Advanced Finance Tip: Annual Gift Tax Exclusion

DISCLAIMER: Any financial advice I give on this blog is my opinion based on 30 years of working as a finance professional. Before making any financial decision do as much research as you can to make an informed decision.

So in the U.S. we have an extremely complicated tax code, its frankly ridiculous but that’s another blog post entirely. One of the issues the more fortunate of us face is how do we leave our money to our offspring without getting killed on taxes. This doesn’t apply exclusively to the rich either. Middle class Americans who have any amount of money face taxation on their net assets. The older you get the less you actually need your assets to survive. Specifically, there comes a point in your life where you have enough money that generates income that you will not have to compromise your principal.

Again, this isn’t for everyone… Many people live paycheck to paycheck but there are some of us who have a paid for house, a good chunk of change in our 401K’s and are debt free. We aren’t multi-millionaires but we do have money in excess of necessities. You may ask yourself “well Karac, why can’t I just spend it on all those things I wanted to do in retirement?” I would say to you “what things?”

There is this myth that once you retire there is glut of items or travel that you are going to purchase. You likely aren’t going to buy a new car, a 2nd house, travel 1st class. I mean you may, but average middle class people don’t do this regularly in retirement. Once in a while? Yes. So we are sitting on cash, when we die you aren’t going to care what your 401K balance is, your heir’s or the government WILL care because they benefit from it.

Decades later, they will pay taxes on their inheritance.

This is when all sorts of tax issues can happen and depending on the family dynamic horrible drama. There is an option and that is gifting money to your heirs now prior to your death. In 2021 the U.S. allows for a Gift Tax Exclusion of 15K per recipient. So if you had 150K you could gift 15K to 10 people and not have any tax implications. There is a life time limit to how much you can gift, its 11.7 mil which most of us are never going to hit.

So the tip: When you are starting your retirement planning, it may be prudent to calculate annual gifts to your heirs. It’s likely that the money now will help them more than money later as they can then take the gift and use it to supplement their current income. 15K is a lot of money. If you retire at 62 and live the average age (in the U.S.) of 82-84 (let’s say 83) that’s 21 years. 15K a year for 21 years = $315,000.00 that your heirs are not going to inherit and pay associated taxes on.

Again this is an advanced finance/retirement tip. You should be doing a lot of research and planning when you approach retirement. For a good article on Gift’s and Gift Taxes check out the article here.

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Finance Tip: Commercial real estate vs residential real estate

Another financial tip post for the moderate to advanced investor. Normal disclaimer: This is my personal opinion based on decades of work in the finance industry. The intent of this post is to give you my opinions, observations and insights into my experiences to help you gather a more robust knowledge base to help you make good financial decisions.

We are in a hot real-estate market right now. Historically low interest rates that have been sustained for decades by the federal reserve have (IMHO) negatively impacted housing prices. That’s issue 1, issue 2 is Covid and the rental issues we saw over the last few years. Depending on where you lived there were eviction moratoriums, rent relief, on and on.

The long and short of it is, it’s a sellers’ market. Houses are going for premium prices and it’s likely that on the next down cycle those houses will decrease in value leaving many new home owners in an upside down equity position. We have seen this many times in the past, housing goes up and down but over a 30-year period you will likely make money on the investment. The other issue there is many people aren’t spending 30 years in a residence anymore.

As an investor real-estate is a great investment because the down turns normally don’t last too long and even when your equity position has down cycled the asset is still generating income via rent. Land is an entirely different discussion as the asset value is really predicated on the anticipation of are growth so I am not going into that here at all. Residential vs Commercial though is a very important discussion and when (and if) you are at the point in your investing life that you want to get into real-estate its crucial to decide which way you want to go.

In a market like the one we have now, if you had a portfolio of residential properties you could flip it and make a killing, again it’s a sellers’ market. The issue with residential properties is, and always will be the landlord tenant relationship. Flipping houses is one thing, that in my mind is a commercial endeavor you are never renting this space you are purchasing an asset and reselling the asset. Residential real estate is a headache because you have tenants.

The housing market is on fire, buy low, sell high….

Of course you have steady income via rent, assuming they pay of course. The downside is you are trusting your asset to people whom are using the space to live. Unlike a commercial property where your tenants are using the space to generate income.

