Six Financial Best Practices for Year-End 2021

Believe it or not, another year has rounded third base, and is dashing toward home plate. That said, there’s still time to make a few good plays in 2021, while positioning yourself to score more in the year ahead. Here are six financial best practices for the record books.

1. Keep Your Eye on the Ball. While there are always distracting trading temptations, it seems as if 2021 has had more than its fair share of them. Remember the January excitement over GameStop and its ilk? That frenzy was soon followed by “SPAC-Man” Chamath Palihapitiya, tweeting out “Shooters shoot” to his disciples, as SPACs started flying every which way. Tradeable memes and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) became a thing around then too, followed by the pursuit of fluffy little dogecoins.

Our Best-Practice Advice: Instead of swinging at fast fads, we encourage you to lean into the returns our resilient global markets are expected to deliver over time. As always, this means looking past the wild throws and building a low-cost, globally diversified portfolio, tailored for your personal financial goals and risk tolerances. Isn’t that your aim to begin with?

2. Revisit Your Saving and Spending. COVID changed a lot of things, including our saving and spending patterns. Stimulus and unemployment checks offered cash flow relief for many families. Business owners received generous loans. Moratoriums on paying off college debt or being penalized for dipping into retirement savings helped as well. Retirees were permitted to skip taking Required Minimum Distributions (which is NOT the case in 2021).

Our Best-Practice Advice: As these and similar relief programs wind down, now is an excellent time to recalibrate your own financial plans. If you borrowed from your future self by withdrawing from or not adding to your retirement reserves, please establish a disciplined schedule for paying yourself back. If you became accustomed to spending less on items you used to think you couldn’t live without, try directing those former expenditures to restoring your retirement and rainy-day funds. Work with a financial planner to assess other ways your budgeting may benefit from a fresh take. Every little bit counts!

3. Watch for Fund Distributions. Even as we’ve continued to weather the pandemic storm, our forward-looking, global markets have been delivering relatively strong returns year-to-date for many foreign/U.S. stock funds. That’s good news, but it also means mutual funds’ capital gain distributions may be on the high side this year. Capital gain distributions typically occur in early December, based on the fund’s underlying year-to-date trading activities through October. For funds in your tax-sheltered accounts, the distributions aren’t taxable in the year incurred, but they are for funds held in your taxable accounts.

Our Best-Practice Advice: Taxable distributions aside, staying put to earn all potential market returns is the more important determinant in our buy-and-hold approach. With that said, in your taxable accounts only, if you don’t have compelling reasons to buy into a fund just before its distribution date, you may want to wait until afterward. On the flip side, if you are planning to sell a fund anyway—or you were planning to donate a highly appreciated fund to charity—doing so prior to its distribution date might spare you some taxable gains.

4. Consider Tax Gain Harvesting. Along with relatively strong year-to-date market performance, many Americans are also benefiting from historically lower capital gain and income tax rates that may or may not last. Often, taxpayers view each tax season in isolation, seeking to minimize taxes owed that year. We prefer to view tax planning as a way to reduce your lifetime tax bill. Of course, we can’t know what your future taxes will be. But it can sometimes make good, big-picture sense to intentionally generate taxable income in years when tax rates seem favorable.

Our Best-Practice Advice: If you have “room” to take some taxable capital gains this year—and if it actually makes sense for you to take them—you may want to consider working with your tax planning team to do so. 

5. Seize the Day on Your Charitable Giving. Unlike many other pandemic-inspired tax breaks, several charitable-giving incentives still apply for 2021, but may not moving forward. This includes the ability for single/joint filers to deduct up to $300/$600 in cash contributions to qualified charities, even if they’re already taking the standard deduction on their tax return. If you’re so inclined, you also can still donate up to 100% of your AGI to qualified charities.

Our Best-Practice Advice: Charitable giving remains another timeless tactic for offsetting taxable capital gains you may want or need to report, as well as any other extra taxable income you may be incurring. And charitable organizations need our contributions as sorely as ever. So, if you’re charitably inclined, you may as well make the most of your generosity by pairing it with your 2021 tax planning.

6. Plan Ahead for Estate Planning. Holiday shoppers may not be the only ones facing supply chain shortages this year. Estate planning attorneys, CPAs, and similar planning professionals may also be in shorter supply toward year-end and beyond. In addition to the usual year-end crunch, many such service providers have been extra busy responding to a “COVID estate planning boom,” as well as to the fast-paced action in Washington.

Our Best-Practice Advice: If you’ve been thinking about revisiting your estate or tax planning activities, know that the process may take longer than usual. Especially if you’re planning for changes that are up against a hard deadline (such as year-end or April 15th), you’ll benefit yourself by giving your attorney, accountant, and others the time they need to do their best work for you. High-end estate planning in particular is best approached as a months-long, if not years-long process.

How else can we help you wrap 2021 and position yourself and your wealth for the year ahead? As always, we stand ready to assist!

Cary Facer

Founder and Wealth Advisor, Warren Street Wealth Advisors

Investment Advisor Representative, Warren Street Wealth Advisors, LLC., a Registered Investment Advisor

The information presented here represents opinions and is not meant as personal or actionable advice to any individual, corporation, or other entity. Any investments discussed carry unique risks and should be carefully considered and reviewed by you and your financial professional. Nothing in this document is a solicitation to buy or sell any securities, or an attempt to furnish personal investment advice. Warren Street Wealth Advisors may own securities referenced in this document. Due to the static nature of content, securities held may change over time and current trades may be contrary to outdated publications. Form ADV available upon request 714-876-6200.

Charitable Giving

Maximize Your Giving and Minimize Your Taxes

The end of the year is quickly approaching, which may prompt a review of any final tax planning strategies to employ before December 31. The fall and winter holiday season also turns our minds to gratitude and giving. Perhaps surprisingly, these year-end considerations are not mutually exclusive.

