The “Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement” Act of 2019 (SECURE Act) (12/2019)

The “Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement” Act (SECURE Act), part of the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020 (H.R. 1865, P.L. 116-94), was enacted on December 20, 2019. The SECURE Act expands opportunities for individuals to increase their savings, and makes administrative simplifications to the retirement system.

Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act (SECURE Act)

 

Key provisions affecting individuals:

Repeal of the maximum age for traditional IRA contributions.

Before 2020, traditional IRA contributions were not allowed once the individual attained age 70½. Starting in 2020, the new rules allow an individual of any age to make contributions to a traditional IRA, as long as the individual has compensation, which generally means earned income from wages or self-employment.

Required minimum distribution age raised from 70½ to 72.

Before 2020, retirement plan participants and IRA owners were generally required to begin taking required minimum distributions, or RMDs, from their plan by April 1 of the year following the year they reached age 70½. The age 70½ requirement was first applied in the retirement plan context in the early 1960s and, until recently, had not been adjusted to account for increases in life expectancy.

For distributions required to be made after Dec. 31, 2019, for individuals who attain age 70½ after that date, the age at which individuals must begin taking distributions from their retirement plan or IRA is increased from 70½ to 72.

Partial elimination of stretch IRAs.

For deaths of plan participants or IRA owners occurring before 2020, beneficiaries (both spousal and nonspousal) were generally allowed to stretch out the tax-deferral advantages of the plan or IRA by taking distributions over the beneficiary s life or life expectancy (in the IRA context, this is sometimes referred to as a “stretch IRA”).

However, for deaths of plan participants or IRA owners beginning in 2020 (later for some participants in collectively bargained plans and governmental plans), distributions to most nonspouse beneficiaries are generally required to be distributed within ten years following the plan participant s or IRA owner s death. So, for those beneficiaries, the “stretching” strategy is no longer allowed.

Exceptions to the 10-year rule are allowed for distributions to (1) the surviving spouse of the plan participant or IRA owner; (2) a child of the plan participant or IRA owner who has not reached majority; (3) a chronically ill individual; and (4) any other individual who is not more than ten years younger than the plan participant or IRA owner. Those beneficiaries who qualify under this exception may generally still take their distributions over their life expectancy (as allowed under the rules in effect for deaths occurring before 2020).

Expansion of Section 529 education savings plans to cover registered apprenticeships and distributions to repay certain student loans.

A Section 529 education savings plan (a 529 plan, also known as a qualified tuition program) is a tax-exempt program established and maintained by a state, or one or more eligible educational institutions (public or private). Any person can make nondeductible cash contributions to a 529 plan on behalf of a designated beneficiary. The earnings on the contributions accumulate tax-free. Distributions from a 529 plan are excludable up to the amount of the designated beneficiary’s qualified higher education expenses.

Before 2019, qualified higher education expenses didn’t include the expenses of registered apprenticeships or student loan repayments.

But for distributions made after Dec. 31, 2018 (the effective date is retroactive), tax-free distributions from 529 plans can be used to pay for fees, books, supplies, and equipment required for the designated beneficiary s participation in an apprenticeship program. In addition, tax-free distributions (up to $10,000) are allowed to pay the principal or interest on a qualified education loan of the designated beneficiary, or a sibling of the designated beneficiary.

Kiddie tax changes for gold star children and others.

In 2017, Congress passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA, P.L. 115-97), which made changes to the so-called “kiddie tax,” which is a tax on the unearned income of certain children. Before enactment of the TCJA, the net unearned income of a child was taxed at the parents’ tax rates if the parents’ tax rates were higher than the tax rates of the child.

Under the TCJA, for tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2017, the taxable income of a child attributable to net unearned income is taxed according to the brackets applicable to trusts and estates. Children to whom the kiddie tax rules apply and who have net unearned income also have a reduced exemption amount under the alternative minimum tax (AMT) rules.

There had been concern that the TCJA changes unfairly increased the tax on certain children, including those who were receiving government payments (i.e., unearned income) because they were survivors of deceased military personnel (“gold star children”), first responders, and emergency medical workers.

The new rules enacted on Dec. 20, 2019, repeal the kiddie tax measures that were added by the TCJA. So, starting in 2020 (with the option to start retroactively in 2018 and/or 2019), the unearned income of children is taxed under the pre-TCJA rules, and not at trust/estate rates. And starting retroactively in 2018, the new rules also eliminate the reduced AMT exemption amount for children to whom the kiddie tax rules apply and who have net unearned income.

Penalty-free retirement plan withdrawals for expenses related to the birth or adoption of a child.

