Can You Win in a Lose-Lose Game: Tariffs and Trade Wars

“We’re On The Brink Of An AllOut Trade War!”
“Market Futures Fall As Investors Anticipate New Tariffs!”
“What Will Happen If Trade Tensions Escalate!?”

Chances are you’ve seen headlines like these over the past few months. The media can’t stop talking about tariffs and trade tensions and how they might harm the U.S. economy. But are tariffs really that bad? Is it true that we’re approaching a full-blown trade war with China?

In this piece, we hope to untangle reality from the what-ifs and shed some light on what changes, if any, you should make to your financial plan while the threat of tariffs and trade wars looms.

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Do Good … and Give Yourself a (Tax) Break

If you read this post  from Matt Grodin, CPA, you know that recent changes in the federal tax law have resulted in fewer deductions at tax time for many California taxpayers.

You can, however, secure an increasingly elusive tax break if you bunch your charitable gifts into one tax year.  Through a philanthropic vehicle called a donor-advised fund, the donor receives the tax benefit in the year of the contribution to the donor-advised fund while retaining the ability to donate the proceeds over time and to charities of their choosing. The National Philanthropic Trust describes donor-advised funds as “a charitable savings account.” (more…)

Taxes Aren’t Due for Months, so Now is a Great Time to Think about Them

Tax planning is like exercise: You may not always be motivated to do it, but once you’re tackled the task, you feel so much better. (And fortunately for everyone, you don’t need to do tax planning several times a week, consistently, to see a lasting benefit.) I’ve asked Matt Grodin, a San Mateo certified public accountant, to answer three taxing questions:

What are some of key changes in the federal tax law that will affect Bay Area taxpayers?

There’s a $10,000 limit on deductions for state taxes and a $750,000 limit for deductions on new mortgage debt. Previously, home buyers could deduct up to $1 million. As you know, home prices in the Bay Area keep rising to new heights—the median home price hit $820,000 in April—so any restriction on mortgage deductions isn’t exactly good news. (more…)

Lower Your Tax Bill With Year-End Planning

lower-taxesAs the end of the year draws near, the last thing anyone wants to think about is taxes. But if you are looking for ways to minimize your tax bill, there’s no better time for tax planning than before year-end. That’s because there are a number of tax-smart strategies you can implement now that will reduce your tax bill come April 15.

As the year begins to draw to a close, consider how the following strategies might help to lower your taxes. (more…)

Good News for College Saving Post-Fiscal Cliff

The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 created some good news for families paying for, or saving for, college.

Congress and the White House agreed that higher education should remain a priority for American families and have decided to leave in place the tax benefits that have eased the pain of college spending for students and their families over the past several years. To make sure you are taking maximum advantage of the tax benefits available for funding a college education, you may wish to consult with a Certified Financial Planner to ensure that you receive every possible benefit from the recent agreement to extend these benefits to American families.

Education tax breaks extended or made permanent

  • The American Opportunity Tax Credit, which helps defray undergraduate college education expenses by allowing borrowers to deduct up to $2,500 was scheduled to expire last year, but has been extended for five years, through the end of 2017.
  • The Tuition and Fees Deduction, which allows taxpayers to claim up to $4,000 in tuition expenses, has also been extended. The deduction, which expired at the end of 2011, was retroactively revived for 2012 and will continue through the end of 2013.
  • Some changes to the Coverdell Education Savings Accounts have been made permanent. The annual contribution limit continues to be $2,000 and that the account may be used for elementary and secondary school expenses. Higher income phase-outs have also been made permanent.
  • The deal permanently repeals a five-year limit for deducting up to $2,500 via the Student Loan Interest Deduction.
  • Tax-advantaged education savings accounts – Coverdell Education Savings Accounts and 529 College Savings Plans – have now become even more attractive with higher income tax rates, deduction phase-outs, and the new Medicare tax on investment earnings.

While this news is relatively good however, it wouldn’t be DC if the news was all good. Higher income earners will not benefit from some of these programs, so financial planning for college should remain a priority in 2013 – along with tax planning strategies to shift income and tax benefits to your college student (when parent income is too high). In addition, a decision on funding levels for federal financial aid has been pushed out to March 1, 2013 so we could see reductions in some aid programs.

As part of your comprehensive financial planning, with a certified finance planner, you financial planning for college can be greatly simplified. Tamarind Financial Planning is here for you, with individual financial planning strategies and personal investment management techniques to help you set, meet, and exceed your financial – and life – goals.

Coverdell Education Savings Account – What is it Good For?

To avoid allowing the country to fall off the fiscal cliff, Congress and the President have agreed upon and signed into law the 2012 American Taxpayer Relief Act (ATRA). Among other things, the new law restores nearly all of the tax incentives for education which had been scheduled to expire at the end of the year. One of these education incentives was the Coverdell Education Savings Account (ESA).

The Coverdell ESA is somewhat unique among the menu of fiscal tools that parents may use when performing their financial planning for college, because it operates much like a Roth IRA, and in fact was labeled the Education IRA from its inception until 2002 when it was restructured and renamed. The single greatest advantage of establishing a Coverdell ESA is that it is the only ESA available which allows parents to use the funds to pay for primary education; for example private school K-12. The second greatest advantage to investing in a Coverdell ESA is that you, the investor, are able to choose the investment vehicle.

A Coverdell ESA may be used to fund primary education

While it is certainly a good idea for Congress to encourage savings and long-term planning for college by parents, the array of investment options which they have designed to aid in this can make finance planning for college very confusing. With help from a Certified Finance Planner, the task becomes a great deal easier for parents.

The positive features of a Coverdell Education Savings Account will include, but may not be limited to …

  • Earnings accumulate tax free
  • Withdrawals for Qualified Education Expenses are also tax free
  • Contribution limits were raised temporarily from $500 to $2000 (in 2002) and with the ATRA, the limit will not revert to $500 but will remain at $2000
  • Contributions may be made by any family member
  • Children can make their own contribution to the account
  • Low contribution amounts are accepted
  • The account belongs to the “responsible party” (e.g., the Parents) not the beneficiary
  • Funds may be used to fund private education for K-12
  • Withdrawals for K-12 education may be used for public, private, or religious education
  • For students with special needs, there is more flexibility for what types of expenses may be deducted

The negative features of a Coverdell Education Savings Account will include, but may not be limited to …

  • Contributions are made post-tax – they are not deductible, similar to a Roth IRA
  • Contribution limit of $2000 is phased out for single contributors earning AGI of $95,000 to $110,000
  • Contribution limit of $2000 is phased out for joint contributors earning AGI of $190,000 to $220,000
  • Funding must cease once the beneficiary reaches the age of maturity (18 years old in most states) but may be extended for special needs beneficiaries
  • The account must be fully withdrawn by the time the beneficiary reaches the age of 30, although this rule is relaxed for beneficiaries with special needs
  • Funds used for a non-qualified expense will be penalized at 10% and will be taxed as ordinary income

For more information on the pros and cons of various education savings plans, take a look at this Comparison Chart from The Motley Fool. You may also wish to visit the 529 Guru to have some FAQs answered for you.

While the folks in Washington DC have tried to make it easier to encourage financial planning for college, the range of investment vehicles they have created to do so have become quite complex. The ramifications of these devices on your income and your tax bill, and the resultant confusion, may in fact reduce your incentive to participate. This could be a major mistake, for both you and your child.

As part of your comprehensive financial planning with a certified finance planner, your financial planning for college can be greatly simplified. Tamarind Financial Planning is here for you, with individual financial planning strategies and personal investment management techniques to help you set, meet, and exceed your financial – and life – goals.