Articles for April 2015

Understanding the Gift Tax

Most of us will never face taxes related to money or assets we give away.

“How can I avoid the federal gift tax?” If this question is on your mind, you aren’t alone. The good news is that few taxpayers or estates will ever have to pay it.

Misconceptions surround this tax. The IRS sets both a yearly gift tax exclusion amount and a lifetime gift tax exemption amount, and this is where the confusion develops.

Here’s what you have to remember: practically speaking, the federal gift tax is a tax on estates. If it wasn’t in place, the rich could simply give away the bulk of their money or property while living to spare their heirs from inheritance taxes.

Now that you know the reason the federal government established the gift tax, you can see that the lifetime gift tax exclusion matters more than the annual one.

“What percentage of my gifts will be taxed this year?” Many people wrongly assume that if they give a gift exceeding the annual gift tax exclusion, their tax bill will go up next year as a result. Unless the gift is huge, that won’t likely occur.

The IRS has set the annual gift tax exclusion at $14,000 this year. What this means is that you can gift up to $14,000 each to as many individuals as you like in 2015 without having to pay any gift taxes. A married couple may gift up to $28,000 each to an unlimited number of individuals tax-free this year – this is known as a “split gift”. Gifts may be made in cash, stock, collectibles, real estate – just about any form of property with value, as long as you cede ownership and control of it.1

So how are amounts over the $14,000 annual exclusion handled? The excess amounts count against the $5.43 million lifetime gift tax exemption (which is periodically adjusted upward in response to inflation). While you have to file a gift tax return if you make a gift larger than $14,000 in 2015, you owe no gift tax until your total gifts exceed the lifetime exemption.1

“What happens if I go over the lifetime exemption?” If that occurs, then you will pay a 40% gift tax on gifts above the $5.43 million lifetime exemption amount. One exception, though: all gifts that you make to your spouse are tax-free provided he or she is a U.S. citizen. This is known as the marital deduction.1,2

“But aren’t the gift tax and estate tax exemptions linked?” They are. The gift tax exemption and the estate tax exemption are sometimes called the unified credit. So if you have already made taxable lifetime gifts that have used up $4 million of the current $5.43 million unified credit, then only $1.43 million of your estate will be exempt from inheritance taxes if you die in 2015.2

However, the $5.43 million unified credit extended to each of us is portable. That means that if you don’t use all of it up during your lifetime, the unused portion of the credit can pass to your spouse at your death.2

In sum, most estates can make larger gifts during the individual’s life without any estate, gift or income tax consequences. If you have estate planning questions in mind, turn to a legal or financial professional well versed in these matters for answers.

Mike Moffitt may be reached at Ph# 641-782-5577 or email:  mikem@cfgiowa.com 

Website:  www.cfgiowa.com

Michael Moffitt is a Registered Representative with and Securities are offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. Investments advice offered through Advantage Investment Management (AIM), a registered investment advisor. Cornerstone Financial Group and AIM are separate entities from LPL Financial.

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

Citations.

1 – turbotax.intuit.com/tax-tools/tax-tips/Tax-Planning-and-Checklists/The-Gift-Tax-Made-Simple/INF12127.html [2/24/15]

2 – schwab.com/public/schwab/nn/articles/The-Estate-Tax-and-Lifetime-Gifting [1/28/15]

 

 

The U.S. Savings Bond Tax Trap

Open that safe deposit box.  See if your bond has matured.

Did you buy U.S. Savings Bonds decades ago? Or did your parents or grandparents purchase some for you? If so, take a look at them before April 15 rolls around. Your bonds may have matured. That means they are no longer earning interest, and it also means you need to cash them in.1

Check those maturity dates. Sometimes people hold U.S. Savings Bonds past the date of final maturity, often by accident. The old bonds are simply stashed away somewhere and forgotten.

