The Rationale for Staying Invested

I am reading about the impact of Covid-19 as I push to get all client tax returns completed and filed by the deadline, which may or may not be extended. 

Everyone is concerned and I wanted to respond.

These are scary times, both for personal health for you and your family and for your finances.  We worry about who will get sick, possibly die, and who will be out of work and have major life changes.  

Much of the ultimate outcome depends on how quickly governments respond – “stop everything immediately” contains the infections and thus allows the economy to bounce back sooner, while delayed responses mean many more infections and deaths, with a prolonged, deeper hit to all economies.   

On investing, to those who ask, “should I cash out,” my answer is, “it’s already too late, the markets have already gone down far, and even if you had sold a month ago, knowing when to buy back in is so tricky that you would probably be worse off.”  The truth is, when so many individual investors ask if it is time to sell, that is often a signal to buy. 

Here is an excerpt from a Merrill Lynch research post (credited to Jared Woodard, Derek Harris, Chris Flanagan, Justin Devery and Jordan Young) that I received last week, which crystalizes my experience from the downturns I lived through as well as the downturns I have studied:

Why stay invested?

Not staying invested means missing most of the long-term market upside…it’s simply too difficult to time the market. A strong impulse to hide out in cash is often a sign that a buying moment is near:

• We know that the best days often follow the worst and this has been the sharpest drop into a bear market in history (Chart 3);

• Since 1929, in the 24 months following a bear market, S&P 500 total returns have averaged 20%. Excluding the Great Depression, the average gain was 27% (Chart 4);

• Since 1931, an investor who missed the 10 best days of each decade made 91% in equities. Staying invested meant earning 14,962%;

• In the 2010s, missing the 10 best days meant gaining only 95% instead of 190%;

• Over any 10-year period, the odds of ending with equity losses are just 4%;

Let me know if this helps.  And let me know if you want to talk.   

Again, I hope you and your family stay healthy!

Take care,

Steven

Coronavirus – concerns for your health and finances

This is my busy time, working long hours preparing income tax returns, but I wanted to respond to your concerns.

News of the coronavirus spread and its impact on the economy and stock markets is constant.

People ask: “can I get the virus from a package delivered to me from China” (the answer via the CDC is “no”).

As some say, it’s not “if” but “when” in terms of you being in contact.  That is upsetting.

At that same time, experts ask us all not to panic.  And financial people urge us to stay the course.

If you do not already have a plan, here is a good overview with links to CDC posts on making a plan with your family – NY Times prepare for coronavirus

As for the stock market, here is a good NY Times piece discussing the rationale for sticking to your long-term investment plan:  The Market Is Moving. Most People Should Sit Still.

Here is a more sobering assessment:  It’s a ‘Swimming Naked’ Moment: The Financial System Has a Real Test

In the end, if you developed a good long-term investment strategy, staying the course should be the best response as it was in the 2008 financial crisis.

Let me know if you want to talk and I hope you and your family stay healthy!

  • Steven

Year-end tax planning – 2019 update on using the tax laws to save you money

we hope your planning does not look like this!

Last year, we provided a three-part series explaining the impact of the new tax law.  In our first part, we discussed the impact of the new law on personal taxes and in our second part, we discussed planning for small businesses.  In this part, we update the third part posted last year, which is our guide for year-end moves to reduce total taxes between 2019 and 2020. 

Can you act at all?   

Each year we advise that you be practical, focusing on where you can actually take action. 

For many, the new $24,000 standard deduction for married couples, $12,000 for single taxpayers, means you will not itemize (i.e., your total for itemized deductions is less than the standard amount so you take the higher, standard deduction).  The standard deduction goes up when you reach 65. 

If you are not itemizing, you have fewer ways in which to affect change in the taxes due in either year (but you can also stop collecting receipts for those deductions!). 

Some possible deduction strategies

One technique for getting around the limit is to bunch deductions from two or more years into one year.  The one deduction that you can easily move is for charitable donations.  Your state, local and real estate taxes are limited to a $10,000 maximum and you cannot accelerate, or delay, significant amounts of mortgage interest. 

If you do not want any one charity to receive the full amount in a single year, you can still use this bunching strategy.  Donate to a donor advised fund, from which you may be able to designate donations to particular charities in future years.

