Running your Personal Finances Like a Business

woman-money_LI-532x266 Running your Personal Finances Like a Business

Most individuals don’t regard themselves as businesses, trying to turn a profit and beat the competition. But, occasionally, it may help to look at your financial situation this way to determine where you might cut expenses and boost cash flow. Here are some tips.

Lay out your financials

Where an executive might reach for financial statements to get a read on the company’s standing, you can create or update a net worth statement. Essentially a monetary scorecard, a net worth statement helps you determine where you stand financially and whether you’re on track to meet your goals.

You can calculate your net worth by adding all your assets, including cash and cash equivalents, brokerage account balances, retirement funds, real estate, and other fixed assets and personal property. Then subtract your liabilities, including mortgages, personal loans, credit card balances and taxes due.

The result provides some important clues about where your money is going and how you might be able to trim spending and increase savings. Are you over-relying on credit cards with high interest rates? Could you cut back on food or entertainment costs?

Practice risk management

To maintain their companies’ financial health, business executives also practice risk management. You can do the same by first assessing compensation and benefits elections. A major life change — such as a marriage or birth — may require an update to your W-4 withholding allowances with your employer.

Unexpected medical costs can be a huge risk. Review your health insurance to ensure it’s providing the best value. Now might not be an ideal time to switch to a spouse’s plan but, if it’s a better deal, perhaps make a note to do so when you can. Also, if you have a Health Savings Account or Flexible Spending Account, make sure you’re using it to your full advantage.

Think about other insurance, too. Perhaps your home has increased in value, necessitating a corresponding increase in your homeowner’s coverage. Or maybe you no longer have enough life insurance to protect your growing family. Talk to your insurance professional to determine the right amount of coverage.

Finally, check your credit report. If you wait until something is obviously wrong, it may be too late to prevent significant damage. Federal law requires the three major credit reporting agencies to provide you with one free report per year.

Think about retirement

Business owners must think about succession planning. But even if you don’t own a company, you should think about life after employment.

If your employer allows you to adjust your retirement plan contributions during the year, consider boosting them to take full advantage of tax-deferred compounding and, if available, employer matching. Similarly, if you plan to make an IRA contribution this year, do so as early as possible to give your assets more time to grow.

Also, review your estate plan and, if necessary, update it. Financial priorities change over time, so make sure the beneficiary designations for your retirement accounts and insurance policies still match your wishes. Check your will or living trust to ensure no changes are necessary. And, if you’re looking to reduce the value of your taxable estate, remember that you can make $15,000 ($30,000 for married couples) in annual exclusion gifts per recipient this year without using up any lifetime exemption.

Get rolling

Some might say that the beginning of the year is the most important time for financial planning. Others might say it’s at the end of the year when you start preparing to file your tax return. In truth, the whole year is important. And right now, with the arrival of spring and the year well underway, is a perfect time to adjust objectives set a few months ago — and really get rolling.

Contact us for help.

Retiree’s Charitable Contributions Could Offer Income Tax Reduction

 

Retiree-contributions_LI-532x266 Retiree’s Charitable Contributions Could Offer Income Tax Reduction

As the filing season for 2018 tax returns reaches a peak, many people will learn that they’re no longer itemizing deductions. The TCJA placed limits on some deductions and increased the standard deduction significantly, so most taxpayers are taking the standard deduction, rather than itemizing.

One result is that charitable contributions offer no direct tax benefit for many donors. An indirect benefit may be available for people who are 70½ or older. They can take qualified charitable distributions (QCDs) from their IRAs and effectively reduce their income in a maneuver solidly supported by the tax code.

(Taxpayers under age 70½ will report taxable income if they send IRA dollars to charity, so this tactic won’t work. That said, people under the QCD age should inform their parents and other valued seniors about this give-and-take option.)

ABCs of QCDs

IRA owners can send QCDs to recognized charities, up to $100,000 per person per year. They receive no deduction for the contribution, but they also do not have to include the distribution in income. Moreover, a QCD counts toward required minimum distributions (RMDs), which IRA owners must take after age 70½.

Example 1: Ken and Linda Martin are both age 75 with IRAs. Ken has a $20,000 RMD in 2019; Linda’s RMD is $12,000. If they take only RMDs, the Martins will increase their taxable income by $32,000 this year.

Each year, the Martins donate $10,000 to their favorite charities. Even with a $10,000 charitable contribution, it will not pay for this couple to itemize deductions in this hypothetical example.

Therefore, Linda sends $10,000 to selected charities from her IRA via QCDs. Now Linda needs to take only another $2,000 from her IRA to satisfy her $12,000 RMD for the year; Ken will take his $20,000 RMD. In this scenario, the Martins report $22,000 in taxable IRA distributions this year, rather than $32,000. Effectively, they have deducted $10,000 from their income by using QCDs.

Realistic Expectations

Using QCDs may not be a straightforward exercise. IRA custodians differ in the way they handle the procedure.

