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Dividend Investing: Small Payments Can Boost Returns

Owning shares of stock or stock funds might increase the value of your portfolio in one of two fundamental ways: capital appreciation (i.e., price increases) and dividend payments. Of the two, capital appreciation carries the greatest potential for return, but it also carries the greatest potential for loss. And any gains or losses are only reaped when you sell your shares.

By contrast, dividends typically offer more consistent modest returns that are paid while you hold your shares. For this reason, dividends have long been popular with retirees and others who are looking for regular income. But focusing on dividends can be appropriate for almost any investor, especially if dividends are reinvested to purchase additional shares. Although reinvesting dividends from individual stocks may not be cost-effective, mutual funds and exchange-traded funds (ETFs) generally offer an option to reinvest dividends and/or capital gains.

Growth and volatility

In general, more established companies tend to pay dividends, and these companies may not have as much growth potential as newer companies that plow all of their earnings back into the company. Even so, dividends can boost total return. A 2015 study found that dividends had accounted for about one-third of the total return of the S&P 500 index since 1956, with the other two-thirds from capital appreciation. In the fourth quarter of 2017, more than 80% of S&P 500 stocks paid a dividend with an average yield of 1.87% for the index as a whole and 2.24% for dividend-paying stocks. Many mid-size and smaller companies also paid dividends.1

Because dividends are by definition a positive return, even during a down market, dividend-paying stocks may be less volatile than non-dividend payers. However, dividend stocks tend to be more sensitive to rising interest rates; investors looking for income may move away from stocks if less risky fixed-income investments offer comparable yields.

Quarterly payments

Dividends are typically paid quarterly in the form of cash or stock. The amount is set by the company’s board of directors and can be changed at any time. Dividends can be expressed as the dollar amount paid on each share or as yield — the annual dividend income per share divided by the current market price. When the share price falls, the yield rises (assuming dividend payments remain the same), enabling investors who reinvest their dividends to buy more shares that have the potential to grow as market performance improves.

Investing in dividends is a long-term commitment. In exchange for less volatility and more stable returns, investors should be prepared for periods where dividend payers drag down rather than boost an equity portfolio. The amount of a company’s dividend can fluctuate with earnings, which are influenced by economic, market, and political events. Dividends are typically not guaranteed and could be changed or eliminated.

The return and principal value of all investments fluctuate with changes in market conditions. Shares, when sold, may be worth more or less than their original cost. Supply and demand for ETF shares may cause them to trade at a premium or a discount relative to the value of the underlying shares.

Mutual funds and ETFs are sold by prospectus. Please consider the investment objectives, risks, charges, and expenses carefully before investing. The prospectus, which contains this and other information about the investment company, can be obtained from your financial professional. Be sure to read the prospectus carefully before deciding whether to invest.

1S&P Dow Jones Indices, 2015, 2018

The Standard Deduction and Itemized Deductions After Tax Reform

The Tax Cut and Jobs Act substantially increased the standard deduction amounts for 2018 to 2025. It also eliminated or restricted many itemized deductions for those years. You can generally choose to take the standard deduction or to itemize deductions. As a result of the changes, far fewer taxpayers will be able to reduce their taxes by itemizing deductions.

Standard deduction

The standard deduction amounts are substantially increased in 2018 (and adjusted for inflation in future years).

Head of household$9,350$18,000
Married filing jointly$12,700$24,000
Married filing separately$6,350$12,000

Note: The additional standard deduction amount for the blind or aged (age 65 or older) in 2018 is $1,600 (up from $1,550 in 2017) for single/head of household or $1,300 (up from $1,250 in 2017) for all other filing statuses. Special rules apply if you can be claimed as a dependent by another taxpayer.

Itemized deductions

Many itemized deductions have been eliminated or restricted. The overall limitation on itemized deductions based on the amount of adjusted gross income (AGI) was eliminated. Here are some specific changes.

Medical expenses: The AGI threshold for deducting unreimbursed medical expenses was reduced from 10% to 7.5% for 2017 and 2018, after which it returns to 10%. This same threshold applies for alternative minimum tax purposes.

State and local taxes: Individuals are able to claim an itemized deduction of up to only $10,000 ($5,000 for married filing separately) for state and local property taxes and state and local income taxes (or sales taxes in lieu of income taxes). Previously, there were no dollar limits.