To promote charitable giving, the IRS offers tax deductions for certain charitable donations. The most straightforward tax benefit is an itemized deduction of the amount of any cash donations to a qualifying charitable organization, up to 60% of the taxpayer’s Adjusted Gross Income for the year (with a five-year carryover allowed). If you itemize deductions, this is an easy deduction to claim and one you are probably already aware of.

But tax-aware charitable giving strategies don’t end there. For example, a special above-the-line deduction (for non-itemizers) was created just for 2020-21 for any taxpayer to deduct cash donations up to $300 for single filers or $600 for married filing jointly.

Let’s look at three additional options to maximize your giving while minimizing your taxes.

1. Qualified Charitable Distributions 

A qualified charitable distribution (QCD) is a direct transfer from your IRA (traditional, rollover, inherited, SEP, or SIMPLE) to a qualified charity. Several attractive benefits come with a QCD:

  • First, a QCD counts toward your annual required minimum distribution (RMD).
  • Second, the amount of a QCD is excluded from your taxable income. So, rather than taking a withdrawal from your IRA, having taxes withheld, and then writing a check to your favorite charity, consider making a direct transfer from your IRA to the charity. You can send the full amount to charity without having taxes withheld on the distribution.
  • Third, the tax-exemption of a QCD doesn’t require that you itemize your deductions. Normally, to get a tax deduction for charitable giving, you need to itemize your tax deductions rather than use the standard deduction. But a QCD is tax-exempt whether or not you itemize – allowing you to take the higher deduction (whether that is the standard or itemized) and get a tax benefit for your charitable contributions either way.

To be eligible for a QCD, you must be 70 ½ or older and SEP or SIMPLE IRAs must be inactive. QCDs are limited to $100,000 per year per person and may be further limited if you are still contributing to the IRA. To count toward the current year’s RMD, the funds must be transferred from the IRA by the RMD deadline (usually December 31). 

2. Donor-Advised Funds
A Donor-Advised Fund (DAF) is a fund you establish to set aside cash and other assets for charitable giving. You receive a tax deduction for the amount given to the fund in the year contributed, and the assets are available for you to donate to specific charitable organizations at any time. 

Donations of appreciated assets, such as stock or real estate, can be given to the DAF without paying capital gains taxes. Any further growth of assets in the DAF is not taxable to you since it is already irrevocably reserved for charitable gifts.

A DAF can be used in a “batching” strategy, where the tax-deductible contribution to the fund happens in one year and then donations to your chosen charities subsequently happen on whatever timeline you wish. You can fund a batch of charitable gifts in one single tax-deductible contribution. This is a great tax-mitigating tool for a particularly high-income year and a useful ongoing strategy to maximize the tax benefits of your charitable giving. 

3. Charitable Remainder Trusts

Charitable Remainder Trusts allow you to make partially tax-deductible contributions to the trust while achieving a two-fold goal: providing an income stream to yourself or another beneficiary and giving to a charitable organization.

There are two types of Charitable Remainder Trusts: a Charitable Remainder Annuity Trust (CRAT) and a Charitable Remainder Unitrust (CRUT).

  • A CRAT distributes a fixed amount to the chosen beneficiary (yourself or someone else) each year. At the end of the trust term (no more than 20 years), the remainder of the trust goes to your chosen charitable organization(s). Additional contributions cannot be made once the CRAT is established.
  • A CRUT distributes a fixed percentage of the trust assets to the beneficiary, with the remainder going to your chosen charitable organization(s). Additional contributions can be made over the life of a CRUT.

The tax deduction of contributions to a Charitable Remainder Trust is based on the type of trust, the term of the trust, the projected income payments, and the IRS interest rate assumptions. You can combine a Charitable Remainder Trust with a Donor-Advised Fund to offer more flexibility. 

CARES Act Enhancements

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) added some additional tax incentives for charitable giving in tax years 2020 and 2021. The maximum allowed deduction for cash contributions increased to 100% of AGI, with a five-year carryover allowed. The deduction allowed for corporations increased to 25% of taxable income. As mentioned previously, a special above-the-line deduction (for non-itemizers) was also created for any taxpayer to deduct cash donations up to $300 for single filers or $600 for married filing jointly.

Family, corporate, and private non-operating foundations are excluded from these enhanced benefits, along with supporting organizations under Section 509(a)(3) and donor-advised funds. These enhancements only apply to cash contributions. Contributions of appreciated assets (like stock or real estate) are subject to the same prior limit of 30% of AGI.

Conclusion

Immediate action items we recommend:

  • If you gave to charity in 2021, make sure you take the special above-the-line deduction (up to $300 for single filers and $600 for married filing jointly).
  • If you are over age 70 ½ and donating to charity, talk with your advisor about making Qualified Charitable Deductions from your IRA.
  • If you had unusually high income this year and/or if you are consistently giving large amounts to charity, talk with your advisor about setting up a Donor-Advised Fund.

Charitable giving is a fulfilling practice and an important piece of many financial plans. Current tax law incentivizes charitable gifts, and thus, skilled tax planning can help you maximize what you can give. Talk to your advisor or tax professional to see if any of these charitable giving strategies could help you achieve your financial goals.

Kirsten C. Cadden, CFP®

Associate Advisor, Warren Street Wealth Advisors

Investment Advisor Representative, Warren Street Wealth Advisors, LLC., a Registered Investment Advisor

The information presented here represents opinions and is not meant as personal or actionable advice to any individual, corporation, or other entity. Any investments discussed carry unique risks and should be carefully considered and reviewed by you and your financial professional. Nothing in this document is a solicitation to buy or sell any securities, or an attempt to furnish personal investment advice. Warren Street Wealth Advisors may own securities referenced in this document. Due to the static nature of content, securities held may change over time and current trades may be contrary to outdated publications. Form ADV available upon request 714-876-6200.

