Regardless of whether you envision Social Security to be a significant component of your retirement income, or simply a helpful supplement to your self-directed IRA, it’s important to understand how the two are related. The timing and nature of distributions you take from a self-directed IRA can impact the size of your Social Security benefits, as well as the income taxes you may have to pay on those benefits.
First things first. Under current law, your eligibility to receive Social Security retirement benefits, and the amount of those benefits, is a function of your prior work experience and earnings, not how much you have saved. In other words, having a large self-directed IRA or taking significant distributions from your account during retirement won’t make you ineligible for Social Security benefits.
However, those distributions may impact the taxability of the Social Security benefits you receive. Finally, it’s important to keep in mind when you’re planning your retirement income strategy that you control when you begin receiving Social Security retirement benefits (anywhere between age 62 and age 70), and you control when you begin taking distributions from your self-directed IRA – with no limit for Roth account, and required minimum withdrawals from a traditional account kicking in at age 70½.
Early Retirement Scenarios.
Individuals who choose to retire early and begin taking their Social Security retirement benefits before their full retirement age can see those benefits reduced if their earned income exceeds a certain amount. (For 2015, this amount is $15,720.) In short, the Social Security Administration withholds one dollar in benefits for every two dollars and earnings above the this amount, and even more for earnings that are significantly higher. Distributions you take from your self-directed IRA are not considered “earned income,” and therefore do not count against this limitation.
However, when the IRS determines whether your Social Security benefits are subject to income tax, they look to your “combined income,” which will include distributions you take from any IRA that’s set up as a traditional account.
Roth Self-Directed IRA Benefits.
Significantly, distributions from your Roth IRA will not affect your Social Security benefits in any way. Just as is the case with traditional IRAs, they are not considered earned income by the Social Security administration for purposes of calculating your benefits in an early retirement scenario. In addition, they are excluded from the definition of “combined income” when considering the taxability of those Social Security benefits.
Given that your Social Security benefits will be increased the longer you wait to take them (with the deferred retirement credits increasing up to age 70), some individuals can maximize their total retirement income by waiting as long as possible to take Social Security, and taking distributions from their self-directed IRA in order to fund retirement living expenses. The analysis is highly individualized, and you’ll have even more options to consider if you are married and your spouse is also eligible for Social Security benefits.
But remember that you’ll only put yourself in a stronger financial position by maxing out your self-directed IRA contributions each and every year, and trying to build the largest account possible.