“Impact” Investing

Dear Garden State Trust:

What is this “impact” investing I’ve been hearing about? Can trust assets be invested for social impact?

—Seeking Social Justice

Dear Seeking:

There is no simple definition of “impact” investing. One writer called it “a movement that aims to force social change by minimizing or eliminating investors’ exposure to companies that harm the world” while still achieving a solid return. Putting a more positive spin on the idea, another writer suggested “a movement that aims to maximize investors’ exposure to companies that improve the world.”

This approach can include negative screens—avoiding tobacco and liquor companies, say—or positive screens—looking for companies that have women in leadership positions, or strong environmental records, for example.

Trust assets are invested according to guidelines provided in the trust instrument. The grantor of the trust is free to impose any desired restrictions on the buying and selling of holdings for the trust. However, in most cases the grantor plans to rely on the investment expertise of the trustee, rather than put handcuffs on the decision.

If the trust does not provide specific guidance for investment decisions, might the trustee take the initiative? When this question came up in the 1990s, when the concept of “socially responsible investing” was popularized, the initial answer was no. A trustee who invests for any purpose other than risk-appropriate return on assets would, it was thought, be violating a fiduciary duty to the trust beneficiaries. In part this observation may have been influenced by the fact that some socially responsible strategies were seen as significantly underperforming the market.

Proponents of “impact” investing have argued that their more sophisticated approach may prove less risky than the market as a whole, without sacrificing returns. Time will tell.

Do you have a question concerning wealth management or trusts?  Send your inquiry to contact@gstrustco.com

(May 2018)
© 2018 M.A. Co.  All rights reserved.

 

Borrowing From a 401(k) Plan

Dear Garden State Trust:

I’m going to buy a new car.  Can I borrow money from my 401(k) plan for this purpose?

—Trading Up

Dear Trading Up:

If you do borrow from your 401(k), you will have lots of company.  According to a new national survey from the Profit Sharing Council of America, 25.8% of plan participants had loans outstanding in the most recent reporting year (2016), a level that has held fairly steady over the last ten years.  The average reported loan per borrower has fallen somewhat in recent years, now standing at $8,042.

Whether your plan administrator will approve a loan for a new car is an open question.  Generally, such loans are supposed to be for sudden, unexpected financial needs. Still, the requirements for granting a loan are usually less stringent than for plan withdrawals.  Years ago one plan administrator told us that the number one reason for granting participant loan requests should be “because they asked for it—it’s their money, after all.”

Just because you can do it does not make it a good idea.  When you borrow money from your 401(k) account, you have less money in the market, growing to meet your retirement needs.  That deficit can be hard to overcome in future years. Most financial advisors recommend that borrowing from a 401(k) account to meet current ordinary expenses (such as a car) should be a last resort.

Do you have a question concerning wealth management or trusts?  Send your inquiry to contact@gstrustco.com

(April 2018)
© 2018 M.A. Co.  All rights reserved.

In-Law Protection

Dear Garden State Trust:

I have two grown children, both married.  One couple is financially secure; the other is less so.  Candidly, I don’t trust the spouse of my child who is struggling.  Is there something I can do to keep that child’s inheritance from the spouse’s hands?  How do I treat the children differently without provoking a family feud?  

— Discriminating Parent

Dear Discriminating:

The best way to protect an inheritance is by using a trust, giving the beneficiary a financial resource instead of financial assets.  The trust may distribute income to the beneficiary each year but include restrictions on principal distributions.  For example, the trust might be invaded for medical or education expenses, or to purchase a home, or upon reaching certain milestones.  The trust beneficiaries may be limited to your descendants, excluding sons-in-law and daughters-in-law.

The terms of a trust are not normally made public, but are known only to the creator of the trust, the trustee and the beneficiaries.  Accordingly, if you have two trusts for your two children, you may provide different restrictions for each.  They don’t have to be told about the differences.

Do you have a question concerning wealth management or trusts?  Send your inquiry to contact@gstrustco.com

© M.A. Co.  All rights reserved.

Roth Conversions

Dear Garden State Trust Company:

Last year I converted my traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. However, now that I see the income tax that will be due, I’m not so sure it was a great idea. Can I change my mind?

