Smart Ways to Do Year-End Charitable Giving

26 Dec

If you are planning to make any year-end donations, you should know about some of the financial “fine print” involved, as the right moves could potentially bring more of a benefit to the charity and to you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At BrioWealth, we believe that financial planning should be done for the purpose of giving your life greater confidence, security and joy. That’s why we work closely with our clients to understand their personal goals and passions and build a plan around that. As retirement income specialists, BrioWealth helps our clients build wealth and create smart strategies for secure, sustainable retirement income. Call us at 877-606-1484 or visit http://www.briowealth.com to start creating your life enhancing financial plan!

Sources:

1 – tinyurl.com/y8dkleed [8/23/17]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Do You Let These Emotions Affect Your Financial Decisions?

30 May

Have you ever made a financial decision that you later regretted? Think back. Chances are, you can pinpoint the emotion that led you to make the decision. Emotions are powerful influencers that can cause us to overreact – or not act at all when we should. Consider these common emotional mishaps to avoid.

Sudden reactions to Wall Street volatility. In a typical market year, Wall Street can see big waves of volatility. This year, it has been easy to forget that truth. During the first third of 2017, the S&P 500 saw only 3 trading days with a 1% or greater swing – or to put it another way, 1% swings occurred just 3.5% of the time. Compare that to 2015, when the S&P moved 1% or more in 29% of its trading sessions.1

The 1.80% May 17 drop of the S&P this year stirred up fear in some investors. The plunge felt earthshaking to some, given the placid climate on the Street this year. Daily retreats of this magnitude have been seen before, will be seen again, and should be taken in stride.2

Fear and anxiety that also cause stubbornness. Some people have looked at money one way all their lives. Others have always seen investing from one perspective. Then, something happens that does not mesh with their outlook or perspective. In the face of such an event, they refuse to change or admit that their opinion may be wrong. To lose faith in their entrenched point of view would make them feel uneasy or lost. So, they doggedly cling to that point of view and do things the same way as they always have, even though it no longer makes any sense for their financial present or future. In this case, emotion is simply overriding logic.

Treating revolving debt nonchalantly. Some people treat a credit card purchase like a cash purchase – or worse yet, they adopt a psychology in which buying something with a credit card feels like they are “getting it for free.” A kind of euphoria can set in: they have that dining room set or that ATV in their possession now; they can deal with paying it off tomorrow. This blissful ignorance (or dismissal) of the real cost of borrowing can dig a household deeper and deeper into debt, to the point where drawing down savings may be the only way to wipe it out.

Putting off important financial decisions. Postponing a retirement or estate planning decision does not always reflect caution or contemplation. Sometimes, it reflects a lack of knowledge or confidence. Worry and fear are the emotions clouding the picture. What clears things up? What makes these decisions easier? Communication with professionals. When the investor or saver recognizes a lack of understanding, shares his or her need to know with a financial professional, and asks for assistance, certainty can replace ambiguity.

Emotions can keep people from doing the right things with their money – or lead them to keep doing the wrong things. As you save, invest, and plan for your future, try to let logic rule. Years from now, you may be thankful you did.

Julie Newcomb, a Certified Financial Planner™ in Orange County, CA, specializes in financial planning for women.  As a wife, mom and business owner, Julie understands the pressures and challenges most women feel on a daily basis as they juggle many important priorities. Julie’s favorite thing about her job is the ability to give women peace of mind when they entrust her with their finances. To learn more about Julie Newcomb Financial, go to julienewcomb.com.    

Sources:

1 – nytimes.com/2017/05/09/upshot/the-stock-market-is-weirdly-calm-heres-a-theory-of-why.html [5/9/17]

2 – google.com/finance?q=INDEXSP:.INX&ei=6RMeWfG_JMO7euKQkagG [5/18/17]

4 Estate Planning Mistakes to Avoid

29 Apr

Many affluent professionals and business owners put estate planning on hold. Only the courts and lawyers stand to benefit from their procrastination. While inaction is the biggest estate planning error, several other major mistakes can occur. The following blunders can lead to major problems.

