Friday, December 12, 2008

It's Harvest Time

The market this year has been absolutely punishing – there’s just no way around it. But there is a thin silver lining on the cloud if you have losses in your taxable investment accounts. This is a great opportunity to harvest tax losses you can use to reduce your income taxes, perhaps for years to come.

Harvesting losses refers to a two-step process:

1. Sell securities you now hold that are in a loss position (you will need to know your original cost basis to determine whether your securities are in loss territory).

2. Immediately purchase another under-valued security. We use low-cost, diversified mutual funds. By doing this, you capture the loss, which has great value for tax purposes, but you are NOT losing anything because you’re holding a basket of securities that will rise when the market recovers.

Most people have an immediate gut reaction to this idea – “I don’t want to take a loss! I’m going to wait for it to come back.” Some people grow attached to the securities they have picked. Others feel it would be wrong to sell stocks they inherited from their parents or grandparents.

Let it go!

One of the first rules of good investing is to approach it rationally, not emotionally. Securities are financial vehicles, not keepsakes or expressions of your personal style. When your portfolio is too concentrated – for example, you are holding more than 5% of a single stock or most of your investments are in a single industry or country – you are assuming excessive risk and probably receiving no extra compensation (in the form of higher returns) for doing so. By waiting for the market to recover, you will limit or lose the opportunity to harvest losses and miss the chance to diversify your portfolio and reduce your taxes for years to come. There is really no rationale for doing this.

Harvesting losses is a smart tax strategy, not an admission of defeat. Avoiding it makes no sense at all – it is passing up an opportunity to reduce the risk in your portfolio and your future taxes, an opportunity that costs you almost nothing at all (there may be incidental trading costs).

Annette Simon

Copyright 2009 Garnet Group LLC

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