Tax-loss Harvesting — Reduce Your Taxes

Possibly the single most important tool for reducing your taxes is tax-loss harvesting. Usually, tax-loss harvesting is done at the end of the year. But, as Jim Lange and radio guest Bob Keebler pointed out during the May 20th edition of The Lange Money Hour, the current down market has created an opportunity to harvest losses right now.

Bob is a partner with Virchow, Krause & Company in Wisconsin and has been busy all year executing this strategy for his clients. (By the way, congrats to Bob on being named one of the Top Most Influential CPAs in America by CPA magazine 4 out of the last 6 years).

If you have never used this strategy before, tax-loss harvesting is the art of selling securities at a loss in order to offset a capital gains tax liability. It truly is an art and Bob strongly advised against trying to execute this strategy yourself. Turn first to your trusted financial professional for their advice.

The key to this strategy is to take losses at their deepest point without getting out of the market completely. As Jim and Bob mentioned, you don’t want to miss a good run in the market. Therefore, a slow and methodical approach to tax-loss harvesting is the way to go.

What if you’ve accumulated thousands of dollars in losses, but don’t have an equal amount in capital gains? There are a couple of things to consider — a capital loss can offset only $3,000 of ordinary income as adjusted to your AGI (Adjusted Gross Income). The good news is that tax losses may be carried forward onto future tax returns.

If you have the bright idea that you can buy an asset and sell it solely to pay less taxes, you’ll have to think again. The IRS figured that taxpayers would try this, so their rule is that your loss won’t be allowed if you purchased the same asset within 30 days.

Tax-loss harvesting takes some serious analysis, but the results can be well worth it — especially in this down market. Jim and Bob’s final piece of advice was to sit down with your CPA now if you have losses. Don’t wait until the end of the year when the market may be on a rebound.

Thanks again to Bob for his great advice. His material is always incredibly helpful and informative and his latest product is designed to make the complicated topic of IRAs easy to understand. It’s called The Big IRA Book (literally big with 11 x 17 pages) and is packed with charts, graphs and tools to help you make informed decisions. For more information, call 800-955-0554.

As always, if you’d like to listen to Jim and Bob, the audio is available on this website.

$250 Recovery Checks

The check is in the mail. This time it’s coming from the federal government in the form of $250 economic recovery payments. Back in February, President Obama signed into law The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The idea is to jumpstart the stalled economy and save jobs by putting more than $13 billion into the hands of more than 50 million Americans.

Vice President Joe Biden said, “These are checks that will make a big difference in the lives of older Americans and people with disabilities — many of whom have been hit especially hard by the economic crisis that has swept across the country.”

So, who will be getting checks? You qualify if you receive Social Security or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) with the exception of those receiving Medicaid in care facilities. The legislation also provides for a one-time payment to Veterans Affairs (VA) and Railroad Retirement Board (RRB) beneficiaries.

If you fall into one of these categories, it’s possible that you already have your check, since the first checks were mailed on May 7th. If you haven’t received your payment yet — don’t worry. They are being sent on a staggered basis throughout the month of May.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to do anything to receive your $250 payment. Checks are being mailed automatically and will be sent separately from your regular monthly payment. The Social Security Administration is advising that you don’t contact them unless you have not received your payment by June 4, 2009.

If you still have questions about your economic recovery payment, feel free to contact one of the professionals on the Lange team. Our toll-free number is 800-387-1129. You can also get answers online at www.socialsecurity.gov/payment.

Have fun stimulating the economy!

The Importance of a Safe Withdrawal Rate

Now that tax season is behind us (thanks to the whole Lange staff for another great year), we are working on a newsletter that will direct you to some outstanding resources designed to help you with your financial planning. If you are not currently receiving our newsletter, sign up for the e-newsletter on retiresecure.com.

One area that we think deserves special attention, especially since most portfolios have dropped in value, is a review of the sustainable withdrawal rate during retirement.  A good plan is critical to ensure that you don’t outlive your money.

With that in mind, Jim invited Paul Merriman to be his guest on his radio show, The Lange Money Hour, on April 22nd.  Paul is the author of “Live It Up Without Outliving Your Money” and founder of Merriman, an investment advisory firm based in Seattle that manages over $1 billion in assets.

