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Financial advisers try to keep ahead of possible changes in tax rates

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As the country braces for a possible “fiscal cliff,” area financial advisers and wealth managers say they’re preparing for likely increases in tax rates, as well as changes to estate provisions and capital gains taxes — all while consoling frustrated clients.

“This is universally creating anxiety among my clients,” said Barry Glassman, president of Glassman Wealth Services in McLean. “Their first emotion is not panic or fear — the first emotion is frustration. The second one is anger.”

Glassman said his firm has begun investing in more-neutral stocks and funds and has encouraged clients to finalize large cash gifts by the end of this year. Gifts of less than $5.1 million are currently exempt from taxes, but that threshold is expected to drop to $1 million on Jan. 1.

“Our role is to take the vast amount of information that’s out there and answer two questions for our clients: How does it affect you, and what do we do about it?” Glassman said.

Some, like Ron Campbell of Campbell Financial Services in Glen Burnie, have been performing “stress tests” with clients.

“We sit down and look at your portfolio, holdings and fees, expenses, taxes,” he said. “A lot of our clients have found that very helpful.”

Denise Bump, a financial adviser in the District, said she has been helping clients figure out which stocks and bonds to sell if the capital gains tax rate were to increase to 20 percent from 15 percent.

“We are ready to place these trades once it is confirmed the [capital gains tax] rate would increase,” she said. “[Our] clients are aware of this plan. They are ready to act if necessary.”

But not everybody is worried. Frank Boucher of Boucher Financial Planning Services in Reston said many of his clients won’t be directly affected by possible tax increases.

“Interestingly enough, it’s not a big issue among my clients,” he said. “They’re pretty much everyday Americans who don’t have the big tax issues wealthier people might have.”

For the few clients who are worried about higher tax rates, Boucher said he recommends they maximize their 2013 deductions by waiting until January to make charitable donations and mortgage payments.

Others are taking a wait-and-see approach.

“You know what this reminds me of? Y2K,” said Michael Del Colliano, vice president of Westbourne Investments in Arlington. “Everybody was just wild about it, scared to death, saying the world would end — and nothing happened.”

Del Colliano said he addressed the possibility of sequestration by sending his clients a note on Nov. 20 assuring them that fears of a fiscal cliff were likely overblown.

“I figured I could do this all at once, so I just sent them a great big e-mail that was also their Thanksgiving greeting from me,” he said. “A number of people wrote back and said, ‘Thanks for the pep talk.’ ”

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