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A move that high earners can make in pursuit of tax-free retirement income.

Does your high income stop you from contributing to a Roth IRA? It does not necessarily prohibit you from having one. You may be able to create a backdoor Roth IRA and give yourself the potential for a tax-free income stream in retirement.

If you think you will be in a high tax bracket when you retire, a tax-free income stream is just what you want. The backdoor Roth IRA is a maneuver you can make in pursuit of that goal – a perfectly legal workaround, its legitimacy further affirmed by language in the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act of 2017.1

You establish a backdoor Roth IRA in two steps. The first step: make a non-deductible contribution to a traditional IRA. (In other words, you contribute after-tax dollars to it, as you would to a Roth retirement account.)1

The second step: convert that traditional IRA to a Roth IRA or transfer the traditional IRA balance to a Roth. A trustee-to-trustee transfer may be the easiest way to do this – the funds simply move from the financial institution serving as custodian of the traditional IRA to the one serving as custodian of the Roth IRA. (The destination Roth IRA can even be a Roth IRA you used to contribute to when your income was lower.) Subsequently, you report the conversion to the Internal Revenue Service using Form 8606.1,2

When you have owned your Roth IRA for five years and are 59½ or older, you can withdraw its earnings, tax free. You may not be able to make contributions to your Roth IRA because of your income level, but you will never have to draw the account down because original owners of Roth IRAs never have to make mandatory withdrawals from their accounts by a certain age (unlike original owners of traditional IRAs).1,3

You may be wondering: why would any pre-retiree dismiss this chance to go Roth? It comes down to one word: taxes.

The amount of the conversion is subject to income tax. If you are funding a brand-new traditional IRA with several thousand dollars and converting that relatively small balance to a Roth, the tax hit may be minor, even non-existent (as you will soon see). If you have a large traditional IRA and convert that account to a Roth, the increase in your taxable income may send you into a higher tax bracket in the year of the conversion.2

From a pure tax standpoint, it makes sense to start small when you create a backdoor IRA and begin the process with a new traditional IRA funded entirely with non-deductible contributions. If you go that route, the Roth conversion is tax free, because you have already paid taxes on the money involved.1

The takeaway in all this? When considering a backdoor IRA, evaluate the taxes you might pay today versus the tax benefits you might realize tomorrow.

The taxes on the conversion amount, incidentally, are calculated pro rata – proportionately in respect to the original, traditional IRA’s percentage of pre-tax contributions and earnings. If you are converting multiple traditional IRA balances into a backdoor Roth – which you can do – you must take these percentages into account.1

Three footnotes are worth remembering. One, a backdoor Roth IRA must be created before you reach age 70½ (the age of mandatory traditional IRA withdrawals). Two, you cannot make a backdoor IRA move without earned income because you need to earn income to make a non-deductible contribution to a traditional IRA. Three, joint filers can each make non-deductible contributions to a traditional IRA pursuant to a Roth conversion, even if one spouse does not work; in that case, the working spouse can cover the non-deductible traditional IRA contribution for the non-working spouse (who has to be younger than age 70½).1

A backdoor Roth IRA might be a real plus for your retirement. If it frustrates you that you cannot contribute to a Roth IRA because of your income, explore this possibility with insight from your financial or tax professional.

Citations.

1 – investors.com/etfs-and-funds/retirement/backdoor-roth-ira-tax-free-retirement-income-legal-loophole/ [4/19/18]

2 – investopedia.com/retirement/too-rich-roth-do/ [1/29/18]

3 – irs.gov/retirement-plans/retirement-plans-faqs-regarding-required-minimum-distributions [11/16/17]

 

Talkin’ Roth in your DIY Pension

Why financial professionals are changing their business models.

By Money On Tap 

A major shift has occurred in the financial world. More and more financial professionals have moved away from the industry’s traditional compensation model to a new one – in the eyes of many of them, a better one.

Increasingly, financial professionals are introducing their clients to fee-based accounts. This means a change in the way a financial advisor is paid for some or all services. It also implies a meaningful change in the advisor-client relationship.

Traditionally, financial professionals have been paid through commissions linked to trades or product sales. Opinions about this compensation model vary. Many in the industry accept it, but with reservations. It has the potential for conflict of interest, which may affect how a client is served and consulted.

Commission-based advisors may feel pressure from a Wall Street investment company to “push” select financial products, even though these products might not be appropriate for all clients. They seek to create a trusted relationship with each of their clients, yet they may end up feeling more like a financial salesperson than a financial advisor.

The careers and businesses of fee-based advisors are not so product driven, not so brokerage rooted. In the fee-based model, the financial professional earns the majority of his or her compensation through fees linked to either a) the amount of client assets under management, b) the creation, deployment, and refinement of financial strategies, or c) financial consultation offered on retainer or by the hour.

Fee-based advisory accounts help to promote long-term client relationships. The advisor is not seen as a product salesman by a cynical client, but as a resource, a knowledge broker, and a partner in a client’s effort to save and invest for the future. When the client’s investment accounts do well and grow, the advisor’s compensation grows proportionately.

