Seven Deadly Sins of investing

The single most important risk to a portfolio of investments is a poorly defined or constantly changing strategy. You must have a long-term approach to which you adhere over time regardless of the current favor of the particular strategy. You will need to resist the psychological pressures of investing:

Consider these “seven deadly sins of investing”:

  • //gluttony//– hoarding cash when you should invest or evaluating by only one category when you should look at the big picture;
  • //greed//– looking for big winnings when time and patience pay off;
  • //pride//– not selling your losers or old, familiar holdings when a new idea is better;
  • //lust//– listening to the information barrage and adjusting your portfolio constantly rather than filtering it out to stick with a plan;
  • //envy//– chasing fads or looking at a friend who has “winners”, making investing look more like gambling, when actually you should sell your best and buy trailing but good positions (as in the “dogs of the Dow” technique);
  • //anger//– not forgiving yourself for mistakes and moving on; and
  • //sloth//– changing beliefs to fit your decisions or portfolio rather than applying the lesson that you should review a portfolio intellectually and objectively and decide if you would still buy the holdings today.

You should review your asset allocation at least annually. A stock market rise will leave you over-weighted in stocks, meaning that you should sell out of stocks and buy into bonds and cash to maintain the allocation. If the stock market goes down, you should do the reverse. In fact, you should sell from your better mutual fund managers and buy the managers that have not done as well recently because those excelling and those lagging are both likely to return to the mean over time. Reallocating may seem wrong, especially when bond yields are low and CD rates are low. Nonetheless, history tells us to override the psychological urges, take “profits” from those currently doing well, and re-deploy them with assets that are more likely to provide future returns.

Adhering to a sensible investment strategy is how money is made over time. You may feel that you missed out compared to someone who is all in the right stocks now. However, you will also be glad to miss out when that person’s holdings go down faster than the market and you have non-stock investments that increase in value. Also, when there is a new influx of capital, you need to have a strategy so you can sensibly filter the barrage of information from people wanting to help you handle you finances.

Year-end tax planning – how to minimize the total tax paid in 2014 and 2015

This year, when projecting your potential taxes, you have to factor in the changes from 2013 that affect 2014 and 2015, which can be daunting. That is:

  • You have the standard plan: “defer income/accelerate deductions unless you are in the alternative minimum tax (“AMT”)” (see below).
  • But then you also have the new 3.8% surtax, with rules that do not play well with the others!
  • Finally, the tax rates changed again for 2014 (see the table below).

If any of this is not clear, please ask questions.

Can you act?
To make your review of 2014 planning less daunting, take these separate steps: (1) ask “can you act?” – determine what you can do reviewing the “what can you act on” list below; then (2), if you can act on any of the items in 2014 or 2015 – moving from one year to the other, or delaying further – then ask “what impact does your acting have?” ; and finally, ask “what happens if I take all of these actions?” – determine the impact of all possible moves in concert, especially vis a vis the AMT. Preparing tax projections for both years is the best way to find out how to act most effectively to reduce taxes. It permits you to see which moves have the best results in which years, so that the total tax paid in the two years is minimized.

What can you act on?
Wages – Can you defer or accelerate between years or even convert income into deferred income, such as stock options, or income to be received at retirement? Can you convert compensation into tax-free fringes?

AMT – the AMT is the 28% flat rate calculated differently than the marginal rate of up to 39.6%. If your deductions bring the regular tax down too low, the AMT kicks in, so that the deductions are wasted and need to be moved to another year, if possible. Otherwise, you will want to increase income for that year to “pull yourself out of the AMT.” The AMT exemptions amounts for 2014 are $52,800 for individuals and $82,100 for married couples filing jointly.

The 3.8% Medicare surtax – This affects all income for 2014 and beyond, but only to the extent of the lesser of (a) net investment income or (b) the excess of modified adjusted gross income (“AGI”) over the threshold, which is $250,000 ($200,000 for single taxpayers). Investment income includes interest, dividends, capital gains, annuities, royalties and passive rental income but excludes pensions and IRA distributions. The 3.8% surtax must be covered with your withholdings and estimated payments to avoid penalties and interest. See our post at Update on the impact of the 3.8% Medicare surtax .

