Tax time will be here before you know it. And if you’re receiving a pension, you may get an unwelcome surprise — a tax bill.

As the result of President Trump’s tax cuts, major changes were made to the tax code. Some of the changes may affect your tax returns. The IRS has issued warnings to taxpayers to check their withholdings.

The most recent IRS alert was aimed at retirees. The agency is encouraging people to make sure they are having enough taxes withheld during the year. It’s part of a Paycheck Checkup campaign aimed at steering people to the agency’s online withholding calculator to double check.

The IRS says retirees who receive a pension or annuity check might need to change the amount of federal income tax that is withheld. If they don’t have enough taken out they could owe taxes and may have to pay a penalty.

“Among other reforms, the new law changed the tax rates and brackets, increased the standard deduction, removed personal exemptions and limited or discontinued certain deductions,” the IRS said in a taxpayer alert. “As a result, many taxpayers may need to raise or lower the amount of tax they pay in during the year.”

Although the withholding calculator is primary intended for people getting a paycheck, pensioners can also use it to estimate their total income, deductions and tax credits for 2018. While using the calculator, the IRS says, treat your pension as if it’s wage income. You’ll enter the gross amount of each payment, how often you receive a payment — monthly, quarterly, etc. — and the amount of tax withheld so far this year.

“A little-noticed effect of last year’s tax overhaul is that many pension payments are now larger, reflecting the new lower tax rates in effect for 2018,” reports Laura Saunders, who writes about taxes for the Wall Street Journal. “But this bump-up increases the risk that recipients will be underwithheld at tax time next year — and therefore owe a penalty. To avoid this, retirees should immediately check their withholding and adjust it if necessary.”

As Saunders points out, the new withholding tables include the tax-rate changes but they don’t take into account a $10,000 cap on deductions for state and local taxes, known as the SALT deduction.

“The upshot is that some pension recipients could wind up underwithheld in for 2018 because the automatic adjustments to their pension payments set them too high,” Saunders writes. “In general, people must pay in at least 90 percent of the tax they’ll owe during the year, or by the following mid-January if they are paying quarterly estimated taxes, to avoid a penalty.”

For more on SALT deduction, read from the Pew Charitable Trusts: Cap on the State and Local Tax Deduction Likely to Affect States Beyond New York and California

I talked to IRS spokesman Eric Smith, and here’s a list of who should definitely check their withholdings.

If you get a pension. If you use the IRS calculator, treat your pension income like a paycheck, Smith said. Or use the work sheet on form W-4P Withholding Certificate for Pension or Annuity Payments.

“Retirees need to pay special attention to income coming from tax-deferred retirement accounts, pensions and annuities,” Mark Miller recently reported for Reuters. “Higher-income retirees may also owe taxes on Social Security benefits. The amount of total income tax you owe could be going up or down, depending on your personal circumstances.”

If you’re collecting Social Security. You may also need to review how much is being withheld from your monthly benefit. Use the work sheet on the W-4V, the voluntary withholding request form for unemployment compensation and certain federal government and other payments.

“Many retirees who have a pension are surprised by the increase in their taxes when they start Social Security,” writes certified financial planner Dana Anspach. “The amount of your Social Security benefits subject to taxation depends on your other sources of income. If your pension started a few years ago and now you are starting Social Security benefits, you will likely need to increase your tax withholding.”

If you’ve itemized in the past but might now opt to take the higher standard deduction. Under the new law, it’s going up to $12,000 for individuals, $18,000 for heads of households and $24,000 for married couples filing jointly.

If you are a two-wage-earning household.

If you have a complex tax situation.

If you have a significant amount of outside income not covered by withholding.

If you find you do owe a penalty, you might be able to get a waiver. The IRS says if can waive the underpayment penalty if:

— A casualty event, disaster, or other unusual circumstance kept you from making the payments and as a result it would be inequitable to impose the penalty.

— You retired after reaching age 62 or became disabled during the tax year or in the preceding tax year for which you should have made estimated payments. The agency will consider waving the penalty if your underpayment wasn’t the result of willful neglect.

To request a wavier you have to use IRS Form 2210.

Your Thoughts

Have you started looking at your tax situation for the 2018 tax season? Did you have to make some adjustments to your withholdings? Send your comments to Please include your name, city and state. Put “Tax Withholdings” in the subject line.

Retirement Rants and Raves

I’m interested in your experiences or concerns about retirement or aging. What do you like about retirement? What came as a surprise? If you haven’t retired yet, what concerns you financially?

You can rant or rave. This space is yours. It’s a chance for you to express what’s on your mind. Send your comments to Please include your name, city and state. In the subject line put “Retirement Rants and Raves.”

In a recent newsletter I asked: Should we retire the idea of retirement? Readers responded.

“I have for years argued against use of the concept of retirement and constantly am urging my very active social work colleagues to not use it,” wrote Mary Valentich, a professor emerita, Faculty of Social Work, University of Calgary.

Frances Robinson of Albuquerque wrote, “We absolutely should not retire retirement. I am a college graduate, have above-average intelligence, am well educated and am biologically younger than my 70 years of age. And there is no way I am capable — physically and emotionally — of handling a full-time job. Leisure and personal enrichment are not four-letter words.”

“It seemed that many aspects of your article corroborated my view of retirement,” one reader wrote. “After selling my business, I got into teaching and in my 50s, earned a PhD in mathematics. I didn’t want to retire because I love what I do, as you said. I enjoy making a difference to others, and I guess I have a need to remain relevant. At 66 I’m the only one of our crowd still working, but I’m also the only one on zero medications!?

Another reader wrote: “I just turned 69, and I am still working as a biomedical equipment technician. My employer has allowed me to work half time (three months on/three months off). With this schedule I’m able to travel, add to my 401(k) and fund my grandchildren’s college funds. A few years ago I returned to work, and due to a human resources mix-up I was sent home for three days. It was during that time I realized that work for me is still enjoyable and gives me a sense of purpose and a feeling of satisfaction that I can still contribute to society.”

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