—Second Thoughts

Dear Second:

You have until October 15, 2018, to recharacterize your 2017 Roth IRA conversion, to turn it back into a traditional IRA.

But that option is not available for conversions for 2018 and later years.

The tax reform legislation enacted last December changed the rules for Roth conversions from traditional IRAs, SEPs and SIMPLE plans. After January 1, 2018, such conversions are irrevocable once made. The legislative language was ambiguous, and some exeprts were concerned that it might retroactively affect 2017 conversions as well.

In January the IRS issued a clarifying Q&A on the subject. The new law does not apply to 2017 conversions, so you are free to reverse course.

Do you have a question concerning wealth management or trusts? Send your inquiry to contact@gstrustco.com.

© 2018 M.A. Co. All rights reserved.

Review Estate Plans in 2018

Dear Garden State Trust Company:

I heard that the exemption from the federal estate tax has doubled. What does this mean for my estate plans?

—Following Up

Dear Following:

Whenever there is a major change in the federal taxation of estates and gifts, that moment is a good one for the review of estate plans already in place. In most cases, nothing will need to be changed, but sometimes adjustments will be in order.

The amount exempt from federal estate tax is now $11.2 million per taxpayer (so $22.4 million for a married couple). That means the federal estate tax becomes a remote concern for the overwhelming majority of Americans. However, this increase expires in 2026, when we go back to something in the $5+ million neighborhood (depending upon inflation).

Families with fortunes that may be vulnerable to the federal estate tax will want to look into lifetime transfers to capture the enlarged exemption from federal gift tax.

Families whose fortune never is likely to cross the $5 million line still will need to answer these questions:

Do you live in a state that still imposes death taxes (that is, estate or inheritance tax)? If so, the taxable threshold is likely far below the federal one.

Does your will or trust include a formula clause that refers to the amount exempt from federal estate tax? If so, the interpretation of that clause has now been called into question.

Have there been any changes of circumstances that render your estate plan less than optimal? Have there been any births, or any deaths or divorces, that should be taken into account? Have any asset values changed dramatically, so that specific bequests no longer match earlier intentions?

Are the beneficiary designations on nonprobate property (life insurance, retirement plans and the like) correct? Neglected beneficiary designations have been the source of many a lawsuit over an estate.

You should plan to meet with your estate planning advisors in the first quarter of 2018.

Do you have a question concerning wealth management or trusts? Send your inquiry to contact@gstrustco.com.

© 2018 M.A. Co. All rights reserved.

Dow 24000

Dear Garden State Trust Company:

Wow, the DJIA crossed 24000! No one told me to expect that when the year started. How much higher can the stock market go?

—Nervous Investor

Dear Nervous:

Monty Python famously said, “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.” In much the same way, no one will ever predict a 20% rise in the stock market, even when they are optimistic. Surprises on the upside are pleasant ones, so prognosticators are happy to make such a mistake.

We can’t know how much farther this bull has to run, but at the moment the economic indicators are positive. Consumer spending jumped 0.9% in September, followed by a 0.3% rise in October. Gross Domestic Product grew 3.1% in the second quarter and 3.3% in the third. Most estimates for the fourth quarter are between 2.5% and 3.0%. New home sales in October reached a 10-year high, and consumer confidence is at a 17-year high, the highest in this century, according to the Conference Board.

These indicators suggest that this economic expansion has plenty of life left in it. On the other hand, it’s been a long time since the last stock market correction (a price drop of 10% or more), and market tops are impossible to predict. If inflation heats up, the Federal Reserve Board may act more aggressively to increase interest rates, and that action could, in turn, bring the rise in stock prices to an end.

Does that answer your question?

Do you have a question concerning wealth management or trusts? Send your inquiry to contact@gstrustco.com.

© 2017 M.A. Co. All rights reserved.

Federal Estate Taxes

Dear Garden State Trust Company:

What is going to happen with federal estate taxes in 2018?

—Interested Observer

Dear Interested:

The IRS has announced that, under current law, the inflation-adjusted exemption from federal estate and gift tax will grow to $5.6 million in 2018. For a married couple, that means a total estate of $11.2 million may be kept in the family tax free. By the way, the Service also announced that the gift tax annual exclusion will grow to $15,000 in 2018, the first increase in several years.