In addition, a financial professional working by a fee-based compensation model may be licensed as an investment advisor under a fiduciary regulation. That means he or she has a legal and ethical obligation to act in your best interest, place your financial interests above his or her own, and be transparent about fees and any potential conflicts of interest. (All CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ practitioners are required to work by a fiduciary standard.)1,2

There are investors and retirement savers who may find a fee-based advisory relationship with a financial advisor to be more expensive when compared with the relationship they had under a commission-based compensation structure. In such cases, the commission-based structure may be maintained, as its potential lower cost might be advantageous to the client. In the main, though, we are witnessing a great movement away from what was the norm to a new paradigm. An advisor paid mostly or wholly through fees is an advisor well positioned to create candid, trusted relationships with loyal clients for years to come.

Citations.

1 – time.com/money/5176238/5-questions-financial-advisor-sallie-krawcheck-ellevest/ [2/23/18]

2 – al.com/business/index.ssf/2018/02/ask_the_right_questionsof_your.html [2/16/18]

 

Tax reform has lowered the threshold.

By Money On Tap

If you itemize, you should note the reduced medical deduction threshold for 2018. This year, you can deduct qualified medical expenses exceeding 7.5% of your adjusted gross income. Next year, the threshold for the medical expense deduction returns to 10% of AGI. (The Tax Cuts & Jobs Act of 2018 also allowed the 7.5% threshold to apply retroactively to the 2017 tax year.)1 

So, if you are considering surgery or dental work in the future that could mean sizable out-of-pocket expenses for you, it might be better from a tax standpoint to schedule these procedures for 2018 instead of 2019. 

What kinds of unreimbursed expenses qualify for the deduction? The list is long. For a start, the Internal Revenue Service says these types of expenses may qualify as tax deductible: out-of-pocket fees to medical and dental professionals, psychiatrists and psychologists, and certain nontraditional medical practitioners; money spent to participate in a weight-loss program in response to a doctor-diagnosed condition or disease; payments for prescription drugs and insulin; payments for smoking cessation programs and prescription drugs to facilitate nicotine withdrawal; money spent on inpatient treatment or acupuncture at a rehab facility; and, money spent on inpatient hospital care or residential nursing home care.1,2

That last item deserves further explanation regarding nursing homes. If a taxpayer is in a nursing home first and foremost to receive medical care, the I.R.S. says that the cost of that care and any lodging and meal costs borne by the taxpayer are deductible. Should the taxpayer reside in a nursing home primarily for other reasons, the I.R.S. limits the deduction to the medical care provided.2

Other potential medical expense deductions are worth noting. You can of course deduct payments made for health care aids such as wheelchairs, false teeth, service animals and guide dogs, hearing aids, contact lenses, and reading or prescription eyeglasses. In addition, you can usually deduct insurance premiums that you have paid for insurance policies covering medical care or long-term care (as opposed to premiums paid on these policies by your employer). Lastly, you can often deduct transportation costs you incur related to qualified medical expenses: bus, train, and plane fares; gasoline expenses; parking and toll fees.2    

What kinds of expenses do not qualify? The cost of basic toiletries and toothpaste cannot be deducted; the same goes for cosmetics. Expenses for cosmetic surgery are usually not deductible, and neither are expenses for wellness programs or vacations. Non-prescription, over-the-counter drugs or medicines are non-deductible. Nicotine patches and gum may not be deducted, unless they have been prescribed for you. Burial and funeral expenses are also ineligible for the medical expense deduction.2 

Talk to a tax professional about the possibilities here. You may find it advantageous to itemize in 2018 using Schedule A so that you can claim medical expense deductions and take advantage of what could be the last year for the 7.5% threshold. Or, you might find that taking the newly enlarged standard deduction makes more financial sense. If you think your household will have significant medical expenses this year, it might be wise to compare the options.

Citations.

1 – tinyurl.com/yabhctua [2/15/18]

2 – irs.gov/taxtopics/tc502 [1/31/18]

How the Tax Reforms Will Take Effect

After 20 months of relative calm, this volatility needs to be taken in stride.

Money On Tap

Are you upset by what is happening on Wall Street? It may help to see this pullback within a big-picture context. Corrections have become so rare as of late that when one occurs, emotion threatens to influence investment decisions.

So far, February has been a rough month for equities. At the close on February 8, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was officially in correction territory after a slide occurred, which included two 1,000-point descents within four days. Additionally, nearly every U.S. equity index had lost 7% or more in the past five trading sessions.1,2

This drop is troubling, yes – but not as unsettling as it may first seem. The market has been up for so long that it is easy to dismiss the reality of its occasional downs. Last year’s quiet trading climate could legitimately be characterized as “abnormal.”

Prior to this current retreat, the S&P 500 had not fallen 5% from a peak since June 2016. It went more than 400 trading days without such a slump, setting a record. In this same calm stretch, the index also went through its longest period without a dip of 3% or more.3

During a typical year, there are five trading days when equities descend at least 2%, plus one correction of about 14%. On average, equities take roughly a 30% fall every five years.4

This year, the kind of volatility normally seen in the market has returned. It may feel like a shock after so much smooth sailing, but it is the norm – and while the Dow’s recent daily losses are numerically unprecedented, they are also proportionate with the level of the index.