Generally, a distribution from a retirement plan must be included in income. And, unless an exception applies (for example, distributions in case of financial hardship), a distribution before the age of 59-1/2 is subject to a 10% early withdrawal penalty on the amount includible in income.

Starting in 2020, plan distributions (up to $5,000) that are used to pay for expenses related to the birth or adoption of a child are penalty-free. That $5,000 amount applies on an individual basis, so for a married couple, each spouse may receive a penalty-free distribution up to $5,000 for a qualified birth or adoption.

Taxable non-tuition fellowship and stipend payments are treated as compensation for IRA purposes.

Before 2020, stipends and non-tuition fellowship payments received by graduate and postdoctoral students were not treated as compensation for IRA contribution purposes, and so could not be used as the basis for making IRA contributions.

Starting in 2020, the new rules remove that obstacle by permitting taxable non-tuition fellowship and stipend payments to be treated as compensation for IRA contribution purposes. This change will enable these students to begin saving for retirement without delay.

Tax-exempt difficulty-of-care payments are treated as compensation for determining retirement contribution limits.

Many home healthcare workers do not have taxable income because their only compensation comes from “difficulty-of-care” payments that are exempt from taxation. Because those workers do not have taxable income, they were not able to save for retirement in a qualified retirement plan or IRA.

For IRA contributions made after Dec. 20, 2019 (and retroactively starting in 2016 for contributions made to certain qualified retirement plans), the new rules allow home healthcare workers to contribute to a retirement plan or IRA by providing that tax-exempt difficulty-of-care payments are treated as compensation for purposes of calculating the contribution limits to certain qualified plans and IRAs.

Key provisions affecting employer-provided retirement plans:

Unrelated employers are more easily allowed to band together to create a single retirement plan.

A multiple employer plan (MEP) is a single plan maintained by two or more unrelated employers. Starting in 2021, the new rules reduce the barriers to creating and maintaining MEPs, which will help increase opportunities for small employers to band together to obtain more favorable investment results, while allowing for more efficient and less expensive management services.

New small employer automatic plan enrollment credit.

Automatic enrollment is shown to increase employee participation and higher retirement savings. Starting in 2020, the new rules create a new tax credit of up to $500 per year to employers to defray start-up costs for new 401(k) plans and SIMPLE IRA plans that include automatic enrollment. The credit is in addition to an existing plan start-up credit, and is available for three years. The new credit is also available to employers who convert an existing plan to a plan with an automatic enrollment design.

Increase credit for small employer pension plan start-up costs.

The new rules increase the credit for plan start-up costs to make it more affordable for small businesses to set up retirement plans. Starting in 2020, the credit is increased by changing the calculation of the flat dollar amount limit on the credit to the greater of (1) $500, or (2) the lesser of: (a) $250 multiplied by the number of nonhighly compensated employees of the eligible employer who are eligible to participate in the plan, or (b) $5,000. The credit applies for up to three years.

Expand retirement savings by increasing the auto enrollment safe harbor cap.

An annual nondiscrimination test called the actual deferral percentage (ADP) test applies to elective deferrals under a 401(k) plan. The ADP test is deemed to be satisfied if a 401(k) plan includes certain minimum matching or non-elective contributions under either of two safe harbor plan designs and meets certain other requirements. One of the safe harbor plans is an automatic enrollment safe harbor plan.

Starting in 2020, the new rules increase the cap on the default rate under an automatic enrollment safe harbor plan from 10% to 15%, but only for years after the participant’s first deemed election year. For the participant’s first deemed election year, the cap on the default rate is 10%.

Allow long-term part-time employees to participate in 401(k) plans.

Currently, employers are generally allowed to exclude part-time employees (i.e., employees who work less than 1,000 hours per year) when providing certain types of retirement plans—like a 401(k) plan—to their employees. As women are more likely than men to work part-time, these rules can be especially harmful for women in preparing for retirement.

However, starting in 2021, the new rules will require most employers maintaining a 401(k) plan to have a dual eligibility requirement under which an employee must complete either a one-year-of-service requirement (with the 1,000-hour rule), or three consecutive years of service where the employee completes at least 500 hours of service per year. For employees who are eligible solely by reason of the new 500-hour rule, the employer will be allowed to exclude those employees from testing under the nondiscrimination and coverage rules, and from the application of the top-heavy rules.

Loosen notice requirements and amendment timing rules to facilitate adoption of nonelective contribution 401(k) safe harbor plans.

The actual deferral percentage nondiscrimination test is deemed to be satisfied if a 401(k) plan includes certain minimum matching or nonelective contributions under either of two plan designs (referred to as a “401(k) safe harbor plan”), as well as certain required rights and features, and satisfies a notice requirement. Under one type of 401(k) safe harbor plan, the plan either (1) satisfies a matching contribution requirement, or (2) provides for a nonelective contribution to a defined contribution plan of at least 3% of an employee’s compensation on behalf of each nonhighly compensated employee who is eligible to participate in the plan.

