Another government shutdown?

Congress returns from recess next week facing a month-end deadline to fund government operations for the next fiscal year. I’m concerned we could be looking at a reprise of 2013. That year, the federal government shut down on October 1 for sixteen days over a Republican proposal to defund the Affordable Care Act. Now, Republicans are talking about defunding Planned Parenthood, a proposal the President is almost certain to veto. More broadly, there is significant disagreement on funding for social programs generally (the President wants increased funding; the Republicans are calling for social program cuts). If these disagreements cannot be breached, the government faces an October 1 shutdown.

 

The difference this time is when the debt limit must be raised to allow the federal government to borrow additional funds. In 2013, the government ran out of money and had to borrow by mid-October, setting up an incontrovertible deadline that Congress had to address, reopening the government in the process. This year, we’re told that the government will not need to borrow more money before November or even December. So, if the government shuts down, what will force Congress to compromise and reopen it in the near term?

 

Historically, markets often are volatile as fiscal deadlines approach and Congress appears unable to agree on a solution – until it does. Investors might consider taking action to protect against volatility until these deadlines have been addressed. More aggressive investors might view a pullback as a buying opportunity; markets tend to recover nicely after Congress finally agrees to raise the nation’s borrowing limit (as Congress invariably will do here, likely at the last possible moment).

 


Andrew H. Friedman is the principal of The Washington Update LLC and a former senior partner in a Washington, D.C. law firm. He speaks regularly on legislative and regulatory developments and trends affecting investment, insurance, and retirement products. He may be reached at www.TheWashingtonUpdate.com.

Neither the author of this paper, nor any law firm with which the author may be associated, is providing legal or tax advice as to the matters discussed herein. The discussion herein is general in nature and is provided for informational purposes only. There is no guarantee as to its accuracy or completeness. It is not intended as legal or tax advice and individuals may not rely upon it (including for purposes of avoiding tax penalties imposed by the IRS or state and local tax authorities). Individuals should consult their own legal and tax counsel as to matters discussed herein and before entering into any estate planning, trust, investment, retirement, or insurance arrangement.

Copyright Andrew H. Friedman 2015. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

What is the Generation Skipping Transfer Tax?

Recently, M Financial posted a brief blog on the generation skipping transfer tax.  Please copy and paste the link below into your internet browser to read.Transfer Tax

http://mfin.com/m-intelligence-details/Understanding the Generation Skipping Transfer Tax

 

Life Insurance in a Rising Tax Environment

In March, we posted an article about investing in a rising tax environment.  We at WealthPoint thought the article in the link below would be a good follow up to that article.  Please take a moment to read through it.

Rising Tax Environment

Please click the link below.

WP_Marketing Intelligence Report – Life Insurance in a Rising Tax Environment

Wake Me Up When September Ends

Please read this article written by Andrew Friedman of The Washington Update LLC

In my legislative update early this year, I noted that ongoing acrimony between Congressional Republicans and the Obama White House likely precludes agreement on any broad new legislative initiatives this year.  Instead, Congress and the White House are likely to reach agreement only in the face of “forcing events” – deadlines that compel action to ward off a draconian result.

As it turns out, Congress appears to be arranging for all of the major deadlines to occur around a single date – September 30.  This schedule sets up a massive negotiation for September, when Congress returns from summer recess.  Investors should be aware that this negotiation is likely to lead to market volatility and some new tax changes.

I discuss the upcoming imbroglio in more detail below.  But first, two quick announcements:

  • The Affordable Care Act is affecting retiree medical costs in a number of ways, most of them adverse.  A new white paper on the site, Preparing for Rising Medical Costs in Retirement, discusses how retirees and near retirees can develop an estimate of their likely retirement medical costs and a plan to help defray those expenses.  Subscribers can access the paper here.
  • My colleague Jeff Bush recently launched a new way for you to keep with what he and I are reading each day.  You can now follow us on Facebook to see our daily must read articles:  https://lnkd.in/eJAdh88 .  This is our way of keeping you abreast of the latest happenings out of Washington, happenings that can affect your investments and your business.

