A reality check on Trump’s tax reform agenda

Still etched in my brain was the great income trust debacle that took place on Halloween of 2005. The Canadian conservative government won re-election promising not to change the tax preferred treatment of income trusts. That promise was broken and Canadian investors lost billions of dollars overnight. The value of my income trust holdings fell by 40% instantaneously.

Needless to say, as an investor in U.S. stocks, failure to appeal and replace Obamacare (ACA) makes me very nervous. Trump’s promise of massive tax cuts and infrastructure spending will need support from the Freedom Caucus (tea  party) who want a border adjustment tax to offset some of the loss revenue.

There is also a complicated Senate rule that would prevent Democrats from blocking the tax bill. Under the rule, the bill cannot add to long-term budget deficits. That means every tax cut has to be offset by a similar tax increase or a spending cut.

‘‘Yes this does make tax reform more difficult,’’ said Ryan. ‘‘But it does not in any way make it impossible.’’

Nevertheless, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Friday the administration plans to turn quickly to tax reform with the goal of getting an overhaul approved by Congress by August.

House Republicans have released a blueprint that outlines their goals for a tax overhaul. It would lower the top individual income tax rate from 39.6 percent to 33 percent, and reduce the number of tax brackets from seven to three. The House plan retains the mortgage interest deduction but repeals the deduction for state and local taxes.

However, nearly 34 million families claimed the mortgage interest deduction in 2016, reducing their tax bills by $65 billion. Also, more than 43 million families deducted their state and local income plus personal property taxes from their federal taxable income last year. The deduction reduced their federal tax bills by nearly $70 billion.

On the corporate side, the plan would repeal the 35 percent corporate income tax and replace it with a 20 percent tax on profits from selling imports and domestically produced goods and services consumed in the US. Exports would be exempt from the new tax. (border adjustment tax)

The general goal for Republicans is to lower income tax rates for individuals and corporations and make up the lost revenue by reducing exemptions, deductions and credits. Overhauling the tax code is actually hard because every tax break has a constituency and the biggest tax breaks are among the most popular.

Over the past week, some investors are starting to doubt that the tax cuts will get passed. The value of the U.S. dollar has weaken and ten year bond yields have fallen  from 2.62% to 2.4%. Eight of the ten sectors that make up the S&P 500 were negative for the week. The biggest losers were U.S. financials (-3.72%), energy (-1.78%) industrials (-1.75%) and materials (-1.3%).

There is a lot of money on the sidelines that missed the Trump rally and are waiting for a stock market correction. I took some profits before the Canadian federal budget that hinted at tax increases so I also have some money to re-invest. The Canadian conservative government taught me a valuable lesson back in 2005. What government promises to do and what they actually do can have a negative affect on your investments.

 

Still doing tax returns for my adult children & their spouses

Every year I ask myself, should I continue to offer to do tax returns for my adult children and their spouses? All of them have university degrees and are smart enough to file their own tax returns. My daughter was willing to do it one year using tax preparation software with only a little help from me.

Part of my problem is Canadians are not even aware of how much tax they pay. Plus we keep voting for governments that buy votes using our tax dollars. The average Canadian family will pay 42.9% of their income in taxes imposed by all three levels of government in 2016. (Federal, provincial and local) Tax freedom day was June 7, 2016 if Canadians paid their total tax bill up front. Our U.S. neighbours tax freedom day was April 24th and they will only pay 31% of their income in taxes.

There are a number of reasons why I continue to offer to do tax returns for the whole family. Having worked as a financial advisor, tax planning is a key element when putting a financial plan together. My tax knowledge and skill comes from working many years with accountants and tax lawyers ensuring that my whole family pays the least amount of tax.

Plus, the Canadian tax system is very complicated and is constantly changing with every federal and provincial budget. For example: many tax credits that were given by the Conservative government have been taken away completely by a new Liberal government.

For the 2015 tax year, the Liberals cancelled income splitting for families, a maximum tax credit of $2,000 for transferring up to $50,000 of income to a spouse with a lower income if they had a child under 18 years of age.

Some changes for 2017 include the elimination of the following credits:

  1. Education and textbooks credit
  2. Children’s fitness credit
  3. Children’s arts credit
  4. Public transit tax credit

Now, most retired Canadian seniors who don’t have a pension from their former employer are not even aware of a $2,000 pension credit. It requires opening a RRIF account, transferring $2,000 from their RRSP and then taking it out. They don’t have to wait until they reach the age of 71 in order to open a RRIF account. Plus, RRIF income can be split with your spouse if both of you are 65 years of age which could potentially add up to $4,000 of income tax free per year.

