Skip to content

Archive for April, 2020

27
Apr

Coping with Market Volatility: Be Willing to Take Advantage of Market Downturns

Anyone can look good during a bull market. Smart investors are prepared to weather the inevitable rough patches, and even the best aren’t successful all the time. When the market goes off the tracks, knowing why you originally made a specific investment can help you evaluate whether those reasons still hold, regardless of what the overall market is doing.

If you no longer want to hold an investment, you could take a tax loss, if that’s a possibility. Selling locks in any losses on an investment, but it also generates cash that can be used to purchase other investments that may be available at an appealing discount.  Sound research might turn up buying opportunities on stocks that have dropped for reasons that have nothing to do with the company’s fundamentals. In a down market, most stocks are available at lower prices, but some are better bargains than others.

There also are other ways to reap some benefit from a down market. If the value of your IRA or 401(k)  has dropped dramatically, you likely won’t be able to harvest a tax benefit from those losses, because taxes generally aren’t owed on those accounts until the money is withdrawn. However, if you’ve considered converting a tax-deferred plan to a Roth IRA, a lower account balance might make a conversion more attractive. Though the conversion would trigger income taxes in the year of the conversion, the tax would be calculated on the reduced value of your account. With some expert help, you can determine whether and when such a conversion might be advantageous.

A volatile market is never easy to endure, but learning from it can better prepare you and your portfolio to weather and take advantage of the market’s ups and downs.

For more information on these strategies, contact us. We’re here to help.

All investing involves risk, including the possible loss of principal, and there is no guarantee that any investment strategy will be successful.

Although there is no assurance that working with a financial professional will improve investment results, a professional can evaluate your objectives and available resources and help you consider appropriate long-term financial strategies.

To qualify for the tax-free and penalty-free withdrawal of earnings (and assets converted to a Roth), Roth IRA distributions must meet a five-year holding requirement, and the distribution must take place after age 59½ (with some exceptions). Under current tax law, if all conditions are met, the account will incur no further income tax liability for the rest of the owner’s lifetime or for the lifetime of the owner’s heirs, regardless of how much growth the account experiences.

22
Apr

Watch Out for Coronavirus Scams

Fraudsters and scam artists are always looking for new ways to prey on consumers. Now they are using the same tactics to take advantage of consumers’ heightened financial and health concerns over the coronavirus pandemic. Federal, state, and local law enforcement have begun issuing warnings on the surge of coronavirus scams and how consumers can protect themselves. Here are some of the more prevalent coronavirus scams that consumers need to watch out for.

Schemes related to economic impact payments

The IRS recently issued a warning about various schemes related to economic impact payments that are being sent to taxpayers under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.(1) The IRS warns taxpayers to be aware of scammers who:

  • Use words such as  “stimulus check” or “stimulus payment” instead of the official term, “economic impact payment”
  • Ask you to “sign up” for your economic impact payment check
  • Contact you by phone, email, text or social media for verification of personal and/or banking information to receive or speed up your economic impact payment

In most cases, the IRS will deposit the economic impact payment directly into an account that taxpayers previously provided on their tax returns. If taxpayers have previously filed their taxes but not provided direct-deposit information to the IRS, they will be able to provide their banking information online at irs.gov/coronavirus. If the IRS does not have a taxpayer’s direct-deposit information, a check will be mailed to the taxpayer’s address on file with the IRS. In addition, the IRS is reminding Social Security recipients who normally don’t file taxes that no additional action or information is needed on their part to receive the $1,200 economic payment — it will be sent to them automatically.

Fraudulent treatments, vaccinations, and home test kits

The Federal Trade Commission is tracking scam artists who are attempting to sell fraudulent products that claim to treat, prevent, or diagnose COVID-19. Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any products designed specifically to treat or prevent COVID-19.

The FDA had warned consumers in March to be wary of companies selling unauthorized coronavirus home testing kits. On April 21, 2020, the FDA authorized the first coronavirus test kit for home use.  According to the FDA, the test kits will be available to consumers in most states, with a doctor’s order, in the coming weeks. You can visit fda.gov for more information.