5 Bare Essentials to Consider When Retiring from SCE

Retirement can seem like the most exciting thing in the world — and the most overwhelming. On one hand, you finally get to spend your time on your terms. Maybe that’s traveling the world. Maybe it’s spending more time with your grandkids. Or maybe it’s just spending quiet evenings at home. 

Still, there’s that lingering question: “How does this all work?” So much goes into planning for retirement, as well as managing your money appropriately once you get to that point. It can be unnerving to consider how you’ll manage the nuances of your retirement plan, navigate Social Security benefits, and ensure you have the money you need to support your lifestyle in retirement. 

At Warren Street Wealth Advisors, we hear these concerns from clients often. In response, we’ve developed a specialty focus on retirement planning for Southern California Edison employees. After helping hundreds of SCE retirees navigate this crucial time, we know your retirement packages and employee benefits programs inside and out. Below are the top five bare essentials you need to know to retire from SCE.

1. Take your final distribution when you want.

It’s a common misconception that you are forced to take your final distribution at retirement, but that’s not the case. You can wait until Jan. 1, request your final distribution, and then take a direct payment to avoid penalties using the “55 Rule” if you are 55 years or older. This will also allow you to defer the income tax due until the following year’s tax return.

2. Understand that it’s possible to retire penalty-free between age 55 and 59 ½.

Here’s a scenario we see all the time: you’re 57. You want to retire. You don’t want to wait until 59 ½ to do it. But you know that there’s a 10% federal tax penalty and a 2.5% California state tax penalty if you take the money out of your IRA before 59 ½. So are you stuck? Nope.

There are a lot of moving parts to this process, but we can take advantage of IRS rules like 72(t) distributions or the previously mentioned “55 Rule” to ensure our clients do everything possible to avoid paying penalties.

3. Take advantage of your medical subsidy.

Did you know that you are eligible for a retiree medical subsidy? The most common subsidies are 50% and 85%. When you retire, Edison will pay either 50% or 85% of your current medical insurance premium as a “continuation benefit” in retirement. Simply put, what you pay today is what you’ll pay in retirement. Of course, this is as long as you reach your required benefit milestone. (Unsure what your benefit is? Call EIX Benefits at 866-693-4947 to ask what benefit you have and at what age you’ll receive it.)

4. Weigh your Social Security options.

There is all kinds of information out there about what to do with your Social Security. Let us boil it all down: you don’t have to take it at 62! When we build a financial plan for a client, we calculate all options for optimizing Social Security. It’s ultimately your decision, but we suggest weighing your options before committing to collecting the 25-30% reduced benefit at age 62.

5. Use your 401(k) efficiently.

Your 401(k) can be an immensely powerful tool if you understand how to max it out and diversify your investments. In most cases, this is the point at which you’ll want to hire a professional team to help. One tool that can help you is the Charles Schwab Personal Choice Retirement Account (PCRA) option included in your 401(k) plan. The PCRA option lets you purchase investments on your own or hire a professional advisor to do it for you. This is made available through your Tier 3 option. 

These are just a few of the tips and resources we offer SCE employees. For a deeper dive into strategies you can take to help you maximize your money in retirement, download our full SCE Retirement Handbook here.

Want to chat further? Feel free to reach out. We’ve worked with hundreds of employees with your exact plan and are glad to point you in the right direction.

Cary Facer

Founder and Wealth Advisor, Warren Street Wealth Advisors

Investment Advisor Representative, Warren Street Wealth Advisors, LLC., a Registered Investment Advisor

The information presented here represents opinions and is not meant as personal or actionable advice to any individual, corporation, or other entity. Any investments discussed carry unique risks and should be carefully considered and reviewed by you and your financial professional. Nothing in this document is a solicitation to buy or sell any securities, or an attempt to furnish personal investment advice. Warren Street Wealth Advisors may own securities referenced in this document. Due to the static nature of content, securities held may change over time and current trades may be contrary to outdated publications. Form ADV available upon request 714-876-6200.

March Market Madness

During this time last year, the NCAA canceled March Madness. With college basketball off the table, we were given a different type of madness: Market Madness. The S&P 500 drew down a total of 34% from peak to trough as COVID-19 wreaked havoc across global markets. This week marked the one year anniversary of that drawdown’s market bottom.

In September 2020, we wrote about the astounding fiscal and monetary policy action delivered by both the Federal Reserve and congressional lawmakers in response to the coronavirus. Although we complimented both the central bank and congress, the 2020 Most Valuable Player award quite honestly belongs to Jerome Powell and the Fed.

Today, after fending off last March’s Market Madness, the ball is no longer in the Fed’s court. Instead, The Fed is embodying a more reactive approach, awaiting signs of inflation to cross their 2% target before considering rate hikes or tools such as yield-curve control. Now, it’s our congressional leaders’ turn to play offense using fiscal policy. Their most recent time-out play is the $1.9 trillion stimulus package with embedded $1,400 stimulus payments expected to boost inflation.

Is Inflation Bad?

Let’s take a step back and consider why the Fed is setting a target with inflation. It’s important to distinguish that inflation isn’t as daunting as what’s ingrained in our history books. Sure, the inflationary tales of Zimbabwe and the Weimar Republic might seem scary, but the truth is such situations are rare and due to mismanaged policy in less-developed nations. Typically, mild inflation is a sign of rising consumption and increased demand. Today, this type of inflation can be recognized as reflation1; and in our case, reflation would signify that a return to normalcy is en route. 

Market expectations for inflation are no laughing matter. A re-opening is expected to usher in increased spending in the form of pent-up demand. Input prices such as lumber and copper are already soaring. The five year breakeven treasury rate, which measures investor expectations for inflation, rose to its highest over point ever since 2014. Bonds, whose kryptonite is inflation, witnessed a sell-off that trickled into tech stocks.

