EagleStone Tax & Wealth Newsletter – April 2020

Tax Refund: Spend or Save

About 72% of taxpayers received a refund in 2018 and 2019. Here’s how consumers spent the tax refunds they received in 2018 and what they planned to do with their 2019 refunds.

Sources: Internal Revenue Service, 2019; National Retail Federation, 2019 (multiple responses allowed)

Keeping Cool: Investment Strategy vs. Reaction

After losing ground in 2018, U.S. stocks had a banner year in 2019, with the S&P 500 gaining almost 29% — the highest annual increase since 2013.1 It’s too early to know how 2020 will turn out, but it’s been rocky so far, and you can count on market swings to challenge your patience as an investor.

The trend was steadily upward last year, but there were downturns along the way, including a single-day drop of almost 3% on August 14. That plunge began with bad economic news from Germany and China that triggered a flight to the relative safety of U.S. Treasury securities, driving the yield on the 10-year Treasury note below the 2-year note for the first time since 2007. A yield curve inversion has been a reliable predictor of past recessions and spooked the stock market.2 By the following day, however, the market was back on the rise.3

It’s possible that a yield curve inversion may no longer be a precursor to a recession. Still, larger concerns about the economy are ongoing, and this incident illustrates the pitfalls of overreacting to economic news. If you were also spooked on August 14, 2019, and sold some or all of your stock positions, you might have missed out on more than 13% equity market growth over the rest of the year.4

Tune Out the Noise

The media generates news 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can check the market and access the news anywhere you carry a mobile device. This barrage of information might make you feel that you should buy or sell investments in response to the latest news, whether it’s a market drop or an unexpected geopolitical event. This is a natural response, but it’s not wise to react emotionally to market swings or to news that you think might affect the market.

Long-Term Commitment

“Time in the market” is generally more effective than trying to time the market. An investor who remained fully invested in the U.S. stock market over the past 30 years would have received almost triple the return of an investor who missed the best 12 months of market performance.

Source: Refinitiv, 2020, S&P 500 Composite Total Return Index for the period 12/31/1989 to 12/31/2019. The S&P 500 is an unmanaged group of securities that is considered to be representative of the U.S. stock market in general. The performance of an unmanaged index is not indicative of the performance of any specific investment. Individuals cannot invest directly in an index. This hypothetical example is used for illustrative purposes only and does not consider the impact of taxes, investment fees, or expenses. Rates of return will vary over time, particularly for long-term investments. Actual results will vary. Past performance does not guarantee future results.

Stay the Course

Consider this advice from John Bogle, famed investor and mutual fund industry pioneer: “Stay the course. Regardless of what happens to the markets, stick to your investment program. Changing your strategy at the wrong time can be the single most devastating mistake you can make as an investor.”5

This doesn’t mean you should never buy or sell investments. However, the investments you buy and sell should be based on a sound strategy appropriate for your risk tolerance, financial goals, and time frame. And a sound investment strategy should carry you through market ups and downs.

It can be tough to keep cool when you see the market dropping or to control your exuberance when you see it shooting upward. But overreacting to market movements or trying to “time the market” by guessing at future direction may create additional risk that could negatively affect your long-term portfolio performance.

All investments are subject to market fluctuation, risk, and loss of principal. When sold, investments may be worth more or less than their original cost. U.S. Treasury securities are guaranteed by the federal government as to the timely payment of principal and interest. If not held to maturity, they could be worth more or less than the original amount paid.

1) S&P Dow Jones Indices, 2020
2) The Wall Street Journal, August 14, 2019
3-4) Yahoo! Finance (S&P 500 index for the period 8/14/2019 to 12/31/2019)
5) MarketWatch, June 6, 2017

Stay-at-Home Spouse? Consider a Spousal IRA

An ongoing study of IRA accounts has consistently found that women, on average, have lower retirement savings balances than men (see chart). Though there may be multiple reasons for this disparity, the most fundamental are the wage gap between men and women and the fact that women are more likely than men to take time off to care for children and other family members.1

The wage gap is narrowing for younger women, and more men are stay-at-home dads. But the imbalance remains.2 Obviously, earning less makes it more difficult to save for retirement. And a mother — or father — who stays at home to take care of the children may not be contributing to a retirement account at all. The same situation could arise later in life if one spouse works while the other takes time off or retires.