Phishing scams

Scammers have begun using phishing scams related to the coronavirus pandemic in order to obtain personal and financial information. Phishing scams usually involve unsolicited phone calls, emails, text messages, or fake websites that pose as legitimate organizations and try to convince you to provide personal or financial information. Once scam artists obtain this information, they use it to commit identity or financial theft. Be wary of anyone claiming to be from an official organization, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization, or nongovernment websites with domain names that include the words “coronavirus” or “COVID-19,” as they are likely to be malicious.

Charity fraud

Many charitable organizations are dedicated to helping those affected by COVID-19.  Scammers often pose as legitimate charitable organizations in order to solicit donations from unsuspecting donors. Be wary of charities with names that are similar to more familiar or nationally known organizations. Before     donating to a charity, make sure that it is legitimate and never donate cash, gift cards, or funds by wire transfer. The IRS website has a tool to assist you in checking out the status of a charitable organization at irs.gov/charities-and-nonprofits.

Protecting yourself from scams

Fortunately, there are some things you can do to protect yourself from scams, including those related to the coronavirus pandemic:

  • Don’t click on suspicious or unfamiliar links in emails, text messages, and instant messaging services.
  • Don’t answer a phone call if you don’t recognize the phone number — instead, let it go to voicemail and check later to verify the caller.
  • Never download email attachments unless you can verify that the sender is legitimate.
  • Keep device and security software up-to-date, maintain strong passwords, and use multi-factor authentication.
  • Never share personal or financial information via email, text message, or over the phone.
  • If you see a scam related to the coronavirus, be sure to report it to the FTC at  ftc.gov/complaint.
  • Internal Revenue Service, IR-2020-64, April 2, 2020
21
Apr

Coping with Market Volatility: Cash Can Help Manage Your Mindset

Holding an appropriate amount of cash in a portfolio can be the financial equivalent of taking deep breaths to relax. It could enhance your ability to make thoughtful investment decisions instead of impulsive ones. Having a cash position coupled with a disciplined investing strategy can change your perspective on market volatility. Knowing that you’re positioned to take advantage of a downturn by picking up bargains may increase your ability to be patient.

That doesn’t mean you should convert your portfolio to cash. Selling during a down market locks in any investment losses, and a period of extreme market volatility can make it even more difficult to choose the right time to make a large-scale move. Watching the market move up after you’ve abandoned it can be almost as painful as watching the market go down. Finally, be mindful that cash may not keep pace with inflation over time; if you have long-term goals, you need to consider the impact of a major change on your ability to achieve them.

Having a cash cushion in your portfolio isn’t necessarily the same as having a financial cushion to help cover emergencies such as medical problems or a job loss. An appropriate asset allocation that takes into account your time horizon and risk tolerance may help you avoid having to sell stocks at an inopportune time to meet ordinary expenses.

Remember that we’re here to help and to answer any questions you may have.

All investing involves risk, including the possible loss of principal, and there is no guarantee that any investment strategy will be successful.

Asset allocation is a method used to help manage investment risk; it does not guarantee a profit or protect against investment loss.

Although there is no assurance that working with a financial professional will improve investment results, a professional can evaluate your objectives and available resources and help you consider appropriate long-term financial strategies.

17
Apr

CARES Act: Retirement Plan Relief Provisions

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act  was signed into law on March 27, 2020. This $2 trillion emergency relief package represents a bipartisan effort to assist both individuals and businesses in the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and accompanying economic crisis. The CARES Act provisions for retirement plan relief for individuals under federal tax law are discussed here.

For those seeking access to their retirement funds, these include special provisions for coronavirus-related distributions and loans. For those seeking to preserve their retirement funds, certain required minimum distributions from retirement funds have been suspended.

Coronavirus-related distributions

A 10% penalty tax generally applies to distributions from an employer retirement plan or individual retirement account (IRA) before age 59½ unless an exception applies. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the penalty tax will not apply to up to $100,000 of coronavirus-related distributions to an individual during 2020. Additionally, income resulting from a coronavirus-related distribution is spread over a three-year period for tax purposes unless an individual elects otherwise. Coronavirus-related distributions can also be paid back to an eligible retirement plan within three years of the day after the distribution was received.

