Tag Archives: investments

Give your 401(k) plan a checkup at least once a year

In many industries, offering a 401(k) plan is a competitive necessity. If you don’t offer one and a competitor does, it could mean the difference in a job candidate’s decision to accept their offer over yours. It could even send employees heading for the door.

Assuming you do offer a 401(k), the challenge then becomes plan maintenance and compliance. Just as you presumably visit your doctor annually for a checkup, you should review the administrative processes and fiduciary procedures associated with your plan at least once a year. Let’s look at some important areas of consideration as advised by top business consultant:

Investments. Study your plan’s investment choices to determine whether the selections available to participants are appropriate. Does the lineup offer options along the risk-and-return spectrum for all ages of participants? Are any pre-mixed funds, which are based on age or expected retirement date, appropriate for your employee population?

If the plan includes a default investment for participants who have failed to direct investment contributions, check the option to ensure that it continues to be appropriate. If your company plan doesn’t have a written investment policy in place or doesn’t use an independent outside consultant to assist in selecting and monitoring investments, consider incorporating these into your investment procedures.

Fees. 401(k) plan fees often come under criticism in the media and can aggravate employees who follow their accounts closely. Calculate the amount of current participant fees associated with your plan’s investments and benchmark them against industry standards.

Investment managers. Have you documented in writing the processes your plan has in place for the selection and monitoring of investment managers? If not, doing so in consultation with an attorney is highly advisable. If you have, reread the documents to ensure they’re still accurate and comprehensive.

Administrator. Solicit and monitor participant feedback on the administrator so that you know about grumblings before they grow into heated complaints. Further, put criteria in place to assess the plan administrator’s performance on an ongoing basis and to benchmark performance against industry standards.

Compliance. Are your plan’s administrative procedures in compliance with current regulations? If you intend your plan to be a participant-directed individual account plan, are all the provisions of ERISA Section 404(c) being followed? Have there been any major changes to 401(k) regulations over the last year? These are just a few critical questions to ask and answer.

A 401(k) is usually among the most valued benefits a business can offer its employees, but you’ve got to keep a close and constant eye on its details. We’d be happy to help you assess the costs and other financial details of your company’s plan.

© 2020

The tax aspects of selling mutual fund shares

Perhaps you’re an investor in mutual funds or you’re interested in putting some money into them, as a part of your tax strategy. You’re not alone. The Investment Company Institute estimates that 56.2 million households owned mutual funds in mid-2017. But despite their popularity, the tax rules involved in selling mutual fund shares can be complex.

Tax basics

If you sell appreciated mutual fund shares that you’ve owned for more than one year, the resulting profit will be a long-term capital gain. As such, the maximum federal income tax rate will be 20%, and you may also owe the 3.8% net investment income tax.

When a mutual fund investor sells shares, gain or loss is measured by the difference between the amount realized from the sale and the investor’s basis in the shares. One difficulty is that certain mutual fund transactions are treated as sales even though they might not be thought of as such. Another problem may arise in determining your basis for shares sold.

What’s considered a sale

It’s obvious that a sale occurs when an investor redeems all shares in a mutual fund and receives the proceeds. Similarly, a sale occurs if an investor directs the fund to redeem the number of shares necessary for a specific dollar payout.

It’s less obvious that a sale occurs if you’re swapping funds within a fund family. For example, you surrender shares of an Income Fund for an equal value of shares of the same company’s Growth Fund. No money changes hands but this is considered a sale of the Income Fund shares.

Another example: Many mutual funds provide check-writing privileges to their investors. However, each time you write a check on your fund account, you’re making a sale of shares.

Determining the basis of shares

If an investor sells all shares in a mutual fund in a single transaction, determining basis is relatively easy. Simply add the basis of all the shares (the amount of actual cash investments) including commissions or sales charges. Then add distributions by the fund that were reinvested to acquire additional shares and subtract any distributions that represent a return of capital.

The calculation is more complex if you dispose of only part of your interest in the fund and the shares were acquired at different times for different prices. You can use one of several methods to identify the shares sold and determine your basis.

  • First-in first-out. The basis of the earliest acquired shares is used as the basis for the shares sold. If the share price has been increasing over your ownership period, the older shares are likely to have a lower basis and result in more gain.
  • Specific identification. At the time of sale, you specify the shares to sell. For example, “sell 100 of the 200 shares I purchased on June 1, 2015.” You must receive written confirmation of your request from the fund. This method may be used to lower the resulting tax bill by directing the sale of the shares with the highest basis.
  • Average basis. The IRS permits you to use the average basis for shares that were acquired at various times and that were left on deposit with the fund or a custodian agent.

As you can see, mutual fund investing can result in complex tax situations. Contact us if you have questions. We can explain in greater detail how the rules apply to you.

© 2020

Summer: A good time to review your investments

You may have heard about a proposal in Washington to cut the taxes paid on investments by indexing capital gains to inflation. Under the proposal, the purchase price of assets would be adjusted so that no tax is paid on the appreciation due to inflation.

While the fate of such a proposal is unknown, the long-term capital gains tax rate is still historically low on appreciated securities that have been held for more than 12 months. And since we’re already in the second half of the year, it’s a good time to review your portfolio for possible tax-saving strategies.

The federal income tax rate on long-term capital gains recognized in 2019 is 15% for most taxpayers. However, the maximum rate of 20% plus the 3.8% net investment income tax (NIIT) can apply at higher income levels. For 2019, the 20% rate applies to single taxpayers with taxable income exceeding $425,800 ($479,000 for joint filers or $452,400 for heads of households).

You also may be able to plan for the NIIT. It can affect taxpayers with modified AGI (MAGI) over $200,000 for singles and heads of households, or $250,000 for joint filers. You may be able to lower your tax liability by reducing your MAGI, reducing net investment income or both.