But are markets correct to expect this much inflation? Or are markets overshooting their expectations by falling for this inflation pump fake? Perhaps our stay-at-home habits will prevail in the long-run and spending will not stay elevated, resulting in lower inflationary pressures. If so, we could see a rebound in bond prices and tech names. Nevertheless, this is the hotly debated topic among investors at the moment. 

Run The Play

This brings us back to the analogy with our administration’s most recent time-out-play. The $1.9 trillion relief bill is bringing hope to the workers, businesses, institutions, and communities that have struggled throughout this pandemic. As you can see in the chart below, the $1,400 stimulus payments represent a large percent of the package totalling $422 billion. It makes sense for investors to expect increased inflation as consumers now have higher disposable incomes and propensity to consume – but there is a catch.

Source: Committee For a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB)

What will happen to actual inflation if these stimulus payments don’t make it back into the economy, but instead find their way into the stock market? A survey by Deutsche Bank revealed that individuals between the ages of 25 to 34 intend on placing 50% of the received payment into the stock market. Ultimately, the survey found that younger and high income earners eyed the stock market as the targeted destination for this income.

Source: Deutsche Bank Asset Allocation, dgDIG, RealVisionFinance
Data presented on 3/08/2021

The Deutsche Bank survey, like any other, is going to be scrutinized for sampling error, but we don’t see something like the above being too far-fetched. The recent retail frenzy with “meme stocks2” like GameStop, Blackberry, and AMC has given rise to retail investing. Popular communities like r/WallStreetBets on Reddit have become a breeding ground for investors to commingle. Even more likely are your neighbors, who watched people get rich on the market’s 2020 rally, itching to pummel some of their stimulus money into the S&P 500.

These $1,400 payments are intended to increase demand for goods and prompt businesses to hire more workers, eventually raising wages. If these payments seek risk-assets instead, we could see a halt in the reflation narrative and a prolonged unemployment recovery.

Another risk to consider is the risk of financial stability. We’re seeing speculative behavior, especially from retail investors piling into stocks with less regard for the underlying fundamentals. At the end of the day, it’s quite possible to see a lack of wage growth in the economy while management teams of inefficient and highly-indebted companies get rewarded for little to no profitability.

The Bottom Line

We aren’t here to debate whether or not you should save or spend the money, let’s leave that to Reddit and Twitter. However, should a substantial portion of stimulus payments see capital markets as a more attractive destination than the underlying economy, the risks to reflation and financial stability must not be overlooked.     

We’ll see whether or not the $1.9 trillion time-out play will win the economic recovery game and prevent further Market Madness… if not, let’s hope it at least takes us into overtime.

Footnotes:

  1. Reflation represents increased price levels as a result of monetary or fiscal policy as a means to combat deflation.  
  2. “Meme stocks” are stocks that have gained traction from retail audiences such as Reddit or investment communities. GameStop and AMC are just a few of the many names with this retail comradery, earning these stocks the nickname “meme stocks” and causing a surge in prices throughout early 2021.

Sources: 

Committee For a Responsible Congressional Budget 

Deustche Bank Survey

YCharts

Phillip Law, Portfolio Analyst

Wealth Advisor, Warren Street Wealth Advisors

Investment Advisor Representative, Warren Street Wealth Advisors, LLC., a Registered Investment Advisor

The information presented here represents opinions and is not meant as personal or actionable advice to any individual, corporation, or other entity. Any investments discussed carry unique risks and should be carefully considered and reviewed by you and your financial professional. Nothing in this document is a solicitation to buy or sell any securities, or an attempt to furnish personal investment advice. Warren Street Wealth Advisors may own securities referenced in this document. Due to the static nature of content, securities held may change over time and current trades may be contrary to outdated publications. Form ADV available upon request 714-876-6200.

Recovery Rebate Stimulus Payment

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 is now a done deal. Among the items of greatest interest to most Americans is a third round of stimulus checks—or IRS “recovery rebates”—of up to $1,400 for every “eligible individual.”

That is the quick take but what is the fine print?

How Much Will You Receive?

Each eligible individual in your household should receive $1,400. Eligible individuals include:[1]

  1. You, as an individual taxpayer
  2. Your spouse (if you are filing a joint tax return)
  3. Any dependents you are claiming on your tax return, regardless of their age

For example: A married couple filing jointly and claiming three dependents on their tax return would be eligible for $1,400 x 5 = $7,000. This is the case even if the dependent is, say, an adult child in college, or a parent in assisted living.

The catch? Whether you receive a full, a partial, or no rebate depends on your Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) on your tax return:

If you are …You receive a full rebate if your AGI is … You receive a partial rebate if your AGI is …You won’t receive a rebate if your AGI is …
Single, or married filing separateUnder $75,000$75,000–$80,000Over $80,000
Head of householdUnder $112,500$112,500–$120,000Over $120,000
Married, filing jointly Under $150,000$150,000–$160,000Over $160,000

Which AGI are we talking about? Technically, the stimulus payment is a 2021 Recovery Rebate, but like our Great American Pastime (baseball), you actually get up to three “at bats,” or years in which to qualify for a full or partial rebate.

At Bat #1: Your 2019 or 2020 Tax Return, Already Filed

Initially, the IRS will look at the AGI reported on the most recent tax return you’ve already filed, whether that’s your 2019 or 2020 return. If your AGI falls within the “full rebate” parameters above, you can expect to receive your full 2021 Recovery Rebate. Where will the money go? If the IRS has a checking account on file for you, they should be able to issue a direct deposit into that account. Otherwise, they should mail you a check or debit card to your address on file.

Note: Even if you end up reporting higher income in subsequent years, you will get to keep the full amount of any payment you receive from At Bat #1. The IRS will not come after you, asking for you to pay it back.