  1. Failing to revise an estate plan after a spouse or child dies. This is truly a devastating event, and the grief that follows may be so deep and prolonged that attention may not be paid to this. A death in the family commonly requires a change in the terms of how family assets will be distributed. Without an update, questions (and squabbles) may emerge later.
  2. Going years without updating beneficiaries. Beneficiary designations on qualified retirement plans and life insurance policies usually override bequests made in wills or trusts. Many people never review beneficiary designations over time, and the estate planning consequences of this inattention can be serious. For example, a woman can leave an IRA to her granddaughter in a will, but if her ex-husband is listed as the primary beneficiary of that IRA, those IRA assets will go to him per the beneficiary form. Beneficiary designations have an advantage – they allow assets to transfer to heirs without going through probate. If beneficiary designations are outdated, that advantage matters little.1,2
  3. Thinking of a will as a shield against probate. Having a will in place does not automatically prevent assets from being probated. A living trust is designed to provide that kind of protection for assets; a will is not. An individual can clearly express “who gets what” in a will, yet end up having the courts determine the distribution of his or her assets.2
  4. Supposing minor heirs will handle money well when they become young adults. There are multi-millionaires who go no further than a will when it comes to estate planning. When a will is the only estate planning tool directing the transfer of assets at death, assets can transfer to heirs aged 18 or older in many states without prohibitions. Imagine an 18-year-old inheriting several million dollars in liquid or illiquid assets. How many 18-year-olds (or 25-year-olds, for that matter) have the skill set to manage that kind of inheritance? If a trust exists and a trustee can control the distribution of assets to heirs, then situations such as these may be averted. A well-written trust may also help to prevent arguments among young heirs about who was meant to receive this or that asset.3

Julie Newcomb, a Certified Financial Planner™ in Orange County, CA, specializes in financial planning for women.  As a wife, mom and business owner, Julie understands the pressures and challenges most women feel on a daily basis as they juggle many important priorities. Julie’s favorite thing about her job is the ability to give women peace of mind when they entrust her with their finances. To learn more about Julie Newcomb Financial, go to julienewcomb.com.    

Sources:

1 – thebalance.com/why-beneficiary-designations-override-your-will-2388824 [10/8/16]

2 – fool.com/retirement/2017/03/03/3-ways-to-keep-your-estate-out-of-probate.aspx [3/3/17]

3 – info.legalzoom.com/legal-age-inherit-21002.html [3/16/17]

Should the Self-Employed Plan to Work Past 65?

30 Mar

About 20% of Americans aged 65-74 are still working. A 2016 Pew Research Center study put the precise figure at 18.8%, and Pew estimates that it will reach 31.9% in 2022. That estimate seems reasonable: people are living longer, and the labor force participation rate for Americans aged 65-74 has been rising since the early 1990s.1,2

It may be unreasonable, though, for a pre-retiree to blindly assume he or she will be working at that age. Census Bureau data indicates that the average retirement age in this country is 63.3

When do the self-employed anticipate retiring? A 2017 Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies survey finds that 56% of U.S. solopreneurs think they will retire after 65 or not at all.4

Are financial uncertainties promoting this view? Not necessarily. Yes, the survey respondents had definite money concerns – 28% felt Social Security benefits might be reduced in the future; 22% were unsure that their retirement income and accumulated savings would prove sufficient; and 26% suspected they were not saving enough for their tomorrows. On the other hand, 54% of these self-employed people said that they wanted to work in retirement because they enjoyed their job or profession, and 67% felt working would help them remain active.4

Is their retirement assumption realistic? Time will tell. The baby boom generation may rewrite the book on retirement. Social Security’s Life Expectancy Calculator tells us that today’s average 60-year-old woman will live to age 86. Today’s average 60-year-old man will live to age 83. Leaving work at 65 could mean a 20-year retirement for either of them, and they might live past 90 if their health holds up. Even if these Americans quit working at age 70, they could still need more than a dozen years of retirement money.5

You could argue that an affluent, self-employed individual is hardly the “average” American retiree. Many solopreneurs own businesses; doctors and lawyers may fully or partly own professional practices; real estate investors and developers may have passive income streams. These groups do not represent the entirety of the self-employed, however – and even these individuals can face the challenge of having to sell a business, a practice, or real property to boost their retirement savings.