Starting in 2020, the new rules change the nonelective contribution 401(k) safe harbor to provide greater flexibility, improve employee protection, and facilitate plan adoption. The new rules eliminate the safe harbor notice requirement, but maintain the requirement to allow employees to make or change an election at least once per year. The rules also permit amendments to nonelective status at any time before the 30th day before the close of the plan year. Amendments after that time are allowed if the amendment provides (1) a nonelective contribution of at least 4% of compensation (rather than at least 3%) for all eligible employees for that plan year, and (2) the plan is amended no later than the last day for distributing excess contributions for the plan year (i.e., by the close of following plan year).

Expansion of portability of lifetime income options.

Starting in 2020, the new rules permit certain retirement plans to make a direct trustee-to-trustee transfer to another employer-sponsored retirement plan, or IRA, of a lifetime income investment or distributions of a lifetime income investment in the form of a qualified plan distribution annuity, if a lifetime income investment is no longer authorized to be held as an investment option under the plan. This change permits participants to preserve their lifetime income investments and avoid surrender charges and fees.

Qualified employer plans barred from making loans through credit cards and similar arrangements.

After Dec. 20, 2019, plan loans may no longer be distributed through credit cards or similar arrangements. This change is intended to ensure that plan loans are not used for routine or small purchases, thereby helping to preserve retirement savings.

Nondiscrimination rules modified to protect older, longer service participants in closed plans.

Starting in 2020, the nondiscrimination rules as they pertain to closed pension plans (i.e., plans closed to new entrants) are being changed to permit existing participants to continue to accrue benefits. The modification will protect the benefits for older, longer-service employees as they near retirement.

Plans adopted by filing due date for year may be treated as in effect as of close of year.

Starting in 2020, employers can elect to treat qualified retirement plans adopted after the close of a tax year, but before the due date (including extensions) of the tax return, as having been adopted as of the last day of the year. The additional time to establish a plan provides flexibility for employers who are considering adopting a plan, and the opportunity for employees to receive contributions for that earlier year.

New annual disclosures required for estimated lifetime income streams.

The new rules (starting at a to-be-determined future date) will require that plan participants’ benefit statements include a lifetime income disclosure at least once during any 12-month period. The disclosure will have to illustrate the monthly payments the participant would receive if the total account balance were used to provide lifetime income streams, including a qualified joint and survivor annuity for the participant and the participant s surviving spouse and a single life annuity.

Fiduciary safe harbor added for selection of annuity providers.

When a plan sponsor selects an annuity provider for the plan, the sponsor is considered a plan “fiduciary,” which generally means that the sponsor must discharge his or her duties with respect to the plan solely in the interests of plan participants and beneficiaries (this is known as the “prudence requirement”).

Starting on Dec. 20, 2019 (the date the SECURE Act was signed into law), fiduciaries have an optional safe harbor to satisfy the prudence requirement in their selection of an insurer for a guaranteed retirement income contract, and are protected from liability for any losses that may result to participants or beneficiaries due to an insurer’s future inability to satisfy its financial obligations under the terms of the contract. Removing ambiguity about the applicable fiduciary standard eliminates a roadblock to offering lifetime income benefit options under a plan.

Increased penalties for failure-to-file retirement plan returns.

Starting in 2020, the new rules modify the failure-to-file penalties for retirement plan returns.

The penalty for failing to file a Form 5500 (for annual plan reporting) is changed to $250 per day, not to exceed $150,000.

A taxpayer’s failure to file a registration statement incurs a penalty of $10 per participant per day, not to exceed $50,000.

The failure to file a required notification of change results in a penalty of $10 per day, not to exceed $10,000.

The failure to provide a required withholding notice results in a penalty of $100 for each failure, not to exceed $50,000 for all failures during any calendar year.

 

Protecting TV Viewers, Whistleblowers and Supreme Court Justices; New Status Provisions for Immigrant Workers; and OTC Drugs

Reauthorizing Security for Supreme Court Justices Act of 2019 (HR 4258) – This bill reauthorizes the Marshal of the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court Police to protect the Justices of the Supreme Court, their employees and official guests outside of the Supreme Court grounds. The legislation was sponsored by Rep. Greg Stanton (D-AZ). It was introduced on Sept. 9, 2019, and signed into law by the president on Nov. 27, 2019.

Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019 (HR 5038) – This bill amends the Immigration and Nationality Act to provide for terms and conditions for nonimmigrant workers performing agricultural labor. Under this law, certified agricultural worker (CAW) status may be granted to someone who 1) performed at least 1,035 hours of agricultural labor during the two-year period prior to Oct. 30, 2019, 2) was inadmissible or deportable on that date, and 3) has been continuously present in the United States from that date until receiving CAW status. The CAW status is valid for five and a half years with the option to extend, and the Department of Homeland Security may grant dependent status to the spouse or children of a principal alien. The legislation was introduced by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) on Nov. 12, 2019, and passed in the House in December 2019. It is currently in the Senate for consideration.

Television Viewer Protection Act of 2019 (HR 5035) – This bill was introduced by Rep. Michael Doyle Jr. (D-PA) on Nov. 12, 2019, passed in the House of Representatives and currently awaits review in the Senate. The legislation would ban hidden fees from cable providers by requiring them to disclose all itemized charges, fees and estimated taxes in the total price before a consumer signs up for a video package (whether offered individually or as part of a bundle). The bill also would give customers the right to cancel service without penalty within 24 hours of purchasing the service plan.

The Over-the-Counter Monograph Safety, Innovation and Reform Act (S 2740) – Introduced on Oct. 30, 2019, by Sen. John Isakson (R-GA), this bill would add new incentives to the FDA’s process for approving drugs that do not require a prescription. It would allow an over-the-counter drug manufacturer to request 18 months of exclusivity upon FDA approval for products that are new to the OTC market. The application would require a user fee ranging from $100,000 to $500,000, depending on the type of OTC product. This legislation passed the Senate on Dec. 10, 2019, and is currently under consideration in the House.

Engineering Biology Research and Development Act of 2019 (HR 4373) – This bill would establish a federal engineering biology research initiative to bolster U.S. leadership in engineering biology, among other provisions. The bill was introduced on Sept. 18, 2019, by Rep. Eddie Johnson (D-TX) and passed the House on Dec. 9, 2019. It is currently in the Senate.

Department of Homeland Security Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Authorization Act (HR 4713) – Following the emergence of whistleblowers worried about their civil rights, this legislation would give the Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Office new authority to ensure that the rights of individuals subject to its programs and activities are protected. Specifically, the bill would allow each Homeland Security department to appoint its own civil rights and liberties officer and grant them the authority to access all relevant department records, as well as subpoena non-federal entities. The bill was introduced on Oct. 17, 2019, by Rep. Al Green (D-TX) and passed in the House on Dec. 9, 2019. It is currently awaiting consideration by the Senate.

Key Technology Trends in Accounting to Watch Out For in 2020

Technology advances continue to reshape industries and businesses – and the accounting industry is no exception. So far, a lot of repetitive tasks are performed with the help of advanced hardware and software. Even for businesses that do not like change, many find themselves making adjustments due to a generation change in the workforce, marketing demands, regulations and client demand. In any case, technology offers strengths once a business adopts new solutions to the accounting processes.

The accounting industry has evolved so much that bookkeeping is no longer just about balancing books; professionals in this field are slowly transitioning into strategic business advisors.

Technological innovations offer inexpensive and efficient ways to run businesses and other aspects of life. Every now and then, there is news on emerging technologies.

Here are some tech trends that are expected to influence the accounting industry in the year 2020.

Cloud-Based Accounting

The internet has enabled the storage and processing of data from remote servers. Small- and medium-sized businesses can now leverage the power of the internet and access data and infrastructure without worrying about the cost of purchasing and maintaining hardware and software services on-site. The ease of accessing data anytime and anywhere helps businesses save valuable time. Such benefits will continue driving more businesses to adopting the use of cloud-based accounting systems.  

Automation

Automating repetitive tasks has helped eliminate manual data entry while saving production hours at the same time. Since technology continues to advance, the accounting industry will see more tasks become automated. This trend can be observed in the growing number of accounting software available for both small and large businesses. Artificial intelligence will also contribute to automation in the industry. This is already evident with the increased development and adoption of robotic process automation.

Social Media

In the early 2000s, social media platforms were mainly used to communicate with family and friends. Today, social media is making an impact in digital marketing. Social media platforms will continue influencing how businesses communicate with their clients.

Apart from reaching out to more clients, accounting firms can also find talent to hire from social media platforms such as LinkedIn.

Big Data and Data Analytics

With advanced data collection and processing, it’s now possible to have access to insights and predictive analysis. Although analytics is not entirely new in accounting, the availability of data analytics tools makes it more powerful. This is important for business owners as it helps to improve decision making as well as understand the overall status of a company with the click of a button.

Cryptocurrency

This digital currency has revolutionized the financial industry with millions of coins present in the market today, including Bitcoin, Ripple and Ethereum among others. This digital currency has taken root so much that it is now accepted as a means of payment. Cryptocurrency has been enabled by blockchain technology.

