Navigating Tax Withholding – A Guide for Retirees

Taylor Wolverton joined us on our podcast this week, and for those who don’t know, she’s our go-to person for everything taxes. This week we’re discussing tax withholding, which can change considerably when you retire.

While you’re working and earning a salary, your employer handles tax withholdings. When you retire and transition to multiple sources of income, it’s worth reviewing your tax situation to be sure you’re withholding enough to avoid any surprise payments and/or penalties due at the time you file your return.

What is Withholding vs Estimated Tax Payment?

There are two main ways to pay taxes (you can do a combination of both) which include:

  1. Withholding from income sources
  2. Making estimated tax payments

For our first method, taxes can be withheld from pensions, social security, IRA distributions, etc. Once you have your withholdings set up properly, this option requires the least amount of effort to maintain.

Estimated tax payments are another option and are due quarterly. At the time your tax return is filed, it’s common for your CPA / tax preparer to help you estimate how much you’ll need to pay every quarter with vouchers listing the amount to pay and when you need to pay it. You can go to and your state government website to make your quarterly payments.

The payment due dates are not even quarters and are:

  1. April 15th (for tax due on income received January 1 – March 31)
  2. June 15th (for tax due on income received April 1 – May 31)
  3. September 15th (for tax due on income received June 1 – August 31)
  4. January 15th (for tax due on income received September 1 – December 31)

The IRS requires taxpayers to ‘pay as you go.’ For example, if you sell highly appreciated stock before the end of March, the IRS requires that you make an estimated tax payment for the tax due on that sale of stock by April 15th of the same year. If you sold the stock during the month of November, your estimated tax payment would be due by January 15th of the following year. The potential consequence of not making estimated tax payments on time is underpayment penalties from the IRS which will be determined and reported on your tax return once it has been filed.

What You Need to Think About: Social Security

Social Security is something we review with our clients annually. You might receive your benefits immediately and your spouse years from now, so there may be a transition period for some families to consider.

The default withholding amount on Social Security is 0%. If you don’t make an election to have federal taxes withheld from social security, you may need to pay quarterly taxes on the income. We have an entire episode on taxation of social security benefits (listen to the podcast or read the blog post) if you’re interested.

Most benefits will be taxable on the federal level, but each state varies on whether they will tax social security benefits or not. The state of North Carolina does not tax social security.

If you want to withhold taxes from your Social Security, you can Google “form W-4V” or go to the IRS site (here). It’s an easy form to fill out and will allow you to start withholding taxes, with options for:

  • 7%
  • 10%
  • 12%
  • 22%

Once you fill out the form and submit it to the social security administration office, taxes will automatically be withheld. If you want to stop withholding taxes, you’ll fill out the same form again but ask for the withholding to stop.

It is not possible to withhold state tax on social security.

What You Need to Think About: Pension Income

Not everyone will have a pension, but if you do and want to begin withholding taxes from your pension, you’ll need to fill out Form W-4P. You’ll often receive the form from where your pension is coming from, such as the government or a union, but you can also find it publicly available online.

Unfortunately, the form is not as straightforward as the social security withholding form, and it’s more of a guide to approximate withholding taxes.

We recommend using the IRS Tax Withholding Estimator, which will help you fill out the form.

What You Need to Think About: IRA Distributions

An IRA is an interesting form of income because you contribute to your IRA for so long, and then in retirement, may begin withdrawals to cover expenses, and/or be forced to withdraw through required minimum distributions (RMD).

Clients turning 73 begin RMDs for the first time and will owe federal and state tax on those distributions. The amount of the RMD, the associated tax liability, and appropriate rate for withholding is a conversation we often have with clients.

If you’re starting recurring monthly distributions from an annuity, the most common default federal tax withholding is 10%. You can fill out Form W-4R to withhold an amount other than 10% or not withhold taxes at all.

What You Need to Think About: Income Not Eligible for Withholding

Some forms of income are not eligible for withholding. Some of these sources of income include interest (from a money market account, CD, checking account, and/or savings accounts) dividends, capital gains, sale of property, rental income, self-employment income, royalties, alimony, etc.

For a one-off income event such as the sale of property or sale of highly appreciated stock, you may consider making a one-time estimated tax payment.

However, if you have income not subject to withholding that recurs more regularly such as self-employment or rental income, you want to consider paying quarterly taxes before each due date during the year.

To review your situation in-depth and determine whether any adjustments to withholdings are needed, you will need to review all sources of income, determine the annual dollar amounts expected to be received, and review all current tax withholdings.

Every client’s goal is different. You may want a refund every year, or you might prefer to make a payment at the time your tax return is filed.

Your financial professional can help you set this up properly to align with your goals.

If you’re unsure about taxes in retirement, just reached retirement, or want to adjust your withholdings so that you’re not hit with a surprise tax bill, feel free to give us a call and we’ll be more than happy to help you through this process.

Schedule a call to speak with Taylor Wolverton.