DAFS, QCDS, ROTHS AND 2019 TAX PLANNING-2020 IS COMING

Hope everyone had a great Halloween. Now, it’s time to finish your 2019 Tax Planning. You know the drill. You can’t extend December 31st– it’s the last day to get major tax planning resolved and implemented. This year we will focus on three key areas; Donor Advised Funds, Qualified Charitable Distributions and Roth accounts. And, then finish with some overall points to remember.

Donor Advised Funds (“DAFs”). For charitable gifts, this simple, tax-smart investment solution has become a real favorite, particularly starting in 2018. The concept of DAFs is that taxpayers can contribute to an investment account now and get a current deduction yet determine in the future where and when the money will go.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 increased the standard deduction (up to $24,400 in 2019 for married couples). Couples with itemized deductions less than the standard deduction receive no tax benefit from their contributions. However, they could get a benefit by “bunching” their contributions using a DAF.   For example, if a couple made annual charitable contributions of $10,000 per year, they could contribute $40,000 to the DAF in 2019, e.g., and certainly, in that case, their itemized deductions would exceed the standard. The $40,000 would be used as their charity funding source over the next four years. In this manner, they would receive the full $40,000 tax deduction in 2019 for the contribution to the account, though they will not receive a deduction in the years after for the donations made from this account.

Now, what’s really great about a DAF is that if long-term appreciated securities are contributed to the DAF, you won’t have to pay capital gains taxes on them and the full fair market value (not cost) qualifies as an itemized deduction, up to 30% of your AGI. Why use after tax dollars for charity, when you can use appreciated securities?

Within the DAF, your fund grows tax-free. You or your wealth manager can manage the funds. The funds are not part of your estate. However, you advise your custodian, such as Schwab, the timing and amounts of the charitable donations. In general, your recommendations as donor will be accepted unless the payment is being made to fulfill an existing pledge or in a circumstance where you would receive benefit or value from the charity, such as a dinner, greens fees, etc.

Many taxpayers are using the DAF as part of their long-term charitable giving and estate planning strategy. They annually transfer long-term appreciated securities to a DAF, get a nice tax deduction, allow the funds to grow (unlike Foundations which have a 5% minimum distribution, there are no minimum distributions for DAFs) and then before or after their passing, the charities they support receive the benefits.

Qualified Charitable Distributions (“QCDs”). A QCD is a direct transfer of funds from your IRA to a qualified charity. These payments count towards satisfying your required minimum distribution (“RMD”) for the year. You must be 70 ½ years or older, you can give up to $100,000 (regardless of the RMD required) and the funds must come out of your IRA by December 31. You don’t get a tax deduction, but you make charitable contributions with pre-tax dollars. Each dollar in QCDs reduces the taxable portion of your RMD, up to your full RMD amount.

For taxpayers 70 ½ or older, their annual charitable contributions generally should be QCDs and if their gifting exceeds their RMDs, they can either do QCDs up to $100,000 annually or, instead of QCDs,fund a DAF with long-term appreciated securities and bunch the contributions to maximize the tax deduction.

Roth Accounts. A Roth IRA is a tax-advantaged, retirement savings account that allows you to withdraw your savings tax-free. Roth IRAs are funded with after-tax dollars. They grow tax-free and distributions of both principal and interest are tax-free. Roth IRAs do not have RMD requirements that traditional pre-tax IRAs have. They can be stretched by spouses and beneficiaries without tax. They are the best type of account that a beneficiary could receive upon your passing.

A taxpayer can convert an IRA to a Roth account anytime, regardless of age or income level- the IRS is happy to get your money. A Roth conversion is especially appealing if you expect to be in a higher marginal tax bracket in retirement. Conversions make sense when taxable income is low or negative. In addition, some couples interested in Roth conversions make DAFs in the same year to keep their taxes where they would have been without the conversion or the DAF.

2020 is coming. You still have almost two months to resolve your 2019 tax planning and get it implemented. Make sure you and your CPA review your situation before year-end to make sure you understand your likely tax status and review possible strategies that could help you. At DWM, we don’t prepare tax returns. However, we do prepare projections for our clients based on our experience and knowledge to help them identify key elements and potential strategies to reduce surprises and save taxes. Time is running out on 2019. Don’t forget to do your year-end tax planning. And, of course, contact us if you have any questions.

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SECURE – Update on New Retirement System Legislation

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Two weeks ago, the House of Representatives almost unanimously passed the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act, adopting their version of long-awaited retirement legislation that can now be introduced for deliberation on the Senate side and ultimately head to the President’s desk.   While Congress has discussed this for many years, these policy changes come at a time when life expectancy has increased and a greater number of American retirees must ensure that they don’t outlast their savings. The bill is now in the Senate Finance Committee, where action has slowed as a handful of Finance Committee members have some issues they want addressed before agreeing to vote on it.  