At Bat #2: Your 2020 Tax Return, To Be Filed What if you’ve not yet filed your 2020 tax return, but your 2019 income was too high to qualify you for a full rebate? Good news: You get another chance once you file your 2020 return. At that time, the IRS will perform an “additional payment determination.” If your 2020 return qualifies you for a higher rebate than your 2019 return did, the IRS will essentially send you the difference, again via direct deposit or mail. You could receive:

  • A full or partial payment: If you received nothing based on your 2019 return, but you now qualify for one or the other based on your 2020 income.
  • A second partial payment: If you already received a partial payment, but you now qualify for more based on your 2020 income.
  • Nothing: If your AGI is still too high to qualify.

Note: To qualify for an additional payment determination, be sure to file your 2020 tax return on a timely basis, even if the filing deadline ends up being extended beyond April 15, 2021. We can provide additional information about specific deadlines as needed.

At Bat #3: Your 2021 Tax Return

What if neither your 2019 tax return nor your 2020 return qualify you for a full rebate? You still have one more chance. If your 2021 income is low enough to qualify, you will be able to file for a credit on your 2021 tax return for any amounts not already received. 

Additional Ideas: What’s a Taxpayer To Do?

You may have noticed, the range for receiving a partial payment is very narrow, which means fewer taxpayers will fall into it. Most of us will either qualify for a full rebate … or none at all.

If you do fall into the partial-rebate range, the amount you’ll receive will be calculated based on a straight percentage.

For example: A couple filing jointly with no dependents reports an AGI of $155,000, smack in the middle of the $150,000-$160,000 range. This means half of their rebate will be phased out. Instead of receiving $1,400 x 2 = $2,800, they’ll receive half of that, or $1,400.

Also, the tight, cliff-like gap between receiving a full payment versus nothing at all means a little tax planning could go a long way between now and year-end, especially if your annual income is close to qualifying you for a recovery rebate.  If this applies to you, please reach out to us soon to explore any 2020 or 2021 tax-planning opportunities that may help. Even if your income falls well within the “yes” or “no” recovery rebate ranges, please let us know if we can address any additional questions or comments. It is what we are here for!

[1] Nonresident alien individuals, and estates or trusts are explicitly excluded.


Reference Materials:

Emily Balmages, CFP®, CRTP

Wealth Advisor, Warren Street Wealth Advisors

Investment Advisor Representative, Warren Street Wealth Advisors, LLC., a Registered Investment Advisor

The information presented here represents opinions and is not meant as personal or actionable advice to any individual, corporation, or other entity. Any investments discussed carry unique risks and should be carefully considered and reviewed by you and your financial professional. Nothing in this document is a solicitation to buy or sell any securities, or an attempt to furnish personal investment advice. Warren Street Wealth Advisors may own securities referenced in this document. Due to the static nature of content, securities held may change over time and current trades may be contrary to outdated publications. Form ADV available upon request 714-876-6200.

DIY Credit Repair

Credit scores sometimes feel like the GPAs of high school. It’s just a number but also has a lot of power of what you can be approved for (like GPAs determine what colleges you can get into). If you’ve struggled with credit, it may be tempting to call the 800 number you hear on the radio promising you an overnight solution to repair your credit. As tempting as it is, do not do it! Most of these are just scams that will get you to spend money you don’t need to.

You can work on repairing your credit yourself and you should. 

Step #1 – Monitor your credit

The first step is seeing where you are at. You can get copies of your full credit reports from all the credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax) by going to annualcreditreport.com or calling 877-322-8228. You are able to get your reports for free once a year via Annual Credit Report. 

You can also sign up for a reputable credit monitoring service. These services help you by sending alerts anytime there is suspicious activity on your credit and also giving you the ability to check in often. You can find a list of some options here.

Step #2 – Dispute any errors

Once you have your reports, you should review them for accuracy. Confirm that your name, address, social security number, and all other personal information is correct. Then review all the accounts reported including balances. If you see any errors, you can tell the credit bureaus in writing what information you think is incorrect. Make sure to include copies of supporting documents (bank statements, credit card statements, etc). You can find a sample letter for disputing errors on your credit report from the Federal Trade Commission here.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, credit reporting companies must investigate the items you question within 30 days unless they consider your dispute frivolous. Once the investigation is complete, the credit reporting company must also give you the results in writing and give you another free copy of the report. 

Step #3 – Control the things you can control

While sometimes there can be errors on your credit report that negatively affect you, a lot of the time your scores can be in your control. If you have a poor credit score because of things like missing payments, maxing out accounts, or applying for too much credit in a short period of time, work on improving these behaviors: 

  • Always try to pay your bills on time even if it’s just the minimum payments. 
  • Work on paying off your debt, especially high interest credit card debt.
  • Avoid applying for new credit. If you are trying to get a handle on your credit, one of the best things you can do is break the cycle of continuing to apply for new credit. 

For more information, or if you have any questions, please reach out to your trusted wealth advisor at Warren Street Wealth Advisors.

Veronica Torres

Director of Operations, Warren Street Wealth Advisors

Investment Advisor Representative, Warren Street Wealth Advisors, LLC., a Registered Investment Advisor

The information presented here represents opinions and is not meant as personal or actionable advice to any individual, corporation, or other entity. Any investments discussed carry unique risks and should be carefully considered and reviewed by you and your financial professional. Nothing in this document is a solicitation to buy or sell any securities, or an attempt to furnish personal investment advice. Warren Street Wealth Advisors may own securities referenced in this document. Due to the static nature of content, securities held may change over time and current trades may be contrary to outdated publications. Form ADV available upon request 714-876-6200.

Is Tesla Flying Too Close to the Sun?

