Enter a search term.
line drawing document and pencil

File a claim

Need to file an insurance claim? We’ll make the process as supportive, simple and swift as possible.

Action Teams

If you want to make an impact in your community but aren't sure where to begin, we're here to help.
Illustration of stairs and arrow pointing upward

Contact support

Can’t find what you’re looking for? Need to discuss a complex question? Let us know—we’re happy to help.
Use the search bar above to find information throughout our website. Or choose a topic you want to learn more about.

Retirement withdrawal strategies to consider as you tap into your lifetime savings

Senior couple using laptop at home
MoMo Productions/Getty Images

You've carefully managed your savings over the years to build the assets you'll need in retirement. As you prepare to embark on the next stage of life, however, you'll need to be just as savvy about how you access your funds.

Understanding basic retirement withdrawal strategies allows you to pursue the lifestyle you've dreamed about and have the financial freedom to give generously. Having a clear plan also helps ensure your assets will last.

How much income do you need in retirement?

A sound withdrawal strategy helps achieve two primary goals. It provides enough income to cover your expenses—including any charitable donations you plan to make—and helps decrease the chances of outliving your assets. Meeting those objectives requires you to have sufficient assets heading into retirement.

Estimate your Social Security benefit

While Social Security by itself likely won't provide enough money to live on as you get older, your monthly benefit provides a key source of post-retirement income. The amount you receive is based on the wages you earn during your working years. However, it's also affected by when you apply, which means you should have a clear strategy in place well before leaving the workforce.

You can claim Social Security payments as early as age 62. But for every month you receive benefits before reaching your full retirement age—if you're born in or after 1960, that's age 67—you get a reduced monthly amount. If you apply right when you turn 62, for example, you'll receive only 70% of the amount you'd qualify for at your full retirement age.

Conversely, you can incrementally increase your monthly benefit by postponing Social Security, up until age 70. By waiting until then, you'd receive 124% of your full benefit amount. For someone who's in good health and can afford to hold off, that's a powerful incentive to delay your application. You can get an estimate of your projected benefit amount by visiting the Social Security website. From there, you can make adjustments based on your anticipated claim date.

Determine how much supplemental income you'll need

How do you know you're financially ready to leave a steady paycheck behind? Start by creating a preliminary post-retirement budget that accounts for any lifestyle changes you plan to make. Essential expenses—housing, food, transportation, insurance, health care costs and taxes, for instance—usually make up the majority of your budget. But be sure to also include discretionary expenses such as travel, entertainment, gifts and hobbies for a more accurate picture of your spending.

Then add together your guaranteed sources of income, including any pension and annuity payments, as well as your expected Social Security benefit. If there's a gap between the amount you expect to spend and the guaranteed income you'll receive, you may need to tap into your retirement savings, like your 401(k), to make up the difference.

Decide if you should follow the 4% rule

A popular guideline is planning to withdraw up to 4% of your total investment assets in your first year of retirement. However, because cost-of-living increases have been unusually high recently—and some estimates of market performance have been relatively low—you may want to consider a more cautious approach. Analysts at the research firm Morningstar, for example, recommend a 3.3% initial withdrawal rate, assuming you have a balanced mix of assets.

A financial advisor can help you determine an annual amount that makes sense for you given your age, health and financial status. Once you've identified a withdrawal rate, you can more easily determine whether your current portfolio is sufficient to meet your needs.

You also can use the Thrivent Retirement Income Planning Calculator to assess your retirement readiness. Based on information about your investment assets, future expenses and estimated investment returns, the tool estimates how long your money would likely last.

Is your retirement income protected?
Does your retirement plan ensure that you'll have a reliable income, no matter how long you live or what happens in the markets? Explore sources of guaranteed income that can help supplement your retirement plan.

Let's go

Maximizing the tax efficiency of your retirement withdrawal strategy

While often overlooked, taxes often represent one of the biggest expense categories in retirement. To stretch your retirement money, then, using tax-efficient retirement withdrawal strategies is crucial.

What are the three tax buckets?

One of the most effective ways to minimize the impact of taxes in retirement is using the bucket system. By separating your income sources by how they'll be taxed when you take distributions, you can strategically pick which accounts you'll draw from to reduce your liability.