Successful, self-employed people over 50 need to approach the critical years of retirement planning with the same scrutiny and concerted effort of other pre-retirees.

Look at the years after 50 as a time to intensify your retirement planning. This is the right time to determine how much retirement income you will need and how much more you need to save to generate it. This is the time to evaluate your level of investment risk and to think about when to collect Social Security. This is the time to examine your assumptions.

 Julie Newcomb, a Certified Financial Planner™ in Orange County, CA, specializes in financial planning for women.  As a wife, mom and business owner, Julie understands the pressures and challenges most women feel on a daily basis as they juggle many important priorities. Julie’s favorite thing about her job is the ability to give women peace of mind when they entrust her with their finances. To learn more about Julie Newcomb Financial, go to julienewcomb.com.    

Sources:

1 – nytimes.com/2017/03/02/business/retirement/workers-are-working-longer-and-better.html [3/2/17]

2 – pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/01/07/number-of-older-americans-in-the-workforce-is-on-the-rise/ [1/7/14]

3 – thebalance.com/average-retirement-age-in-the-united-states-2388864 [12/24/16]

4 – transamericacenter.org/docs/default-source/global-survey-2016/tcrs2017_pr_retirement_preparations_of_self-employed.pdf [1/31/17]

5 – ssa.gov/OACT/population/longevity.html [3/9/17]

 

5 Questions Couples Need to Answer to Achieve Financial Success

24 Feb

shutterstock_193636496When you marry or simply share a household with someone, your financial life changes – and your approach to managing your money may change as well. To succeed as a couple, you may also have to succeed financially. The good news is that is usually not so difficult.

At some point, you will have to ask yourselves some money questions – questions that pertain not only to your shared finances, but also to your individual finances. Waiting too long to ask (or answer) those questions might carry an emotional price. In the 2016 TD Bank Love & Money survey of 1,902 consumers who said they were in relationships, 42% of the respondents who described themselves as “unhappy” cited their number one financial error as “waiting too long” to discuss money matters with their significant other.1

#1: How will you make your money grow?

Investing is essential. Simply saving money will help you build an emergency fund, but unless you save an extraordinary amount of cash, your uninvested savings will not fund your retirement.

So, what should you invest in? Should you hold any joint investment accounts or some jointly titled assets? One of you may like to assume more risk than the other; spouses often have different individual investment preferences.

How you invest, together or separately, is less important than your commitment to investing. Some couples focus only on avoiding financial risk – to them, maintaining the status quo and not losing any money equals financial success. They could be setting themselves up for financial failure decades from now by rejecting investing and retirement planning.

An ongoing relationship with a financial professional may enhance your knowledge of the ways in which you could build your wealth and arrange to retire confidently.

#2: How much will you spend & save?

Budgeting can help you arrive at your answer. A simple budget, an elaborate budget, any attempt at a budget can prove more informative than none at all. A thorough, line-item budget may seem a little over the top, but what you learn from it may be truly eye-opening.

#3: How often will you check up on your financial progress?

When finances affect two people rather than one, credit card statements and bank balances become more important. So do IRA balances, insurance premiums, and investment account yields. Looking in on these details once a month (or at least once a quarter) can keep you both informed, so that neither one of you have misconceptions about household finances or assets. Arguments can start when money misconceptions are upended by reality.

#4: What degree of independence do you want to maintain?

Do you want to have separate bank accounts? Separate “fun money” accounts? To what extent do you want to comingle your money? Some spouses need individual financial “space” of their own. There is nothing wrong with this, unless a spouse uses such “space” to hide secrets that will eventually shock the other.

#5: Can you be businesslike about your finances?

