Too many advisors actually underutilize the tax planning services in their practice. So today, Matt and Micah will show you how they go through tax returns for their clients and explain why it is so important to be able to articulate taxes to your clients in a way that they understand.
Listen in as the guys share how they guide clients through the tax prep process to help them better understand how taxes relate to their finances. You’ll learn when to take a look at tax documents for clients, why it’s crucial to have a system for reviewing and processing tax information, and more.
So many advisors underutilize tax planning in their practice. - @ThePerfectRIA Click To Tweet
Very few CPAs and tax preparers are articulating taxes in a way that clients understand. - @ThePerfectRIA Click To Tweet
If we picked 100 clients, maybe 99 of them wouldn’t actually know how much they paid in taxes. - @ThePerfectRIA Click To Tweet
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Micah Shilanski: Well, welcome back to a special edition of this podcast. It is special not only because you get the Matt and Micah show, but this is a video podcast as well. So for some poor unfortunate souls, you actually have to watch us as we go through a tax return. But I think this is going to be great.
Matthew Jarvis: Now, if you’re listening to this podcast on your phone, like most of us do, and you’re wondering where the video is, it’s not just you, it’s also me. You have to log into the BackStage Pass to see those videos and if you’re not yet a BackStage Pass member, put this on your list of things to do. When we open up the BackStage Pass, you can join in and watch this tax recording. But Micah, actually you and I were joking before we hit the record button, that one of the first things you and I actually recorded together when we were playing around with the idea of doing The Perfect RIA podcast-
Micah Shilanski: That’s right.
Matthew Jarvis: … was when we went through a tax return together. So I’m excited to actually do this formally now.
Micah Shilanski: It is, it was a lot of fun. And one of the things that I love about this, and I know we talked about this a lot, right? But so many advisors under utilize tax planning in their practice, whether that is attorneys, whether that is CPAs, whether that is financial advisors, tax is one of these things every single one of us wants to deal with or has to deal with, very few of us want to overpay the IRS. We all wish that our taxes could be lower and we provide an opportunity to allow clients to do that legally, right? So this is definitely something we have to be bringing up on a frequent basis.
Matthew Jarvis: That’s right. Another thing that makes this episode special, I’m glad I remembered to mention this, this is part two of our tax planning podcast. So these two episodes combined one and two are potentially eligible for CFP credit. So we’ll have that information available. So once you’ve listened to both halves, there will be two quizzes to take and then assuming we get approval, we will have CE credit for this, which is fun.
Micah Shilanski: Yeah, it’d be pretty awesome. And right now we’re doing that complimentary for the nation. So there’s no reason why not to do that. Everyone in the nation can jump on and can get the CE credits for CFP. So as you said, this is part two, right? So the previous podcast, which I’m sure our listeners tuned into, we are going over theory of tax planning, that we go through what are some of the different things that you and I look at when we look at a tax return? What are some things that are always floating around in the back of our minds? Things that we bring up to clients in between surges? How do we do those value adds it’s there. Now we’re going to take that theory and we’re going to put it into reality, right? We’re going to be moving this into the full spectrum of saying, how do you present this to a client? So we’re just going to go over a tax return, Jarvis hasn’t seen this return, I just grabbed one from a client we did a lot of tax planning with, and everything is redacted and safe.
So we’re going to go through and just run through that tax return. And then Jarvis, maybe we go through kind of line by line and then turn it over to you on how would you explain this to a client or I’ll jump in and do that so our audience can also see how that presentation works, because this is so important, is that for a client to understand very key items on their tax return, because then when you get into tax planning, you can go back and see, show them how it reflects, right?
It’s like marshmallow, marshmallow, marshmallow, clients don’t understand this, but when you can explain it down saying, “Hey, this is the total tax you pay, not that $800 refund, but you actually paid $30,000 income taxes, we want to reduce that 30,000. We’re going to reduce it to 26,000 and here’s how.” Now these are real numbers for them. They can see how this affects them personally, so important.
Matthew Jarvis: It really is. And Micah to your point, we’re really the only professionals who even potentially couldn’t be articulating tax returns to clients in a way that they understand very few CPAs, very few tax preparers are articulating taxes in a way that clients understand. And they’re doing almost zero tax planning. Now, there will always be exceptions to that rule, but there are few and far between, but Micah a question for you, as I pull this tax return up, how many tax returns do you think you look at a year?
Micah Shilanski: Oh my gosh. Several hundred. So probably between two to 300 tax returns is easy that I would say I would look at without doing it. Of course, we’re not doing tax preparation anymore, which is a beautiful thing, we’re doing tax planning, but I look at all of my client’s tax return. So there puts me at almost 200 plus. Sometimes I look at my prospects tax returns, which is another 20 to 40 prospects a year. And then I’m also going to look at… Sometimes I brought on with our other advisors, Jamie and Floyd. Sometimes we’ll do some cross planning together and I’ll help with some tax planning or vice versa. And so I’ll look at their tax returns too.
