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A Better Tax Strategy: From Annual Headache to Lifelong Plan

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In 1967, American rock band The Grass Roots produced a hit that reached No. 8 on the Billboard charts, “Let’s Live for Today,” a rousing anthem dedicated to living in the moment. It’s a romantic notion and a great song, but it embodies the worst possible advice when it comes to financial planning.

Tax season is a particularly tough time to think long term. Call it the tyranny of April 15. For many of us, there’s nothing beyond the horizon of the annual filing deadline (April 18 this year); getting our returns done on time, and contemplating how much we will owe or get back. This year, short-term tax anxiety is only made worse by recent market volatility, which can test even the most seasoned investor’s commitment to a long-term strategy.

Everyone working toward a financial goal has at one time been given the advice to “stick to the plan.” But how often is the same advice given regarding taxes?

Unfortunately, too many of us think about tax strategy with a short-term mindset, not in terms of a lifelong strategic plan. That needs to change.

Maybe you’ve already had the conversation with clients about income, savings, education costs and overall financial goals. It’s time to have the same talk about taxes. Here are five questions to get the conversation started:

  • What does their projected lifetime tax bill look like? Rather than simply looking at the tax situation for 2015 and/or 2016, addressing this question – as daunting as it might appear – is the first step toward preparing a long-term taxation strategy.
  • How many different ways are they being taxed? A tax strategy should take into account not only income and capital gains taxes, but exposure to taxes clients might owe in the future on tax-deferred accounts such as IRAs and 401(k)s.
  • How might the client’s situation change in the future? It’s vital to project the impact of any life changes on a client’s future tax burden. Life changes would include changes in income level, retirement, changing residences and assisting family members.
  • Are investments being coordinated with the tax strategy? Different sources of income are taxed at different rates. Coordinating the investment strategy with taxes is a crucial element of an optimal financial plan.
  • How will the client’s financial plan impact the tax burden of their children and loved ones? Tax management is a critical consideration for estate planning, and also as gifts to family members or charities are being considered.

For savings and investments, maybe you’ve done a good job of ignoring The Grass Roots’ imperative to “live for today.” With the approach of April 18th, it’s best to keep that song off your playlist and focus on a long-term tax strategy as well.