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tax planning

Taxes and Investing

Finding a Good Accountant

The topic of finding a qualified tax professional is common in my mailbox. There is no pat answer for each request so I generally ignore them. Another common request is for a referral if I am too busy. It is true I only accept a small fraction of the requests for service, but the good news is I have more staff this tax season and have been accepting more new clients than last year. The bad news is that I don’t have someone to refer you to in your area.

Yesterday I received an email that touched me. Long emails usually die before I read more than three sentences due to time constraints. This email was different. The sender asked to remain anonymous and I will honor that request. He asked: How do I go about finding a good local accountant? He wants someone local he could shake hands and sit down with to discuss his tax and financial matters. I get it. He continued: I am hoping for an idiot-proof, step-by-step guide. I don’t know where to start searching, never mind narrowing the choices.

Finding qualified professionals is a difficult task. I wish it were as easy as an idiot-proof guide, but there is no such thing. My goal today is to share ways to increase the odds you have a good tax professional on your side.

Good tax professionals are a busy group, especially this time of year. The industry has consolidated over the last few decades and many top notch accountants have retired. Making matters worse is fewer people entering the field. CPAs frequently seek employment in government and large corporations or large accounting firms. The small and mid-sized accounting practice is a dying breed. These are the same firms serving the average American family’s tax preparation and planning needs. Finding an awesome tax professional to work with you is getting harder by the day. I have a few ideas to help you land a good one, but you might not like what you here.

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Deal Breakers for Investors and Business Owners

The most dreaded words a salesperson can here are, “I need to talk it over with my accountant.”

Accountants have a reputation for breaking deals. Behind the scenes we are actually called ‘Deal Breakers’ as a derogatory term. But the name isn’t fair. What we really are doing is protecting our clients.

The investor or business owner already thought of all the things that can go right. Accountants throw cold water on the deal by examining the numbers. They don’t always stand up to the hype.

And then there is my last blog post where I play a Sad Gus with robo-investing and Betterment. I think a lot of people really believed the tax benefits were much higher than they really are. There are real benefits, just not as many as some would have you believe.

That is where accountants shine. If you are going to serve your client you had better have the stomach for laying the truth on the line, even if the client doesn’t want to hear it.Continue reading

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Tax-Loss Harvesting is Killing Your Nest Egg

Sophisticated investors have been harvesting losses manually for decades to acquire tax benefits. Betterment and Wealthfront made harvesting losses easier and more efficient than ever since 2008. Betterment alone has reached $5 billion under management.

Personal finance bloggers tend to love tax-loss harvesting without much mention of risk. A few bloggers have expressed doubts over the whole process, but their numbers are few and their voices drown out by the scream of the crowd. Betterment’s affiliate program has caused concern positive reviews are biased. Betterment’s affiliate program has tightened for bloggers investing with the company and with published reviews due to recent SEC rule changes. As a result, many bloggers must end their affiliate relationship with Betterment or take down their reviews of the company.

The truth about TLH is not as clean cut as some would have you believe. Taxes and performance are two issues every investor needs to consider prior to investing with any company engaged in TLH.

How TLH Works

Tax-loss harvesting is when you sell a security at a loss for tax purposes. The IRS knows this strategy can be used to generate substantial phantom tax losses by taxpayers. There are rules to prevent doing just that.

Sales of a security at a loss are not deductible if you buy a substantially identical stock/security within 30 days of the sale. This includes the purchase of options to purchase a substantially identical security. Disallowed loses from a wash sale are added to the basis of the purchased substantially identical security.

Wash sales in a traditional IRA are lost forever! Using Betterment or other similar programs increase the risk you will have a wash sale. When Betterment sells a security at a loss and you buy a substantially identical security in your IRA unwittingly, the wash sale loss is disallowed forever. The taxpayer’s basis in the IRA is not increased by the amount of the disallowed loss. Understand now? No? Then you either must allow Betterment to handle all your investments or don’t use them at all. It is the only way to steer clear of this pitfall.

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Tax-Advantaged versus Regular Accounts

 

Nick H recently emailed me a question about how much money he should invest in tax-advantaged accounts before adding to non-qualified accounts. Due to the large number of emails I receive I am unable to provide individualized tax advice unless you are a client. Nick’s question had a familiar ring. Several times per week I get a variation of the same question. Rather than ignore the request, I decided to put it into a post so all readers can benefit from my suggestions.

Here is Nick’s complete email:

Dear Wealth Accountant,

I have been a reader of yours for a few months now, and enjoy it very much.  I was introduced to your site via a MMM post.

I have a question for you regarding investing in tax-advantaged accounts vs. normal accounts. Standard advice is that I should max out tax advantaged accounts before saving in normal accounts.  However, with financial independence/early retirement in mind, if I do not make enough to max out tax advantaged accounts and save enough in a normal account for early retirement, I think that it makes more sense to put just enough into a 401k to get my match, then save everything else I can in a normal investment account.

I reach this conclusion because the goal of early retirement is to build up an income stream, unlike standard retirement in which you just achieve the largest possible pile of cash.  Since there are significant limitations on access to the funds in taxed advantaged accounts, this seems like an inefficient method of saving.  Again, assuming that I have to choose between the two.

Thanks
-Nick H

PS. I also posed this question to MMM.  I am very curious to get both of your perspectives on it.  Thanks & hope to hear from you!

Nick makes a narrow assumption of either/or. He indicates he either has to max out his retirement accounts before funding non-qualified accounts or he will not have an income stream to fund his early retirement.

