Tax-Advantaged or Tax-Deferred? Do you know the difference?- copy

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Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

Tax-deferred and tax-advantaged are two terms often used interchangeably and, as a result, often lead to a lot of confusion; but, the difference can be significant in planning how you will be drawing income from your nest-egg during your retirement years.  The key, of course, is to discover your options and do advance planning.

Tax-deferred investing is familiar to us.  Many employers match employee contributions up to a certain dollar amount to a company-sponsored retirement account, which usually offers tax-deferred growth.  Contributing to your account up to the employer match is a significant first step to retirement success.

However, many have found that their company-sponsored plan has proven inadequate due to contribution limits and other factors.  Most investors would likely be well served seeking out other sources of tax-advantaged retirement funds.  When used properly, tax-advantaged money is taxed up-front when earned, but not when withdrawn.  This approach may seem costly; but, that view may very well be short-sighted and far more costly.

Let’s take a look at a hypothetical example of tax-deferred and tax-advantaged money at work.  Our fictitious couple, Mitch and Laura, are starting retirement this year and will need $50,000 in addition to their Social Security benefits.  Assuming a 28% state and federal tax rate, they’ll actually need to draw $69,444 from their retirement account to meet their needs.*

Tax Deferred

Need = $50,000

Taxes = $19.444

Total Withdrawal required to meet spending need: $69,444

What if Mitch and Laura had balanced their portfolio with a tax-advantaged funding source?  What if they could pull the first $30,000 from the tax-advantaged source and the rest ($27,777) from the tax-deferred source?  What would that look like?

its-about-timeTax Deferred Combined with Tax Advantaged

Tax-Advantaged money = $30,000

Tax-Deferred money = $20,000

Taxes = $7,777

Total Withdrawal to meet needs and taxes = $57,777

Because Mitch and Laura balanced their portfolio, they saved $11,667 each year during retirement – almost 24% of their year’s living expenses each year!   Simple math reveals a savings of over $116,000 during ten years of retirement; and it they’re retired for 30 years, as many are, the savings is over $350,000, not counting what they could have made by leaving the money invested – which could be rather substantial:  At just 3.5% annualized, the total would come to over $600,000!

A Plan that Self-Completes

Most savings plans, including employer-sponsored retirement plans, are dependent upon someone actually continuing to work and actively contributing to the plan.   If work and contributions stop, the plan does not complete itself.    

It’s been my experience that relatively few individual investors have self-completing retirement plans, while a rather large percentage of high net-worth investors do.

What financial tool can accomplish the goal of being self-completing?  Not stocks, bonds, mutual funds, or even government-backed securities of any type.   There’s only ONE I know of – and, it’s tax-advantaged, too.   Believe it or not, it’s a “Swiss Army Knife” financial tool called life insurance.    It’s not your father’s life insurance; it’s specially designed

It can ‘self-complete’ a retirement plan – and it doesn’t matter if the individual dies early or lives a long life.  Few people realize they can win either way.    As I said, stocks, bonds, real estate, commodities, and company retirement accounts simply can’t match it; but, the design must be customized.

If you’d like to learn more about this and other smart retirement strategies, feel free to contact me.



*This has always been a source of misunderstanding for many individual investors:  The fact is not all the money in Mitch and Laura’s retirement account belongs to them.  Their retirement account might show a $500,000 balance, for example, leading them to believe they have $500,000.  The truth is less comforting.  The truth is, given a 28% tax-bracket, that $140,000 of that money belongs to the government, not Mitch and Laura.  They’ll likely never see it.  Their real balance – the one the statement doesn’t show them – is $360,000; and, as we’ve seen, they’ll need to draw-down $69,444 each year to meet their needs.  How long do you think that money will last?




Jim Lorenzen is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® professional and An Accredited Investment Fiduciary® serving private clients since 1991.   Jim is Founding Principal of The Independent Financial Group, a fee-only registered investment advisor with clients located across the U.S.. He is also licensed for insurance as an independent agent under California license 0C00742. The Independent Financial Group does not provide legal or tax advice and nothing contained herein should be construed as securities or investment advice, nor an opinion regarding the appropriateness of any investment to the individual reader. The general information provided should not be acted upon without obtaining specific legal, tax, and investment advice from an appropriate licensed professional.