living adjustment, and a 100% survivor benefit at the death of either annuitant. In order to arrive at the estimate, the best quote available as of January 31, 2011, was used from among the fixed income annuities distributed by Fidelity Insurance Agency, Inc.; these annuities are issued by third-party insurance companies, which are not affiliated with any Fidelity Investments company. Rates may change daily.

Variable annuity assumption: The variable annuity is assumed to be a joint-life variable income annuity with a 10-year guarantee period, 3.5% benchmark rate of return, 0.60% annual annuity charge, and a 100% survivor benefit at the death of either annuitant. The illustration assumes an asset allocation that becomes increasingly conservative over time, consistent with the asset allocation schedule of the Fidelity VIP Freedom Lifetime Income Portfolios.

The variable income annuity values reflect the deduction of the annual annuity charge. The 0% rate of return is equivalent to a
-0.60% return after this charge is reflected. Fund fees will also apply and are not reflected.

The amount of each payment from a variable income annuity is not guaranteed and may decrease based on the performance of the selected investment option.

Some insurance products are issued by third-party insurance carriers, that are not affiliated with any Fidelity Investments company.

5. Principal value and investment returns of a variable annuity will fluctuate and you may have a gain or loss when money is withdrawn.

The tax and estate planning information contained herein is general in nature, is provided for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal or tax advice. Fidelity does not provide legal or tax advice. Fidelity cannot guarantee that such information is accurate, complete, or timely. Laws of a particular state or laws that may be applicable to a particular situation may have an impact on the applicability, accuracy, or completeness of such information. Federal and state laws and regulations are complex and are subject to change. Changes in such laws and regulations may have a material impact on pre- and/or after-tax investment results. Fidelity makes no warranties with regard to such information or results obtained by its use. Fidelity disclaims any liability arising out of your use of, or any tax position taken in reliance on, such information. Always consult an attorney or tax professional regarding your specific legal or tax situation.

Investment and workplace savings plan products and services offered directly to investors and plan sponsors are provided by Fidelity Brokerage Services LLC, Member NYSE, SIPC, 900 Salem Street, Smithfield, RI 02917.

Investment and workplace savings plan products and services distributed through investment professionals provided by Fidelity Investments Institutional Services Company, Inc., 100 Salem Street, Smithfield, RI 02917.

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