743%. That’s how much Tesla stock (Ticker: TSLA) returned in 20201. Most of us are aware of the bifurcation between the market’s seemingly invisible ceiling and the economy’s continued disarray, but nobody could have foreseen that Elon Musk and his army of “musketeers” would be amongst those most rewarded for owning increased allocations of TSLA stock.

In fact, 2020 was an eventful year for the electric vehicle company. Among a series of roller coaster weeks, a stock split announcement, and raging debate over analyst price targets, perhaps TSLA’s most noteworthy 2020 phenomenon was its inclusion in the S&P 500 Index – a profound move that has us concerned over the stock’s perceived immortality at the forefront.

On December 21, 2020, the S&P 500 Index committee formally added the “profitable” carmaker to the index after denying TSLA index entry earlier in the year. The circumstances around this inclusion eerily resembles something we’ve seen before. Does “You’ve Got Mail” ring a bell? That’s right – we see multiple uncanny parallels between the TSLA and former net stock giant: American Online (AOL).

Echoes of The Past

On December 23, 1998, Standard & Poor’s announced it would make American Online the first “net” stock featured in the S&P 500 Index. Leading up to the announcement, AOL rallied 510% year-to-date2, before ending the year with a return of 585%. Compare this to TSLA, which had run-up 388%3 by the time the committee made its announcement on November 16, 2020. As mentioned previously, TSLA’s 2020 return was 743%. Notice here that a large proportion of TSLA’s 2020 return came in the last month and a half in the year…talk about upward volatility.

Arguably, the most intriguing similarity between these two stocks is the amount of price action driven by momentum and fear of missing out (FOMO). Investors overlooked red flags related to both AOL’s fundamentals and underlying profitability of tech stocks. AOL eventually lost 91%4 of its market value after a failed merger with Time-Warner cable. Meanwhile, valuations of tech stocks (represented by the Nasdaq Index) peaked in early 2000 before seeing 78%5 of its value disintegrate. Fast forward to the end of 2020, you have Tesla, a company whose “profitability” is primarily tied to energy credits, octupling (8x) its stock price to levels many investors deem uncomfortable.

Will TSLA suffer the same fate as AOL and other dotcom counterparts? Obviously 2021 is a different year. The carmaker makes electric-powered cars, not an instant messaging platform. We do acknowledge that historical performance is not indicative of future performance; and that correlation does not equal causation. However, it’s important to remember that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

How Much TSLA Do You REALLY Own?

TSLA’s inclusion in the S&P 500 Index raises a new challenge for investors: hidden concentration risk. With TSLA now a part of the NASDAQ, Russell 1000, and widely regarded S&P 500, owning index funds inherently carries TSLA exposure. Borrowing from our friends over at WisdomTree, imagine a scenario where Portfolio A holds broad index funds in addition to a few well-known names.

What investors thought was a 2.50% allocation to TSLA is at 4.00%6. I know, I know. 4% doesn’t seem like a big deal. Besides, what investor puts 90% of their equity allocation into only broad U.S. ETFs? (You’d be surprised). The more important point though, is that volatile price action with TSLA can hide how much of the stock you really own.

At the end of 2019, TSLA shares were at $83.67. As of Friday, January 15, 2021 – the stock sits at $824.91 – almost ten times over its stock price just a year ago. Let’s say you owned Portfolio A on December 31, 2019. As of January 15 this year, TSLA would comprise 19% of Portfolio A’s exposure (see Appendix A). Obviously, price appreciation and concentration risk create their own problems (e.g., skewed returns, tax consequences), but when the underlying rationale for that price appreciation is in question by the investment community at large, you could have an even bigger problem on your hands.

 Will TSLA Fall Back Down to Earth?

Today, it seems as if TSLA has really shot over the moon, multiplying its stock price ten times in a little over a year. Will the carmaker continue to defy odds throughout 2021? Or, is Tesla a ticking-time bomb waiting to explode?

We at Warren Street Wealth Advisors aren’t equity research moguls here to publish a Buy, Sell, or Hold on this highly debated stock. However, we do acknowledge that no company is immune from idiosyncratic risk. Whether Tesla can stay above the influx of foreign competition (e.g., NIO, Volkswagen), or whether or not valuations are outstretched represent just a few of many risks to the company’s stock price.

One observation fueling TSLA’s controversy is that despite having a much larger market cap relative to other established vehicle manufacturers (see above), the company only generated $28.2 billion in sales7. Compare this to a combined $1.1 trillion in sales7 for all its auto competitors listed above. How can a company, which does a fraction of its competitors’ sales, be worth more than all of them combined? Again, TSLA isn’t just a car company – it’s thought to be a generational leader driving the next revolution in clean energy; but nevertheless, some food for thought while you’re on the road.

Tesla’s ride sure was wild in 2020, and nobody can guarantee what will happen in 2021. However, as prudent investors, it’s important to not overlook the implications that a high-flying stock can have on client portfolios. We’re not here to argue whether Tesla’s run has just begun or if the stock’s price is dangerously inflated. But if the latter of those two ideas rings true, the world could be shocked when it sees electricity and a bubble come together.

Footnotes:

  1. YTD total return as of 12/31/2020 sourced to YCharts.
  2. YTD total return for 12/23/1998 and 12/31/1998 sourced to historicalstockprice.com.
  3. YTD total return as of 11/16/2020.
  4. AOL’s market cap plummeted from $226 billion to roughly $20 billion in 2003, sourced to Bezinga.
  5. NASDAQ percent off high spanning 12/31/1997 to 12/31/2003.
  6. 4.04% is the summation of multiplying TSLA weight in index by index weight in portfolio.
  7. Trailing twelve-month figures.