Spouses who are inattentive or nonchalant about financial matters may encounter more financial trouble than they anticipate. So, watch where your money goes, and think about ways to repeatedly pay yourselves first, rather than your creditors. Set shared short-term, medium-term, and long-term objectives, and strive to attain them.

Communication is key to all this. In the TD Bank survey, nearly 80% of the respondents who indicated they talked about money once per week said that they were happy with their relationship. Follow their lead and plan for your progress together.1

Julie Newcomb, a Certified Financial Planner™ in Orange County, CA, specializes in financial planning for women.  As a wife, mom and business owner, Julie understands the pressures and challenges most women feel on a daily basis as they juggle many important priorities. Julie’s favorite thing about her job is the ability to give women peace of mind when they entrust her with their finances. To learn more about Julie Newcomb Financial, go to julienewcomb.com.    

Sources:

1 – gobankingrates.com/personal-finance/surprising-ways-money-affects-love-life/ [9/26/16]

 

Retirement Planning for Single Parents

23 Jan

shutterstock_160939274How should a single parent plan for retirement? Diligently. Regularly. Rigorously. The good news is that you have the autonomy to decide how you want to approach saving for retirement and how aggressive you want to be. Here are some steps that may help, whether you are just beginning to do this or well on your way.

Setting a household budget is an important first step. Most households live without budgets – and because of that financial inattention, some of the money they could save and invest routinely disappears. When you set and live by a budget, you discipline yourself to spend only so much and save (or invest) some of the rest. You need not track every single expense, but try and track your expenses by category. You may find money to save as a result.

Save first, invest next. If you are starting from scratch, creating an emergency fund should be the first priority. It should grow large enough to meet 6-9 months of living expenses. If no financial emergency transpires, then you will end up with a cash reserve for retirement as well as investments.

You may want to invest less aggressively than you once did. Young, married couples can take on a lot of risk as they invest. Divorcees or widowers may not want to – there can be too much on the line, and too little time left to try and recoup portfolio losses. To understand the level of risk that may be appropriate for you at this point in life, chat with a financial professional.

There is great wisdom in “setting it and forgetting it.” Life will hand you all manner of distractions, including financial pressures to distract you from the necessity of retirement saving. You cannot be distracted away from this. So, to ward off such a hazard, use retirement savings vehicles that let you make automatic, regular contributions. Your workplace retirement plan, for example, or other investment accounts that allow them. This way, you don’t have to think about whether or not to make retirement account contributions; you just do.

Do you have life insurance, or an estate plan? Both of these become hugely important when you are a single parent. Any kind of life insurance is better than none. If you have minor children, you have the option of creating a trust and naming the trust as the beneficiary of whatever policy you choose. Disability insurance is also a good idea if you work in a physically taxing career. Name a guardian for your children in case the worst happens.1

Have you reviewed the beneficiary names on your accounts & policies? If you are divorced or widowed, your former spouse may still be the primary beneficiary of your IRA, your life insurance policy, or your investment account. If beneficiary forms are not updated, problems may result.

College planning should take a backseat to retirement planning. Your child(ren) will need to recognize that when it comes to higher education, they will likely be on their own. When they are 18 or 20, you may be 50 or 55 – and the average retirement age in this country is currently 63. Drawing down your retirement accounts in your fifties is a serious mistake, and you should not entertain that idea. Any attempt to build a college fund should be secondary to building and growing your retirement fund.2

Realize that your cash flow situation might change as retirement nears. Your household may be receiving child support, alimony, insurance payments, and, perhaps, even Social Security income. In time, some of these income streams may dry up. Can you replace them with new ones? Are you prepared to ask for a raise or look for a higher-paying job if they dry up in the years preceding your retirement? Are you willing to work part-time in retirement to offset that lost income?

Consult a financial professional who has worked with single parents. Ask another single parent whom he or she turns to for such consulting, or seek out someone who has written about the topic. You want to plan your future with someone who has some familiarity with the experience, either personally or through helping others in your shoes.