What does “coronavirus related” mean?

For purposes of the distribution and loan rules described here, “coronavirus related” applies to individuals diagnosed with the illness or who have a spouse or dependent diagnosed with the illness, as well as individuals who experience adverse financial consequences as a result of the pandemic. Adverse financial consequences could include quarantines, furloughs, and business closings.

Loans from qualified plans

Qualified plans such as a 401(k) can allow an employee to take out a loan. These loans can generally be repaid over a period of up to five years. They’re also generally limited to the lesser of $50,000 or 50% of the total benefit the employee has a right to receive under the plan. However, for a coronavirus-related loan made between March 27, 2020, and September 22, 2020, the loan limit is increased to $100,000 or 100% of the amount the employee can rightfully receive under the plan (whichever amount is less). In the case of a loan outstanding after March 26, 2020, the due date for any repayment that would normally be due between March 27, 2020, and December 31, 2020, may be delayed by coronavirus-related qualifying  individuals for one year, and the delay period is disregarded in determining the five-year period and the term of the loan.

Most required minimum distributions (RMDs) suspended for 2020

RMDs are generally required to start from an employer retirement plan or IRA by April 1 of the year after the plan participant or IRA owner reaches age 70½ (age 72 for those who reach age 70½ after 2019). If an employee continues working after age 70½ (age 72 for those who reach age 70½ after 2019), RMDs from an employer retirement plan maintained by the current employer can be deferred until April 1 of the year after retirement. (RMDs are not required from a Roth IRA during the lifetime of the IRA owner.) RMDs are also generally required to beneficiaries after the death of the plan participant or IRA owner. A 50% penalty applies to an RMD that is not made.

The CARES Act suspends RMDs from IRAs and defined contribution plans (other than Section 457 plans for nongovernmental tax-exempt organizations) for 2020. This waiver includes any RMDs for 2019 with an April 1, 2020, required beginning date that were not taken in 2019. This one-year suspension does not generally affect how post-2020 RMDs are determined.

A recent IRS Notice (2020-23) clarifies the application to RMDs taken between February 1 and May 15. The 60-day rollover rule is waived if rolled over by July 15, 2020. The one-per-year rule still applies to all rollover situations, and inherited IRA RMDs cannot be rolled over.

There may be additional guidance issued in the future. It is not clear why RMDs made in January and after May 15th are not covered. Maybe the one-per-year rule would be modified.

14
Apr

Coping with Market Volatility: Could This Be a Chance to Rebalance at a Discount?

In a volatile market, it’s easy to allow your emotions to influence your investment decisions. But if you can keep your cool while those around you are losing theirs, you may be able to take advantage of potential opportunities.

One way to do that is by reviewing your portfolio to determine if it’s time to rebalance your asset allocation or modify your level of diversification.

Rebalancing means adjusting your portfolio to get it back to your original target allocation. In today’s market, it often makes sense to first determine whether that original target is still appropriate for your needs. If it makes sense to return to your original allocation or establish a new one, there are two ways to proceed. You can sell securities in some asset classes and invest the proceeds in others, and/or redirect new investment dollars into selected asset classes until the target allocation is reached.

If your current allocation is appropriate, but there are concerns with your overall level of diversification, it’s possible to shift some investments within a given asset class. Keep in mind that selling securities can have tax consequences, depending on account type.

Asset allocation and diversification can help manage investment risk and might better position your portfolio for the future. The silver lining to broad-based market turmoil is that you may be able to acquire some investments at a discount relative to what you would have paid when the market was up.

The return and principal value of stocks fluctuate with changes in market conditions. Shares, when sold, may be worth more or less than their original cost. Asset allocation and diversification are methods used to help manage investment risk; they do not guarantee a profit or protect against investment loss.

Although there is no assurance that working with a financial professional will improve investment results, a professional can evaluate your objectives and available resources and help you consider appropriate long-term financial strategies.