IRA donations:  If you are 70½ or older, you have the option of distributing up to $100,000 from your IRA or other qualified plan to an IRS-approved charity and having none of the distribution taxed. 

Capital Gains:  Review your portfolio.  You may be able to “harvest losses” to offset capital gains realized on stock sales or mutual fund capital gains distributions.  If you have substantial unrealized gains, consider donating to a charity.  See below. 

The tax planning steps

If you are able to itemize, determine what income and deductions you can move from 2019 to 2020 or vice versa.  You want to minimize total taxes for both years.  Make sure your planning includes the 3.8% Medicare tax on high income and review Roth conversions (Roth distributions are not taxed, so converting a traditional or roll-over IRA to a Roth could be beneficial, as long as the tax cost now is not too great).  And business owners will want to review our post on planning under 199A for QBID

Next, review the impact of moving income and expense to see what happens if you shift any of these amounts from one year to the other year.

But, watch for the Alternative Minimum Tax (“AMT”):

  • The exemption for the AMT and the threshold above which that exemption gets phased out are now higher than before 2018, so fewer taxpayers will owe the AMT.  

Finally, if you have not maxed-out your 401(k) plan, IRA, Health Savings Account or flex plan account, consider doing so before the end of the year.

Capital gains

Your mutual funds may have large capital gains distributions.  Christine Benz says, “Brace yourself: 2019 is apt to be another not-so-happy capital gains distribution season, with many growth-oriented mutual funds dishing out sizable payouts.”  

Review your unrealized losses to see if you can “harvest” those losses to offset or “shelter” realized gains, reducing your total taxable income.  If you have more losses than gains, you can take up to $3,000 of capital losses against other income. 

If you sell an asset that you would prefer to retain, in order to realize gains in 2019, make sure you do not run afoul of the wash-sale rule (any loss on an asset that you repurchase in 30 days will be disallowed, so you have to either wait 30 days or purchase a similar asset that fits your asset allocation while not counting against the wash sale rule). 

If you have significant unrealized gains, consider using appreciated stock for charitable donations – that way you avoid the tax on the gain while still getting the full fair market value for your charitable donation.  

Some reminders on itemized deductions

As you may recall, mortgage interest on new home purchases is deductible only for loans of up to $750,000 used to purchase or improve your primary or secondary residence.  Interest on home equity loans will not be deductible, except when the home equity indebtedness is used to purchase or improve the residence.

Also, all miscellaneous deductions were eliminated.  This includes investment and tax preparation fees, safe deposit box charges and unreimbursed employee business expenses.  And moving expenses are no longer allowed (except for military personnel in certain cases). 

Check taxes paid

Make sure your total paid in withholdings and estimates meets the safe harbor rules.  If not, you could owe interest for under-withholding. 

Estate plan review

While you review your taxes, consider reviewing your estate plan and beneficiary designations.  The federal exemption is just over $11 million in 2019, so fewer people will owe any federal estate tax.  However, many states still impose estate taxes on smaller estates.  If you have “excess wealth” and want to reduce your taxable estate by gifting assets to children or others, you can give $15,000 per person, per year.  If your spouse joins you, that is $30,000 per person.  This includes funding a 529 plan for education costs – expanded to provide for more than just college. 

Note, however, that holding appreciated assets for the step up in basis at death may be better for your heirs than gifting. 

Check on 2018

Check to see if you over-paid a penalty for under-withholding.  If you filed early, the penalty calculation may have over-stated the total you owe, so you will want to review your 2018 filing. 

Summary

Carefully review any income and deductions that you can still shift to see if moving will lessen the total taxes you pay for 2019 and 2020. 

Good luck and best wishes for the holidays!

2018 year-end tax planning – Part III on using the new tax law to save you money

In our first part, we discussed the impact of the new law on personal taxes, and in our second part, we discussed planning for small businesses. In this part, we give you a guide for year-end moves to reduce total taxes between 2018 and 2019. Can you act at all? Review the changes in itemized deductions

Each year, we advise that you be practical, focusing on where you can actually make moves. For many, the new $24,000 standard deduction for married couples, $12,000 for single taxpayers, means you will not itemize (i.e., your total for itemized deductions is less than the standard amount). If you are not itemizing, you have fewer ways in which to affect change in the taxes due in either year (you can also stop collecting receipts for those deductions!).