Julie Newcomb, a Certified Financial Planner™ in Orange County, CA, specializes in financial planning for women.  As a wife, mom and business owner, Julie understands the pressures and challenges most women feel on a daily basis as they juggle many important priorities. Julie’s favorite thing about her job is the ability to give women peace of mind when they entrust her with their finances. To learn more about Julie Newcomb Financial, go to julienewcomb.com.    

Sources:

1 – cnbc.com/2016/07/20/5-winning-money-strategies-for-single-parents.html [7/20/16]

2 – aol.com/article/2016/05/03/the-average-retirement-age-in-all-50-states/21369583/ [5/3/16]

 

 

How to “Rehearse Retirement” Before You Take the Plunge

30 Dec

shutterstock_439838155For most people, retirement is a huge shift in life as they know it. However, beyond planning the dollars and cents, few people take the extra step to “rehearse” what retirement might feel like. Your current job situation and flexibility will determine how far you can take this trial run, but here are a few steps to try before you actually retire.

Draw up a retirement budget & live on it for one, two, or three months. Make a list of essential expenses (groceries, gas, utilities, mortgage, medicines), and then a list of discretionary expenses (such as movie tickets, dinners out, spa treatments). This may reveal that you can live handily on less than what you currently spend each month.

Next, list your income sources for retirement. They might include Social Security benefits (depending on when you want to claim them), IRA Required Minimum Distributions, pension checks, dividends, freelance or consulting payments, or other revenue streams. Investment income is also in the mix here, so check with a financial professional to determine a withdrawal rate off of those accounts that you can safely maintain through your retirement. (It might differ slightly from the long-recommended 4%.) When you have your list, stack the projected total income up against your essential expenses and see how much you have left over.

Try living off of that level of monthly income for a month or more while you are still working. If it covers your necessary monthly expenses and not much else, then some adjustments in your retirement strategy might be needed – a housing change, a change in your retirement date.

 See how it feels to retire. Before you conclude your career, try to arrange some “previews” of your retirement lifestyle. If you want to serve your community, volunteer avidly for a month or two to get a taste of what daily volunteer work is like. If you see yourself traveling enthusiastically at the start of retirement, take a dream vacation or even a couple of consecutive trips (if your schedule allows) to see how they truly fit into your financial picture.

Your “rehearsal” need not be last-minute. If you think you will retire at 65, you could try doing this at 63, 60, or even before then. The earlier your attempt, the more time you have to alter your retirement plan if needed.

What else should you consider as you rehearse? Besides income, expenses, and the day-to-day retirement experience, there are a few other factors to gauge.

How much cash do you have on hand? Starting retirement with a strong cash position provides you with some insulation if you happen to retire during a market downturn. The possibility of a bear market coinciding with your entry into retirement may make you want to revisit your portfolio allocations as well.

Take a second look at your projected monthly income. Will it be consistent? If it will vary, you will want to address that. If you are in line for a pension, you will face a major, likely irrevocable, financial decision: should it be single life, or joint-and-survivor? The latter option would reduce your pension income in retirement, but give your spouse 50% or more of your pension payments after you die. Your employer might also offer you a lump-sum pension buyout; if that turns out to be the case, you will have to decide if the lump sum constitutes the better deal versus a lifelong income stream.1

How about your entry into Medicare? You may enroll in it at medicare.gov within a 6-month window of your 65th birthday (that is, beginning three months prior to your birthday month and ending three months after it). If you sign up before your birthday, you will be covered beginning on the first day of your birthday month. Sign up following your 65th birthday, and you may have to wait a few months for coverage to begin.2

If you plan to stay on the job after 65, sign up for Medicare Part A anyway (the part that pays for hospital care) within the usual 6-month window. It will not cost you anything to do so, and sometimes Part A makes up for shortcomings in employer-sponsored health plans. You can enroll in Part B and other Medicare component parts later – within eight months of your retirement, to be precise. You will want to pay attention to that 8-month deadline, as your premiums will jump 10% for every 12-month period afterward that you refrain from enrolling. If you pay for your own insurance, you will still need to enroll in Medicare when you are eligible (Medicare will make that coverage superfluous, so you can anticipate dropping it).3

Rehearsing for retirement can be very insightful. Some new retirees leave work abruptly only to have their financial and lifestyle assumptions jarred. As you want to make a smooth retirement transition to a future that corresponds to your expectations, test-driving your retirement before it begins is only wise.

