EagleStone Tax & Wealth Newsletter – November 2015

Don’t Forget About Year-End Investment Planning

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As the year draws to a close, there might be a slew of tasks on your to-do list. One task to consider is setting up a meeting with your financial professional to review your investments. If you take the time to get organized now, it may help you accomplish your long-term goals more efficiently. Here are some steps that might help.

Evaluate your investment portfolio

During the meeting with your financial professional, review how your overall investment portfolio fared over the past year and determine whether adjustments are needed to keep it on track.

Here are some questions to consider:

  • How did your investments perform during the year? Did they outperform, match, or underperform your expectations?
  • What caused your portfolio to perform the way it did? Was it due to one or multiple factors?
  • Were there any consistencies or anomalies compared to past performance?
  • Does money need to be redirected in order to pursue your short-term and long-term goals?
  • Is your portfolio adequately diversified, and does your existing asset allocation still make sense?

Addressing these issues might help you determine whether your investment strategy needs to change in the coming year.

Aim for balance

During the portfolio review process, look at your current asset allocation among stocks, bonds, and cash alternatives. You might determine that one asset class has outperformed the others and now represents a larger proportion of your portfolio than desired. In this situation, you might want to rebalance your portfolio.

The process of rebalancing typically involves buying and selling securities to restore your portfolio to your targeted asset allocation based on your risk tolerance, investment objectives, and time frame. For example, you might sell some securities in an overweighted asset class and use the proceeds to purchase assets in an underweighted asset class; of course, this could result in a tax liability.

If you own taxable investments that have lost money, consider selling shares of losing securities before the end of the year to recognize a tax loss on your tax return. Tax losses, in turn, could be used to offset any tax gains. When attempting to realize a tax loss, remember the wash sale rule, which applies when you sell a security at a loss and repurchase the same security within 30 days of the sale. When this happens, the loss is disallowed for tax purposes.

If you don’t want to sell any of your current investments but want to change your asset allocation over time, you might adjust future investment contributions so that more money is directed to the asset class you want to grow. Once your portfolio’s asset allocation reaches your desired balance, you can revert back to your previous strategy, if desired. Keep in mind that asset allocation and diversification do not guarantee a profit or protect against loss; they are methods used to help manage investment risk.

Your financial professional can help you understand how your investments may be affected by capital gains and other taxes. You can learn more about current tax laws and rates by visiting www.irs.gov.

Set goals for the coming year

After your year-end investment review, you might resolve to increase contributions to an IRA, an employer-sponsored retirement plan, or a college fund next year. With a fresh perspective on where you stand, you may be able to make better choices next year, which could potentially benefit your investment portfolio over the long term.

Note: There is no assurance that working with a financial professional will improve investment results. All investing involves risk, including the potential loss of principal, and there can be no guarantee that any investing strategy will be successful.

Taxes, Retirement, and Timing Social Security

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The advantages of tax deferral are often emphasized when it comes to saving for retirement. So it might seem like a good idea to hold off on taking taxable distributions from retirement plans for as long as possible. (Note: Required minimum distributions from non-Roth IRAs and qualified retirement plans must generally start at age 70½.) But sometimes it may make more sense to take taxable distributions from retirement plans in the early years of retirement while deferring the start of Social Security retirement benefits.

Some basics

Up to 50% of your Social Security benefits are taxable if your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) plus one-half of your Social Security benefits falls within the following ranges: $32,000 to $44,000 for married filing jointly; and $25,000 to $34,000 for single, head of household, or married filing separately (if you’ve lived apart all year). Up to 85% of your Social Security benefits are taxable if your MAGI plus one-half of your Social Security benefits exceeds those ranges or if you are married filing separately and lived with your spouse at any time during the year. For this purpose, MAGI means adjusted gross income increased by certain items, such as tax-exempt interest, that are otherwise excluded or deducted from your income for regular income tax purposes.

Social Security retirement benefits are reduced if started prior to your full retirement age (FRA) and increased if started after your FRA (up to age 70). FRA ranges from 66 to 67, depending on your year of birth.

Distributions from non-Roth IRAs and qualified retirement plans are generally fully taxable unless nondeductible contributions have been made.