While the Treasury will not penalize you for holding a U.S. Savings Bond past its date of maturity, the Internal Revenue Service will. Interest accumulated over the life of a U.S. Savings Bond must be reported on your 1040 form for the tax year in which you redeem the bond or it reaches final maturity. This must be done even if you (or the original bondholder) chose to have the interest on the bond accumulate tax-deferred until the final maturity date. Failure to report such interest may lead to a federal tax penalty.2

You are supposed to pay tax on a U.S. Savings Bond in one of two ways. Most bondholders choose to defer the tax until the bond matures. Once they redeem the bond, they report the interest through a 1099-INT form. Others choose to pay the tax annually prior to cashing the bond in, reporting the increase in the value of the bond as taxable interest each year.2,3

What if you find out you have held a U.S. Savings Bond for too long? You need to amend your federal tax return for the year in which the bond reached final maturity. You can file an amended return with the help of IRS Form 1040X. It may seem more logical and less arduous to report the forgotten, accumulated U.S. Savings Bond interest on your latest federal tax return, but the IRS does not want you to do that. The longer you leave the accumulated interest unreported, the greater the chance you will be cited for a tax penalty (or assessed a larger one than the one already in store for you).2

Another note about reporting interest: if a U.S. Savings Bond has matured and you have failed to redeem it, you will not find a Form 1099-INT for it in your records. Only redemption will bring that 1099-INT your way. (The accumulated interest for the bond should have been reported to the IRS regardless.) After you cash in that old bond, you will thereafter receive a 1099-INT. It will record that the interest on the bond was earned in the year of the bond’s final maturity.2

Plan ahead & keep track. U.S. Savings Bonds were issued on paper for decades and were often purchased on behalf of children and grandchildren. They are issued electronically now and receive little recognition, yet they can still prove quite useful to a retiree looking to improve cash flow. When you cash in a bond, or even multiple bonds, the “cash infusion” may help you put off withdrawing assets from another retirement account. While the interest on U.S. Savings Bonds is taxed by the IRS, it is exempt from state and local taxes.4

You want to keep track of the maturity dates, the yields and the interest rates on your bonds, as that will help you to figure out what bond to redeem when. A decades-old U.S. Savings Bond may cash out at anywhere from three to nine times its face value at full maturity.4

A useful search tool. Do you own a Series E U.S. Savings Bond? You might want to check on its maturity date at savingsbonds.gov/indiv/tools/tools_treasuryhunt.htm, which provides records of Series E bonds issued since 1974.5

Mike Moffitt may be reached at ph# 641-782-5577 or  email:  mikem@cfgiowa.com

Website:  www.cfgiowa.com

Michael Moffitt is a Registered Representative with and Securities are offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. Investments advice offered through Advantage Investment Management (AIM), a registered investment advisor. Cornerstone Financial Group and AIM are separate entities from LPL Financial.

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

Citations.

1 – treasurydirect.gov/indiv/research/securities/res_securities_stoppedearninginterest.htm [3/2/15]

2 – budgeting.thenest.com/penalty-savings-bond-past-final-maturity-31113.html [3/18/15]

3 – irs.gov/publications/p550/ch01.html#en_US_2014_publink10009895 [2014]

4 – usatoday.com/story/money/columnist/tompor/2014/01/26/did-you-cash-those-savings-bonds-you-got-as-a-kid/4824631/ [1/26/14]

5 – treasurydirect.gov/indiv/tools/tools_treasuryhunt.htm [9/19/14]

 

Moffitt Named AFG Senior Partner

Michael Moffitt of Cornerstone Financial Group was named Senior Partner with Advantage Financial Group (AFG) during the company’s Business Forum last month. AFG, based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, provides independent financial advisors like Mr. Moffitt with access to financial products, intellectual capital and specialized resources to pursue their clients’ sophisticated financial needs.

AFG Senior Partner status does not automatically come with tenure; it is awarded to those who meet exacting standards. In order to be considered, a nominee must have a minimum of 15 years of industry experience, at least five years with AFG. AFG’s Partner Committee evaluates Senior Partner nominees and presents them to the Senior Partners for a vote. Those nominees who receive approval are presented to AFG’s Board of Directors for a final vote.

Senior Partner nominees are evaluated for the following qualities:

  • Demonstrated significant success within their individual practice
  • Operation exhibits a strong culture of Regulatory Compliance
  • A value-added skill set is brought to AFG with the ability to demonstrate thought leadership and technical competence
  • In-depth knowledge of AFG and the Financial Services industry
  • Willingness to participate in or lead an operating committee
  • Strong communication and interpersonal skills
  • Willingness to mentor and train

Joseph Russo, Chairman and CEO of AFG, noted the many years of devoted service to Mike’s clients and his partners. “Mike Moffitt makes the lives of his clients and his partners better as a result of his diligence and skill. We are pleased to recognize his senior ranking at AFG.”

Mike Moffitt of Cornerstone Financial Group may be reached at ph# 641-782-5577 or email:  mikem@cfgiowa.com 

website:  www.cfgiowa.com

Securities offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. Investment advice offered through Advantage Investment Management, a registered investment advisor. Advantage Investment Management, Advantage Financial Group and Cornerstone Financial Group are separate entities from LPL Financial.