9
Apr

Government Acts to Blunt Financial Impact of Global Pandemic

On March 11, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) was officially declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization, and two days later President Trump declared a national emergency.1  The unknowns surrounding a new virus make it difficult to predict the potential human and economic toll, but unprecedented steps are being taken to help slow the spread of the disease and prepare medical facilities to treat a rising number of cases. Businesses are suffering losses as they spend more to help keep workers and customers safe and/or have closed their doors to the public.

The economy — in the United States and globally — has been interrupted as abruptly as our daily routines, and a downturn is looming. This jarring reality triggered the first bear market for U.S. stocks in 11 years.2  Many people are now working from home, but a record number of workers (3.3 million) filed for unemployment in one harrowing week.3

The financial impact of the health crisis is likely to be more severe for some households, businesses, and industries than others. With lives and livelihoods at risk, the Federal Reserve, state governments, and the federal government have responded with a full slate of emergency measures.

Central bank in action

The Federal Reserve moved swiftly in recent weeks to support the U.S. economy and help alleviate stress in the financial markets. On March 3, the Fed dropped the target range for the benchmark federal funds rate by one-half percentage point to 1.00% to 1.25%, stating that the coronavirus posed evolving risks to the economic outlook.4

Following an emergency session on Sunday, March 15, the Fed slashed the rate to near zero (0% to 0.25%) and committed to at least $700 billion in debt purchases. This policy was later expanded to essentially unlimited debt purchases “in amounts needed to support smooth market functioning.” The U.S. central bank is also extending currency swaps with foreign central banks to keep high-demand U.S. dollars flowing freely around the world.5

Citing emergency powers, the Federal Reserve launched a number of lending facilities to keep credit flowing to households and businesses. These operations required permission from the Treasury Secretary and are protected from losses with Treasury funds.6

The Commercial Paper Funding Facility ensures that companies retain access to an important source of short-term credit (IOUs) often used to fund regular expenses including payroll and rent. The Primary Dealer Credit Facility provides funding to financial institutions that trade directly with the Fed and serve as market makers for U.S. Treasuries.7

The Money Market Mutual Fund Liquidity Facility will help ensure that funds can meet investor demand for redemptions. This backstop was originally limited to prime funds, which invest in short-term corporate debt, but was expanded to include funds with municipal debt. A crisis-era lending facility used to support the consumer and business credit market has also been revived.8

Two facilities have been added to support corporate debt markets. One will provide four-year bridge financing to companies with investment-grade ratings, and the other will purchase highly-rated U.S. corporate bonds. A Main Street Business Lending Program for small employers is also in the works.9

Chairman Powell has said the Fed will do everything in its power to help stabilize the markets, so lending programs could be added or expanded.10

Relief on the way

The federal tax filing deadline has been delayed to July 15, so taxpayers have extra time to file their tax returns and make payments without interest or penalties. Many states have decided to match the new federal deadline.11

An initial relief bill passed in early March provided $8.3 billion in emergency healthcare funding. A phase two relief package, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, includes free coronavirus testing and increased funding for food security programs, Medicaid, and unemployment insurance.12

This bill also provides two weeks of paid sick leave and up to 12 weeks of family and medical leave for workers at companies with 500 or fewer employees who are affected by the virus. This includes those caring for children whose schools are closed. Small and midsize employers will be reimbursed with tax credits for wages paid to affected workers.13

The $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) is the most generous stimulus package in U.S. history. Many households will receive cash payments ($1,200 per adult and $500 per child) from the IRS within weeks if their incomes fall under certain thresholds. Unemployment insurance was prolonged from 26 to 39 weeks and will provide an extra $600 per week for four months. This benefit was extended to self-employed individuals, gig workers, and independent contractors who would not have qualified under the old rules.14

A $500 billion lifeline could backstop trillions in bridge loans and offer some direct aid for hard-hit cities, states, and large employers. The government can seek company equity in extreme cases. Another $349 billion will fund loans for small businesses (under 500 employees); eligible employers can borrow up to $10 million for working capital through an existing Small Business Administration program. Many paperwork requirements have been waived, and amounts paid for mortgage interest, rent, utilities, and payrolls could be forgiven if workers are retained.15

The scope of losses may ultimately depend on how quickly the spread of the virus is controlled and effective treatments and/or a vaccine are developed so the economy can reopen. But there is hope that the government policy response will save lives and help mitigate the economic effects.

