Tax Cuts and Jobs Act Highlights

Significant reforms of personal income tax

  • Most taxpayers pay less at all levels
  • Marriage penalty reduced.

Increase in Standard Deduction

  • $12,000 for individuals
  • $24,000 for married couples

No change in Capital Gains Rates

  • 0% up to $77,200 for married couple
  • 15% from $77,200 to $479,000 for married couple
  • 20% over $479,000 for  married couple

Significant reforms of Corporate Tax

  • Chapter C Corporations pay flat 21%.

Significant reforms of Estate Tax

  • No Estate tax below $11.2 million per person

Questions?  Ask us.

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Ten for 2018

1. It’s going to get complicated. The global economy is strengthening but there are crosscurrent including rising interest rates and changes on the way trade issues are addressed.
2. Central banks are winding down unprecedented levels of monetary stimulus. At the same time government policy and spending are stimulative.
3. The geopolitical climate remains unsettled. Elections are being held throughout the world and the electorate is looking at new faces.
4. China has confirmed that leader Xi will be in office as long as he wishes. His rule will impact China’s economic development and foreign policy.
5. The search for income will continue as the Federal Reserve has far to go before fixed income investment becomes appealing for the retail investor.
6. Current low default rates may change as public pension plans come under increased pressure as the elderly begin to outnumber the young.
7. Two-way markets return following the post-election bounce that saw a smoothly rising market with no meaningful interruptions.
8. Active management set to recover its value as some of the components of popular indexes become significantly overpriced.
9. Finding opportunities and avoiding “torpedo stocks” becomes a challenge for individual investors and fund managers.
10. Planning becomes critical as an aging population will be spending decades in retirement even as pensions and social security come under pressure.

If these issues trouble you, getting professional assistance and creating a financial plan may help you navigate the uncertainty of 2018.

 

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A different tax saving strategy

Tax loss harvesting allows people to reduce their taxable income by selling securities that have gone down in value. Capital losses can be used to offset ordinary income or to offset realized capital gains.

But if an individual dies with a capital loss that they have not used, the person who inherits these securities may not be able to use these losses.  There is a way to use these capital losses if it’s done right.

For example, If Joe buys a stock for $200 and it declines to $100 and then gives it to daughter Sue, her cost basis is $100 (the value when he gifts the stock). If she then sells it for $100 she cannot claim a loss.

However, if Joe gave the stock to wife Mary who then sells it for $100 she can claim a loss of $100 (the original cost $200 – $100 = $100 loss).

This is a quirk written into the tax code -Section 1015(e) – specifically designed for gifting of depreciated assets to a spouse.

This example only works if the assets are gifted before death. If Fred dies with the depreciated stock the tax cost basis is its value as of the date of death.

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Stay Invested: Economy Looks Good

One of our favorite economists, Brian Wesbury, Chief Economist of First Trust, offers this advice:

The current recovery started in June 2009, 105 months ago, making it the third longest recovery in U.S. history.

The longest – a 120-month recovery in the 1990s – saw real GDP expand an annual average of 3.6%. The current recovery has experienced just a 2.2% average annual growth rate – what we have referred to as “plow horse” economic growth.

That’s changing. In particular, the labor market is gathering strength. In February, nonfarm payrolls rose 313,000, while civilian employment, an alternative measure of jobs that includes small-business start-ups, rose 785,000.

Hourly wages rose a tepid 0.1% in February, but in the past six months, average hourly earnings are up at a 2.7% annual rate while the total number of hours worked is up at a 2.6% annual rate. Total earnings are up at 5.4% annual rate in the past six months, which is faster than the trend in nominal GDP growth the past few years.

New orders for “core” capital goods, which are capital goods excluding defense and aircraft, were up 6.3% in the year ending in January, while shipments of these capital goods were up 8.7%. Sales of heavy trucks – trucks that are more than seven tons – are up 17.4% from a year ago.

The pace of home building is set to grow in the year ahead, in spite of higher interest rates or the new tax law limiting mortgage and property tax deductions. In the fourth quarter of 2017, there were 1.306 million new housing permits issued, the highest quarterly total since 2007.

A better economy also means higher interest rates, but this doesn’t spell doom. Housing has been strong despite rising mortgage rates many times in history. In fact, both new and existing home sales were higher in 2017 than they were in 2016 in spite of higher mortgage rates.

Yes, the new tax law will be a headwind for homebuyers and builders in high-tax states, but it’s going to be a tailwind for construction in low tax states like Texas, Florida, and Nevada. Housing starts have increased eight years in a row. Look for 2018 to be the ninth.

In the past two months, both ISM surveys – for Manufacturing and Services – have beaten consensus expectations. The US economy is not going to grow at a 3.0% pace every quarter, but all this data suggests that our forecast for an average pace of 3% growth this year is on steady ground.

The bottom line is that the U.S. economy is accelerating, not decelerating, and the potential for any near-term recession is basically zero. Corporate earnings growth, and forecasts of future earnings, have accelerated, and our 2018 year-end forecast for Dow 28,500 and S&P 500 3,100 remain intact. Even with higher interest rates! Stay invested.