Both Jim and Paul agree that many variables come into play when trying to determine a safe withdrawal rate.  You have to consider the client’s portfolio, age, risk-tolerance, other sources of income and current market conditions.  An excellent article on the subject can be found on Paul’s website www.FundAdvice.com. On the right hand side of the home page – under articles – click on ‘Retirement: When Your Portfolio Starts Paying You.’

Jim and Paul also discussed what they consider to be the number one mistake that most investors make.  Jim believes the number one investment mistake is letting your emotions guide you (instead of logic.)  Paul believes the biggest investment mistake is trusting in the wrong people.  For instance, many investors act on financial advice solely from their co-workers or relatives.  Paul says that you can’t even trust Wall Street – believe the academics instead – they have the research to back up their claims.

It was another show filled with great advice — thanks to Paul for taking the time to join us.  If you missed the show, look for the complete audio on retiresecure.com the week of April 27th.

Encouraging Economic News

The Lange team just received Tom Gau’s latest quarterly newsletter and, as always, it is filled with wonderful information. Tom is not only a CPA and a CFP, he is also a renowned educator. In fact, Jim Lange is headed to Chicago at the end of this week to participate in Tom’s 2-day educational boot-camp.  Unlike many other advisors, Tom has a number of encouraging things to say about the current economic situation.  Since we could all use some good news, we wanted to share — with Tom’s permission — some of the highlights of his 1st Quarter 2009 Update.

While there seems to be no end of frustrating economic news, Tom points out that we are finally starting to see some positive signs.  For starters, March’s three-week stock rally was brought on by unexpected good news from banks.  Citigroup, Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase all announced that they were profitable during the first two months of the year.  In addition, home sales rose unexpectedly in February, many companies are reducing costs and improving processes and strategies, and the U.S. and foreign governments have implemented programs to support the world economy.

Tom also notes that while the current recession has been painful in many ways, it should be regarded as part of a normal business cycle.  Business progress is never conducted in an orderly fashion.  Typically, recessions pave the way for business revivals, revivals develop into booms, booms breed crises and crises very often turn into recessions.  This is the way the business cycle has worked for generations and there is no reason to expect otherwise now.

That leads us to the big question – are we in a recession or, as some analysts suggest, a depression?  According to Tom, most economists believe that a recession becomes a depression when it stretches out for 36 months.  Therefore, we have until January 2011 before we get to that point.  On top of that, a replay of the Great Depression (1930-1941) is very unlikely thanks to many safeguards now in place that did not exist during the Depression – including deposit insurance and unemployment insurance.  It is also helpful to note that unemployment in 1933 jumped to 25% (we are currently at 8.5%).

To help bring the recession to an end before it has a chance to turn into a depression, Tom’s suggestion is to stop saving now.  That may seem like an odd piece of advice coming from a financial professional, but if an economic recovery is to actually take hold, consumers around the world will need to start spending instead of saving.

One more great piece of advice from Tom – to survive in this market, rely on logic and not your emotions.  In a chaotic market like this one, it is very easy for investors to fall into one of three traps:  searching for a miracle stock that will recoup all of their losses, making trades based on the latest news reports instead of long-term trends and being so paralyzed with fear that they don’t do anything at all.

A bit of common sense can help you avoid these traps – as can a bit of professional help. It is always important before making any financial move to seek the advice of a financial professional.  If you think the Lange team can be of service, please call the office at 1-800-387-1129.

Last Minute Tax Tips

Big thanks to Lange team member Steve Kohman for being a part of our radio show The Lange Money Hour: Where Smart Money Talks on Wednesday night, April 8th on KQV am 1410. Steve is so dedicated to his clients that we had trouble prying him away from the office to do the show.

We’re glad that Steve finally agreed because his tax advice was excellent. He’s a technical machine – answering questions off the top of his head with no notes!

So is it too late to do something about your 2008 tax return?  Not according to Jim and Steve. For starters, you can still fund an IRA for 2008.  Individuals can contribute up to $5,000 — $6,000 if you’re 50 or older.

