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Muriel Siebert & Co.


AFTER TAX



Now that the tax season is behind us, don't file those records until you've done a little planning for next year.

The more money you make, the more tax planning that's required to get the biggest bang from those bucks. So, whether you've filed your taxes in January, sent them off on the 17th, or have an extension, a couple of things are certain: You have an idea of how much money you made last year, how much was to be paid in taxes for the year 1999 and the tax bracket you're in.

Armed with that information, why not do a little long-term financial planning. The following points ought to help get that ball rolling:

  1. Make sure you're doing the IRA, 401 (k), SEP-IRA, ROTH IRA and/or Keogh thing. Depending upon your employment status--- self-employed, part-time employed, full-time employee or not employed at all---there is at least one type of qualified retirement plan that can work for you. Find out which one(s) that may be, cough up the cash and begin a long term investment program today. If you're already opened a retirement account and are into the habit of funding it each year, stretch a little and try to contribute as much as possible. According to a recent Fidelity Investments report, these accounts can grow into hundreds of thousands of dollars. For some, even millions.

    If you need a reminder of why you're investing, one reason is the plain and simple fact that we're all living longer lives.

    While living longer might sound great, but those golden years aren't always a bed of roses for everyone. Health issues, life-styles and helping others can devastate a life and a nest egg.

    In the past century, people used to save for a rainy day. In this current century, we need to save---and invest---for our lengthy lives. In the end, it takes more than good genes to live a long life; it requires plenty of money, too. Retirement accounts provide one way of accumulating wealth.

  2. Set up a color-coded filing system. If you've been investing in mutual funds for any length of time, you know that there can be plenty of paper involved. Just keeping the paperwork straight between the mutual funds held in your personal taxable accounts and those in your retirement accounts can be tricky. Make the task easier by filing the paperwork in color-coded folders. Try putting all taxable mutual fund holdings in red folders and the ones from qualified retirement accounts in blue or yellow ones.

  3. Review beneficiaries. Let tax time be the season that all the beneficiaries on all of your investments, especially those on qualified retirement accounts, are reviewed.

    Upon death, IRAs are included when calculating estate taxes. Depending upon your financial status, estate taxes can run as high as 55% of your net worth. As your IRA assets grow through the years, make sure the tax professional you're working with has the vision and expertise necessary to see that planning changes are necessary as wealth accumulates. And, that today's beneficiary might not be the appropriate one for personal or tax-planning purposes in the future.

  4. Think twice before giving and investing. "Right around this time of year, high net worth individuals can find themselves in the position of having excess deductions that go to waste," says Drew Bottaro, senior advisor at Pillar Financial Advisors in Waltham, MA. "So, sometimes whole portfolios need reviewing and repositioning."

    Depending upon the situation and amount of charitable deductions one has, selling off a highly appreciated stock can make sense for some high net worth individuals. Or, moving from municipal to corporate bond funds---or visa versa---could mean more money in their pockets. To find out which is best for you, takes careful analysis.

    "There's enough time left in the year, to influence your investment strategy for next year, " says Bottaro. "Think about your forward tax strategy right now---and that includes your charitable giving. After all, you've got last year's right in front of you to work from."

  5. Be conscious of selling. Taking a profit and actually realizing the gains that you've had is what investing is all about. However, every time you sell shares of anything---stocks or shares of a mutual fund---outside of a qualified retirement account triggers a taxable event. So, selling can be costly.

    Bottaro said that short term capital gains, from a tax point of view, are not efficient. That's because they can run as has as 39.6 percent, depending upon your total taxable income. Do some figuring before selling and that little bit of pencil work might save a lot come next April.

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