Investors are often faced with having to take a potential capital gain on a highly appreciate stock, ETF or mutual fund investment when that investment begins to underperform and increases the risk in a taxable portfolio. This phenomenon often creates conflicting emotions as many investors seek to minimize tax or avoid them all together. Recently there are many examples of this due to a long bull market that appears to be entering its later stages and companies such as Facebook where headline issues have caused the stock to pull back significantly. The first instinct often is to sell the investment to reduce the risk and exposure. However, the realization that a large tax bill will accompany this transaction often will make an investor hesitate or not act at all. So, what can one do or how should one go about managing this issue.
First the good news is that paying capital gains tax means the investor has made money and that is ultimately the goal. In these situations, the tax treatment is typically long-term capital gains tax which is taxed at substantially lower rates than short term capital gains. A couple of ways to reduce the potential tax liability is to look for other positions to sell that may be at a loss either long term or short term. Those losses will be netted against gains and hopefully reduce tax liability. Carry over losses may also be applied if the investor has them.
Other strategies are to donate the investment to a charity or donor advised fund and take a charitable contribution to reduce taxation and eliminate the investment from one’s portfolio. The investor in this case does not have the asset for personal use or the proceeds from a sale to use but they will get a tax deduction. The tax deduction will be for the Fair Market Value of the stock. The limitation on the amount of the deduction taken in the year donated will be 30% of Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) for a public charity or 20% of AGI for a private charity. Any amount left over can be carried forward for 5 years.
Two other strategies are to set up a capital gains budget by selling enough shares equaling an amount of capital gains the investor is willing to absorb and/or an amount of capital gains that can be absorbed by the investors current capital gains bracket without pushing them into the next higher tax bracket. Be careful to also consider the 3.8% Medicare surtax triggers at the higher income tax bracket levels. Lastly a Staggered or Staged Selling strategy may be used. This is where the investor agrees to sell at certain predetermined prices with a commitment from the investor to do so ahead of time regardless of market conditions. This is a more disciplined approach that requires the investor to understand that future growth in the investment can be lost in order to reduce potential tax burden's and further diversify the portfolio in order to reduce risk.
The new tax plan will impact investors in many new ways. We will cover some of the more important aspects of the act and opportunities for 2018 tax year.
Rates, Exemptions and Standard Deductions
The new tax brackets for 2018 vs. 2017 are as follows:
There has been some rate savings at the top 6 brackets and the income ranges that correspond with them have gone up which should help lower potential tax liabilities over all income ranges. The $4,050 tax exemptions have been eliminated for the taxpayer, payer’s spouse, children and other dependents. The standard deduction has almost doubled from $6,350 to $12,000 for single filers, $12,700 to $24,000 for joint filers. 90% of the people who will claim the standard deduction will likely see a lower tax bill and complete simpler tax returns. However, their opportunities for tax planning will also be limited to self-employment, fringe benefit and some credit strategies. One example many are talking about is the tax filer with a home in the $200,000 or so range and a mortgage of $160,000 will likely claim the standard deduction now eliminating the need to itemize deductions and reducing the tax incentives of home ownership.
Many itemized deductions have changed.
Deductible medical expenses have a new threshold of 7.5% of taxable income down from 10%. This threshold was lowered for tax years 2017, 2018 and 2019 under the act. This may create and opportunity to schedule discretionary medical procedures to 2018 and 2019 under this new threshold.
State and Local Income, Sales, and Real and Personal Property Tax
The deduction on a filers federal return has been limited to $10,000. For high tax states like California and New York this will impact filers negatively. States such as California are exploring ways to help minimize the impact of the state and local tax deduction cap with restructuring how tax payments are characterized to include the portion that is more than the cap as a charitable contribution.
Mortgage Interest Deduction
Existing mortgages are grandfathered in and subject to the previous cap on interest expense on acquisition indebtedness of up to $1 million dollars. Under the Tax Act new interest indebtedness for up to two homes is capped at $750,000 for loans from December 15, 2017 through 2025. Interest on home equity loans is no longer deductible after 2017 through 2025. This also adversely effects tax filers in high property value states such as California.
The deduction for charitable contributions remains unlimited but the amount deductible in any given year is subject to certain percentages of Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) depending on the type of property contributed. Any excess remaining is carried forward to be used in future years. Charitable cash contribution limitations have increase from 50% to 60% of AGI under the new law.
Tickets and Seating
The deduction for payments connected to the purchase of tickets and preferential seating at athletic events has been repealed.
Casualty and Theft Losses
The deduction allowance for casualty and theft losses is now allowed only for presidentially declared disaster areas.