Steve also pointed out that many tax deductible medical expenses are overlooked.  Double-check to make sure you haven’t forgotten long-term care insurance premiums, prescription expenses, Medicare insurance premiums, prescribed weight-loss programs, therapy and even miscellaneous improvements to your house (adding a wheelchair ramp, for instance).

The tax code can be tricky to navigate. This year, there are several new developments, including The Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008. First-time home buyers will have until December 1, 2009 to claim a new refundable tax credit for a qualifying home purchase.  There are certain restrictions, so make sure you check with your tax professional.

The Worker, Retiree and Employer Recovery Act of 2008 allows retirees to suspend their Required Minimum Distribution for 2009.  Jim and Steve believe this has created an ideal opportunity for seniors to make a Roth IRA conversion.

What should you do if you realize you’ve made a mistake on your return?  Simply file an amended return.  To make it even easier, you have three years to take care of the paperwork.

If you think you could work night and day on your return and still not get it done by April 15th, you can always file an extension. It’s important to note, though, that it’s an extension to file – not an extension to pay.  Uncle Sam still wants you to estimate your taxes and, if you miscalculate, you could be subject to a penalty and interest.

We don’t know what came over Jim and Steve, but they offered listeners who are PA residents a free tax extension!   The Lange team is offering to take care of all of the paperwork and will even deliver your return hand-stamped. Then, after April 15th (and some much needed R&R), one of the accountants will meet with you and take a closer look at your return. If you’re interested, call the office at 800-387-1129.

Jim and Steve also covered various strategies for Roth IRA conversions, ideas for 2009 tax planning, what documents your tax professional really wants you to bring to the office and which one of them has already finished his personal tax return and which one hasn’t.

If you missed any part of the show, a rebroadcast is set for Sunday, April 12th from 9-10 a.m. ET and the audio will be available on retiresecure.com early next week.

The next show is set for Wednesday, April 22nd from 7-8 p.m. ET with special guest, author and money manager, Paul Merriman. Paul promises to make his prediction on when the economy will recover and explain the common mistakes that investors make.

Our Debut Show was a Big Success!

Thanks again to Ed Slott, ‘America’s IRA Expert,’ for taking the time to join us for the premiere of our radio show “The Lange Money Hour: Where Smart Money Talks” which aired on March 25th. Ed was a great guest and Jim and Ed ended up covering a lot of excellent tax-saving strategies. If you missed it, be sure to check out the audio that’s posted on retiresecure.com.

In their first appearance together, Jim and Ed explored how seniors can exploit the new law suspending required minimum distributions for 2009, Roth IRA conversion strategies for 2010, how to protect your IRA by using life insurance, planning for after-tax dollars inside a retirement plan after retirement and how to pick a good financial advisor. They even chatted about Bill Mazeroski and his 1960 ninth-inning, World Series-winning, home run against the New York Yankees (believe it or not, it’s a baseball analogy that relates to IRA investors today.) Come to think of it, it’s amazing that they were able to cover all of that in just one hour!

By the way, Ed Slott’s latest book Stay Rich For Life: Growing and Protecting Your Money in These Turbulent Times comes with a companion workbook that is very helpful. Jim was actually using it during the show!

Exciting news for the next show which is scheduled to air on Wednesday, April 8th from 7-8 p.m. ET on KQV 1410am. One of our Lange team members has agreed to join Jim to talk about taxes. Steve Kohman is a CPA, Certified Specialist in Estate Planning, Certified Valuation Analyst and a Resident Insurance Provider. He’s also an incredible “numbers-runner” – crunching the numbers to determine the best plan of action for you.

One week from the tax deadline, Jim and Steve will explain why it’s not too late to do something about your 2008 return. They’re happy to take your questions, so feel free to call the studio line at 412-333-9385.

Catch Jim and Steve on Wednesday, April 8th from 7-8 p.m. ET with a rebroadcast on Sunday, April 12th from 9-10 a.m. ET. Thanks to everyone who’s been listening around the country online at kqv.com. We’ve recently had listeners check in from Florida, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio and Texas – we love hearing from you!

Keep listening!

Don’t forget that the audio to all of these shows is always posted on retiresecure.com.

Our Radio Show Premieres This Week!