Accelerate income, defer Social Security

It can sometimes make sense to delay the start of Social Security benefits to a later age (up to age 70) and take taxable withdrawals from retirement accounts in the early years of retirement to make up for the delayed Social Security benefits.

If you delay the start of Social Security benefits, your monthly benefits will be higher. And because you’ve taken taxable distributions from your retirement plans in the early years of retirement, it’s possible that your required minimum distributions will be smaller in the later years of retirement when you’re also receiving more income from Social Security. And smaller taxable withdrawals will result in a lower MAGI, which could mean the amount of Social Security benefits subject to federal income tax is reduced.

Whether this strategy works to your advantage depends on a number of factors, including your income level, the size of the taxable withdrawals from your retirement savings plans, and how many years you ultimately receive Social Security retirement benefits.

Example

Mary, a single individual, wants to retire at age 62. She can receive Social Security retirement benefits of $18,000 per year starting at age 62 or $31,680 per year starting at age 70 (before cost-of-living adjustments). She has traditional IRA assets of $300,000 that will be fully taxable when distributed. She has other income that is taxable (disregarding Social Security benefits and the IRA) of $27,000 per year. Assume she can earn a 6% annual rate of return on her investments (compounded monthly) and that Social Security benefits receive annual 2.4% cost-of-living increases. Assume tax is calculated using the 2015 tax rates and brackets, personal exemption, and standard deduction.

Option 1. One option is for Mary to start taking Social Security benefits of $18,000 per year at age 62 and take monthly distributions from the IRA that total about $21,852 annually.

Option 2. Alternatively, Mary could delay Social Security benefits to age 70, when her benefits would start at $38,299 per year after cost-of-living increases. To make up for the Social Security benefits she’s not receiving from ages 62 to 69, during each of those years she withdraws about $40,769 to $44,094 from the traditional IRA–an amount approximately equal to the lost Social Security benefits plus the amount that would have been withdrawn from the traditional IRA under the age 62 scenario (plus a little extra to make the after-tax incomes under the two scenarios closer for those years). When Social Security retirement benefits start at age 70, she reduces monthly distributions from the IRA to about $4,348 annually.

Mary’s after-tax income in each scenario is approximately the same during the first 8 years. Starting at age 70, however, Mary’s after-tax income is higher in the second scenario, and the total cumulative benefit increases significantly with the total number of years Social Security benefits are received.*

*This hypothetical example is for illustrative purposes only, and its results are not representative of any specific investment or mix of investments. Actual rates of return and results will vary. The example assumes that earnings are taxed as ordinary income and does not reflect possible lower maximum tax rates on capital gains and dividends, as well as the tax treatment of investment losses, which would make the return more favorable. Investment fees and expenses have not been deducted. If they had been, the results would have been lower. You should consider your personal investment horizon and income tax brackets, both current and anticipated, when making an investment decision as these may further impact the results of the comparison. Investments offering the potential for higher rates of return also involve a higher degree of risk to principal.

The Cost of Credit

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Sometimes you need to borrow money, especially to pay for a large purchase such as a home or a car. It’s easy to focus on your monthly loan payment, but to appreciate how much borrowing money might really cost, you also need to consider the amount of interest you’ll pay over time. The following tables illustrate the total interest paid over the life of three common types of loans that have a fixed annual interest rate and a fixed repayment term: mortgage loans, auto loans, and personal loans.

Mortgage loans

A home is often the biggest purchase you’ll ever make. Loan repayment terms vary; this chart illustrates the total interest paid over a 30-year repayment term.

Loan amount 3% 4% 5% 6%
$250,000 $129,444 $179,674 $233,139 $289,595
$350,000 $181,221 $251,543 $326,395 $405,434
$450,000 $232,999 $323,413 $419,651 $521,272
$550,000 $284,776 $395,282 $512,907 $637,110
$650,000 $336,553 $467,152 $606,163 $752,948
$750,000 $388,331 $539,021 $699,418 $868,786

Auto loans

You may take out a loan to buy a new or used vehicle. Loan repayment terms vary; this chart illustrates the total interest paid over a 60-month repayment term.

