Archives for January 2020

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Investing Blog Roundup: Is Vanguard’s “At Cost” Model Even Good Enough?

Vanguard’s claim to fame is that it runs everything “at cost” because of its ownership structure (i.e., no external shareholders demanding a profit). And the benefit to Vanguard clients has been tremendous over the years.

In a recent article for Financial Planning, Allan Roth pointed out that Schwab is now basically able to run their entire asset management business below cost — offering what many would see as superior service, while charging fees as low or lower than Vanguard’s.

The key point is that Schwab simply has a different business model (most especially, a key other revenue source), so they are able to use their asset management business as a loss leader, whereas Vanguard must break even on theirs.

Other Recommended Reading

Thanks for reading!

Can I Change the Beneficiary of My 529 Plan/Account?

A reader writes in, asking:

“Can I create a 529 account, contribute to it with my daughter named as the beneficiary, and then change the beneficiary to another family member if we end up wanting to help fund somebody else’s education?”

The short answer is: it depends on who exactly the family member is, but probably yes.

Naturally, Code section 529 is where we’d find information about 529 plans.

There, we find that there are no income tax consequences to changing the beneficiary of a 529 account, provided that you change the beneficiary to somebody who is a “member of the family” of the existing beneficiary. Members of the family include:

  • A child or a descendant of a child (i.e., a grandchild);
  • A brother, sister, stepbrother, or stepsister;
  • The father or mother, or an ancestor of either (i.e, grandparent);
  • A stepfather or stepmother;
  • A niece or nephew;
  • An aunt or uncle;
  • A son-in-law, daughter-in-law, father-in-law, mother-in-law, brother-in-law, or sister-in-law;
  • An individual who, for the taxable year of the beneficiary, has the same principal place of abode as the beneficiary and is a member of the beneficiary’s household;
  • The spouse of any of the above people;
  • The spouse of the existing beneficiary; or
  • A first cousin of the existing beneficiary.

Reminder: When going through this list, remember that these relationships are with regard to the existing beneficiary — not with regard to you or to any other person(s) contributing to the account.

If you change the beneficiary to somebody who is not in one of the above categories, the distribution will be taxable as income and will be subject to a 10% penalty.

Finally, section 529 also notes that the gift tax and generation-skipping transfer tax shall apply unless the new beneficiary is:

  1. In the same generation as (or a higher generation than) the existing beneficiary, and
  2. A member of the family of the existing beneficiary (as described above).

For More Information, See My Related Book:


Taxes Made Simple: Income Taxes Explained in 100 Pages or Less

Topics Covered in the Book:
  • The difference between deductions and credits,
  • Itemized deductions vs. the standard deduction,
  • Several money-saving deductions and credits and how to make sure you qualify for them,
  • Click here to see the full list.

A testimonial from a reader on Amazon:

"Very easy to read and is a perfect introduction for learning how to do your own taxes. Mike Piper does an excellent job of demystifying complex tax sections and he presents them in an enjoyable and easy to understand way. Highly recommended!"

Investing Blog Roundup: State-by-State Economic Insecurity Among Americans Age 65+

This week I came across a recent study that looks at economic insecurity among older Americans. The paper discusses the typical amount of income necessary in each state for a person age 65+ (or a couple age 65+) to maintain independence and meet daily living costs while staying in their own homes (providing separate figures for renters, homeowners with a mortgage, and homeowners without a mortgage). Then it shows what percentage of people in each state in that age range are below that necessary income figure.

What struck me most was not so much the differences between states, but rather the differences between single people and couples.

Other Recommended Reading

Thanks for reading!

Why Longer-Term Bonds Have Greater Price Volatility (Interest Rate Risk)

A reader writes in, asking:

“I am aware that bonds and bond funds with longer duration have greater price changes in response to interest rate moves than shorter-term bonds do. And given that, I understand that longer-term bonds generally have higher yields because of that higher risk. That makes perfect sense.

What I have never been able to wrap my head around is why do the prices of longer duration bonds fluctuate more severely?”

A bond’s market price is really just the result of a net present value calculation. That is, the price of a bond at any given time is the sum of the present values of each of the cash flows from the bond (i.e., the present value of each interest payment plus the present value of the payment upon maturity).

(See this article if you haven’t encountered the concept of present value before. It’s worth a read, as it’s one of the most fundamental concepts in finance.)

As a reminder, the present value of a given cash flow is calculated as follows:

PV = FV / (1 + r)^n


PV = present value
FV = future value (i.e., the dollar amount of the cash flow in question)
r = annual discount rate
n = number of years before the cash flow is received

The greater the number of years, the greater the impact of the discount rate. Compare the two following examples.

Example 1: Given a discount rate of 2%, the present value of a $1,000 cash flow to be received one year from now is $980. If we raise the discount rate to 3%, the present value falls to $971, a change of $9.