Some possible deduction strategies

One technique for getting around the limit is to bunch deductions from two or more years into one year. The only deduction that you can really move is charitable donations, because your state, local and real estate taxes are limited to a $10,000 maximum and you cannot accelerate, or delay, significant amounts of mortgage interest.

If you do not want any one charity to receive the full amount in one year, then donate to a donor advised fund from which you may be able to designate donations to particular charities in future years.

If you are 70½ or older, you have the option of distributing up to $100,000 from your IRA or other qualified plan to an IRS- approved charity, and having none of the distribution taxed.

The deduction of unreimbursed business expenses was terminated by the new tax law. One possible strategy is to form an LLC or S Corp., report the business expenses on form 1065 or 1120S, and then take those on Schedule E to offset other income. You will need a valid business purpose to form the LLC or S Corp. and take expenses.

You may also be able to report business expenses on Schedule C as relating to self-employment. Again, you must have a valid business purpose. Also, the IRS could apply the hobby loss rule to disallow the deductions, if you do not show a profit for the business in two out of five years. Thus, it is best to consult with an attorney before trying any of these ideas.

The tax planning steps

If you are able to itemize, determine what income and deductions you can move from 2018 to 2019 or vice versa. You want to minimize total taxes for both years. Make sure your planning includes the 3.8% Medicare tax on high income and review Roth conversions. And review our post on planning under 199A for QBID.

Next, review the impact of moving income and expense to see what happens if you shift any of these amounts from one year to the other year.

Finally, watch for the Alternative Minimum Tax (“AMT”):

  • The exemption for the AMT and the threshold above which that exemption gets phased out both rise for 2018, so fewer taxpayers will owe the AMT.

Capital gains

Review your unrealized losses to see if you can shelter gains, reducing your total taxable income. If you have more losses than gains, you can take up to $3,000 of capital losses against other income. If you sell an asset that would prefer to retain, in order to realize gains in 2018, make sure you do not run afoul of the wash-sale rule (any loss on an asset that you repurchase in 30 days will be disallowed, so you have to either wait or buy a similar asset that fits your asset allocation while not counting as a wash sale).

If you have net gains, consider using appreciated stock for charitable donations – that way you avoid the tax on the gain while still getting the full fair market value for your charitable donation.

  • One note of caution: many mutual funds will make capital gains distributions to shareholders in December. Shareholders may be surprised on the amount of taxable gain, even for funds that had little net appreciation.

More on itemized deductions 

Mortgage interest on new home purchases is deductible only for loans of up to $750,000 used to purchase your primary residence. Interest on home equity loans will not be deductible, except when the home equity indebtedness is used to purchase or improve your primary residence.

As you may recall, all miscellaneous deductions were eliminated. This includes investment and tax preparation fees, safe deposit box charges and unreimbursed employee business expenses. And moving expenses are no longer allowed (except for military personnel in certain cases).

Under the new law, medical expenses are subject to a 7.5% threshold before becoming deductible.

More year-end planning

While you review your taxes, consider reviewing your estate plan and beneficiary designations. The federal exemption doubled to just over $11 million in 2018, so fewer people will owe any federal estate tax. However, many states still impose estate taxes on smaller estates. If you have “excess wealth” and want to reduce your taxable estate by gifting assets to children or others, you can give $15,000 per person, per year now. If your spouse joins you, that is $30,000 per person.

If you do review your estate plan documents, also review beneficiary designations to make sure everything is current. And review your medical directive and durable power of attorney.

If you have not maxed-out your 401(k) plan, IRA,Health Savings Account or flex plan account, consider doing so before the end of the year.

Summary

Carefully review any income and deductions that you can still shift to see if moving will lessen the total taxes you pay for 2018 and 2019.

Good luck and best wishes for the holidays!

Facebook page for our law firm

We are excited to announce the Facebook page for our law firm.

We hope you use this to keep informed about changes in the tax law and other financial planning issues.

Please check it out and “like” the new page.  Also, feel free to give us feedback.

Thank you