I bolded the above because it is the lynch pin in the advice. How people live has so many variables we can’t discuss them all in one post. As a landlord you are beholden to their lifestyle, they could be wonderful and have the same moral compass you do, or they may not. The worst part of residential real estate is when you sell (if you do) the residential value isn’t simply the location of the asset but how the asset was maintained and other residential locations in that area.

Commercial property? Its highly likely that a commercial renter is going to do their best to maintain and in some cases upgrade the property to make sure they can generate income from their rental investment. The residential tenant has no income potential from your condo, sure their quality of home life is impacted but they go elsewhere to get money to live. The Commercial tenant relies on your property to generate income so they can live their life.

Its logical then to conclude your best possible income outcome is from commercial property. They are more expensive but you are renting (leasing) your asset to someone else who has in their best interest to maintain and maximize your property so they make money. The lease payments come in every month, the property is maintained, the tenant makes money. Everyone is happy and your asset is much more secure.

The residential property? Maybe you got lucky and got a renter who cares. Maybe you didn’t. Anytime something happens at the residential property you have to fix it. The commercial property? They will likely do it and ask for a credit. Residential, you have to take care of it and that time cost is immeasurable. At the end of the day, Commercial properties are less headache and higher income potential due to less time investment required by the landlord.

Today’s real-estate market is hot and residential properties are through the roof. That 3 store strip mall that services those residential properties? It’s always there, it’s always got traffic regardless of how much houses cost.

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Advanced finance tip – Aristocrat stocks

As I embark on this post I want to remind everyone that any financial advice you read here is my opinion. You should always do your due diligence when it comes to your personal finance. Talk to as many people as possible, read as much as possible and get educated. On this blog you can find many basic finance tips that are basic and require very little in the way of finance knowledge they are common sense based.

This tip is common sense based to, but it is a more advanced approach to accumulating income. Aristocrat stocks is a term used for companies who pay out dividends, with two very important distinctions.

  1. A company is a dividend aristocrat if it increases the dividend it pays to shareholders for at least 25 straight years.
  2. A dividend aristocrat must also be a member of the S&P 500, and some investors may add additional screening criteria.

Source data https://www.investopedia.com/terms/d/dividend-aristocrat.asp

Compounding interest over time is the secret sauce to increased wealth.

The first distinction is the most important, it increases its dividend payouts for at least 25 years straight. These are companies like McDonalds, Exxon, IBM, Walmart, all huge corporations with decades of a track record of sales and growth. These are expensive stocks, they are blue chips, they are some of the most cash flush companies in the world. Some of these companies’ net sales in a year are greater than many countries GDP.

Thus the title “Aristocrat”. So what does this mean for you? As you move into a more comfortable space with your finances you will come to a point where you will want to generate income. Stock growth in of itself isn’t income until you sell the security. Dividends however are payouts you get for just owning the stock. Now why Aristocrat stocks are a “thing” now (they always were, but you see it more now) is due to the fact that interest rates have been so low for decades you cannot earn decent income from banks.

To put it in context, in the 1990’s your range on 6-month Certificate of Deposit was 8.62% – 3.53%. Now that’s a 5% range which is significant. A 6-month CD now? Good luck getting more than .5%. So of course investors have looked elsewhere for securities which gave you a guaranteed return. Believe me if CD rates were 3% or higher we would be discussing that. So we turn to aristocrat stocks. Even during economic down turns, we know places like Walmart, Apple etc. aren’t going to go out of business they are too big.

So investing in single stocks is dangerous, the market could take a down turn and the actual PRICE PER SHARE might go down. In that instance you may actually have a loss of value but you will still get a dividend. Remember Aristocrat stocks are a great means to getting guaranteed income. We used to be able to get this income from CD’s and saving accounts. The downside to this is, many people are in the stock market hence why it is so bloated. Ideally we get back to a reasonable interest rate that enables a good asset mix.

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Couple of quick thoughts on “FIRE”

FIRE = Financial independence retire early. It is one of the newer concepts in the finance world and the practioner of it have some amazing stories, many are complete successes. Make no mistake about it, this is an extreme practice in the sense that your goal is to save as much as possible as fast as possible to achieve enough capital to generate income that enables you to retire early. Most of us have been trained by the media, government and financial professionals that you want to work until you’re in your 60’s then retire.