A few things are worth remembering at this juncture. One, Wall Street has had more good years than bad ones, as any casual glance at its history will reveal. This year may turn out well. Two, something similar happened in the mid-1990s – a long, easygoing bull run was suddenly disrupted by major volatility. That bull market kept going, though – it lasted four more years, and the S&P 500 doubled along the way. Three, this market needed to cool off; in the minds of many analysts, valuations had become too expensive. Four, the economy is in excellent shape. Five, earnings are living up to expectations. Last week, Thomson Reuters noted that 78% of the S&P firms that had reported this earnings season had topped profit forecasts.1,3

Wall Street may be turbulent, but you can stay calm. You could even look at this as a buying opportunity. Assuming this is a correction and nothing more, the market may regain its footing more quickly than we think. Typically, the average correction lasts less than 90 days. Consider any moves carefully – and talk with a financial professional if you have concerns or anxieties about this volatile episode for the markets.5

Citations.
1 – cnbc.com/2018/02/08/us-stock-futures-dow-data-earnings-fed-speeches-market-sell-off-and-politics-on-the-agenda.html [2/8/18]
2 – markets.wsj.com/us [2/8/18]
3 – money.cnn.com/2018/01/22/investing/stock-market-today-extreme-calm-pullback/index.html [1/22/18]
4 – marketwatch.com/story/panicked-about-a-stock-market-crash-what-you-need-to-remember-can-fit-on-a-single-notecard-2018-02-08 [2/8/18]
5 – cnbc.com/2018/02/07/the-quicker-the-sell-off-the-faster-we-recover-says-market-watcher.html [2/7/18]

When Will the Business Cycle Peak?

Fear Must Not Inhibit a Financial Strategy

Never touch your principal in retirement? Think again.

By Money On Tap

More than a century ago, an American financial archetype emerged – the household that lived on the interest earned by its investments, never touching its principal.

Times have changed. While the Vanderbilts, Carnegies, and Rockefellers could do that back in the Gilded Age, you will likely face a tough challenge trying to do the same in retirement. The reason? Low interest rates.

The federal funds rate has not topped 3% since the winter of 2008. In fact, the nation’s benchmark interest rate has been under 2% since October 2008. In today’s interest rate environment, you will need a substantial investment portfolio to live solely on income and dividends in retirement. In some parts of the country, a million-dollar portfolio might not generate enough income and dividends to help you maintain your lifestyle.1

Try another approach – the approach used by institutional investors. Wall Street money management firms and university endowment funds frequently rely on the total return investment strategy. In a retirement income context, this means that you strategically sell some assets to complement the dividends and interest income you receive.

Portfolio rebalancing is central to the total return strategy. The recurring ups and downs of the financial markets gradually unbalance a portfolio over time. A long bull market, for example, will usually leave a portfolio with a larger stock allocation than initially desired. To get back to the portfolio’s target allocations, you need to sell shares of stock (or, stocks aside, amounts of other kinds of investments). The proceeds of sale equal retirement income for you.

Before you pursue this strategy, you need to determine two things. One, do you have a portfolio built so that you can potentially derive income from diverse asset classes? Two, assuming you have that diversification, how much dividend and interest income is your portfolio likely to generate this year? The amount may fall short of the income you need. Rebalancing might be able to help you make up the slack.

Besides being fundamental to a total return approach for retirement income, rebalancing may also help you accomplish other objectives.

Rebalancing keeps your portfolio diversified, so that your retirement income does not depend too heavily on the performance of one asset class. It can stave off a potentially risky response to the ongoing desire for yield (some investors, frustrated by poor returns, direct money into high-risk investments they barely understand). It may also allow you to sustain your lifestyle and spending; relying only on dividends and interest may cause you to pare your spending back and notably reduce your quality of life.

Think total return. Explore the total return approach to retirement income planning, today.

Citations.
1 – thebalance.com/fed-funds-rate-history-highs-lows-3306135 [12/13/17]

Annuities …. Love’em … Hate’em

Should We Reconsider What “Retirement” Means?

Build your emergency fund this year.

by Money On Tap

How much does the average American household have in the bank? Estimates vary, but the short answer to this question is “not enough.”

 

Last year, a GoBankingRates poll discovered that 57% of U.S. households had less than $1,000 in deposit accounts (although, 25% reported having at least $10,000). A 2017 analysis from Moebs Services, a research firm consulting banks and credit unions, noted that the average U.S. checking account contained around $3,600.1,2

    

Eyeing these numbers, you get the sense that – in an emergency – most households have less than a month before their liquid savings run out. Is this true for your household? Hopefully, your cash reserve is much larger; if that is not the case, now is as good a time as any to bolster your emergency fund.

 

Building up an emergency fund may be easier than you think. As financial upsets are thankfully infrequent, you have long periods of normalcy in which you can amass cash. Can you save $50 a month toward that goal? You will have $600 after 12 months if you do or $1,200 in 12 months if your spouse saves along with you. That may not seem like much, but even that little pool of cash could suffice.

 

Keep in mind, the whole goal of an emergency fund is to deal with sudden – and presumably acute – expenses. In the grand scheme of things, these emergency costs will likely be trivial compared to the total expense of your retirement. If you end up directing more of your money to your retirement fund than your emergency fund per month, who can blame you? Your retirement fund is presumably invested in equities and has the chance to grow and compound over time. It addresses what is arguably your top financial need – the need to provide yourself with financial stability after you end your career.

 

Some households need larger emergency funds than others. A high-earning, child-free couple living without much debt in a relatively inexpensive metro area might need one to absorb only 3-4 months of expenses. A family reliant on one paycheck might need one that is much larger, as severe financial trouble could surface if the breadwinner loses a job or falls ill.

