3 Ways to Apply the 80/20 Rule to Your Financial Pursuits

Ever heard of the 80/20 rule? It suggests 80% of an outcome is often the result of just 20% of the effort you put into it. 

Often, by prioritizing the 20% of your efforts that make the biggest splash, you can reduce excess commotion. In that spirit, here are 3 financial best practices that pack a lot of value per “pound” of effort. 

1. Investing: Be There, and Stay There

You could do far worse than invest, according to a sentiment attributed to Woody Allen

“80% of success is showing up.”

Going back to 1926 and after adjusting for inflation, U.S. stocks have delivered about 7.3% annualized returns to investors who have simply been there, earning what the markets have to offer over the long haul. Those who instead fixate on dodging in and out of hot and cold markets are expected to reduce, rather than improve their end returns. That’s because, when markets recover from a downturn, they often more than make up for the stumble quickly, dramatically, and without warning. Instead of chasing trends, simply stay invested over time.  

2. Portfolio Management: Use Asset Allocation, and Don’t Monkey With the Mix

Asset allocation is about investing in appropriate percentages of security types, or asset classes, based on their risk/return “personality.” For example, given your financial goals and risk tolerances, what ratio of stocks versus bonds should you hold?

Both practical and academic analyses have found that asset allocation is responsible for a great deal of the return variability across and among different portfolios. So, to build an efficient portfolio, we advise paying the most attention to your overall asset allocation, rather than fussing over particular securities. Luckily, if you’re a client of ours we’ve already taken care of this for you. 

3. Financial Planning: Do It, But Don’t Overdo It

Also in 80/20 rule fashion, an ounce of financial planning can alleviate pounds of doubt. Planning connects your resources with your values and priorities. It’s your touchstone when uncertainty eats away at your resolve. And it guides how and why you’re investing to begin with. 

Here’s some good, 80/20 news: Your plan need not be elaborate or time-consuming to be effective. In The One-Page Financial Plan, author Carl Richards describes: 

“Your one-page plan simply represents the three to four things that are the most important to you: some action items that need to get done along with a reminder of why you’re doing them.”

If you’d like to do more, great. But even a one-page plan will give you a huge head start. Write it down, as Richards describes. When in doubt, read what you’ve written. Is it still “you”? If so, your work is done; stick to plan. If not, consider what’s changed, and update your plan accordingly. I

Building Lifetime Wealth, 80/20 Style

Properly applied, the 80/20 rule can help minimize the time and energy you have to put into maximizing your financial well-being. Whether you’re saving for retirement, funding your kids’ college education, preparing for a wealth transfer, applying for insurance, or otherwise managing your hard-earned wealth, we can help you identify and execute these and other actions that matter the most, so you can get back to the rest of your life. 

Ready to put the 80/20 Rule in action for yourself? Give us a call today.

Cary Facer

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.

Why We Believe Social Security Will Endure

In planning for retirement, one topic is often top of mind: whether or not Social Security will still be around when we retire.

As we covered in a related post, When Should You Take Your Social Security, most of us have been paying into the program our entire working life. We’re counting on receiving some of that money back in retirement. 

But then there are those headlines, warning us that the Social Security trust fund is set to run dry around 2034. 

Does this mean you should grab what you can, as soon as you’re able? Let’s explain why we agree with Social Security specialist Mary Beth Franklin, who suggests the following: 

“While there may be good reasons to file for reduced Social Security benefits early, claiming Social Security prematurely out of fear is a bit like selling stocks in a down market: All you’ve guaranteed is that you’ve locked in a loss. And if future benefit cuts did materialize, the benefits of those who claimed as soon as possible would be reduced even further.” 

— Mary Beth Franklin, InvestmentNews

Still, Social Security Will Likely Change 

While we don’t expect Social Security to go bust, we do expect it will need to change in the years ahead. As its trustees have reported:

“Social Security is not sustainable over the long term at current benefit and tax rates … [and] trust fund reserves will be depleted by 2034.”

But let’s unpack this statement. First, “depleted” does not mean the Social Security Administration is going to turn out the lights and go home. It means it could run out of trust fund reserves by then, which are used to top off the total amount spent on Social Security benefits. There are still payroll taxes and other sources to cover more than 77% of the program’s payouts. So, worst case, if we did nothing but wait for the reserves to run out, we’d be forced to make hard choices about an approximate 23% shortfall starting around 2034.  