Sources:

1 – kiplinger.com/article/retirement/T047-C000-S002-put-your-pension-to-work.html [1/16]

2 – medicare.gov/sign-up-change-plans/get-parts-a-and-b/when-coverage-starts/when-coverage-starts.html [10/20/16]

3 – fool.com/investing/2016/09/18/5-tips-to-avoiding-common-medicare-missteps.aspx [9/18/16]

Money Moves to Make by the End of the Year

30 Nov

shutterstock_222527017During the holiday season your focus can easily get taken up by thoughts of gift-giving, decorating, parties and yummy food. But don’t let the month of December get away from you! Now is the time to be thinking about financial moves you need to make before the end of the year to put you in the best possible position come tax season.

Could you ramp up 401(k) or 403(b) contributions? Every dollar you contribute to these retirement plans lowers your yearly taxable income. Lower it enough, and you might be able to qualify for other tax credits or breaks available to those under certain income limits. Note that contributions to Roth 401(k)s and Roth 403(b)s are made with after-tax rather than pre-tax dollars, so contributions to those accounts won’t lower your taxable income for the year. They will certainly help to strengthen your retirement savings, however.2

Are you thinking of gifting? How about donating to a charity or some other kind of 501(c)(3) non-profit organization before 2016 ends? In most cases, these gifts are partly tax-deductible. You must itemize deductions using Schedule A to claim a deduction for a charitable gift.3

If you donate appreciated securities you have owned for at least a year, you can take a charitable deduction for their fair market value and forgo the capital gains tax hit that would result from their sale. If you pour some money into a 529 college savings plan on behalf of a child in 2016, you may be able to claim a partial state income tax deduction (depending on the state).4,5

Of course, you can also reduce the value of your taxable estate with a gift or two. The gift tax exclusion is $14,000 for both 2016 and 2017. So, as an individual, you can gift up to $14,000 to as many people as you wish this year. A married couple can gift up to $28,000 to as many people as desired in 2016 and 2017. (Unfortunately, the IRS prohibits a current-year income tax deduction for the value of a non-charitable gift.)6

Should you convert all or part of a traditional IRA into a Roth IRA? You will be withdrawing money from that traditional IRA someday, and those withdrawals will equal taxable income. Withdrawals from a Roth IRA you own are never taxed during your lifetime, assuming you follow the rules. Translation: tax savings tomorrow. Before you go Roth, you do need to make sure you have the money to pay taxes on the conversion amount. If you do this and change your mind, the IRS gives you until October 15 of the year after a conversion to undo it.7

Do you practice tax-loss harvesting? That is the art of taking capital losses (selling securities worth less than what you first paid for them) to offset your short-term capital gains. If you fall into one of the upper tax brackets, you might want to consider this move, which directly lowers your taxable income. It should be made with the guidance of a financial professional you trust.1

In fact, you could even take it a step further. Consider that up to $3,000 of capital losses in excess of capital gains can be deducted from ordinary income, and any remaining capital losses above that can be carried forward to offset capital gains in upcoming years.1 

Can you take advantage of the American Opportunity Tax Credit? The AOTC allows individuals whose modified adjusted gross income is $80,000 or less (and joint filers with MAGI of $160,000 or less) a chance to claim a credit of up to $2,500 for qualified college expenses. Phase-outs kick in above those MAGI levels.8

What can you do before they ring in the New Year? Talk with a financial or tax professional now rather than in February or March. Little year-end moves might help you improve your short-term and long-term financial situation.

Julie Newcomb, a Certified Financial Planner™ in Orange County, CA, specializes in financial planning for women.  As a wife, mom and business owner, Julie understands the pressures and challenges most women feel on a daily basis as they juggle many important priorities. Julie’s favorite thing about her job is the ability to give women peace of mind when they entrust her with their finances. To learn more about Julie Newcomb Financial, go to julienewcomb.com.

