2019 Year-End Tax Planning Tips & Traps

As the end of the year is fast approaching, we should consider any last-minute strategies that might help reduce your 2019 tax bill. Last year was the first year to be impacted by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA). While there was plenty of clarifying guidance on application of the TCJA, there were was no significant new legislation in 2019 affecting individual taxes. But situations do change from year to year, thus requiring a fresh look at how to approach year-end tax planning. The following are strategies that may benefit you and that we should discuss before December 31.

Bunching Deductions into 2019

As you may know, TCJA significantly increased the standard deduction for all taxpayers. This means that many individuals who previously received a tax benefit by itemizing deductions no longer do because taking the standard deduction is more advantageous. For 2019, the standard deduction is $12,200 for single taxpayers, $24,400 for married taxpayers filing a joint return, $18,350 for taxpayers filing as head of household, and $12,200 for married taxpayers filing separately.

In addition, there is a $10,000 limitation ($5,000 in the case of married taxpayers filing separately) on the combined amount of state income taxes and property taxes that may be deducted when itemizing. Unfortunately, this $10,000 limitation applies to single as well as married taxpayers and is not indexed for inflation.

If the total of your itemized deductions in 2019 will be close to your standard deduction amount, alternating between bunching itemized deductions into 2019 and taking the standard deduction in 2020 (or vice versa) could provide a net-tax benefit over the two-year period. For example, if you give a certain amount to charities each year, and if it’s financially feasible, you might consider doubling up this year on your contributions rather than spreading the contributions over a two-year period. If these amounts, along with your mortgage interest and medical expenses exceed your standard deduction, then you should double up on the expenses this year and take the standard deduction next year.

Similar opportunities may be available for bunching property tax payments and state income tax payments, subject to TCJA’s $10,000 limitation on deductions for such payments. This strategy can be especially attractive for single taxpayers because the standard deduction is so much lower for single individuals. It’s important to remember, however, that the deduction for property taxes applies only to property taxes that have been assessed. Thus, if the assessment for 2019 property taxes occurred in 2018 and the taxes are due in 2019, you can deduct in 2019 the taxes assessed for 2019 that you have paid as well as the property taxes assessed for 2020, assuming you also pay the 2020 taxes in 2019.

Finally, if any of your real estate or income taxes can be allocated to a trade or business, they are not subject to the $10,000 limitation.

Medical Expenses and Health Savings Accounts

For 2019, your medical expenses are only deductible as an itemized deduction to the extent they exceed 10 percent of your adjusted gross income. Depending on what your taxable income is expected to be in 2019 and 2020, and whether itemizing deductions would be advantageous for you in either year, you may want to accelerate any optional medical expenses into 2019 or defer them until 2020. The right approach depends on your income for each year, expected medical expenses, as well as your other itemized deductions.

However, health saving accounts (HSAs) present an attractive alternative. If you are eligible to set up such an account, you can deduct the amount you contribute to the account in computing adjusted gross income. Thus, the contributions are deductible whether you itemize deductions or not. Distributions from an HSA are tax free to the extent they are used to pay for qualified medical expenses (i.e., medical, dental, and vision expenses). For 2019, the annual contribution limits are $3,500 for an individual with self-only coverage and $7,000 for an individual with family coverage.

Mortgage Interest Deduction

If you sold your principal residence during the year and acquired a new principal residence, the deduction for any interest on your acquisition indebtedness (i.e., mortgage) could be limited. The TCJA limits the interest deduction on mortgages of more than $750,000 obtained after December 14, 2017. The deduction is limited to the portion of the interest allocable to $750,000 ($375,000 in the case of married taxpayers filing separately). For mortgages acquired before December 15, 2017, the limitation is the same as it was under prior law: $1,000,000 ($500,000 in the case of married taxpayers filing separately). However, as discussed below, if you operate a business from your home, an allocable portion of your mortgage interest is not subject to these limitations.

You can potentially deduct interest paid on home equity indebtedness, but only if you used the debt to buy, build, or substantially improve your home. Thus, for example, interest on a home equity loan used to build an addition to your existing home is typically deductible, while interest on the same loan used to pay personal living expenses, such as credit card debts, is not.

Home Office Expenses

When the TCJA eliminated the miscellaneous itemized expense deduction, it eliminated the ability of employees to deduct home office expenses. However, taxpayers with their own business can still file a Schedule C and take a home office expense deduction if part of the home is used for that business. State income taxes, property taxes, and home mortgage interest allocable to your business can also be deducted and such deductions are not subject to the limitations that apply to individual taxpayers who do not operate a Schedule C business from their home.

Revised Kiddie Tax Rules

One of the changes made by TCJA involves what is known as the “kiddie tax.” The kiddie tax applies to a child’s net unearned income (e.g., dividends, interest, and capital gain distributions) over $2,200. While such income used to be taxed at the parent’s marginal income tax rate and took into consideration the unearned income of any siblings, TCJA simplified the calculation so that the child’s unearned income is taxed at trust and estate tax rates. Although the trust and estate tax rates are similar to the individual tax rates, the tax brackets are much lower, meaning higher rates of tax apply to lower levels of income.

For 2019, the top marginal tax rate for a couple filing a joint return is 37% for taxable income over $612,350. For income subject to the estate and trust tax rates, the 37% tax rate begins at taxable income over $12,750. There is a way to save some taxes here, however, if your child is under the age of 18 at the end of 2019 and didn’t have earned income that was more than half of the child’s support, or a full-time student at least age 19 and under age 24 and the end of 2019 and didn’t have earned income that was more than half of the child’s support. For such children, you can elect to include the child’s income on your tax return. However, we would need to evaluate whether adding such income to your tax return would subject you to the net investment income tax of 3.8 percent.

Child-Related Expenses and Credits

While the TCJA eliminated the personal and dependent exemption deductions that applied to tax years before 2018, it increased the child tax credit available for years after 2017 and increased the income level at which taxpayers are eligible for the credit. For 2019, if you file a joint return and your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is $400,000 or less, you are eligible for a $2,000 child tax credit for each qualifying child. If you are filing as single, head of household, or married filing separately, the MAGI limitation for claiming a child tax credit is $200,000 or less. For income above those levels, a pro rata credit may be available depending on total MAGI. Taxpayers with income below certain thresholds may be eligible for a refundable child tax credit.

Additionally, if you paid someone to take care of your child or a dependent so you can work or look for work, you may be entitled to a tax credit for up to 35 percent of the expenses paid. The amount of employment-related expenses used to calculate the credit is generally limited to $3,000 for one qualifying individual or $6,000 for two or more qualifying individuals. Various qualifications must be met in order to be eligible for the credit, but if you incurred such expenses, you may qualify. Additionally, if you paid someone to come to your home and care for a child or dependent, you may be a household employer subject to employment taxes.

If you incurred expenses to adopt a child, you may be eligible for a tax credit of up to $14,080 for some or all of those expenses. The determination of the tax year in which qualified adoption expenses are allowable as a credit depends on whether the expenses were paid before the year in which the adoption became final or whether they were paid during or after the year in which the adoption became final.

Education-Related Deductions and Credits

While the tuition and fees deduction that had previously been available expired at the end of 2017 along with the miscellaneous itemized deduction for work-related education expenses, other education-related tax deductions, credits, and exclusions from income may apply for amounts paid in 2019. Tax-free distributions from a qualified tuition program of up to $10,000 are now allowed for elementary or secondary school tuition. In addition, if your modified adjusted gross income level is below certain thresholds, the following are available for 2019:

· an exclusion from income for education savings bond interest;

· a deduction for student loan interest; and

· a lifetime learning credit of up to $2,000 for tuition and fees paid for the enrollment or attendance of yourself, your spouse, or your dependents for courses of instruction at an eligible educational institution.

Charitable Contribution Deductions

As a result of the increase in the standard deduction, some taxpayers are no longer getting a benefit from itemizing their deductions, such as charitable contributions, as they once were. However, as noted above, you can still help charities and get a tax benefit if you contribute enough to get over the standard deduction amount or bunch itemized deductions that would otherwise be spread over multiple years into one year.

Additionally, you can reap a larger tax benefit by donating appreciated assets, such as stock, to a charity. Generally, the higher the appreciated value of an asset, the bigger the potential value of the tax benefit. Donating appreciated assets not only entitles you to a charitable contribution deduction but you also avoid the capital gains tax that would otherwise be due if you sold the stock. For example, if you own stock with a fair market value of $1,000 that was purchased for $250 and your capital gains tax rate is 15 percent, the capital gains tax would be $113 ($750 gain x 15%). If you donate that stock instead of selling it, and are in the 24 percent tax bracket, you get an ordinary income deduction worth $240 ($1,000 FMV x 24%). You also save $150 in capital gains tax that you would otherwise pay if you sold the stock. Thus, the after-tax cost of the gift of appreciated stock is $647 ($1,000 – $240 – $113) compared to the after tax cost of a donation of $1,000 cash which would be $760 ($1,000 – $240). However, it’s important to also keep in mind that tax deductions for appreciated property are limited to 50 percent of your adjusted gross income.

