Advisors are being asked to do more and more tax planning, according to Robert Keebler, a partner at tax advisory firm Keebler & Associates.
Taxes are the biggest drag on investment performance, he said on a webinar for Retirement Experts Network, and he outlined how advisors can help their retiree clients manage tax burdens.
CPAs are dropping out of the business as technology has made it easier for non-certified professionals to do more tax work, he said.
“Your job as a financial advisor on the tax side is how to create tax alpha,” he said, so clients can maximize their income in the decumulation phase.
“It’s nearly impossible to create wealth in the United States today when your interest, your capital gains and your dividends are taxed as quickly as you earn them,” Keebler said.
Gain and Loss Harvesting
The “easy strategies,” Keebler said, that advisors need to get their heads around include capital gain harvesting – not capital losses – which recognizes there’s a “zero percent bracket for capital gains purposes when I’m in the 15% bracket for regular tax.”
Capital gain harvesting is shifting recognition of capital gains from a higher bracket a client might face in a future year, into his or her current bracket.
“If you get to December and you have a client who’s still in the 15% bracket, there’s no reason they wouldn’t want to harvest gains at the top of that 15% bracket because they’re not going to pay a penny to do that,” Keebler said. “If you expect to be in a higher bracket in the future, you sell capital gains this year; there’s no wash-gain rule. You can immediately turn around and buy these back.”
Keebler added that long-term gains are taxed at 15% or 20%, while short-term loss might give clients a 39.6% benefit in the future, so “you never want to use short-term losses to offset long-term gains.”
The reverse – using long-term losses to offset short-term gains that clients must take or have already taken – can be “extremely powerful” because the long-term gains are “virtually worthless at 15% or 20%
Timing capital losses and income smoothing are also important, he said.
Roth conversions, net unrealized appreciation opportunities, annuities, life insurance and retirement plan contributions are all areas tax-minded advisors need to familiarize themselves with, Keebler said.
- Roth conversions: Since 2010, conversions are not limited to clients with $100,000 in income.
- Net unrealized appreciation: A client can pull company stock out of his or her plan and only pay tax on the cost basis, Keebler said, and advisors need to have a “conscious competency” of NUA when taking funds from pension plans in particular.
- Annuities: Annuities are “naturally very complicated,” Keebler said.
- Life insurance: Life insurance is “nothing more than a statutory tax shelter,” Keebler said.
- Retirement contributions: Roth IRAs and Roth 401(k)s are valuable tools, especially in clients’ early years when they’re in the 15% or 25% tax bracket, he said.
Short-term gains are taxed at ordinary rates, and long-term rates are taxed at lower rates.
Advisors have to look at assets’ allocations and locations, as well as tax incentives, to help their clients build tax-efficient portfolios, Keebler said. Once advisors figure out how a client’s assets should be allocated, they need to determine where they should be located. “Where do we want the growth stocks? Where do we want the blue chip stocks?” he said. “How do we get the best tax advantage of repositioning these?”
There’s a “sincere” and “well-reasoned” argument for investing in passive investments rather than active from a tax perspective, Keebler said. “If your portfolio manager can’t generate a substantial return above the S&P 500, you’re better to be passive,” he said.