Into this mix we add the tax reform legislation working through Congress this November. The initial draft calls for an immediate doubling of the exempt amount in 2018, and eventual repeal in 2024.

Interestingly, the doubling of the estate tax exemptions has less “revenue cost” than one might expect. According to the most recent IRS statistics, roughly half of taxable estates fall in the range of $5 million to $10 million, yet they pay only 11% of the total net estate tax. Estates larger than $50 million pay 42% of the total federal estate tax, though they represent less than 6% of taxable estates.

Do you have a question concerning wealth management or trusts? Send your inquiry to contact@gstrustco.com.

© 2017 M.A. Co. All rights reserved.

Continuing Low Interest Rates

Dear Garden State Trust Company:

I am so tired of these low interest rates. Can we expect another uptick sometime soon? Earlier this year there was talk of one more bump before the end of the year as I recall.

—CAUTIOUS SAVER

Dear Cautious:

I am afraid that you may have to get used to disappointment. Your memory is correct; many observers expected another interest rate increase in the second half of this year. New developments have made that unlikely, but not impossible.

The economy has been doing better, and inflation has lagged. In fact, inflation is down all around the world, raising the real possibility that the linkage between growing economies and rising prices has been broken. In July the U.S. consumer price inflation was just 1.7%, below the Fed’s target, even as the economy grew at an annualized 3% in the second quarter of the year.

A more immediate concern is recovery from hurricane damage. It will take some months to assess fully the situation and get rebuilding under way. An interest rate hike during that time would be most unwelcome, and seems unlikely.

Finally, there is the practical problem of staffing the seven-member Federal Reserve Board. There are three vacancies at the moment, Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer announced that he is stepping down early, in mid-October, and Fed Chairwoman Yellen’s term of office expires in early February. “Don’t rock the boat” may be the easier decision for the Fed to make while awaiting the appointment of new members.

Do you have a question concerning wealth management or trusts? Send your inquiry to contact@gstrustco.com.

© 2017 M.A. Co. All rights reserved.

Debts and Death

Dear Garden State Trust Company:

What happens to my debts when I die?

—STILL PAYING THE MORTGAGE

Dear Still:

According to a study by the credit bureau Experion, released in December 2016, some 73% of consumers have debts when they die, including mortgage debt.  Some 68% have credit card debt; 37% have mortgage debt; 25% have car loans; 12% have personal loans, and 6% are still paying off student loans.  The average total debt at death for these consumers was $61,554.

That does not mean all these people died virtually bankrupt.  The study does not include an assessment of how large the estates were. Most likely, most estates were large enough to retire the debts.

At your death, your debts pass to your estate, just as your assets do. Your executor will be responsible for paying off those debts. All debts and taxes must be paid before any inheritance is distributed to your heirs.  

If there are not enough cash or life insurance proceeds in the estate to meet the debt and tax obligations, some assets may have to be sold to raise the money. This could include the family home.  If there is a mortgage on the house, the heirs may be able to take over the responsibility for paying the mortgage, to avoid a forced sale.

If you should die without any assets at all, your debts die with you.  But try not to let that happen.

Do you have a question concerning wealth management or trusts?  Send your inquiry to contact@gstrustco.com.

© 2017 M.A. Co.  All rights reserved.

Tapping Retirement Funds to Pay for College

Dear Garden State Trust Company:  

Should I withdraw or borrow from my 401(k) plan to help pay for my child’s college expenses?—PUZZLED ON FUNDING

Dear Puzzled: 

As a general rule, impairing your retirement savings to meet current spending needs is not a good idea, even for higher education expenses.  There are other sources of funds for education needs—in contrast, in retirement, when one is on a fixed income, borrowing to meet expenses is problematic. 

What you take out of your plan now can be hard to replace later.  It’s been estimated that it can take six to ten years to fully restore a retirement account that has been tapped to meet four years of college expenses.  In part, that’s because one misses out on the compounding of investment income during the period.  For longer time frames, the stock market has produced higher total returns than the interest rates on student loans.  The other part is that it can be hard to get back into the saving habit.

The better approach is to save for higher education early, separately from retirement savings, so as to put time on your side and minimize the need for loans when the college years arrive.

Do you have a question concerning wealth management or trusts? Send your inquiry to contact@gstrustco.com.

© 2017 M.A. Co.  All rights reserved.