Jonathan I. Shenkman, Contributor
Sept. 30, 2022
2022 has not been kind to investors. Virtually every segment of the market has fallen in value. Even investment grade bonds, which is historically a haven for conservative investors, has plummeted by over 12% as of this writing.
It’s easy to get caught up in your emotions during a tough market and weak economy. However, it may be helpful to keep in mind that Bear Markets and recessions are not an anomaly. They are part of the economic cycle. Contrary to what the doomsayers and talking heads are claiming on financial news channels, I am confident in saying that eventually the economy will improve and the market will rebound.
The question is what are some practical action items for investors as we approach year-end? (Hint: It’s not checking your account balance more frequently!).
Fixating on short-term performance is not constructive. Instead, I have outlined below some pragmatic areas worth exploring to make the most of this challenging market. Some of these items may be applicable, while others are not. The key is being able to recognize what opportunities exist in this environment so you can make informed financial decisions and stay focused on what’s actually important.
1. Year-End Investment Do’s and Don’ts:
Do evaluate your overall allocation: Does your investment mix of stocks, bonds, alternative investments, and cash still make sense for what you are looking to accomplish? Discuss with your advisor if you situation has changed as it may impact your portfolio.
Do consider rebalancing your portfolio: The market went down significantly in 2022 (as of this writing). Your initial allocation is probably out of whack, and it may make sense to rebalance your portfolio over the next several months to ensure your allocation is brought back to its appropriate risk tolerance. Rebalancing may also be a great way to potentially lock in some losses for tax planning purposes.
Don’t chase past performance: Now is a good reminder to stay away from the current hot strategy! Every time the market plummets, there is always some investment or portfolio manager that did phenomenally well. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to know beforehand which strategy/manager that will be. This won’t stop aggressive salesmen from capitalizing on recent success, touting great returns and encouraging investors to invest in yesterday’s winners.
Keep in mind, the market moves in cycles. One year’s lucky winners are oftentimes losers in the following years. Stick with a proper asset allocation and plain vanilla investments that will allow you to achieve your goals over the long-term. Chasing good past performance will not work out in the long-term.
Planning Tip: Do you have too much cash sitting on the sidelines? Did you come into a large sum of money? Do you have a big expense on the horizon that will cause you to withdraw funds? Be sure to discuss any of these scenarios with your advisors to craft an appropriate investment strategy for the coming year. Additionally, with the market down meaningfully in 2022, if you do have excess cash, it may be a good time to add it to your investments that are trading at depressed prices.
2. Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs):
RMDs apply to folks who are 72 and over and may also apply to those who have a beneficiary IRA. If you are subject to RMDs and don’t take them out there will be a penalty. If you don’t need your RMDs to pay your living expenses, explore other options like QCDs (see below section on “Charitable Giving”).
Planning Tip: Be sure to discuss with your advisors if you’d like your RMD check to be sent to you for spending or if you would like to reinvest the proceeds in your taxable account.
3. Charitable Giving:
When it comes to giving charity there are a myriad of creative options this year.
Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD): Individuals who are 70½ or older can donate all, or a portion, of their RMD directly to charity. Called a QCD, they are limited to $100,000 maximum annually per taxpayer. Regardless of the amount of your RMD for the year, you can give up to $100,000 to charities from your IRA as QCDs.
Donate appreciated stocks: While investors have experienced a big decline in portfolio values this year due to the market drop, many folks still have long held, concentrated stock positions with large imbedded unrealized capital gains. This may be through gifts, accumulating shares from working at a company for many years, or the appreciation over decades of a long-held position. Donating these highly appreciated securities directly to charity helps avoid paying capital gains tax that you would otherwise need to pay when selling the security. It also allows you to minimize a large position, which helps derisk your portfolio.
Utilize a Donor-Advised Fund (DAF): A DAF is an account where you can deposit assets for donation to charity over time. The donor gets an immediate tax deduction when making the contribution to the DAF and can still control how the funds are invested and distributed to charity. A DAF can be extremely useful if you hold a security with no cost basis, a highly appreciated stock, or a concentrated position. In all of these scenarios, the tax liability can be circumvented by moving that position to a DAF.
Planning Tip: A DAF may be particularly useful when “bunching” your charitable contributions, which involves donating several years’ worth of charitable contributions all at once, which is sometimes done for tax planning purposes. For example, charitable contributions are only tax deductible to those who itemize their deductions. This year the standard deduction is $12,950 for single filers and $25,900 for joint filers. To help your itemized deductions exceed the standard deduction amount, one may consider “bunching” multiple years’ worth of charitable donations. This may allow the donor to exceed the standard deduction this year and take the itemized deduction, yet still distribute the funds over the current and subsequent years.
4. Roth IRA Conversions:
A Roth IRA conversion is the process of transferring retirement funds from a traditional IRA, SEP, or 401(k) into a Roth account. Since a Traditional IRA is tax-deferred while a Roth is tax-exempt, the deferred income taxes due will need to be paid on the converted funds at the time of conversion. There is no early withdrawal penalty.
Evaluate your personal tax situation: This strategy may make sense if a saver believes that the postponed tax liability in the traditional account will be more onerous as retirement approaches. In that case, it may be better to pay those taxes now rather than later. It’s important to note that if paying the tax bill now is too burdensome, then this may not be a good option for you.