Taxpayers may have to call their IRA custodian and speak to a designated person who is familiar with QCDs. Charitable recipients can be named, along with their mailing addresses. Securities might have to be sold, if the QCD is to be made in cash, and a form might have to be signed by the IRA owner for each charity, permitting the QCD.

Other financial firms might send out a distribution booklet to be returned, along with a signature guarantee for each QCD. Yet another possible method is to handle the QCD transaction online. The process can be time-consuming and possibly confusing, so it’s best not to wait until the waning days of December to get started.

Keep in mind that a distribution will only be a QCD if the entire distribution meets the requirements for a charitable contribution deduction, such as a charity’s eligibility under Section 501(c)(3) of the tax code and substantiation requirements. QCDs can’t be sent to donor-advised funds.

IRAs Eligible for QCDs 

  • Qualified charitable distributions can come from most types of IRAs, including rollover IRAs and inherited IRAs, other than “ongoing” simplified employee pension (SEP) IRAs or savings incentive match for employees (SIMPLE) IRAs.
  • For this purpose, a SEP IRA or a SIMPLE IRA is treated as ongoing if it is maintained under an employer arrangement under which an employer contribution is made for the plan year ending with or within the IRA owner’s taxable year in which the charitable contributions would be made.
  • Following the IRS’ position, some IRA custodians will permit a QCD from a SEP or SIMPLE IRA for a given year if no contribution has been made to the plan that year.

Get Help

Before making any contributions, speak with us about its impact on your taxes.

Installment Sales: A Viable Option for Transferring Assets

Boston-street_LI-532x266 Installment Sales: A Viable Option for Transferring Assets
Photo: Michael Browning

Are you considering transferring real estate, a family business or other assets you expect to appreciate dramatically in the future? If so, an installment sale may be a viable option. Its benefits include the ability to freeze asset values for estate tax purposes and remove future appreciation from your taxable estate.

Giving Away vs. Selling

From an estate planning perspective, if you have a taxable estate it’s usually more advantageous to give property to your children than to sell it to them. By gifting the asset you’ll be depleting your estate and thereby reducing potential estate tax liability, whereas in a sale the proceeds generally will be included in your taxable estate.

But an installment sale may be desirable if you’ve already used up your $11.18 million (for 2018) lifetime gift tax exemption or if your cash flow needs preclude you from giving the property away outright. When you sell property at fair market value to your children or other loved ones rather than gifting it, you avoid gift taxes on the transfer and freeze the property’s value for estate tax purposes as of the sale date. All future appreciation benefits the buyer and won’t be included in your taxable estate.

Because the transaction is structured as a sale rather than a gift, your buyer must have the financial resources to buy the property. But by using an installment note, the buyer can make the payments over time. Ideally, the purchased property will generate enough income to fund these payments.

Advantages and Disadvantages

An advantage of an installment sale is that it gives you the flexibility to design a payment schedule that corresponds with the property’s cash flow, as well as with your and your buyer’s financial needs. You can arrange for the payments to increase or decrease over time, or even provide for interest-only payments with an end-of-term balloon payment of the principal.

One disadvantage of an installment sale over strategies that involve gifted property is that you’ll be subject to tax on any capital gains you recognize from the sale. Fortunately, you can spread this tax liability over the term of the installment note. As of this writing, the long-term capital gains rates are 0%, 15% or 20%, depending on the amount of your net long-term capital gains plus your ordinary income.

Also, you’ll have to charge interest on the note and pay ordinary income tax on the interest payments. IRS guidelines provide for a minimum rate of interest that must be paid on the note. On the bright side, any capital gains and ordinary income tax you pay further reduces the size of your taxable estate.

Simple Technique, Big Benefits

An installment sale is an approach worth exploring for business owners, real estate investors and others who have gathered high-value assets. It can help keep a family-owned business in the family or otherwise play an important role in your estate plan.

Bear in mind, however, that this simple technique isn’t right for everyone.

We can review your situation and help you determine whether an installment sale is a wise move for you. Contact us today, before transferring real estate.

Power of Attorney – Your Trusted Agent

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Most people realize the importance of a will to help direct the transfer of assets after death. During your lifetime, you also may want to have a power of attorney (POA) for convenience and asset protection.

The person who creates a POA is known as the principal. In the POA, an agent (known as the attorney-in-fact) is given the authority to act on the principal’s behalf. POAs come in different forms with different purposes.

General POA

A general or regular POA gives the agent the broad ability to act for the principal. This type might be useful when the principal will be unable to act on his or her own behalf for some reason. Someone in the military, for example, might name an agent to handle financial affairs during the principal’s overseas assignment.

Limited POA

As the name suggests, these special POAs are not open-ended. There could be a specified time period when you’re unable to act on your own behalf. Alternatively, a limited POA could be effective only for a designated purpose, such as signing a contract when you can’t be present.

Durable POA 

Regular or limited POAs may become void if the principal loses mental competence. Unfortunately, that can be the time when a POA is needed most: when assets could be squandered because of poor decisions.

Therefore, a durable POA can be extremely valuable because it remains in effect if the principal becomes incompetent. The agent can make financial decisions, such as asset management and residential transactions. If a durable POA is not in place, the relatives of an individual deemed to be incompetent might have to go to court to request that a conservator be named, which can be a time-consuming and expensive process with an uncertain outcome.

