Tax Season and the Retiree

Tax Season and the Retiree

There are a lot to contemplate when considering the state in which to retire. Most want to be close to family and friends, the weather to be suitable for them, and what they hope to do in terms of activities.  A consideration this time of year are taxes — one of life’s two certainties and, one often a large expense in retirement.  It is never a good idea to seek out a retirement state based solely on tax burden but it is good to be aware which states fit your plans best for retiement.

So, find out how each state taxes your income and plan accordingly. Also consider how the state taxes your property and your consumption and you might want to consider how it taxes your estate.  That should give you a state tax burden that you’ll need to cover during retirement.

Older Americans who planned for retirement often generate income from several sources during retirement, including income from wages or self-employment; Social Security; pensions; and personal assets, including taxable and tax-deferred accounts. Taxes on those sources of income, mean less money for your care and enjoyment.  But don’t forget state and local property taxes, state and local sales and use taxes. You might pay plenty in property taxes and sales taxes.

Remember, what you save on income taxes in one state you might pay in property taxes or sales taxes. And vice versa. What you save on property and sales taxes in one state you might pay in income taxes – so calculate for your specific retirement situation.

One more note, for those who itemize deductions, there are five types of deductible non-business taxes, including state, local and foreign income taxes; state, local and foreign real estate taxes; state, and local personal property taxes; state and local sales taxes, and qualified motor vehicle taxes.

Your specific tax burden, will depend on whether you can take advantage of these deductions.

The states are listed in order of tax friendliness from an overall tax burden point of view:

1. Alaska:  Alaska doesn’t tax personal income, including Social Security benefits and pension income. And, there’s no state-imposed sales tax. This is not to say that you won’t pay any taxes in Alaska – You’ll pay other types of taxes, such as property taxes.

2. Nevada: This state doesn’t tax income, Social Security benefits or pension income. And its property taxes are reasonable, too. Its sales tax, however, is higher than the national average.

3. South Dakota: The state doesn’t tax individual income, Social Security benefits or pension income. And the overall tax burden is among the lowest in the nation.

4. Wyoming: There’s no individual income tax on Social Security benefits or pension income in Wyoming but property taxes and sales taxes tend to be higher than the national average.

5. Texas: In Texas, there’s no individual income tax. But property and sales taxes tend to be higher than the rest of the nation.

6. Florida: There are plenty of reasons why people choose to retire to the Sunshine state, the low tax burden being among those reasons. There’s no individual income tax on Social Security benefits or pension income with high property and sales taxes.

7. Washington: There’s no individual income tax on Social Security benefits or pension income. But if you plan on spending lots money while in retirement watch out for the high sales tax.

Edi Alvarez, CFP®

Introduction to the hazards of nontraded REITs as a real estate proxy

Nontraded REIT (real estate investment trusts (REITs))

Nontraded real estate investment trust are having difficulty based primarily on debt load and poor occupancy. A sharp decline in tenant occupancy has hammered this REIT: Tenant occupancy of the REIT’s retail properties was 69% at the end of last year, compared with 92% at the end of 2008. Investors in this Cornerstone Core Properties REIT Inc. were told this month by the company that the shares, once valued at $8, are now worth $2.25 – plunging nearly 72%.

The Cornerstone REIT raised only $172.7 million between 2006 and 2009, making it a relatively small player in a marketplace in which the largest players have raised and deployed billions of dollars. Still, other nontraded REITs or real estate funds sold by REIT sponsors recently have seen dramatic declines in value, eating away at investors’ portfolios and making life difficult for the brokers who sold the products.

Another example at the end of December, when investors in the Behringer Harvard Short-Term Opportunity Fund I LP, which had about $130 million in total assets, saw its valuation drop to 40 cents a share, down drastically from $6.48 a share Dec. 31, 2010. And the Behringer Harvard Opportunity REIT I Inc. saw its estimated value decline to $4.12 a share at the end of last year, from $7.66 a year earlier.

Edi Alvarez, CFP®

Estate Planning – Don’t forget to prepare the heirs

Estate Planning should include Coaching Heirs

Estates fail at a rate of 70 percent following their transition to heirs. Why?  Attorneys and financial planners do a good enough job on the assets and the estate but seldom have the mandate or interest to prepare the heirs for the assets they will receive.  Preparing heirs dramatically increases the ability to retain investmented portfolios through the tramatic transition and beyond.

The failure of estates following transition to heirs For many years, estate planning has routinely focused on the “Big Four” issues of taxation, preservation, control and philanthropy. Estate planners do a great job in these four areas, as fewer than 3 percent of estate failures (post-transition) can be attributed to errors by professional advisors, according to research conducted by The Williams Group.

What is missing from the traditional focus on the “Big Four” planning objectives?