Appendix A

For any questions regarding international investments, emerging markets, or wealth management, please call 714-876-6200 or email phillip@warrenstreetwealth.com

Phillip Law, Portfolio Analyst

Wealth Advisor, Warren Street Wealth Advisors

Investment Advisor Representative, Warren Street Wealth Advisors, LLC., a Registered Investment Advisor

The information presented here represents opinions and is not meant as personal or actionable advice to any individual, corporation, or other entity. Any investments discussed carry unique risks and should be carefully considered and reviewed by you and your financial professional. Nothing in this document is a solicitation to buy or sell any securities, or an attempt to furnish personal investment advice. Warren Street Wealth Advisors may own securities referenced in this document. Due to the static nature of content, securities held may change over time and current trades may be contrary to outdated publications. Form ADV available upon request 714-876-6200.

PPP Reboot – More Small Business Relief

Last week, the SBA reopened the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and will begin accepting applications for “Second Draw” forgivable PPP loans.  

Here is a summary of the eligibility rules for Second Draw loans.  Borrowers can draw loans of up to $2 million provided they: 

  1. Have previously received a “First Draw” PPP loan and used the full amount on eligible expenses  
  1. Have 300 or fewer employees
  1. Document at least a 25% reduction in gross receipts in comparable 2020 and 2019 quarters

PPP borrowers may have their loans forgiven if the proceeds are spent on the following expenses:  payroll (including benefits), mortgage interest, rent, utilities, worker protection costs related to COVID-19, uninsured property damage costs caused by looting or vandalism during 2020, and certain supplier costs and expenses for operations.   

To receive full forgiveness, borrowers must spend at least 60% of the funds on payroll expenses over an 8-24 week period.  

This is a high-level overview; if you have questions about the specifics as they apply to your business, please contact us. We are here to help!

Source: U.S. Small Business Administration

https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/loans/coronavirus-relief-options/paycheck-protection-program/second-draw-ppp-loans

Emily Balmages, CFP®, CRTP

Wealth Advisor, Warren Street Wealth Advisors

Investment Advisor Representative, Warren Street Wealth Advisors, LLC., a Registered Investment Advisor

The information presented here represents opinions and is not meant as personal or actionable advice to any individual, corporation, or other entity. Any investments discussed carry unique risks and should be carefully considered and reviewed by you and your financial professional. Nothing in this document is a solicitation to buy or sell any securities, or an attempt to furnish personal investment advice. Warren Street Wealth Advisors may own securities referenced in this document. Due to the static nature of content, securities held may change over time and current trades may be contrary to outdated publications. Form ADV available upon request 714-876-6200.

Year-End Planning Checklist

2020 has been a strange year for all of us, and although some financial planning deadlines have been modified due to the CARES Act, most 12/31 deadlines remain in place.  Below are items we are considering as we wrap up the year with our clients.  Should you have questions about whether or how any of the items below apply to you, please reach out to us as we will be happy to assist.  

 2020 Year-End Planning Items with 12/31 Deadline

  1. Maxing out 401(k) contributions:  Employees can contribute up to $19,500 (plus $6,500 extra for those over 50), into their 401(k)s for 2020.   If you have not yet contributed the maximum amount and your cash flow allows, consider increasing your contributions now to reach the maximum contribution amount prior to year end.  
  1. 401(k) Matching:  If your company offers a 401(k) match, it makes sense to take advantage of the full match opportunity every year.  If you have not received the full match for 2020, let us review your company’s 401(k) plan rules to determine if you can contribute enough to receive the full 2020 match before year end.  
  1. Charitable Giving for 2020:  There are some additional charitable deductions this year as part of the CARES Act.  There is a $300 deduction for taxpayers who don’t itemize, and for clients interested in large donations, taxpayers can deduct up to 100% of their adjusted gross income (up from 60%) for cash donations made to public charities. For clients with taxable accounts, we frequently recommend donating appreciated securities instead of cash via a donor-advised fund (DAF).  This strategy works well when a taxpayer has highly appreciated securities in taxable accounts, and/or in a year when income is higher allowing a client to benefit from a larger charitable deduction.  
  1. Gifting:  The annual gift exclusion amount for 2020 is $15,000 per taxpayer to each recipient.  (Married couples can give $30k.)  Make your annual gifts prior to 12/31 if you haven’t already!  
  1. Tax Loss/Gain Harvesting:  At Warren Street, we employ a continuous monitoring of client accounts for tax loss harvesting opportunities.  Similarly, if a client is experiencing a particularly low tax year, it may be the right time to strategically harvest capital gains.  
  1. Roth Conversions:  Although market downturns are not fun, they can certainly provide an opportunity for strategic Roth Conversions.  This is an annual planning item that we analyze for every Warren Street client.  
  1. LLC / Entity Formation:  If you are in the process of business entity formation for 2020, you may need to have your documents signed and filed prior to the end of the calendar year.  

If you have any questions about the above checklist or any other year-end planning questions, please feel free to reach out to your trusted wealth advisor. We are here to help!

Emily Balmages, CFP®, CRTP

Wealth Advisor, Warren Street Wealth Advisors

Investment Advisor Representative, Warren Street Wealth Advisors, LLC., a Registered Investment Advisor

The information presented here represents opinions and is not meant as personal or actionable advice to any individual, corporation, or other entity. Any investments discussed carry unique risks and should be carefully considered and reviewed by you and your financial professional. Nothing in this document is a solicitation to buy or sell any securities, or an attempt to furnish personal investment advice. Warren Street Wealth Advisors may own securities referenced in this document. Due to the static nature of content, securities held may change over time and current trades may be contrary to outdated publications. Form ADV available upon request 714-876-6200.

How Will Emerging Markets “Emerge” From 2020?

It’s no doubt that U.S. equities remain the protagonist of the past decade. The longest U.S. economic expansion, coupled with the blossoming of numerous tech stocks like Amazon and Tesla, helped the S&P 500 climb to record highs. That was soon followed by the U.S. stock market’s astounding recovery in 2020, which continues to capture the attention of global investors.

