I like innovative architecture that allows you to have a lot of space for living. My brother and his wife have been sending me brochures for condominium projects here in Singapore for about three years now. They wanted me to move out of my tiny place into a modern condo. I have just been waiting for a place that catches my attention. I am not interested in a lot of so-called amenities I will never use. I would rather have extra space for living in the condo itself. This is what made the 12 On Shan condo project catch my attention. Continue reading →
It was a bit of a surprise, in fact no one really knew that my Aunt Ruby had nearly so much money as it turned out that she did. In fact she left an estate that was worth around three quarters of a million dollars. The house is not really that big of a deal relative to the rest of the estate, but we need a house and it is more than enough for us. We need to find a lot of things like rugs for sale. The stuff that is in the house is all really old and worn out. The floors need to done all over again, but we are not in a hurry to start on that sort of thing. Continue reading →
My girlfriends and I decided to make changes as a group. We all needed to lose a little weight. Our office jobs were a bit too sedentary. So, we started walking during our lunch break. Then we started to do some resistance training after the pounds came off. We put on some muscle to look more toned and fit. Then came the new hairstyles, makeup and even eyelash extension in Singapore. I had learned how to do my own nails when I was a teenager. I actually learned professional manicure and pedicure techniques from my neighbor who worked in the business. I could do cool things with nails, so mine were always looking great. Continue reading →
When my husband told me to find a reputable real estate agent in Denver, I got so excited. I knew that there was a chance we would end up staying in Denver, but it was not a sure deal until he told me that. I did not waste any time either. We had been living in an apartment for nearly six months before we found out that we were staying there for the long haul, and I honestly missed having my own house. The apartment was nice, but it just could not compare to having my own yard, bigger rooms and more privacy.
It took me just a few minutes before I found the real estate agent that I wanted to use. I looked at his website and was impressed with the properties that he had listed there. I also liked how everything was laid out, so I started looking at properties even before I contacted him. Continue reading →
I just came across a big haul of scrap metal, and I am quite pleasantly surprised, because I did not think that I would get so lucky. I responded to a random inquiry about an ad I posted a couple months ago and some old guy wanted me to remove some junk from his property. I decided to drive out there and take a look, and it was well worth the effort. So now I need to check out scrap metal prices in my area and see who is buying scrap metal for the best prices right now. I really want to get as much money as I can, because even though I was not expecting to get this money, I could really use as much money as possible right now.
I am going to have to do some careful inspection of the prices, because sometimes one place will have better prices on type of metal, and worse prices on another. Continue reading →
After my ex-husband I were divorced, I found myself feeling panic set in when it came to thinking about how I would be able to afford to live each month on the salary that I made. He and I were already struggling financially together, so I had no idea what might be in store for me on my own. The place we had together was somewhat nice, and I felt it would be best if I looked for cheap apartments in Raleigh NC so that I would not get myself into too much financially. But I wondered if I would be able to find a really nice place or not.
In my mind, whatever place that I could find that would be inexpensive might not be in a good neighborhood or would be rundown. Continue reading →
A couple of weeks ago I got a call from a guy I knew a few years ago when I was living down in the Sand Hills of North Carolina. He was up in the mountains and he had become the principle of a high school in Ashe county. He wanted to know if I was interested in becoming the wrestling coach up there. In fact he told me that they had a couple of guys who might make the state tournament. At any rate now I am looking for apartments in Asheville NC and getting started on my work up there. Obviously I am going to be doing a lot more than coaching. Continue reading →
I have just moved to Ohio after I found a job with a company sited on the Maumee river near Perrysburg, OH. It is a good deal for me, especially since I had been working at a job that really was not a good match for my computer science degree. I have been really busy since I got here, looking for inexpensive apartments for rent for Perrysburg Ohio. I would really like to figure out a way to get a better deal than what I am finding so far. It is not like you are going to get the sort of deal that I would like to find, but it would be really nice for me if I could get something that was a good deal less than a thousand dollars per month. Continue reading →
Personal tax planning is the process of looking into different options so one can determine when, how, or whether to conduct personal transactions that in effect will reduce taxes, if not totally eliminate them. If you want more information how to do this right, read on and learn.
Normally, a taxpayer has the option and power to complete a taxable deal by more than a single method. Choosing one that will subject him or her to less tax isn’t going against the constitution. In fact, the law backs it up. This means that it’s OK to look for ways on how to lower your taxes. You can even avoid some of them if you want.
Now, hold on a second. Don’t get the idea that tax evasion is right, OK? Remember that the word avoidance has a completely different meaning with the word evasion. To avoid paying taxes, you come up with legal and sensible ways on how to cut down the total amount you have to pay. To evade though, is to reduce the amount by concealing some details deceitfully. That said, you can gather that what makes an evader is his or her fraudulent intent on paying (or not paying) taxes.