Finally, taxpayers 70 1/2 years old and older who own an individual retirement account (IRA) are required to take minimum distributions from that account each year and include those amounts in taxable income. If you are in this category, a special rule allows you to make a charitable contribution directly from your IRA to a charity. This has several benefits. First, since charitable contributions deductions are usually only available to individuals who itemize, individuals who take the standard deduction instead can benefit from this rule. Second, making the contribution directly to a charity counts towards your required minimum distribution but that amount is not included in income and thus reduces your taxable income and adjusted gross income (AGI). A lower AGI is advantageous because it increases your ability to take medical expense deductions that you might not otherwise be able to take. For example, medical expenses are only deductible to the extent those expenses exceed 10 percent of your AGI and a lower AGI means you can deduct more medical expenses. In addition, as AGI increases, more of your social security income is subject to tax. Finally, the 3.8 percent net investment income tax applies to the extent your AGI exceeds a certain level.

Rental Real Estate

If you own rental real estate, you may be eligible for a special tax break – TCJA’s Section 199A deduction – which is based on a percentage of income earned by the rental real estate activity. In order to be eligible for the deduction, the activity must be considerable, regular, and continuous in scope. In determining whether your rental real estate activity meets those criteria, relevant factors include, but are not limited to, the following:

· the type of rented property (commercial real property versus residential property);

· the number of properties rented;

· you or your agent’s day-to-day involvement;

· the types and significance of any ancillary services provided under the lease; and

· the terms of the lease (for example, a net lease versus a traditional lease and a short-term lease versus a long-term lease).

Under a safe harbor issued by the IRS, a rental real estate activity will be treated as a business eligible for the special deduction if certain requirements are satisfied, such as:

· separate books and records are maintained to reflect the income and expenses for each rental real estate enterprise;

· for rental real estate enterprises that have been in existence less than four years, 250 or more hours of rental services are performed per year with respect to the rental real estate enterprise (with slightly less stringent requirements for rental real estate enterprises that have been in existence for at least four years);

· contemporaneous records have been maintained, including time reports, logs, or similar documents, regarding the following: (i) hours of all services performed; (ii) description of all services performed; (iii) dates on which such services were performed; and (iv) who performed the services; and

· certain compliance requirements are met.

If you think you may be eligible for this deduction, we should get together to nail down any last steps you may need to take to fall within the safe harbor. Alternatively, even if you don’t meet the safe harbor requirements, you may still be eligible for this deduction.

In addition, if you rent out a vacation home that you also use for personal purposes, we should review the number of days it was used for business versus pleasure to see if there are ways to maximize tax savings with respect to that property.

Retirement Planning

By investing in a qualified retirement plan you’ll not only receive a current tax deduction, thereby reducing current year income tax, but you can sock away money for your retirement years. If your employer has a 401(k) plan and you are under age 50, you can defer up to $19,000 of income into that plan. Catch-up contributions of $6,000 are allowed if you are 50 or over.

If you have a SIMPLE 401(k), the maximum pre-tax contribution for 2019 is $13,000. That amount increases to $16,000 if you are 50 or older.

If certain requirements are met, contributions to an individual retirement account (IRA) may be deductible. If you are under 50, the maximum contribution amount for 2019 is $6,000. If you are 50 or older but less than 70 1/2, the maximum contribution amount is $7,000. Contributions exceeding the maximum amount are subject to a 6 percent excise tax. Even if you are not eligible to deduct contributions, contributing after-tax money to an IRA may be advantageous because it will allow you to later convert that traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. Qualified withdrawals from a Roth IRA, including earnings, are free of tax, while earnings on a traditional IRA are taxable when withdrawn.

If you already have a traditional IRA, we should evaluate whether it is appropriate to convert it to a Roth IRA this year. You’ll have to pay tax on the amount converted as ordinary income, but subsequent earnings will be free of tax and the decrease in tax rates that are effective this year makes such a conversion less costly than it would have been in previous years. Of course, this option only makes sense if the tax rates when the money is withdrawn from the Roth IRA are anticipated to be higher than the tax rates when the traditional IRA is converted. And if you have a traditional 401(k), 403(b), or 457 plan that includes after-tax contributions, you can generally rollover these after-tax amounts to a Roth IRA with no tax consequences. A rollover of a SIMPLE 401(k) into a Roth IRA may also be available. As with all tax rules, there are qualifications that apply to these rollovers that we should discuss before any actions are taken.

Finally, if you make qualified retirement savings contributions during 2019 you can claim a retirement savings credit of up to $1,000 (single or head of household) or $2,000 (joint filers) if your adjusted gross income does not exceed $64,000 (married filing jointly), $48,000 (head of household), or $32,000 (all other taxpayers).

Reevaluating Your Stock Portfolio

Year end is a good time to review your stock portfolio to see if you might want to divest yourself of stocks that have lost value since you originally bought them. We should evaluate whether you might benefit from selling off appreciated stocks, particularly those that would generate a short-term capital gain, and using the resulting gain to limit your exposure to a long-term capital loss on stocks you may want to dump, since the deduction of long-term capital gains is limited. And any net capital gain you may reap will be taxed at the substantially reduced capital gain tax rate.

The tax rate for net capital gain is generally no higher than 15 percent for most taxpayers. Some or all of your net capital gain may be taxed at 0 percent if your income is not above $39,375 (single), $78,750 (joint), or $52,750 (head of household). However, a 20 percent tax rate on net capital gain does apply to the extent that your ordinary taxable income is over $434,550 (single), $488,850 (joint), $244,425 (married filing separately), or $461,700 (head of household). Additionally, the following types of capital gains have different tax rate structures: (1) the taxable part of a gain from selling certain qualified small business stock is taxed at a maximum 28 percent rate; (2) the net capital gain from selling collectibles (such as coins or art) is taxed at a maximum 28 percent rate; and (3) the portion of certain unrecaptured gain from selling real property is taxed at a maximum 25 percent rate. If you have been involved in any such transactions during the year, we should review your options for reducing the tax on those transactions.

Substantial Increases in Deductions or Nontaxable Income Could Result in AMT Exposure

While fewer taxpayers are subject to the alternative minimum tax (AMT) as a result of the TCJA increasing exemption amounts and raising the exemption phaseout levels, the AMT is not completely dead. Certain adjustments to your taxable income, or certain exclusions from gross income, for regular tax purposes are not allowed for AMT purposes and will increase your AMT income (AMTI), thus potentially subjecting you to the AMT. Typical items which may reduce regular income but are not allowed for AMTI purposes include the standard deduction, the state and local income tax deduction, and the deduction for property taxes. In addition, the exercise of incentive stock options can result in AMT income, whereas such income is not recognized for regular tax purposes. Thus, if you have exercised any incentive stock options or have had a substantial increase in certain deductions in 2019, but have not previously been subject to the AMT, there is the possibility that you could be subject to the AMT for 2019.

If you work from home, one strategy for avoiding the AMT is to allocate part of your mortgage interest or property taxes to your Schedule C business. To the extent you can claim items on your Schedule C, they aren’t added back in calculating AMTI.

While all taxpayers are eligible for an exemption from the AMT, the amount of the exemption depends on your filing status. For 2019, the exemption amounts for individuals, other than those subject to the kiddie tax, are (1) $111,700 in the case of a joint return or a surviving spouse; (2) $71,700 in the case of an individual who is unmarried and not a surviving spouse; and (3) $55,850 in the case of a married individual filing a separate return. However, these exemptions are phased out by an amount equal to 25 percent of the amount by which your alternative minimum taxable income (AMTI) exceeds: (1) $1,020,600 in the case of married individuals filing a joint return and surviving spouses and (2) $510,300 in the case of all other individuals.

Planning for the 3.8 Percent Net Investment Income Tax

A 3.8 percent tax applies to certain net investment income of individuals with income above a threshold amount. The threshold amounts are $250,000 (married filing jointly and qualifying widow(er) with dependent child), $200,000 (single and head of household), and $125,000 (married filing separately). In general, investment income includes, but is not limited to: interest, dividends, capital gains, rental and royalty income, non-qualified annuities, and income from businesses involved in trading of financial instruments or commodities. Thus, while the top tax rate for qualified dividend income is generally 20 percent, the top rate on such income increases to 23.8 percent for a taxpayer subject to the net investment income tax (NIIT).

If it appears you may be subject to the NIIT, the following actions may help avoid the tax and we should discuss whether any of these options make sense in light of your financial situation.

· Donate or gift appreciated property. As discussed above, by donating appreciated property to a charity, you can avoid recognizing the appreciation for income tax purposes and for net investment income tax purposes. Or you may gift the property so that the donee can sell it and report the income. In this case, you’ll want to gift the property to individuals that have income below the $200,000 (single) or $250,000 (couples) thresholds.

· Replace stocks with state and local bonds. Interest on tax-exempt state and local bonds are exempt from the NIIT. In addition, because such interest income is not included in adjusted gross income, it can help keep you below the threshold for which the NIIT applies.

· If you are in the real estate business, we should review the criteria for being classified as a real estate professional in addition to the criteria necessary for meeting the safe harbor requirements mentioned above for obtaining the qualified business income deduction. If you meet the requirements for being a real estate professional, your rental income is considered nonpassive and thus escapes the NIIT.

· If you intend to sell any appreciated assets, consider whether the sale can be structured as an installment sale so the gain recognition is spread over several years.

· Since capital losses can offset capital gains for NIIT purposes, consider whether it makes sense to sell any losing stocks, but keeping in mind the transaction costs associated with selling stocks.

· If you have appreciated real property to dispose of and are not considered a real estate professional, a like-kind exchange may be more advantageous. By deferring the gain recognition, you can avoid recognizing income subject to the NIIT.