We are all very excited about the official premiere of The Lange Money Hour: Where Smart Money Talks, this Wednesday night at 7pm on KQV 1410am in Pittsburgh. This is doubly exciting as we have ‘America’s IRA Expert,’ Ed Slott with us for the whole hour. Although most of the succeeding shows will be live, in order to accommodate Mr. Slott’s schedule, we prerecorded the premiere.  Well, with the show now ‘in the can’ we can easily promise that this is an hour that is well worth your time.   Jim and Ed are two of the country’s leading retirement planning experts, and this is the first time they have been on the same program together.

The premiere of The Lange Money Hour is Wednesday night at 7pm on KQV 1410am in Pittsburgh and on kqv.com. The show will be repeated the following Sunday, March 29th, at 9am. And if you miss any of these airings, there will be an continuing archive of every show at retiresecure.com.

Happy listening!

Tax-Free Growth With Roth IRA Conversions

With another free Roth IRA workshop coming up at the end of March, we thought it would be a good time to review why Roth IRA’s are so important – and why they are about to be even more important for wealthy seniors.

Practically all boomers can enjoy tax-free growth by taking advantage of Roth IRAs, Roth 401(k)s, and Roth IRA conversions. This article focuses on Roth IRA conversions. Two types of boomers can benefit. First are boomers who currently have less than $100,000 of modified adjusted gross income (MAGI.) The second type is most everyone else.

If your MAGI is in excess of $100,000, you will have to wait until 2010 when wealthy Americans will be granted a unique opportunity. For the first time, you will qualify for a Roth IRA conversion regardless of your income. Previously, taxpayers with a modified adjusted gross income of $100,000 (or more) were not permitted to make a Roth IRA conversion. The compelling reason to pay attention is that individual IRA owners who have modified adjusted gross incomes of more than $100,000 can enjoy a huge windfall by taking advantage of this conversion opportunity.

The Roth IRA Changes in a Nutshell

For tax years after 2009, the Tax Reconciliation Act permits all taxpayers to make Roth IRA conversions, regardless of income level. If you make the Roth IRA conversion in 2010 you will be given the option to pay all the taxes on the conversion with your 2010 return, or with the returns for the two subsequent years by claiming the conversion income on the 2011 and 2012 returns.

What Happens When You Make a Roth IRA Conversion?

When you make a Roth IRA conversion, you pay income tax on the amount you choose to convert. While my standard advice “to pay taxes later” still represents my strongest recommendation for successful long-term planning, I have always made a “philosophical exception” for Roth IRAs. With respect to Roth IRA conversions, the better advice for many individuals is pay taxes now. While each case will benefit from an individualized analysis on the merits of the conversion, the critical feature of the Roth is that, once the initial taxes are paid on the conversion, income taxes will never be due on the growth, capital gains, dividends, interest, etc. This will be particularly advantageous to high-income taxpayers.

How Will the Roth IRA Benefit the Owner in His or Her Lifetime?

How much better off will you be during your lifetime? Assume you are in the top tax bracket of 35% (earning well over $100,000), you have $1,000,000 in your IRA, and you have the funds to pay the income tax on the Roth IRA conversion from money outside of the IRA. If we assess the advantage of the $1,000,000 conversion, measured in purchasing power, you would be $517,298 better off in 20 years. However, in today’s dollars, as adjusted for 3% annual inflation, this advantage is $286,416. In 30 years you are $725,616 ahead. See the graph below:

What are the benefits to the Roth IRA Owner’s Family?

For the very high income family, the long-term benefit of a Roth IRA conversion is potentially phenomenal. An estimate is that a taxpayer’s family could benefit by as much as twice the amount converted.

Please consider this scenario for the beneficiary. If you die 20 years after you make the conversion and you opt to leave the Roth IRA to your 45-year-old child, who spends it modestly, how much better off will your child be? See the graph below:

By age 85, he is $11,742,363 better off in actual dollars or $1,993,067 in today’s dollars, as adjusted for 3% inflation. This advantage is about twice the original amount converted. Clearly the potential advantages are significant, and for wealthy individuals, the legacy advantage of the Roth is difficult to beat.

For more information about our upcoming free Roth IRA workshop, check out the homepage at retiresecure.com.