Have questions? Contact us.

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Planning Makes a Difference

Five reasons why you should work with us to create a retirement plan.

  1. Helps you focus on your goals.
  2. Address your concerns.
  3. Identify threats to your retirement plans.
  4. Feel more confident about your future.
  5. Provides a roadmap to your retirement.

Click on the link for more: Planning Makes a Difference

 

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How tax brackets work

Being in the 24% tax bracket doesn’t mean you pay 24% on everything you make.

The progressive tax system means that people with higher taxable incomes are subject to higher tax rates, and people with lower taxable incomes are subject to lower tax rates.

The government decides how much tax you owe by dividing your taxable income into chunks — also known as tax brackets — and each chunk gets taxed at the corresponding rate. The beauty of this is that no matter which bracket you’re in, you won’t pay that rate on your entire income.

Being in the 24% tax bracket doesn’t mean you pay 24% on everything you make.

For example, let’s say you’re a single filer with $32,000 in taxable income. That puts you in the 12% tax bracket in 2018. But do you pay 12% on all $32,000? No. Actually, you pay only 10% on the first $9,525; you pay 12% on the rest.

These Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed last year changed the tax brackets as well as the standard deduction.  The old 2017 tax bracket for this taxpayer was 15% meaning that he pays quite a bit less in 2018 than 2017.

If you are single and had $90,000 of taxable income, you’d pay 10% on that first $9,525, 12% on the chunk of income between $9,525 and $38,100, 22% on the income between $38,700 and $82,500 and 24% on the rest because, because some of your $90,000 of taxable income falls into the 24% tax bracket. The total bill would be about $15,890 — about 18% of your taxable income, even though you’re in the 24% bracket.  This is often referred to as your “effective rate”  as opposed to your “marginal rate.”

Under the new law, the “standard deduction” is going to make a big difference.  For a single filer, the deduction goes from $6,500 to $12,000.  For a married couple filing jointly the standard deduction goes from $13,000 to $24,000.  The increase in the standard deduction means that many people are no longer going to itemize.

 

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5 Reasons why you should work with a professional to create a retirement plan

  1. Focus your goals in retirement and how you will pay for them.
  2. Address your concerns and expectations for retirement.
  3. Identify things that could pose a threat to your retirement and manage them.
  4. Feel more educated, confident and in control of your financial future.
  5. Help you navigate the complexity of financially moving into retirement.

Let us help you create the plan that will give you confidence to face decades in retirement.

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Financial Planning is the new employee benefit.

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Some of the most progressive companies are introducing a new employee benefit: company-paid financial guidance.

Concerned about their employees’ retirement funds, and acknowledging the increasing scarcity of skilled employees, companies are looking for a benefit that is relatively inexpensive while making a big difference in employee satisfaction.

Financial insecurity troubles most people, from the entry-level employee to the highly compensated professional. Half of U.S. households are at risk of being unable to maintain their standard of living in retirement, according to one study. For most people, financial stress is a distraction from work and leads to lower productivity.

Money is the single largest source of stress for employees, ahead of work, relationships or health.
Employers are concerned about the impact employees’ financial problems are creating problems at work. Here’s what employers say they are most concerned about:
• Lack of retirement readiness 16%
• Paying down debt 15%
• Lack of emergency savings 13%
• Other 3%

Without professional guidance, most people take a seat-of-the pants approach. But that leaves them and their families wondering how they will survive the decades that they will spend after leaving the work force.

Many companies offer a retirement program, like a 401k, but are ill-equipped to do more than provide a menu of investment choices. To fill the information gap, more companies are offering financial-wellness programs. Others are considering such a move.

A program offered by Korving & Co. is a series of programs, provided by a CFP® (Certified Financial Planner™) professional. These are designed to educate participants about debt, investing, and retirement income planning.

Providing employees with professional education about these issues, on company time, in a relaxed setting is an economical way for companies to help their employees reduce stress. It also creates a great deal of good will and loyalty on the part of employees.

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Why unwinding QE is not a threat to the bull market.

Brian Wesbury has a new Monday Morning Outlook out that is worth considering.

On March 9, 2018, the bull market in U.S. stocks will celebrate its ninth anniversary. And, what we find most amazing is how few people truly understand it. To this day, in spite of massive increases in corporate earnings, many still think the market is one big “sugar high” – a bubble built on a sea of Quantitative Easing and government spending.

While passing mention is given to earnings (because they are impossible to ignore), conventional wisdom has clung to the mistaken story that QE, TARP, and government spending saved the economy from the abyss back in 2008-09.

A review of the facts shows the narrative that “Wall Street” – meaning capitalism and free markets – failed and government came to the rescue is simply not true.

Wall Street was not the driving force behind subprime mortgages. In his fabulous book, Hidden in Plain Sight, Peter Wallison showed that by 2008 Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and other government programs had sponsored 76% of all subprime debt – not “Wall Street.” Everyone was playing with rattlesnakes and government was telling them it was OK to do so. But, when the snakes started biting, government blamed the private sector, capitalism and free markets.

