You can hardly watch a business newscast or read a business publication these days without a reference to the looming “fiscal cliff” – that precipice at which $1.2 trillion in spending cuts are made while Bush-era tax cuts expire.
It’s a scary thought, one that has some speculating that the U.S. economy would automatically tumble back into a recession. As an investor, you may fear that your portfolio would fall along with everything else. Should you strap on a financial parachute in anticipation of that day in January?
The biggest danger may be overreacting, making moves that are driven out of fear rather than logic. A financial advisor who takes a conservative, long-term approach to building your investment portfolio is a great ally in maintaining the calm, reasoned perspective needed to avoid panicky decisions.
While each person’s situation is different, most of us benefit by diversifying our investments. Even if the White House and Congressional leaders cannot work out a solution before reaching the fiscal cliff, not all investment classes would suffer. That’s why it’s essential that you spread your dollars among a wide array of assets—stocks, bonds, mutual funds, government securities, certificates of deposit and so on. While diversification can’t guarantee a profit or protect against loss, it can boost your chances for success and help reduce the impact of volatility on your portfolio.
Next, let’s consider the capital gains and dividend tax issues. For the past several years, qualified dividends and long-term capital gains (“long-term” meaning assets held for more than one year) have been taxed at a maximum rate of 15%. Unless Congress intervenes, starting in 2013 those dividends will be taxed at your individual income-tax rate and the long-term capital gains will be taxed at 20%. Also, depending on your income level, your dividends and long-term capital gains may also be subject to an additional 3.8% Medicare tax.
As of this writing, we don’t know for certain if those changes will occur. In the face of that uncertainty, the main criteria you should consider is what makes sense for your overall investment strategy, regardless of what Congress does. So, if selling those long-term holdings is a good idea for other reasons, doing so now at least guarantees you’ll get the 15% tax rate. If they are assets that you acquired as part of a buy-and-hold strategy, selling them now may not be prudent.
Regarding the dividend-paying stocks, you may want to shift some of them into your traditional IRA, in which your earnings can grow tax-deferred, or your Roth IRA, where earnings grow tax-free, provided you’ve had your account at least five years and don’t start taking withdrawals until you’re 59-1/2.
Another possible move if you’re in a higher tax bracket: You could benefit from owning municipal bonds, which generates interest that is free of federal taxes and possibly state and local taxes as well.
It’s always smart to be aware of the larger political and economic environment as you consider your financial situation. You just don’t need to let the frantic news accounts drive your decision-making.
This article is provided by Vance L. Falbaum, CIMA®, a Financial Advisor at RBC Wealth Management in Tucson, Arizona, and was prepared by or in cooperation with RBC Wealth Management. The information included in this article is not intended to be used as the primary basis for making investment decisions nor should it be construed as a recommendation to buy or sell any specific security. RBC Wealth Management does not endorse this organization or publication. Consult your investment professional for additional information and guidance. RBC Wealth Management does not provide tax or legal advice.
RBC Wealth Management, a division of RBC Capital Markets LLC, Member NYSE/FINRA/SIPC
Photo credit: Henry Makow