Standard Deduction – up in 2014 to $6,200 for single taxpayers and married taxpayers filing separately, $12,400 for married couples filing jointly, and $9,100 for heads of household.

Schedule A itemized deductions – can you shift income and deductions for the maximum benefit, given the income-based deduction thresholds?

  • //Miscellaneous// – only the amount above 2% is allowed on Schedule A. Miscellaneous expenses include items such as unreimbursed employee expenses, tax preparation fees and investment-related expenses.
  • //Other Deductions// – certain itemized deductions are phased out once your AGI exceeds $305,050 for married filing jointly ($254,200 for singles), so that your itemized deductions are reduced by 3%, on up to 80% of the deduction, for the excess of your AGI above $305,050 ($254,200 for single filers).

N.B. – (a) many of the deductions affected by the phase-out are the ones not allowed in the AMT calculation and (b) investment interest is not subject to reduction on Schedule A.

Schedule C income and expenses – can you defer or accelerate between years so that the net income falls in the best year?

Investment income – can you shift interest, dividends, and capital gains? The tax rate on capital gains was as low as 0% in 2013, with a cap at 15%. However, that cap went up to 20% in 2014 for AGI over $457,600, for married filing jointly ($406,750 for single; $12,150 for trusts and estates). You net losses against gains, with up to $3,000 of an excess loss over gains being allowed to shelter other income and losses you do not use carry to the next year.

Notes

  • (a) capital gains include the sale of a primary residence (above the $250,000 per owner shelter);
  • (b) if you sell to recognize a loss, and want to hold the stock again, be aware of the wash sale rule which bars recognition of the loss if you re-purchase substantially the same security within 30 days, even if it is in different accounts you own, including repurchasing in your IRA;
  • (c) an installment sale that spreads gain over several years; a like-kind exchanges involve investment property, which means you can swap, rent and later convert to residential; and
  • (d) purchasing mutual funds late in the year can lead to dividend and capital gains distributions where the mutual fund price changes but your investment does not, such that you have no economic gain for the distribution on which you pay taxes – you are effectively pre-paying taxes because you did not purchase after the declared distribution date.

Investment income also includes passive income and losses (rental property, limited partnerships and LLCs). If you can re-characterize any activities as material participation rather than passive by grouping together to meet the material participation rules, you have a one-time election to regroup (see final regulations on when and how you elect issued early in 2014).

Roth conversions – can you convert an IRA to a Roth IRA, so that future distributions are not subject to tax? Be sure to pay the tax with funds outside of the IRA so that the conversion has maximum benefit.

Stock options – can you exercise a non-qualified option (“NQ”), which is treated as ordinary income, or instead exercise ISOs, which can be investment income (but create an AMT)? Disqualifying an ISO converts it into a NQ, so that you have control over the type and timing of the income.

Required minimum distributions (“RMD”) – If you turned age 70½ in 2014, you can take a distribution in 2014 instead of next year to decrease your 2015 income – but the IRA distribution is not subject to the surtax so this would be done for the Schedule A phase outs (see below).
A direct distribution from an IRA to a charity allows you to give up to $100,000 (per person) of your RMD and lower your AGI for purposes of determining taxes.

Estate taxes – Federal Estate Tax Exemption for estates of decedents who die in 2014 is $5,340,000, up from $5,250,000 for 2013.

Gifting – can you shift assets by gifting within the $14,000 per year/per person annual gift tax exclusion, or even by filing a gift tax return to use some of your unified credit now, so that income is in the lower tax bracket of new owner? You may want to combine this estate tax savings strategy with income tax savings ideas so that you shift an income-producing asset to someone in a lower tax bracket.

Inherited IRA – be sure to divide an inherited IRA among beneficiaries to get the maximum life expectancy for RMD calculations for each.

If you made it this far, I hope you have a good idea of your 2014-2015 tax plan, or else a set of questions to ask so we can help devise one for you! //Please contact us//.