Example 2: Given a discount rate of 2%, the present value of a $1,000 cash flow to be received five years from now is $906. If we raise the discount rate to 3%, the present value falls to $863, a change of $43.

Point being, a 1% increase in the discount rate had a much larger effect on the cash flow that was further in the future.

When we’re calculating the present value of a bond, the discount rate is the return that investors could expect to earn from other bonds with similar risk (i.e., other bonds with the same credit rating and same duration).

So when interest rates change, the discount rate changes. And the further in the future the cash flow is to be received, the greater the change in present value (i.e., market price).

So, the longer the duration of a bond (i.e., the further in the future its cash flows will be received, on average), the greater the change in present value (i.e., market price) when interest rates change.

How are Partnerships Taxed?

The following is a modified excerpt from my book LLC vs. S-Corp vs. C-Corp Explained in 100 Pages or Less.

Partnerships themselves are not actually subject to Federal income tax. Instead, they — like sole proprietorships — are pass-through entities. While the partnership itself is not taxed on its income, each of the partners will be taxed upon his or her share of the income from the partnership.

Form 1065

Form 1065 is the form used to calculate a partnership’s profit or loss. On the first page, you list the revenues for the business, list the expenses for the business, and then subtract the total expenses from the total revenues. It’s exactly what you would expect.

On the second and third pages of Form 1065 you answer several yes/no questions about the nature of the partnership. For instance, you’ll be asked whether any of the partners are not U.S. residents, whether the partnership had control of any financial accounts located outside of the U.S., and other questions of a similar nature.

Schedule K and Schedule K-1

The fourth page of Form 1065 is what’s known as Schedule K. Schedule K is used to break down the partnership’s income into different categories. For instance, ordinary business income goes on line 1, rental income goes on line 2, interest income shows up a little bit later on line 5, etc.

After filling out Schedule K, you’ll fill out a separate Schedule K-1 for each partner. On each partner’s Schedule K-1, that partner’s share of each of the different types of income is listed.

EXAMPLE: Aaron and Jake own and operate a partnership. Their partnership agreement states that they’re each entitled to exactly 50% of the partnership’s income. If, on Schedule K, the partnership shows ordinary business income of $50,000 and interest income of $200, each partner’s Schedule K-1 will reflect $25,000 of ordinary business income and $100 of interest income. This income will eventually show up on each partner’s regular income tax return (Form 1040).

What’s important to note here is that allocations from a partnership maintain their classification once they show up on the partners’ individual tax returns. This is important because some types of income are taxed differently than other types of income. For instance, long-term capital gains (gains from the sale of investments that were held for greater than one year) are currently taxed at a maximum rate of 23.8%, and in some cases they are not taxed at all.

EXAMPLE: Aaron and Jake’s partnership buys shares of a stock, holds the shares for several years, and then sells them for a gain of $10,000. When Aaron’s $5,000 share of the gain shows up on his tax return, it still counts as a long-term capital gain (as opposed to counting as ordinary income). It will, therefore, be taxed at a maximum rate of 23.8%, even if Aaron is in a much higher tax bracket.

Similarly, deductions maintain their character when passed through from a partnership. For example, if a partnership makes a cash contribution to a qualified charitable organization, that contribution will maintain its character when it shows up on each of the partners’ personal returns. That is, it will count as an itemized deduction, subject to all the normal limitations for charitable contributions (or, for 2020, it can be claimed as an adjustment to gross income of up to $300).

Self-Employment Tax for Partnerships

Ordinary business income from a partnership is generally subject to the self-employment tax when it is passed through to general partners. This makes sense given the rule that we just discussed about income maintaining its classification when allocated to a partner on his or her K-1.

Deduction for Pass-Through Income

Because partnerships, like sole proprietorships, are pass-through businesses, profit from a partnership will also qualify for the deduction for pass-through business income. With a partnership, your deduction is for 20% of your share of the partnership’s profit, subject to limitations.

Allocated Profit vs. Distributed Profit

One thing that surprises the owners of many partnerships when their first tax season rolls around is the fact that partners get taxed on their allocated share of the partnership’s profit, even if nothing was distributed to them.

EXAMPLE: Michelle, Kayla, and Tim start a partnership. Their partnership agreement states that profit or loss will be evenly allocated to the partners.

In the first year, their partnership makes $60,000. However, they’re sure that their business could grow quickly if they had the capital. So, they decide not to distribute any cash to the partners. Instead, they make plans to use all $60,000 to buy new production equipment next year.

Despite the fact that none of the partners actually received any cash payout, they’re each going to be taxed on $20,000 of business income (1/3 of the $60,000 total). That is, each is taxed on his or her “allocated profit” of $20,000 rather than his or her “distributed profit” of $0.

[Note: Profits and losses in a partnership are not required to be split evenly between the partners. The partners can choose to split the profit or loss in any way they choose. It just makes the math in the examples easier if we give each partner an equal share.]