Sources:

1 – fool.com/retirement/2016/11/09/1-smart-tax-move-to-make-before-the-end-of-2016.aspx [11/9/16]

2 – nerdwallet.com/blog/investing/8-yearend-investing-dos-donts/ [12/19/15]

3 – irs.gov/taxtopics/tc506.html [10/20/16]

4 – cbsnews.com/news/tis-the-season-for-giving-back/ [11/14/16]

5 – tinyurl.com/hr964ee [11/11/16]

6 – irs.gov/Businesses/Small-Businesses-&-Self-Employed/Frequently-Asked-Questions-on-Gift-Taxes [10/31/16]

7 – forbes.com/sites/ashleaebeling/2016/02/10/richie-rich-roths-6-ways-to-snag-one/ [2/10/16]

8 – irs.gov/uac/American-Opportunity-Tax-Credit [12/8/15]

Are You Saving Without a Plan?

2 Nov

shutterstock_103929902Are you saving for retirement? Great. Are you planning for retirement? That is even better. Planning for your retirement and other long-range financial goals is an essential step – one that could make achieving those goals easier.

Saving without investing isn’t enough. Since interest rates are so low today, money in a typical savings account barely grows. It may not even grow enough to keep up with inflation, leaving the saver at a long-term financial disadvantage.

Very few Americans retire on savings alone. Rather, they invest some of their savings and retire mostly on the accumulated earnings those invested dollars generate over time.

Investing without planning usually isn’t enough. Most people invest with a general idea of building wealth, particularly for retirement. The problem is that too many of them invest without a plan. They are guessing how much money they will need once they leave work, and that guess may be way off. Some have no idea at all.

Growing and retaining wealth takes more than just investing. Along the way, you must plan to manage risk and defer or reduce taxes. A good financial plan – created with the assistance of an experienced financial professional – addresses those priorities while defining your investment approach. It changes over time, to reflect changes in your life and your financial objectives.

With a plan, you can set short-term and long-term goals and benchmarks. You can estimate the amount of money you will likely need to meet retirement, college, and health care expenses. You can plot a way to wind down your business or exit your career with confidence. You can also get a good look at your present financial situation – where you stand in terms of your assets and liabilities, the distance between where you are financially and where you would like to be.

Last year, a Gallup poll found that just 38% of investors had a written financial plan. Gallup asked those with no written financial strategy why they lacked one. The top two reasons? They just hadn’t taken the time (29%) or they simply hadn’t thought about it (27%).1

The end of the year is approaching and a new one will soon begin, so this is the right time to think about what you have done in 2016 and what you could do in 2017. You might want to do something new; you may want to do some things differently. Your financial future is in your hands, so be proactive and plan.

Julie Newcomb, a Certified Financial Planner™ in Orange County, CA, specializes in financial planning for women.  As a wife, mom and business owner, Julie understands the pressures and challenges most women feel on a daily basis as they juggle many important priorities. Julie’s favorite thing about her job is the ability to give women peace of mind when they entrust her with their finances. To learn more about Julie Newcomb Financial, go to julienewcomb.com.

Sources:

1 – gallup.com/poll/184421/nonretired-investors-written-financial-plan.aspx [7/31/15]

A Quick Look at the Trump & Clinton Tax Plans

28 Oct

shutterstock_145901300Seemingly every presidential candidate offers a plan for tax reform. You can add Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to that long list. Here is a look at their plans, and the key reforms to federal tax law that might result if they were enacted.

Donald Trump revised his tax plan this summer. The latest plan put forth by Trump and his advisors contains the key features of the one introduced last year.