Blockchain

For businesses, blockchain technology helps maintain a unique history of all interactions with various parties, which is indisputable. Widely known accounting companies like Ernst Young and Price Waterhouse already have people working in distributed ledger laboratories. The blockchain technology will not only lower the cost of reconciling and maintaining ledgers, but it will also provide accuracy of ownership and asset history. 

Remote Working

Remote work settings are becoming common in most industries, and accounting leaders are also adapting this trend. With expectations of more advanced computerized accounting systems as well as cloud-based solutions, it will not be a surprise to have your accountant handling accounting tasks remotely.

In Conclusion

With technology largely affecting how businesses are run, it’s no longer enough for a business to stick to traditional accountancy practices.

As technology and accounting becomes more intertwined, it’s wise for businesses to stay ahead of the curve. The most important way to deal with it is to embrace the technology, learn about new technologies and most importantly, learn new skills. This will ensure that your business remains competitive as you are ready to meet customer demands for faster processes. 

4 Financial Resolutions You Can Actually Keep

Believe it or not, it’s 2020. You’re not just starting a new year, you’re entering a new decade. With this in mind, you might want to make some resolutions that focus on your finances. According to  Psychology Today, 80 percent of resolutions fail by February. If you’re thinking about dieting or eating better, this isn’t very encouraging. However, when it comes to your money, there are some changes you can implement now that will have staying power and won’t be forgotten by spring.

Review Your Credit Report

This is important for your financial future in many ways, particularly if you want to buy a house or a car (and that’s just for starters). If you need to make some repairs to your score, the new year is the best time to do this. Better still, you’re entitled to three free reports each year. Check it out. See how you’re doing. You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Get Out of Debt

This might be easier said than done, but it’s absolutely possible. One very helpful tool is Unbury.Me. It’s free and easy to use. Just create an account and map out a payment plan that works for you. If you want to wipe away your debt quickly, there’s the avalanche method, which attacks the highest interest rate debts first, then moves to the second highest and so on. But this isn’t the only solution. There’s another tool that actually uses your purchases to help you pay down debt: Qoins. Here’s how it works. You round your purchases to the nearest dollar, then apply the cash to your debt, i.e. student loans or credit cards. So, in essence, you can go on living your life while shrinking your debt.

Evaluate Your Insurance and Disability Insurance Needs

As you age, your insurance needs change. Think about how much protection you really need. For example, would you be better served by term or permanent life insurance? What about disability insurance? For the latter, make sure you have enough coverage. Life happens. It’s always best to be prepared.

Refresh Your Retirement Savings

If you work for a company that offers 401(k), 403(k) or 457 plans, consider asking your employer to withhold enough through salary deferrals to make sure you reach the maximum limit each year. If you’re over 50, you can raise the amount to make catch-up contributions. If you’re self-employed, you can contribute to a SEP IRA, profit-sharing plan or independent 401(k) plan. Making retirement deductions from your paychecks, especially when they’re maxed out, might take a bit of getting used to. But once you’ve retired, you’ll be very glad you had the foresight to act now.

Truth is that the above resolutions are just the tip of the moneyberg. You can go deeper into each area. If you want further assistance, consult a financial planner or your accountant. But the biggest takeaway from all these suggestions is simple: begin now, or as soon as you can. When you’re making the most of your money today, you’re working toward a more secure tomorrow.

Sources

https://www.investopedia.com/articles/pf/06/newyear.asp

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/modern-mentality/201812/why-new-years-resolutions-fail

https://www.investopedia.com/terms/c/catchupcontribution.asp

https://www.nbcnews.com/better/business/4-tech-tools-help-you-get-out-debt-faster-ncna828351

https://www.transunion.com/article/3-free-credit-reports

https://www.investopedia.com/terms/t/termlife.asp

https://www.investopedia.com/terms/p/permanentlife.asp

https://www.investopedia.com/terms/d/disability-insurance.asp

https://www.investopedia.com/terms/s/sep.asp

https://www.investopedia.com/terms/p/profitsharingplan.asp

https://www.investopedia.com/terms/i/independent_401k.asp

Economic Correlation: Cyclical and Non-Cyclical Stocks

A rising tide might lift all boats, but the same cannot be said for the economy.

When the U.S. experiences robust economic growth, certain sectors of the stock market tend to rise while others hold steady or even decline by comparison. The stocks of companies that experience higher revenues are typically categorized as cyclical. In other words, their good fortune rests mainly on consumers being gainfully employed and having ample discretionary income with which to buy more goods and services.

