New Year’s Resolutions

For the 50% of your that feel like Michael Scott, this may not be for you.

However, If you’re one of 31% of people planning to make a New Year’s resolution this year, or one of the 19% that are still undecided, now is a great time to reflect on the previous 11 (almost 12) months and begin setting some intentions for the year ahead.

Some New Year’s Resolution stats:

The most popular resolutions for 2021 are exercising more and improving fitness (50% of participants), losing weight (48%), saving money (44%), and improving diet (39%).

  • Of those who make a New Year’s resolution, after 1 week 75% are still successful in keeping it.
    • After two weeks, the number drops to 71%.
    • After 1 month, the number drops again to 64%.
    • After 6 months, 46% of people who make a resolution are still successful in keeping it.
    • After 1 year, 35% kept all their resolutions, 49% kept some of their resolutions, and only 16% failed at keeping any of their resolutions.

So, looking out to 2022, what are the steps you can take to increase the likelihood of being part of the 35% cohort that keeps all of their resolutions?

How to make (and keep!) your New Year’s Resolution

A recent NYT article by Jen Miller provides some helpful guidance on this topic:

“Your goals should be smart — and SMART. That’s an acronym coined in the journal Management Review in 1981 for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. It may work for management, but it can also work in setting your resolutions, too.”

  • Your resolution should be absolutely clear. “Making a concrete goal is really important rather than just vaguely saying ‘I want to lose weight.’ You want to have a goal: How much weight do you want to lose and at what time interval?” said Katherine L. Milkman, an associate professor of operations information and decisions at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. “Five pounds in the next two months — that’s going to be more effective.”
  • This may seem obvious if your goal is a fitness or weight loss related one, but it’s also important if you’re trying to cut back on something, too. If, for example, you want to stop biting your nails, take pictures of your nails over time so you can track your progress in how those nails grow back out, said Jeffrey Gardere, a psychologist and professor at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine. Logging progress into a journal or making notes on your phone or in an app designed to help you track behaviors can reinforce the progress, no matter what your resolution may be.
  • Achievable. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have big stretch goals. But trying to take too big a step too fast can leave you frustrated, or affect other areas of your life to the point that your resolution takes over your life — and both you and your friends and family flail. So, for example, resolving to save enough money to retire in five years when you’re 30 years old is probably not realistic, but saving an extra $100 a month may be. (And if that’s easy, you can slide that number up to an extra $200, $300 or $400 a month).
  • Relevant. Is this a goal that really matters to you, and are you making it for the right reasons? “If you do it out of the sense of self-hate or remorse or a strong passion in that moment, it doesn’t usually last long,” said Dr. Michael Bennett, a psychiatrist and co-author of two self-help books. “But if you build up a process where you’re thinking harder about what’s good for you, you’re changing the structure of your life, you’re bringing people into your life who will reinforce that resolution, then I think you have a fighting chance.”
  • Time-bound. Like “achievable,” the timeline toward reaching your goal should be realistic, too. That means giving yourself enough time to do it with lots of smaller intermediate goals set up along the way. “Focus on these small wins so you can make gradual progress,” Charles Duhigg, author of “The Power of Habit” and a former New York Times writer, said. “If you’re building a habit, you’re planning for the next decade, not the next couple of months.”

New Year’s resolutions not for you?

Consider setting some basic intentions.

11 ways to make the most of 2022 (written by Diego Perez, @yung_pueblo):

  1. let yourself change
  2. make rest a high priority
  3. say no without feeling bad
  4. stop jumping to conclusions
  5. do not rush important things
  6. build your own idea of success
  7. make more time for key friends
  8. appreciate the small steps forward
  9. stay aligned with your highest goals
  10. take the risk when your intuition says yes
  11. build with people who are open to growth

Godspeed and good luck.

