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Stocks closed out the short week mixed on very low volume as investors stayed home for the holidays. For the week, the S&P 500 grew 0.04%, the Dow lost 0.14%, and the NASDAQ gained 0.44%.1
The data we got last week suggests that the economy is still chugging along. Investors got their second look at third-quarter Gross Domestic Product and were cheered to learn that the economy grew 2.1% last quarter instead of the 1.5% originally estimated. The revised data shows that businesses spent more than expected.2
The holiday shopping season kicked off with Black Friday, and the news so far suggests that retailers may have seen less business than last year. However, a sluggish start to the retail season isn’t all bad news. National shopping trends suggest that the Black Friday weekend is becoming less important to retailers, especially as more consumers move to online shopping; industry projections indicate that retailers may see a 2.4% increase in holiday sales this year.3
However, despite the improving labor market and economy, Americans may be less eager to open their wallets this year. Overall consumer spending data suggests that Americans are curbing their spending and padding their savings accounts. While we certainly won’t argue that prudent financial behavior is a bad thing, flat consumer spending may be a headwind for economic growth.4
The week ahead is packed with important economic events, including the November jobs report, which is the last major employment data the Federal Reserve will review before they meet in mid-December to make a decision about interest rates. If the jobs report shows evidence of continued momentum in the labor market, it could sway the Fed toward raising interest rates for the first time in nine years.5 Fed chairwoman Janet Yellen will also give several speeches, though it’s unlikely that she’ll give us too many hints ahead of the December meeting.6
Year End Solutions
As the end of 2015 approaches we know you are busy with holidays, family, and travel, but it is also a good time to do some last minute tax planning. As a courtesy, we want to provide you with a few year-end solutions you may find useful. Although we are unsure of whether or not Congress will extend any of the expired or expiring tax provisions, solid tax savings can still be realized by taking advantage of tax breaks that are still on the books for 2015. Please note that you should check with your tax advisor to confirm any tax planning or tax driven transactions before taking any actions. For individuals and small businesses, these include:
Capital Gains and Losses – If your income is low this year and your tax bracket is 15% or lower, you can take advantage of the zero percent capital gains bracket benefit, resulting in no tax for part or all of your long-term gains. Others, affected by the market downturn earlier this year, should review their portfolio with an eye to offsetting gains with losses and take advantage of the $3,000 ($1,500 for married taxpayers filing separately) allowable annual capital loss allowance. Any losses in excess of those amounts are carried forward to future years.
Roth IRA Conversions – If your income is unusually low this year, you may wish to consider converting your traditional IRA into a Roth IRA. Even if your income is at your normal level, with the recent decline in the stock markets, the current value of your Traditional IRA may be low, which provides you an opportunity to convert it into a Roth IRA at a lower tax amount. Thereafter, future increases in value would be tax-free when you retire.
Recharacterizing a Roth Conversion – If you converted assets in a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA earlier in the year, the value of those assets may have declined due to this summer’s market drop; and, as a result, you will end up paying more taxes than necessary on the higher conversion-date valuation. However, you may undo that conversion by recharacterizing it, which is accomplished by transferring the converted amount (plus earnings, or minus losses) from the Roth IRA back to a traditional IRA. This must be done via a trustee-to-trustee transfer. You can later (generally after 30 days) reconvert to a Roth IRA.
Don’t Forget Your Minimum Required Distribution – If you have reached age 70 1/2, you must make required minimum distributions (RMDs) from your IRA, 401(k) plan and other employer-sponsored retirement plans. Failure to take a required withdrawal can result in a penalty of 50% of the amount of the RMD not withdrawn.
Take Advantage of the Annual Gift Tax Exemption – Although gifts do not currently provide a tax deduction, you can give up to $14,000 in 2015 to each of an unlimited number of individuals without incurring any gift tax. There’s no carryover from this year to next year of unused exemptions.
Expensing Allowance (Sec 179 Deduction) – Businesses should consider making expenditures that qualify for the business property expensing option. For tax years beginning in 2015, the expensing limit is $25,000. That means that businesses that make timely purchases will be able to currently deduct most, if not all, of the outlays for machinery and equipment. Note: There is a good chance the Congress will increase that limit before year’s end and after this newsletter has gone to press, so watch for further developments.
Self-employed Retirement Plans – If you are self-employed and haven’t done so yet, you may wish to establish a self-employed retirement plan. Certain types of plans must be established before the end of the year to make you eligible to deduct contributions made to the plan for 2015, even if the contributions aren’t made until 2016. You may also qualify for the pension start-up credit.
Increase Basis – If you own an interest in a partnership or S corporation that is going to show a loss in 2015, you may want to increase your investment in the entity so you can deduct the loss, which is limited to your basis in the entity.
We hope you will find some of these strategies useful as you go through your tax planning process. One of the primary ways we help our clients is by working hard to provide tax-smart investment strategies to minimize the impact Uncle Sam can have. In addition, we consider it our responsibility to educate you about things that could affect your financial future. As always, feel free to contact us with any questions, and to discuss points of interest with your tax professional.
*Keep in mind when considering year-end tax strategies that many of the tax breaks allowed for calculating regular taxes are disallowed for alternative minimum tax (AMT) purposes. These include deduction for property taxes on your residence, state income taxes, miscellaneous itemized deductions, and personal exemption deductions. Other deductions, such as for mortgage interest, are calculated in a more restrictive way for AMT purposes than for regular tax purposes. As a result, accelerating payment of these expenses that would normally be made in early 2016 to 2015 should – in some cases – not be done.
The information contained herein has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable; its accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed. Individuals and/or investors are advised to contact their appropriate professional for all personal planning, including but not limited to healthcare planning, retirement and estate planning, tax planning and/or corporate planning.
Mr. Mahoney is a registered broker with Aurora Capital LLC, registered broker-dealer with U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, member FINRA/MSRB/SIPC. Clearing through Legent Clearing LLC, member FINRA/MSRB/SIP
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