Under Trump’s plan, the standard deduction would rise. It would rise from the current level of $6,300 to $25,000 for single filers. Joint filers could claim a $50,000 standard deduction. (The GOP plan proposes respective standard deductions of $12,000 and $24,000.) Instead of seven federal income tax rates, there would just be three – 12%, 25%, and 33%. (In his original tax reform blueprint, the rates were 10%, 20%, and 25%.)1

The estate tax would vanish entirely under Trump’s plan. Taxes on capital gains and dividends would top out at 20%.2,3

Trump wants to reduce the corporate tax rate from 35% to 15%. The new lower rate would apply to partnerships, LLCs, and S corps as well as C corps. (With a proposed corporate tax ceiling of 15% and a proposed individual tax ceiling of 33%, some economists have wondered if a Trump presidency might generate a wave of individuals incorporating themselves.) Full expensing would also be allowed for business investments under Trump’s plan.1

Notably, Trump’s reforms would do away with the deferral of taxes on foreign profits. As it stands now, corporate taxes on foreign profits are deferred until overseas affiliates repatriate them. It can take years for those inbound dividends to arrive. The Trump plan would tax domestic and foreign profits on the same current-year basis.1

Trump has also publicly spoken of greater tax relief for families raising children. This would likely not be an expansion of the Child and Dependent Care Credit, but something new – either a deduction, a credit, or an exclusion. Given the high standard deductions that would be offered if Trump’s tax plan becomes law, higher-income households might be most interested in such an expanded child care deduction. If the Trump plan applies a child care deduction to payroll taxes rather than income taxes, many lower-income households could, theoretically, claim it. Less payroll tax revenue would mean less revenue for some key government programs.1

Hillary Clinton’s tax plan would lower some taxes & raise others. As the non-partisan Tax Policy Center has noted, only around 5% of Americans would see any real change to their taxes under the Clinton reforms – but the richest Americans would pay higher income taxes under her plan. Clinton’s corporate tax reforms would encourage firms to do more business in America, while her estate tax reforms could prompt changes in wealth transfer planning for some families.2,3

High-earning households could see marginal rates rise. Under Clinton’s plan, taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes greater than $5 million would pay a 4% surtax, effectively setting their marginal tax rate at 43.6%. Anyone earning more than $1 million would face an effective tax rate of 30%. Investors would have to buy and hold for longer intervals to take advantage of long-term capital gains tax rates. The current long-term rate of 20% would only apply if an investor owned an investment for six years; in preceding years, it would be incrementally higher.2,3,4

The federal estate tax would also rise to 45% through Clinton’s reforms. The current $5.45 million individual exemption would be reduced to $3.5 million ($7 million for married couples).2

Clinton’s plan would adjust corporate taxation. U.S. firms would find it harder to make tax inversions, whereby they merge with an overseas competitor and move their headquarters to another country to exploit that nation’s lower corporate tax rate. Earnings stripping – in which U.S. affiliates of multinational corporations “strip” profits from their stateside taxable income and send them to overseas parent companies in pursuit of tax savings – would cease. Companies would also face limits on deducting interest payments on their debt. While she has talked of a tax on the biggest financial institutions, Clinton has also expressed a desire to make the process of estimating, filing, and paying taxes less involved for small business owners.2,3

Like Trump, Clinton wants tax relief for families. She wants a new kind of tax credit for child care; the details have yet to emerge at this writing.2

These plans have one destination. That is Congress, and there is no telling how many or how few of these reforms may become law if Clinton or Trump are elected.

Julie Newcomb, a Certified Financial Planner™ in Orange County, CA, specializes in financial planning for women.  As a wife, mom and business owner, Julie understands the pressures and challenges most women feel on a daily basis as they juggle many important priorities. Julie’s favorite thing about her job is the ability to give women peace of mind when they entrust her with their finances. To learn more about Julie Newcomb Financial, go to julienewcomb.com.

Sources:.

1 – taxanalysts.org/tax-analysts-blog/trump-s-tax-plan-version-20/2016/08/12/194511 [8/12/16]

2 – nytimes.com/2016/08/13/upshot/how-hillary-clinton-and-donald-trump-differ-on-taxes.html [8/13/16]

3 – cbsnews.com/news/hillary-clinton-donald-trump-taxes-presidential-campaign-2016/ [8/3/16]

4 – fool.com/investing/2016/06/19/how-would-hillary-clinton-change-your-taxes.aspx [6/19/16]