Home mortgage interest: Individuals can deduct mortgage interest on no more than $750,000 ($375,000 for married filing separately) of qualifying mortgage debt. For mortgage debt incurred before December 16, 2017, the prior $1,000,000 ($500,000 for married filing separately) limit will continue to apply. A deduction is no longer allowed for interest on home equity indebtedness. Home equity used to substantially improve your home is not treated as home equity indebtedness and can still qualify for the interest deduction.

Charitable gifts: The top percentage limit for deducting charitable contributions is increased from 50% of AGI to 60% of AGI for certain cash gifts.

Casualty and theft losses: The deduction for personal casualty and theft losses is eliminated, except for casualty losses attributable to a federally declared disaster.

Miscellaneous itemized deductions: Previously deductible miscellaneous expenses subject to the 2% floor, including tax preparation expenses and unreimbursed employee business expenses, are no longer deductible.

Alternative minimum tax (AMT)

The standard deduction is not available for AMT purposes. Nor is the itemized deduction for state and local taxes available for AMT purposes. If you are subject to the alternative minimum tax, it may be useful to itemize deductions even if itemized deductions are less than the standard deduction amount.

Year-end tax planning

Typically, you have a certain amount of control over the timing of income and expenses. You generally want to time your recognition of income so that it will be taxed at the lowest rate possible, and time your deductible expenses so they can be claimed in years when you are in a higher tax bracket.

With the substantially higher standard deduction amounts and the changes to itemized deductions, it may be especially useful to bunch itemized deductions in certain years; for example, when they would exceed the standard deduction. Thus, while this might seem counterintuitive from a nontax perspective, it may be useful to make charitable gifts in years in which you have high medical expenses or casualty losses.

In this environment, qualified charitable distributions (QCDs) may be even more useful as a way to make charitable gifts without itemizing deductions. QCDs are distributions made directly from an IRA to a qualified charity. Such distributions may be excluded from income and count toward satisfying any required minimum distributions (RMDs) you would otherwise have to receive from your IRA. Individuals age 70½ and older can make up to $100,000 in QCDs per year.

Four Points to Consider When Setting a Retirement Income Goal

No matter what your age or stage of life, targeting a goal for monthly retirement income can seem like a daunting task. Following are four considerations to help you get started.

1. When do you plan to retire?

The first question to ponder is your anticipated retirement age. Many people base their target retirement date on when they’re eligible for full Social Security benefits, and for today’s workers, “full retirement age” ranges from 66 to 67. Other folks hope to retire early, while still others want to work as long as possible. As you think about your anticipated retirement date, keep the following points in mind.

If you plan to retire early, you’ll need significant resources to provide income for potentially decades. You can typically tap your employer-sponsored retirement plan without penalty as early as age 55 if you terminate your employment, but if you try to access IRA assets prior to age 59½, you will be subject to a 10% early withdrawal penalty, unless an exception applies. In both cases, regular income taxes will apply. Also consider that you generally won’t be eligible for Medicare until age 65, so unless you are one of the lucky few who have employer-sponsored retiree medical benefits, health insurance will have to be funded out of pocket.

If you plan to delay retirement, consider that unexpected circumstances could throw a wrench in that plan. In its 2017 Retirement Confidence Survey, the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) found that current workers plan to retire at a median age of 65, while current retirees reported a median retirement age of 62. And although four in 10 workers plan to work until age 70 or later, just 4% of retirees said this was the case. Why the difference? Nearly half of retirees said they retired earlier than planned, with many reporting unexpected challenges, including their own health concerns or those of a family member.1

2. How long will your retirement last?

The second important consideration, which builds on the first, is how long your retirement might last. Projected life spans have been lengthening in recent decades due in part to advancements in medical care and general health awareness. According to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), a 65-year-old woman can expect to live 20.6 more years, while a 65-year-old man can expect to live 18 more years.2 To estimate your own life expectancy based on your current age and health profile, visit the online longevity calculator created by the Society of Actuaries and American Academy of Actuaries at

3. What will your expenses look like?

The third consideration is how much you will need to meet your basic living expenses. Although your housing, commuting, and other work-related expenses may decrease in retirement, other costs — including health care — will likely rise.

In 2017, EBRI calculated that Medicare recipients with median prescription drug expenses may need about $265,000 just to pay for basic medical expenses in retirement.3 And that doesn’t even include the potential for long-term care. According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), 52% of people over age 65 will need some form of long-term care during their lifetimes, which could add another $69,000, on average, to the out-of-pocket costs.4

In addition, remember to account for the impact inflation will have on your expenses over time. For example, say you need an estimated $50,000 to cover basic needs in your first year of retirement. Ten years later, at a 3% annual inflation rate (the approximate historical average as measured by the consumer price index), you would need more than $67,000 to cover those same costs.