  

Emergency funds can also help in other kinds of money crises. While an emergency is an unexpected event calling for an immediate response, you may be able to sense other financial disruptions and inconveniences coming. Maybe that garage door keeps malfunctioning or your eight-year-old computer has trouble booting up. These are signals that you will need to write a check or pull out that debit card soon.

 

Living without an emergency fund can invite worry. It is an anxiety too many households have had to accept. Plan to save a little each month (or more than a little, if you can manage), so that you may create a bit more financial “breathing room” in your life.

Citations.

1 – cnbc.com/2017/09/13/how-much-americans-at-have-in-their-savings-accounts.html [9/13/17]

2 – tinyurl.com/yacqwq4p [7/13/17]

   

Some of the impact of the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act will be felt later than January 1.

 by Money On Tap

President Donald Trump signed the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act into law on December 22, and on January 1, some key details of the Internal Revenue Code will abruptly change.1

  

There will be night-and-day change, both figuratively and literally. On January 1, the federal estate tax exemption will double; the standard federal income tax deduction will nearly double. The top corporate income tax rate will fall from 35% to 21%. Most business owners who make pass-through income will be able to deduct the first 20% of that income tax-free.2,3

 

Workers may not see changes to their paychecks until February. This is because the Internal Revenue Service needs to release new withholding tables. Those tables are slated to appear in January.2

 

Two provisions of the TCJA may also apply retroactively for some taxpayers. A larger federal tax deduction for out-of-pocket medical expenses is allowed not just for 2018, but also for 2017. Taxpayers who itemize may write off qualifying medical expenses exceeding 7.5% of income in 2017, instead of 10% of income. Businesses that bought new capital equipment after September 27, 2017 will be permitted to fully and immediately expense those purchases for the 2017 tax year.2

 

Two other changes will not happen until January 1, 2019. On that day, the individual health insurance mandate is scheduled to be repealed; no taxpayer will face a penalty for not having health coverage. Another delayed change pertains to divorcing couples. Taxpayers who divorce in 2019 and succeeding years will not able to deduct alimony payments.2

 

Many of the changes authorized by the passage of the TCJA could expire after 2025. Congress may or may not renew them at the end of that year. The reduction of the corporate tax rate to 21% is a notable exception – that change is permanent.2,3 

   

This is a good time to plan your 2018 tax strategy. Talk to your CPA or tax preparer soon, to see how you might take advantage of the adjustments to federal tax law.

Citations.

1 – cnn.com/2017/12/22/politics/trump-sign-tax-bill-mar-a-lago/index.html [12/22/17]

2 – nytimes.com/interactive/2017/12/21/us/politics/will-tax-plan-affect-my-2017-taxes.html [12/21/17]

3 – cbsnews.com/news/gop-tax-bill-how-the-new-tax-plan-will-affect-you/ [12/17/17]

Too often, it persuades investors to make questionable moves.

 

By Money On Tap

 

Fear affects investors in two distinct ways. Every so often, a bulletin, headline, or sustained economic or market trend will scare them and make them question their investing approach. If they overreact to it, they may sell low now and buy high later – or in the worst-case scenario, they derail their whole investing and retirement planning strategy.

  

Besides the fear of potential market shocks, there is also another fear worth noting – the fear of being too involved in the market. People with this worry are often superb savers, but reluctant investors. They amass large bank accounts, yet their aversion to investing in equities may hurt them in the long run.

 

Impulsive investment decisions tend to carry a cost. People who jump in and out of investment sectors or classes tend to pay a price for it. A statistic hints at how much: across the 20 years ending on December 31, 2015, the S&P 500 returned an average of 8.91% per year, but the average equity investor’s portfolio returned just 4.67% annually. Fixed-income investors also failed to beat a key benchmark: in this same period, the Barclays Aggregate Bond Index advanced an average of 5.34% a year, but the average fixed-income investor realized an annual return of only 0.51%.1

 

This data was compiled by DALBAR, a highly respected investment research firm, which has studied the behavior of individual investors since the mid-1980s. The numbers partly reflect the behavior of the typical individual investor who loses patience and tries to time the market. A hypothetical “average” investor who merely bought and held, with an equity or fixed-income portfolio merely copying the components of the above benchmarks, would have been better off across those 20 years. In monetary terms, the sustained difference in performance could have meant a difference of hundreds of thousands of dollars in earnings for an investor across a lifetime, given compounding.1

 

Other people are held back by their anxiety about investing. They become great savers, steadily building six-figure cash positions in enormous savings or checking accounts – but they never sufficiently invest their money.

 

That confusion comes with a severe potential downside. Just how much interest are their deposit accounts earning? Right now, almost nothing. If they invested more of the money they were saving into equities – or some kind of investment vehicle with the potential to outrun inflation – those invested dollars could grow and compound over time to a degree that idle cash does not.

 

A large emergency fund is a great thing to have, but it can be argued that a tax-advantaged retirement fund of invested dollars is a better thing to have. After all, who retires on cash savings alone? Tomorrow’s retirees will live mainly on the earnings generated from the investment of the dollars they have saved over the decades. Seen one way, a focus on cash is financially nearsighted; it ignores the possibility that even greater abundance may be realized through its sustained investment.