Now back to the legislative outlook.  By or around September 30, Washington must reach agreement on:

  • Raising the debt ceiling:  Congressional borrowing authority ended on March 15, 2015.  Current estimates suggest the government will run out of money and need to borrow by around early October.  Failure to raise the debt limit by that time would impinge on the government’s ability to pay interest on debt outstanding, leading to default on U.S. debt.
  • Highway funding:  Funding for summer infrastructure work (road and bridge repair) runs out on May 31.  All indications are that Congress will pass a short term “patch”, funding construction through September 30.  After that date, Congress will need to find a permanent source for highway funding.
  • Government funding:  The federal government’s fiscal year ends on September 30.  By that date Congress must appropriate money to run the government next year.  Otherwise the federal government will shut down on October 1.
  • Tax extenders:  Congress wants to extend a popular group of tax provisions that expired at the end of last year.  Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Ways and Means (tax writing) committee, said he wants to take up the extenders during the funding discussions in September.

Longtime readers will remember that Washington reached a similar September 30 impasse two years ago, causing the government to shut down for sixteen days beginning October 1, 2013.  In that instance, with the debt limit deadline approaching, Congress and the White House agreed on a plan to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling.  That plan included caps on future spending on defense and domestic programs.

As in 2013, reaching consensus on these knotty budget issues will be challenging.  With U.S. military involvement expanding, both parties agree that next year’s defense budget must be higher than the spending caps set in the wake of the 2013 budget impasse.  The President, though, insists that any increase in defense spending be matched with a corresponding increase in spending on domestic programs.  Republicans not only oppose additional spending on domestic programs, they are looking to further cut those expenditures.

For investors, the September 30 deadline is important for two reasons.  First, as the deadline to raise the debt ceiling gets closer and Congress and the Administration (likely) continue to bicker, the markets often turn volatile.  I have long said that a market decline over concern about Congress’ impending failure to act is a buying opportunity.  Congress will act – likely at the last minute – at which point the market will recover.  It is incumbent on investors and financial advisors to keep these “forcing event” dates in mind as investment opportunities.

Second, meeting these deadlines requires funding for new government initiatives, such as additional defense spending and funding long-term highway construction.  Congress typically does not like to spend money unless it raises taxes (or cuts spending elsewhere) to defray the additional cost.  Congress thus searches for “loophole closers”– provisions in the tax code that arguably provide unduly favorable benefits.  (An example of a loophole closer that keeps arising – but has never been enacted – is to curtail the use of “stretch” IRAs and 401(k)s.)  Thus, as September approaches, investors would be wise to consider how Congress intends to fund additional expenditures.

One way to fund these new initiatives could be corporate tax reform.  As if addressing these deadlines was not enough, Chairman Ryan hopes to have a corporate tax reform plan ready by the end of the summer.  (It appears that reforming individual taxes is now recognized as too difficult politically.)  If Congress and the White House can agree on corporate reform (possible but difficult), then the funds from a deemed (Democrats) or optional (Republicans) one-time repatriation of foreign earnings could be used to fund the permanent highway bill.  Otherwise, Congress will have to find revenue raisers to pay for highway funding and extenders; Ryan says using repatriation funding without tax reform is a no go.

 

Andrew H. Friedman is the principal of The Washington Update LLC and a former senior partner in a Washington, D.C. law firm.  He speaks regularly on legislative and regulatory developments and trends affecting investment, insurance, and retirement products.  He may be reached at www.TheWashingtonUpdate.com.

Neither the author of this paper, nor any law firm with which the author may be associated, is providing legal or tax advice as to the matters discussed herein.  The discussion herein is general in nature and is provided for informational purposes only.  There is no guarantee as to its accuracy or completeness.  It is not intended as legal or tax advice and individuals may not rely upon it (including for purposes of avoiding tax penalties imposed by the IRS or state and local tax authorities).  Individuals should consult their own legal and tax counsel as to matters discussed herein and before entering into any estate planning, trust, investment, retirement, or insurance arrangement.