Although these times are stressful for everyone, it may help to keep in mind that the U.S. economy is much like the people who live here — resourceful and resilient. We have endured shocks and recovered from serious crises before, and we can do so again.

All investing involves risk, including the possible loss of principal, and there is no guarantee that any investment strategy will be successful.

1) The White House, March 18, 2020

2) Yahoo! Finance, 2020 (data for the period 3/9/2009 to 3/12/2020)

3) The Wall Street Journal, March 26, 2020

4-10) Federal Reserve, March 2020

11) Bloomberg.com, March 20, 2020

12-13) Bloomberg.com, March 18, 2020

14-15) The Wall Street Journal, March 25-26, 2020

7
Apr

Coping with Market Volatility: Continuing to Invest May Help You Stay on Course

In the current market environment, the value of your holdings may be fluctuating widely — and it’s natural to feel tentative about further investment. But regularly adding to an account that’s designed for a long-term goal may cushion the emotional impact of market swings. If losses are offset even in part by new savings, the bottom-line number on your statement might not be quite so discouraging. And a basic principle of investing is that buying during a down market may help your portfolio grow when the market turns upward again.

If you are investing a specific amount regularly regardless of fluctuating price levels (as in a typical workplace retirement plan), you are practicing dollar-cost averaging. Using this approach, you may be getting a bargain by continuing to buy when prices are down. However, you should consider your financial and psychological ability to continue purchases through periods of fluctuating price levels or economic distress; dollar-cost averaging loses much of its benefit if you stop just when prices are reduced. And it can’t guarantee a profit or protect against a loss.

If you can’t bring yourself to invest during this period of uncertainty, try not to let the volatility derail your savings program completely. If necessary, to help address your concerns, you could continue to save, but direct new savings into a cash-alternative investment until your comfort level rises. Though you might not be buying at a discount, you could be accumulating cash reserves that could be invested when you’re ready. The key is not to let short-term anxiety make you forget your long-term plan. I am here to help and to answer any questions you may have.

All investing involves risk, including the possible loss of principal, and there is no guarantee that any investment strategy will be successful.

Stay Safe,

Joseph A. Smith, CPA/PFS, J.D., AEP®
Member

5
Apr

CARES Act Provides Relief to Individuals and Businesses

On Friday, March 27, 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was signed into law. This $2 trillion emergency relief package is intended to assist individuals and businesses during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and accompanying economic crisis.  Major relief provisions are summarized here.

Unemployment provisions

The legislation provides for:

  • An additional $600 weekly benefit to those collecting unemployment benefits, through July 31, 2020
  • An additional 13 weeks of federally funded unemployment benefits, through the end of 2020, for individuals who exhaust their state unemployment benefits
  • Targeted federal reimbursement of state unemployment compensation designed to eliminate state one-week delays in providing benefits
  • Unemployment benefits through 2020 for many who would not otherwise qualify, including independent contractors and part-time workers

Recovery rebates

Most individuals will receive a direct payment from the federal government. Technically a 2020 refundable income tax credit, the rebate amount will be calculated based on 2019 tax returns filed (2018 returns in cases where a 2019 return hasn’t been filed) and sent automatically via check or direct deposit to qualifying individuals. To qualify for a payment, individuals generally must have a Social Security number and must not qualify as the dependent of another individual.

The amount of the recovery rebate is $1,200 ($2,400 if married filing a joint return) plus $500 for each qualifying child under age 17. Recovery rebates are phased out for those with adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeding $75,000 ($150,000 if married filing a joint return, $112,500 for those filing as head of household). For those with AGI exceeding the threshold amount, the allowable rebate is reduced by $5 for every $100 in income over the threshold.

