To illustrate these options, some accountants are working out a schedule of the return on certain assets that would be necessary to outweigh income lost if future gains are being taxed at a higher rate.
Some financial professionals say clients are worried, even if deep down they expect an eleventh-hour deal between Congress and President Barack Obama.
“They ask the question: Is the ‘fiscal cliff’ going to hurt them?” said Michael Dougherty, vice president of investments at Chapin Davis, a Baltimore financial firm. He added: “This team of elected officials has conditioned everyone to expect that kind of last-minute result.”
Denise Leish, president of Money Plans in Silver Spring, Md., said she anticipates that the stock market will temporarily tank whether a deal is struck or not. She doubled or tripled the usual 5 percent cash position in her clients’ portfolios when it became clear the president would be re-elected.
She’s not selling their securities to benefit from today’s low tax rates. “We only sell stock if we don’t like it, not for tax reasons,” she said.
But that doesn’t mean this isn’t a good time to sell, especially if investors have too much money in one stock, Bacci said. “It’s a good idea, too; the market is up.”
Bacci said some clients are facing the potential of bigger tax bills, largely because of higher tax rates on dividends. In addition, higher-income households — individuals with income over $200,000 and joint filers making more than $250,000 — will pay an additional 3.8 percent on investment income next year as part of the Affordable Care Act. Under the law, they also will pay an extra 0.9 percent on wages in Medicare taxes.
One client has $200,000 in annual investment income and could see his tax bite go up by 270 percent next year, Bacci said.
Many of the affluent also are trying to beat the clock on the estate tax.
Currently, an individual can give away in life or bequeath at death up to $5.1 million without any federal gift or estate tax consequences. That’s set to drop to $1 million next year, and amounts above that could be taxed at a rate of up to 55 percent.
Lawyers are busy setting up trusts that allow clients to reduce the size of their estates and take advantage of the high gift-tax exemption. Zeydel, who advises people wealthy enough to at least consider gifting $5 million, said she’s having this conversation with about 80 percent of her clients
“They don’t want to feel financially imprudent,” she said.
One constraint is the time crunch for federal agencies that have to respond to overwhelming demand for tax IDs or other information necessary to set up a trust or other accounts at the last minute.
With a considerable amount of uncertainty hanging in the last few business days of 2012, Miami tax lawyer Hank Raatama is cautioning clients to be prepared without overreacting to fiscal cliff fears.
“Whatever agreement we end up having at the end of the year it probably going to be tweaked going down the road,” he said.
The Baltimore Sun contributed to this report.