YOUR PERSONAL TAX TOOLBOX
There are numerous ways to save for retirement. Here's how to help maximize your nest egg by minimizing your tax bite.
By JIA LYNN YANG

(Fortune Magazine) – WITH ALL DUE RESPECT TO BEN FRANKLIN, death may be certain, but taxes are not. At least not the amount of taxes you will have to pay on your retirement savings. Yes, Uncle Sam lies in wait for the day you retire, but you can still control how much money you fork over in the end. Inside, we have the tools you'll need to build a better retirement plan and keep your savings intact. You'll want to make your IRA plumb and level by placing exactly the right asset classes into it. You'll want to know why a high-yield stock can be better than a bond. You worked hard to build your savings. Why not keep as much as you can? OPEN FOLDOUT

401(K) AND PLAYING THE MARKET...

401(K)

WHAT IT OFFERS: Contributions are tax-deductible, gains are tax-deferred, and you get a company match. Max it out.

PRO/CON: On withdrawal, both gains and contributions are taxed as income. The rate can be as much as 35%.

TIP: Don't load up on company stock—you don't want your salary and retirement riding on the same company (think Enron).

STOCKS

WHAT THEY OFFER: A way to take advantage of the current historically low 15% capital-gains tax.

PRO/CON: Heirs pay taxes only on gains accrued after they inherit your stocks. Their basis cost is the price of the stocks at your death.

TIP: Most dividends are taxed at only 15%, making many high-yield stocks attractive alternatives to bonds.

IRAS...

TRADITIONAL IRA

WHAT IT OFFERS: A tax-deferred retirement savings plan with tax deductions if you qualify.

PRO/CON: The mandatory withdrawals that start when you reach 70 1/2 could bump you into a higher tax bracket, so start taking your money out earlier.

TIP: Put mutual funds with big dividends or cash distributions here.

ROTH IRA

WHAT IT OFFERS: No deductions, but you can take the money out tax-free anytime you want.

PRO/CON: A new trapdoor opens in 2010 that will allow the wealthy to convert their traditional IRAs to a Roth via a nondeductible IRA.

TIP: The Roth is the best type of tax-sheltered savings vehicle to leave to your heirs. You pay the taxes; they don't.

MUNIS, ANNUITIES, AND...

MUNICIPAL BONDS

WHAT THEY OFFER: The interest is free from federal taxes and sometimes state and local ones too.

PRO/CON: Great if your tax bracket is above 15%.

TIP: If your income—including muni payouts plus half your benefits—exceeds $44,000, as much as 85% of your Social could be taxed.

ANNUITIES

WHAT THEY OFFER: Tax-deferred investing—with a lot of complicated bells and whistles.

PRO/CON: Fees on the funds can be as high as 2% annually. Annuities are a last resort after you've maxed out other options.

TIP: Vanguard and other fund groups offer low-fee annuities (roughly 0.57% annually).

SUNDRY ITEMS

SELF-EMPLOYMENT The SEP-IRA is an easy option for the self-employed to shelter savings from taxes. You can deduct up to 20% of your income and put up to $45,000 a year into one, much higher than the limit for IRAs. That assumes you've got that kind of cash hanging around.

MOVING Consider Illinois, which does not tax distributions from your 401(k) or IRA. Or New York, where anyone over 59 1/2 can exempt $20,000 of pension income.