While details are still being worked out, the IRS will be coordinating with other federal agencies to facilitate payment determination and distribution. For example, eligible individuals collecting Social Security benefits may not need to file a tax return in order to receive a payment.

Retirement plan provisions

  • Required minimum distributions (RMDs) from employer-sponsored retirement plans and IRAs will not apply for the 2020 calendar year; this includes any 2019 RMDs that would otherwise have to be taken in 2020
  • The 10% early-distribution penalty tax that would normally apply to distributions made prior to age 59½ (unless an exception applies) is waived for retirement plan distributions of up to $100,000 relating to the coronavirus; special re-contribution rules and income inclusion rules for tax purposes apply as well
  • Limits on loans from employer-sponsored retirement plans are expanded, with repayment delays provided

Student loans

  • The legislation provides a six-month automatic payment suspension for any student loan held by the federal government; this six-month period ends on September 30, 2020
  • Under already existing rules, up to $5,250 in payments made by an employer under an education assistance program could be excluded from an employee’s taxable income; this exclusion is expanded to include eligible student loan repayments an employer makes on an employee’s behalf before January 1, 2021

Business relief

  • An employee retention tax credit is now available to employers significantly impacted by the crisis and is applied  to offset Social Security payroll taxes; the credit is equal to 50% of qualified wages up to a certain maximum
  • Employers may defer paying the employer portion of Social Security payroll taxes through the end of 2020 and may pay the deferred taxes over a two-year period of time; self-employed individuals are able to do the same
  • Net operating loss rules expanded
  • Deductibility of business interest expanded
  • Provisions relating to specified Small Business Administration (SBA) loans increase the federal government guarantee to 100% and allow small businesses to borrow up to $10 million and defer payments for six months to one year; self-employed individuals, independent contractors, and sole proprietors may qualify for loans

Prior legislative relief provisions

Signed into law roughly two weeks prior to the CARES Act, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) also included relief provisions worth noting:

  • Requirement that health plans cover COVID-19 testing at no cost to the patient
  • Requirement that employers with fewer than 500 employees generally must provide paid sick leave to employees affected by COVID-19 who meet certain criteria, and paid emergency family and medical leave in other circumstances
  • Payroll tax credits allowed for required sick leave as well as family and medical leave paid

There is likely to be a steady stream of guidance forthcoming with details relating to many of these provisions, so stay tuned for more information. We’re here to help and to answer any questions you may have.

3
Apr

Coping with Market Volatility: Avoid Rash Decisions

If you’ve been watching the market lately, perhaps the first question on your mind is, “Should I make a big change in my investments?” In reality, a volatile market isn’t the best time to do a complete makeover of your portfolio, especially if you have long-term financial goals you’re trying to address. Even if you feel that your portfolio needs adjusting, maintaining a firm grasp on your fundamental investment strategy can help you be more thoughtful about making any changes.

Think of each investment as a tool in your investing tool kit, and your asset allocation strategy as your blueprint. Some investments are generally designed to pursue long-term growth, others to provide income, and still others to represent stability. Each is valuable in its own way, but it doesn’t make sense to use a hammer to remake your portfolio if what you really need is a screwdriver to make minor adjustments. Don’t randomly abandon one investment for another unless you know its intended role in your portfolio, whether that role is still appropriate, and the pros and cons of any replacement you’re considering.

Remember that diversification can help offset the risks of certain holdings with those of others. When one type of investment is losing ground, another may be gaining or holding steady.

Diversification and asset allocation cannot ensure a profit or guarantee against a loss, but they can help you understand and manage investment risk.

In these uncertain times, it’s easy to let fear guide your decision making. But when it comes to your investments, a more rational outlook may be your strongest ally. We’re here to help and to answer questions.

Although there is no assurance that working with a financial professional will improve investment results, a professional can evaluate your objectives and available resources and help you consider appropriate long-term financial strategies.

All investing involves risk, including the possible loss of principal, and there is no guarantee that any investment strategy will be successful.

During periods of market volatility, avoid making investment decisions based on emotions.