Click with dollar sign in the middle
Tax now
Pay taxes upfront
Illustration of a stopwatch
Tax later
Pay taxes later when you start taking withdrawals
Watch with question mark in middle
Tax never
No tax liability

Tax now

In one bucket are your "tax now" assets. This means that you owe tax at the time you earn interest income. These include:

  • Savings1
  • Checking accounts1
  • Certificates of deposit (CDs)1
  • Mutual funds1
  • U.S. Treasuries1,2

Tax later

Your "tax later" holdings are the second bucket. These tax-deferred accounts require you to pay taxes when you withdraw the money in retirement. They include:

  • Employer-sponsored retirement plans like 401(k)s & 403(b)s3,4,5
  • Pension plan assets3,4,5
  • Traditional IRAs3,4,5
  • Variable & fixed annuities3,6
  • Stocks1
  • U.S. savings bonds7

Tax never

A third bucket holds your "tax never" assets, which you can access in retirement without incurring any additional tax liability. These include:

  • Roth IRAs 6,8
  • Roth employer-sponsored retirement plans, like Roth 401(k)s and Roth 403(b)s6,8
  • Municipal bonds9
  • Life insurance10
  • Health savings accounts & flexible spending accounts

Is Social Security taxed?

It depends. While some recipients don't owe any tax on their benefits, others have to pay tax on up to 85% of the money they receive through the program. The portion of your benefit that's taxable is determined by your income from other sources and your filing status. It's important to understand the IRS formula for Social Security benefits so you know which category to place your Social Security income in.

How to use tax buckets strategically

Ideally, you want to plan around future tax consequences while you're still saving for your retirement. While you can generally contribute pre-tax dollars to traditional 401(k)s and IRAs, withdrawals are subject to income tax. Roth accounts, meanwhile, require post-tax contributions but allow you to avoid taxes on eligible distributions. A financial advisor can recommend an optimal strategy to fill your tax buckets based on your unique financial situation.

Once you reach retirement, the goal is to draw from these different buckets in a way that keeps you in the lowest tax bracket possible. That may involve adjusting your withdrawal strategy annually as circumstances change. If your taxable income is high in a given year—for example, if you temporarily take on a part-time job—you may wish to pull more from your "tax never" assets to achieve a more favorable tax rate.

Keep in mind that you'll eventually have to take required minimum distributions (RMDs) from any traditional workplace plans and traditional IRAs you may own. By pulling some money from these accounts before RMDs take effect—between age 73 and age 75, depending on when you were born—you may be able to minimize the amount of these mandated distributions. In the process, you'll be able to spread your taxable income more evenly throughout retirement. Making withdrawals as early as age 59½ also can help you delay your Social Security application until age 70, which will increase the monthly benefit you receive.

Bringing it all together for a retirement withdrawal strategy

Step one was figuring out how much money you'll need and how much you should limit yourself to each year. Next was understanding how various accounts are taxed so you can access funds in a tax-efficient way.

The third component of your strategy is continuing the smart approaches to budgeting, investing and preparing you've always taken.

  • Monthly budgets can help you manage your retirement spending. You'll obviously want to account for major expense categories like housing, food and transportation. But don't forget smaller or infrequent costs that may collectively take a sizeable slice of your income—entertainment and travel, memberships, gifts and charitable donations.
  • Asset diversification still plays a role as you move into retirement. Maintain a spread of accounts that includes both near-term sources like savings accounts and CDs, which you can tap to pay for essentials, and growth assets, such as stock funds, that you can build for discretionary spending.
  • Be persistent with your just-in-case plans. Aside from the accounts you're planning to use as income, keep up an emergency fund that can help you cover unexpected expenses. Life insurance may already be part of your financial plan, but if not, retirement age is still a good time to look at coverage that can benefit your loved ones. And if you haven't yet, you may want to consider preparing for potential extended care needs with insurance that helps pay expenses that Medicare doesn't.

Retirement is your opportunity to pursue the goals you've always been passionate about and give back in a way that's meaningful. As you prepare for retirement, you may want to meet with your local Thrivent financial advisor to create a plan that helps ensure your assets last as you pursue your dreams.

1Any interest, dividends or capital appreciation is subject to taxation when realized.

2 U.S. Treasuries are generally exempt from state and local income tax.

3 Gains/income subject to income tax when withdrawn.

4 Generally funded with pre-tax dollars.

5 Withdrawals made prior to the age of 59½ may be subject to a 10% federal tax penalty.

Distributions prior to age 59½ may incur a 10% premature distribution penalty; all distributions may incur surrender charges.

Generally exempt from state income tax. Special tax benefits may apply.

Funded with after-tax dollars; gains may be tax-free.

Interest is free from federal income tax; may be subject to state income tax, federal alternative minimum tax and capital gains tax.

10 The primary purpose of life insurance is for the death benefit protection. Withdrawals may be available income-tax-free to the extent of basis. Lifetime distributions of the cash value are subject to possible income taxation and penalties, could reduce the death benefit, and could cause the contract to lapse.

Thrivent financial advisors and professionals have general knowledge of the Social Security tenets. For complete details on your situation, contact the Social Security Administration.

While diversification can help reduce market risk, it does not eliminate it. Diversification does not assure a profit or protect against loss in a declining market.

Thrivent and its financial advisors and professionals do not provide legal, accounting or tax advice. Consult your attorney or tax professional.