At the same time, Wall Street did not cause the market and economy to collapse; it was overly strict mark-to-market accounting. Yes, leverage in the financial system was high, but mark-to-market accounting forced banks to write down many performing assets to illiquid market prices that had zero relationship to true value. Mark-to-market destroyed capital.

QE started in September 2008, TARP in October 2008, but the market didn’t bottom until March 9, 2009, five months later. On that day in March, former U.S. Representative Barney Frank, of all people, promised to hold a hearing with the accounting board and SEC to force a change to the ill-advised accounting rule. The rule was changed and the stock market reversed course, with a return to economic growth not far behind.

Yes, the Fed did QE and, yes, the stock market went up while bond yields fell, but correlation is not causation. Stock markets fell after QE started, and rose after QE ended. Bond yields often rose during QE, fell when the Fed wasn’t buying, and have increased since the Fed tapered and ended QE.

A preponderance of QE ended up as “excess reserves” in the banking system, which means it never turned into real money growth. That’s why inflation never took off. Long-term bond yields fell, but this wasn’t because the Fed was buying. Bond yields fell because the Fed promised to hold short-term rates down for a very long time. And as long-term rates are just a series of short-term rates, long term rates were pushed lower as well.

We know this is a very short explanation of what happened, but we bring it up because there are many who are now trying to use the stock market “correction” to revisit the wrongly-held narrative that the economy is one big QE-driven bubble. Or, they use the correction to cover their past support of QE and TARP. If the unwinding of QE actually hurts, then they can argue that QE helped in the first place.

So, they argue that rising bond yields are due to the Fed now selling bonds. But the Fed began its QE-unwind strategy months ago, and sticking to its plans hasn’t changed a thing.

The key inflection point for bond yields wasn’t when the Fed announced the unwinding of QE; it was Election Day 2016, when the 10-year yield ended the day at 1.9% while assuming the status quo, which meant more years of Plow Horse growth ahead. Since then, we’ve seen a series of policy changes, including tax cuts and deregulation, which have raised expectations for economic growth and inflation. As a result, yields have moved up.

Corporate earnings are rising rapidly, too, and the S&P 500 is now trading at roughly 17.5 times 2018 expected earnings. This is not a bubble, not even close. Earnings are up because technology is booming in a more politically-friendly environment for capitalism. And while it is hard to see productivity rising in the overall macro data, it is clear that profits and margins are up because productivity is rising rapidly in the private sector.

The sad thing about the story that QE saved the economy is that it undermines faith in free markets. Those who argue that unwinding QE is hurting the economy are, in unwitting fashion, supporting the view that capitalism is fragile, prone to bubbles and mistakes, and in need of government’s guiding hand. This argument is now being made by both those who believe in big government and those who supposedly believe in free markets. No wonder investors are confused and fearful.

The good news is that QE did not lift the economy. Markets, technology and innovation did. And this realization is the key to understanding why unwinding QE is not a threat to the bull market.

 

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Clear Skies Ahead

Brian Wesbury of First Trust:

You know the old saying about every cloud having a silver lining? Well, if you listen to some of the financial press, you’d think their motto was that clear skies are just clouds in disguise.

Friday’s GDP report showed the economy grew 2.5% in 2017, an acceleration from the average rate of 2.2% from the start of the recovery in mid-2009 through the end of 2016. Notably, what we call “core” GDP – inflation-adjusted GDP growth excluding government purchases, inventories, and international trade – grew at a 4.6% annual rate in the fourth quarter and was up 3.3% in 2017.

However, some pessimistic analysts were calling attention to a drop in the personal saving rate to 2.6% in the fourth quarter, the lowest level since 2005. The pessimists’ theory is that if the personal savings rate is so low, consumers must be in over their heads again, so watch out below!

But this superficial take on the saving rate leaves out some very important points.

First, consumers don’t just get purchasing power from their income; they also get it from the value of their assets. And asset values soared in 2017 as investors (correctly) anticipated better economic policies. The market cap of the S&P 500 rose $3.7 trillion, while owner-occupied real estate looks like it increased about $1.5 trillion. That could be a problem if we thought stock market or real estate was overvalued, but our capitalized profits approach says the stock market is still undervalued and the price-to-rent ratio for residential real estate is near the long-term norm, not wildly overvalued like in 2005.

Second, the tax cut that’s taking effect is going to raise after-tax income. According to congressional budget scorekeepers, the tax cut on individuals should reduce tax payments by $189 billion in 2019, which is equal to 1.3% of last year’s after-tax income. So, consumers are going to be able to save more in the next few years, even if we don’t include the extra income that should be generated by extra economic growth.

Third, the personal saving rate doesn’t include withdrawals from 401Ks and IRAs, many of which are swollen with capital gains. So, let’s say a worker contributed $5,000 of their income into a 401K at the end of 1988 and kept that money in the S&P 500 ever since. Today they can withdraw more than $97,000 and spend it. When calculating the saving rate, the government counts every penny of that spending while not counting a penny of it as income. As the population ages and spends down wealth they’ve already made, the saving rate tells us less and less about the saving habits of today’s workers.

Sometimes good news is really just good news. Unfortunately, some analysts can’t look at clear skies without imagining clouds.

 

 

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