End of Year Planning

Year end planning

Some end-of-year housekeeping and planning strategies to close out the year on a good note:

Review your portfolio:

  • with upcoming transitions in mind. Are allocation changes needed to begin preparing for an upcoming milestone (i.e. retirement) or transition (i.e. job change, relocation etc.)?
  • for (in)appropriate risk. Has your risk tolerance or risk capacity (i.e. how much risk you can take without interrupting other goals/priorities) changed? Can you now take on more/less risk?
  • for rebalancing opportunities. Is your portfolio properly allocated based on a target model? Or has your overall allocation drifted due to outsized gains/losses?
  • for gain/loss harvesting. If you invest in a taxable brokerage account, and depending on your tax bracket, there may be opportunities to realize additional capital gains (while in a lower tax) bracket or offset capital gains with losses.

Required Minimum Distributions (RMD)

  • What they are: The minimum amount that must be withdrawn from pre-tax retirement accounts annually once reaching age 72. This does not apply to post-tax Roth IRAs.
  • Inherited IRAs: Have their own rules.
  • Deadline: All RMDs must be taken by December 31st.

Contribute to a Roth or Traditional IRA

  • Roth IRAs: Contributions grow tax-free and qualified distributions come out tax free. Income limitations apply.
  • Traditional IRA: Contributions may be fully, partially, or non-deductible, depending on your income and circumstances.
  • Annual contribution limit (per person): For 2020, 2021, and 2022 is $6,000, or $7,000 if you’re age 50 or older. This limit applies to all IRAs. Example: An individual could fund a Roth IRA with $6k, or fund a traditional IRA with $6k, or fund each with $3k. You (or your spouse) must have taxable income in order to make a contribution.
  • Deadline: You can make 2021 IRA contributions until April 15, 2022.
  • Backdoor Roth: Depending on your circumstances, and for those who exceed the contribution/deduction income limits, you may be eligible to make a “backdoor” Roth contribution. Read more about it here and be sure to do it under the guidance of your financial planner and/or tax advisor.
  • Roth Conversions: If you are currently in a low tax bracket and expect your tax bracket to increase in future years, you may consider converting some pre-tax funds to your post-tax Roth. Essentially, paying taxes now so that your retirement funds can grow tax-free into the future. Deadline: 12/31/2021.

Charitable Donations

  • Deadline: All 2021 cash/non-cash donations must be completed by December 31st.
  • Deduction: Those that do not itemize their taxes can still deduct donations: up to $300 for single filers and $600 for joint filers.
  • Donor Advised Funds: Gifting appreciated stock to a Donor Advised Fund avoids recognizing capital gains and potentially pre-funds future year gifting.
  • QCDs: If over age 70.5, you can avoid recognizing IRA RMD income by directing some/all of your distribution to go directly to charity via a Qualified Charitable Distribution.

All advice listed here is for informational purposes. Please consult your financial planner or tax advisor before implementing.

The Role of Alternative Investments in Your Portfolio

Alternative Investments

For decades, pundits have taken a stab at writing the obituary for the traditional 60/40 portfolio (i.e. 60% stocks/40% bonds).

At first glance, this seems laughable. Over the last 90 years, a traditional 60/40 portfolio returned over 8% per year – like the S&P 500 which returned 9.5% over that period – but… with 40% less volatility!

However, these days, when accounting for historically low interest rates and rising inflation (which may or may not be transitory), the 60/40 bears may have their strongest case in recent memory.

This then begs the question: what now?

For a variety of reasons, there is still plenty of merit to 60/40 portfolios. However, we do appreciate the potential of certain investments to increase portfolio diversification. For investment opportunities beyond that of traditional stocks and bonds, we classify these in the portfolio as Alternative Investments (or, alts).

What are alternative investments?

Alts are essentially a catchall for any investment besides stocks, bonds, and cash (or cash equivalents). They provide an opportunity to gain exposure to areas not traditionally captured in a stock/bond portfolio that may or may not offer above market returns. Some of the more common types of alternative investments include:

  • Real Estate – crowdsourced or private commercial/residential property ownership, private/public Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs)
  • Commodities – such as crude oil, corn, soy, wheat, and coffee
  • Precious metals – such as gold, silver, and lithium
  • Cryptocurrency – purchasing coins, NFTs, or investing in public companies at the fore of crypto/blockchain/web3
  • Private Equity – locking up funds with a private equity firm to invest in non-public, private companies often via leveraged buyouts and/or venture capital
  • Collectibles – tangible assets such as art, fine wine, and vehicles

What are the benefits of alternative investments?