The following are the most common signals of evasion:
1. Failure to include some substantial amounts of income- Appropriate income tax planning involves the inclusion of ALL the income you receive at a particular tax period. If you fail to report some of them, like a shareholder omitting his dividends, you may likely rouse suspicion from authorities.
2. Irregularities in accounting- A personal tax planning method should involve a clear-cut record of your financial statement. Any irregularity such as inadequate data or amount discrepancies may cost you your reputation.
3. Improper deductions on returns- Staggering as it may be, some people alter or even create fictitious details to chop off their taxes. For example, some employees overstate their travel expenses to get a cut, or, some claim to have contributed on a charity even if they haven’t. If you are claiming for some exemptions, you should have verifications to back your claims up. Otherwise, you may be alleged of fraud.
4. Improper allocation of income-There are instances when people allocate their revenues to those who belong to the lower tax bracket, like incorporators distributing income to their children. While this may seem OK, it’s not totally honest.
There are various ways to go about tax planning especially if you are a small business entrepreneur. Strategies can be applied to both your individual tax situation and the business itself, but the general goals would be: to reduce the amount of taxable income, to lower the tax rate, to claim any possible tax credits, and to control the time when a certain tax must be paid.
If you are totally clueless on how to perform personal tax planning the smart and legal way, you can spare yourself the agony by hiring a professional tax planner. He or she will be able to help not just by making you pay less but also by promoting better understanding of how the system works.
If field goals were suddenly worth four points and touchdowns were worth five, football coaches would change their strategies. This type of scoring change has occurred in the estate planning field, but many people keep using their old playbooks.
Recent income and estate tax updates have adjusted how the planning game should be played. If your estate plan was drafted before they came into effect, reconsidering how you structure your estate could save you tens of thousands, or even millions, of dollars.
The Changing Rules
To understand these rule changes, we should rewind to the year 2000. The federal estate tax only applied to estates exceeding $675,000 and was charged at rates up to 55 percent. Long-term capital gains were taxed at 20 percent. Since then, the amount that can pass free of estate tax has drifted higher, to $5.43 million in 2015, and the top estate tax rate has dropped to 40 percent. On the other hand, the top ordinary income tax rate of 39.6 percent when coupled with the 3.8 percent Net Investment Income tax is now higher than the federal estate tax rate.
Although the top capital gains tax rate of 23.8 percent (when including the 3.8 percent Net Investment Income tax), remains less than the estate tax rate, these changes in tax rate differentials can significantly modify the best financial moves in planning an estate. While estate tax used to be the dangerous player to guard, now income taxes can be an equal or greater opponent.
Besides the tax rate changes, the biggest development that most people’s estate plans don’t address is a relatively new rule known as the portability election. Before the rule was enacted in 2011, if a spouse died without using his or her full exemption, the unused exemption was lost. This was a primary reason so many estate plans created a trust upon the first spouse’s death. Portability allows the unused portion of one spouse’s $5.43 million personal exemption to carry over to the survivor. A married couple now effectively has a joint exemption worth twice the individual exemption, which they can use in whatever way provides the best tax benefit. Portability is only available if an estate tax return is filed timely for the first spouse who dies.
From a federal tax standpoint, if a married couple expects the first spouse to die with less than $5.43 million of assets, relying on portability is a viable strategy for minimizing taxes and maximizing wealth going to the couple’s heirs. Estate planning for families with less than $10.86 million in assets is now much more about ensuring that property is distributed in accordance with the couple’s wishes and with the degree of control that they wish to maintain than it is about saving taxes. However, state estate taxes can complicate the picture because they may apply to smaller estates.
Below are a number of plays that families who will be subject to the estate tax should consider to optimize their taxes in today’s environment. Although many of the techniques are familiar, the way they are being used has changed.
The New Estate Planning Plays
Empowering Your Plan’s “Quarterback”
A successful quarterback has a solid group of coaches providing him with guidance, but is also allowed to think on his feet. Similarly, the quarterback of an estate, the executor or a trustee, needs to be given a framework in which to make his or her decisions but also flexibility regarding which play to run. Today’s estate planning documents should acknowledge that the rules or the individual’s situation may change between the time documents are signed and the death or other event that brings them into effect. Flexibility can be accomplished by expressly providing executors and trustees with the authority to make certain tax elections and the right to disclaim assets, which may allow the fiduciaries to settle the estate in a more tax-efficient manner. Empowering an executor has its risks, but building a solid support team of advisers will help ensure he or she takes the necessary steps to properly administer the estate.