Many forget, however, that the decade before looked entirely different. Back then, we had an entirely different “darling” called emerging markets which left the S&P 500 in the dust.

Data spanning 12-31-1999 to 12-31-2009

During the 2000’s, emerging market investments drastically outperformed the S&P 500 by 188.1% on a total return basis. Steadying economic data and optimistic outlooks for EM nations including Brazil, Russia, India, and China, or the BRIC nations, painted narratives of a new global convergence. Meanwhile, U.S. stocks continued limping from the aftermath of the dotcom bubble.

The Case for Emerging Markets

EM investments invest in the securities of a less developed country with improving economic conditions and increased involvement with the global economy. Aside from the BRIC nations, this includes countries such as Vietnam, Indonesia, Africa, and Argentina. EM regions are attractive for the following reasons:

  • Growing Contribution to GDP: Over the past few years, emerging economies contributed an increasingly higher percent share to global productivity. EM contribution to GDP was 56.9% in 2019, while advanced economies contributed 43.1%. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecasts this trend to continue into 2024, making emerging markets an attractive long-term investment opportunity.
Data as of 6-30-2020. Source: IMF
  • Favorable Demographics: 85% of the world’s population, or about 6 billion people, reside within emerging countries. Over 50% of the global population under the age of 30 live in EM nations. This will fuel a rising-middle class in years to come. Increased productivity amongst large-working populations will also uplift the region’s standard of living.
  • Hot Spot for Disruptive Innovation: Emerging markets typically lack the infrastructure and technologies of developed nations. This presents ample opportunity for the region’s younger, more tech-savvy population to embrace innovation. Global leaders including the World Bank have also recognized the tech disparity and have provided funding for infrastructure enhancements.

COVID-19 in Emerging Markets – Some Juggle While Others Struggle

Contrary to expectations, emerging markets have weathered the pandemic better than expected. A younger population and lower obesity rates have helped certain emerging countries wither down mortality rates. Accommodative fiscal and monetary policy through asset purchases and fiscal stimulus modeled after developed nations helped keep many economies afloat.

East Asian countries, China in particular, have exemplified great handling of the Coronavirus. As a result, EM has rallied 24.3% since the market bottomed (data spanning March 23 to December 8). China is also the only country expected to report positive GDP growth for 2020. Although it’s best to view Chinese data with a skeptical eye, investors cannot deny the nation’s swift return to economic activity.

Data as of 12-08-2020

Nevertheless, China’s success isn’t shared by all. Developing nations dependent on oil exports, tourism, or general commodities have and will continue to struggle as trade activity remains low. Certain EM hotspots including Russia and Brazil are also finding difficulty with containing virus spread. Highly indebted economies face risks of debt sustainability with limited room for policy enactment.

The Emerging Markets Story…to be Valued

EM equities experienced a mass exodus in March as investors questioned whether the infrastructure and economic inexperience of developing countries could properly combat the Coronavirus. Fund flows faced pressures until investors began acknowledging fruitful economic and health responses to COVID-19. Even after rallying this year, the long-term valuations for emerging markets look attractive.

Data as of 9-30-2020. Source: StarCapital

According to StarCapital research, emerging markets have the cheapest cyclically adjusted price to earnings ratio (CAPE) and price-to-book (P/B) ratio relative to developed countries over the next 10-15 years. Factor in the expected structural improvements, emerging markets exhibit ample opportunity for value appreciation should the demographic and technological trends fall in line. You may also find comfort in knowing that emerging markets are expected to have the sharpest recovery post COVID-19.

Data as of 10-16-2020. Source: Wall Street Journal

What Will the Next Decade Look Like?

Despite some commendable pandemic responses and attractive valuations over the next decade, it is imperative to consider COVID-19’s impact on the region’s secular trends. Take China’s “Great Rebalancing,” for example. After years of export-driven GDP growth, the country adopted a “Great Rebalancing” plan to generate their economic prowess from organic consumer-driven activity rather than overseas trade.

When the Coronavirus struck, both Chinese businesses and consumers halted activity. Unwilling consumers, shocked by the events in Wuhan, emptied the streets as factories shut down. Once a recovery was en-route, business activity quickly climbed back to pre-pandemic levels, but scarred consumers left their homes thrift-conscious and hesitant. This led some to believe that China’s “Great Rebalancing” plan was at stake.

The Chinese customer today, has regained confidence, mainly from the government’s ability to eliminate almost any possibility of second wave. As we said earlier, China’s success is not shared by all, and whether or not secular trends will hold in other emerging nations — who have varying health and economic conditions – will be a mixed bag.

Bringing It All Home

Although prudent investors can exploit opportunities in countries that have exhibited short-term resiliency, the ability to maintain a long-term perspective and understand the landscape of your investments is keen. Here at Warren Street Wealth Advisers, our focus is not only to avoid home-country bias and to uncover the next areas of outperformance, but also to educate our clients about our long-term decision making.

For any questions regarding international investments, emerging markets, or wealth management, please call 714-876-6200 or email phillip@warrenstreetwealth.com

Phillip Law, Portfolio Analyst

Wealth Advisor, Warren Street Wealth Advisors

Investment Advisor Representative, Warren Street Wealth Advisors, LLC., a Registered Investment Advisor

The information presented here represents opinions and is not meant as personal or actionable advice to any individual, corporation, or other entity. Any investments discussed carry unique risks and should be carefully considered and reviewed by you and your financial professional. Nothing in this document is a solicitation to buy or sell any securities, or an attempt to furnish personal investment advice. Warren Street Wealth Advisors may own securities referenced in this document. Due to the static nature of content, securities held may change over time and current trades may be contrary to outdated publications. Form ADV available upon request 714-876-6200.