Plan Now for a Year-End Investment Review
You might not enjoy sitting down to do year-end investment planning, but at least this fall you can make plans with greater certainty. For the last three years, investment planning has meant trying to anticipate possible changes in tax law; for tax year 2013 and beyond, you know for sure how income, capital gains, and qualifying dividends will be taxed. That gives you an opportunity to fine-tune your long-term planning, or to develop a plan if you've postponed doing so. Here are some factors to keep in mind as the year winds down.
Consider harvesting your losses
With tax rates settled, the question of whether to sell losing positions to generate capital losses that can potentially be used to offset capital gains or $3,000 of your ordinary income becomes a much more straightforward decision. That process is known as harvesting tax losses, and it could prove especially worth considering this year. The first half of the year produced strong gains for U.S. equities; even a mediocre second half could still have the potential to leave you with a higher tax bill than you had anticipated.
To maximize your losses for tax purposes, you would sell shares that have lost the most, which would enable you to offset more gains. Unless you specify which shares of stock are to be sold, your broker will typically treat them as sold based on the FIFO (first in, first out) method, meaning that the first shares bought are considered to be the first shares sold. However, you can designate specific shares as the ones sold or direct your broker to use a different method, such as LIFO (last in, first out) or highest in, first out.
Interest rates: bane or blessing?
The Federal Reserve has said that if the economy continues to recover at its expected pace, it could raise its target Fed funds rate sometime in 2014. However, investors have been anticipating such an increase since early summer, when many bond mutual funds began seeing strong outflows from investors concerned that a rate increase could hurt the value of their holdings. As any consumer knows, lower demand for a product often means lower prices. And since bond prices move in the opposite direction from bond yields, yields on a variety of fixed-income investments have begun to rise. However, there also could be a silver lining for some investors. Higher yields could provide welcome relief for individuals who rely on their investments for income and have suffered from rock-bottom yields.
The Fed has said any rate decisions will depend on future economic data. However, now might be a good time to assess the value of any fixed-income investments you hold, and make sure you understand how your portfolio might respond to a future that could include higher interest rates. Many investors' asset allocation strategies were likely developed when conditions generally favored bonds, as they have for much of the last 20 years. Though asset allocation alone can't guarantee a profit or prevent the possibility of loss, make sure your asset allocation is still appropriate for your circumstances as well as the current investing climate. And don't forget that other financial assets can be affected by potential future interest rate changes as well.
Calculating cost basis for fixed-income investments
The IRS had originally planned to require brokers to begin reporting the cost basis for any sales of bonds and options this year, as it already does for stocks and mutual funds. It has now postponed implementation of the requirements for bonds until January 1, 2014 to give financial institutions more time to test their reporting systems. However, don't throw away your old records yet, especially if you're considering selling any of your bond holdings. The cost basis reporting requirements will apply only to bond purchases and options granted or acquired on or after January 1, 2014, so you'll still be responsible for calculating your cost basis for any bonds or options acquired before that date.