Federal Tax Rates for 2014:
[[image:2014-federal-tax-rates.jpg|large|link=source]][[file:2014-federal-tax-rates.pdf]]

Passive vs. Active Portfolio Management

Choosing whether an active or passive strategy is right for your portfolio is an important and challenging decision and the answer may depend in the areas of the market in which you are investing. In more “efficient” markets, passive is traditionally preferred, but it is believed that active managers are able to outperform in areas like international-small cap stocks.
Morningstar recently took a look at all the mutual funds from its international small/mid-cap categories and found that these categories have many underperforming funds. In a review of Morningstar’s international small-cap growth, value and blend categories, analysts concluded investors would have less than a 50% chance of picking an outperforming fund. As Abby Woodham pointed out in her 6/20/14 article Passive vs. Active: Debating International Small Caps, “The average results are mediocre, but when we look at the list of funds that receive a Morningstar Analyst Rating, actively managed funds begin to look more attractive.”
While the funds on her list have provided significant alpha recently, they can be relatively expensive and their outperformance may waiver. And that leads to the challenge: even if active funds add value, they may not be consistent over time and, if you fail to catch them when this happens, your returns will lag passive funds. If you are concerned that the outperformance will not continue, but you want international small-cap value, an alternative may be a passively managed ETF.

Update on the impact of the 3.8% Medicare surtax

Experimented with some returns on our tax software, here is an example of the impact of the surcharge, from forms 8959 and 8960, on the taxes due.

For a client with high W-2 income, as well as interest and dividend income, shifting $100,000 of income from dividends to W-2 income decreased the surcharge by $3,630 (the taxes remained unchanged).

In contrast, shifting $100,000 of salary to dividends increases the surcharge by $3,601 as does shifting $100,000 of salary to capital gains.

The message so far is: when there is substantial earned income, minimizing investment income is worth over 3% for the amount you move. That means that, all other factors being equal, an investment that had no interest, dividend or capital gains distributions will have a better after-tax return than one that does.

Tax Law Changes Coming, including raised capital gains and dividend tax rates

This month, President Obama released his proposed FY 2014 budget which contains new taxes, limits on deductions, and other changes intended to meet the goal of raising more than $580 billion in revenue.
The most significant of these is the termination of capital gains breaks and qualified dividend treatment, causing them both to be taxed as ordinary income. The Kiplinger Tax Letter suggests taking capital gains before 2015 to lock in the lower rate. However, as always, do not let a tax strategy override a good investment plan.
Here is a summary of other changes that may affect you:
The 28% Limitation:
• Affects married taxpayers filing jointly with income over $250,000 and single taxpayers with income over $200,000.
• Limits the tax rate at which these taxpayers can reduce their tax liability to a maximum of 28%.
• Applies to all itemized deduction including charitable contributions, mortgage interest, employer provided health insurance, interest income on state and local bonds, foreign excluded income, tax-exempt interest, retirement contributions and certain above-the-line deductions.
The “Buffet Rule”
• Households with income over $1 million pay at least 30% of their income (after charitable donations) in tax.
• Implements a “Fair Share Tax,” which would equal 30% of the taxpayer’s adjusted gross income, less a charitable donation credit equal to 28% of itemized charitable contributions allowed after the overall limitation on itemized deductions. The Fair Share Tax would be phased in, starting at adjusted gross incomes of $1 million, and would be fully phased in at adjusted gross incomes of $2 million.
Estate, gift, and generation-skipping transfer (GST) Tax
• Reintroduce rules that were in effect in 2009, except that portability of the estate tax exclusion between spouses would be retained.
• This change would take effect in 2018.
• Top tax rate would be 45% and the exclusion amount would be $3.5 million for estate and GST taxes, and $1 million for gift taxes.
The Kiplinger Tax Letter anticipates the changes being acted on as early as 2014. On April 23, 2013, Max Baucus (D-MT), the head of the Senate Finance Committee, announced he would retire from the U.S. Senate at the end of his term in 2015. In The Kiplinger Tax Latter, Vol. 88, No. 9, Kiplinger predicts that “he’ll push to make revamping the tax code his legacy.”
You may feel as though you are done with taxes and do not need address them for another year. Resist that urge and schedule a meeting with us so we can review the potential impact of proposed tax changes on your portfolio and investments. We can also discuss the best strategies for saving money on your 2013 and 2014 tax returns.