Take, for example, auto manufacturers. Sales typically increase when more people can afford to buy a new car. But that’s not all the time, because the economy is cyclical – it ebbs and flows over time. Therefore, companies that produce non-essential products – sometimes referred to as consumer discretionary goods and services – tend to flourish during economic cycles of strength and rising GDP. That is why they are called cyclical stocks.

But when the economic future is in decline or at least uncertain, people tend to delay buying non-essential items like a new car. When the economy really takes a nosedive, more consumers are affected, they buy less stuff, manufacturing takes a hit and companies start laying off their workforce.

Despite these unfortunate circumstances, people still have to eat. They buy essential items, such as food and toothpaste and toilet paper. These are considered consumer staples, and the stocks of companies that produce these types of goods are defined as non-cyclical stocks. That’s because those companies are expected to continue earning revenues regardless of economic cycles. Non-cyclical industries include food and beverage, tobacco, household and personal products.

Another non-cyclical sector is utilities. Utilities are a little bit different because people tend to purchase relatively the same amount of utility service – with exceptions for extreme weather or making slight thermostat adjustments to save money – whether the economy is robust or in a downward spiral. Because of this, utility companies are considered a very stable business model.

For investors, that means they are well-established, long-term performers and usually pay out high dividends. Not only are utility stocks a good option for retirees seeking income to supplement their Social Security benefits, but they offer a safe haven for investors to relocate assets during periods of economic decline.

In light of recent cautions by economists predicting a recession in 2020, this could be a good time to review your portfolio from the perspective of cyclical versus non-cyclical holdings. It doesn’t mean you need to sell completely out of your stock allocation; perhaps just temper your holdings to equities that tend to perform reliably regardless of the economy. In addition to consumer staples and utilities, consider companies that specialize in national defense, waste management, data processing and payments.

Also be aware that the past three decades have boasted several of the longest running economic expansions in U.S. history (1991 to 2001; 2001 to early 2007; 2009 through 2019). What this tells us is that U.S. economic growth cycles appear to be lengthening while declines are relatively shorter and followed up with impressive recovery periods.

So, take heart. If you decide to transfer some of your assets to less flashy, non-cyclical securities, you might not have to leave them there for long. However, it’s always a good idea to maintain a diversified portfolio so you don’t have to make adjustments based on economic cycles. And as always, consult an investment professional to help you make these important decisions.

How Will Oil Prices Fare in 2020 With Global Events?

When it comes to 2020 and energy prices, the world’s energy market will face many known and unknown variables. How and what types of events that will ultimately play out are unknown but, according to industry and government experts, there are some variables that are projected to lead to lower global prices overall.

Based on a Dec. 10 short-term energy outlook publication from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), there will be a mix of pushes and pulls on the price of crude oil and associated refining products. Market prices in 2020 for Brent crude oil is expected to average around $61, compared to 2019’s $64 average price per barrel. Looking at West Texas Intermediate (WTI) quotes, the EIA sees this type of crude settling, on average, at about $5.50 per barrel lower than Brent crude oil in 2020. The EIA bases its lowered price forecast on greater supplies of oil globally, especially in the first half of 2020. 

The agency’s data shows that in September 2019, America exported more than 90,000 net barrels per day of products from and crude oil itself. This is coupled with domestic export projections of 570,000 net barrels per day in 2020, in contrast to average net imports of 490,000 barrels per day in 2019.

According to EIA’s projections, U.S. crude oil production will grow by 900,000 barrels per day in 2020, compared to 2019’s production, resulting in 13.2 million barrels of daily production in 2020. This growth is compared to 2019’s production gains of 1.3 million barrels per day, and 2018’s 1.6 million barrel per day growth. The decrease in production, attributed by the EIA, is due to increased rig efficiency and well level productivity, despite the number of rigs dropping.

The EIA believes that OPEC and its “+” oil producing states will go beyond announced oil production cuts on Dec. 6, further cutting production through March 2020. The original cuts of 1.2 million barrels per day, announced in December 2018, have been modified to reducing production to 1.7 million barrels per day. The EIA expects the major global producers to keep production curtailed through all of 2020, due to increasing global oil inventories.

Fuel Standard’s Impact on Oil Prices

Through implementation of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), Jan. 1, 2020, is ushering in new standards for allowable levels of sulfur in bunker fuel. This fuel will be required to contain no more than 0.5 percent sulfur content, compared to current allowable levels of 3.5 percent of the bunker oil’s weight. In reaction to the new standards, the EIA expects American refineries to increase operations by 3 percent in 2020 versus 2019’s production. It’s expected to increase wholesale margins in 2020 to 57 cents per gallon, on average, with it spiking to 61 cents per gallon. This is compared to 45 cents a gallon in 2019.

