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Retirees who pay the most in taxes make only $36,000 a year on average, study finds

·2 min read

Retirees who have the most money pay the most in taxes, according to a recent working paper, but they’re not necessarily rich.

“Most of the tax burden is carried by the top quintile of households,” Anqi Chen, co-author and assistant director of savings research at the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, told Yahoo Money. But “it's important to keep in mind that when we think about the top quintile of households — the top 20% — they're not the super wealthy.”

Read more: Here's how to get your retirement savings back on track

Those in the highest quintile are mostly married couples with average combined Social Security benefits of $50,900, 401(k)/IRA balances of $325,400, and financial wealth of $441,400. When annuitized, those assets and retirement accounts earn account holders roughly $3,000 per month — or $36,000 per year — ostensibly making them middle-income earners, Chen said.

“That’s some money but not a ton of money," Chen said, "and these households will have to pay about 11% [in taxes].”

“Most of the tax burden is carried by the top quintile of households,” Anqi Chen, co-author and assistant director of savings research at the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, told Yahoo Money. But “it's important to keep in mind that when we think about the top quintile of households— the top 20% — they're not the super wealthy.” (Photo: Getty)
(Photo: Getty)

The highest quintile pays 11.3% on their retirement income, while the top 5% is taxed at 16.4%, and the top 1% is taxed at 22.7%, according to the analysis. Overall, retired households pay 6% in federal and state taxes on their income.

Researchers used income data from 3,419 individuals and 1,907 households included in the Health and Retirement Study, a nationally representative longitudinal survey of older Americans. The analysis assumes the retirees follow the required minimum distributions for their retirement accounts and consume only interest and dividends from their assets.

Read more: Ask the expert: How to build an emergency fund after the pandemic

The heavy tax burden carried by well-off retirees demonstrates that even those who enter their golden years with the most money are still short on savings, an ongoing problem for many Americans. Roughly 40% of the top quintile of savers are at risk of maintaining their standard of living, meaning "taxes will make the goal even more difficult to attain," the study said.

For the majority of retired households, “taxes are negligible,” Chen said, paying 0% to 1.9%. But they are far from lucky.

Those in the “bottom two-thirds of the income distribution don't have a lot in financial assets” that yield material income in retirement, she added.

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Yahoo Money sister site Cashay has a weekly newsletter.

Stephanie is a reporter for Yahoo Money and Cashay, a new personal finance website. Follow her on Twitter @SJAsymkos.

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