Maximize the Value of Your Basis Adjustment
It’s a common misconception that lifetime gifts automatically reduce your estate tax liability. Since the two transfer tax systems are unified, lifetime gifts actually just reduce the amount that can pass tax-free at death. Lifetime gifts accomplish marginal wealth transfer only when a taxpayer makes a gift and that gift appreciates outside of the donor’s estate. In the past, people generally wanted to make gifts as early as possible, but that is no longer always the most effective strategy due to income tax benefits of bequeathing assets.
One big difference between lifetime giving and transfers upon death is the way in which capital gains are calculated when the recipient sells the assets. With gifts of appreciated assets, recipients are taxed on the difference between the transferor’s cost basis, typically the amount the donor paid for the asset, and the sales price. The cost basis of inherited assets is adjusted to the fair market value of the assets on the date of the owner’s death (or, in a few cases, six months later).
When choosing which assets to give to heirs, it is especially important to make lifetime gifts of assets with very low appreciation and to hold onto highly appreciated assets until death. If a beneficiary inherits an asset that had $100,000 of appreciation at the donor’s death, the basis adjustment can save $23,800 in federal income taxes compared to if the beneficiary had received the same property as a lifetime gift. Unfortunately, the basis adjustment upon death works both ways. If the bequeathed asset had lost $100,000 between the time it was purchased and the owner’s death, the recipient’s cost basis would be reduced to the current fair market value of the property. Therefore, it is advantageous to realize any capital losses before death if possible.
Holding onto appreciated assets until death is appealing for income tax purposes, but might not be advisable if the asset is a concentrated position or no longer fits with your overall portfolio objectives. For these types of assets, it’s worth analyzing whether the capital gains tax cost is worth incurring right away or if you should pursue another strategy, such as hedging, donating the asset to charity or contributing the property to an exchange fund.
Choosing not to fund a credit shelter trust upon the first spouse’s death is a perfect example of maximizing the value of the basis adjustment. These trusts were typically funded upon the first spouse’s death to ensure that none of the first spouse’s exemption went to waste. Since the portability rules allow the surviving spouse to use the deceased spouse’s unused exemption amount, it is no longer essential to fund a credit shelter trust. Instead, allowing all of the assets to pass to the surviving spouse directly allows you to capture a step-up in basis for assets upon the first spouse’s death, and then another after that of the second spouse. Depending on the amount of appreciation and the time between the two spouses’ deaths, the savings can be substantial.
Making annual gifts is a traditional strategy that remains attractive today. In addition to the $10.86 million that a couple can give away during their lifetime or at death, there are also some “freebie” situations where gifts don’t count towards this total. You can make gifts up to the annual exclusion amount, currently $14,000, to an unlimited number of individuals, and you can double this amount by electing to gift split on a gift tax return or by having your spouse make separate gifts to the same recipients.
Transferring $14,000 may not seem like a meaningful estate tax planning strategy for someone with more than $11 million, but the numbers can add up quickly. For example, if a married couple has three married adult children, each of whom has two children of their own, the couple could transfer $336,000 to these relatives each year using just their annual exemptions. If the recipients invest these funds, the future appreciation also accrues outside of the donors’ estates, and the income may be taxed at lower rates.
Contributing the annual exclusion gifts to 529 Plan education savings accounts for the six grandchildren can accelerate the gifting process and increase the income tax benefits. A special election allows you to front-load five years’ worth of annual exclusion gifts into a 529 Plan, which would currently allow $840,000 in total gifts to the six grandchildren. In this scenario, the grandparents would not be allowed to make any tax-free gifts to the grandchildren during the following four tax years. Since assets in a 529 Plan grow tax-deferred and withdrawals for qualified educational expenses are tax-free, you can realize substantial income tax savings here. If you assume the only growth in the accounts is 4 percent capital gains, which are realized each year, that results in about $8,000 in annual income federal tax savings per year, assuming the donor is in the top tax bracket.
You can also pay a student’s tuition directly to the college or university, since these payments are exempt from gift tax. This exception applies to medical expenses and health insurance premiums as well, as long as payments are made directly to the provider.
Given that annual exclusion gifts don’t impact the $5.43 million lifetime exemption, I recommend making these gifts early and often, but remember to give away cash or assets that have very little realized appreciation. The earlier you make a gift, the more time the assets have to appreciate and pay income to the recipient.
Lifetime Charitable Giving
Earlier I mentioned that you want to avoid giving away appreciated securities during your lifetime. The exception to that rule is a gift to charity. By donating appreciated securities that you have held for more than one year, you can get a charitable deduction for the market value of the security and also avoid paying the capital gains tax you would incur if you were to sell the asset.
If you know you have charitable intentions, it is more effective to donate appreciated securities earlier in life, rather than at death, since doing so removes future appreciation of the assets from your estate.
