Some citizens aren’t waiting to find out if the White House and Republicans in Congress will be able to reach a last-minute deal to pull the country away from the “fiscal cliff.”
They are selling securities while capital gains tax rates are still low or transferring millions into trusts for the benefit of children and grandchildren before estate tax laws become more stringent. Others are getting out of the markets and parking money in less risky accounts.
Miami financial planner Cathy Pareta has been counseling her upper middle class clients — “the Johnsons, not the Rockefellers” — on whether to adjust investment portfolios, accelerate income or realize capital gains sooner than planned.
“Some people are going to get hit hard,” said John Bacci, a financial planner in Linthicum, Md., who has gone down his client list and run projections on what higher taxes would look like for them. He’s looking at tax-friendly alternatives for some clients, such as annuities or rental property.
At year’s end, the country will leap off the “fiscal cliff” unless politicians reach a compromise on mandated spending cuts and the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts.
For most investors, the expiring cuts will mean that the tax rate for long-term capital gains will rise from 15 percent to 20 percent. Dividends also will no longer be taxed at 15 percent but treated as ordinary income, which could mean a tax rate as high as 39.6 percent. And individuals with multimillion-dollar estates will find much more of their money subject to the federal estate tax.
Estate planning lawyers say the demand is so intense that they are putting in grueling hours to set up trusts.
“It’s very stressful. We are working day and night,” said Diana Zeydel, an estate planning lawyer with Greenberg Traurig in Miami. “Were doing three times what we normally do for end-of-the-year planning.”
Zeydel said many of her clients waited until after the elections in November to gauge how the political tide would affect their future finances. This gave them little more than a month to make major decisions about their wealth.
Most observing the political jousting in Washington expect taxes will go up even if the political leaders reach a deal — they’re just not sure how much. Many aren’t taking any chances.
Jim Ludwick, a financial planner in Odenton, Md., said one client in his late 50s cashed out stock and bond funds totaling $1.7 million not long after the election and stashed the proceeds in a money market fund.
The client, anticipating a market plunge due to the “fiscal cliff” and other issues, said he spent his entire working life building up a nest egg and wouldn’t have time to wait for his portfolio to recover, according to Ludwick. The client fears it won’t be safe to re-enter the stock market for another year.
“We have a number of clients who are taking capital gains this year, expecting that if they wait until next year, they will have to pay higher taxes on those same gains,” said Daniel McHugh, president of Lombard Securities in Baltimore. Some of those clients are realizing six-figure gains but are still willing to take the tax hit now, he said.
Of course, the downside is that the stock market could take off, and these investors will miss out on even higher gains, McHugh said. But, he added: “Given the state the economy is in, that’s a very small risk.”