Because the NIIT does not apply to a trade or business unless (1) the trade or business is a passive activity with respect to the taxpayer, or (2) the trade or business consists of trading financial instruments or commodities, we may want to look at ways in which a venture you are involved with could qualify as a trade or business. However, such classification could have Form 1099 reporting implications whereas personal payments are not reportable if your activity is not considered a trade or business.

Additional Medicare Tax

An additional Medicare tax of 0.9 percent is imposed on wages, compensation, and self-employment income in excess of a threshold amount. The threshold amounts are $250,000 (joint return or surviving spouse), $125,000 (married individual filing a separate return), and $200,000 (all others). However, the threshold amount is reduced (but not below zero) by the amount of the taxpayer’s wages. Thus, a single individual who has $145,000 in self-employment income and $130,000 of wages is subject to the .9 percent additional tax on $75,000 of self-employment income ($145,000 – $70,000 (the $200,000 threshold – $130,000 in wages)). No tax deduction is allowed for the additional Medicare tax.

For married couples, employers do not take a spouse’s self-employment income or wages into account when calculating Medicare tax withholding for an employee. If you and your spouse will exceed the $250,000 threshold in 2019 and have not made enough tax payments to cover the additional .9 percent tax, you can file Form W-4 with the IRS before year end to have an additional amount deducted from your paycheck to cover the additional .9 percent tax. Otherwise, underpayment of tax penalties may apply.

Timing Income and Deductions

If there is going to be a dramatic swing in your taxable income or your life circumstances between 2019 and 2020, it may make sense to either: (1) accelerate income into 2019 and defer deductions into 2020, or (2) accelerate deductions into 2019 and defer income into 2020.

· Accelerating Income into 2019. Options for accelerating income include: (1) harvesting gains from your investment portfolio, keeping in mind the 3.8 percent NIIT; (2) converting a retirement account into a Roth IRA and recognizing the conversion income this year; (3) taking IRA distributions this year rather than next year; (4) if you are self-employed and have clients that owe you money, try to get them to pay before year end; and (5) settling any outstanding lawsuits or insurance claims that will generate income this year.

· Deferring Deductions into 2020. If you anticipate a substantial increase in taxable income next year, it may be advantageous to push deductions into 2020 by: (1) postponing year-end charitable contributions, property tax payments, and medical and dental expense payments, to the extent deductions are available for such payments, until next year; and (2) postponing the sale of any loss-generating property.

· Deferring Income into 2020. If it looks like you may have a significant decrease in income next year, either from a reduction in income or an increase in deductions, it may make sense to defer income into 2020 or later years. Some options for deferring income include: (1) if you are due a year-end bonus, having your employer pay the bonus in January 2020; (2) if you are considering selling assets that will generate a gain, postponing the sale until 2020; (3) if you are considering exercising stock options, delaying the exercise of those options; (4) if you are planning on selling appreciated property, consider an installment sale with larger payments being received in 2020; and (5) consider parking investments in deferred annuities.

· Accelerating Deductions into 2019. If you expect a decrease in income next year, accelerating deductions into the current year can offset the higher income this year. Some options include: (1) prepaying property taxes in December, keeping in mind the $10,000 limitation on deducting state income and property taxes and the fact that the property taxes must have been assessed in order to be deductible; (2) if you owe state income taxes, making up any shortfall in December rather than waiting until your state income tax return is due (and similarly keeping in mind the $10,000 limitation); (3) making your January mortgage payment in December; (4) making any large charitable contributions in 2019, rather than 2020; (5) selling some or all loss stocks; and (6) if you qualify for a health savings account, setting one up and making the maximum contribution allowable.

Foreign Bank Account Reporting

The IRS has become increasingly aggressive at tracking down individuals who have not reported foreign bank accounts. If you have an interest in a foreign bank account, it must be disclosed; failure to do so carries stiff penalties. You must file a Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR) if: (1) you are a U.S. resident or a person doing business in the United States; (2) you had one or more financial accounts that exceeded $10,000 during the calendar year; (3) the financial account was in a foreign country; and (4) you had a financial interest in the account or signatory or other authority over the foreign financial account. If you are unclear about the requirements or think they could possibly apply to you, please let me know at your earliest convenience.

Other Considerations

Here are some additional items to consider:

Flexible Spending Accounts: Generally, you will lose any amounts remaining in a health flexible spending account at the end of the year unless your employer allows you to use the account until March 15, 2020, in which case you’ll have until then. You should check with your employer to see if the employer gives employees the optional grace period to March 15.

Life Events. Life events can significantly impact your taxes. For example, if you are using head of household or surviving spouse filing status for 2019, but will change to a filing tax status of single for 2020, your tax rate will go up. Thus, accelerating income into 2019 and pushing deductions into 2020 may also yield tax savings.

Individual Healthcare Penalty. For 2019, the tax penalty on individuals who fail to carry health insurance, which was enacted as part of the Affordable Care Act, has been eliminated.

Moving Expense Reimbursement. If you received a reimbursement from your employer for moving expenses incurred in 2019, the reimbursement is taxable income. While taxpayers could previously deduct employment-relating moving expenses, this deduction is no longer available for moves taking place in years 2018-2025, unless you are a member of the U.S. Armed Forces on active duty and move pursuant to a military order to a permanent change of station.

Casualty and Theft Losses. If you incurred a casualty loss in a presidentially declared disaster area in 2019, it may be deductible. Any other casualty loss, along with all theft losses, are not deductible.

Section 199A Passthrough Tax Break. Enacted as part of TCJA, the Section 199A tax break allows a 20 percent deduction for qualified business income from sole proprietorships, S corporations, partnerships, and LLCs taxed as partnerships. If you qualify for the deduction, which is available to both itemizers and nonitemizers, it is taken on your individual tax returns as a reduction to taxable income. The new tax break is subject to some complicated restrictions and limitations, but the rules that apply to individuals with taxable income at or below $160,700 ($321,400 for joint filers; $160,725 for married individuals filing separately) are simpler and more permissive than the ones that apply above those thresholds.

If you would like to review your current investment portfolio or discuss any other financial planning matters, please don’t hesitate to contact us or visit our website at http://www.ydfs.com. We are a fee-only fiduciary financial planning firm that always puts your interests first.  If you are not a client yet, an initial consultation is complimentary and there is never any pressure or hidden sales pitch. We start with a specific assessment of your personal situation. There is no rush and no cookie-cutter approach. Each client is different, and so is your financial plan and investment objectives.

Believe it Or Not

A longtime favorite line that I like to use when people ask me what the market or economy are going to do in the near future, is to say “Sorry, my crystal ball is in the shop.”  Or I’ll repeat what famed baseball manager Yogi Berra once said: “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”

That doesn’t stop others from trying to be a broken clock by predicting early and often. And so we’re into that exciting time of year when all sorts of market predictions are made by people who are mostly claiming that they knew the future and have accurately predicted it over a great track record.  But if you’re smart, you’ll turn off the TV/radio or move on to the next article.

The truth is that none of us can accurately predict the movements of the markets.  If we could, then we would always make trades ahead of market moves, and it wouldn’t take long before that amazing prognosticator with the working crystal ball would have amassed billions off of his or her stock market trades.  Have you read about anybody doing that lately?

Most of these people are employed at think tanks or sell their predictions to credulous investors.  Would they need that paycheck or your hard-earned subscription dollars if they had the ability to make billions just by checking the ‘ole crystal ball a couple of times a day?

A recent article by frequent blogger and wealth manager Barry Ritholtz offers some rather amazing data on people in the prediction business.  You may know that the cryptocurrency known as “bitcoin” is now worth about $3,500—way WAY down from the start of 2018.  So how well did the people in the prediction business foresee that downturn?

Not well.  In his article, Ritholtz noted that Pantera Capital predicted that Bitcoin would be selling for $20,000 by the end of 2018.  Tom Lee of Fundstrat was more bullish, forecasting that bitcoin would breach $25,000 by then.  Prognostications by Anthony Pompliano, of Morgan Creek Digital Partners, were still more bullish, predicting bitcoins would be worth $50,000 by the end of last year.  John Pfeffer, who describes himself online as “an entrepreneur and investor,” anticipated $75,000 bitcoins by now, and Kay Van-Petersen, Global Macro-Strategist at Saxo Bank, one-upped everybody with his prediction that bitcoins would be worth $100,000 by December 31st of last year.

Ritholtz offers other examples, like radio personality Peter Schiff telling listeners since 2010 that the price of gold has been heading toward $5,000 an ounce.  (It’s riding around $1,300 currently.). Jim Rickards, former general counsel at Long-Term Capital Management, is more ambitious, telling his followers that he has a $10,000 price target for an ounce of gold.

If you happen to follow former Reagan White House Budget Director David Stockman, you have been told that stocks are going to crash in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019.  Someday he’s going to be right, and will no doubt be touting his amazing prediction abilities (that broken clock is right twice a day).

When you read about a prediction, instead of reaching for the phone to call your financial advisor, try writing the prediction down on a calendar or reminder program like the app followupthen.com, and come back to it a year later.  Chances are you’ll be less impressed then than you might be now.

The three things that work best for investors: time in the market, portfolio diversification, and risk management. Soothsayers need not apply.