The marquee provisions in the House bill, estimated to cost $16.8 billion over 10 years, include providing tax credits and removing barriers for small businesses to offer retirement plans and boosting the minimum age for required minimum distributions (RMDs) to begin from 70½ to 72 years old. Other significant changes written in the House bill would make it easier for tax-deferred retirement plans, like 401(k)s, to offer annuities and also repeals the age cap for contributing to individual retirement accounts, currently 70 ½. There are also beneficial measures for part-time workers, parents, home-care workers and employees at small businesses, as well.

As reported by the May 23rd WSJ article, the House legislation also repeals a 2017 change to the “Kiddie Tax” that can boost tax rates on unearned income for low and middle income families that had caused surprise tax increases for many, including many military families of deceased active-duty service members . This policy change would also benefit survivors of first responders and college students receiving scholarships. This provision helped accelerate the passage of the bill to resolve a problem for military families right before Memorial Day.

To help pay for these changes, the House bill limits the “stretch IRA” provisions for beneficiaries of inherited IRAs. Currently, beneficiaries can liquidate those accounts over their own lifetimes to stretch out the RMD income and tax payments. The House bill would cut the time down to 10 years, with some exemptions for surviving spouses and minor children.  

A handful of Republican Senate members have some concerns about the House bill, including the House’s resistance to a provision that allows 529 accounts to pay for home-schooling costs. The Senate Finance Committee has introduced a bill closely resembling the House legislation – the Retirement Enhancement and Savings Act. Republican Senators are considering whether to make even broader policy changes than the House bill.

Here are the key items included in the House bill that are of most interest for our DWM clients:

IRAs if you are over 70 ½ – This bill would increase the age for the required minimum distributions (RMD) to begin from 70 ½ to 72. This will allow the accounts to grow and save taxes on the income until age 72. Also, there would no longer be an age restriction on IRA savings for people with taxable compensation – the age had previously been 70 1/2.

401(k)s – Small business employers would be allowed under this legislation to band together to offer 401(k) Plans to their employees, if they don’t offer one already. Long-standing part-time workers would now be eligible to participate in their employer’s Plan and new parents would be allowed to take up to $5,000 from 401(k)s or IRAs within a year of the birth or adoption of a child. Employers would also be required to provide more comprehensive retirement income disclosures on the employee statements and it would be easier for employers to offer annuity options in their 401(k) Plans.

Student Loans/529s – The House version of the bill would allow up to a $10,000 withdrawal from a 529 to be used for student loan repayment.  

At DWM, we are always watching for legislative changes that might affect our clients and will continue to report on these important developments. Please don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions or comments!

Not All Winners: Tax Refunds Down $6 Billion from Last Year

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At the end of March, 2019, the Treasury had issued $6 billion less in tax refunds than the same period a year ago. The refunds still have averaged around $3,000 each and the number of returns processed is similar to last year, but there are roughly 2 million fewer refunds so far in 2019. Many taxpayers are shocked- getting smaller refunds or having to pay, when seemingly nothing has changed in their situation.

We cautioned our readers about this a year ago (March 15, 2018), in “How to Avoid a 2018 Income Tax Shock.” We pointed out the Tax Cuts and Job Act (“TJCA”) brought about a number of changes. It reduced itemized deductions, lowered tax rates, eliminated exemptions, and produced new tax withholding tables in early 2018 that reduced withholding, thereby increasing net paychecks. So, for those families who have used their annual refund as a forced saving mechanism, it was a huge disappointment this year. They received little or no refund-yet, in fact, they had already received their refund money with each enlarged paycheck which, studies show, was spent, not saved.

Wealth Management magazine reported today that “Fewer RIAs (Registered Investment Advisers) See Client Benefits From Tax Act.” Craig Hawley, head of Nationwide Advisory Solutions, authored a recent study on TCJA which indicated that “the benefits of tax reform were not as widespread as originally expected.” This is no surprise to us at DWM- we anticipated winners and losers. We didn’t expect the benefits to be widespread and they haven’t been.

Our DWM clients represent a very diversified group. We are pleased to work with clients of all ages, from teenagers and others in our Emerging Investor program to Total Wealth Management clients in their 20s to their 90s. We work with lots of folks whose primary income is W-2 income and others whose primary income comes from their businesses and still others whose income comes primarily from their investment funds and retirement programs. While we don’t prepare any tax returns, we are very involved in tax projections and tax strategy for our many families. Here is the anecdotal evidence of the 2018 impact of the TCJA we have seen:

1)For younger people, their taxes were slightly less, but their refunds were down or they had to pay.

2)Those with significant personal real estate taxes, particularly those in IL, CA and NY, in many cases paid more in income taxes than 2017 due to the fact that most of the large real estate taxes they paid were not deductible.

