Does Participating in a 401(k) Raise Your Lifetime Taxes?
AbstractContributing to 401(k)s and similar tax-deferred retirement accounts certainly lowers current taxes. But does it lower your lifetime taxes? If average and marginal tax rates were independent of income and didn't change through time, the answer would be an unambiguous yes. The reduction in current taxes would exceed the increase in future taxes when measured in present value. But tax rates may be higher when retirement account withdrawals occur, either because one moves into higher marginal federal and state tax brackets or because the government raises tax rates. In addition, reducing tax brackets when young, at the price of higher tax brackets when old, may reduce the value of mortgage deductions. Finally, and very importantly, shifting taxable income from youth to old age can substantially increase the share of Social Security benefits subject to federal income taxation. This paper uses ESPlanner, a detailed life-cycle personal financial planning model to study the lifetime tax advantage to stylized young couples of participating in a 401(k) plan. Assuming a percent real return on assets, we find that low- and moderate-income households actually raise their lifetime taxes and lower their lifetime expenditures by saving in a 401(k) plan. In the case of a couple with $50,000 in annual earnings, partaking fully in the typical 401(k) plan raises lifetime tax payments by 1.1 percent and lowers lifetime expenditures by 0.4 percent. The lifetime tax hike is 6.4 percent and the lifetime spending reduction is 1.7 percent for such households if they receive an 8 percent real rate of return. These figures rise to 7.3 percent and 2.3 percent, respectively, if taxes are increased by 20 percent when the couple retires. These findings are driven, in large part, by the additional Social Security benefit taxation induced by 401(k) withdrawals. The picture is quite different for high-income young couples with so much income that 401(k) participation cannot a) lower and then raise their marginal income tax rates or b) raise the share of their Social Security benefits that is taxable. For such couples 401(k) participation means major lifetime tax savings. At a 6 percent real return, a couple earning at the rate of $300,000 per year would enjoy a 6.8 percent lifetime tax break, which translates into a 3.9 percent increase in lifetime spending. These couples' continue to enjoy a large lifetime subsidy even if tax rates are raised by as much as a fifth when they retire. In addition to demonstrating the regressivity of the fe
Download InfoIf you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.
Bibliographic InfoPaper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 8341.
Date of creation: Jun 2001
Date of revision:
Note: AG PE
Contact details of provider:
Postal: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.
Web page: http://www.nber.org
More information through EDIRC
Other versions of this item:
- Jagadeesh Gokhale & Laurence J. Kotlikoff & Todd Neumann, 2001. "Does participating in a 401(k) raise your lifetime taxes?," Working Paper 0108, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.
- H2 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:
- Jagadeesh Gokhale & Laurence J. Kotlikoff & Mark J. Warshawsky, 2001.
"Life-Cycle Saving, Limits on Contributions to DC Pension Plans, and Lifetime Tax Benefits,"
NBER Working Papers
8170, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
- Jagadeesh Gokhale & Laurence J. Kotlikoff & Mark J. Warshawsky, 2001. "Life-cycle saving, limits on contributions to DC pension plans, and lifetime tax benefits," Working Paper 0102, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.
- James M. Poterba & Steven F. Venti, 2004.
"The Transition to Personal Accounts and Increasing Retirement Wealth: Macro- and Microevidence,"
in: Perspectives on the Economics of Aging, pages 17-80
National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
- James M. Poterba & Steven F. Venti & David A. Wise, 2001. "The Transition to Personal Accounts and Increasing Retirement Wealth: Macro and Micro Evidence," NBER Working Papers 8610, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
- Hurst, Erik & Willen, Paul, 2007.
"Social security and unsecured debt,"
Journal of Public Economics,
Elsevier, vol. 91(7-8), pages 1273-1297, August.
- Jagadeesh Gokhale & Laurence J. Kotlikoff, 2001.
"Who gets paid to save?,"
0114, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.
For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: ().
If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.
If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.
If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.
If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.
Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.