“When used judiciously, a home equity line of credit, or HELOC, can be a tool to help retirees control their taxes and can serve as a potential backstop, when unexpected expenses hit.”
Many retirees—and those nearing retirement—have put much of their savings in traditional IRAs or 401(k)s, which are tax-deferred methods for accumulating wealth. In addition, taxpayers may decide to use other tax-deferred accounts to avoid interest, dividends, and capital gains from spilling into their tax returns. These strategies can help taxpayers decrease income and taxes.
However, Kiplinger’s recent article, “How You Can 'TAP' into Home Equity to Help Keep Your Retirement Stable,” says that once we “turn on the faucet” and withdraw money from these tax-deferred accounts, additional income will have to be claimed on our tax returns. Instead, retirees can make moves that will help them reduce taxes. A lesser-known tool to look at for tax-free income is a home equity line of credit, or HELOC, on your home.
Let’s examine two scenarios in which a HELOC may make sense in retirement:
An IRA drawdown. Let’s say that a typical married retired couple wants to stay in the 12% tax bracket as joint filers. They can withdraw up to $78,950 of taxable income from their IRAs to stay in this bracket in 2019. That amount goes up to $103,350, after adding the standard deduction of $24,400. Then, for any additional funds they may need during the year, they can use a HELOC. For example, if they take $15,000 out, they will actually receive $15,000 tax-free. However, if they take the same amount from their IRA, it would move them into the 22% tax bracket. As a result, they’d owe $3,300 in federal taxes, in addition to any state or local income taxes. Therefore, they only receive about $10,000 after taxes from their IRA withdrawal. The HELOC is tax-free, and the interest rate charged on a HELOC is generally low at this point. Depending on your purpose for the money, that interest may be tax deductible, and repayments can be planned over a multiyear term to be covered by future IRA distributions or other investment income. This spreads out the tax impact to continuously stay under tax bracket thresholds, keeping as much of your money in your hands as possible.
Emergency money. Unexpected expenses can arise, and if you don’t have funds available in a checking or savings account, the emotion of a stressful emergency may drive you to make impulsive (and costly) financial decisions. Instead of using a high-interest credit card or cashing out investments, a HELOC can be a wise move. Note that there are some HELOC disadvantages. The interest rate is variable, which means the monthly payment can be unpredictable, especially during times of rising interest rates.
There are other ways to use the equity in your home to create cash flow in retirement, but a HELOC may be best for some retirees, based on its flexibility for scenarios, such as future downsizing or the potential need for the cost of assisted living facilities down the road. A HELOC can be a very useful tool for a proactive and comprehensive cash-flow plan in retirement.
Reference: Kiplinger (October 8, 2019) “How You Can 'TAP' into Home Equity to Help Keep Your Retirement Stable”