The Federal Reserve and Oil Prices

According to the Dec. 11, 2019, FOMC statement from The Federal Reserve, there was no modification to the federal funds rate. They based their decision on a yearly measure for inflation, excluding food and energy, along with signs of continued economic expansion, including healthy job creation and continued high rates of employment. However, the Fed indicated that if its goals of fostering a growing economy, maintaining a healthy job market and a 2 percent inflation target fall short, it will take appropriate action to keep supporting economic expansion. Depending on the Fed’s action to lower, increase or maintain its rates, the price of oil would feel the impacts.

While there’s no telling how fiscal policy and geopolitical events will play out in 2020, it looks like the price of oil will head south.

How to Calculate and Analyze Return on Equity

When it comes to evaluating a business, especially one that is publicly traded, determining its return on equity (ROE) is one way to see how it’s performing.

What is Return on Equity?

Return on equity is a ratio that gives investors insight into how effectively the company’s management team is taking care of the shareholders’ financial investments in the company. The greater the ROE percentage, the better the business’ management staff is at making income and creating growth from shareholders’ investments.  

How ROE is Determined

In order to calculate ROE, a company’s net income is divided by shareholder equity. To arrive at net income, businesses account for the cost of doing business, which includes the cost of goods sold, sales, operating and general expenses, interest, tax payments, etc. and then subtracts these costs of doing business from all sales. Similarly, the free cash flow figure can be substituted in place of net income.

There are some caveats when it comes to calculating net income. It is determined prior to paying out dividends to common shareholders, but loan interest and preferred shareholder dividend obligations must be met before starting this calculation.

The other part of the equation is the shareholder equity or stockholders’ equity. One definition is to subtract existing liabilities from a business’ assets, and what remains is what owners of a corporation or its shareholders would be able to claim as their equity in the company. Whether it’s done year over year or quarter over quarter, traders and investors can see how well a company performs over different time periods.

Return on equity is also able to be determined if a business’ net income and equity are in the black. The net income is found on the income statement – the ledger of the company’s financial transactions. Shareholders’ equity is found on the balance sheet – which details the business’ assets and financial obligations.

Analyzing a Business’ ROE

Another consideration that industry experts recommend to determine if a company’s ROE is poor or excellent is to see how it compares to the S&P 500 Index’s performance. With the historical rate of return being 10 percent annually over the past decade, and if a ROE is lower than 10 percent, it can give a good indication as to a particular business’ performance. However, a particular company’s ROE also needs to be compared against the industry’s ROE to see if the company is outperforming its sector.

For example, according to Yahoo Finance!, the ROE on Microsoft’s stock is 42.80 percent. This means that the management team running Microsoft is returning just shy of 43 cents for every dollar in shareholders’ equity. Compared to its industry (Software System & Application) ROE of 13.47percent – as cited by New York University’s Stern School of Business – Microsoft has a much higher ROE compared to the industry average. This is just one metric to measure the company’s performance, but it is an important one.

While looking at a company’s return on equity is not the end all or be all, it’s a good start to determine a company’s present and future financial health.

Sources

https://us.spindices.com/indices/equity/sp-500

https://finance.yahoo.com/quote/MSFT/key-statistics?p=MSFT

http://pages.stern.nyu.edu/~adamodar/New_Home_Page/datafile/roe.html

2020 Tax Brackets, Deductions, Plus More

Beginning on Jan. 1, 2020, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has new annual inflation adjustments for tax rates, brackets, deductions and retirement contribution limits. Note, the amounts below do not impact the tax filing you make in 2020 for the tax year 2019. These amounts apply to your 2020 taxes that you will file in 2021.

2020 Tax Rates and 2020 Tax Brackets

Below are the new 2020 tables for personal income tax rates. There are separate tables each for individuals, married filing jointly couples and surviving spouses, heads of household and married filing separate; all with seven tax brackets for 2020.

Tax Brackets & Rates – Individuals
Taxable Income Between Tax Due
$0 – $9,875 10%
$9,876 – $40,125 $988 plus 12% of the amount over $9,875
$40,126 – $85,525 $4,617 plus 22% of the amount over $40,125
$85,526 – $163,300 $14,605 plus 24% of the amount over $85,525
$163,301 – $207,350 $33,271 plus 32% of the amount over $163,300
$207,351 – $518,400 $47,367 plus 35% of the amount over $207,350
$518,400 and Over $156,234 plus 37% of the amount over $518,400

 

Tax Brackets & Rates – Married Filing Jointly and Surviving Spouses
Taxable Income Between Tax Due
$0 – $19,750 10%
$19,751 – $80,250 $1,975 plus 12% of the amount over $19,750
$80,251 – $171,050 $9,235 plus 22% of the amount over $80,250
$171,051 – $326,600 $29,211 plus 24% of the amount over $171,050
$326,601 – $414,700 $66,542 plus 32% of the amount over $326,600
$414,701 – $622,050 $94,734 plus 35% of the amount over $414,700
$622,050 and Over $167,306 plus 37% of the amount over $622,050

