How Much of Your Pensions and Annuities Income Is Taxable?

Pensions and annuities can be paid out as monthly installments or lump sums.

Stephanie Faris

Published July 4th, 2020

Updated December 15th, 2020

Key Takeaways

  • Pensions and annuities can be paid out as monthly installments or lump sums.
  • You’ll have to pay taxes on the money if you didn’t pay taxes when you contributed the funds.
  • Depending on when your pension started, there are multiple ways to determine what you owe.

There’s at least one thing certain in life, both before and after retirement: taxes. If you receive retirement income, you’ll need to determine what taxes you owe on that money to avoid an unpleasant surprise on Tax Day. You might assume, then, that the answer to “Is pension income taxable?” is pretty straightforward.

But are pensions taxable? Yes and no. The answer depends on whether you paid taxes on the money before you contributed it to your retirement fund. If not, you’ll owe taxes. This article will help you better understand pensions and annuities and their taxability.

What Are Pensions and Annuities?

When you someday prepare to retire, your first course of action will likely be to gather information on all of the retirement income you’ll get. Some of this may be in the form of 401(k) plans or IRAs. But if you’re a government worker or one of the 18 percent of private-sector employees who will receive pension income from an employer, you’ll also be eligible for regular payments or a lump sum payment from that.

But before you start researching whether pension income is taxable, it’s also important to consider another kind of retirement income: annuities. Like a pension, an annuity can issue a monthly payment to you after you stop working. If you have an annuity, that means you signed a contract with an insurer at some point earlier in life and will receive payments under the terms of that contract.

It’s important to look at how pensions are taxed. With all retirement income, whether you pay taxes or not depends on whether you paid taxes when you put the money into the account. The IRS is going to get its money one way or another, so if you didn’t pay taxes when the money went in, you’ll pay taxes when you take it out.

How Are Pensions and Annuities Taxed?

Your retirement income may be subject to a pension tax, typically taken out of your payment. You can choose not to have income tax withheld from your pension payments, but you’ll still owe taxes on the funds. If you go this route, you might need to make quarterly payments to avoid underpayment penalties at tax time.

As with retirement savings, when you look at how annuities are taxed, it depends on whether the money went into the annuity before or after you paid taxes on it. The IRS divides annuities into two categories:

  • Qualified annuity — With a qualified annuity, you put the money into the account without paying taxes on it. The IRS allows this with the understanding that you’ll pay taxes when you take the money out of the account. That means you’ll owe taxes on the funds, whether you have it taken out of your payments or you opt to pay them to the IRS directly.

  • Non-qualified annuity — When you put money into your account after you paid taxes on it, you enjoy tax-free distributions at retirement. In this case, the question, “Is annuity income taxable” can be answered with “no.” You won’t pay taxes on any money you receive. But if your non-qualified annuity has growth beyond the money that you contributed, that growth amount is taxed at ordinary income tax rates. Earnings on the annuity contribution are always taxable.


With all retirement income, whether you pay taxes or not depends on whether you paid taxes when you put the money into the account.

According to IRS publication 575, there are two methods used to determine how you’ll pay taxes on the taxable portion of your pension or annuity. The General Rule applies if you began taking payments prior to November 19, 1996. For most people, though, the Simplified Method will be used to calculate the portion of your annuity that’s taxable.

How the General Rule Works

If your pension began before November 19, 1996, you’ll need to use the General Rule to determine the tax-free portion of your retirement income. For most, though, the Simplified Method will be a better option.

To calculate your 1099-R taxable amount using the General Rule, you’ll need the worksheet provided as part of Publication 939. Under this rule, you use the actuary tables provided in that publication, which is designed to calculate your tax debt based on your life expectancy. If you’d prefer, you can pay a fee to have the IRS issue a ruling on the amount you should pay.

How the Simplified Method Works

As the name implies, the Simplified Method provides a simpler way to calculate your pension. Instead of dealing with actuary tables, you’ll use the Simplified Method worksheet to determine how much of your retirement income is taxable.

With the Simplified Method, the 1099-R taxable amount calculation has you performing a calculation based on the contributions you made and the total number of monthly payments you’re expecting to receive. If your annuity is payable for the remainder of your life, you’ll use a basic estimated number of payments based on your age in a simple table provided on the worksheet.

Bottom Line

Are annuities taxable? The answer depends on a variety of factors. We recommend working with a qualified financial advisor who can help you determine how much you’ll owe in taxes and how you can best maximize your income to enjoy retirement.

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Stephanie Faris

Stephanie Faris has written about finance for entrepreneurs and marketing firms since 2013. She spent nearly a year as a writer for a credit card processing service and has written about finance for numerous marketing firms and entrepreneurs. Her work has appeared on Money Under 30, The Motley Fool, MoneyGeek, E-commerce Insiders, and GoBankingRates.

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