Miscellaneous Itemized Deductions
Tax preparation fees, investment expenses and unreimbursed employee expenses after 2017 are now disallowed. Filers with significant unreimbursed cost for things such as employee expenses, mileage, internet and phone charges and education expenses are recommended to request an excludable working conditions fringe benefit arrangement or accountable plan from their employer.
Phase-out of Itemized Deductions
The phase out of deductions after higher levels of adjusted gross income levels has been eliminated under the new plan. For filers who are single and married with itemized deductions close to standard amounts a “bunching” strategy with discretionary deductible expenses may provide a tax planning opportunity. Discretionary expenses may include charitable contribution, medical expenses and the state and local taxes below the new $10,000 capped amount.
Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)
2017’s AMT exemption is $54,300 for unmarried individuals and $84,500 for married individuals filing jointly. This exemption was phased out at $120,700 for unmarried individuals and $160,900 for married individuals filing jointly. The new tax act significantly increases these exemption amounts to $70,300 for unmarried individuals and $109,400 for married individuals filing joint returns. The phaseout thresholds have also been raised significantly. New threshold levels are $500,000 for unmarried individuals and $1,000,0000 for married individuals filing jointly. The effect of this is that many filers who have lost out on deductions, especially due to the state and local tax deduction cap, may pay more regular tax but may pay less total tax because they will now avoid the alternative minimum tax.
Child and Family Credit
The child tax credit increase to $2,000 per qualifying child under the new plan. $1,400 is refundable. It also adds a $500 nonrefundable credit for other qualifying dependents. The phase out ranges for this tax credit have been greatly increased from $110,000 to $400,000 for married filers filing jointly and from $75,000 to $200,000 for all other taxpayers.
The “Kiddie Tax” and Trust and Estate Tax
The new tax act completely changed the tax on unearned income of children. No longer does the parents income or the income of sibling’s factor in. Earned income is taxed at unmarried taxpayer rates. Net unearned income is taxed according to more unfavorable rates that are applicable to trusts and estates. Trust and Estates earning from $0 to $2,550 are tax at 10%, $2,550 to $9,150 at 24%, $9,150 to $12,500 at 35% and more than $12,500 at 37%.
Section 529 Savings Plans
The utility of the funds in these plans has changed to now include the use of up to $10,000 per year for a child’s elementary and secondary education for public, private or religious schooling.
Estate, Gift and Generation-Skipping
Under the new tax act, the exemption for estate, gift and generation-skipping tax has gone from $5.6million to $11.2million per individual. For couples it is now $22.4million. The income tax basis step-up or step-down at death remains.
No longer can an individual reverse a Roth conversion by re-characterizing it. A person can continue to contribute to their Roth IRA and re-characterize those contribution to a Traditional IRA if it happens before the due date of their individual tax return for that year.
The new law makes alimony and maintenance payments no longer deductible to the payor spouse or includible in the income of the payee spouse. Divorce settlement structures will certainly be impacted going forward.
The deduction for moving expenses is suspended under this law except for those in the Armed Forces (and their spouse and dependents) who are on active duty and move due to military order to a permanent change of station.
Before acting on any of the aspects discussed here, tax filers and investors should check with their accountants and advisors to make sure that their situation and needs are evaluated and proper advice specific to them is given.
Make sure your beneficiary designations are up to date and accurate.
- Check that the person or persons listed on all accounts that have beneficiary designations are the people you intend them to be.
- Make sure that the percentages given to these individuals are how you want them.
- Understand the type of designation you are making and what happens if one of your beneficiaries passes away before you do.
- Lastly, make sure that the beneficiaries on all of your accounts are coordinated properly with your wishes and other estate planning documentation.
This chart comes from the College for Financial Planning and provides a quick reference guide for those wondering if they need estate planning.
Ultimately everyone can use some degree of estate planning weather it is simple Wills and Powers of Attorney to more sophisticated Trust structures designed to avoid taxation and provide instruction on who gets what and how they receive it upon death.
