Where's Your Retirement Income Gonna Come From?

One day you'll wake up and the financial planning objective that seemed so far in the future—your retirement—will be right around the corner. The big question—how can you maintain a comfortable lifestyle through your golden years—will be a real and present concern. To get ready for that day, you can identify the main sources of your retirement income and concentrate on making them grow.

Although every situation is different, you'll probably get your income from a combination of four main sources:

1. Employer-sponsored retirement plans and IRAs. While you're still working, you may be able to make tax-advantaged contributions to a 401(k) plan or to a Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) or to a Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees (SIMPLE). Generally, the money you put into such accounts will grow untouched by taxes until it's withdrawn during your retirement. In 2017, you can defer up to $18,000 of salary to a 401(k) or $24,000 if you're age 50 or over, as well as receive possible matching contributions from your employer.

Similarly, you can benefit from saving in a traditional IRA, a Roth IRA or both. The IRA contribution ceiling for 2017 is $5,500 or $6,500 if you're age 50 or over. If you convert traditional IRA funds into a Roth, you'll owe tax in the year you transfer the money, but the Roth may provide tax-free distributions to you in the future.

2. Investments. Beyond withdrawals from 401(k)s, IRAs, and other such plans, you'll likely need other sources of income to help fill out your retirement "paycheck." For your taxable investments, you'll probably want to diversify among stocks, bonds, mutual funds, exchange traded funds (ETFs), annuities, and real estate, to name several of your main options.

Keep in mind that taxes will erode some of the value of these accounts, now and during retirement. Tax-free municipal bonds or municipal mutual funds can be a useful part of the mix, particularly if your earnings put you in the top income brackets.

3. Social Security. This can be another valuable supplement to other sources of income, but don't expect Social Security retiree benefits alone to be enough to fund a comfortable retirement. Your SS benefits normally will be based on your earnings history, your age, and your date of retirement. Although you can begin receiving reduced monthly benefits as early as age 62, the full retirement age (FRA) for most baby boomers is 66. That's when you can get what the government defines as your full benefit—and the longer you wait, up to age 70, the larger your monthly benefits will be.

If you choose to begin receiving Social Security benefits while you continue to work—but before you reach full retirement age—the amount of your benefits will be reduced by $1 for every $2 you earn beyond an earnings threshold that is $16,920 in 2017. During the year that you will reach FRA but before your birthday, you can earn up to $44,800 without penalty; exceed that amount and you'll lose $1 in benefits for every $3 you earn. But beginning in the month you reach full retirement age, you can earn as much as possible without any reduction in Social Security benefits.

4. Other income sources. Finally, you may be able to rely on income from various other sources, expected or unexpected. That might include inheritances or gifts from family members, a profit from selling your home or other property, insurance benefits, deferred compensation, early retirement packages, and other sources. If you have an interest in a business you might continue getting income even after you stop working, or you might sell your interest.

Any or all of these may have special tax implications you'll need to take into account. Note that you can exclude from taxable income a gain on a home sale of as much as $250,000—or up to $500,000 if you're a joint tax filer.

Once you analyze your situation, you may find that these four income sources will be enough for you to live on comfortably in retirement. But if you see that your projected income may be less than you expect to need, you may have to ramp up your savings, perhaps contributing more to your tax-advantaged retirement plans. We can help you map out a plan that will help you meet your goals.

This article was written by a professional financial journalist for G.W. Sherwold and is not intended as legal or investment advice.

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