Planning Tip: 2022 may be optimal for Roth IRA conversions given the market drop this year, which would cause the tax burden to potentially be less than in years when the market went up in value.
5. Beneficiary Updates:
Retirement accounts and insurance policies have beneficiary designations that pass outside of one’s will. Therefore, even if you did estate planning, it’s important to review your various beneficiary designations to ensure that your money is passing according to your wishes.
Changing family dynamics: Did a family member who was a beneficiary on your account pass away this year? Did you want to alter beneficiaries because your family dynamics have changed? Be sure to reach out to your advisor/insurance professional to update them on your situation and discuss best practices.
Planning Tip: It is not uncommon for couples who have been divorced for years to not update their beneficiary designations. It’s worth taking the time to review that everything is correct. Failing to do so can be a six or seven figure mistake that likely can’t be fixed.
6. Estate Planning considerations:
If a family member passed away this year, you may want to reach out to your estate planning attorney to review and update your planning/documents such as a will, Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxy, etc.
Planning Tip: If you updated your estate plan and have a trust, make sure that your investment accounts reflect your estate plan. One of the most common errors I notice is clients spending time and money to have estate planning documents established and then never updating the title of their assets or funding the trusts that were set up. What a waste!
7. 529 Contributions:
A 529 is a tax advantaged college savings account that may provide an opportunity for immediate tax savings if you live in one of the 20 states or more offering a full (or partial) deduction for your contributions to the home-state 529 plan. Most states require you to invest in the in-state plan to receive the deduction for your contributions. Though there are several states that are considered tax parity states, meaning you can use any state’s 529 plan to receive the deduction.
Annual Gift Exclusion: Make use of your Annual Gift Tax Exclusion if you haven’t already used it. You can give up to $16,000 a year gift tax free per person. The annual exclusion recycles on January 1, so if you don’t use your 2022 gift allowance by then, you lose it.
Planning Tip: Make the best use of “superfunding” your 529 Plan. In that strategy, you can spread a tax-free gift to a 529 account over five years for gift tax purposes. A married couple not making any other gifts to the beneficiary during the five-year period can contribute up to $160,000 to a 529 plan for each child and, with the election, not run into gift tax problems.
8. Tax Loss Harvesting:
Tax-loss harvesting is a strategy of selling securities at a loss to offset a capital gains tax liability.
Minimizing short-term capital gains: This strategy may be used to limit the recognition of short-term capital gains, which are generally taxed at a higher federal income tax rate than long-term capital gains.
Donate cash proceeds from the sale of stocks that are at a loss: This is particularly relevant in a year like 2022 when stocks across the board have plummeted in value. In this “tax-loss harvesting” strategy, investors benefit from recognizing a loss by selling a stock that went down in value. The loss can be used to offset any capital gains for the year or be used to offset up to $3,000 of your ordinary income. That is in addition to the charitable deduction you receive for your cash donation from the proceeds of this sale.
Planning Tip: Remember, it’s generally a poor decision to sell an investment, even one with a loss, solely for tax reasons. There must be an investment strategy behind the sale as well. As I tell my clients, “Don’t let the tax tail wag the investment dog.”
9. Employer Retirement Plan:
Assess contributions made this year: Review how much money you contributed to your employer retirement plan this year. If you are financially able to, it’s worthwhile to max out your 401(k)/Roth or 403(b). In 2022, those limits are $20,500 before any company match or $27,000 if you are 50 or older.
Be mindful of next year’s contribution limits: For 2023, the contribution limit increased to $22,500. Catch-up contributions will also increase to $7,500, so those 50 and over can put away up to $30,000. Be sure to make the required tweaks within your plan to ensure you are making the maximum contribution.
Roth vs Traditional: Decide if it’s sensible to utilize your Traditional or Roth 401(k) option (if available) for the coming year.
Review your investment lineup and portfolio: Determine with your advisor if it makes sense to make any changes. This is especially applicable if your firm switched 401(k) providers recently.
Planning Tip: Do you have old retirement accounts still held at a previous employer? If appropriate, now may be a great time to consolidate them into an IRA to keep your assets organized.
10. Budget Expense Goals:
It’s always essential for investors to assess their expenses and plan ahead for the future. Given the challenging economic backdrop this is even more important today than in previous years.
Cash Flow Management for Retirees: This is especially important for retirees who must evaluate how much cash they will need in the year ahead and work with their financial advisor to ensure they are able to meet their cash flow needs.
Mitigating sequence of returns risk: Make sure you have adequate funds in your rainy day/checking account. 3-6 months is a good rule of thumb for those who are working. Retirees may target a higher cushion to sufficiently mitigate sequence of returns risk, which is the risk of experiencing lower or negative returns early in retirement when withdrawals are made from an investment portfolio. The order or the sequence of investment returns can significantly impact your portfolio’s overall value and, consequently, your ability to maintain your lifestyle later in retirement.
Planning Tip: With the market falling this year, it’s important for retirees to reassess their “safe withdrawal rate” from their investment portfolio and to maintain an adequate cash cushion.
While 2022 has undoubtedly been a difficult year, there are still plenty of opportunities. It’s important to set time to meet with your advisors before year-end to work through this checklist and discuss any other issues on your mind. Going through this process will undoubtedly help prepare you financially for the coming year.
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