Using Trusts to Increase the Effectiveness of Transfers
Lifetime transfers to standard irrevocable trusts are no longer as appealing as they used to be, now that the estate tax rate is closer to the capital gains rate. Assets transferred to irrevocable trusts during the grantor’s lifetime typically do not receive a basis step-up upon the grantor’s death. Therefore, determining whether it is more appealing to make lifetime transfers or bequests in a specific circumstance requires making assumptions and analyzing probable outcomes.
Nonetheless, funding certain trusts in conjunction with other planning techniques can increase the planning’s effectiveness. An intentionally defective grantor trust (IDGT) is one of the most appealing types of trusts for wealth transfer purposes, because the donor is treated as owner of the trust assets for income tax purposes but not for estate and gift tax purposes. A defective grantor trust is a disregarded entity for tax purposes, so any income that the trust earns is taxable to the grantor. By paying the tax on trust income, the grantor effectively transfers additional wealth to the beneficiary.
Another popular strategy is for a grantor to make a low interest rate loan to a defective grantor trust. The trust then invests the funds. So long as the trust’s portfolio outperforms the interest rate charged on the loan, the excess growth is shifted to the trust with no transfer tax consequence.
One of the common ways to cause a trust to be intentionally defective is for the trust document to allow the grantor to retain the power to substitute assets held by the trust for other assets. Assuming a trust has this provision, it is very powerful to routinely swap highly appreciated assets held by the trust that would not be eligible for a basis step-up with assets of equal value held by the grantor that have little to no appreciation, such as cash.
Rather than funding a credit shelter trust upon the first spouse’s death, a surviving spouse might choose to receive all of the assets outright and then immediately fund an IDGT that includes the power to substitute assets. The trust’s income would be taxed to the surviving spouse, allowing for additional wealth transfer, and the grantor could use the swapping power to minimize the income tax cost of the lost basis adjustment.
Any transfer technique, such as a grantor retained annuity trust (GRAT), that allows a donor to transfer assets without generating a gift is also valuable, since it helps preserve the lifetime exemption amount as long as possible, thus maximizing the assets that can benefit from adjusted basis.
Finally, trusts can be useful for keeping assets out of your estate that never should have been included in it. For example, wealthy individuals should generally purchase life insurance through an irrevocable trust, rather than directly in the insured individual’s name. Life insurance owned by decedents is includible in their taxable estates. By creating a trust funded through annual exclusion gifts and having the trust purchase the policy, you can ensure that the estate tax does not take 40 percent of the policy’s proceeds.
Avoid Paying Estate Tax on Income Tax
While the term “income in respect of a decedent” (IRD) might be obscure, it’s important to understand it, since it’s one of the worst deals in town. IRD is income that a decedent was entitled to but did not receive prior to death. While unpaid salary and accrued interest are common examples, the biggest risks lie with retirement accounts and annuities.
Retirement accounts, such as 401(k)s and traditional IRAs, are typically funded with pretax money and taxed on the decedent’s estate tax return at their market value on the decedent’s date of death. However, because these are pretax assets, the beneficiary ultimately has to pay tax on the income before receiving it. In a simple example, if a decedent has a $1 million IRA that is being taxed on the estate tax return at 40 percent in 2014, the recipient would also need to pay additional tax on withdrawals from the IRA when he receives it. Assuming no growth in the assets and that the beneficiary is in the top income tax bracket, taxed at a rate of 39.6 percent, the recipient would need to pay $396,000 income tax as a result of the bequest and the estate would pay $400,000 of estate tax. This results in a total tax of $796,000 from the $1 million of assets. Compare this with a taxable account, in which assets would have their cost basis adjusted to the fair market value on the date of death, so the recipient typically needn’t pay much, if any, income tax to access the assets. Therefore, the tax would only be $400,000 – about half of the amount applied to the IRA.
The additional tax is a bit overstated in the example above, because the estate tax paid on the IRD can be an itemized deduction that is not subject to the 2 percent floor. Nonetheless, it illustrates the point that it is better to minimize IRD and the resulting double taxation if possible.
It may make sense to take distributions from your own pretax accounts in certain situations, because paying the income tax during your life allows you to reduce your ultimate estate tax exposure. Converting traditional retirement accounts to Roth accounts can also help maximize the value of your estate. Most people will want to avoid annuities too, not only because of their typically high fees, but because they are treated as IRD and do not receive a basis adjustment upon the owner’s death.
The right play for your estate plan has become even more specific to your situation: where you live, how you invest, your life expectancy, your goals and priorities, and your future life plans. With no one-size-fits-all answer, it’s important to run financial projections to understand both the income and transfer tax consequences of your choices, so you can determine the best moves for your situation. Make sure you have someone on your team that can accurately analyze what’s best for your situation and, above all, keep your game plan flexible.