 

Fear dissuades some people from sticking with a long-term financial strategy and discourages other people from developing one. Patience and knowledge can help investors contend with the fears that may risk hurting their retirement saving prospects.

Citations.

1 – zacksim.com/heres-investors-underperform-market/ [5/22/17]

The notion that we separate from work in our sixties may have to go.

Money On Tap

An executive transitions into a consulting role at age 62 and stops working altogether at 65; then, he becomes a buyer for a church network at 69. A corporate IT professional decides to conclude her career at age 58; she serves as a city council member in her sixties, then opens an art studio at 70.

 

Are these people retired? Not by the old definition of the word. Our definition of “retirement” is changing. Retirement is now a time of activity and opportunity.

   

Generations ago, Americans never retired – at least not voluntarily. American life was either agrarian or industrialized, and people toiled until they died or physically broke down. Their “social security” was their children. Society had a low opinion of able-bodied adults who preferred leisure to work.

 

German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck often gets credit for “inventing” the idea of retirement. In the late 1800s, the German government set up the first pension plan for those 65 and older. (Life expectancy was around 45 at the time.) When our Social Security program began in 1935, it defined 65 as the U.S. retirement age; back then, the average American lived about 62 years. Social Security was perceived as a reward given to seniors during the final years of their lives, a financial compliment for their hard work.1 

 

After World War II, the concept of retirement changed. The model American worker was now the “organization man” destined to spend decades at one large company, taken care of by his (or her) employer in a way many people would welcome today. Americans began to associate retirement with pleasure and leisure.

 

By the 1970s, the definition of retirement had become rigid. You retired in your early sixties, because your best years were behind you and it was time to go. You died at about 72 or 75 (depending on your gender). In between, you relaxed. You lived comfortably on an employee pension and Social Security checks, and the risk of outliving your money was low. If you lived to 81 or 82, that was a good run. Turning 90 was remarkable.

 

Today, baby boomers cannot settle for these kinds of retirement assumptions. This is partly due to economic uncertainty and partly due to ambition. Retirement planning today is all about self-reliance, and to die at 65 today is to die young with the potential of one’s “second act” unfulfilled.

   

One factor has altered our view of retirement more than any other. That factor is the increase in longevity. When Social Security started, retirement was seen as the quiet final years of life; by the 1960s, it was seen as an extended vacation lasting 10-15 years; and now, it is seen as a decades-long window of opportunity.

 

Working past 70 may soon become common. Some baby boomers will need to do it, but others will simply want to do it. Whether by choice or chance, some will retire briefly and work again; others will rotate between periods of leisure and work for as long as they can. Working full time or part time not only generates income, it also helps to preserve invested retirement assets, giving them more years to potentially compound. Another year on the job also means one less year of retirement to fund.

 

Perhaps we should see retirement foremost as a time of change – a time of changing what we want to do with our lives. According to the actuaries at the Social Security Administration, the average 65-year-old has about 20 years to pursue his or her interests. Planning for change may be the most responsive move we can make for the future.2

Citations.

1 – dailynews.com/2017/03/24/successful-aging-im-65-and-ok-with-it/ [3/24/17]

2 – ssa.gov/planners/lifeexpectancy.html [11/21/17]

As the recovery lengthens further, this is a natural question to ask.

This decade has brought a long economic rebound to many parts of America. As 2017 ebbs into 2018, some of the statistics regarding this comeback are truly impressive:

 

*Payrolls have grown, month after month, for more than seven years.

*The jobless rate is lower than it has been for more than a decade.

*Business activity in the service sector has not contracted since the summer of 2009.

*The economy just grew 3% or more in back-to-back quarters, a feat unseen since 2014.1,2

 

In the big picture, the American economy is booming. These statistics, and others, are so noteworthy that analysts are asking: when will the business cycle peak? Has it already peaked? Or are we experiencing a remarkably great exception to the norm?

 

Any investor must recognize two indisputable facts. One, expansions eventually give way to recessions. Two, bull markets are punctuated by bear markets. The question is when we will see the next recession, the next bear market, or both.

 

All business cycles have four phases. The first phase – expansion – is often the longest. It is characterized by two phenomena: a bull market and annualized GDP of 2% or greater. This expansion culminates at a peak, which is phase two. The peak is characterized by irrational exuberance on Wall Street, economic growth of 3% or more, a distinct acceleration of consumer prices, and the emergence of asset bubbles.3

 

Then – perhaps, imperceptibly – supply begins to exceed demand. Fundamental indicators begin to weaken; yet, the economy still grows – just not at the pace it previously did. Then, the growth diminishes altogether, and the business cycle enters phase three – contraction. GDP goes negative for two or more successive quarters, which defines a recession. Corporate earnings take a major hit, depressing investors. Equities enter a bear market. Finally, things come to a trough – a bottom. On Wall Street, institutional investors reach a point of capitulation – a moment when they decide there is more potential upside than downside to stocks. Investors and consumers start to become less pessimistic. Suddenly, supply has to keep up with demand again. Things brighten, and a new business cycle begins.3

 

How will we know precisely when the business cycle has peaked? Without seeing the future, we cannot know. We can make an educated guess based on fundamental economic indicators and earnings, but we will really only know looking back.

 

How can we prepare for the later phases of this current business cycle? Some healthy skepticism and some diversification may help. Investors who tend to get burned the most in an economic downturn (or bear market) are those who have fallen in love with one sector or one asset class. Their portfolios have become unbalanced, perhaps just because of the gains seen in the bull market.