|Client Situation||Primary Concern|
|Clients with minor children||Need to provide for the personal and financial care of the minors in the event both parents die prior to the minors’ attaining the age of majority|
|Clients owning assets in multiple states||Need to avoid ancillary probate so as to avoid increased administrative costs and estate shrinkage|
|Small-business owners||Interest younger family members in the business; assure marketability of the owner’s interest if the interest is to be sold at retirement or death|
|Clients who have sufficient wealth to leave a taxable estate at death||Ensure sufficient estate liquidity to pay taxes without having to sell estate assets|
|Clients who want specific assets (or a specific amount of assets) to pass to a specific beneficiary at death||Need to avoid intestate distribution when property is not disposed of by will or will substitute|
|Clients in high-risk occupations, such as a doctor||Need to protect personal assets from the claims of potential creditors|
|Clients who have non-U.S. citizen spouses||Need to provide for spouse’s financial well-being after client’s death, but keep estate taxes to a minimum; the marital deduction is available only in limited circumstances|
|Clients who may become disabled in the future||Need to appoint decision maker for medical and financial decisions; possibly qualify for Medicaid|
|Clients with domestic partners||Need to avoid intestate distribution when property is not disposed of by will or will substitute|
Roth IRAs have a specific advantage vs. Traditional IRAs when it comes to distributions.
For a Traditional IRA all distributions are deemed to consist of both contributions and earnings. This makes the entire distribution taxable becasue the contributions where made with pretax money.
Roth IRA potential distribution advantages over a Traditional IRA are based off of the order of distributions. There are three types of distributions that occur with Roth IRAs:
1) Return of Contributions: Principle is returned first, and there is no income tax or 10% penalty assessed on this portion.
2) Return of Conversion Amount: If there was a conversion of Traditional IRA money to a Roth IRA this money will not be subject to income tax, since it was taxed when converted. If the individual is under age 59 1/2 it will be subject to the 10% early withdrawal penalty if the funds have not been in the Roth IRA for at least 5 years from date of conversion.
3) Return of Earnings: Earnings come out last. They will not be taxed if it is a qualified distribution. Qualified Distribution is a distribution of money for an individual attaining 59 1/2 and the five year holding requirement has been met. If it is not a qualified distribution, then it will be subject to income tax and the 10% early withdrawal penalty for individuals under 59 1/2 years old.
Being able to distribute contributions first and avoid taxation is a big advantage of Roth IRAs.
Social Security offers three distinct types of benefits for retired workers and/or their spouses:
- Retired Worker benefit, which is based on his or her own earnings record.
- Spousal Benefit, which provides a worker’s spouse with a benefit once the worker has claimed his own benefit.
- Survivor Benefit, which provides a surviving spouse with a benefit after a worker’s death.
Taking time to get a complete understanding of a family’s total financial picture is key to developing strategies to effectively manage taxes. Taxes are inevitable and after tax returns are crucial to achieving wealth planning goals.
One strategy called Asset Location is a technique that can greatly enhance the amount of return that is kept and not paid out in taxes. Asset Location refers to how an investor distributes their investments over taxable accounts such as a Trust brokerage accounts, tax-deferred accounts such as IRA’s and 401ks, and tax-exempt accounts such as Roth IRA’s and Roth 401k’s. Allocating assets that pay the lower long term capital gains tax rates to your taxable accounts and allocating assets that pay higher income tax rates to tax deferred and tax exempt accounts allows investors to keep more of the return they make.
One simple example: An investor with $1 million in an IRA and $1 million in a Family Trust may have an asset allocation of 50% Equities and 50% Fixed Income. If currently both portfolios are situated with this allocation, shifting the assets that are taxed as ordinary income, 39.6% Federal rate, to the tax-deferred IRA and shifting assets that are taxed at the more favorable long term capital gains rates of up to 20% Federal to the taxable trust account could generate tax savings. The potential shift may be to move the taxable fixed income assets over to the retirement account and move the more tax favorable long term capital gains taxed assets, such as equities and ETFs intended to be held for longer than a year, to the taxable account. This will change the allocation percentages inside of each account; however with proper execution the overall 50% Equities, 50% Fixed Income allocation will remain constant in order to achieve the desired total investment allocation and risk profile.
Shifting assets in this way must be looked at and executed carefully. It may take time to implement in order to keep fees generated low and to minimize the unnecessary triggering of a realized tax liability.
In order for this type of strategy to work requires viewing all investment portfolios through one asset allocation strategy that all the accounts make up. Having the ability to get consolidated performance reporting for all of your accounts from your advisor no matter where they are held is important to monitoring the success of this strategy.
Cash as an asset is very comfortable for many people to own. It is an asset you can actually touch, feel and hold. Prudent financial and investment planning suggest that you should hold some cash, especially for emergency purposes. Often, 3 to 6 months and sometimes more depending on your personal situation is a good rule of thumb. There are some situations where holding more cash might be prudent. One example that comes to mind are people that have specific known medical conditions that require cash to cover the expenses of healthcare that insurance does not cover. Having cash often helps provide a sense of safety and a feeling of being able to sleep better at night. That is completely understandable!