  • Diversification. This is the primary benefit. Alternative investments are typically a counterweight to conventional stock/bond assets and may perform well even if stock/bond returns are poor due to low correlations.
  • May have greater upside. Alternative investments, often due to their concentrated positions, can potentially offer outsized returns compared to traditional mutual fund/ETF investments.
  • Expertise can be an edge. An example of this would be an experienced real estate fix-and-flipper who can spot an opportunity and has the team/know-how to carry out the vision. Another example might be an art collector that knows how to spot undervalued works of art. All this to say, unique skills/interests in niche areas can set you apart.

What are the drawback of alternative investments?

  • Illiquidity. Many alternative investments may be illiquid and difficult to exit. In the case of most non-tradable private REITs, your investment might be tied up for 7+ years before you can access the funds.
  • Lack of regulation. Reporting requirements for many alternative investments are minimal compared to those of public companies in the stock market. This can create difficulty when valuing the alt’s underlying assets, which can make pricing and price transparency less straightforward.
  • Investment platforms can fail. Many online platforms for alternative investing are start-ups that may or may not succeed. You need to understand how your funds will be handled should the company fail or be acquired.
  • Investment minimums may apply. High investments minimums are common and may make certain alts impractical/inaccessible for smaller investors.
  • High fees. Alternatives can have many fees that are unique to the investment. Private equity typically charges large asset management fees. Real estate can have many unplanned repair/maintenance/legal expenses. Wine collecting through Vinovest charges 2.5%-2.85% for climate-controlled and insured wine storage! Compare those fees to traditional index funds which have small expense ratios, no purchase fees, no redemption fees, and no 12b-1 fees.
  • Complexity. Alternative investments are often complex instruments and may require a higher level of due diligence. If you are considering alternative investments, you also want to be sure that you research and understand the potential tax implications associated with them.

Takeaway

Ultimately, investors need to be aware of both the upside and downside potential of any investment. The suitability of any given alternative investment should be considered against an individual investor’s:

  1. time horizon
  2. appetite for risk
  3. ability/capacity to take on outsized risk, and
  4. any unique skills/interests that strengthen the odds of making a profitable investment.

 Federal Tax Proposal – A Summary

TAX

The Biden administration recently announced a number of tax proposals to fund new government investments. The current version may not be the final form, but many of its features are likely to become law. Below is a summary of what is most likely to impact families.

Income Tax Rates

  • Increase in the marginal tax rate: The top marginal tax rate would increase from 37% to 39.6% for income greater than $400,000 if you file as single and $450,000 if filed as married filing jointly (MFJ). These changes would go into effect for the 2022 tax year.

 

  • Increase in the top long-term capital gains rate: The highest marginal long-term capital gains rate would increase from 20% to 25% for incomes higher than $400,000 (single) or $450,000 (married filing jointly). The change in rate to 25% would be effective as of September 13, 2021 unless a sale was already under contract prior to that date.

 

  • S Corporations: Business profits from S corporations will be subject to a 3.8% surtax for taxpayers with Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI) above $400,000 (single) and $500,000 (MFJ).

 

  • Section 199A QBI Deduction: To be phased out for those earning over $400,000 (single) or $500,000 (MFJ).

 

  • Additional 3% surtax on ultra-high income: An additional flat tax of 3% would be applied on any MAGI above $2,500,000 for individuals filing as married filing separately or above $5,000,000 for MFJ or single.

Retirement Strategies and Plans

  • Roth conversions will no longer be allowed for high income individuals:
    • New rules would prohibit all Roth conversions for taxpayers in the highest ordinary income tax bracket (39.6%) beginning January 1, 2032.
    • Roth conversions of after-tax funds will be prohibited for ALL taxpayers beginning January 1, 2022. This would eliminate backdoor Roth as a planning strategy.

 

  • Restricts contributions to IRAs or Roth IRAs for high net worth individuals if:
    • Taxable income is greater than $400,000 (single) or $450,000 (MFJ) AND the total value of IRA and defined contribution plans exceed $10,000,000.
    • The limitation does not apply to contributions of employer plans such as a 401(k), SEP IRA, or pension plan.

