EagleStone Tax & Wealth Newsletter – July 2016

Mid-Year 2016: An Investment Reality Check

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Market volatility is alive and well in 2016. Low oil prices, China’s slowing growth, the prospect of rising interest rates, the strong U.S. dollar, global conflicts–all of these factors have contributed to turbulent markets this year. Many investors may be tempted to review their portfolios only when the markets hit a rough patch, but careful planning is essential in all economic climates. So whether the markets are up or down, reviewing your portfolio with your financial professional can be an excellent way to keep your investments on track, and midway through the year is a good time for a reality check. Here are three questions to consider.

1. How are my investments doing?

Review a summary of your portfolio’s total return (minus all fees) and compare the performance of each asset class against a relevant benchmark. For stocks, you might compare performance against the S&P 500, Russell 2000, or Global Dow; for mutual funds, you might use the Lipper indexes. (Keep in mind that the performance of an unmanaged index is not indicative of the performance of any specific security, and you can’t invest directly in an unmanaged index.)

Consider any possible causes of over- or underperformance in each asset class. If any over- or underperformance was concentrated in a single asset class or investment, was that consistent with the asset’s typical behavior over time? Or was recent performance an anomaly that bears watching or taking action? In addition, make sure you know the total fees you are paying (e.g., mutual fund expense ratios, transaction fees), preferably as a dollar amount and not just as a percentage of assets.

2. Is my investment strategy on track?

Review your financial goals (e.g., retirement, college, house, car, vacation fund) and market outlook for the remainder of the year to determine whether your investment asset mix for each goal continues to meet your time frame, risk tolerance, and overall needs. Of course, no one knows exactly what the markets will do in the future, but by looking at current conditions, you might identify factors that could influence the markets in the months ahead–things like inflation, interest rates, and economic growth projections from the Federal Reserve. With this broader perspective, you can then update your investment strategy as necessary.

Remember, even if you’ve chosen an appropriate asset allocation strategy for various goals, market forces may have altered your mix without any action on your part. For example, maybe your target was 70% stocks and 30% bonds, but now you have 80% stocks and 20% bonds. To return your asset mix back to its original allocation, you may want to rebalance your investments. This can be done by selling investments and transferring the proceeds to underrepresented asset classes, or simply by directing new contributions into asset classes that have been outpaced by others. Keep in mind that rebalancing may result in commission costs, as well as taxes if you sell investments for a profit.

Asset allocation does not guarantee a profit or protect against loss; it is a method used to help manage investment risk.

3. Am I maximizing my tax savings?

Taxes can take a significant bite out of your overall return. You can’t control the markets, but you can control the accounts you use to save and invest, as well as the assets you choose to hold in those accounts. Consider the “tax efficiency” of your investment portfolio. Certain types of investments tend to result in larger tax bills. For example, investments that generate interest or produce short-term capital gains are taxed as ordinary income, which is usually a higher rate than long-term capital gains. Dividing assets strategically among taxable, tax-deferred, and tax-exempt accounts may help reduce the effect of taxes on your overall portfolio.

All investing involves risk, including the loss of principal, and there can be no guarantee that any investing strategy will be successful.

Q&As on Roth 401(k)s

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Q&As on Roth 401(k)s

The Roth 401(k) is 10 years old! With 62% of employers now offering this option, it’s more likely than not that you can make Roth contributions to your 401(k) plan.1 Are you taking advantage of this opportunity?

What is a Roth 401(k) plan?

A Roth 401(k) plan is simply a traditional 401(k) plan that permits contributions to a designated Roth account within the plan. Roth 401(k) contributions are made on an after-tax basis, just like Roth IRA contributions. This means there’s no up-front tax benefit, but if certain conditions are met both your contributions and any accumulated investment earnings on those contributions are free of federal income tax when distributed from the plan.

Who can contribute?

Anyone! If you’re eligible to participate in a 401(k) plan with a Roth option, you can make Roth 401(k) contributions. Although you cannot contribute to a Roth IRA if you earn more than a specific dollar amount, there are no such income limits for a Roth 401(k).

Are distributions really tax free?

Because your contributions are made on an after-tax basis, they’re always free of federal income tax when distributed from the plan. But any investment earnings on your Roth contributions are tax free only if you meet the requirements for a “qualified distribution.”

In general, a distribution is qualified if:

  • It’s made after the end of a five-year holding period, and
  • The payment is made after you turn 59½, become disabled, or die

The five-year holding period starts with the year you make your first Roth contribution to your employer’s 401(k) plan. For example, if you make your first Roth contribution to the plan in December 2016, then the first year of your five-year holding period is 2016, and your waiting period ends on December 31, 2020. Special rules apply if you transfer your Roth dollars over to a new employer’s 401(k) plan.