Admittedly, Social Security is between a rock and a hard place. Nobody wants to lose benefits they’ve been counting on or spend significantly more to maintain the status quo. But if we don’t do something to shore up the program’s reserves, our options will likely only worsen. 

In this context, the political will to reform Social Security seems strong, and bipartisan. As Buckingham Strategic Partners retirement planning specialist Jeffrey Levine has observed

“My gut sense is that practically no politician in America would ultimately be happy having to explain to voters why they let Social Security collapse on their watch … That’s not a great message to have to bring to voters, especially older voters who show up at the polls in the greatest numbers.”

As members of Congress wrangle over the “best” (or least abhorrent) solutions for their constituents, they have been submitting proposals behind the scenes, and the Social Security Administration has been weighing in on the estimated effect for each. 

Time will tell which proposals become legislated action, but the range of possibilities essentially falls into two broad categories: We can pay more in, or we can take less out. Most likely, we’ll need to do a bit of both. 

Possible Ways to Pay More In

To name a few ways to replenish Social Security’s reserves, Congress could: 

  1. Raise the cap on wages subject to Social Security tax: As of 2023, earnings beyond $160,200 per year are not subject to Social Security tax. There’s been talk of increasing this cap, eliminating it entirely, or reinstating it for income beyond certain high-water marks.
  1. Increase the Social Security tax rate for some or all workers: Currently, employers and employees each pay in 6.2% of their wages, for a total 12.4% up to the aforementioned wage cap. (This does not include an additional Medicare tax, which is not subject to the wage cap.) As cited in a September 2022 University of Maryland School of Public Policy report, “73% (Republicans 70%, Democrats 78%) favored increasing the payroll tax from 6.2 to 6.5%.” 
  1. Increase the tax on Social Security payouts, and direct those funds back into the program: Currently, if your “combined income” exceeds $44,000 on a joint return ($34,000 on an individual return), up to 85% of your Social Security benefit is taxable, as described here. Anything is possible, but taxing retirees more heavily seems less politically palatable than some of the other options. 
  1. Identify new funding sources: For example, one recent bipartisan proposal would establish a dedicated “sovereign-wealth fund,” seeded with government loans. Presumably, it would be structured like an endowment fund, with an investment time horizon of forever. In theory, its returns could augment more conservatively invested Social Security trust fund reserves. Other proposals have explored a range of potential new taxes aimed at filling the gap. 

Options for Taking Less Out

We could also cut back on Social Security spending. Some of the possibilities here include:

  1. Reducing benefits: Payouts could be cut across the board, or current bipartisan conversations seem focused on curtailing wealthier retirees’ benefits. 
  1. Extending the full retirement age: There are proposals to extend the full retirement age for everyone, or at least for younger workers. This would effectively reduce lifetime payouts received, no matter when you start drawing benefits. 
  1. Tinkering with COLAs: There are also bipartisan conversations about replacing the benchmark used to calculate the Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA), which might lower these annual adjustments in some years. 

These are just a few of the possibilities. Some would impact everyone. Others are aimed at higher earners and/or more affluent Americans. It’s anybody’s guess which proposals make it through the political gamut, or what form they will take if they do. 

Should You Take Your Social Security Early? 

So, given the uncertainties of the day, should you start drawing benefits sooner than you otherwise would? An objective risk/reward analysis helps guide the way. 

Many investors feel “safer” taking their Social Security as soon as possible, to avoid losing what seems like a bird in the hand. However, the appeal of this approach is often fueled by deep-seated loss aversion. Academic insights suggest we dislike the thought of losing money about twice as much as we enjoy the prospect of receiving more of it. Thus, we tend to cringe more over a potential loss of promised benefits than we factor in the substantial rewards we stand to gain by waiting. Put another way: 

You’re not reducing your financial risks by taking Social Security early. You’re only changing which risks you’re taking. In exchange for an earlier and more assured payout, you’re also accepting a permanent, cumulative cut to your ongoing benefits. 

If this still seems like a fair trade-off, consider that Social Security is one of the few sources of retirement income ideally structured to offset three of retirement’s greatest risks: 

  1. Life expectancy risk: In an annuity-like fashion, Social Security is structured to continue paying out, no matter how long you and your spouse live. 
  2. Inflation risk: The payouts are adjusted annually to keep pace with inflation. 
  3. Market risk: Even in bear markets, Social Security keeps paying, with no drop in benefits.  

