San Francisco accountant Scott Hoppe had a client who was planning to stretch the sale of founder shares in a tech-sector company over a three-year period.
Instead, the client compressed the installment sale into a one-shot transaction this month.
The 2020 presidential race. “Assuming all else was equal, that was the driver of the choice,” said Hoppe, principal of the accounting firm Why Blu.
Right now, Hoppe’s client, worth between $10 million and $20 million, will be taxed on capital gains at a rate of 23.8%.
If Democratic candidate Joe Biden beats President Donald Trump — and Democrats retain the House of Representatives and flip the Senate — that client could have potentially been staring at a 39.6% tax rate on two out of the installment sale’s three years.
The compressed transaction saved the client approximately $320,000 in taxes on the $6 million sale. “The seller, for sure, was motivated and the buyer had the wherewithal” to pay the full price upfront, said Hoppe.
Biden’s tax proposal would put the marginal rate for top earners back to the Obama-era 39.6% rate, from the current 37% rate. That 39.6% rate would apply to the capital gains of people worth more than $1 million. It’s one aspect of a tax proposal where the top 1% of earners would pay for almost 80% of the increase in taxes, according to a budget model from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business.
Election Day is eight weeks away, and the mass of expected mail-in ballots could prolong a final result. Though polling averages in swing states currently give Biden an edge over President Donald Trump, there was a time when polls indicated Hillary Clinton would beat Trump in 2016. Either way, America’s affluent households, and the experts who advise them, aren’t waiting.
Hoppe finishes every client conversation with a discussion about what a Biden administration could mean for portfolios. One Illinois financial planning firm has carried out approximately 50 Roth IRA conversions this year with an eye on the election.
One adviser’s left-leaning clients don’t think a Biden win will upend their finances but the adviser’s right-leaning ones think a Biden win could send their portfolio to ‘hell in a hand basket.’
In Houston, Scott Bishop, executive vice president at STA Wealth Management, has fielded election-related calls and emails from half his clients in the past two months.
Bishop’s liberal-leaning clients want to hear about potential opportunities and tend to downplay the idea of new tax rules upending their finances. As for Bishop’s conservative-leaning clients, “they think this is going to hell in a hand basket” and want to get ready to quickly lock in rates and tax exposure if Biden wins.
Bishop — someone who talked down a client who wanted to “sell everything” after Trump won in 2016 — counsels everyone to think things through. “I try to get them to not to act on their biases,” he told MarketWatch.
The flurry in planning comes at a time when income inequality is at its starkest point in 50 years — and a coronavirus pandemic that could further deepen the divide between the rich and poor. Biden says his tax plan would make sure corporations and wealthy Americans pay their “fair share.”
‘We are working in the boundaries that are given to us.’
And what about the fairness of rich Americans using the tax rules to their full advantage? “We are working in the boundaries that are given to us,” Hoppe said, echoing a point others made to MarketWatch. Tax rules are written to discourage or encourage all sorts of activity, he said — like a lower capital gains rate to promote financial investments. If lawmakers “want to change our behavior, the code evolves.”
A Biden campaign spokesman couldn’t be reached for comment.
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