3)Business owners, except for those in the excluded “Specified Service Trades or Businesses” (such as doctors, lawyers, CPAs and wealth managers), did exceptionally well under TCJA. They were able to qualify for a 20% “Qualified Business Income Deduction” from their income and get lower rates as well. For example, if a business owner’s share of the profit was $1,000,000, only $800,000 of it was taxed and that was at lower rates producing tax savings of over $125,000 as compared to 2017.

4)Many retired couples with no mortgage and few itemized deductions were able to take advantage of the new $24,000 standard deduction ($26,600 for those over 65) instead of using their itemized deductions and this saved them taxes.

5)Overall, TCJA brought winners and losers. Generally, business owners (not in service businesses) and those in the highest tax brackets saw the biggest reduction in income taxes. Certainly, benefits have not been widespread.

At DWM, we regularly prepare tax projections for our clients and encourage everyone to know, at least by the 3rd quarter, what their 2019 tax status might be. It’s really important to go through this process to avoid tax shocks and, maybe, even find some opportunities to reduce your taxes for 2019. Please contact us if you have any questions.

Tax Efficient Investing

Think of these opposites:  Good/Bad.  Rich/Poor.  Gain/Loss. Joy/Sadness.  Investment Returns/Income Taxes.  Yes, Uncle Sam is happy to take all the joy out of your investment returns and tax them.  That’s why tax efficient investing is so important.

You have three types of investment accounts: taxable, tax deferred or tax exempt.  For taxable accounts, you must pay taxes in the year income is received.  Retirement accounts, IRAs and annuities are examples of tax deferred accounts, in which you pay tax on the income when you take it out. Tax-exempt accounts, like Roth IRAs and Roth 401ks, are not taxed even at withdrawal.

Strategy #1:  Know Your Bracket.  The tax brackets have changed for 2018.  The top federal marginal rate of 37% will hit taxpayers of $500,000 and higher for single filers and $600,000 for married couples filing jointly.  There can be a huge difference between taxes on current ordinary income and taxes on long-term capital gains. Capital gains are the appreciation on your holdings over time and often represent a very significant portion of your total investment return.  Securities held for over a year generally qualify for long-term capital gain taxes, which are taxed at 0% to 20%, with most investors paying 15%. The difference between ordinary and capital gains taxes on your investment income can be substantial.

Strategy #2:  Asset Allocation includes Asset “Location.”  Tax efficient investments should be in taxable accounts, tax inefficient investments should be in tax deferred or tax-exempt accounts.  For example, bonds are tax inefficient.  Interest earned on bonds in taxable accounts is income in the year received and is taxed at ordinary income tax rates.  However, bond interest earned in a tax deferred account is also taxed as ordinary income, but only at withdrawal, when presumably you might be at lower income and tax levels.  Hence, bonds should generally be located in tax deferred accounts, such as IRAs and 401ks.

Stocks are more tax efficient. First, the qualified dividends received on stocks are taxed at the capital gains tax rate, which is likely less than your ordinary income tax rate. And, second, the largest part of your investment return on equities is often your capital gain, which is also generally at 15% tax and is only paid when you sell a security.  Hence, stocks and equity funds are tax efficient and generally should be located in taxable accounts.  Conversely, holding equities in retirement accounts is not generally a good idea because even though the tax is deferred, the ultimate withdrawals will be taxed at ordinary rates, not capital gains.

Alternative investments, which are designed to be non-correlated with bonds and stocks, may generate more ordinary income than tax-efficient income.  Hence, they should generally be located in tax deferred accounts.  Tax-exempt accounts, such as Roth accounts, can hold tax efficient and tax inefficient holdings. Hence, tax-exempt accounts are already tax efficient and can hold all three asset classes; equity, fixed income and alternatives, in appropriate asset allocations without any income tax cost.

Strategy #3:  Grow your Roth Assets.  Because Roth assets are tax-exempt and, therefore, 100% tax efficient, they are the most valuable investment asset you can own; both in your lifetime and your heirs.  Roths only have investment returns, no taxes.  Furthermore, Roth accounts, unlike traditional IRA accounts, do not require minimum distributions when you and/or your spouse reach 70 ½.  Upon your passing, the beneficiaries of your Roth assets can “stretch them” by allowing them to continue to grow them tax-free. However, the heirs will be required to take minimum distributions.

Roths can be funded in a number of ways.  If you have earnings, you can make Roth contributions of $5,500 per year ($6,500 if you are 50 or over) if your income is below a certain threshold.  In addition, if you are working for a company with a 401k plan, that plan may allow Roth 401k contributions. In this case, there are no earnings limitations and you can contribute $18,500 ($24,500 if you are 50 or over.)  You can also convert IRAs to Roths.  This is done by paying income tax on the difference between the amount converted and the cost basis of the IRA. There is no limit of the amount you can convert.  The concept is “pay tax once, have the Roth grow tax-free forever.” Oftentimes this conversion takes place after retirement but before age 70 ½ and is done in an annual installment amount to keep the tax implications within a given tax bracket.   We encourage you and/or your CPA to look at this possibility.