In short, if you are willing and able to wait a few extra years to receive a permanently higher payout, you can expect to better manage all three of these very real retirement risks over time. 

This is not to say everyone should wait until their Full Retirement Age or longer to start taking Social Security. When is the best time for you and your spouse to start drawing benefits? Rather than hinging the decision on uncontrollable unknowns, we recommend using your personal circumstances as your greatest guide. Consider the retirement risks that most directly apply to you and yours, and chart your course accordingly. 

But you don’t have to go it alone. Please be in touch if we can assist you with your Social Security planning, or with any other questions you may have as you prepare for your ideal retirement.

Emily Balmages, CFP®

Director of Financial Planning, 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.

When Should You Take Your Social Security?

Ever since President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the 1935 Social Security Act, most Americans have pondered this critical question as they approach retirement: 

“When should I (or we) start taking my (or our) Social Security?”

And yet, the “right” answer to this common query remains as elusive as ever. It depends on a wide array of personal variables, including how the unknowable future plays out. 

No wonder many families find themselves in a quandary when it comes to taking their Social Security benefits. Let’s take a closer look at how to find the right balance for you.

Social Security Planning: A Balancing Act

For Social Security planning purposes, you reach full retirement age (FRA) between ages 66–67, depending on the year you were born. However, you can generally begin drawing Social Security benefits as early as age 62 (with the lowest available monthly starting payments) or as late as age 70 (for the highest available monthly starting payments). 

Retirees are often advised to wait at least until their full retirement age, if not until age 70 to begin taking Social Security. In raw dollars, waiting to take your Social Security often works out to be the best deal for many families. Plus, these days, many of us choose to work well into our 60s, 70s, and beyond. Some analyses have even factored in the cost of spending down other assets while you wait, rather than using them for continued investment growth. The conclusion is the same. 

However, you’re not “many families.” You’re your family. Your personal and practical circumstances may mean this general rule of thumb won’t point to your best choice. Following are some of the most common factors that may influence whether to start taking Social Security sooner or later. 

  • Alternative Income Sources: First, and perhaps most obviously, if you have few or no alternative income sources once your paychecks stop, you may not have the luxury of waiting. You may need to start taking Social Security as soon as possible. 
  • Life Expectancy: If you’re considering the benefits of waiting until age 70 to take Social Security, remember that this strategy assumes you live to at least the average age someone your age and gender is likely to reach. Even if you can afford to wait, you’ll want to factor in whether your health, lifestyle, and family history justify doing so. 
  • Estate Planning: Have you placed a high or low priority on leaving as much as possible to your heirs and/or favorite charities after you pass? Your preferences here may influence how, and from where you’ll spend down your inheritable estate, which in turn may influence the timing of your Social Security enrollment. 
  • Employment: How likely is it you’ll keep working until your FRA? Once you reach it, you can collect full Social Security benefits, even if you’re still working. But until then, your earnings may reduce your Social Security benefits.
  • Marital Status: If you’re married, one of you has probably paid in more to Social Security. One is likely to live longer. You may retire at different times, and your ages probably differ. All these factors can complicate the equation. You’ll want to consider the timing, rules, and outcomes under various scenarios—such as when and whether to take Social Security as an earner, the spouse of an earner, the widow or widower of an earner, or an ex-spouse of an earner—while also factoring in whether you and/or your spouse are still working prior to your FRAs, as described above. Ideal start dates for one scenario may not be ideal for another. 
  • Other Circumstances: Beyond your marital status, there are other factors that may influence your timing decisions if they apply to you—such as if you’re a business owner, you live abroad, you qualify for Social Security Disability, or your children qualify for Social Security benefits under your account. 
  • Income Taxes: We find many pre-retirees don’t realize that up to 85% of their Social Security income may be taxable. Your annual Social Security income also figures into your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI), which can push you past thresholds for incurring Medicare surcharges (beginning at age 65, based on your MAGI from two years prior). Bottom line, broad tax planning may influence your timing as well. 

Degrees of Control 

Clearly, there’s a lot to think about when deciding when to start taking Social Security. Whether you’re going it alone or with a financial planner, here’s one piece of advice that should help: 

Control what you can. Let go of what you can’t.