The Federal Liberal government will introduce a new budget on March 22 and there are rumors of more tax increases. Three things that Canadians should worry about;

  1. Higher capital gains inclusion rate from 50% to 75%
  2. Reducing the dividend tax credit
  3. Taxing your principal residency 

I will end this post with two well known proverbs. ” In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” & “A penny saved is a penny earned.”

 

Is another credit bubble forming in subprime car loans?

I went shopping for a new car last week and was offered a subprime loan rate that sounded too good to be true. Without even checking my credit history, I was offered the choice of nothing down & half of one percent financing for 5 years. If I wanted to pay cash for the $30,000 vehicle, the dealership would reduce the price by 2,500 dollars.

The credit manager took some time to explain how subprime loans work. Auto makers take their cash back amount and give it to the finance company to buy down the interest rate. So in my case, I could take the $2,500 cash back or it would go to the finance company to reduce my loan interest. My choice really didn’t affect the car dealer in any way.

It got me thinking about some of the articles that I read sounding the alarm bells on the rising delinquency rates in subprime auto loans. Much of the concern centers around loans extended to borrowers with credit scores below 600. Some articles warn that the auto-loan market is a powder keg like the subprime mortgage market was when the globe plunged into a financial crisis eight years ago.  Will the bursting of this bubble cause another U.S. recession?

John Oliver, host of the HBO show “Last Week Tonight,” takes on the opaque world of auto lending.

Oliver points out that while helping people buy a car sounds great, lenders are taking advantage of borrowers with some predatory strategies and absurdly high interest rates. Some are offering loans to those who have recently filed for bankruptcy. Poor borrowers charged high interest rates–the average rate is 19%– end up under a pile of debt. One clip showed that a woman would have to spend $17,000 paying back a loan for a car worth $3,000.

Auto loans, including the loans extended to prime and subprime borrowers, topped $1 trillion for the first time last year, according to Experian data, exceeding the outstanding balances on U.S. credit cards. But that is a far cry compared to the $8.4 trillion mortgage market. Plus, it’s easier to repossess a car than foreclose on a home. There is typically a healthy marketplace for used and repossessed cars. Trying to unload a $300,000 home is far more difficult especially in a neighborhood of foreclosed properties.

As an investor, be aware that massive defaults on auto loans could flood the used-car market, depressing prices for all car types should the bargains among used-vehicle options sway buyers away from new cars. Both Ford & GM are trading with low P/E’s (5.8 & 3.9) and have dividend yields in the 4.7% range. The yield is very attractive for investors looking for income as long as you understand that there could more downward pressure on the stock price.

In a quarterly filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Ford reported in the first half of this year it allowed $449 million for credit losses, a 34% increase from the first half of 2015. General Motors reported in a similar filing that it set aside $864 million for credit losses in that same period of 2016, up 14% from a year earlier.

If you are in the market for a new or used car, make sure that you can afford the payments. Don’t fall for, no money down ads, 100% approval rates and no sin number required. Remember a car starts to depreciate as soon as you drive it off the lot. Extending a car loan to 84 months (7 years) keeps your monthly payments low but the outstanding loan could be greater than the value of the actual car.

Will that be Debit or Credit?

debt-card-swipe

Most financial writers would recommend purchasing items using a bank debit card or cash instead of a credit card to control impulse buying. A debit card transaction will allow the vendor to take money right out of your bank account. It is so quick, you can see the transactions appear on your online bank statement minutes after your card has been swiped. This is good advice because spending money that you don’t have can lead to accumulating a lot of unnecessary debt.

However, my only problem with using a debit card or cash is security. Lose your wallet or purse and kiss the cash good-bye. If thieves get a hold of your debit card, the bank will not cover your loss. I am fortunate that the credit card companies in Canada have all adopted chip technology with a 4-diget Pin number for added security. Plus most retail stores even have a tap option for purchases under $100.00, so tap and go is quick and easy.

My decision to always use credit over debt, just saved me $1,470.67 because my wife’s credit card was recently compromised. The thief was very smart, only one big transaction which the credit card company didn’t red flag as an unusual purchase. I always check my monthly statements and recognized the bogus charge immediately. This is the third time in less than ten years that I have had to get a new credit card due to fraud.

