Want To Retire Early? 5 Tips To Avoid Taxes And Penalties

Do you want to retire early? More and more Americans have the goal of retiring in full or in part long before the traditional retirement ages of 62 to 70. But in order to make this work, you will need to avoid unnecessary taxes and penalties when using your retirement savings. To help you do this, here are five key tips to keep as much of your money as possible. 

1. Use Taxable Savings Accounts

When most people think about retirement savings, they think about tax-deferred savings such as 401(k) plans and pensions. However, early retirees may not have access to all those type of benefits—or access without added penalties for early withdrawal. So taxable brokerage accounts should be an important part of avoiding extra fees in the early years.

2. Know Each Account's Rules

Every type of retirement plan and account has its own specific rules about how and when you can use it. Traditional IRAs, for instance, generally come with mandatory minimum distributions (called RMDs) that are taxed whether or not you need the money. But you may be able to access your 401(k) as early as age 55 if you leave your employer. Understanding the nuances of each money source is vital to avoid surprise taxes.

3. Consider a Roth Conversion

Because traditional IRAs can't be used without the 10% penalty for early withdrawal before age 59 1/2, a Roth IRA could fill the early retirement gap. Roth IRAs are not tax-deferred, so you have already paid the income taxes on the money when you contributed it. Therefore, they have fewer rules and no income tax effects. If you've been saving in a traditional IRA, you may be able to convert it to a Roth before retiring early. 

4. Use Account Exceptions

The tax rules for retirement accounts allow for a variety of exceptions to the penalties for early withdrawal. These exceptions include reasons like higher education, home purchases, medical emergencies, avoiding foreclosure, or facing a natural disaster. Use these when you can. For instance, an early retiree who sells their larger home more than three years before retirement could use up to $10,000 from a Roth IRA to buy a permanent retirement abode. 

5. Work With Professionals

Tax planning is complex, especially when you want to take a bold route like early retirement. The best way to maximize your savings and minimize taxes is to work with a professional tax planner or accountant with experience in early retirement strategies. They will know how to deploy these and other methods as well as how to avoid common pitfalls others have faced. 

Make an appointment with a local tax planner. No matter whether you want to retire next year or in 20 years, it's an investment that will pay off as you leave work life behind and enjoy more of the time you have ahead.