FIRE looks at those principals and proposes “Why not retire at 35 and take back 25 years of my time?” It’s a great concept and If done correctly is absolutely viable and something everyone should strive for. The issue is how do you come to a point where you are able to save 50-75% of your income? That’s essentially the range you’re going to have to hit to achieve this goal to retire in your 30’s, depending of course on your income year over year but that range is generally accepted in the FIRE movement.

What does that actually look like?

  1. No vacations
  2. Cheapest food possible
  3. Second hand clothes
  4. Used cars
  5. Cheapest rent possible
  6. Minimum utilities (no cable, no Wi-Fi)
I’m begging you, no more lists….

To list a few. See this is the hardest part and it’s something a lot of the FIRE sites don’t go into too much detail on. The fact is you have to have extreme discipline and sacrifice for a short to mid amount of time to achieve the long term goal. 10 years of living a minimalist life while accumulating as much income as possible while everyone else lives life? That takes a unique person to pull off but the payoff is what makes it all worth it. Imagine for a moment you have accumulated 400-800K thousand in savings via investments whatever by 35 and have no debt?

Could you live on that for 40 years? Yes, you probably could. You would not be leading an extravagant life style though. New Lexus? Nope. Vacation homes? Not likely. European trips once a year? Probably not. If you invested your money well and the markets return their historic averages which is between 8-10% on a 600K nest egg you would be generating between 45-60K a year (estimated).

That would all be passive income, you wouldn’t be working and you would have the benefit of being able to do whatever you want with your time. FIRE is a very unique nuanced movement it does work, you can do this, but it takes the right person to pull off. I admire the people that have done this, I didn’t I took a more traditional route and now in my 50’s I have a great financial situation but I’m 20 years removed from many of the FIRE practioner. I could probably retire now but that would mean my kids would have to pay their own educations which isn’t horrific, I mean I did it….

Maybe FIRE is right for you, I don’t know. If you really want to retire early you have to start working on it ASAP. Generally, the best way to accumulate wealth is to be debt free so all of your income you generate is not sent to someone else. Simply put, anything you can’t pay for outright you can’t afford and “payments” are giving someone else money so you can have something you can’t afford. You need to get out of that cycle ASAP and stop sending other people your income. Once that happens all your income can be used to generate more income and build your wealth profile. It piles up fast, but it remains stagnant if you do nothing.

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3 questions you have to answer before you invest in Crypto Currencies

Yes, today is another finance piece. As with all financial information given on this blog I want to stress that these are my opinions only. You should do as much research as you need to make sure you are educated and comfortable before making any financial decisions. I have been working in finance for nearly 30 years, I have a lot of experience and knowledge but I am one person, and I don’t know you.

Now disclaimer out of the way let’s talk a minute about crypto currencies. Unless you have been living under a rock you know generally what these are. Let’s get the formal definition out of the way first.

  What Is Cryptocurrency?

A cryptocurrency is a digital or virtual currency that is secured by cryptography, which makes it nearly impossible to counterfeit or double-spend. Many cryptocurrencies are decentralized networks based on blockchain technology—a distributed ledger enforced by a disparate network of computers. A defining feature of cryptocurrencies is that they are generally not issued by any central authority, rendering them theoretically immune to government interference or manipulation. Source:

What does that mean in actual application? It means simply that groups of people agree that a virtual currency is worth “X” that group can be you and I, or you, me and your friend Rachel, or the 3 of us and 8 million other people. We can then exchange this currency for goods and services like you would any other currency (like dollars or pesos). It is virtual though, you don’t carry it in your wallet and it is not backed by a government.

Is this guy serious?

That’s how crypto is used, as an investible commodity though should we begin to entertain the notion of investing in crypto’s to diversify our portfolios? The answer is yes, with caveats, three questions need to be answered first.

  1. Are you risk averse? Simply put, does the risk of losing money scare you? Cryptos are a new asset class, unregulated and highly volatile. Yes, you can make a lot of money, you can also lose a lot.
  2. Do you already have a diverse portfolio? Are you just starting to invest, or have you been investing for years with a good spread of mutual funds, cash, other assets?
  3. Do you understand what Crypto is and how it works? Beyond my article have you used it yourself and understand its current application and can logically think about its future application?