Copyright Andrew H. Friedman 2015.  Reprinted by permission.  All rights reserved.

Life Insurance Basics

M Financial put together a piece on life insurance basics that we thought our readers would find educational.  Please take a moment to read through it and use it as a reference.

To view the file, select the link below:

WP_Life Insurance Basics

Life Insurance Policy

 

Common Life Insurance Mistakes

We at WealthPoint continually strive to provide insight to our clients and advisory community.  The attached piece was written by M Financial and discusses life insurance policy issues that have been encountered through the years.  Please click the link to review the white paper.

 

 WP_AMI_Common Life Insurance MistakesMistake

President Releases Major Tax Change Proposals

Information provided by:  Thompson Reuters

As outlined in a Fact Sheet released by the White House and a Jan. 17 conference call with reporters by senior administration officials, President Obama has proposed a number of tax increases that would generate revenue of approximately $320 billion over the next decade. He has suggested new and revised tax credits as well as a program to promote retirement savings. Among the President’s tax-related proposals are the following:
. . . an increase in capital gains and dividend tax rates to 28%; for couples, the 28% rate would apply where income is more than $500,000 annually;
. . . a fee of seven basis points on the amount of liabilities of financial institutions with assets greater than $50 billion. The fee on large, highly-leveraged financial institutions would
discourage excessive borrowing;
. . . a new tax credit worth up to $500 for households with two wage earners with combined income of up to $210,000. Families could claim a maximum credit equal to 5% of the first
$10,000 of earnings for the lower-earning spouse in a married couple. The maximum credit would be available to families with incomes up to $120,000, with a partial credit available to
couples with income up to $210,000;
. . . increasing the child tax credit to as much as $3,000 for each child under the age of five.  Families could claim a 50% credit for up to $6,000 of expenses per child under five. The
maximum credit for young children, older children, and elderly or disabled dependents would be available to families with incomes up to $120,000. In addition, enhanced benefits under the credit which are scheduled to expire after 2017 would be made permanent;
. . . making the following changes to the earned income tax credit (EITC) for workers without qualifying children: doubling the amount of the credit, increasing the income level at which the credit phases out, and making it available to workers age 21 and older. In addition, enhanced benefits under the credit which are scheduled to expire after 2017 would be made permanent;
. . . the consolidation of six education-related tax incentives into just two, while improving the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) to provide students up to $2,500 each year over five years as they work toward a college degree. The refundable portion of the AOTC would be increased to $1,500. Part- time students would be eligible for a $1,250 AOTC (up to $750
refundable). In addition, enhanced benefits under the AOTC credit which are scheduled to expire after 2017 would be made permanent;
. . . requiring employers with more than 10 employees that don’t have a 401(k) retirement plan to automatically enroll full- and part-time employees in an individual retirement account (for which small employers would receive tax credits to cover the costs involved); and

. . . the closing of the so-called “trust fund loophole” by requiring payment of capital gains tax on the increase in value of securities at the time they are inherited; however, for couples, no
tax would be due until the death of the second spouse. In addition, no tax would be due on inherited small, family-owned and operated businesses unless and until the business was
sold, and any closely-held business would have the option to pay tax on gains over 15 years.  Capital gains of up to $200,000 per couple ($100,000 per individual) could be bequeathed free of tax, with this exemption automatically portable between spouses. Couples would have an additional $500,000 exemption for personal residences ($250,000 per individual), with this exemption also automatically portable between spouses. Tangible personal property-other than expensive art and similar collectibles-(e.g. bequests or gifts of clothing, furniture, and small family heirlooms) would be tax-exempt.