What about losing investments that you’d like to sell? Consider selling them and using the resulting capital losses to shelter capital gains, including high-taxed short-term gains, from other sales this year. You may want to repurchase those investments, so long as you wait at least 31 days to avoid the “wash sale” rule.

If your capital losses exceed your capital gains, the result would be a net capital loss for the year. A net capital loss can also be used to shelter up to $3,000 of 2019 ordinary income (or up to $1,500 if you’re married and file separately). Ordinary income includes items including salaries, bonuses, self-employment income, interest income and royalties. Any excess net capital loss from 2019 can be carried forward to 2020 and later years.

Consider gifting to young relatives

While most taxpayers with long-term capital gains pay a 15% rate, those in the 0% federal income tax bracket only pay a 0% federal tax rate on gains from investments that were held for more than a year. Let’s say you’re feeling generous and want to give some money to your children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, or others. Instead of making cash gifts to young relatives in lower federal tax brackets, give them appreciated investments. That way, they’ll pay less tax than you’d pay if you sold the same shares.

(You can count your ownership period plus the gift recipient’s ownership period for purposes of meeting the more-than-one-year rule.)

Even if the appreciated shares have been held for a year or less before being sold, your relative will probably pay a much lower tax rate on the gain than you would.

Increase your return

Paying capital gains taxes on your investment profits reduces your total return. Look for strategies to grow your portfolio by minimizing the amount you must pay to the federal and state governments. These are only a few strategies that may be available to you. Contact us about your situation.

© 2019

Considering an investment in a Qualified Opportunity Fund?

A Qualified Opportunity Fund (QOF) is an economically distressed community where new investments, under certain conditions, may be eligible for preferential tax treatment.  These can be found via an internet search for state Qualified Opportunity Zones (QOZ). QOZ were added to the tax code by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act on December 22, 2017. The Federal government created income tax incentives to enhance the taxpayer incentives to invest in QOZ which is meant to spur the economy and renovate these areas. So, let’s discuss the basics of a QOF. A QOF is a Corporation or a partnership which holds Qualified Opportunity property. The QOF would complete IRS Form 8996 to self-certify the QOF status. It is most beneficial to read the tax laws to understand the requirements.

The income tax benefits of these QOF are getting a lot of attention from wealthy investors. Why? Because the law allows a taxpayer to defer gain on capital gains and provides the ability to exclude the gain ultimately, based on the rules and regulations. The gain would have to be invested into a QOF within 180 days from the date of the sale. Based on the current rules, the gain would be shown gross on the taxpayer’s tax return and then the amount invested in the QOF would be shown as a loss. This method allows the IRS to review the transaction and see the investment into the QOF. Thus, the net of the transaction invested in the QOF would be taxable.

The tax benefits are:

  • Investors can defer tax on any prior capital gains invested in a QOF until the earlier of the date on which the investment in the QOF is sold or exchanged, or December 31, 2026.
  • If the investment is held for longer than 5 years, there is a 10% exclusion of the deferred gain.
  • If the investment is held for more than 7 years, the 10% exclusion becomes 15% of the deferred gain.
  • If the investment is held for at least 10 years, the investor is eligible for an increase in basis of the QOF investment equal to its fair market value on the date of the QOF investment is sold or exchanged. This is the tax benefit that everyone is talking about. This part of the law allows for 100% gain exclusion. However, if someone invests in 2019, how will they get to a 10-year hold? The tax law is set to expire on December 31, 2026, and 10 years from 2019 is 2029. This means most taxpayers are not planning on being able to fully benefit from the 100% exclusion unless the tax law is revised.



Here is an example to review the application of the law:

  1. A taxpayer sells 1,000 shares of ABC stock. The shares were purchased in 2009 for $300,000. The sale of the stock is for $700,000 which results in a capital gain of $500,000.
  2. The Federal income tax on the gain would be $119,000 (23.8% which includes 20% federal capital gains tax and 3.8% NIIT).
  3. If the taxpayer instead rolls the gain of $500,000 into a QOF within 180 days of the sale then the gain of $500,0000 is deferred until the earlier of the date of the QOF investment is sold or exchanged, or December 31, 2026.
  4. If the taxpayer holds the QOF investment for at least 5 years, then the basis of the original investment is increased by 10% of the deferred gain. The calculation is $500,000 multiplied by 10% = $50,000 is added to the basis.
  5. A sale after 5 years will reduce the original deferred gain of $500,000 to $450,000.
  6. If the taxpayer holds the QOF investment for another 2 years (total of 7 years), then the basis in the original investment is increased by an additional 5%. So, a sale after 7 years will reduce the original deferred capital gain of $500,000 to $425,000.
  7. If the investor holds the QOF investment for a total of 10 years, all appreciation on the investment in the Fund will be excluded from income tax entirely. Let’s assume the value of the original $300,000 investment has now appreciated to $1,000,000 at the 10-year mark. The gain of $700,000 will be exempt from any capital gains tax. Note that the taxpayer will have to pay the deferred capital gains tax as of December 31, 2026, even if their investment in the Fund continues. The amount included in taxable income should be added to the taxpayer’s basis in the fund.

Most taxpayers are focused on the 10-year full exemption of the tax. However, based on the expiration date, it doesn’t seem practical, since the taxpayer will not get a full tax exclusion unless the tax law is changed. Also, if a taxpayer is trying to implement any estate tax planning and they own a QOF investment, a deferred gain could be triggered if not done correctly. Also, most holdings of QOF’s in an estate will not be able to receive a step up. Please be careful with this and speak with your estate planner or tax advisor, as the law gets complicated here.