If your distribution isn’t qualified (for example, you make a hardship withdrawal from your Roth account before age 59½), the portion of your distribution that represents investment earnings will be taxable and subject to a 10% early distribution penalty, unless an exception applies. (State tax rules may be different.)

How much can I contribute?

There’s an overall cap on your combined pretax and Roth 401(k) contributions. In 2016, you can contribute up to $18,000 ($24,000 if you are age 50 or older) to a 401(k) plan. You can split your contribution between Roth and pretax contributions any way you wish. For example, you can make $10,000 of Roth contributions and $8,000 of pretax contributions. It’s totally up to you.

Can I still contribute to a Roth IRA?

Yes. Your participation in a Roth 401(k) plan has no impact on your ability to contribute to a Roth IRA. You can contribute to both if you wish (assuming you meet the Roth IRA income limits).

What about employer contributions?

While employers don’t have to contribute to 401(k) plans, many will match all or part of your contributions. Your employer can match your Roth contributions, your pretax contributions, or both. But your employer’s contributions are always made on a pretax basis, even if they match your Roth contributions. In other words, your employer’s contributions, and any investment earnings on those contributions, will be taxed when you receive a distribution of those dollars from the plan.

Can I convert my existing traditional 401(k) balance to my Roth account?

Yes! If your plan permits, you can convert any portion of your 401(k) plan account (your pretax contributions, vested employer contributions, and investment earnings) to your Roth account. The amount you convert is subject to federal income tax in the year of the conversion (except for any after-tax contributions you’ve made), but qualified distributions from your Roth account will be entirely income tax free. The 10% early-distribution penalty generally doesn’t apply to amounts you convert.2

What else do I need to know?

Like pretax 401(k) contributions, your Roth contributions can be distributed only after you terminate employment, reach age 59½, incur a hardship, become disabled, or die. Also, unlike Roth IRAs, you must generally begin taking distributions from a Roth 401(k) plan after you reach age 70½ (or, in some cases, after you retire). But this isn’t as significant as it might seem, because you can generally roll over your Roth 401(k) money to a Roth IRA if you don’t need or want the lifetime distributions.

1Plan Sponsor Council of America, 58th Annual Survey of Profit Sharing and 401(k) Plans (2015) (Reflecting 2014 Plan Experience)

2The 10% penalty tax may be reclaimed by the IRS if you take a nonqualified distribution from your Roth account within five years of the conversion.

Four Reasons Why People Spend Too Much

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You understand the basic financial concepts of budgeting, saving, and monitoring your money. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re in control of your spending. The following reasons might help explain why you sometimes break your budget.

1. Failing to think about the future

It can be difficult to adequately predict future expenses, but thinking about the future is a key component of financial responsibility. If you have a tendency to focus on the “here and now” without taking the future into account, then you might find that this leads you to overspend.

Maybe you feel that you’re acting responsibly simply because you’ve started an emergency savings account. You might feel that it will help you cover future expenses, but in reality it may create a false sense of security that leads you to spend more than you can afford at a given moment in time.

Remember that the purpose of your emergency savings account is to be a safety net in times of financial crisis. If you’re constantly tapping it for unnecessary purchases, you aren’t using it correctly.

Change this behavior by keeping the big picture in perspective. Create room in your budget that allows you to spend discretionary money and use your emergency savings only for true emergencies. By having a carefully thought-out plan in place, you’ll be less likely to overspend without realizing it.

2. Rewarding yourself

Are you a savvy shopper who rarely splurges, or do you spend too frequently because you want to reward yourself? If you fall in the latter category, your sense of willpower may be to blame. People who see willpower as a limited resource often trick themselves into thinking that they deserve a reward when they are able to demonstrate a degree of willpower. As a result, they may develop the unhealthy habit of overspending on random, unnecessary purchases in order to fulfill the desire for a reward.

This doesn’t mean that you’re never allowed to reward yourself–you just might need to think of other ways that won’t lead to spending too much money. Develop healthier habits by rewarding yourself in ways that don’t cost money, such as spending time outdoors, reading, or meditating. Both your body and your wallet will thank you.

If you do decide to splurge on a reward from time to time, do yourself a favor and plan your purchase. Figure out how much it will cost ahead of time so you can save accordingly instead of tapping your savings. Make sure that your reward, whether it’s small or big, has a purpose and is meaningful to you. Try scaling back. For example, instead of dining out every weekend, limit this expense to once or twice a month. Chances are that you’ll enjoy going out more than you did before, and you’ll feel good about the money you save from dining out less frequently.