The previous two times, the credit card company called me after they noticed some unusual activity. Although, it was a little embarrassing to have my credit card purchase declined but it is better than losing money. My experience with credit card fraud has made me into a frantic when it comes to making sure that I don’t lose any credit card receipts. I always cross-reference the receipt with my monthly statement. We even record each on-line purchase on a separate piece of paper and file it with the rest of our receipts.

Thieves have become very bold! I received a phone call at 6:00 a.m. from someone pretending to be from my credit card company. He stated that my credit card may have been compromised and requested that I should turn on my computer to check my debit card transactions. He wanted to get access to my banking information. Warning bells went off in my sleepy head. What the thief didn’t know was that credit card and debit card were with two different banks.

Protect yourself from fraud

  • Use a credit card for all your on-line purchases for added protection
  • Keep your receipts and check your monthly credit card statements
  • Hang up on questionable phone calls and call your financial institution
  • Use a pin number that doesn’t have any personal dates, like your birthday
  • Change your pin number from time to time
  • Share with family and friends information on current scams in your area

What is your answer to the question? Will that be debit or credit?

 

Obituary for Common Sense; unknown author

common-sense

Today we mourn the passing of a beloved old friend, Common Sense, who has been with us for many years. No one knows for sure how old he was since his birth records were long ago lost in bureaucratic red tape.

He will be remembered as having cultivated such valuable lessons as knowing when to come in out of the rain, why the early bird gets the worm, why life isn’t always fair, and how, on occasion, maybe it was my fault.

Common Sense lived by simple, sound financial policies (don’t spend more than you earn) and reliable parenting strategies (adults, not children are in charge).

His health began to deteriorate rapidly when well-intentioned but overbearing regulations were set in place. Reports of a six-year-old boy charged with sexual harassment for kissing a classmate; teens suspended from school for using mouthwash after lunch; and a teacher fired for reprimanding an unruly student, only worsened his condition.

Common Sense lost ground when parents attacked teachers for doing the job they themselves failed to do in disciplining their unruly children. It declined even further when schools were required to get parental consent to administer aspirin, sun lotion or a sticky plaster to a student; but could not inform the parents when a student became pregnant and wanted to have an abortion.

Common Sense lost the will to live as the Ten Commandments became contraband; churches became businesses; and criminals received better treatment than their victims. Common Sense took a beating when you couldn’t defend yourself from a burglar in your own home and the burglar can sue you for assault. 

Common Sense finally gave up the will to live, after a woman failed to realize that a steaming cup of coffee was hot. She spilled a little in her lap, and was promptly awarded a huge settlement.

Common Sense was preceded in death by his parents, Truth and Trust; his wife, Discretion; his daughter, Responsibility; and his son, Reason. He is survived by three step brothers; I Know my Rights, Someone Else is to Blame, and I’m a Victim. 

Not many attended his funeral because so few realized he was gone. If you still remember him pass this on. If not, join the majority and do nothing.

common-sense1

Common sense is a basic ability to perceive, understand, and judge things, which is shared by (“common to”) nearly all people and can reasonably be expected of nearly all people without any need for debate.

Our education system gets a failing grade when it comes financial literacy. Everyone should know some basic money lessons like how to budget, the time value of money, implications of too much debt and how credit works.

Making financial decisions and managing  your investments still requires some common sense. You will be successful if you have some.

 

Moms rule and Dads drool: Happy Father’s Day

Sorry dads, but more money is spent on Mother’s Day than Father’s Day. The National Retail Federation expects Father’s Day spending to reach $12.7 billion. That sounds like a lot of money, but it doesn’t stack up to what was spent on Mother’s Day: $21.2 billion. There are a number of factors that contribute to making Father’s Day a lesser commercial holiday when compared to Mother’s Day.

Let’s face it, the majority of Moms prepare the family meals, so it is easy for restaurants to promote giving Mom a break from cooking by offering a Sunday brunch special. I asked the food & beverage manager at my golf club why they did not offer a Sunday brunch for Father’s Day. Her answer; “We tried it but had to cancelled due to lack of interest”. By the way, the mother’s day brunch is sold out every year.

Father’s day spending is now competing with Memorial Day, graduation and of course, June is prevalent for weddings. It is easy for children to justify spending less on dad who is laid back enough to be okay with receiving a smaller gift. Plus buying for Dad is tricky: Mom is probably going to appreciate flowers and chocolate more than Dad is going to dig his Daffy Duck novelty tie.

The most popular Father’s Day gift: quality time, it costs nothing.

father day

 

But Dads do matter: they really have an important role to play

Human beings are social animals and we learn by modeling behavior. In fact, all primates learn how to survive and function successfully in the world through social imitation. Those early patterns of interaction are all children know. It is those patterns that effect how they feel about themselves and how they develop.