 

Tax Brackets & Rates – Heads of Households
Taxable Income Between Tax Due
$0 – $14,100 10%
$14,101 – $53,700 $1,410 plus 12% of the amount over $14,100
$53,701 – $85,500 $6,162 plus 22% of the amount over $53,700
$85,501 – $163,300 $13,158 plus 24% of the amount over $85,500
$163,301 – $207,350 $31,829 plus 32% of the amount over $163,300
$207,351 – $518,400 $45,925 plus 35% of the amount over $207,350
$518,400 and Over $154,792 plus 37% of the amount over $518,400

 

Tax Brackets & Rates – Separately
Taxable Income Between Tax Due
$0 – $9,875 10%
$9,876 – $40,125 $988 plus 12% of the amount over $9,875
$40,126 – $85,525 $4,617 plus 22% of the amount over $40,125
$85,526 – $163,300 $14,605 plus 24% of the amount over $85,525
$163,301 – $207,350 $33,271 plus 32% of the amount over $163,300
$207,351 – $311,025 $47,367 plus 35% of the amount over $207,350
$311,025 and Over $83,653 plus 37% of the amount over $311,025

 

Trusts and Estates have four brackets in 2020, each with different rates.

Tax Brackets & Rates – Trusts and Estates
Taxable Income Between Tax Due
$0 – $2,600 10%
$2,601 – $9,450 $260 plus 12% of the amount over $2,600
$9,451 – $12,950 $1,904 plus 35% of the amount over $9,450
$12,950 and Over $3,129 plus 37% of the amount over $12,950

 

Standard Deduction Amounts

Amounts for standard deductions see a slight increase from 2019 to 2020 based on indexing for inflation. Note that again as in 2019, there are no personal exemption amounts for 2020.

Standard Deductions
Filing Status Standard Deduction Amount
Single $12,400
Married Filing Jointly & Surviving Spouses $24,800
Married Filing Separately $12,400
Heads of Household $18,650

 

Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) Exemptions

Like the above, the AMT exemption amounts are increased based on adjustments for inflation, with the 2020 exemption amounts as follows.

 

Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) Exemptions
Filing Status Standard Deduction Amount
Individual $72,900
Married Filing Jointly & Surviving Spouses $113,400
Married Filing Separately $56,700
Trusts and Estates $25,400

 

Capital Gains Rates

Capital gains rates remain unchanged for 2020; however, the brackets for the rates are changing. Taxpayers will pay a maximum 15 percent rate unless their taxable income exceeds the 37 percent threshold (see the personal tax brackets and rates above for your individual situation). If a taxpayer hits this threshold, then their capital gains rate increases to 20 percent.

Itemized Deductions

Below are the 2020 details on the major itemized deductions many taxpayers take on Schedule A of their returns.

  • Medical Expenses – The floor remains unchanged from 2019 to 2020, so you can only deduct these expenses that exceed 10 percent of your AGI.
  • State and Local Taxes – The SALT deductions also remain unchanged at the federal level with a total limit of $10,000 ($5,000 if you are married filing separately).
  • Mortgage Deduction for Interest Expenses – The limit on mortgage interest also remains the same with the debt bearing the interest capped at $750k ($375k if you are married filing separately).

Retirement Account Contribution Limits

Finally, we look at the various retirement account contribution limits for 2020.

  • 401(k) – Annual contribution limits increase $500 to $19,500 for 2020
  • 401(k) Catch-Up – Employees age50 or older in these plans can contribute an additional $6,500 (on top of the $19,500 above for a total of $26,000) for 2020. This $500 increase in the catch-up provision is the first increase in the catch-up since 2015.
  • SEP IRAs and Solo 401(k)s – Self-employed and small business owners, can save an additional $1,000 in their SEP IRA or a solo 401(k) plan, with limits increasing from $56,000 in 2019 to $57,000 in 2020.
  • The SIMPLE – SIMPLE retirement accounts see a $500 increase in contribution limits, rising from $13,000 in 2019 to $13,500 in 2020.
  • Individual Retirement Accounts – There are no changes here for IRA contributions in 2020, with the cap at $6,000 for 2020 and the same catch-up contribution limit of $1,000.

Conclusion

There are no dramatic changes in the rates, brackets, deductions or retirement account contribution limits that the vast majority taxpayers tend to encounter for 2020 versus 2019. Most changes are simply adjustments for inflation. Enjoy the stability – as history has shown, it likely won’t last long.