If you would like to review your current investment portfolio or discuss any other financial planning matters, please don’t hesitate to contact us or visit our website at http://www.ydfs.com. We are a fee-only fiduciary financial planning firm that always puts your interests first.  If you are not a client yet, an initial consultation is complimentary and there is never any pressure or hidden sales pitch. We start with a specific assessment of your personal situation. There is no rush and no cookie-cutter approach. Each client is different, and so is your financial plan and investment objectives.

Source:

https://ritholtz.com/2018/12/fun-with-forecasting-2018-edition/

TheMoneyGeek thanks guest writer Bob Veres for his contribution to this post

2018 Year-End Tax Planning Tips

Yep, it’s that time of year again. While the stock markets were busy correcting in October, making for a very volatile month, our thoughts turn to year-end tax planning.

Now is the time to take steps to cut your 2018 tax bill. Here are some relatively foolproof year-end tax planning strategies to consider, taking into account changes included in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA).

Year-end Planning Moves for Individuals

Game the Increased Standard Deduction Allowances. The TCJA almost doubled the standard deduction amounts. For 2018, the amounts are $12,000 for singles and those who use married filing separate status (up from $6,350 for 2017), $24,000 for married joint filing couples (up from $12,700), and $18,000 for heads of household (up from $9,350). If your total annual itemizable deductions for 2018 will be close to your standard deduction amount, consider making additional expenditures before year-end to exceed your standard deduction. That will lower this year’s tax bill. Next year, you can claim the standard deduction, which will be increased a bit to account for inflation.

The easiest deductible expense to accelerate is your home mortgage payment due on January 1. Accelerating that payment into this year will give you 13 months’ worth of interest deductions in 2018. Although the TCJA put new limits on itemized deductions for home mortgage interest, you are most likely unaffected (mostly affects some interest on home equity loans and lines of credit).

Also, consider state and local income and property taxes that are due early next year. Prepaying those bills before year-end can decrease your 2018 federal income tax bill because your itemized deductions will be that much higher. However, the TCJA decreased the maximum annual amount you can deduct for state and local taxes to $10,000 ($5,000 if you use married filing separate status). So, beware of this new limitation, and don’t be in a hurry to pre-pay property taxes by year-end if there’s a better chance that you might be able to deduct them in 2019.

Accelerating other expenditures could cause your itemized deductions to exceed your standard deduction in 2018. For example, consider making bigger charitable donations this year and smaller contributions next year to compensate. Be sure to ask us about a donor advised fund, which can accelerate donation deductions this year, while taking your time (perhaps years) to “grant” amounts to your favorite charities. Also, consider accelerating elective medical procedures, dental work, and vision care. For 2018, medical expenses are deductible to the extent they exceed 7.5% of Adjusted Gross Income (AGI), assuming you itemize.

Warning: The state and local tax prepayment drill can be a bad idea if you owe Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) for this year. That’s because write-offs for state and local income and property taxes are completely disallowed under the AMT rules. Therefore, prepaying those expenses may do little or no good if you are an AMT victim. While changes in the tax law reduced the number of people subject to the AMT, you may want to contact us if you are unsure about your exposure to the AMT.

Carefully Manage Investment Gains and Losses in Taxable Accounts. If you hold investments in taxable brokerage firm accounts, consider the tax advantage of selling appreciated securities that have been held for over 12 months. The maximum federal income tax rate on long-term capital gains recognized in 2018 is only 15% for most folks, although it can reach a maximum of 20% at higher income levels. The 3.8% Net Investment Income Tax (NIIT) also can apply at higher income levels.

To the extent that you have capital losses that were recognized earlier this year, or capital loss carryovers from pre-2018 years, selling winners this year will not result in any tax hit. In particular, sheltering net short-term capital gains with capital losses is a sweet deal because net short-term gains would otherwise be taxed at higher ordinary income rates.

What if you have some loser investments that you would like to unload? Biting the bullet and taking the resulting capital losses this year would shelter capital gains, including high-taxed short-term gains, from other sales this year.

If selling a bunch of losers would cause your capital losses to exceed your capital gains, the result would be what’s known as a net capital loss for the year. No problem! That net capital loss can be used to shelter up to $3,000 of 2018 ordinary income from salaries, bonuses, self-employment income, interest income, royalties, and whatever else ($1,500 if you use married filing separate status). Any excess net capital loss from this year is carried forward to next year and beyond.

In fact, having a capital loss carryover into next year could turn out to be a pretty good deal. The carryover can be used to shelter both short-term and long-term gains recognized next year and beyond. This can give you extra investing flexibility in those years because you won’t have to hold appreciated securities for over a year to get a preferential tax rate. Since the top two federal rates on net short-term capital gains recognized in 2019 and beyond are 35% and 37% (plus the 3.8% NIIT, if applicable), having a capital loss carryover into next year to shelter short-term gains recognized next year and beyond could be a very good thing.

One thing to keep in mind when either “harvesting” losses or holding on to winners to avoid capital gains: don’t let the tax “tail” wag the investment “dog”. Selling a loser for the sake of recognizing tax losses may not be prudent if the investment is temporarily undervalued. Conversely, holding onto an investment just to avoid capital gains taxes or to enjoy long term capital gains treatment may cost you more in lost gains than the taxes you’ll save. Be smart about it.

Take Advantage of 0% Tax Rate on Investment Income. The TCJA retained the 0%, 15%, and 20% rates on Long-term Capital Gains (LTCGs) and qualified dividends recognized by individual taxpayers. However, for 2018–2025, these rates have their own brackets that are not tied to the ordinary income brackets. Here are the brackets for 2018:

Single

Joint

Head of Household

0% bracket

$0–38,600

$0–77,200

$0–51,700

Beginning of 15% bracket

38,601

77,201

51,701

Beginning of 20% bracket

425,801

479,001

452,401

Note: The 3.8% NIIT can hit LTCGs and dividends recognized by higher-income individuals. This means that many folks will actually pay 18.8% (15% + 3.8% for the NIIT) and 23.8% (20% + 3.8%) on their 2018 LTCGs and dividends.

While your income may be too high to benefit from the 0% rate, you may have children, grandchildren, or other loved ones who will be in the 0% bracket. If you’re planning to give them cash, alternatively consider giving them appreciated stock or mutual fund shares that they can sell and pay 0% tax on the resulting long-term gains. Gains will be long-term as long as your ownership period plus the gift recipient’s ownership period (before the sale) equals at least a year and a day.

Giving away stocks that pay dividends is another tax-smart idea. As long as the dividends fall within the gift recipient’s 0% rate bracket, they will be federal-income-tax-free.

Warning: If you give securities to someone who is under age 24, the Kiddie Tax rules could potentially cause some of the resulting capital gains and dividends to be taxed at the higher rates that apply to trusts and estates. That would defeat the purpose. Please contact us if you have questions about the Kiddie Tax and refer to our post on the topic: Is Tax Simplification Just A Kiddie’s Play?

Also, one can be doing pretty well income-wise and still be within the 0% rate bracket for LTCGs and qualified dividends. Consider the following examples:

·       Your married adult daughter files jointly and claims the $24,000 standard deduction for 2018. She could have up to $101,200 of AGI (including LTCGs and dividends) and still be within the 0% rate bracket. Her taxable income would be $77,200, which is the top of the 0% bracket for joint filers.

·       Your divorced son uses head of household filing status and claims the $18,000 standard deduction for 2018. He could have up to $69,700 of AGI (including LTCGs and dividends) and still be within the 0% rate bracket. His taxable income would be $51,700, which is the top of the 0% bracket for heads of household.

·       Your single daughter claims the $12,000 standard deduction for 2018. She could have up to $50,600 of AGI (including LTCGs and dividends) and still be within the 0% rate bracket. Her taxable income would be $38,600, which is the top of the 0% bracket for singles.

Give Away Winning Shares, or Sell Losing Shares and Give Away the Resulting Cash. If you want to make gifts to some favorite relatives and/or charities, they can be made in conjunction with an overall revamping of your taxable (non-IRA) stock and equity mutual fund portfolios. Gifts should be made according to the following tax-smart principles.

Gifts to Relatives. Don’t give away losing shares (currently worth less than what you paid for them). Instead, you should sell the shares and book the resulting tax-saving capital loss. Then, you can give the sales proceeds to your relative.

On the other hand, you should give away winning shares to relatives. It’s somewhat likely they will pay lower tax rates than you would pay if you sold the same shares. As explained earlier, relatives in the 0% federal income tax bracket for LTCGs and qualified dividends will pay a 0% federal tax rate on gains from shares that were held for over a year before being sold. (For purposes of meeting the more-than-one-year rule for gifted shares, you can count your ownership period plus the gift recipient’s ownership period.) Even if the winning shares have been held for a year or less before being sold, your relative will probably pay a much lower tax rate on the gain than you would.

Gifts to Charities. The principles for tax-smart gifts to relatives also apply to donations to IRS-approved charities. You should sell losing shares and benefit from the resulting tax-saving capital losses. Then, you can give the sales proceeds to favored charities and claim the resulting tax-saving charitable deductions (assuming you itemize). Following this strategy delivers a double tax benefit: tax-saving capital losses plus tax-saving charitable donation deductions.

On the other hand, you should donate winning shares instead of giving away cash. Why? Because donations of publicly traded shares that you have owned for over a year result in charitable deductions equal to the full current market value of the shares at the time of the gift (assuming you itemize). Plus, when you donate winning shares, you escape any capital gains taxes on those shares. This makes this idea another double tax-saver: you avoid capital gains taxes, while getting a tax-saving donation deduction (assuming you itemize). Meanwhile, the tax-exempt charitable organization can sell the donated shares without owing anything to the IRS.