Strategy #4:  Do an Income Tax Projection.  Tax projections are really important, particularly in 2018, with all the new changes brought on by tax reform.  The projection provides information as to your income, deductions, tax bracket, estimated taxes (to minimize surprises and penalties) and, hopefully, also possibilities for tax savings.  We prepare “unofficial” tax projections for our clients for these very reasons.  Investment management must consider income taxes.

Ultimately, your return on investments is your gross return less the income taxes.  Therefore, we encourage you to make your investment portfolio operate as tax efficiently as possible and accentuate the positive; good, rich, gain, joy and investment returns.  Rather than the negative; bad, poor, loss, sad and income taxes.  You should make yourself happy, not Uncle Sam.

Next on the Agenda- Income Tax

Washington is moving on to tax reform. Earlier this week, the Senate Republicans made it clear that they want to focus on tax overhaul and critical fiscal legislation.  Republicans and Democrats have already outlined their plans.  Income taxes have always been a very important and often contentious subject. Before we review the key issues, let’s step back and review tax policy generally.

I remember my first tax class in Champaign, Illinois over 50 years ago.  We learned that income tax policy was more than simply raising money.  Taxes have always been an instrument of economic and social policy for the government, as well.

Income taxes became a permanent part of life in America with the passage of the 16th Amendment in 1913.  The first tax amount was 1% on net personal incomes above $3,000 with a surtax of 6% on incomes above $500,000 (that’s about $9 million of income in today’s dollars).  By 1918, at the end of WWI, the top rate was 77% (for incomes over $1 million).  During the Great Depression, the top marginal tax rate was 63% and rose to 94% during WWII.  The top rate was lowered to 50% in 1982 and eventually 28% in 1988.  It slowly increased to 40% in 2000, was reduced again from 2003 to 2012 and now is back at 40%. Corporate tax rates are 35% nominally, though the effective rate for corporations is between 20% and 25%.

Changes in the tax structure can influence economic activity.  For example, take the deduction for home mortgage interest.  If that deduction were eliminated, the housing market would most likely feel a big hit and economic growth, at least temporarily, would likely decline.  In addition, an argument is often made that tax cuts raise growth.  Evidence shows it’s not that simple.  Tax cuts can improve incentives to work, save and invest for workers, however, they may subsidize old capital that may undermine incentives for new activity and growth.  And, if tax cuts are not accompanied by spending cuts or increased economic growth, then the result is larger federal budget deficits.

Our income tax system is a “progressive” system.  That means that the tax rate goes up as the taxable amount increases.  It is based on a household’s ability to pay.  It is, in part, a redistribution of wealth as it increases the tax burden on higher income families and reduces it on lower income families.  In theory, a progressive tax promotes the greater social good and more overall happiness.  Critics would say that those who earn more are penalized by a progressive tax.

So, with that background, let’s look at some of the key issues.

The Republicans and the White House outlined their principles last Thursday:

  • Make taxes simpler, fairer, and lower for American families
  • Reduce tax rates for all American businesses
  • Encourage companies to bring back profits held abroad
  • Allow “unprecedented” capital expensing
  • Tax cuts would be short-term and expire in 10 years (and could be passed through “reconciliation” procedures by a simple majority)
  • The earlier proposed border adjustment tax on imports has been removed

Also this week, Senate Democrats indicated an interest in working with Republicans if three key conditions are met:

  • No cuts for the top 1% of households
  • No deficit-financed tax cuts
  • No use of fast-track procedures known as reconciliation

The last big tax reform was 1986.  It was a bipartisan bill with sweeping changes.  Its goals were to simplify the tax code, broaden the tax base and eliminate many tax shelters.  It was designed to be tax-revenue neutral.  The tax cuts for individuals were offset by eliminating $60 billion annually in tax loopholes and shifting $24 billion of the tax burden from individuals to corporations.  It needed bipartisan support because these were permanent changes requiring a 60% majority vote.

With all that in mind, sit back, relax and follow what comes out of Washington in the next few months. It will be interesting to watch how everything plays out for tax reform, the next very important piece of proposed legislation.

Tick, Tock… Is it Time for your Required Minimum Distribution (RMD)?

“Time flies” was a recent quote that I heard from a client.  Remember a long time ago…putting money aside in your retirement accounts, perhaps at work in a qualified traditional 401(k) or to an individual retirement account (IRA)?  It’s easy to ‘forget’ about it because, it was after all, meant to be used many years down the road.  It would be nice to keep your retirement funds indefinitely; unfortunately, that can’t happen, as the government wants to eventually collect the tax revenue from years of tax deferred contributions and growth.