 

  • Change in Required Minimum Distributions (RMD) for individuals whose aggregate retirement account size exceeds $10,000,000:
    • Imposes RMDs on large retirement account balances if:
      • Taxable income is greater than $400,000 (single) or $450,000 (MFJ), AND
      • The total value of IRA and defined contribution plans exceed $10,000,000

 

  • If combined balance is between $10,000,000 and $20,000,000, the owner must distribute 50% of the amount of the account balances in excess of $10,000,000.
  • If the balance is greater than $20,000,000, the RMD would be 100% in excess of $20,000,000, plus 50% of any amount over $10,000,000.

Additional Changes

  • Wash Sale rule: This will be expanded to include cryptocurrency and other digital assets, commodities, and foreign currencies.

 

  • Estate Tax Exemption would be reduced: Would revert back to $5,850,000 per person and $11,700,000 per couple. This was scheduled to happen in 2026, but under the new proposal, it would get accelerated to 2022.

 

  • Increased child tax credit and monthly advance payment extended until 2025: Monthly advance payments of $250 per qualifying child aged 6-17 and $300 per child below the age of 6 would continue.

 

  • Assets held within grantor trusts may become part of taxable estate: This would potentially eliminate the benefit of certain estate planning techniques, namely Irrevocable Life Insurance Trusts (ILITs).

S&P Gains 100% from March 2020 Low: Now what?

S&P 500 marks 100% gain since March 2020

After hitting “rock bottom” following global shutdowns related to the coronavirus in March 2020, the S&P 500 has roared ever since delivering a 100% return. You read that right: 100%.

SIDEBAR: Someone out there is highlighting this past 18 month window in their investing masterclass, illustrating that in times of financial crisis, the best action for your portfolio is inaction. Don’t sell. Be patient. Ride it out. But we digress…

What now?

After living through the shortest bear market in history, we’re now witnessing company valuations being pushed to new heights only surpassed by the dot-com bubble of the late 1990s. While this may sound unsettling, also consider that with interest rates so low, it would be equally worrying if equities weren’t expensive (reason: low interest rate yields push investors to equities).

So, at this juncture and with cash to invest, should you a) lean towards low interest fixed income that’s not (or barely) keeping up with inflation, or b) buy potentially overvalued equities? Pick your poison.

From our vantage point, choosing low interest debt or expensive equities is not an either/or proposition – everything comes back to diversification. Instead of chasing returns, we prefer the approach of aligning portfolio decisions to your unique life: your upcoming cash needs (and/or life transitions), your tax bracket, and your tolerance + ability to take risk.

While we’re not ones for reading the tea leaves, we did appreciate reviewing the latest JP Morgan Long-Term Capital Market Assumptions report. In it, they had a stark quote that stuck out:

“The price for dealing with the pandemic today comes at the cost of tomorrow’s returns in many conventional asset markets.”

Not exactly a glass half-full outlook for the road ahead.

The biggest challenges outlined by the report included:

  • Whether governments/business can rise to the climate challenge
  • Increased sovereign debt balances and an expectation for fiscal stimulus to continue
  • Stagnating globalization, companies shortening their supply chains
  • Era of US “exceptionalism” possibly coming to an end, leading to a weaker dollar

While we certainly believe that all challenges present opportunities, we feel equally strong that investors should prepare for muted annual returns over the next decade. We touched on this topic not long ago.

According to the same JP Morgan LTCMA report, over the next 10-15 years, inflation is anticipated to flatten at an overall rate of 2.0%. This is a tough pill to swallow when the same report projects compound return rates for the same period to be 1.10% for cash, 1.50% for intermediate Treasuries, and 2.50% for US investment grade corporate bonds.

For equities, the LTCMA report outlined the following predictions for the next 10-15 year investment time horizon:

  • 4.10% for US Large Cap
  • 4.60% for US Small Cap
  • 6.20% for US Value
  • 6.50% for US REITS
  • 5.20% for Euro equities
  • 6.10% for UK equities
  • 5.10% for Japanese equities
  • 6.80% for emerging market equity

Compare these expected returns to the 10% average annual return that the stock market has delivered over the last century. Not ideal.