Finally, if you’re over age 70-1/2, you are subject to annual required minimum distributions (RMD) on your traditional IRA accounts. Consider making a direct contribution from your IRA to your favorite charity for any amount and it applies towards your annual RMD obligation. That way, the income is never taxed, and reduces your overall AGI, which can benefit you in many ways (e.g., possibly lower medicare premiums, less taxation of social security benefits, less exposure to deduction phaseouts that are based on your AGI).

Convert Traditional IRAs into Roth Accounts. The best profile for the Roth conversion strategy is when you expect to be in the same or higher tax bracket during your retirement years. The current tax hit from a conversion done this year may turn out to be a relatively small price to pay for completely avoiding potentially higher future tax rates on the account’s earnings.

A few years ago, the Roth conversion privilege was a restricted deal. It was only available if your modified AGI was $100,000 or less. That restriction is gone. Even billionaires can now do Roth conversions! If you have a lower than normal maximum tax bracket, you may want to consider a Roth conversion before year end.

Take Advantage of Principal Residence Gain Exclusion Break. Home prices are on the upswing in many areas. More good news: Gains of up to $500,000 on the sale of a principal residence are completely federal-income-tax-free for qualifying married couples who file joint returns. $250,000 is the gain exclusion limit for qualifying unmarried individuals and married individuals who file separate returns. To qualify for the gain exclusion break, you normally must have owned and used the home as your principal residence for a total of at least two years during the five-year period ending on the sale date. You’ll definitely want to take these rules into consideration if you’re planning on selling your home in today’s improving real estate environment.

Watch out for the AMT. The TCJA significantly reduced the odds that you will owe AMT for 2018 by significantly increasing the AMT exemption amounts and the income levels at which those exemptions are phased out. Even if you still owe AMT, you will probably owe considerably less than under prior law. Nevertheless, it’s still critical to evaluate year-end tax planning strategies in light of the AMT rules. Because the AMT rules are complicated, you may want some assistance. We can help.

Don’t Overlook Estate Planning. The unified federal estate and gift tax exemption for 2018 is a historically huge $11.18 million, or effectively $22.36 million for married couples. Even though these big exemptions may mean you are not currently exposed to the federal estate tax, your estate plan may need updating to reflect the current tax rules. Also, you may need to make some changes for reasons that have nothing to do with taxes, especially if your estate plan is more than a few years old. Don’t put off this very important life planning task.

Year-end Planning Moves for Small Businesses

Establish a Tax-favored Retirement Plan. If your business doesn’t already have a retirement plan, now might be the time to take the plunge. Current retirement plan rules allow for significant deductible contributions. For example, if you are self-employed and set up a SEP-IRA, you can contribute up to 20% of your self-employment earnings, with a maximum contribution of $55,000 for 2018. If you are employed by your own corporation, up to 25% of your salary can be contributed with a maximum contribution of $55,000.

Other small business retirement plan options include the 401(k) plan (which can be set up for just one person), the defined benefit pension plan, and the SIMPLE-IRA. Depending on your circumstances, these other types of plans may allow bigger deductible contributions.

The deadline for setting up a SEP-IRA for a sole proprietorship, and making the initial deductible contribution for the 2018 tax year, is 10/15/2019 if you extend your 2018 return to that date. Other types of plans generally must be established by 12/31/2018 if you want to make a deductible contribution for the 2018 tax year, but the deadline for the contribution itself is the extended due date of your 2018 return. However, to make a SIMPLE-IRA contribution for 2018, you must have set up the plan by October 1. So, you might have to wait until next year if the SIMPLE-IRA option is appealing.

Contact us for more information on small business retirement plan alternatives, and be aware that if your business has employees, you may have to cover them too.

Take Advantage of Liberalized Depreciation Tax Breaks. Thanks to the TCJA, 100% first-year bonus depreciation is available for qualified new and used property that is acquired and placed in service in calendar year 2018. That means your business might be able to write off the entire cost of some or all of your 2018 asset additions on this year’s return. So, consider making additional acquisitions between now and year-end. Contact us for details on the 100% bonus depreciation break and what types of assets qualify.

Claim 100% Bonus Depreciation for Heavy SUVs, Pickups, or Vans. The 100% bonus depreciation provision can have a hugely beneficial impact on first-year depreciation deductions for new and used heavy vehicles used over 50% for business. That’s because heavy SUVs, pickups, and vans are treated for tax purposes as transportation equipment that qualifies for 100% bonus depreciation. However, 100% bonus depreciation is only available when the SUV, pickup, or van has a manufacturer’s Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) above 6,000 pounds. The GVWR of a vehicle can be verified by looking at the manufacturer’s label, which is usually found on the inside edge of the driver’s side door where the door hinges meet the frame. If you are considering buying an eligible vehicle, doing so and placing it in service before the end of this tax year could deliver a juicy write-off on this year’s return.

Claim Bigger First-year Depreciation Deductions for Cars, Light Trucks, and Light Vans. For both new and used passenger vehicles (meaning cars and light trucks and vans) that are acquired and placed in service in 2018 and used over 50% for business, the TCJA dramatically increased the so-called luxury auto depreciation limitations. For passenger vehicles that are acquired and placed in service in 2018, the luxury auto depreciation limits are as follows:

· $18,000 for Year 1 if bonus depreciation is claimed.
· $16,000 for Year 2.
· $9,600 for Year 3.
· $5,760 for Year 4 and thereafter until the vehicle is fully depreciated.

These allowances are much more generous than under prior law. Note that the $18,000 first-year luxury auto depreciation limit only applies to vehicles that cost $58,000 or more. Vehicles that cost less are depreciated over six tax years using depreciation percentages based on their cost. Contact us for details.

Cash in on More Generous Section 179 Deduction Rules. For qualifying property placed in service in tax years beginning in 2018, the TCJA increased the maximum Section 179 deduction to $1 million (up from $510,000 for tax years beginning in 2017). The Section 179 deduction phase-out threshold amount was increased to $2.5 million (up from $2.03 million). The following additional beneficial changes were also made by the TCJA.

Property Used for Lodging. For property placed in service in tax years beginning in 2018 and beyond, the TCJA removed the prior-law provision that disallowed Section 179 deductions for personal property used predominately to furnish lodging or in connection with the furnishing of lodging. Examples of such property would apparently include furniture, kitchen appliances, lawn mowers, and other equipment used in the living quarters of a lodging facility or in connection with a lodging facility such as a hotel, motel, apartment house, dormitory, or other facility where sleeping accommodations are provided and rented out.

Qualifying Real Property. As under prior law, Section 179 deductions can be claimed for qualifying real property expenditures, up to the maximum annual Section 179 deduction allowance ($1 million for tax years beginning in 2018). There is no separate limit for qualifying real property expenditures, so Section 179 deductions claimed for real property reduce the maximum annual allowance dollar for dollar. Qualifying real property means any improvement to an interior portion of a nonresidential building that is placed in service after the date the building is first placed in service, except for expenditures attributable to the enlargement of the building, any elevator or escalator, or the building’s internal structural framework.

For tax years beginning in 2018 and beyond, the TCJA expanded the definition of real property eligible for the Section 179 deduction to include qualified expenditures for roofs, HVAC equipment, fire protection and alarm systems, and security systems for nonresidential real property. To qualify, these items must be placed in service in tax years beginning after 2017 and after the nonresidential building has been placed in service.

Time Business Income and Deductions for Tax Savings. If you conduct your business using a pass-through entity (sole proprietorship, S corporation, LLC, or partnership), your shares of the business’s income and deductions are passed through to you and taxed at your personal rates. Assuming the current tax rules will still apply in 2019, next year’s individual federal income tax rate brackets will be the same as this year’s (with modest bumps for inflation). In that case, the traditional strategy of deferring income into next year while accelerating deductible expenditures into this year makes sense if you expect to be in the same or lower tax bracket next year. Deferring income and accelerating deductions will, at a minimum, postpone part of your tax bill from 2018 until 2019.

On the other hand, if you expect to be in a higher tax bracket in 2019, take the opposite approach. Accelerate income into this year (if possible) and postpone deductible expenditures until 2019. That way, more income will be taxed at this year’s lower rate instead of next year’s higher rate. Contact us for more information on timing strategies.

Maximize the New Deduction for Pass-through Business Income. The new deduction based on Qualified Business Income (QBI) from pass-through entities was a key element of the TCJA. For tax years beginning in 2018–2025, the deduction can be up to 20% of a pass-through entity owner’s QBI, subject to restrictions that can apply at higher income levels and another restriction based on the owner’s taxable income. The QBI deduction also can be claimed for up to 20% of income from qualified REIT dividends and 20% of qualified income from publicly-traded partnerships.

For QBI deduction purposes, pass-through entities are defined as sole proprietorships, single-member LLCs that are treated as sole proprietorships for tax purposes, partnerships, LLCs that are treated as partnerships for tax purposes, and S corporations. The QBI deduction is only available to non-corporate taxpayers (individuals, trusts, and estates).

Because of the various limitations on the QBI deduction, tax planning moves (or non-moves) can have the side effect of increasing or decreasing your allowable QBI deduction. So, individuals who can benefit from the deduction must be really careful at year-end tax planning time. We can help you put together strategies that give you the best overall tax results for the year.