Fathers are central to the emotional well-being of their children; they are capable caretakers and disciplinarians. Children who are well-bonded and loved by involved fathers, tend to have less behavioral problems, and are somewhat protected against alcohol and drug abuse.

Studies show that if your child’s father is affectionate, supportive, and involved, he can contribute greatly to your child’s cognitive, language, and social development, as well as academic achievement, a strong inner core resource, sense of well-being, good self-esteem, and authenticity.

How fathers influence our relationships.

Girls will look for men who hold the patterns of good old dad. If father was kind, loving, and gentle, they will reach for those characteristics in men. Girls will look for, in others, what they have experienced and become familiar with in childhood. Because they’ve gotten used to those familial and historic behavioral patterns, they think that they can handle them in relationships.

Boys on the other hand, will model themselves after their fathers. They will look for their father’s approval in everything they do, and copy those behaviors that they recognize as both successful and familiar. Thus, if dad was abusive, controlling, and dominating, those will be the patterns that their sons will imitate and emulate. However, if father is loving, kind, supportive, and protective, boys will want to be that.

As a father of two, a boy and a girl, I have accepted the fact that Moms will get a lot more attention than Dads. It doesn’t mean that your children love you less. Your reward comes from knowing that your sons or daughters will be successful academically, become well-adjusted members of society, be in loving relationships and have good careers. Hopefully, they will eventually become good parents.

This post is dedicated to my Dad who was done too soon and to my son who has begun his journey as a great Dad.

 

 

 

Why not go crazy and spend some money, you’re earned it?

devil & Angel

After working for decades, my retirement plan will finally allow me to enjoy life with few worries. It is so tempting to buy that luxury car, travel to some exotic destinations or remodel our home. Why not spend the money, I earned it and people say that can’t take it with you.

On the other hand, the financial meltdown of 2008-09 was scary, it reminds me that unexpected events could disrupt our travel plans and lifestyle choices. Life has thrown me a number of surprised curve balls over time so I remain cautious.

Surprise Curve Ball No. 1: Ailing parents

The Canadian Alzheimer society estimates that one out of five Canadians provide some form of care to seniors with long-term health problems. What if your parents need nursing or assisted living care and they don’t have the money to pay for it. Unfortunately, elder care is not cheap and costs vary depending upon where you live. (Surprise, my elderly mother has been diagnosed with early stages of dementia.)

In my area, estimates for a private room in a nursing home is around $50,000 per year and you need to apply two years in advance just to get in. An alternative would be to hire a live in caregiver if your parents own their own home. I am not a big fan of using a reverse mortgage to pay for a caregiver but all options should be investigated.

Another option that may lessen the financial impact on your retirement nest egg is to determine if it makes more sense for you to become the caregiver. One of my friends, will an ailing mother-in-law, used an agency to hire a full-time live in caregiver from aboard. Since his children had moved out, he had two spare bedrooms, one for care giver and the other for his mother-in-law. He was lucky that all his wife’s siblings agreed to share the extra costs.

 

Surprise Curve Ball No. 2: An adult child falls on hard times.

There are a variety of reasons why a child may need some financial aid. Most common are marriage breakdown, job loss, poor saving habits or bad decision-making. There is a disturbing trend for adult children to move back in with their parents. The media refers to them as Boomerang kids.”

Parents always want to help their children out of trouble. It helps to know how much money you can afford to give before it wreaks havoc on your retirement plans. Before making any decisions, determine how long you can provide any financial assistance and make it clear to the child up front that your financial aid can only last for a certain period of time. If they move back in, give them a moving out date. (Both my adult children have solid careers and stable marriages, so far so good!)

The risk of joining the sandwich generation is increasing

The new reality is low-interest rates over the past decade and talk of negative rates in the future could escalate the number of seniors requiring financial aid from their children due to illness. Your parents are living longer, 1 in 3 seniors are dying from Alzheimer’s and Dementia. Your children are getting married much later and are deeper in debt.

I recently emailed a follow blogger if he was planning to apply for social security at 62?  His answer: Still working, my youngest will be in college”

Sometimes you just have to be aware what is happening within your extended family. Here are two posts that could be of help.

Talk to your Elderly Parents about Money

Bank of Mom & Dad, Cutting the Purse Strings

Don’t be troubled if you have to put a limited on financial aid to your family. It’s okay to look after yourself first.