How to Support Your Cash Flow Needs

Thursday, December 15th, 2016

We’re now in the second week of December, so it’s a perfect time to tie together a few strategies to accomplish multiple goals you have.

One of the questions I receive quite often is, “how do you determine where we should draw funds from when we need money from our Retirement Bucket”.

It’s a very important question.

All other variables held constant for a moment, I’m always looking to “free up” funds in the most tax efficient manner, i.e. have you pay the least amount of taxes you’re legally obligated to pay in the process.

And, at the same time, I recommend maintaining the same prescribed Retirement Bucket™ allocation post withdrawal. This is a very important point that you can’t afford to overlook.

You don’t want your needed withdrawal to leave large holes in your carefully thought out Retirement Bucket™ mix.

Funds Held Inside Your IRAs

If you only have funds held inside of IRAs, the only variable you need to consider is when you’ll withdraw the money.

For example, when asked by one of our Relaxing Retirement members (who has all funds in IRAs) to free up $80,000 for them to loan to their son for the down payment on a new home, the big question is ‘when’, not where.

They hadn’t given it much thought, but I asked when the closing for his son’s home was to take place, i.e. did he need the entire $80,000 now (in December)?

I asked because I know where all of their taxable income comes from each year and withdrawing $80,000 (“net” after taxes) from their IRA in one year would cause a chunk of that withdrawal to be taxed at a substantially higher marginal tax bracket.

If they were able to withdraw part now in 2016 and the other part in January 2017 instead of all of it in 2016, that would save them a minimum of $6,500 in federal income taxes in the process. This doesn’t count state income taxes.

This strategy is called “Income Tax Straddling”.

As it turned out, the closing was to take place in January, so they were able to follow this lead and save that $6,500 which can now go toward something they really want to spend that money on!

Home Equity Line of Credit

 Had they needed all of the money before the end of the year, I may have recommended that they withdraw half from their IRAs now (in tax year 2016) and the other half temporarily from a home equity line of credit.

Then, in January (2017), they could withdraw the second half from their IRAs to pay off the line of credit. This would have the same effect as my first recommendation, i.e. Income Tax Straddling.

Had the funds only been needed on a short term basis, I may very well have recommended utilizing a home equity line of credit instead of an investment withdrawal, especially during times like these when interest rates are so low.

Funds Held Outside Your IRAs

If you have funds held outside of IRAs, you have more options available to you because you may be able to pay lower capital gains tax rates (or no taxes at all) if you have some current or prior capital losses to put to use.

As a quick refresher, for investments you currently own outside of IRAs (you don’t pay capital gains when you buy and sell investments inside your IRA), all “realized” gains are taxed at capital gains tax rates.

For example, using nice round numbers, if you purchased a stock or stock mutual fund for $100,000 and later sold it for $150,000, you would owe capital gains taxes on the growth, i.e. $50,000.

On the flip side, however, if you purchased a stock or stock mutual fund for $100,000 and later sold it for $75,000, you can declare a capital loss of $25,000.

While painful to realize, that $25,000 capital loss has significant value if handled properly. For example:

  1. You may use it to offset $25,000 of capital gains you realized in the same year, thus eliminating taxes on $25,000 of capital gains. This saves you as much as $5,950 in federal taxes in 2016, not to mention state taxes here in Massachusetts.
  2. If you don’t have $25,000 of capital gains to offset, you can use $3,000 of the loss to offset $3,000 of ordinary income you have this year. That would save you between $750 and $1,302 in federal taxes this year.
  3. You can then carry the unused portion ($22,000) over to next year and continue the same strategy.
    • If you have a $22,000 gain next year, you can offset the entire tax due. If not, you can offset another $3,000 of ordinary income tax and carry the remaining $19,000 over to the following year.

Tax Efficient Withdrawal Strategy

So that you can determine the most tax efficient withdrawal strategy, here’s the information you want to have in front of you:

  1. Your 2015 Federal income tax return. Take a look at the bottom of Schedule D to determine if you have any unused capital losses carrying forward into 2016. And, if so, how much?
  2. Current Non-IRA Statements (i.e. individual, joint, trust, etc.):
    • Realized Gains/Losses: Have you sold anything this year thus creating a realized gain in your non-IRA accounts?
    • Unrealized Gains/Losses: What’s the current positioning of each of your current holdings?
      1. It’s unlikely that you have many holdings that are worth much less than you paid for them, but it’s very possible that you have some. **Look for any unrealized losses.
  3. Mutual Funds: If you own actively managed stock mutual funds, go to your fund company(s) website and you will typically find year-end “internal” capital gains distribution estimates.

Do your best to determine what your short and long term gains will look like between now and the end of the year.

Armed with this information, look for the combination of holdings you can now sell in your non-IRA accounts that will create the least income tax obligation.

Let’s assume the Relaxing Retirement members, who needed $80,000 to help their son buy his first home, had balances in their IRA and their non-IRA trust accounts.

Let’s also assume that all of their equity holdings had very large capital gains attached to them if we sold them except for the remaining shares they still own in the company he used to work for (that he nostalgically held on to), and one MA municipal bond fund that was worth less than what they paid for it given the recent spike in interest rates.

While that’s not necessarily good news, it would be for them because we could sell those two positions and generate a “capital loss” to offset some of the gains from selling two equity holdings with large gains to arrive at the $80,000 needed.

Because we had already reviewed their 2015 tax return, we knew they had some capital losses carried forward from the original sale of the majority of his employer’s stock several years back, so we could use those to offset almost all of the rest of the gains realized from sale of those two holdings.

The net effect in this case is freeing up $80,000 for their son’s down payment with less than $1,600 in income taxes incurred. Not bad. If they had no funds held outside of IRAs, they would have had to withdraw almost $100,000 from their IRAs in order to “net” out at the $80,000 they needed after paying about $20,000 in income taxes.

Don’t Miss the Final Step

All of this is very encouraging, but if you don’t take the final step, you’re going to leave a gaping hole in your Retirement Bucket™ allocation.

When you buy and sell various holdings in your Retirement Bucket™ in order to free up needed cash, your carefully thought out allocation is then out of balance because you likely didn’t sell a little bit of every holding you have.

Instead, you sold what was necessary to free up funds while being as tax efficient as possible.

Given this, the final step is to reallocate your holdings back to your prescribed mix simultaneously.

The place to do this is inside your IRAs so you don’t incur more taxes.

All of this is possible for you, but only if you follow the formula and you have all the necessary information in front of you.

Paying more taxes than you’re legally obligated to pay is not an act of patriotism. It’s laziness!

Take control in places where you still can and keep what you’re entitled to keep!