Springing POA

Some people are not comfortable creating a POA while they are still competent, yet an individual who loses mental capability cannot legally create a POA. One solution is to use a springing POA, which takes effect only in certain circumstances, such as a doctor certifying that the principal cannot make financial decisions. Note that some states may not allow springing POAs, and some attorneys are skeptical about using them because the process of getting a physician’s timely certification might be challenging.

Health Care POA

The POAs described previously empower an agent to make financial decisions. A health care POA is different because it names someone to make medical decisions if the patient cannot do so. The agent named on a financial POA could be someone trusted with money matters, whereas someone with other abilities and concerns could be appropriate for a health care POA.

Powerful Thoughts

As indicated, the agent you name on any POA should be someone you trust absolutely with your wealth or your health. Married couples are best protected if both spouses have their own POAs.

In addition, you might have to check with the financial firms holding your assets before having a POA drafted. Some companies prefer to use their own forms, so a POA drafted by your attorney might not be readily accepted. Moreover, financial institutions might be reluctant to accept a very old POA, so periodic updating can be helpful.

When creating a POA, you should make it clear that the power applies to retirement accounts such as IRAs. Your agent should have the ability to execute rollovers and designate beneficiaries, for example. An attorney who is experienced in estate planning can help you obtain a POA with the power to help you and your loved ones, if necessary.

Additional Resources

Life Insurance for More Than Just Cash Flow

life-insurance_LI-532x266 Life Insurance for More Than Just Cash Flow
Photo: Stock

 

Many people think of life insurance as a product for family protection. The life of one or two breadwinners is insured; in case of an untimely death, the insurance payout can help with raising children and maintaining the current lifestyle.

Once the children are able to live independently and a surviving spouse is financially secure, insurance coverage may be dropped. Such a strategy uses life insurance as a hedge against the risk of lost income when that cash flow is vital.

This type of planning is often necessary. That said, life insurance may serve other purposes, including some that are not readily apparent.

Final Expenses

When someone dies, funeral and burial expenses can be daunting. In addition, the decedent’s debts might need to be paid off, perhaps including substantial end-of-life medical bills. Many insurers offer policies specifically for these and other post-death obligations, with death benefits commonly ranging from $10,000 to $50,000.

The beneficiary, typically a surviving spouse or child, can receive a cash inflow in a relatively short time. Generally, this payout won’t be subject to income tax. The result might be less stress for beneficiaries during a difficult time and a reduced need to make immediate financial decisions in order to raise funds.

Investment Support

This year’s stock market volatility has worried some investors, who may be tempted to turn to safer holdings, which have little or no long-term growth potential. Prudent use of life insurance might help to allay such fears.

Example 1: Jill Miller has $600,000 in her investment portfolio, where she has a sizable allocation to stocks. She is concerned that an economic downturn could drop her portfolio value to $500,000, $400,000, or less. Therefore, Jill buys a $250,000 policy on her life.

Now Jill knows that her children, the policy beneficiaries, will receive that $250,000 at her death, income-tax-free, in addition to any other assets she’ll pass down. This gives her the confidence to continue holding stocks, which might deliver substantial gains for Jill and her children.

Balancing Acts

Life insurance also can help to treat heirs equally, if that is someone’s intention, but circumstances create challenges.

Example 2: Charles Phillips, a widower, owns a successful business in which his older daughter Diane has become a key executive. Charles would like to leave the company to Diane, but that would exclude his younger daughter Eve, who has other interests.

Therefore, Charles buys a large insurance policy on his life, payable to Eve. This assured death benefit for Eve will help Charles structure his estate plan so that both of his daughters will be treated fairly. There is a potential downside to consider if Charles is wealthy enough to have an estate that is subject to the federal estate tax ($11.18 million in 2018). In this case, a large insurance policy will swell his gross estate, leading to a greater estate tax liability.

Life insurance may be especially helpful when one or both spouses has children from a previous marriage.

Example 3: Jim Devlin’s estate plan calls for most of his assets to be left in trust for his second wife, Robin. At Robin’s death, the trust assets will pass to Jim’s children from his first marriage. Robin is younger than Jim, so it could be many years before his children receive a meaningful inheritance.

Again, life insurance can provide an answer. If Jim insures his life and names his children as beneficiaries, his children may get an ample amount without having a long wait.

Proceed Carefully

The life insurance marketplace ranges from straightforward term policies to so-called permanent policies (forms of variable, universal, or whole life) that have investment accounts with cash value. In some cases, policyholders can tap the cash value for tax-free funds while they’re alive.

Our team can help explain the tax aspects of a policy you’re considering, but you should exercise caution when evaluating any possible purchase of life insurance. Give us a call to find out what you’ll be paying and what you’ll be receiving in return.

Additional Resources

Disclaimer: This post originally appeared in the CPA Client Bulletin Resource Guide, © 2018 Association of International Certified Professional Accountants. Reprinted by permission.