Loan amount 2% 4% 6% 8%
$15,000 $775 $1,575 $2,400 $3,249
$20,000 $1,033 $2,100 $3,199 $4,332
$25,000 $1,292 $2,625 $3,999 $5,415
$30,000 $1,550 $3,150 $4,799 $6,498
$35,000 $1,808 $3,675 $5,599 $7,580

Personal loans

A personal loan is unsecured, meaning that no collateral is required, so the interest rate on this type of loan is typically higher than for a secured loan. Loan repayment terms vary; this chart illustrates the total interest paid over a 36-month repayment term.

Loan amount 6% 8% 10% 12%
$8,000 $762 $1,025 $1,293 $1,566
$10,000 $952 $1,281 $1,616 $1,957
$12,000 $1,142 $1,537 $1,939 $2,349
$14,000 $1,333 $1,794 $2,263 $2,740
$16,000 $1,523 $2,050 $2,586 $3,131

All calculations assume constant monthly payments over the life of the loan, monthly calculation of interest on the remaining unpaid principal, and no prepayment.

This information is provided for illustrative purposes only. The actual amount of interest you’ll pay on a loan will depend on several factors, including the amount you borrow, the interest rate, the repayment term, and loan conditions.

How do I compare my health insurance options during open enrollment?

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The decisions you make during open enrollment season regarding health insurance are especially important, since you generally must stick with the options you choose until the next open enrollment season, unless you experience a “qualifying” event such as marriage or the birth of a child. As a result, you should take the time to carefully review the types of plans offered by your employer and consider all the costs associated with each plan.

With most health insurance plans, your employer will pay a portion of the premium and require you to pay the remainder through payroll deductions. When comparing different plans, keep in mind that even though a plan with a lower premium may seem like the most attractive option, it could have higher potential out-of-pocket costs.

You’ll want to review the copayments, deductibles, and coinsurance associated with each plan. This is an important step because these costs can greatly affect what you end up paying out-of-pocket. When reviewing the costs of each plan, consider the following:

  • Does the plan have an individual or family deductible? If so, what is the amount that will have to be satisfied before your insurance coverage kicks in?
  • Are there copayments? If so what amounts are charged for doctor visits, specialists, hospital visits, and prescription drugs?
  • Will you have to pay any coinsurance once you’ve satisfied the deductible?

You should also assess each plan’s coverage and specific features. For example, are there coverage exclusions or limitations that apply? Which expenses are fully or partially covered? Do you have the option to go to doctors who are outside your plan’s provider network? Does the plan offer additional types of coverage for vision, dental, or prescription drugs?

In the end, when reviewing your options, you’ll want to balance the coverage and features offered under each plan against the plan’s overall cost to determine which plan offers you the best value for your money.

What is this new chip-card technology I’ve been hearing about in the news?

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In recent years, data breaches at major retailers have increased across the United States. As a way to counteract these data breaches, many U.S. credit-card companies have started implementing a more secure chip-card technology called EMV (which is short for Europay, Mastercard, and Visa).

Currently, most retailers use the magnetic strips on the back of your debit or credit card to access your account information. Unfortunately, the information contained in the magnetic strips is easily accessed by hackers. In addition, the magnetic strips use the same account information for every transaction. So once your card information is stolen, it can be used over and over again.

With the new EMV technology, debit cards and credit cards are embedded with a computer chip that generates a unique authentication code for each transaction. So if your card information is ever hacked, it can’t be used again–it’s a “one-and-done” scenario.

While many developed nations moved to EMV technology years ago, U.S. retailers have previously been unwilling to shoulder the costs. Fortunately, there is good news for U.S. consumers on the horizon.

Beginning in 2015, many large retailers will switch to the new EMV technology by installing payment terminals designed to read the new chip-embedded payment cards. It may take additional time, however, for smaller retailers to adopt this latest technology.

Along with EMV, even more advanced encryption technology is being developed that will increase security for online transactions and payments made with smartphones. In fact, new mobile payment options like Apple Pay and Google Wallet could eventually make paying with plastic entirely obsolete.

In the meantime, in the wake of these data breaches, you should make it a priority to periodically review your credit-card and bank account activity for suspicious charges. If you typically wait for your monthly statements to arrive in the mail, consider signing up for online access to your accounts–that way you can monitor your accounts as often as needed.

 

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 2015

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