 

Some investors opt for active portfolio management in recognition of business cycles, and their heavy influence on stock market cycles. Others choose to buy and hold, feeling that it is all too easy to mistime cycles while getting in and out of this or that investment class.

 

We have enjoyed a great bull run, and a new wave of prosperity has pulled many metro areas out of economic doldrums. At some point, times will get tougher. Whether you decide the appropriate response is to ride a downturn out or react quickly to it, a discussion with your trusted financial professional is a wise move.

 

     

Citations.

1 – inc.com/associated-press/jobs-report-october-2017.html [11/2/17]

2 – instituteforsupplymanagement.org/ISMReport/NonMfgROB.cfm [11/3/17]

3 – thebalance.com/where-are-we-in-the-current-business-cycle-3305593 [7/18/17]

 

What should you keep in mind as you donate?

Are you making charitable donations this holiday season? If so, you should know about some of the financial “fine print” involved, as the right moves could potentially bring more of a benefit to the charity and to you.

To deduct charitable donations, you must itemize them on I.R.S. Schedule A. So, you need to document each donation you make. Ideally, the charity uses a form it has on hand to provide you with proof of your contribution. If the charity does not have such a form handy (and some charities do not), then a receipt, a credit or debit card statement, a bank statement, or a cancelled check will have to suffice. The I.R.S. needs to know three things: the name of the charity, the gifted amount, and the date of your gift.1

From a tax planning standpoint, itemized deductions are only worthwhile when they exceed the standard income tax deduction. The 2017 standard deduction for a single filer is $6,350. If you file as a head of household, your standard deduction is $9,350. Joint filers and surviving spouses have a 2017 standard deduction of $12,700. (All these amounts rise in 2018.)2

Make sure your gift goes to a qualified charity with 501(c)(3) non-profit status. Also, visit CharityNavigator.org, CharityWatch.org, or GiveWell.org to evaluate a charity and learn how effectively it utilizes donations. If you are considering a large donation, ask the charity involved how it will use your gift.

If you donated money this year to a crowdsourcing campaign organized by a 501(c)(3) charity, the donation should be tax deductible. If you donated to a crowdsourcing campaign that was created by an individual or a group lacking 501(c)(3) status, the donation is not deductible.3

How can you make your gifts have more impact? You may find a way to do this immediately, thanks to your employer. Some companies match charitable contributions made by their employees. This opportunity is too often overlooked.

Thoughtful estate planning may also help your gifts go further. A charitable remainder trust or a contract between you and a charity could allow you to give away an asset to a 501(c)(3) organization while retaining a lifetime interest. You could also support a charity with a gift of life insurance. Or, you could simply leave cash or appreciated property to a non-profit organization as a final contribution in your will.1

Many charities welcome non-cash donations. In fact, donating an appreciated asset can be a tax-savvy move.

You may wish to explore a gift of highly appreciated securities. If you are in a higher income tax bracket, selling securities you have owned for more than a year can lead to capital gains taxes. Instead, you or a financial professional can write a letter of instruction to a bank or brokerage authorizing a transfer of shares to a charity. This transfer can accomplish three things: you can avoid paying the capital gains tax you would normally pay upon selling the shares, you can take a current-year tax deduction for their full fair market value, and the charity gets the full value of the shares, not their after-tax net value.4

You could make a charitable IRA gift. If you are wealthy and view the annual Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) from your traditional IRA as a bother, think about a qualified charitable distribution (QCD) from your IRA. Traditional IRA owners age 70½ and older can arrange direct transfers of up to $100,000 from an IRA to a qualified charity. (Married couples have a yearly limit of $200,000.) The gift can satisfy some or all of your RMD; the amount gifted is excluded from your adjusted gross income for the year. (You can also make a qualified charity a sole beneficiary of an IRA, should you wish.)4,5

Do you have an unneeded life insurance policy? If you make an irrevocable gift of that policy to a qualified charity, you can get a current-year income tax deduction. If you keep paying the policy premiums, each payment becomes a deductible charitable donation. (Deduction limits can apply.) If you pay premiums for at least three years after the gift, that could reduce the size of your taxable estate. The death benefit will be out of your taxable estate in any case.6

Should you donate a vehicle to charity? This can be worthwhile, but you probably will not get fair market value for the donation; if that bothers you, you could always try to sell the vehicle at fair market value yourself and gift the cash. As organizations that coordinate these gifts are notorious for taking big cuts, you may want to think twice about this idea.7

You may also want to make cash gifts to individuals before the end of the year. In 2017, any taxpayer may gift up to $14,000 in cash to as many individuals as desired. If you have two grandkids, you can give them each up to $14,000 this year. (You can also make individual gifts through 529 education savings plans.) At this moment, every taxpayer can gift up to $5.49 million during his or her lifetime without triggering the federal estate and gift tax exemption.8

Be sure to give wisely, with input from a tax or financial professional, as 2017 ends

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Citations.