Claim 100% Gain Exclusion for Qualified Small Business Stock. There is a 100% federal income tax gain exclusion privilege for eligible sales of Qualified Small Business Corporation (QSBC) stock that was acquired after 9/27/10. QSBC shares must be held for more than five years to be eligible for the gain exclusion break. Contact us if you think you own stock that could qualify.

Conclusion

This post only covers some of the year-end tax planning moves that could potentially benefit you and your business. Please contact us if you have questions, want more information, or would like us to help in designing a year-end planning package that delivers the best tax results for your particular circumstances.

Second Quarter 2018 YDFS Market Review

I often remind my clients and prospects that judging market performance for periods shorter than a few years, isn’t very helpful. Market returns are simply random over relatively brief periods. However, over longer periods, such as five years, stocks are almost always profitable and offer very good performance. The S&P 500 has finished higher in 91% of the rolling-five-year periods over the last 50 years.

Nonetheless, it’s helpful to check back and see how well the markets performed over the past quarter  While the U.S. equity markets suffered a small setback in the first quarter of 2018, the second quarter brought us back into positive territory.

The Wilshire 5000 Total Market Index—the broadest measure of U.S. stocks—finished the quarter up 3.83%, and is now in positive territory for the first half of the year, at +3.04%. The comparable Russell 3000 index is up 3.22% so far this year.

Large cap stocks more than recovered their earlier losses. The Wilshire U.S. Large Cap index gained 3.41% over the past three months, to finish up 2.62% for the first half of the year, while the Russell 1000 large-cap index stands at a 2.85% gain at the year’s halfway point. The widely-quoted S&P 500 index of large company stocks gained 2.93% in value during the year’s second quarter, rallying to a 1.67% gain so far in 2018.

Meanwhile, the Russell Midcap Index is up 2.35% in the first six months of the year.

As measured by the Wilshire U.S. Small-Cap index, investors in smaller companies posted a 7.87% gain over the second three months of the year, and now stand up 7.08% at the half-year mark. The comparable Russell 2000 Small-Cap Index is up 7.66% for the year. The technology-heavy Nasdaq Composite Index finished the quarter with a gain of 6.31%, and is now up 8.79% at the halfway point of 2018. Much of the over-performance of the NASDAQ can be attributed to a handful of stocks such as Amazon, Facebook, Google and Neflix.

International stocks are not faring quite so well. The broad-based MSCI EAFE index of companies in developed foreign economies lost 2.34% in the recent quarter, and is now down 4.49% for the year. In aggregate, European stocks were down 2.74% over the last three months, posting an overall loss of 5.23% for the year, while MSCI’s EAFE’s Far East Index lost 3.24% in the second quarter, down 3.33% so far in 2018. Emerging market stocks of less developed countries, as represented by the MSCI EAFE EM index, went into negative territory for the quarter, down 8.66%, for a loss of 7.68% for the year.

Looking over the other investment categories, real estate, as measured by the Wilshire U.S. REIT index, gained 9.73% during the year’s second quarter, and is just eking out a 1.52% gain for the year. The S&P GSCI index, which measures commodities returns, gained 8.00% in the second quarter, up 10.36% for the year, mainly due to the rising price of oil.

In the bond markets, coupon rates on 10-year Treasury bonds have continued an incremental rise to 2.86%, while 30-year government bond yields have risen slightly to 2.99%. Five-year municipal bonds are yielding, on average, 2.00% a year, while 30-year munis are yielding 3.00% on average. Simply put, at present, investing in bonds with a term greater than 10 years is not rewarding you for the many years of interest rate risk you’re taking. That may change.

So what’s going on? There appear to be several forces fighting for control over the investment markets. The current bull market started in March of 2009, and seemed to be running out of steam in the first quarter, before a sugar high—the stimulus provided by the recent tax bill—kicked in for companies that have traditionally experienced higher tax rates. This pushed a tired bull market forward for another quarter, and could do the same for the remainder of the year. A fiscal stimulus in the ninth year of an economic expansion is almost unheard of, but it is clearly having a positive effect: economic activity was up nearly 5% in the second quarter, unemployment has continued a downward trend that really started at the beginning of the bull market, and corporate earnings—with the lower corporate taxes factored in—are projected to increase roughly 25% over last year.

The other contestants for control of the economy seem destined to lose this year and possibly start winning in 2019. The Federal Reserve Board has raised short-term interest rates once again, and has announced plans to continue in September, December, next March and next June. Bonds’ share of investors’ dollars at some point will overtake stocks as government 10 year bond yields reach 4% or more, making it difficult for stocks to levitate at current levels.

Meanwhile, the labor markets are so tight that there are more jobs available than workers to fill them. Won’t this eventually force companies to share their profits in the form of higher salaries? And there are potential problems with the escalating trade war that America has picked with its trading partners that will almost certainly not have a positive impact in the long term.

Bigger picture, the flattening yield curve—where longer-term bonds are closer to yielding what shorter-term instruments are paying—is never regarded as a good sign for an economy’s near-term future. It’s worth noting that the financial sector—that is, lending institutions—was one of the economic sectors to experience a loss. Banks borrow short and lend long, and there isn’t much profit in that activity when the rates are about equal.

Beyond that, in a good year, corporate earnings would grow around 5%, so one could argue that the economy is now experiencing five years of earnings growth. Add these factors to the doddering age of the current bull market, and you have to wonder how long the party can continue. Nobody knows what tomorrow will bring, but everybody knows that bull (up-trending) markets don’t last forever. This may be a good time to mentally and financially prepare for an end to the long bull run, and to hope it ends gracefully. For our clients, we remain cautious bulls and are keeping our hedges in place. The higher volatility we’ve experienced so far this year shows no sign of waning, and the low-volume summer trading season is the ideal time for market shenanigans to show up.

If you would like to review your current investment portfolio or discuss any other financial planning matters, please don’t hesitate to contact us or visit our website at http://www.ydfs.com. We are a fee-only fiduciary financial planning firm that always puts your interests first. If you are not a client yet, an initial consultation is complimentary and there is never any pressure or hidden sales pitch. We start with a specific assessment of your personal situation. There is no rush and no cookie-cutter approach. Each client is different, and so is your financial plan and investment objectives.

Sources:

Wilshire index data: http://www.wilshire.com/Indexes/calculator/

Russell index data: http://www.ftse.com/products/indices/russell-us

S&P index data: http://www.standardandpoors.com/indices/sp-500/en/us/?indexId=spusa-500-usduf–p-us-l–

Nasdaq index data: http://quotes.morningstar.com/indexquote/quote.html?t=COMP

http://www.nasdaq.com/markets/indices/nasdaq-total-returns.aspx

International indices: https://www.msci.com/end-of-day-data-search

Commodities index data: http://us.spindices.com/index-family/commodities/sp-gsci

Treasury market rates: http://www.bloomberg.com/markets/rates-bonds/government-bonds/us/

Bond rates: http://www.bloomberg.com/markets/rates-bonds/corporate-bonds/

General: https://www.marketwatch.com/story/stocks-see-broad-gains-in-the-second-quarter-but-not-without-turbulence-2018-06-29
https://www.cnbc.com/2018/06/08/gdp-for-second-quarter-on-track-to-double-2018-full-year-pace-of-2017.html

https://finance.yahoo.com/news/jobs-report-4th-july-need-know-week-ahead-191630507.html

The MoneyGeek thanks guest writer Bob Veres for his contribution to this post

Is A Donor Advised Fund Right for You?

Executive Summary: Setting up a Donor Advised Fund (DAF) for 2017 (before December 31, 2017) and front loading charitable deductions can save you thousands of dollars in taxes immediately, while directing distribution to charities in/for future years. Even if you decide not to establish a DAF, you should consider whether accelerating next year’s charitable contributions to 2017 makes sense for you, especially if you are phased out of itemizing deductions starting next year.

As you’ve heard by now, President Donald Trump has signed the Tax and Jobs Act of 2017, which mostly makes sweeping changes to tax rates and eliminates many deductions starting in 2018. For most households, this means no itemized deductions due to an increased standard deduction ($12,000 for single, $24,000 for married), a limit on the deduction of taxes ($10,000 of income, sales and property taxes combined) and elimination of most miscellaneous itemized deductions.

Many of you give generously to charities every year regardless of the prospect of deducting those contributions. While the changes to the deductiblity of contributions is little changed, the fact that you likely won’t be able to itemize, means that you’ll receive no tax benefit going forward if your contributions plus other itemized deductions don’t exceed your standard deduction.

This means that 2017 may be a year that you’ll want to consider a Donor Advised Fund (DAF) to take advantage of what might be your last year for itemizing, and take a large 2017 deduction for your contribution. The deadline for establishing a DAF is December 31, 2017, though for all intents and purposes, December 29 is the last business day of the year and may be the true deadline.

A DAF is simply an account that you establish with the charitable entity of a well-known custodian (Schwab, Fidelity, Vanguard or TD Ameritrade for example) and to which you make a lump sum contribution to fund future years’ contributions. For example, if you give $2,000 a year to charity, you could fund it with $10,000 today, and direct $2,000 a year to your charities each year while the fund grows tax free. Better yet, if you fund the DAF with long-term appreciated stocks or funds, you’ll get a full deduction for the fair market value of the securities, and never have to report the capital gain on your tax return.

