Get There | Perspective
October 4, 2017 at 5:26 PM
Investors are buzzing over President Trump’s proposal to revamp corporate and personal taxes sketched in a detail-light, nine-page report.
What does this mean for you and me? That’s what I want to know.
I called some tax (it is about taxes, after all) and investing experts to find out what — if anything — I should do.
The first thing they all agreed upon: Do nothing. Republicans are beavering away to create something, but it’s a proposal. It’s not even a bill, yet.
“We are far off, time wise, from a final tax plan,” said Stephanie Larosiliere, client portfolio manager of municipal bonds at Invesco.
Besides, “no one thinks the proposal will look like its current form,” said Clark Wagner, chief investment officer at Foresters Financial. Wagner made a couple of predictions: Interest rates would probably move higher if the proposal passes and equities would continue to prosper.
But it’s never too early to start pondering the implications for investors.
“Generally speaking, investors should sit tight right now and wait to see what happens,” said Bill Jacques, a certified public accountant at Jacques Financial in Rockville, Md., which manages $695 million in assets for 3,522 households.
That said, Jacques — whose cousin, Joe, runs the firm — advises that investors keep a close eye on the tax rates on capital gains and on qualified dividends.Those are the taxes that generally govern the investment sphere.
Trump’s plan calls for a cut in the top capital gains rate from 23.8 percent to 20 percent. Taxing your investments at a lower rate is a windfall meant to spur people to invest.
Capital gains happen when you (or mutual funds) sell stock for more than what you paid for it. You pay taxes on the difference or “gain” in the prices. Dividends are what companies pay you for each share of stock you own. (I love dividends, but not all stocks pay them.) You pay taxes on dividends.
Dividends and long-term capital gains (held for more than one year) “are the bread and butter of investing for middle- and upper-middle class America,” Jacques said.
We are talking here about married couples filing jointly whose total income is between $250,000 and $470,000, which is the sweet spot when it comes to raising revenue for the federal government because that’s where much of the money is.
Right now, folks in that income range effectively pay 18.8 percent on their dividends or capital gains (the 18.8 includes a 3.8 percent Obamacare surtax).
“If you look at what is being proposed under President Trump’s plan,” he said, “couples earning $250,000 to roughly $470,000 could see a capital gains rate increase from 18.8 to 20 percent.”
Jacques said married couples filing jointly and earning above $470,000 could actually see a decrease from 23.8 percent to 20 percent under that plan.
“Capital gains and how it would affect the middle- and upper-middle investors is something to keep an eye on,” Jacques said. “Even at those capital gains rates, they are still very favorable” compared to regular income tax.
Let’s say you have $20,000 in gains and/or dividends on investments. A change of three or four percent in your capital gains rate means $600 to $800 extra you have to pay — or not pay — in taxes. Many investors notice that.
Under the current system, you’ve got seven tax brackets running from 10 percent for the first $9,325 ($18,650 for married filing jointly), through 15 percent, 25, 28, 33, 35 , and up to 39.6 percent for anything above $470,700 for married couples filing jointly. Trump’s plan proposes collapsing the seven brackets into three: 12, 25 and 35 percent, but the plan does not provide the income cutoffs for each bracket. There is even some talk of having a fourth bracket.
JP Krahel, assistant professor of accounting at Loyola University in Maryland, said a new corporate tax code could have far more effect on John and Jane Investor than they think.
“Investors live or die on how well their companies do,” Krahel said.
If a tax holiday is implemented on companies repatriating their billions from overseas, that could be good for shareholders.
“This amnesty may allow companies to get that money back and hopefully reinvest,” Krahel said. “That means corporate performance is going to change. The shareholder is going to see that change in their stock returns, eventually.”
Here’s another technicality that I thought had no bearing on me, the retail investor: the immediate tax deduction on capital investment. Currently, when companies buy new equipment, they deduct it from their tax bill over as long as 10 or 20 years as the equipment ages and is worth less.
Trump wants to make the deduction effective immediately. The first year.
“This is going to have two effects,” Krahel said. “First, expensing the investment more quickly is going to mean companies might spend a bonanza of cash buying new equipment or investing in the business. In the short term, that could mean less money to pay dividends and it could reduce cash flow.”
But on the bright side, the new equipment is likely to help the company perform better, which could help investors in the long run through efficiencies, market expansion and higher profits.
In other words, stock prices and dividend payouts might increase.
Lastly for today, the Trump plan might reduce the amount of tax deductions public companies claim on the interest on their debt (it’s the corporate version of the beloved deduction homeowners receive on the interest on their mortgage).
That is going to encourage companies to have less debt financing (through bonds) and more equity financing by issuing more shares of stock, diluting current shareholders.
“If you are a shareholder, your earnings per share are going to go down, not because the company is making less money, but because there are more shares for every dollar the company earns,” Krahel said.
It’s a balancing act. This is where your financial planner or consultant comes in. They are paid to think these things through and come up with strategies.
So like Jacques said, I am going to sit tight.