In Summary

  • Like sole proprietorships, partnerships are “pass through” entities. A partnership is not subject to federal income tax. Rather, its owners are subject to Federal income tax on their share of the profit.
  • Form 1065 is used to calculate a partnership’s profit or loss.
  • Schedule K is used to break down a partnership’s income and deductions by category. Schedule K-1 is then used to show each partner’s allocated share of the various types of income and deductions.
  • Income and deductions from a partnership maintain their original classification when they are passed through to a partner. For example, long-term capital gains will be taxed at a max rate of 23.8%, and ordinary business income is subject to self-employment tax.
  • For tax years 2018-2025, you can claim a deduction equal to 20% of your share of a partnership’s profit, subject to limitations.
  • Partners are taxed on their allocated share of the profit, regardless of how much of the profit is actually paid out to them.

For More Information, See My Related Book:


LLC vs. S-Corp vs. C-Corp Explained in 100 Pages or Less

Topics Covered in the Book:
  • The basics of sole proprietorship, partnership, LLC, S-Corp, and C-Corp taxation,
  • How to protect your personal assets from lawsuits against your business,
  • Which business structures could reduce your Federal income tax or Self-Employment tax,
  • Click here to see the full list.

LLC Tax Advantages and Disadvantages

The following is an excerpt from my book LLC vs. S-Corp vs. C-Corp Explained in 100 Pages or Less.

As far as federal income taxes are concerned, LLCs don’t really exist. The Internal Revenue Code — the body of law that outlines all federal income taxation — treats each LLC as if it were one of the other types of entities.

Specifically, unless they have elected otherwise, single-member LLCs (LLCs with one owner) will be taxed as sole proprietorships, and multiple-member LLCs will be taxed as partnerships. Because of this tax treatment, LLCs — like sole proprietorships and partnerships — are often referred to as “pass-through” entities.”

EXAMPLE: Kali owns and operates a restaurant as a sole proprietorship. She later decides to form an LLC for her business. The business will continue to be taxed as a sole proprietorship (for federal tax purposes at least).

EXAMPLE: Steve and Beth own and operate a winery. After learning about the potential dangers of unlimited liability in a partnership, they decide to form an LLC. The business will continue to be treated as a partnership for federal income tax purposes.

LLCs Taxed as Corporations

Sometimes, after forming an LLC, the owner(s) of the LLC will decide that they would benefit from being taxed as a C-corporation rather than as a sole proprietorship or partnership. When this happens, the owner(s) have two options:

  1. Form a corporation and transfer all of the assets from the LLC to the corporation, or
  2. Fill out a form (Form 8832) electing corporate tax treatment.

The second option is certainly the easier and less costly of the two.

The same thing can be done should the LLC’s owner(s) decide that S-corporation taxation would be beneficial. The only difference is that a different form (Form 2553) is used to notify the IRS of the election.

Disregarded Entities

If a single-member LLC does not elect to be taxed as a corporation, it is referred to as a “disregarded entity” because its existence is disregarded entirely as far as federal income tax is concerned. (That is, the LLC and its owner are considered to be one and the same.)

State Taxation of LLCs

Again, unless an election is made otherwise, LLCs will be treated as either sole proprietorships or partnerships for federal tax purposes. However, depending upon where your business is located, state income taxes might not work the same way.

For example, some states tax LLC directly on their income rather than (or in addition to) taxing the owners on their share of the income. For instance, in California, LLCs are subject to an $800 annual tax, as well as an income-based fee if the LLC earned more than $250,000 in California that year.

EXAMPLE: Braden runs a sole proprietorship in California for his part-time video production business. He earns roughly $3,000 per year from the business, and is considering forming an LLC. However, even with an annual income of only $3,000, a California LLC would still be subject to a tax of $800, or more than one-quarter of the business’s total profit. Braden eventually decides that the benefits of forming an LLC would be outweighed by this disproportionately large tax.

Before deciding to form an LLC, it’s definitely a good idea to find out precisely how your state taxes limited liability companies.

In Summary

  • For federal tax purposes, single-owner LLCs are treated as sole proprietorships, and multiple-owner LLCs are treated as partnerships.
  • An LLC can elect to be taxed as a corporation simply by filing a form with the IRS (Form 8832 for C-corporation tax treatment or Form 2553 for S-corporation tax treatment).
  • Some states do not tax LLCs the same way that the federal government does, so be sure to find out how your own state taxes LLCs before creating one.

For More Information, See My Related Book:


LLC vs. S-Corp vs. C-Corp Explained in 100 Pages or Less

Topics Covered in the Book:
  • The basics of sole proprietorship, partnership, LLC, S-Corp, and C-Corp taxation,
  • How to protect your personal assets from lawsuits against your business,
  • Which business structures could reduce your Federal income tax or Self-Employment tax,
  • Click here to see the full list.
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