 

Plan For Decisions…Don’t Just Decide To Plan

Part 1 of a 4 part series

Provided by Ryan Barradas and Tim Young

Tough DecisionsWhat is succession and exit planning?  It’s a process that helps to facilitate one of two events and sometimes both.  First, it plans for the entrepreneur to eventually become financially independent of the operating asset as their primary source of cash flow.  Second, it could help the operating asset become independent of the entrepreneur as its primary driving force.  How can I walk away with enough cash or how can I get a competitive rate of return on my business asset? 

You will exit your business somehow, someday.  It can only happen in one of five ways: Death, Disability, Voluntary Sale, Retirement or Bankruptcy/Orderly Liquidation.  Regardless of your method of exit, in order to maximize your value and/or the likelihood the business will succeed you; the business must be managed as if it were for sale on any given day.  The same things that are common discounts at the time of transfer in a third party sale can sabotage an intra-family succession plan or sale to key employees.

As an entrepreneur, your big decisions are inseparable from who you are as a person. So your decision making is defined by your ability to arrive at unshakable gut instincts. You need a process that allows the subconscious layers of bias peel away and give rise to pinpoint wisdom about desired outcomes. You need to get to that place of instinctual decision-making you know and trust.

Without this level of clarity, you might move forward with planning for a little while, but when it comes time to execute, you’ll back away from the table. There’s simply too much at stake with your wealth, your business and your relationships to risk faltering.  This is why planning and decision making must bump up against objectives in all three realms: relational, operational and numerical.

In order to do this, it must transform from the traditional planning process to a decision making process.  For advisors, we all love great planning processes. But for you the entrepreneur, the planning really happens in the background.  What you need is a process that allows you to make pinpoint decisions about desired outcomes.   Where am I today?  Where do I need to go? Who do I feel responsible for? Whose feelings do I need to be mindful of? What are the business and personal risks I want to mitigate? What’s my time frame?  Once you create well-defined macro goals, decision making becomes infinitely easier.  The latest “flavor of the month” or other crazy business idea no longer derails or distracts you from your long-term objectives if they don’t pass the test: Do they help me accomplish all or a majority of my macro goals?  If not, move on. 

In the remaining three parts of this four part series we will help you to understand how to create a culture of succession and address it on five levels (ownership, management, leadership, relationship, and cultural), address why most plans fail, and finally how to get a successful succession and exit planning process off the ground. 

Ryan Barradas (ryan@wealthpoint.net) and Tim Young (tim@wealthpoint.net) are co-founders and partners of WealthPoint, LLC in Phoenix, AZ.  WealthPoint is a nationally recognized firm focusing in the areas of succession, exit and wealth transfer planning for entrepreneurial family groups.

A Last Minute Deal Averts Default – For Awhile

From Andy Friedman

With the deadline for the United States to avoid defaulting on its debt fast approaching, Congress reached another late night compromise to reopen the government and raise the nation’s debt limit. The deal also called for yet another bipartisan committee to try to set a budget for future government spending. Before discussing what that committee is likely to do, let’s compare the predictions I’ve been making since early this year against the reality of what ultimately occurred.

Prediction: We will not default on the national debt. But the final legislation is likely to provide only a short term solution.

The midnight compromise permits the government to continue to borrow until February 7, 2014. The compromise also reopened the government and funded its operations through January 15, 2014. Other elements of the compromise:

  • Appointed a bipartisan Congressional budget conference committee to negotiate 2014 government spending.
  • Provided back pay to furloughed federal workers.
  • Required additional assurance that people who receive subsidies to purchase insurance under Obamacare in fact are entitled to receive them.

Prediction: Congress acts only in the face of a “forcing event”, that is, an event that makes inaction intolerable.

As it did with legislation to avoid the fiscal cliff that would have sent the country back into recession, Congress reached a compromise to avert default at literally the eleventh hour. Acute polarization prevents Congress from fashioning meaningful legislation unless and until it must do so to avoid serious consequences to the country. Even more worrisome than this trend is the concern that the severity of the necessary “forcing event” is escalating. For the past seventeen years, the risk of shutting down the government was enough to get Congress to respond. Now apparently the consequences of a shutdown are not sufficiently dire to force Congressional action.