In general, once you reach the age of 70 ½, per the IRS, many of those qualified accounts are subject to a minimum required distribution (RMD) and you must begin withdrawing that minimum amount of money by April 1 of the year following the year that you turn 70 1/2.  Of course, there are a few exceptions with regards to qualified accounts, but as a rule, when you reach 70 ½, you must begin taking money from those accounts per IRS guidelines if you own a traditional 401(k), profit sharing, 403(b) or other defined contribution plan, traditional IRA, Simple IRA, SEP IRA or Inherited IRA.  (Roth IRAs are not required to take withdrawals until the death of the owner and his or her wife.)  Inherited IRAs are more complicated and handled with a few options available to the beneficiary, either by taking lifetime distributions or over a 5 year period.  The importance here, is to be aware that a distribution is needed.  Another word of caution…In some cases, your defined contribution plan may or may not allow you to wait until the year you retire before taking the first distribution, so review of the terms of the plan is necessary.  In contrary, if you are more than a 5% owner of the business sponsoring the plan, you are not exempt from delaying the first distribution; you must take the withdrawal beginning at age 70 1/2, regardless if you are still working.

The formula for determining the amount that must be taken is calculated using several factors.  Basically, your age and account value determine the amount you must withdraw.  As such, the December 31 prior year value of the account must be known and, second, the IRS Tables in Publication 590-B, which provides a life expectancy factor for either single life expectancy or joint life and last survivor expectancy, needs to be referenced.  The Uniform Lifetime expectancy table would be referenced for unmarried owners and the Joint Life and Last Survivor expectancy table would be used for owners who have spouses that are more than 10 years younger and are sole beneficiaries.  It comes down to a simple equation: The account value as of December 31 of the prior year is divided by your life expectancy.  For most of us, your first RMD amount will be roughly 4% of the account value and will increase in % terms as you get older.

It all begins with the first distribution, which will be triggered in the year in which an individual owning a qualified account turns 70 ½.  For example, John Doe, who has an IRA, and has a birthdate of May 1, 1947, will turn 70 ½ this year in 2017 on November 1.  A distribution will need to be made then after November 1, because he will have needed to attain the age of 70 ½ first.  Therefore, the distribution can be taken after November 1 (for 2017), and up until April 1 of the following year in 2018.

Once the first distribution is withdrawn, subsequent annual RMDs need to be taken for life, and are due by December 31.  In this case, John Doe will need to next take his 2018 distribution, using the same formula that determined his first distribution.  This will become a regular obligation of John’s each year.

So, we’ve talked about who, what, why and when, now let’s talk about the where.  Once the distribution amount is calculated, an individual can then choose where he or she would like that money to go.  Depending on circumstances, if the money is not needed for living expenses, it is advised to keep the money invested within one of your other non-qualified accounts such as a Trust or Individual account, i.e. you can elect to make an internal journal to one of your other brokerage accounts.  Alternatively, if you have another thought for the money, you can have it moved to a personal bank account or mailed to your home.  Keep in mind that these distributions, like any distribution from a traditional IRA, are taxed as ordinary income, thus, depending on your income situation, you may wish to have federal or state taxes withheld from the distribution.  At DWM, we can help our clients determine if, and what amount, to be withheld.

Another idea for the money could be a qualified charitable distribution (QCD).  Instead of the money going into one of your accounts, a direct transfer of funds would be payable to a qualified charity.  There are certain requirements to determine whether you can make a QCD.  For starters, the charity must be a 501 (c)(3) and eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions, and, in order for a QCD to count towards your current year’s RMD, the funds must come out of your IRA by the December 31 deadline.  The real beauty about this strategy is that the QCD amount is not taxed as ordinary income.

It may be pretty scary to know how quickly time flies, but with DWM by your side, we can take the scare out of the situation!

Let’s Make Taxes Simpler and Fairer!

Last Wednesday, President Trump’s one-page Tax Reform Proposal was released.  We expect the Administration will soon discover that Tax Reform is similar to Health Care Reform.  President Trump’s February 27th “epiphany” concerning Obamacare was expressed this way:  “Nobody knew that healthcare could be so complicated.”

Tax Reform isn’t simple either.  The last major Tax Reform was in 1986 and it took years of bipartisan effort to get it done.  In 1983, Richard Gephardt of Missouri and Bill Bradley of NJ introduced a tax reform bill to cut rates and close loopholes.  The proposal was predictably attacked by special interest groups and didn’t gain much traction.