1 – tinyurl.com/y8dkleed [8/23/17]

2 – forbes.com/sites/kellyphillipserb/2017/10/19/irs-announces-2018-tax-brackets-standard-deduction-amounts-and-more/ [10/19/17]

3 – legalzoom.com/articles/cash-and-kickstarter-the-tax-implications-of-crowd-funding [3/17]

4 – irs.gov/retirement-plans/retirement-plans-faqs-regarding-iras-distributions-withdrawals [8/17/17]

5 – pe.com/2017/11/04/its-not-that-hard-to-give-cash-or-stock-to-charity/ [11/4/17]

6 – kiplinger.com/article/taxes/T021-C032-S014-gifting-a-life-insurance-policy-to-a-charity.html [11/17]

7 – foxbusiness.com/features/2017/10/18/edmunds-what-to-know-about-donating-your-car-to-charity.html [10/18/17]

8 – law.com/thelegalintelligencer/sites/thelegalintelligencer/2017/11/02/with-2018-fast-approaching-its-time-for-some-year-end-tax-planning-tips [11/2/17]

Things you can do for your future as the year unfolds.

Seth Krussman IAR
Brayshaw Financial Group LLC

What financial, business, or life priorities do you need to address for 2018? Now is a good time to think about the investing, saving, or budgeting methods you could employ toward specific objectives, from building your retirement fund to lowering your taxes. You have plenty of options. Here are a few that might prove convenient:

Can you contribute more to your retirement plans this year? In 2018, the contribution limit for a Roth or traditional IRA remains at $5,500 ($6,500 for those making “catch-up” contributions). Your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) may affect how much you can put into a Roth IRA: singles and heads of household with MAGI above $135,000 and joint filers with MAGI above $199,000 cannot make 2018 Roth contributions.1

For tax year 2018, you can contribute up to $18,500 to any kind of 401(k), 403(b), or 457 plan, with a $6,000 catch-up contribution allowed if you are age 50 or older. If you are self-employed, you may want to look into whether you can establish and fund a Solo 401(k) before the end of 2018; as employer contributions may also be made to Solo 401(k)s, you may direct up to $55,000 into one of those plans.1,2

Your retirement plan contribution could help your tax picture. If you won’t turn 70½ this year and you participate in a traditional qualified retirement plan or have a traditional IRA, you can cut your 2018 taxable income through a contribution. Should you be in the 35% federal tax bracket, you can save $1,925 in taxes as a byproduct of a $5,500 regular IRA contribution.3

What are the income limits on deducting traditional IRA contributions? If you participate in a workplace retirement plan, the 2018 MAGI phase-out ranges are $63,000-$73,000 for singles and heads of households, $101,000-$121,000 for joint filers when the spouse making IRA contributions is covered by a workplace retirement plan, and $189,000-$199,000 for an IRA contributor not covered by a workplace retirement plan, but married to someone who is.2

Roth IRAs and Roth 401(k)s, 403(b)s, and 457 plans are funded with after-tax dollars, so you may not take an immediate federal tax deduction for your contributions to these plans. The upside is that if you follow I.R.S. rules, the account assets may eventually be withdrawn tax free.4

Your tax year 2018 contribution to a Roth or traditional IRA may be made as late as the 2019 federal tax deadline – and, for that matter, you can make a 2017 IRA contribution as late as April 17, 2018, which is the deadline for filing your 2017 federal return. There is no merit in waiting until April of the successive year, however, since delaying a contribution only delays tax-advantaged compounding of those dollars.4

Should you go Roth in 2018? You might be considering that if you only have a traditional IRA. This is no snap decision; the tax impact of the conversion must be weighed versus the potential future benefits. If you are a high earner, you should know that income phase-out limits may affect your chance to make Roth IRA contributions. For 2018, phase-outs kick in at $189,000 for joint filers and $120,000 for single filers and heads of household. Should your income prevent you from contributing to a Roth IRA at all, you still have the chance to contribute to a traditional IRA in 2018 and then go Roth.1

Incidentally, a footnote: distributions from Roth IRAs, traditional IRAs, and qualified retirement plans, such as 401(k)s, are not subject to the 3.8% Medicare surtax affecting single/joint filers with AGIs over $200,000/$250,000. If your AGI surpasses these MAGI thresholds, then dividends, royalties, the taxable part of non-qualified annuity income, taxable interest, passive income (such as partnership and rental income), and net capital gains from the sale of real estate and investments are subject to that surtax.5

Consult a tax or financial professional before you make any IRA moves to see how those changes may affect your overall financial picture. If you have a large traditional IRA, the projected tax resulting from a Roth conversion may make you think twice.

What else should you consider in 2018? There are other things you may want to do or review.

Make a charitable gift. You can claim the deduction on your 2018 return, provided you itemize your deductions with Schedule A. The paper trail is important here.6

If you give cash, you need to document it. Even small contributions need to be demonstrated by a bank record or a written communication from the charity with the date and amount. Incidentally, the I.R.S. does not equate a pledge with a donation. Contributions to individuals are never tax deductible.6

What if you gift appreciated securities? If you have owned them for more than a year, you will be in line to take a deduction for 100% of their fair market value, and avoid capital gains tax that would have resulted from simply selling the investment and donating the proceeds. The non-profit organization gets the full amount of the gift, and you can claim a deduction of up to 30% of your adjusted gross income.7

Does the value of your gift exceed $250? It may, and if you gift that amount or larger to a qualified charitable organization, the I.R.S. says you need to keep “a contemporaneous written acknowledgement” from the charity “indicating the amount of cash and a description of any property contributed.” You must also file Form 8283 when your total deduction for non-cash contributions or property exceeds $500 in a year.6

If you aren’t sure if an organization is eligible to receive charitable gifts, check it out at irs.gov/Charities-&-Non-Profits/Exempt-Organizations-Select-Check.