Prediction: As we approach the twin deadlines of funding the government and raising the debt ceiling, the markets could get nervous and we could see a downturn. Because Congress will not allow the nation to default, that downturn should be temporary, with the markets rebounding once an agreement is in sight. Thus, investors should view the downturn as a buying opportunity.

Between September 18, when the market first took notice of the brewing conflict over funding the government, and October 8, when the Republican House leadership acknowledged that it would not permit the nation to default, the Dow lost 5.7% and the S&P index lost 4.1%. From October 8 through October 17, when Congress passed the compromise legislation, the Dow gained 4.0% and the S&P gained 4.7% to reach an all-time high. Investors who purchased equities on the downturn were rewarded.

Investors who missed this market inflection may find comfort in the fact that plenty more opportunities for Washington dysfunction are upcoming. I continue to believe that Congress will not allow the nation to default on its debt, and that any market downturn in anticipation of a debt ceiling deadline can provide a buying opportunity.

What happens next?

As noted above, the debt ceiling compromise calls for a bipartisan, bicameral “conference committee” to hammer out a budget for the government in 2014. The primary goal of the conference committee is to replace the next round of “sequestration” spending cuts that otherwise will take effect on January 15, 2014. These spending cuts, which were implemented as part of the compromise that raised the debt ceiling in August 2011, proportionally reduce spending for defense and other government functions. The cuts do not affect entitlement payments, such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits.

The sequestration cuts are not popular with either party. Most Democrats dislike the cuts to social programs, while many Republicans (and some Democrats) are wary of the cuts to defense. The Republicans will seek to replace the defense cuts with deeper cuts to social programs and cuts to entitlements. At the top of their list are changes to slow the rate of growth of Social Security cost-of-living increases through the use of “chained CPI”, and requiring affluent recipients to pay more for Medicare coverage.

Democrats will resist entitlement changes and will seek to offset the sequestration cuts at least in part with new taxes. Toward that end, the President has proposed a number of tax changes, including taxing municipal bond interest, limiting the amount individuals may accumulate in tax-preferred retirement accounts, and reversing recent expansions of the estate and gift tax exemptions. I can say with virtually certainty that none of these proposals will get through the conference committee.

More viable perhaps are some of the President’s proposals to close “loopholes,” including (1) eliminating the ability of someone who inherits an IRA or 401(k) to “stretch” the payments over his or her lifetime; and (2) curtailing the availability of sophisticated wealth transfer techniques such as grantor retained annuity trusts (“GRATs”), intentionally defective grantor trusts, and dynasty trusts.

If the conference committee manages to reach a compromise – no small feat, as evidenced by the failure of the “supercommittee” formed in the wake of the August 2011 compromise — the deal will be a small one. A possible result might alter the inflation index to slow the growth of Social Security benefits to appease the Republicans, and close some tax loopholes to appease Democrats.

If the budget committee fails to reach agreement, then Congress will have to make a choice come January 15. It could fund the government for the remainder of 2014 at the lower spending levels reflected in the sequester, or it could fail to pass a funding bill altogether in which case the government will again shut down. The bigger issue will come after February 7, when Congress will need to raise the debt ceiling to avoid default. In Washington, past really is prologue. Stay tuned.

 

Andrew H. Friedman is the Principal of The Washington Update LLC and a former senior partner in a Washington, D.C. law firm. He speaks regularly on legislative and regulatory developments and trends affecting investment, insurance, and retirement products. He may be reached at www.TheWashingtonUpdate.com.

Steve Jobs & Living Trusts

Privacy? This is a very important question for families that have wealth, a family owned business, or even families that have unique family dynamics. This article is not especially technical, but really reinforces the importance of proper estate planning:

http://onforb.es/pKtN0g