These three questions are critical. If you answered yes to question 1, you should not invest in crypto. If you answered no to question 1 move on the question 2. If you answer no to question 2, you should not invest in crypto build up your other asset classes first. If you answer yes to question 2, go to question 3. If you answer no to question 3, do not invest in crypto. If you answer yes, green light go for it.

Summary:

Question 1: Yes Answer = Do not invest in Crypto. No Answer = Move to Question 2

Question 2: Yes Answer = Move to Question 3, No Answer = Do not invest in Crypto.

Question 3: Yes Answer = Go ahead and invest in Crypto. No Answer = Do not invest in crypto.

This is a very simple formula/questions that should provide you with very basic guidance to whether or not you are ready to invest in crypto. Like any financial advice, do as much research as you can and always trust your instincts.

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Simple investment allocation principle to reduce Anxiety

This post is meant for people with anxiety, and these are the only people whom I would recommend this strategy for. As with any financial opinion you see on this blog, it is simply my opinion. Before making any financial decisions you should seek out as much information as possible to make an informed decision. All that said, as individuals with anxiety, even discussing money can be agonizing. What do you do then if you are functioning with anxiety, working and investing?

You need some way to help navigate investment allocations. What are those exactly? An allocation is exactly as it reads, how much you are allocating to a specific asset class, like cash, stocks, bonds. Rather than go in blind or with no knowledge at all you want to have at least some strategy. Again, you should be doing some research on your own to help educate you on finance but often we don’t have the energy to do this.

There is a simple method to determine allocations, and mitigate risk. Again, this is meant for people with Anxiety not seasoned comfortable investors. It is the rule of 100. The assumption in the rule is that the maximum age you are likely to live to is 100. You take your current age (let’s say you are 45) and subtract that from 100, that number 55 (or 55%) is what you should be invested into equities (which are stocks and include mutual funds that invest in company stocks). This would leave 45% of your assets into more conservative investments (bonds, CDs, Treasury’s, Cash). The older you get the less investment into higher risk investments and more into lower risk.

Enough
The Finance Industry bombards you with fear

This particular strategy is very simple and is actually pretty effective. One of the myths of the finance industry is that you have to have targeted funds managed by professionals to “guide” you through your life. Of course that’s the sales pitch, it’s an industry, be a little cynical here, they are selling you something…. With this technique you manage your risk based on anticipated age of death. Morbid? Yes, but we have to use something and once you’re dead, it doesn’t really matter.

100 is kind of a max, if you live to triple digits’ bravo and it’s reasonable to assume as technology improves life spans will as well. The “100” number can be substituted with any number you want, 80 is a good number. Now this strategy is considered conservative, fiscally I always advise people to be conservative first until knowledge is obtained, experience is obtained and more granular decisions made from the accumulation of both. That said, this blog hopes to serve those with anxiety. Money and investing is a huge source of anxiety but both are required for our long term prosperity.

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Time, Money & Anxiety

I am going to cut right to the chase with this post. Over time if you invest money wisely, you will have less anxiety.

How you do it:

  1. Set up an automatic investment from your paycheck. This can be through your employer or a company like fidelity, every paycheck money comes out and goes into your investments.
  2. Select “large cap” mutual funds. You don’t have to be an investment analyst here. Select mutual funds that invest in successful companies. If their portfolio includes companies like: Apple, Microsoft, Proctor and Gamble, Coke these are all established companies that make money.
  3. Do this for years. Yes, 10-20-30 years. That’s YEARS.
  4. At the end of the period you should have plenty of money and your anxiety will be reduced.

Sounds simple doesn’t it? It actually is, the trick is not panicking with every stock market move and staying consistent. The stock market goes up and down, some years the return is 20%+ some its -20% but on average you can expect from 7-10% return over 30 years. The trick is reinvesting your returns and compounding interest.

So, the simple example is you invest 100 dollars at 10% return you make 10 dollars. Year two you invest 110 at 10% return you make 11 dollars. So, if we look at the example below. If we start with 100 investment and invest 100 a week for 30 years at 8% in the end, we would have 600K

Here is a link to the calculator I used, put in your own numbers see where you end up. Anxiety sucks, saving for your future might be the best thing you can do NOW that will help you relieve stress then. Imagine if you were a young child and you could do something then that would have helped you now, would you have done it?