 

Why Well Diversified Portfolios Have Lagged the S&P

Some investors have seen minimal returns compared to the benchmark.

Diversification is essential, yet it comes with trade-offs. Investors are repeatedly urged to allocate portfolio assets across a variety of investment classes. This is fundamental; market shocks and month-to-month volatility may bring big losses to portfolios weighted too heavily in one or two classes.

Just as there is a potential upside to diversification, there is also a potential downside. It can expose a percentage of the portfolio to underperforming sectors of the market. Last year, that kind of exposure affected the returns of some prudent investors.

Sometimes diversification hinders overall performance. The stock market has performed well of late, but very few portfolios have 100% allocation to stocks for sensible reasons. At times investors take a quick glance at stock index performance and forget that their return reflects the performance of multiple market segments. While the S&P 500 rose 11.39% in 2014 (13.69% with dividends), other asset classes saw minor returns or losses last year.1

As an example, Morningstar assessed fixed-income managers for 2014 and found a median return of just 2.35% for domestic high yield strategies. The Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond Index advanced 5.97% in 2014 (that encompasses coupon payments and capital appreciation), while the Citigroup Non-U.S. World Government Bond index lost 2.68%.1,2

Turning to some very conservative options, the 10-year Treasury had a 2.17% yield on December 31, 2014; at the start of last year, it was yielding 3.00%. As March began, Bankrate found the annual percentage yield for a 1-year CD averaged 0.27% nationally, with the yields on 5-year CDs averaging 0.87%; last year’s average yields were similar.3,4  

Oil’s poor 2014 affected numerous portfolios. Light sweet crude ended 2014 at just $53.27 on the NYMEX, going -45.42% on the year. (In 2008, prices peaked at $147 a barrel). Correspondingly, the Thomson Reuters/CRB Commodities Index, which tracks the 19 most watched commodity futures, dropped 17.9% in 2014 after slips of 5.0% in 2013, 3.4% in 2012 and 8.3% in 2011. At the end of last year, it was at the same level it had been at the end of 2008.5,6

The longstanding MSCI EAFE Index (which measures the overall performance of 21 Morgan Stanley Capital International indices in Europe and the Asia Pacific region) lost 7.35% for 2014. At the end of last year, it had returned an average of 2.34% across 2010-2014. So on the whole, equity indices in the emerging markets and the eurozone have not performed exceptionally well last year or over the past few years.7

All this is worth considering for investors wondering why their highly diversified, cautiously allocated portfolios lagged the main U.S. benchmark. It may also present a decent argument for tactical asset allocation – the intentional, responsive shift of percentages of portfolio assets into the best-performing sectors of the market. Whether an investor favors that kind of dynamic strategy or a buy-and-hold approach with a far-off time horizon in mind, it is inevitable that some portion of portfolio assets will be held in currently lagging or underperforming investment classes. This is one of the trade-offs of diversification. In some years – such as 2014 – being ably diversified may result in less-than-desired returns.

Mike Moffitt may be reached at ph# 641-782-5577 or email:  mikem@cfgiowa.com 

website:  www.cfgiowa.com

Michael Moffitt is a Registered Representative with and Securities are offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. Investments advice offered through Advantage Investment Management (AIM), a registered investment advisor. Cornerstone Financial Group and AIM are separate entities from LPL Financial.

*Tactical allocation may involve more frequent buying and selling of assets and will tend to generate higher transaction cost. Investors should consider the tax consequences of moving positions more frequently.

**There is no guarantee that a diversified portfolio will enhance overall returns or outperform a non-diversified portfolio. Diversification does not protect against market risk.

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

Citations.

1 – qz.com/320196/its-over-stocks-beat-bonds/ [1/2/15]

2 – tinyurl.com/oq6cb7w [2/23/15]

3 – treasury.gov/resource-center/data-chart-center/interest-rates/Pages/TextView.aspx?data=yieldYear&year=2014 [3/3/15]

4 – bankrate.com/funnel/cd-investments/cd-investment-results.aspx?prods=15,19 [3/3/15]

5 – money.cnn.com/data/commodities/ [12/31/14]

6 – nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=11387661 [1/17/15]

7 – mscibarra.com/products/indices/international_equity_indices/gimi/stdindex/performance.html [12/31/14]