See if you can take a home office deduction. If your income is high and you find yourself in one of the upper tax brackets, look into this. You may be able to legitimately write off expenses linked to the portion of your home exclusively used to conduct your business. (The percentage of costs you may deduct depends on the percentage of your residence you devote to your business activities.) If you qualify for this tax break, part of your rent, insurance, utilities, and repairs may be deductible.8

Open an HSA. If you are enrolled in a high-deductible health plan, you may set up and fund a Health Savings Account in 2018. You can make fully tax-deductible HSA contributions of up to $3,450 (singles) or $6,900 (families); catch-up contributions of up to $1,000 are permitted for those 55 or older. HSA assets grow tax deferred, and withdrawals from these accounts are tax free if used to pay for qualified health care expenses.1

Practice tax-loss harvesting. By selling underperforming stocks in your portfolio, you could record at least $3,000 in capital losses. In fact, you may use this tactic to offset all of your total capital gains for a given tax year. Losses that exceed the $3,000 yearly limit may be rolled over into 2019 (and future tax years) to offset ordinary income or capital gains again.3

Pay attention to asset location. Tax-efficient asset location is an ignored fundamental of investing. Broadly speaking, your least tax-efficient securities should go in pre-tax accounts, and your most tax-efficient securities should be held in taxable accounts.

Review your withholding status. Should it be adjusted due to any of the following factors?

* You tend to pay a great deal of income tax each year.
* You tend to get a big federal tax refund each year.
* You recently married or divorced.
* A family member recently passed away.
* You have a new job, and you are earning much more than you previously did.
* You started a business venture or became self-employed.

Are you marrying in 2018? If so, why not review the beneficiaries of your workplace retirement plan account, your IRA, and other assets? In light of your marriage, you may want to make changes to the relevant beneficiary forms. The same goes for your insurance coverage. If you will have a new last name in 2018, you will need a new Social Security card. Additionally, the two of you, no doubt, have individual retirement saving and investment strategies. Will they need to be revised or adjusted once you are married?

Are you coming home from active duty? If so, go ahead and check the status of your credit and the state of any tax and legal proceedings that might have been preempted by your orders. Make sure any employee health insurance is still there, and revoke any power of attorney you may have granted to another person.

Consider the tax impact of any upcoming transactions. Are you planning to sell (or buy) real estate next year? How about a business? Do you think you might exercise a stock option in the coming months? Might any large commissions or bonuses come your way in 2018? Do you anticipate selling an investment that is held outside of a tax-deferred account? Any of these actions might significantly impact your 2018 taxes.

If you are retired and older than 70½, remember your year-end RMD. Retirees over age 70½ must begin taking Required Minimum Distributions from traditional IRAs and 401(k), 403(b), and profit-sharing plans by December 31 of each year. The I.R.S. penalty for failing to take an RMD equals 50% of the RMD amount that is not withdrawn.9

If you turned 70½ in 2017, you can postpone your initial RMD from an account until April 1, 2018. The downside of this is that you will have to take two RMDs in 2018, with both RMDs being taxable events – you will have to make your 2017 tax year RMD by April 1, 2018 and your 2018 tax year RMD by December 31, 2018.9

Plan your RMD wisely. If you do so, you may end up limiting or avoiding possible taxes on your Social Security income. Some Social Security recipients don’t know about the “provisional income” rule – if your adjusted gross income, plus any non-taxable interest income you earn, plus 50% of your Social Security benefits surpasses a certain level, then some Social Security benefits become taxable. Social Security benefits start to be taxed at provisional income levels of $32,000 for joint filers and $25,000 for single filers.10

Lastly, should you make 13 mortgage payments in 2018? If your house is underwater, this makes no sense, and you could argue that those dollars might be better off invested or put in your emergency fund. Those factors aside, however, there may be some merit to making a January 2019 mortgage payment in December 2018. If you have a fixed-rate loan, a lump-sum payment can reduce the principal and the total interest paid on it by that much more.

Talk with a qualified financial or tax professional today. Vow to focus on being healthy and wealthy in 2018.

Citations.
1 – cbsnews.com/news/I.R.S.-allows-higher-retirement-savings-account-limits-in-2018/ [10/24/17]
2 – forbes.com/sites/ashleaebeling/2017/10/19/I.R.S.-announces-2018-retirement-plan-contribution-limits-for-401ks-and-more/ [10/19/17]
3 – turbotax.intuit.com/tax-tips/tax-planning-and-checklists/4-last-minute-ways-to-reduce-your-taxes/L3eJ81kRC [11/9/17]
4 – irs.gov/Retirement-Plans/Traditional-and-Roth-IRAs [10/25/17]
5 – bbt.com/wealth/retirement-and-planning/retirement/medicare-surtaxes.page [11/9/17]
6 – irs.gov/taxtopics/tc506 [9/21/17]
7 – tinyurl.com/yc6ecpq8 [10/12/17]
8 – irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/home-office-deduction [10/26/17]
9 – fool.com/retirement/2017/04/29/whats-my-required-minimum-distribution-for-2017.aspx [4/29/17]
10 – smartasset.com/retirement/is-social-security-income-taxable [7/19/17]