Savings Gap

Average and median IRA balances, by gender

Source: Employee Benefit Research Institute, 2018 (2016 data)

Additional Savings Opportunity

A spousal IRA — funded for a spouse who earns little or no income — offers an opportunity to help keep the retirement savings of both spouses on track. It also offers a larger potential tax deduction than a single IRA. A spousal IRA is not necessarily a separate account — it could be the same IRA that the spouse contributed to while working. Rather, the term refers to IRS rules that allow a married couple to fund separate IRA accounts for each spouse based on the couple’s joint income.

For tax years 2019 and 2020, an individual with earned income from wages or self-employment can contribute up to $6,000 annually to his or her own IRA and up to $6,000 more to a spouse’s IRA — regardless of whether the spouse works or not — as long as the couple’s combined earned income exceeds both contributions and they file a joint tax return. An additional $1,000 catch-up contribution can be made for each spouse who is 50 or older. Contributions for 2019 can be made up to the April 15, 2020, tax filing deadline.

All other IRA eligibility rules must be met. If a spousal contribution to a traditional IRA for 2019 is made for a nonworking spouse, she or he must be under age 70½; the age of the working spouse does not matter for purposes of the spousal IRA. For contributions made in 2020 and later years, the age 70½ restriction has been eliminated by the SECURE Act.

Traditional IRA Deductibility

If neither spouse actively participates in an employer-sponsored retirement plan such as a 401(k), contributions to a traditional IRA are fully tax deductible. However, if one or both spouses are active participants, federal income limits may affect the deductibility of contributions.

For 2019, the ability to deduct contributions to the IRA of an active participant is phased out at a joint modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) between $103,000 and $123,000, but contributions to the IRA of a nonparticipating spouse are phased out at a MAGI between $193,000 and $203,000. (For 2020, phaseout ranges increase to $104,000–$124,000 and $196,000–$206,000, respectively.)

Thus, some participants in workplace plans who earn too much to deduct an IRA contribution for themselves may be able to make a deductible IRA contribution for a nonparticipating spouse.

Withdrawals from traditional IRAs are taxed as ordinary income and may be subject to a 10% federal income tax penalty if withdrawn prior to age 59½, with certain exceptions as outlined by the IRS.

1-2) Pew Research Center, 2019

How Long Should You Keep Financial Records?

Once tax season is over, you may want to file your most recent records and discard older records to make room for the new ones. According to the IRS, personal tax records should be kept for three years after filing your return or two years after the taxes were paid, whichever is later.* (Different rules apply to business taxes.) It might be helpful to keep your actual tax returns, W-2 forms, and other income statements until you begin receiving Social Security benefits.

The rules for tax records apply to other records you use for deductions on your return, such as credit card statements, utility bills, auto mileage records, and medical bills. Here are some other guidelines if you don’t use these records for tax purposes.

Financial statements. You generally have 60 days to dispute charges with banks and credit card companies, so you could discard statements after two months. Once you receive your annual statement, throw out prior monthly statements.

Retirement plan statements. Keep quarterly statements until you receive your annual statement; keep annual statements until you close the account. Keep records of nondeductible IRA contributions indefinitely to prove you paid taxes on the funds.

Real estate and investment records. Keep these at least until you sell the asset. If the sale is reported on your tax return, follow the rules for tax records.

Loan documents. Keep documents and proof of payment until the loan is paid off. After that, keep proof of final payment.

Auto records. Keep registration and title information until the car is sold. You might keep maintenance records for reference and to document services to a new buyer.

Medical records. Keep records indefinitely for surgeries, major illnesses, lab tests, and vaccinations. Keep payment records until you have proof of a zero balance.

Other documents you should keep indefinitely include birth, marriage, and death certificates; divorce decrees; citizenship and military discharge papers; and Social Security cards. Use a shredder if you discard records containing confidential information such as Social Security numbers and financial account numbers.

*Keep tax records for at least six years if you underreported gross income by more than 25% (not a wise decision) and for seven years if you claimed a deduction for worthless securities or bad debt.

 

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 2020

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