What do we mean by that? There are many known factors you can include in your Social Security planning. You know your marital status. You can access your Social Security account and/or use a calculator to estimate your benefits. You can make educated guesses about your life expectancy, how long you’ll work, and so on. Also, if you’ve delayed taking Social Security past your FRA, you may be able to change your mind … to a point. You can file to collect up to six months of retroactive benefits if you end up needing the income sooner than planned. 

You can use all of this planning information and more to make reasonable assumptions and timely decisions about when to take your Social Security. 

After that, we recommend going easy on yourself if (or more realistically, when) some of your plans don’t go as planned. Come what may, you’ve done your best. Instead of channeling energy into regretting good decisions, use it to make judicious adjustments whenever new assumptions arise. By consistently focusing on what we know rather than what we hope or fear, we remain best positioned to shift course as warranted in the face of adversity. 

Whether you’re planning to file for Social Security or you’re already drawing it, we appreciate the opportunity to help you and your family make good choices about when, and how to manage your available options. We hope you’ll contact us today to learn more.

Cary Facer

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.

Five Financial Best Practices for Year-End 2022

To say the least, there has been plenty of political, financial, and economic action this year — from rising interest rates to elevated inflation to ongoing market turmoil. 

How will all the excitement translate into annual performance in our investment portfolios? The answer remains to be seen. But, while we wait to find out, here are five action items worth tending to before 2022 is a wrap. 

  1. Revisit Your Cash Reserves

Where is your cash stashed these days? After years of offering essentially zero interest in money markets, savings accounts, and similar platforms, some banks are now offering higher interest rates to savers. 

Shop around: If you have significant cash saved up, now may be a good time to compare rates on cash accounts. We can help if you need guidance exploring the options.

  1. Put Your Money to Work

If you’re sitting on more cash than you need in your emergency reserve, you may be able to put it to even better use under current conditions. Consider the following:

Lighten your debt load: Carrying high-interest debt is a threat to your financial well-being, especially in times of rising rates. Consider paying off credit card balances or other debts. Avoid accruing new debt during the holiday season. 

Invest: Reach out to your lead advisor to determine what your opportunities are to put some cash to work in the markets.

  1. Make Some Smooth Tax-Planning Moves 

Another way to save more money is to pay less in taxes. Here are a couple of year-end ideas: 

It’s still harvest season: Market downturns often present opportunities to engage in tax-loss harvesting by selling taxable shares at a loss, and promptly reinvesting the proceeds in a similar (but not identical) fund. You can then use the losses to offset taxable gains, without significantly altering your investment mix. If you have a non-retirement brokerage account with us, we’ve already been doing this on your behalf.

Maximize tax opportunities: Make sure you are taking advantage of your 401(k) and other tax-deferred investment opportunities. With only a few paychecks left in 2022,  you’ll want to make sure your contributions are optimized.

  1. Check Up on Your Healthcare Coverage 

As year-end approaches, make sure you and your family have made the most of your healthcare coverage. Take a moment to examine all your benefits. For example, if you have a Health Savings Account (HSA), have you funded it for the year? If you have a Flexible Spending Account (FSA), have you spent any balance you cannot carry forward? If you’ve already met your annual deductible, are there additional covered expenses worth incurring before the meter resets in 2023? If you’re eligible for free annual wellness exams or other benefits, have you used them?   

  1. Get Set for 2023 

Why wait for 2023 to start anew? Year-end can be an ideal time to take stock of where you stand and consider what you’d like to achieve in the year ahead.  

Audit your household interests: What has changed, and what hasn’t? Have you shifted careers or decided to retire? Added new hobbies or encountered personal setbacks? How might these and other significant life events alter your ideal investment allocations, cash-flow requirements, insurance coverage, or estate plan?

How Can We Help?

How else can we help you wrap 2022 and position you and your loved ones for the year ahead? 

Whether it’s helping you manage your investment portfolio, optimizing your tax planning, considering your cash reserves, weighing insurance offerings, or assessing any other components that contribute to your financial well-being, we stand ready to assist — today, and through the years ahead. 

Cary Facer

Wealth Advisors, 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.

Healing What Hurts: The Essential Role of a Financial Therapist

As financial advisors, we help people attain financial independence. Usually our personalized planning conversations are enough to help them establish a healthy, happy relationship with their money. But sometimes we uncover bigger pain points we need to address before we can move forward.

