Retirement | August 24, 2020

Tax Withholding in Retirement

During your working years, you typically have one primary source of income: your paycheck. “In retirement, however, your income will likely be drawn from multiple sources—and the tax withholding rules for each may vary,” says Hayden Adams, CPA, CFP®, and director of tax planning at the Schwab Center for Financial Research.

Here’s how federal tax withholding generally works for some common sources of retirement income (state withholding may also apply):

  • Traditional, SEP, and SIMPLE IRAs: Unless you specify otherwise, your plan’s custodian will withhold 10% on taxable distributions. Generally speaking, you can change or eliminate your withholding at any time by reaching out to your individual retirement account (IRA) custodian.
  • 401(k), 403(b), and other qualified workplace retirement plans: Plan providers typically withhold 20% on taxable distributions—unless the withdrawal is made to satisfy the annual required minimum distributions (RMDs) mandated by the IRS, which conform to IRA withholding rules.1
  • Annuities and pensions: Taxable periodic (e.g., weekly or monthly) payments from annuities and pensions are treated as wages using the IRS withholding tables in Publication 15 . You can set up or change your withholding by submitting Form W-4P to the payer.
  • Social Security: Withholding isn’t required on Social Security payments, but a portion of your benefits may be taxable, depending on your income. Visit ssa.gov/planners/taxes.html to see how benefits are taxed. You can set up or change your withholding by submitting Form W-4V to the Social Security Administration.
  • Taxable bank or brokerage accounts: In most instances, taxes are not withheld from capital gains, distributions, or other income generated from such accounts.2 However, you may want to withhold more elsewhere or pay quarterly estimated taxes to help cover any tax liabilities produced by these assets.


If you’re unsure how much you should have withheld each year, you can use the IRS’ Tax Withholding Estimator to calculate your overall tax obligation.

“That said, your estimated tax obligation is just that—an estimate—and will not account for any fluctuations in income throughout the year,” Hayden says. As a result, it’s wise to work with a tax professional. He or she may even recommend you make quarterly estimated tax payments in addition to the amounts already being withheld. “That way, you won’t end up underpaying the IRS throughout the year, which could result in penalties,” Hayden says.

1Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, RMDs have been waived for 2020. | 2Certain taxpayers may be subject to backup withholding, which requires a payer to withhold tax from payments not otherwise subject to withholding. Learn more at irs.gov/taxtopics/tc307.

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