4. How much can you accumulate?

This is perhaps the most important consideration: How much can you realistically accumulate between now and retirement based on your current savings rate, timeframe, investment portfolio, and lifestyle? Once you project your total accumulation amount based on current circumstances, you can gauge whether you’re on track or falling short. And if you appear to be falling short, you can begin to think about how to refine your strategy, either by altering your plans for retirement (e.g., delaying retirement by a few years), saving more, or investing more aggressively.

1 EBRI Issue Brief, March 21, 2017
2 NCHS Issue Brief, Number 293, December 2017
3 EBRI Notes, January 31, 2017
4 HHS, “Long-Term Services and Supports for Older Americans: Risks and Financing Research Brief,” February 2016

What are some tips for creating a budget and sticking to it?

It’s a common problem for many individuals — wondering exactly where your paycheck goes each month. After paying expenses, such as your mortgage, utilities, and credit card bills, you may find little left to put toward anything else.

Creating a budget is the first key to successfully manage your finances. Knowing exactly how you are spending your money each month can set you on a more clear path to pursue your financial goals. If you become sidetracked when it comes to your finances, consider these tips for creating a budget and staying on the right path.

Examine your financial goals. Start out by making a list of your short-term goals (e.g., new car, vacation) and long-term goals (e.g, your child’s college education, retirement) and prioritize them. Consider how much you will need to save and how long it will take to reach each goal.

Identify your current monthly income and expenses. Add up all of your income. In addition to your regular salary and wages, be sure to include other types of income, such as dividends, interest, and child support. Next, add up all of your expenses. Sometimes it helps to divide expenses into two categories: fixed (e.g., housing, food, transportation) and discretionary (e.g., entertainment, vacations). Don’t forget to factor in any financial goals you would like to pursue.

Evaluate your budget. Once you’ve added your income and expenses, compare the two totals. Ideally, you should be spending less than you earn. If this is the case, you’re on the right track, and you’ll need to look at how well you use your extra income toward achieving your financial goals. On the other hand, if you are spending more than you earn, you should make some adjustments to your budget. Look for ways to increase your income or reduce your expenses, or both.

Monitor your budget. Finally, you should monitor your budget periodically and make changes when necessary. Keep in mind that any budget that is too rigid is likely to fail. Keep your budget flexible as your changing circumstances demand.

What are the gift and estate tax rules after tax reform?

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, signed into law in December 2017, approximately doubled the federal gift and estate tax basic exclusion amount to $11.18 million in 2018 (adjusted for inflation in later years). After 2025, the exclusion is scheduled to revert to its pre-2018 level and be cut approximately in half. Otherwise, federal gift and estate taxes remain the same.

Gift tax. Gifts you make during your lifetime may be subject to federal gift tax. Not all gifts are subject to the tax, however. You can make annual tax-free gifts of up to $15,000 per recipient. Married couples can effectively make annual tax-free gifts of up to $30,000 per recipient. You can also make unlimited tax-free gifts for qualifying expenses paid directly to educational or medical service providers. And you can make deductible transfers to your spouse and to charity. There is a basic exclusion amount that protects a total of up to $11.18 million (in 2018) from gift tax and estate tax. Transfers in excess of the basic exclusion amount are generally taxed at 40%.

Estate tax. Property you own at death is subject to federal estate tax. As with the gift tax, you can make deductible transfers to your spouse and to charity; there is a basic exclusion amount that protects up to $11.18 million (in 2018) from tax, and a tax rate of 40% generally applies to transfers in excess of the basic exclusion amount.

Portability. The estate of a deceased spouse can elect to transfer any unused applicable exclusion amount to his or her surviving spouse (a concept referred to as portability). The surviving spouse can use the unused exclusion of the deceased spouse, along with the surviving spouse’s own basic exclusion amount, for federal gift and estate tax purposes. For example, if a spouse died in 2011 and the estate elected to transfer $5 million of the unused exclusion to the surviving spouse, the surviving spouse effectively has an applicable exclusion amount of $16.18 million ($5 million plus $11.18 million) to shelter transfers from federal gift or estate tax in 2018.


IRS Circular 230 disclosure: To ensure compliance with requirements imposed by the IRS, we inform you that any tax advice contained in this communication (including any attachments) was not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of (i) avoiding tax-related penalties under the Internal Revenue Code or (ii) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any matter addressed herein.

Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2018