You may have heard one of the more popular sayings in the financial planning world: “It’s not what you earn, it’s what you keep.” For many people, this past tax season was a painful reminder of that pearl of wisdom.
We saw some nice gains in the market in 2016, and for some, those gains created more taxes.
It’s no secret that one of the biggest drags on investment performance is taxes, and one question we get a lot at this time of year is “How can I reduce my tax bill?” It’s a great question, and a necessary one. Here are a few suggestions for you:
First, take advantage of asset location. This means designing a tax-efficient investment strategy. This may be especially helpful when you have both personal and tax-deferred accounts. You should identify how tax-efficient each holding is, and then act accordingly. So tax-favored assets might be better placed in your personal account where you could get capital gains tax treatment, while your less-efficient assets may work better in your IRA. You don’t want to turn capital gains taxes into ordinary income taxes if you can help it.
Second, try to minimize or even avoid any short-term capital gains. The reason? Short term capital gains are taxed at the same rate as your ordinary income, which could be as high as 39.6 percent – not to mention a potential extra 3.8 percent net investment income tax on high earners, along with state and local taxes. If you hold the asset for at least a year, the lower long-term capital gains rates apply, potentially taking a lot off your tax bill. So if you can hold off selling until at least the better tax rates apply, you may be glad you did.
Third, always look for opportunities to do some tax-loss harvesting. And this strategy shouldn’t be reserved strictly for year-end planning. It might be a really good idea for you to work with your advisor at different points throughout the year to look for opportunities to harvest any losses you may have. You can use those losses to offset all of your capital gains, plus up to $3000 of ordinary income. If you have losses, you may want to use them to your advantage and save on taxes.
You’ve heard that nobody can control or predict the direction of markets, interest rates, or economic conditions. Yep, it’s true. But you can control how much you pay in taxes, costs and fees, at least to some extent. You’ve got time before the end of the year. Taking proactive steps right now could save you a lot come next April.