In 1985, President Reagan met with a bipartisan group of senators to push forward revenue-neutral tax reform. Four key principles were established:

  • Equity, so that equal incomes paid equal taxes
  • Efficiency, to let the market allocate resources more freely
  • Simplicity, to reduce loopholes, and
  • Fairness, to ensure those who have more income pay more tax

Dan Rostenkowski, Democratic chairman of the House Ways and Means committee and Bob Packwood, Republican chairman of the Senate Finance Committee were tasked with getting the bill passed.  It wasn’t easy.  Ultimately, many loopholes and “tax shelters” were eliminated, labor and capital were taxed at the same rate, low-income Americans got a big tax cut, corporations were treated more equally, and the wealthy ended up paying a higher share of the total income tax revenue.  In the end, the bipartisan 1986 Tax Reform Act, according to Bill Bradley, “upheld the general interest over the special interests, showing that clear principles, legislative skill and persistence could change a fundamentally unfair system.”

The current Tax Reform proposal is, of course, only an opening wish list, but it has a long way to go.  The current proposal would basically give the richest Americans a huge tax break and increase the federal debt by an estimated $3 trillion to $7 trillion over the next decade.  As an example, it would eliminate the Alternative Minimum Tax, which would have saved Donald Trump $31 million in tax on his 2005 income tax return (the only one Americans have seen). Furthermore, there’s lots of work to be done on corporate/business rates, currently proposed to be revised to 15% (from a current top rate of 40%).  Workers of all kinds would want to become LLCs and pay 15%.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin at the time of presenting the proposal last week stated that the Administration believes the proposal is “revenue-neutral.”  The idea is that tax cuts will produce more jobs and economic growth and therefore produce more tax revenue.  We’d heard estimates that real GDP, which was .7% on an annual basis in 1Q17 and 2% for the last number of years, would grow to 3-5% under the current tax proposal.  However, there is no empirical evidence to show that tax cuts cause growth and, in fact, can result in severe economic problems.  The latest disastrous example was the state of Kansas.  The huge tax cuts championed by Governor Sam Brownback in 2012 haven’t worked.  Kansas has been mired in a perpetual budget crisis since the package was passed, forcing reduced spending in areas such as education and resulting in the downgrading of Kansas’ credit rating.

Furthermore, we’ve got some additional issues that weren’t there for President Reagan and the others in 1986.  First, our current federal debt level is 80% of GDP.  It was only 25% in 1986.  Adding another 25% or 30% of debt, to what we have now, could be a real tipping point for American economic stability going forward. Second, the demographics are so much different.  Thirty years ago, the baby boomers were in their 30s and entering their peak consuming and earning years.

Tax Reform is needed and can be done.  It’s going to take a lot of work and bipartisan support.  It was great to see Congressional leaders reach a bipartisan agreement on Sunday to fund the government through September, without sharp cuts to domestic programs, an increase in funding for medical research, and not a penny for Trump’s border wall.  On Monday, Republican Charlie Dent (PA) and Democrat Jim Hines (CT) put together a great op-ed in the Washington Post calling for compromise and cooperation.  It concluded:  “Ideological purity is a recipe for continued bitterness. …Failure to seek commonality or accept incremental progress will threaten more than our congressional seats and reputations.  It puts our systems of government at risk.  We owe it to our country to do better.”

Hear! Hear!  Yes, let’s make the tax system fairer.  Let’s do tax reform correctly- the way they did it in 1986- putting our country’s interests ahead of personal or special interests.

Feliz Jubilación!

We loved recently learning the word for retirement in Spanish …Jubilación!  It has a much more festive ring to it than “retirement” or even “financial independence”, as we say in the U.S.  In France, they use the word for retreat or “retraite” to define this time of life.  We don’t think many of us want to retreat, exactly, or hide away from anything!  And in England or Italy, they use a derivative of pension to describe a ‘retiree’ – ‘pensioner’ or ‘pensionato’, while in Spanish, you are a ‘jubilado’!  While they all mean the same general thing, we think this transition in life should be celebratory and warmly anticipated without any anxiety or trepidation.  As wealth managers at DWM, our goal is to make this transition so easy that you are indeed… jubilant!

So how can this transition truly be smooth and worry-free?  We do think that there are some things that you can do for yourself and then some things where your financial advocate, like DWM, can be very helpful.  Let’s start with some of the administrative items that come up at “a certain age”.  In fact, at DWM, we keep track of the important dates and significant milestones in our clients’ lives so we can remind them of the things that they will soon want to do.  For example, at age 50, you can start increasing your IRA or 401(k) contributions each year.  At 55, we like to discuss the pros and cons of long term care for you and your family and around age 60 or 62, we like to discuss Social Security strategies and help you with plans to start thinking about Medicare sign-ups.  We are always available to help analyze the proper benefits, help you schedule sign-ups or meet with professionals to assist you.  We also help with tax strategies and account transitions as you leave your job and need to understand your employer retirement benefits packages.  And when you hit 70 and it is almost time to start taking your required minimum distributions from your IRA’s, we are also here to guide you and manage this.  There are a few things that need to be done, but we like to educate our clients on the process and then help to guide them through it.

