Taxes can shrink your realized returns from your investment portfolio, and yet, most investors don’t have a strategy in place for tax-efficient investing.
Comprehensive tax reform passed late last year means many taxpayers are now in a lower tax bracket and will see higher take-home pay. Still, because of the tax law’s cap on state and local tax deductions, some taxpayers are likely to experience an overall increase in their tax bill for 2018. However, those changes shouldn’t affect your 2017 returns.
Though you can’t control tax policy, you can establish an active and updated tax management strategy for your investments. Even small reductions in tax payments today can have a big impact on your wealth tomorrow. Consider putting in place some or all of the potential solutions below to help you retain more of your assets.
What Kinds of Accounts Do You Have?
Different kinds of accounts are taxed differently. Employing a tax-aware asset allocation strategy can take those differences into account to potentially increase your after-tax returns. By allocating high-yield assets to tax-deferred and tax-exempt accounts, such as Individual Retirement Accounts, you can help minimize your exposure to taxes. Your financial advisor can assist you in structuring your asset allocation across your accounts.
Consider Tax-Favorable Investment Options
Many investments allow you to save for a variety of goals while also offering tax benefits. Municipal bonds, the interest on which is typically free from federal, state and local taxes, can be one of the most efficient investments available for defending against current and potentially higher tax rates. Beyond municipal bonds, consider tax-efficient mutual funds or separately managed accounts that aim to limit the number of taxable events within your portfolio.
Diversifying your retirement portfolio with a variable annuity may provide tax-deferred growth potential, guaranteed lifetime income, increased retirement savings, equity upside potential and a death benefit for named beneficiaries. A 529 college savings plan is a tax-advantaged way to save for college expenses. Donor-advised funds for charitable giving provide potential tax advantages while helping you support your favorite causes.
Employ Tax-Loss Harvesting
Current U.S. tax law permits tax-loss harvesting, a process by which you can offset capital gains with capital losses that you’ve incurred during that tax year, or carried over from a prior tax return, to possibly lower your tax bill. Capital gains are generally the profits you realize when you sell an investment for more than you paid for it, and capital losses are generally the losses you realize when you sell an investment for less than you paid for it. If your losses exceed your gains, they can also be used to offset up to $3,000 of ordinary income each year.
When engaging in tax-loss harvesting, be sure you don’t inadvertently participate in a “wash sale,” which can occur when you sell or trade stock or securities at a loss and buy substantially identical stock or securities 30 days before or after the sale. Talk to your financial advisor to learn about your options.
Max Out Retirement Plans
If your taxes may rise, it may make sense to fully fund your employer-sponsored retirement plan, such as your 401(k), since contributions can be made on a pretax basis. If your taxable income is lower, the amount of income tax you owe for that year might also be reduced. Because this is a tax-deferred account, you generally won’t pay income taxes on any earnings from your investments until you withdraw funds. For 2018, you can contribute up to $18,500 to your 401(k) plan, with up to $6,000 in additional contributions for those over 50.
Engage in Legacy Planning and Gifting
For 2018, the federal estate tax exemption has increased to $11.2 million per individual. Regardless of whether your estate will generate estate taxes, all investors should have an estate plan that reflects their wealth-transfer goals and objectives.
Trusts can be an effective tool to reduce estate taxes or assure a fair distribution of wealth among family members. Taxpayers with taxable (or potentially taxable) estates who are in an economic position to do so and would like to leave money to their heirs should consider making lifetime gifts to those heirs now, which can also be a tax-efficient wealth-transfer strategy. Also, consider making gifts under the annual gift tax exclusion ($15,000 for 2018) and charitable gifts before year-end. A donor-advised fund may be a good solution to help you achieve your charitable giving strategy. These investment strategies can help minimize your overall tax bill. Contact your financial advisor to determine which strategies might be appropriate for you. iBi
Cathy S. Butler, CFP, CRPC, is a financial advisor with Morgan Stanley. For more information, visit www.morganstanleyfa.com/cathy.butler.