3. Mixing mood with money

Your emotional state can be an integral part of your ability to make sensible financial decisions. When you’re unhappy, you might not be thinking clearly, and saving is probably not your first priority. Boredom or stress also makes it easy to overspend because shopping serves as a fast and easy distraction from your feelings. This narrow focus on short-term happiness might be a reason why you’re spending more than normal.

Waiting to spend when you’re happy and thinking more positively could help shift your focus back to your long-term financial goals. Avoid temptations and stay clear of stores if you feel that you’ll spend needlessly after having an emotionally challenging day. Staying on track financially (and emotionally) will benefit you in the long run.

4. Getting caught up in home equity habits

Do you tend to spend more money when the value of your assets–particularly your property–increases? You might think that appreciating assets add to your spending power, thus making you feel both wealthier and more financially secure. You may be tempted to tap into your home equity, but make sure you’re using it wisely.

Instead of thinking of your home as a piggy bank, remember it’s where you live. Be smart with your home equity loan or line of credit–don’t borrow more than what is absolutely necessary. For example, you may need to borrow to pay for emergency home repairs or health expenses, but you want to avoid borrowing to pay for gratuitous luxuries that could put you and your family’s financial security at risk. After all, the lender could foreclose if you fail to repay the debt, and there may be closing costs and other charges associated with the loan.

Can I name a charity as beneficiary of my IRA?

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Yes, you can name a charity as beneficiary of your IRA, but be sure to understand the advantages and disadvantages.

Generally, a spouse, child, or other individual you designate as beneficiary of a traditional IRA must pay federal income tax on any distribution received from the IRA after your death. By contrast, if you name a charity as beneficiary, the charity will not have to pay any income tax on distributions from the IRA after your death (provided that the charity qualifies as a tax-exempt charitable organization under federal law), a significant tax advantage.

After your death, distributions of your assets to a charity generally qualify for an estate tax charitable deduction. In other words, if a charity is your sole IRA beneficiary, the full value of your IRA will be deducted from your taxable estate for purposes of determining the federal estate tax (if any) that may be due. This can also be a significant advantage if you expect the value of your taxable estate to be at or above the federal estate tax exclusion amount ($5,450,000 for 2016).

Of course, there are also nontax implications. If you name a charity as sole beneficiary of your IRA, your family members and other loved ones will obviously not receive any benefit from those IRA assets when you die . If you would like to leave some of your assets to your loved ones and some assets to charity, consider leaving your taxable retirement funds to charity and other assets to your loved ones. This may offer the most tax-efficient solution, because the charity will not have to pay any tax on the retirement funds.

If retirement funds are a major portion of your assets, another option to consider is a charitable remainder trust (CRT). A CRT can be structured to receive the funds free of income tax at your death, and then pay a (taxable) lifetime income to individuals of your choice. When those individuals die, the remaining trust assets pass to the charity. Finally, another option is to name the charity and one or more individuals as co-beneficiaries. (Note: There are fees and expenses associated with the creation of trusts.)

The legal and tax issues discussed here can be quite complex. Be sure to consult an estate planning attorney for further guidance.

What do I need to know about home sharing sites like Airbnb?

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Home sharing sites like Airbnb are online services through which someone offers to rent their home or a portion of their home. Airbnb listings are popular lodging options for travelers on a budget as well as property owners seeking extra income. But before you decide to be a guest in someone’s home or open your door to strangers as the host, there are some things to consider.

An Airbnb listing may be an affordable option if you want to cut lodging costs, but it could mean you have to do more research before your trip than you might for more conventional accommodations. Be specific when conducting your initial search and narrow down locations according to your budget, number of guests, length of stay, and space requirements. This will help you find a match that best suits your needs. Check the ratings and reviews carefully to determine whether the location and property work for you. Think about researching neighborhoods outside of reviews–you can’t always trust their accuracy, and you want to be sure you’re staying in a place that meets your expectations. Once you have a few viable options, contact your prospective hosts with any questions you might have.

During your search, be wary of scams. Make sure you’re booking via a legitimate Airbnb service with verifications that you’re dealing with real hosts. By using caution and common sense in the booking process, you might save yourself some trouble down the road.

If you want to rent out your property as an Airbnb host, the first thing you should do is check with your landlord or homeowners association (if applicable). It’s important to know any rules that might affect you. Next, consider the costs of hosting. Can you afford to provide clean linens, towels, and other amenities to your guests? Are you able to keep up with cleaning and maintenance of your property? Are you prepared to pay possible hosting fees to your booking service? Do you have appropriate insurance coverage, or will you need to purchase more?

Don’t forget that renting out your property may have tax consequences. Talk to a tax professional to learn specific details.

 

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 2016

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