It is also important to make sure that your resources are protected and wisely invested to maximize your success in achieving your goals.  Assessing your resources and making a realistic plan will allow you to make the best choices for your future.  As wealth managers, we are always mindful of taxes, asset allocations, estate planning and risk management, as we look for ways to make the most of what you have.  We want to help you realize your goals with a comprehensive financial plan and a roadmap to success.  Money certainly isn’t everything, but having your finances in order and the details understood can make this transition much more worry-free and enjoyable.  Looking at all of your goals and assets with honest and realistic expectations will allow your plan to reach its highest potential.

The other question to ask yourself is what is your passion?  How would you like to spend your time, now that it is yours to spend?  Will you continue working?  Will you travel? Will you move to a new home?  Some people find that they can now spend their time doing exactly what they have always wanted to be doing, but just aren’t sure what that may be!  There are many things to investigate and you can now take some time to explore your options – whether it is continuing to work, volunteer, travel or take up a hobby that might have always interested you.  The goal here is to look at it as a wonderful opportunity where you embrace the change and get excited to find a happy “new normal”.  It may take some time and some patience to make this adjustment smoothly.  Staying healthy, active and engaged with others are all great tips to helping with the emotional transition.  You may have to adjust to your new identity and staying busy and connected with others can definitely support you through this process.

This should be a wonderful time in your life and we are here to help in any way we can as you move forward into “retirement”.  Just remember, you have earned the ability to celebrate – this is your lifetime achievement award!   As your financial advisor, we look forward to helping you look at this time with joyous and resounding JUBILATION!

Don’t Forget Year-End Tax Planning

Holiday season is here.  Lots to do, including year-end tax planning.  Yes, you need to carve out some time to reduce your 2016 tax bill.  Planning this year could be extremely important.  A tax reform is likely in early 2017 that would reduce income tax rates, increase standard deductions and could reduce the impact of big tax deductions.  The basic strategy is to defer income and accelerate deductions.

Here are some key areas for you to review with your CPA:

Reduce income.  The standard advice of pushing as much income as possible into future years is all the more powerful if tax rates drop.  Small business owners might want to wait until the end of December to bill clients so that related payments are received in January.  They might also buy equipment and place it in service before December 31.  The Section 179 Deduction permits up to $500,000 of business equipment to be written off 100% in year of purchase. The closing of a sale of real estate might be put off until January 2, 2017.  If you are in retirement and living off IRAs, consider deferring taking any more distributions until early 2017.

Retirement Tax Breaks.  If you are contributing to a traditional 401(k) or other retirement plan, considering maximizing it ($18,000 for those under 50 and $24,000 for those 50 and over) with larger deductions on your December paychecks.  Consider maximizing IRAs ($5,500 and $6,500 respectively) even if your contributions are not deductible, as you may want to convert those to Roth IRAs in the future.

Capital Gains and Losses.  Capital gains taxes are likely to be less in future years for higher income American taxpayers under tax reform proposals.  The House GOP plan would revert to an older system that taxes a portion (50%) of investment income at regular rates and excludes the rest.  You and your financial advisor should review your portfolio for all realized and unrealized capital gains and harvest appropriate losses before year-end if you haven’t already done that.

Medical Expenses.   Taxpayers can deduct medical expenses if they amount to 10% of their income or 7.5% for taxpayers 65 and older.  If you’re scheduling an expensive procedure, you might want to get it done and paid in 2016.  Some tax reform proposals eliminate medical expense deductions.  And, even if medical expense deductions remain available, they may not be worth as much in tax savings if your income tax rate goes down.

State and local taxes.  This deduction may be coming to an end.  Already, four million Americans lose this deduction due to the Alternative Minimum Tax (“AMT”). Both the Trump Plan and the Ryan Plan intend to eliminate the AMT.  If so, this deduction could be wiped out.  Hence, if possible, consider paying your property taxes and/or state income taxes in 2016.

Mortgage Interest.  All tax reform proposals have continued to support a mortgage interest deduction.  However, it might make sense to make your January 2017 mortgage payment in December.  The standard deduction is expected to be doubled to $25,000 to $30,000.  If so, fewer taxpayers will itemize.

