Last week, we introduced a few tools of the tax-planning trade. These include tax-sheltered accounts for saving toward retirement, healthcare, and education, as well as tax-efficient tools for charitable giving and estate planning.
It is one thing to have the tools, but another to make the best use of them. Remember: the same paintbrush can create a valuable work of art or a clashing mess on canvas—it all depends on how you use it.
Read on to learn how to use the tools in your toolbox to create a nimble, efficient tax plan.
The Big Picture
Not unlike a painting, your best tax-planning efforts include meticulous attention to the details and how each action contributes to your big picture.
We view effective tax planning as a way to reduce your lifetime tax bill—or beyond if you are preparing for a tax-efficient wealth transfer to your heirs.
In short, tax planning is best considered an ongoing campaign. It’s staged on multiple fronts and makes the best use of the tools described in our previous piece. It begins with your investment techniques, which we’ll cover today.
One of the most powerful ways to avoid excess taxes is to be tax-wise about your investing every step of the way. And yet, few investors take full advantage of the many opportunities available - at every level. These levels include how you manage your investment accounts, select individual holdings, and buy and sell those holdings along the way.
As you manage your investment accounts...
Are you doing all you can to build, manage, and spend down your taxable and tax-sheltered accounts for maximum lifetime tax-efficiency?
- Building: Are you maxing out your contributions to appropriate tax-sheltered accounts? The more money you hold in tax-sheltered structures, the more flexibility you have to avoid or defer taxes otherwise inherent in building capital wealth.
- Managing: Are you being deliberate about your asset location, dividing your various assets among your taxable vs. tax-sheltered accounts for overall tax efficiency. Ideally, you use your tax-sheltered accounts to hold your least tax-efficient holdings, while investing your most tax-efficient holdings in your taxable accounts.
- Spending: When the time comes to spend your wealth, have you planned for how to tap your taxable, tax-deferred, and tax-free accounts? Cash-flow planning calls for a deep familiarity with your particular accounts and assets, the specific rules involved in deploying each, and your individual spending goals. All that, while keeping a close eye on any changes that may alter your plans.
As you select individual holdings...
Are you being deliberate about selecting tax-efficient vehicles? Even when different funds share identical investment objectives, some may be considerably better than others at managing their underlying holdings. Seek out fund managers with solid tax-management practices, including.
- Patient Investing: Many fund managers try to “beat” the market by actively picking individual stocks or timing their market exposures. We suggest using managers who instead patiently participate in their target market’s long-term expected growth. This not only makes overall sense, but it is also typically more tax-efficient as it involves less, potentially taxable action.
- Tax-Managed Investing: For your taxable accounts, some fund managers offer funds that are deliberately tilted toward tax-friendly trading techniques such as avoiding short-term (more costly) capital gains, and more aggressively realizing capital losses to offset gains.
As you buy and sell holdings…
Like the fund managers you choose, are you also being patient and deliberate about your trading? Do you avoid excessive trading and short-term capital gains (currently taxed at higher rates)? Are you guided by a personalized investment plan? Bottom line, the fewer trades required to stick to your investment plan, the better off you are likely to be when taxes come due.
Harvesting Capital Gains and Losses
Having an investment plan also helps identify and utilize tax-loss and tax-gain harvesting opportunities when appropriate.
Tax-loss harvesting may involve:
- Selling all or part of a position in your portfolio when it is worth less than you paid for it.
- Reinvesting the proceeds in a similar (not “substantially identical”) position.
- Optionally returning the proceeds to the original position after at least 31 days have passed (to avoid the IRS “wash-sale rule”).
You can then use any realized capital losses to offset current or future capital gains, without significantly altering your portfolio mix.
This technique may lower a harvested holding’s cost basis. So contrary to popular belief, you are usually postponing rather than eliminating taxable gains. Why bother? More time gives you more control over when, how, or even if you will realize the gains. For example, you could wait until tax rates are more favorable, or reduce embedded gains over time through gifting, charitable, or estate planning tactics.
Tax-gain harvesting involves selling appreciated holdings to deliberately generate taxable income. Why would you do that? Remember, your goal is to minimize lifetime taxes paid. So, especially once you begin tapping your portfolio in retirement, you may intentionally generate taxable income in years when your tax rates are more favorable, and preserve your tax-favored income for years when your rates are higher. Basically, you are sacrificing a battle or two to win the tax-planning “war."
We're Here to Help
Managing for tax-efficient investing is just one way we help families reduce their lifetime taxes. We also integrate all of the above into your broad financial interests. More on that next. In the meantime, please be in touch if you would like to discuss improving on your own tax-wise financial pursuits.
As things continue to change, we will be here to guide you through any changes or questions. Our office has started to reopen, and all employees can continue to work efficiently and safely from home as well. We will ensure your wealth management needs are met on a timely basis.
Please do not hesitate to reach out at any time. Please take care and stay healthy! Contact the M&S Wealth Management team for a complimentary review of your retirement plan and goals.