Nick also turns the tables on the standard advice by saying standard advice says to max out retirement accounts. I guess it depends on whose standard advice we are looking at. Most standard advice is geared toward generating larger fees for the investment house. Standard advice says you should save 10% of your income. It makes me nauseous thinking about it.Continue reading

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Taxes and Investing

Prepare Your Own Taxes the Right Way

It’s that time of year again where we need to reconcile the previous year’s income for the government. The task can be daunting, but with armies of tax professionals and online software, many people can tackle their tax return with few issues.

The trick is finding the right tax software when you plan on preparing your own tax return. The most popular online packages are dummied down versions of better tax software programs. The Q&A required by most online programs can become daunting (and time consuming) if you have any tax knowledge at all. The biggest problem is finding tax software that is professional grade that offers just enough help to not be invasive.

I want to introduce you to an online tax program I think is superior to other online software: Drake Software. The banner below is a direct link to the software for individual users. It was featured last year on Mr. Money Mustache. It also happens to be the same tax software I use in my office.

Over 50,000 tax professionals use Drake software to file over 26 million tax returns.  My office was one of the earliest adopters of the Drake interface (one of the first 200 if my ID number is any indication).

Back in the late 1980s I sought out a professional software package that was not only robust, but offered economical e-filing. Back in those days it was common for software to charge $35 or more just to e-file. Drake was an industry leader, charging only $1 per e-filed return. My office could offer free e-filing before anyone else due to Drake and their powerful software platform.

Time has only made this software better. Of course, my office still e-files for free, but it is so much more. Drake branched out into other areas of the accounting office. They also offered accounting firms like mine an opportunity to provide an alternative in the DIY tax preparation segment.

What I liked from the start was that Drake incorporated the entire professional grade platform in their online version for people preparing their own return. No other online software offers such a robust program to the general public, in my opinion. They market the program under the 1040.com name.Continue reading

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Organize Your Life to Maximize Net Worth and Minimize Taxes

JD Roth

I had the awesome opportunity of meeting JD Roth! While not fast buddies, I look forward to meeting JD in the future. He is even better in real life than I imagined.

The following post is based on a presentation I gave at Camp Mustache SE in Gainesville, Florida on January 15, 2017.

There are several ways to convince someone to speak at your event. Stephen Baughier used the most sure-fire method ever. Stephen noticed I wrote a blog post back in August listing some people I would like to meet someday. He checked two people on the list and found JD Roth open to attending. He then called me and said, “Hey, Keith. I saw on your blog you wanted to meet JD Roth. Well, he is speaking at Camp Mustache SE in January. We would love to have you speak as well and you can meet a man you admire.” How could I say no?

Picking a topic of discussion is something I allow the event organizer to decide. If they have no preference I choose something currently exciting to me. In this instance Stephen thought something about organizing your stuff in preparation for meeting your accountant/tax guy would be a good choice.

I grimaced. My organizational skills are not legend. However, I do keep a tight fist on in financial organization.

Bookkeeping is not a topic which lends to filling an hour presentation. My first thought was to stand in front of the group and yell, “Shut up, and sit down!” while I stabbed my finger at them. “Enter your paperwork once a week and stop bitching about it.” Then I would grab a beer from the fridge and sit down. My first inclination had a slight flaw I thought might turn off the crowd and upset Stephen so I moved to plan B.Continue reading

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The Tax Loophole You Never Thought Of

al_capone_in_floridaWhen someone in the local area makes the news for embezzlement it is not a matter of if they will show up at my office, it is when they show up. The same scenario plays out every time. Someone gets caught with her fingers in the cookie jar (usually for gambling) and charges are filed. The district attorney prosecutes the case. (Embezzlement cases make the news and the district attorney is a politician who can’t help getting on her knees to earn some votes.)

Most embezzlement cases end with a conviction, or more often, a plea agreement. The accused is eager to make a deal that keeps her out of prison. The DA and judge soil themselves with the familiar sentencing template. The defense attorney has no choice but to recommend her client goes along with the deal to stay out of jail.

I see the same agreements again and again. The prosecutor demands a brutal repayment plan to the victim, the judge rubber stamps the deals and the accused jumps up screaming, “I’ll take it!”

Then the IRS letter arrives three weeks later and the house of cards is ready to fall. Ill gotten gains, you see, are still required to be reported as income and the IRS watches these financial crimes cases very closely. When the defendant loses or takes a knee the IRS swoops in for their share of the pickings. All that unreported income is now taxed with penalty and interest added. And no money to pay for it.


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Get Paid to Take a Vacation

frog-897418_960_720Mrs. Accountant and I recently went on a business trip. Like most business trips we invested time, but no money. The trip was better than free; we came home with more money than we started with and did nothing crazy like house-sitting or couch surfing. We enjoyed meals at excellent restaurants and slept in 3 and 4 star hotels every night. We drove in this instance because we like seeing the sites as we go. In all it took three weeks to complete the business trip. It was a great time for Mrs. Accountant and me to spend quality time together without interruption.

There are a million ways to travel for free. Many people in early retirement dream of doing so. But what about the rest of us? You might not be retired. And then there is the unique breed of animal called the business owner. I fall into the last group.

Traveling is something I avoid. Life on the road is not something I look forward to. As I get older I find myself on the road more and more for longer periods of time for business. Now you know why Mrs. Accountant works for my company.

The reason for the trip is not important. What is important is how I accomplished the feat of three weeks of travel and got paid to do so. Actually, three entities paid for our trip: the organization I was asked to speak for, the bank, and the government. The government paid the largest portion of the bill and it was all legal.

Speaking engagements are the biggest reason for time away from home now. Training conferences are second. Many conferences extend over a long weekend, four days in this instance. The four days at the conference were covered: meals and lodging. Personal entertainment and travel were my own.


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