Charitable Contributions.   The raising of the standard deduction will likely mean fewer taxpayers will get a tax benefit from their charitable contributions.  And, even if they do itemize, their income tax bracket may be reduced going forward.   Therefore, consider contributing both your 2016 amounts and your 2017 charitable contributions by 12/31/16.  Here are three good ways to do this:

    • You can contribute to “Donor-advised” funds this year and get the deduction in 2016 and then make “grants” to charities with these funds as desired in the future.
    • You can contribute appreciated property such as stocks, mutual funds and exchange traded funds to a charity. The taxpayer doesn’t pay the capital gain on the appreciation and gets a full charitable contribution deduction.  And, yes, appreciated property can fund your donor-advised fund.
    • You can make a “Qualified Charitable Distribution” (“QCD”) from your IRA. A QCD allows an IRA owner who is at least age 70 ½ to contribute up to $100,000 to a charity without having to claim the distribution in taxable income.  This is particularly valuable to philanthropic taxpayers who can fulfill their Required Minimum Distributions (“RMDs”) by sending payments directly to the charities of their choice.

Our clients know that at DWM we recommend starting tax planning in April or May, following it up in the fall and finalizing it in December. We don’t prepare tax returns.  We do provide suggestions for reducing taxes.  Helping you minimize your tax bill is part of the value you get with DWM Total Wealth Management.  Please let us know if you have any questions.  Don’t delay!

Don’t Be A Victim!

tax theftIn today’s technology driven world, the unfortunate reality is that cyber breaches will happen. The Internal Revenue Service recently announced that cybercriminals gained access to personal data from more than 700,000 taxpayer accounts in 2015. A majority of the information is taken from the IRS database, but hackers are beginning to use aggressive and threatening phone calls or emails impersonating IRS agents to gain information directly from taxpayers. It’s important to know how to protect yourself from these unsolicited phone calls and emails and what to do if your information has been compromised.

 

The IRS, and many states, are now encouraging tax returns to be electronically filed. Many people believe by electronically filing, they are more susceptible to having their information compromised. This is not accurate. These cybercriminals are attacking the IRS online application called “Get Transcript.” This application allows for taxpayers to obtain prior-year tax return information. Whether a taxpayer files electronically or not, each taxpayer has the ability to pull this type of transcript. By accessing prior year tax data, cybercriminals are able to file false returns with more accuracy, making it harder for the IRS and states to detect. The IRS estimated that the government paid out about $5.8 billion in fraudulent refunds to these cybercriminals in 2013.

 

If the IRS detects that a suspicious return has been filed, they will send a letter to the taxpayer asking to verify certain information. However, most taxpayers become aware of suspicious activity when they try to electronically file their return. The IRS will reject any return immediately if their database shows a duplicate filing for any Social Security number (SSN). This is an advantage of electronically filing versus paper filing. If a taxpayer’s return is rejected and suspects fraudulent activity has occurred, the IRS recommends paper filing your return and attaching a completed Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit. Going forward, the IRS would offer free credit protection and issue a specific identification number to use with the filing of future tax returns.

 

While fraudulent returns are out of taxpayers’ control, taxpayers are able to limit the personal information they release. Scammers have started using phone calls, emails and text messages impersonating IRS agents to gain information directly from taxpayers.  These scammers use the IRS name, logo and fake websites to try and steal money and information.

 

The IRS has seen an approximate 400 percent surge in phishing and malware incidents so far in the 2016 tax season. The phishing schemes cover a wide variety of topics including, information related to refunds, filing status, confirming personal information, ordering transcripts and verifying PIN information. Some of their emails will include links that carry malware which can infect taxpayers’ computers and allow criminals to access personal information.  If a taxpayer happens to receive a suspicious email, the IRS asks taxpayers to forward the email immediately to phishing@irs.gov.

 

The impersonated telephone scammers are typically aggressive and want the taxpayer to act immediately. The scammers will ask taxpayers to pay their tax over the phone or even ask for personal information if a refund is due. These scammers will also leave voicemail messages asking for an urgent callback. If a taxpayer is suspicious about a phone call, they should hang up immediately. The IRS asks that the taxpayer contact TIGTA immediately using their “IRS Impersonation Sam Reporting” webpage https://www.treasury.gov/tigta/contact_report_scam.shtml or by calling 800-366-4484.

Here are several tips that will help avoid these scams:

 

The IRS will NOT:

  • Call and demand immediate payment. The IRS will not call about payments without first sending a bill or notice in the mail.
  • Demand tax payments and not allow taxpayers to ask questions or appeal the amount owed.
  • Require a taxpayer to pay an outstanding payment using credit or debit cards.
  • Ask for debit or credit card numbers over the phone.
  • Threaten to bring in local police or other agencies to arrest the taxpayer if they do not pay.
  • Threaten taxpayers with a lawsuit.
  • Initiate correspondence with taxpayers using email or text message.

 

Here at DWM, we advise our clients and other taxpayers to get their CPA, or tax professional, involved immediately with any correspondence from the IRS, especially ones involving tax-related identity theft. Corresponding with the IRS can seem overwhelming, so get help. For those clients that self-prepare their returns, we ask that you let us know if you receive any notices or suspect suspicious activity involving your tax information. We’ll do everything we can to help you not become a victim.