I have found that the job of a professional advisor is to listen to a client’s needs and craft a plan that has the greatest chance of achieving those needs. I tell my clients that my job is not to tell you what makes you feel good but to advise you on what needs to be done to achieve those goals. That said let’s take a look at Cash as an asset and how potentially the good feeling of having lots of cash, “Cash Is King” may not be the best and potentially could be increasing your risk.
In order to understand that cash may not be king we must understand the effects of inflation on our buying power, and current and historical interest rates on cash. We will use CPI (Consumer Price Index) as the proxy for inflation and the 30 day treasury bill rate for the interest rate on cash, as is customary.
First: inflation as measured by CPI can be defined as a sustained increase in the general price we pay for goods and services over a period of time. We all know that the price of a loaf of bread has gone up since we first started eating it in our childhood. So we understand that things get more expensive over time. If we put money in our mattress when we were 3 years old to buy 10 loafs of bread at the price we would have paid for it then and took it out several years later we would likely not be able to buy as much bread. That can be what holding cash can do if no interest or rate of return is achieved on it.
Second: cash as an asset class is typically not stored in mattresses. More commonly it is stored in bank accounts and brokerage accounts. Rates of interest on cash have varied widely over the past 20 years and for quite some time have averaged 0% in most cases.
Let’s now assume that for a period of 5 years inflation averaged 2.5% and cash averaged 0% interest. Our simplistic real rate of return on that cash is not 0% it is negative 2.5%. Hence we have been losing money during that time and not even potentially realizing it because, well, we still have the same amount of dollars on hand so “I did not lose any of them.” That is factually correct that you have not lost any of the dollars you can count but you have lost on the amount of goods you can turn those dollars into.
Starting off in a position where you are in a negative return scenario right out of the box is a hard perspective for investors to grasp but that is exactly what has been happening for the majority of the last 5 years. Looks to me like holding cash is risky and potentially more risky than many know. This is at the core of why Financial Professionals after understanding a person’s current situation, future goals, feelings and family dynamics, as well as one’s understanding of risk and tolerance for it may need to recommend less cash as a percentage of portfolio holdings than someone may find comforting. We as professionals need to strike the best balance we possibly can in order to achieve those goals. Even if the goals are not exactly achievable, it is our duty to provide a plan that can make the money invested last as long as possible, to achieve as much of the goal as possible. Ultimately, however, investors comfort levels are important and should they decide that holding cash still feels best in light of what we just reviewed then "Maybe Cash Is King" for those investors.
For those of you who are technically and visually minded the following chart will illustrate this issue. It is a 20 year chart dated 03/18/1995 to 03/18/2015:
This chart illustrates the relationship between the inflation rate (measured by CPI) in the United States and interest rates on cash (measured by 3 month treasury rate). We have named the blue line US Inflation rate which is the monthly inflation rate measured by CPI. The Orange line is the cumulative growth of the consumer price index which illustrates the cumulative effect of inflation on goods and services. The Red line is the average monthly rates of return on a 90 day treasury bill, our proxy for interest rates on cash.
What we see is that although inflation rates and 90 day treasury bill rates diverge, cumulative inflation continues to increase, showing that our goods and services get more expensive over time and interest rates on cash do not always help us combat this phenomena. Furthermore, we can be in periods of time, which are multiple years in length, where cash interest rates are lagging behind the rate of inflation. This greatly reduces the effectiveness of our cash as a purchaser of goods and services. Also important to understand is that these negative divergences require us to spend more money on an item in times of low interest rates or negative real interest rates on cash, further hampering the ability for our money to grow when cash rates of return are higher. Why is this, it is because we have to spend more of the cash during these times and we have less of it saved for when rates are above inflation helping us actually grow our money.
Ultimately we must all be comfortable with our investment portfolios and cash is a major component of the mix of assets we own. Hopefully next time you here the phrase “Cash is King” you remember that maybe it truly isn’t as safe as you once thought.
Disclaimer: The Charts provided in this article was produced by Ycharts a third party provider of analytical data and charts. We believe that the information used to create this chart is accurate to the best of our knowledge however we cannot guarantee the accuracy of its content.
ETF's offer clients a great opportunity to put together a tax efficient asset allocation that is well diversified, lower cost, low conflict of interest, tactically tradeable and very liquid. Building a core asset allocation using ETF's can provide exposure to all the necessary portfolio constituents without high minimums. At Prominence Capital we use ETF's to generate core portfolios that strategically expose our clients to investments that meet their risk tolerance and investment objectives.