This is right for you if:

  1. You’re willing and able to irrevocably contribute at least $5,000 (some custodians have higher minimums) to a managed account where you direct future contributions to the charities of your choice;
  2. You expect to be phased out of itemized deductions starting in 2018 due to the increased standard deduction and other changes to itemized deductions (see above) or,
  3. You would benefit more from an acceleration of charitable deductions to 2017 (than in future years) due to high income or lower tax rates in the years ahead.

Even if you decide not to establish a DAF, you should consider whether accelerating next year’s charitable contributions to 2017 makes sense for you.

The most common ‘strategy’ for creating a donor-advised fund is relatively straightforward – donor-advised funds are a good fit any time there’s a desire to contribute (and get the tax deduction) now, but make the actual grant to the final charity at some later date. In fact, the whole point of a donor-advised fund is to separate the timing of when the tax deduction occurs from when the charity ultimately receives the money.

Once established, you can add funds to a DAF in future years, and you can take as long as you want to distribute the funds to various charities. Some custodians maintain minimum donations you can make to a charity at any one time, say $50.

The important caveat to remember in all donor-advised fund strategies is that once funds go to the donor-advised fund, they must go to some charity, and cannot be retracted for the donor. The charitable gift to a donor-advised fund is still irrevocable, even if the assets have not yet passed through to the underlying charity. Nonetheless, for those who are ready to make the charitable donation – and want to receive the tax deduction now – the donor-advised fund serves as a useful vehicle to execute charitable giving strategies over time. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that any growth along the way will ultimately accrue tax-free for the charity as well.

If you would like to review your current investment portfolio or discuss setting up a Donor Advised Fund, please don’t hesitate to contact us or visit our website at http://www.ydfs.com. We are a fee-only fiduciary financial planning firm that always puts your interests first. If you are not a client yet, an initial consultation is complimentary and there is never any pressure or hidden sales pitch. We start with a specific assessment of your personal situation. There is no rush and no cookie-cutter approach. Each client is different, and so is your financial plan and investment objectives.

Tax Bill Provisions to Consider Before You Jingle All the Way

And the award for the busiest profession during the 2017 year-end holiday season goes to…..tax preparers and planners…..the crowd goes wild and applauds loudly. “I’d like to take this opportunity to thank our President, our senate and our House of Representatives for this “gift”. Without their last minute help and effort, no one could have made this Christmas to New Year’s period any busier for us.”

Laughing all the way…

The new tax law hasn’t been fully ratified by the U.S. House and Senate yet, but all indications are that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 will be sent to the President’s desk in the next two days. As you probably know, the House and Senate versions were somewhat different. What does the new bill look like?

Tax simplification? “Fuggetaboutit!” (think Italian mobster)

Despite the promise of tax “reform” or “simplification,” the bill actually adds hundreds of pages to our tax laws. And the initial idea of reducing the number of tax brackets was apparently tossed aside in the final version; the new bill maintains seven different tax rates: 10%, 12%, 22%, 24%, 32%, 35% and 37%. Most people will see their bracket go down by one to four percentage points, with the higher reductions going to people with higher income. And the tax brackets, going forward, will be indexed to inflation, meaning that the “real” income brackets will remain approximately the same from year to year.

The new brackets break down like this:

Individual Taxpayers

Income $0-$9,525 – 10% of taxable income
$9,526-$38,700 – $952.50 + 12% of the amount over $9,526
$38,701-$82,500 – $4,453 + 22% of the amount over $38,700
$82,501-$157,500 – $14,089.50 + 24% of the amount over $82,500
$157, 501-$200,000 – $32,089.50 + 32% of the amount over $157,500
$200,001-$500,000 – 45,689.50 + 35% of the amount over $200,000
$500,001+ – $150,689.50 + 37% of the amount over $500,000

Joint Return Taxpayers

Income $0-$19,050 – 10% of taxable income
$19,051-$77,400 – $1,905 + 12% of the amount over $19,050
$77,401-$165,000 – $8,907 + 22% of the amount over $77,400
$165,001-$315,000 – $28,179 + 24% of the amount over $165,000
$315,001-$400,000 – $64,179 + 32% of the amount over $315,000
$400,001-$600,000 – $91,379 + 35% of the amount over $400,000
$600,000+ – $161,379 + 37% of the amount over $600,000

Taxes for trusts and estates were also changed to:

$0-$2,550 – 10% of taxable income
$2,551-$9,150 – $255 + 24% of the amount over $2,550
$9,151-$12,500 – $1,839 + 35% of the amount over $9,150
$12,501+ – $3,011.50 + 37% of the amount over $12,500

Tax geeks like me note that the current 10% tax bracket is little changed, and the 15% bracket is now 12%, while the 25% and 28% tax bracket are replaced with 22% and 24% and a new 32% rate. Notice that in the lower brackets, the joint return (mostly for married couples) are double the individual bracket thresholds, eliminating the so-called “marriage penalty.” However in the higher brackets, the 35% rate extends to individuals up to $500,000, but married couples with $600,000 in income fall into that bracket. In the top bracket, the marriage penalty is more significant; individuals fall into it at $500,000, while couples are paying a 37% rate at $600,000 of adjusted gross income. That means more two-income couples will be calculating their taxes filed jointly and separately to arrive at the lowest resulting tax.

Making spirits bright…

Other provisions: the standard deduction is basically doubled, to $12,000 (single) or $24,000 (joint), $18,000 (head of household), and persons who are over 65, blind or disabled can add $1,300 to their standard deduction (currently $1,250).

The bill calls for no personal exemptions for 2018 and beyond (currently $4,050). For married couples with more than two children, this means that the new standard deduction ($24,000 in 2018) will be less than their current total standard deduction plus personal exemptions ($24,850 with three children in 2017). And the Pease limitation, a gradual phaseout of itemized deductions as taxpayers reached higher income brackets, has been eliminated. The Pease limitation added up to 3% to a high income taxpayer’s rates.

Despite the hopes of many taxpayers, the dreaded alternative minimum tax (AMT), remains in the bill. The individual exemption amount is $70,300; for joint filers it’s $109,400. But for the first time, the AMT exemption amounts will be indexed to inflation, so fewer taxpayers will be ensnared by the AMT. Even without this change, fewer taxpayers would be subject to the AMT because, as described below, the maximum deduction for (state and local income, sales, property) taxes is reduced beginning in 2018, and for most taxpayers, it was the deduction of those taxes that made them subject to the AMT.

Interestingly, the new tax bill retains the old capital gains and qualified dividend tax brackets—based on the prior brackets. The 0% capital gains rate will be in place for individuals with $38,600 or less in income ($77,200 for joint filers), and the 15% rate will apply to individuals earning between $38,600 and $452,400 (between $77,400 and $479,000 for joint filers). Above those amounts, capital gains and qualified dividends will be taxed at a 20% rate.

Misfortune seemed his lot…

In addition, the rules governing Roth conversion recharacterizations will be repealed. Under the old law, if a person converted from a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, and the account lost value over the next year and a half, they could simply undo (recharacterize) the transaction, no harm no foul. Under the new rules, recharactization would no longer be allowed. This makes more accurate tax projections essential going forward, along with a good working crystal ball.

Before the tax act, fewer than 30% of taxpayers itemized their deductions. With the higher standard deductions, many more people will no longer file Schedule A, Itemized Deductions. Their deductions will simply not be enough to exceed the standard deduction, especially given the other changes in the tax bill. This makes year-end planning and projecting even more essential.

For many taxpayers who can itemize deductions, their taxable income number will likely be higher under the new tax plan, because many itemized deductions have been reduced or eliminated. Among them: there will be a $10,000 limit on how much any individual can deduct for state and local income, sales, and property tax payments. Before you rush to write a check to the state or your local government, know that a provision in the bill states that any 2018 state income taxes paid by the end of 2017 are not deductible in 2017, and instead will be treated as having been paid at the end of calendar year 2018. It’s not clear yet what happens if your 2017 state withholding exceeds your state liability. Normally, you would deduct the full amount on your current return and report the excess (refund) as income in the following year. But prior year state income tax refunds are no longer includible in income starting in 2018. Nothing is mentioned about paying and deducting already issued property tax bills due early in 2018, so it makes sense to figure out whether paying them in 2017 or 2018 yields a higher tax benefit. If you are in the AMT for 2017, prepaying any taxes will not yield a benefit.

The mortgage interest deduction will be limited to $750,000 of principal for new mortgages (down from a current $1 million limit); any mortgage interest payments on principal amounts above that limit will not be deductible. However, the charitable contribution deduction limit will rise from 50% of a person’s adjusted gross income to 60% under the new bill. If you think you’ll be ineligible to itemize starting in 2018, it makes sense to evaluate accelerating some planned 2018 charitable contributions to 2017, including any non-cash contributions.

Miscellaneous itemized deductions such as safe deposit box fees, unreimbursed employee business expenses, tax preparation fees, investment expenses and other deductions (currently subject to a reduction by 2% of adjusted gross income) are no longer deductible in any amount beginning in 2018. Here again, it make sense to see if prepaying some of those expenses makes sense (it does not if you’re in the AMT for 2017). Any prepayment amount and timing must be reasonable in the eyes of the IRS.

What about estate taxes? The bill doubles the estate tax exemption from, currently, $5.6 million (projected for 2018) to $11.2 million; $22.4 million for couples. Meanwhile, Congress maintained the step-up in basis, which means that people who inherit low-basis stock or real estate will see the embedded capital gains go away upon receipt, because the assets will have a cost basis equal to their fair market value on the date of death.