Instead of guessing which asset class will perform best, or searching for the next Amazon to invest in, legendary investor and founder of Vanguard, John Bogle (who’s 3-fund “boring” portfolio outperformed the largest endowments in 2020, yet again), said it best:

“Don’t look for the needle in the haystack. Just buy the haystack.”

As evidence-based investors, we wholeheartedly agree with this approach.

Beware of Financial Scams

Scam Alert

A personal contact shared a story with us regarding their friend who recently fell victim to an online gift card scam.

The friend received an email from “Target” and was prompted to provide certain information to “verify their gift cards.” Unfortunately, the friend fell for the scam and within a few days had money withdrawn directly from their bank account. The impacted individual is now in the process of working with their bank to recover the stolen funds.

The State of Fraud

Scamming shows no signs of letting up. In its most recent report from the Internet Crime Complaint Center, the FBI saw the largest number of complaints, and the highest dollar losses, since the center was established 20 years ago. According to the FBI, the costliest scams involved business email compromise, romance or confidence fraud, and mimicking the account of a person or vendor known to the victim to gather personal or financial information.

How to avoid

  1. Beware of suspicious email address and fake invoices/attachments: Fraudsters are masters of deception. It’s not uncommon for them to send emails from addresses that might look familiar to you but which contain one spelling difference, or end in .net instead of .com. Never open links or attachments from email addresses that are unfamiliar. Additionally, if you receive a link or attachment that you weren’t expecting from what appears to be recognizable/legitimate email address, it never hurts to send a quick call or text to the sender to confirm.
  2. Ignore scammers pretending to be from the government: Most of us have probably received one of these phone calls. Someone reaches out on a phone call claiming to be from the IRS. In some cases, most recently, the caller will claim you are eligible for an “additional stimulus check.” In others, they’ll say you owe money and will warn that non-payment will result in legal recourse and penalties. Take note: the IRS will never make first contact via a phone call or request payment details for money-owed over the phone. If you receive a call, simply hang up the phone. The same goes for calls from the Social Security Administration and other government organizations.
  3. Be aware of the Social Security scam: Also done via phone call, the caller says your Social Security number has been linked to a crime involving drugs and/or sending money out of the country illegally. They inform you that your Social Security number is blocked and that by simply confirming your SSN and paying a small fee, it can be reactivated. Again: Hang up! The Social Security Administration will never call you on the phone and ask for your Social Security number.
  4. Scammers will tell you how to pay: All successful scams entail coercing the victim to part with sensitive information or to pay the scammer. Scammers may insist that you pay by sending money through a money transfer company. Others may suggest putting money on a gift card and then giving them the number on the back. Some will send you a check (that will later turn out to be fake), tell you to deposit it, and then send them money.
  5. Don’t fall for online pop-up warnings: Tech support scammers may try to lure you with a pop-up window that appears on your computer screen. It might look like an error message from your operating system or antivirus software. It may also use logos from trusted companies or websites. The message in the window warns of a security issue on your computer and directs you to call a phone number to get help. Simply ignore. If you are unsure of whether the message was legitimate, you can use your antivirus software to run a scan or contact the soliciting organization directly.

What to do if you are scammed

Anyone can fall victim to these scams. If you have paid someone, call your bank, money transfer app, or credit card company and see if they can reverse the charges. The Federal Reserve Board notes that if you report the fraud within two business days, liability is limited to $50. If you report it after that, you could face liability of up to $500, and if you report it after the 60-day window, subsequent fraudulent charges can wipe out your account entirely.

Final thoughts

Whether online or via phone, stay vigilant. Avoid clicking on suspicious links, and never give out personal information to a stranger over the phone. For online accounts, steer away from using short passwords which can be easily hacked by password cracker software. Instead, use strong passwords that are at least 12 digits long and contain numbers, letters, special characters, and a mix of lowercase and uppercase letters.

If you know someone who has been impacted, Identitytheft.gov is a great resource for mapping out a recovery plan.