. Research clearly shows that the missing element is preparing the heirs for the assets. In fact, the losses that occur during the estate’s post-transition period are driven by unprepared heirs, the lack of a family agreement on the mission of the estate, and the family’s fundamental inability to trust and communicate internally. It is not the scapegoat of estate taxes or the federal government, or even the litigious mentality of the modern day. It is frequently the result of an unprepared generation whose parents have not committed to preparing their heirs to receive and manage wealth in a responsible and competent manner. Lacking both preparation (skills, practice and team support) and motivation (commitment to a mission greater than that of satisfying self), heirs and their bequeathed estates are failing badly, at an astonishing 70 percent rate.

Family coaches that interact with the complete multigenerational family. Their objective is to ready the entire family to work with the advisory professionals by having the family meet and agree upon a mission for the family’s wealth. This is not only mom’s or dad’s mission, but also a multigenerational mission.

Once a mission is agreed upon, the family can move on to work with the family’s advisors to determine the roles that need to be filled (in the post-transition estate), to agree on the qualifications for those roles, and finally to set the observable and measurable standards that must be met to be allowed to continue operating (on behalf of the family) in those roles.

Edi Alvarez, CFP®


(1) Family Coaches: The “Missing” Link in Estate Planning By Vic Preisser and Roy Williams. Institute for Preparing Heirs.

IRS Audit rates for the wealthy

The Internal Revenue Service in 2011 (2010 tax year filings) overall audit rate stayed constant for individual taxpayers at 1.1%. For those earning between $200-500K it is at 2.66%. Of note since 2009 has been the significant increase in audits for the following groups:

–> an increase in audits of 29.9% for taxpayers with $10 million in income (in 2010 it was 18.3% and 10.6% in 2009).This is a group that consists of 0.01 percent of taxpayers. In addition, the IRS has implemented a more a more intense IRS task force audit that is more time consuming and costly.

–> an increase of 20.75% (from 11.55%) for those with Adjusted Gross Incomes (AGI) of $5-10 million.

Interestingly many tax prepares claim that the IRS is quicker to audit individual returns than in the past, sometimes contacting people within months of their return being filed. In some cases, “correspondence audits” are the norm, where the IRS will send a letter asking a taxpayer to verify a specific item on the return such as charitable deductions.

This change started in 2009 when the IRS created a special unit to examine the tax returns of high-wealth individuals. “We will take a unified look at the entire web of business entities controlled by a high-wealth individual, which will enable us to better assess the risk such arrangements pose to tax compliance and the integrity of our tax system,” IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman said in a December 2009 speech. “We want to better understand the entire economic picture of the enterprise controlled by the wealthy individual and to assess the tax compliance of that overall enterprise.”

=============== March 23, 2012 – Credit: Bloomberg News online

Wealth with meaning – Keys to building wealth

A healthy work ethic is necessary to becoming wealthy, managing cash flow and savings are at the core of this strategy. But it is an ability to change and adapt that are key to staying wealthy, according to a recent survey by wealth management firm SEI (1).

An overwhelming majority (80%) of wealthy families say hard work was either the most important quality or a very important quality in their achieving financial success. SEI’s report was based on a survey of 100 families with more than $20 million in assets.

An even larger percentage (95%) agreed that innovation—an ability to adapt to changing conditions and reinvent business or financial strategies—is important to staying wealthy from one generation to the next. The results clearly suggest that innovation is important to sustaining wealth over the long-term, but survey respondents were divided on where they expect innovation to come from.

Professional advisors were credited with being the most likely source of innovation by 41%, while 37% say innovation will come from those in business. Thirty-six percent

“Wealthy families are craving new ways of communicating and collaborating with their advisors and new strategies for building and sustaining wealth,” said Michael Farrell, managing director for SEI private wealth management. “After everything that has gone on in recent years, they understand that sometimes it takes a different approach to be successful.”

The most innovation has been in investment products, according to 11% of respondents. However, investment advice was named as the area of wealth management that has seen the least innovation by 14% of respondents, followed by reporting (12%) and education and family communications (11%).

Advice is being tailored to individuals and individual situations rather than being based on just a simple number calculation, and investments are being designed to meet specific lifestyle, retirement and charitable giving objectives. Also, reporting is becoming all-inclusive, including all investments, progress toward goals and any overlap that might exist between portfolios managed by different investment managers.

This is nothing new to a comprehensive, fiduciary wealth practice like Aikapa – this is what we believe in.  Our role is to align our clients with their goal so that they can build and retain wealth that they need for their specific goals.  Total wealth is not as important as sufficient wealth to meet their specific goals.

