There are ways, however, to mitigate the effects of too large a 401(k). One strategy is to use a qualified charitable distribution, which lets retirees donate as much as $100,000 of a required minimum distribution to charity. While you are not allowed to count it as a charitable deduction for tax purposes, it does not count as income, either.
Another option is to purchase a deferred annuity — often known as a longevity annuity. These start paying later in life, often at age 80 or 85, and protect you against running out of income. In addition, if you purchase the annuity with money from a 401(k), you generally can reduce your required minimum distribution. (Be careful, though: Fees on annuities can be high, and you need to be comfortable about waiting for the income to start. In addition, some experts warn that these annuities merely delay big required minimum distributions).
In addition to 401(k)s, you can build up savings in other types of accounts and draw on the one that makes the most tax sense at a given time.
Armstrong recommends a three-part retirement savings strategy: tax deferred accounts, like 401(k)s; after-tax accounts, like a Roth; and taxable investment accounts.
"The more those buckets are closer together in value, the more you are able to leverage tax brackets," he said. If, for example, the required minimum distribution from your 401(k) does not give you enough to live on, but taking more out of the account would bump you into a higher tax bracket, you could opt to use a different account.
A withdrawal from a taxable account does not count as income, though you would owe capital gains. And taking money out of a Roth account would be tax free.
Armstrong often advises clients to take advantage of years when their incomes are lower, like after they retire but before they reach age 70 1/2, to convert some tax-deferred retirement savings into a Roth account. You'll have to pay taxes on the converted amount, but after that, any gains and withdrawals will be tax free. Municipal bonds, which generally are free from federal taxes, are another way to build up savings that will not have a big effect on your tax bill.