There is no shame in that! Almost all of us have picked up at least some emotional baggage related to money. When standard financial advice isn’t enough, we may recommend engaging a financial therapist to assist. In the right circumstances, they can be an invaluable addition to your wealth management team.

When Can a Financial Therapist Help?

When is financial therapy warranted? As financial advisor Rick Kahler said in a 2019 article, “A person can benefit from financial therapy when their behaviors are not in line with their values.” Put another way, if it feels as if no amount of financial planning will resolve a greater discontent, this can be a sign that deeper forces are at work, such as one or more of the following:

  • You often spend to excess or are frugal beyond the point of reason, but you’re still unhappy, feeling as if there is an emotional hole you can never quite fill.
  • You tell yourself and others half-truths or outright lies about your money management. For example, your spouse doesn’t know about that extra account you’ve stashed at another bank, or you hide just how deep in debt you’ve become. You convince yourself your secrets won’t hurt anyone and that it will all just work itself out somehow.
  • Whether as a recipient or a provider, you’re trapped in a financial exchange with little joy in the giving or gratitude in the receiving. You long to get out from under the relationship but you feel helpless to change it.
  •  You have important financial issues to discuss with your aging parents, with your adult children, or as a couple. But you’re so used to not talking about money, you don’t know how to break the silence.
  • Your financial interests are in disarray, with important changes you’d like to make. But even with an advisor to assist, you can’t bring yourself to take action. You remain mired in indecision.
  •  You yearn to have a sensible strategy guiding your financial journey, but you find yourself continually overhauling your investments, your advisors, and your overall approach. Nothing ever seems right for very long.
  •  You reach a point where you feel there is no point. You stop even opening incoming bills. You shut out those offering to assist. Rather than bringing you any happiness, your money has become a source of misery and shame.

How Does a Financial Therapist Help?

Following are a few of the types of issues a financial therapist can help you reconcile: 

  • As a child: Was money a taboo subject when you were growing up? Even once you’re an adult, these early influences can weigh on your financial autonomy, and make it difficult to engage with your aging parents about their own challenges.
  • As a parent: You may have justifiably developed a strong sense of financial duty to your children. This can leave you struggling to establish practical boundaries once your beloved babies become adults.
  • As a couple: You and your spouse may each come into your relationship with very different saving, spending, investing, and borrowing behaviors. If entrenched differences go unaddressed, they can wreak havoc on an otherwise loving relationship.
  • As an individual: You may feel anxious and ill-prepared to take care of your own or your family’s financial logistics. Or, on the flip side, you might believe you—and only you—must manage your entire household wealth. Either extreme can detract from reaching a healthy balance between your emotional confidence and your financial well-being.

Working With a Financial Therapist

Financial management can be difficult for anyone, and struggling at times does not necessarily mean you have a chronic issue in your relationship with money. But if your financial behaviors feel like they are crippling your financial future or causing you consistent distress, it may be time to bring in a financial therapist to help you move past the pain.

Some individuals or families also find it meaningful to consult with a financial therapist as an “ounce of prevention”.. This approach to financial therapy can be particularly empowering for major life transitions such as changing family structure, during a business succession, as you prepare for retirement, or when a wealth transfer occurs.  

How do you get started? As one financial therapist said: “For your money, you want a fiduciary. … For your emotional health, you want a licensed psychologist or therapist who knows how to treat the diagnoses you have and respects confidentiality.” Ideal matches also may depend on a therapist’s areas of expertise (such as family conflict, childhood trauma, or grief and anger management), and/or occupational niches (such as business owners, academics, or attorneys).

Here at Warren Street, we can make appropriate introductions for our clients. You can also use the Financial Therapy Association’s “Find a Financial Therapist to search for qualified professionals in your region. However, note that financial therapy is a relatively new profession. With its roots dating back to 2009, the Financial Therapy Association was the first group to offer financial therapist certification in 2019. As such, it’s worth ensuring your would-be therapist possesses a solid tripod of professional credentials, academic qualifications, and seasoned experience before you entrust yourself to their care.

As financial professionals, we pride ourselves on helping individuals and families maximize their financial and emotional independence through a well-managed relationship with their wealth. That said, we don’t pretend we can be all things to everyone. When it’s time to focus on the nexus between mental health and household wealth, a qualified financial therapist can be an integral part of your Warren Street team. Ask us today how we can help.

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.

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.

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.

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.