Edi Alvarez, CFP®

How insiders can legally profit from insider information

 Insight on how company insiders can still profit from insider information

Despite efforts by the Senate and president to reduce profiting from inside information there remain loopholds for corporate insiders that may be useful to those who are observant. Corporate insiders whose companies are about to be bought by rivals are forbidden from buying shares ahead of time to profit from the price jumps that takeover announcements often bring. But they accumulate plenty of shares just the same.
That’s because company managers are often paid partly in stock. Many sell these shares at regular intervals, whether to use the cash for other purposes or to keep their personal assets from becoming too concentrated in a single stock.
For this reason, managers who decline to buy their companies’ shares ahead of takeovers may nonetheless accumulate them if they also halt their typical selling.

Anup Agrawal of the University of Alabama and Tareque Nasser of Kansas State University studied 3,700 takeovers announced between 1988 and 2006. They compared trading in the year before takeover announcements (the “informed period”) with the year before that (the “control period”).  They found that insiders tended to reduce their buying during the informed period, but they reduced their selling even more. The result was an increase in net buying. Over the six months prior to deal announcements, the dollar amount of net purchases for officers and directors at target firms rose 50% relative to ordinary net purchase levels.

This “passive insider trading,” as the authors call it, is legal. But it is profitable? Agrawal and Nasser didn’t look at returns, but a study published a year ago in the Journal of Multinational Financial Management offers clues. Researchers from Australia’s Commonwealth Bank and Deakin University looked at U.S. takeovers between 2001 and 2006. They found that shares of target firms tended to outperform by nearly seven percentage points during the 50 trading days preceding deal announcements.

Nothing illegal in these situation just good old fashion financial planning can yield a net gain if properly structured.

*Edi Alvarez, CFP®


*Inspired by “An Insider Trading Loophole Congress Didn’t Close” by Jack Hough | SmartMoney | March 23, 2012

ETNs (as ETFs) are they a good idea in your portfolio?

ETNs (as ETFs) are they a good idea in your portfolio?

Unlike an exchange-traded fund (ETF), an ETN (exchange-traded note) is your uncollateralized loan to investment banks. The banks promise exposure to an index’s return, minus fees. The draw is that, many (but not all) ETNs are taxed like stocks, regardless of the ETN’s true exposure not as ordinary income. These benefits could be a godsend for a hard-to-implement, tax-unfriendly strategy. You might think that you can have your cake and eat it, too.  Did we learn nothing from the bail out?

In fact, ETNs are dangerous tools in the hands of ‘professionals’ and a disaster for the unsuspecting public. They are one of the easiest ways individual investors and advisors unwittingly enter into contract relationships with vastly more sophisticated investment banks. It is hard to believe that in the midst of ‘financial regulation’ that ETNs (unlike mutual funds and most exchange-traded funds) are not registered under the Investment Company Act of 1940, or the ’40 Act, which obliges funds to have a board of directors with fiduciary responsibility and to standardize their disclosures. ETNs, on the other hand, are weakly standardized contracts. Where an ETN investor should fear what s/he doesn’t know, s/he instead is gulled into thinking s/he understands the risks and costs s/he bears.  If you can’t get yourself to read the prospectus carefully and analyse the fee structure caveat emptor.

The ETN is a fantastic deal for banks. An ETN can’t help but be fabulously profitable to its issuer. Why? They’re dirt-cheap to run. They’re an extremely cheap source of funding. More important, this funding becomes more valuable the bleaker an investment bank’s health – they can have their cake and eat it too! Finally, investors pay hefty fees for the privilege of offering this benefit. Believe it or not this isn’t enough for some issuers. They’ve inserted egregious features in the terms of many ETNs. The worst appear to insert a fee calculation that shifts even more risk to the investor, earning banks fatter margins when their ETNs suddenly drop in value (examples include DJP and GSP but there are many more).

The above fees scratch the surface. Other examples of investor unfriendliness follow:  UBS’s ETRACS (AAVX and BBVX etc) have a 4% levy on top of the 1.35% fee called event risk hedge cost.  Barclays’ iPath (BCM, etc) add 0.1% fee futures execution cost.  Also an additional 0.5% index calculation fee charged for Credit Suisse’s Liquid Beta (CSLS, CSMA, etc).

When many players in the industry behave in ways that signal they can’t be trusted, it raises questions about all ETNs. What a shame. The best ETNs could be useful tools, fulfilling their promise of tax efficiency and perfect tracking but none of these do.

The ETN product creators have gotten away with such investor-unfriendly behavior by free-riding the goodwill conventional ETFs have created as simple, low-cost, transparent, tax-efficient products. Understandably, many investors have taken for granted that the ETNs’ headline fees are calculated just like expense ratios, that “gotcha” fees are not facts of life. Given how publicly accessible ETNs are I recommend that most stay away from them.

*Edi Alvarez, CFP®


*The above is my opinion based on readings and triggered by an excellent article in Seeking Alpha by By Samuel Lee  “Exchange-Traded Notes Are Worse Products Than You Think” March 23, 2012.