Public “C” Corporations saw their highest marginal tax rate drop from 35% to 21%, the largest one-time rate cut in U.S. history for the nation’s largest companies.

And pass-through entities like partnerships, S corporations, limited liability companies and sole proprietorships will receive a 20% deduction on taxes for “qualified business income,” which explicitly does NOT include wages or investment income. This is one of the more complicated areas of the tax bill, and will require working closely with your accountant or CPA to assess whether your pass-through entity will save money converting to a C Corporation.

As things stand today, all of these provisions are due to “sunset” after the year 2025, at which point the entire tax regime will revert to what we have now.

Assuming the tax bill is signed into law this week, and it likely will, you’ll have just over a week to project your 2017 and 2018 taxes, and decide which deductions (or income) you may want to defer to 2018 or accelerate into 2017. Only by projecting both years and finding the least combined liability will you know what planning tactics makes sense for you. We can help.

Oh what fun it is…

If you would like to review your current taxes, investment portfolio or discuss any other financial planning matters, please don’t hesitate to contact us or visit our website at http://www.ydfs.com. We are a fee-only fiduciary financial planning firm that always puts your interests first. If you are not a client yet, an initial consultation is complimentary and there is never any pressure or hidden sales pitch. We start with a specific assessment of your personal situation. There is no rush and no cookie-cutter approach. Each client is different, and so is your financial plan and investment objectives.

Sources:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/12/15/the-final-gop-tax-bill-is-complete-heres-what-is-in-it/?utm_term=.4b0efca718e8

https://www.forbes.com/sites/kellyphillipserb/2017/12/17/what-the-2018-tax-brackets-standard-deduction-amounts-and-more-look-like-under-tax-reform/#42b575bf1401

https://www.kitces.com/blog/final-gop-tax-plan-summary-tcja-2017-individual-tax-brackets-pass-through-strategies/

https://www.bna.com/2017-Individual-Tax/

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/12/15/us/politics/final-republican-tax-bill-cuts/

The MoneyGeek thanks guest writer Bob Veres for his contribution to this post

Common Estate Planning Mistakes People Make

“Mortality never prevented the majority of human beings from behaving as though death were no more than an unfounded rumor” – Aldous Huxley

A Rocket Lawyer survey in 2014 indicated that 64% of Americans did not have a will. If you’re one of them, then this is a must-read.

The most common way to transfer assets to your heirs is also the messiest: to have a will that is so out-of-date that it doesn’t even relate to your property or estate anymore, to have your records scattered all over the place, to have social media, banking and email accounts whose passwords only you can find—and basically to leave a big mess for others to clean up. I’ve reviewed over a hundred wills and estate plans in my lifetime, and it never ceases to amaze me how out-of-date or incomplete some of them are.

Is there a better way?

Recently, a group of estate planning experts were asked for their advice on a better process to handle the transfer of assets at your death, and to articulate common mistakes. A list of mistakes, including a few that I identified during my reviews, are covered below:

Not regularly reviewing documents. What might have been a solid plan 5 to 15 years ago may not relate to your estate today. The experts recommended a full review every three to five years, to ensure that trustees, executors, guardians, beneficiaries and healthcare agents are all up-to-date. You might also consider creating a master document which lists all your social media and online accounts and passwords, so that your heirs can access them and close them down. Be sure your documents specifically authorize and instruct your executor to access and shut them down after your death.

Not leaving personal property disposition instructions, keys and passwords for your executor. Untold numbers of safes and safety deposit boxes have to either be drilled open or forced open by court order because no one else held the key or numeric combination. If you have a home or office safe, or a safety deposit box at a bank, make sure that your executor and/or trustee knows where the key(s) are, or what the combination is (and what bank location the safe deposit box is in). Even better, and to facilitate distribution, leave a signed inventory of the valuables left in there and who is to inherit them. Having a schedule of valuable property or heirlooms and who is designated to inherit them is invaluable to your executor after you’re gone. Don’t wait until after the will is executed to do this. Do it before you sign the will and make yourself a to-do to update the list at least once a year. Will your executor know where to find and be able to access all of your original estate planning documents?

Using a will instead of a revocable trust. This relates mostly to people who want to protect their privacy or pass their wealth to under-age children. When assets pass to heirs via a will, the transfer creates a public record that anybody can access and read. A revocable trust can be titled in your name, and you can control the assets as you would with outright ownership, but the assets simply pass to your designated successor upon death.

Establishing a longer term trust for a small amount of assets. If the trust distributes assets over multiple years, be sure the value of the trust assets justify the cost and burden of fiduciary administration. Creating a trust holding $50,000 worth of assets to distribute $10,000 to each of five beneficiaries over five years makes little financial sense.

Failure to require mandatory and timely annual income distributions. Not distributing income annually to the beneficiaries can subject the trust to a 35% maximum tax rate on all income over $12,500 (currently), a much steeper income tax schedule than that of any individual beneficiary. With an inexperienced trustee, he/she may not know that not distributing the income from the trust annually will likely result in much higher taxation. By specifically REQUIRING annual income distributions in the trust, an ignorant trustee has no choice, and can thereby avoid high trust tax rates, and the beneficiaries pay their own (likely lower) tax rates on their distributions.

Not carefully vetting the trustee. The role of the trustee is both a powerful and time consuming one: make sure the person is qualified, willing and able to devote the time to properly understand and execute the trust instructions. Be sure to ask your candidate if they’re willing to serve before naming them in your trust. Family members who may also be beneficiaries frequently become a source of conflict or present a conflict of interest, so you may want to try and appoint a trusted non-relative instead if at all possible, or designate a corporate trustee. Also, provide in the trust document for reasonable compensation, expense reimbursement and indemnification of the trustee.

Failing to fund the revocable trust. You’ve set up the trust, but now you and your team of professionals have to transfer title to your properties out of your name and into the trust, with you as the initial trustee. If you forget to do this, then the entire purpose of the trust is wasted. Be sure to specify at least two successor trustees.

Having assets titled in a way that conflicts with the will or trust. You should always pay close attention to account beneficiary designations, because they—not your will or trust—determine who will receive your life insurance proceeds, IRA distributions and employer retirement plan assets. Meanwhile, assets (like a home) owned in joint tenancy with rights of survivorship will pass directly to the surviving joint tenant, no matter what the will or trust happens to say. Review beneficiary designations at least once a year. Does that old employer 401(k) beneficiary still list your former spouse as the beneficiary?

Not using the annual gift exemption. Each person can gift $14,000 a year tax-free to heirs without affecting the value of their $5.49 million lifetime estate/gift tax exemption. That means a husband and wife with four children could theoretically gift the kids $112,000 a year tax-free. Over time, that can reduce the size of a large estate potentially below the gift/estate exemption threshold, and in states where there is an estate or inheritance tax, it can help as well.

Not understanding the generation-skipping transfer tax. A husband and wife can each leave estate values of $5.49 million to any combination of individuals. But if there’s anything left over, there’s a 40% federal estate tax on those additional assets left to heirs in the next generation (the children), and an additional 40% on assets left to the generation after that (the grandchildren). Better to transfer $5.49 million out of the estate before death (tax-free, since this fills up the lifetime gift exemption) into a dynastic trust for the benefit of the grandchildren. You can also transfer that annual $14,000 to grandchildren. If your estate is that large, it is imperative that you seek the assistance of an estate planning attorney unless you favor leaving half or more of your assets to your federal and state governments.

Not taking action because of the possibility of estate tax repeal. Yes, the Republican leadership in Congress includes, on its wish list, the total repeal of those estate taxes (the estate tax is based on the value of the estate on the date of death). But what if there’s no action, or a compromise scuttles the estate tax provisions at the last minute? Federal wealth transfer taxes have been enacted and repealed three times in U.S. history, so there’s no reason to imagine that even if there is a repeal, the repeal will last forever. Meanwhile, dynastic trusts and other estate planning tactics provide tangible benefits even without the tax savings, including protecting assets from lawsuits and claims. And while the estate tax may be going away, the tax on estate and trust income is not, and may become a focus of the IRS as replacements for lost revenue are sought out.

Thinking that having just a will is enough. A health care directive (to allow your designee to speak on your behalf regarding health care decisions when you can’t) and a durable power of attorney (to perform duties on your behalf when you’re possibly incapacitated) are essential for every adult to have, in addition to a will.

Leaving too much, too soon, to younger heirs. Nothing can harm emerging adult values quite like realizing, as they start their productive careers, that they actually never need to work a day in their lives. The alternative? Create a trust controlled by a trusted individual (again, preferably not a family member or beneficiary) or a corporate trust company until the beneficiaries reach a more mature stage of their lives, perhaps 30-35 years old.

There are so many other estate planning provisions that may be unique to you, your family and your business. A fee paid to a legal professional who specializes in estate planning is a final act of love to your loved ones to help them understand your dying intentions, and minimize the hassles inherent in estate administration and disposition.

If you would like to review your current investment portfolio or discuss any other financial planning matters, please don’t hesitate to contact us or visit our website at http://www.ydfs.com. We are a fee-only fiduciary financial planning firm that always puts your interests first. If you are not a client yet, an initial consultation is complimentary and there is never any pressure or hidden sales pitch. We start with a specific assessment of your personal situation. There is no rush and no cookie-cutter approach. Each client is different, and so is your financial plan and investment objectives.

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