Matthew Jarvis: Now, from a logistic standpoint, are you looking at those in mass when they get turned on? Let’s say that the bulk of them come in and the April, May timeframe, are you sitting down and looking at them all at once? Are you doing it as part of case prep? When are you kind of looking at these?
Micah Shilanski: Depends, right? So what are we doing? So one of the things that I like to see with a lot of my clients is we love to look at their tax returns before they file them. That’s one of the things that I think you and I do differently, right? Because you like to see them after they get filed with the IRS. And so once I learn that, I tell all my clients, we got to look at them beforehand because only have asset advisors are the ones that look at them afterwards, right? It’s either system works, but we always say to our clients, we want to see it beforehand because this gives us a nice April 15th deadline to have all of our clients come in for surge. So this is our why do you need to come in before April 15th because we’re going to look at your taxes.
So most of the time I will review the taxes with the clients in the meetings. However, for clients that want to file earlier or something, we’re going to somewhat batch them. Somewhat clients will send it in and I’ll pick one to two days a week where I’m going to spend an hour reviewing tax returns and the team has them all queued up for me. Like, client submitted their tax return, they’ve communicated it’s gone into a tax return process and I can pull up that process and I can start pounding out tax returns one after the other with the client, because I look at their tax return, I look at their Schwab statements, I look at their distributions, right? I look at these other things.
And of course we make it clear to the clients that we do give tax advice, but we are not doing that tax preparation. However, I’m still going to check, did those RMDs hit? Do they have the 1099s? Are their capital gains correct? I mean, I look at every single W-2 and 1099 they received independently. But I am going to look at the stuff that we generate, we as in the custodians, generate so that I can see is that on the tax trunk because that’s a very solid win that sometimes gets missed.
Matthew Jarvis: Yeah. And so for the nation listening, I would stop just for a second and say, you need to have a system for reviewing these tax returns. So we’ve talked for several episodes about the importance of getting tax documents for clients, that this is a critical aspect of planning, but you need to decide internally, am I as the advisor going to review each one as it rise at the office? Am I going to batch them together? If so, by when will I look at them? For me personally, we’re batching them into a value add. So we’ll get them all together and we’ll start inputting them into a value add spreadsheet so we can look at Roth conversions, things like that. I am primarily looking at tax returns when I’m doing case prep before the client comes in. So when I see that they’re on my calendar, I have all my case prep from Colleen and I will pull up their tax return and look to see, all right, what do I need to remember about this? What planning opportunities still exist.
Micah Shilanski: Yeah. And that’s a really good point because even if I do review a client tax return let’s say in February or March and they come in for an April appointment, guess what? In April, they’re going to want to talk about taxes again, right? So I’m going to have to pull it back and to do that. So I like what you said, it doesn’t matter if you do them in batch or are you doing pre-appointment the important part is you do them, you have a process and it’s okay to skinny this stuff down.
I’m going to say, and hopefully it’s not too egotistical, you and I pretty much take taxes to a high level when we’re reviewing them. And if you are not there yet, that is okay. Start with where you’re at, elevate your game just a little bit, pick one or two things that we’re going to go through. These are what you’re going to check, these are what you’re going to do. It’s okay if you don’t do everything because you’re not there yet because we all started not there. We had to start in little pieces and work our way up to it.
Matthew Jarvis: Yeah. And I know we’ll get to this as we look through this return, but let me give everybody a quick little one, which is for your retired clients or any clients over 59 and a half, you should be looking and advising each year on Roth conversions, does not mean they should be doing Roth conversions each year, but that’s an easy one to look at. How much room is left in their tax bracket, can we use some of that room up? And the answer might be no. And to Micah as dishwasher rule, if the answer is no, we’re still going to say, “Hey, we looked at Roth conversions. It doesn’t really make sense for you this year. We’re going to look again next year. Is that okay with you?” “Well, geez, Matthew that’s perfect. Thank you so much.” And on rental.
Micah Shilanski: And has anyone ever said no, that he wants you to look protect savings opportunities?
Matthew Jarvis: No. I have had some clients, occasionally the clients that don’t have errors they say, “Hey, I don’t ever want to do a Roth conversion. I don’t think this is ever…” That’s very rare though. And again, they certainly weren’t upset. They just said, “Hey Matthew, I don’t really think Roth conversions are for me.” Not to get down that rabbit hole but I made a note on that to come back to them because Roth conversions aren’t just about paying the taxes for your kids. In fact, that’s sort of like the last priority on my list. And so those clients actually ended up doing Roth conversions in the end, but I’m not going to… If somebody has that sort of… Visceral is not the right action, but that strong of a reaction, I’m not going to push hard on that right now but I’m going to make a note. I might say, “Hey, there’s some other reasons to consider Roth conversions. We’ll talk about those at some other meetings.”
Micah Shilanski: And this is getting slightly off taxes, but right there, I call that planting the seed. And I even tell clients that I’m doing this that says, you know what? Not a problem, what I’d love to do right now is just plant a seed to say that later on we’re going to talk about this and it’s going to benefit potentially in these other areas. Is that going to be okay? And Jarvis, I’m sure you do that exact same thing, right? And the way it works is you’re just telling the client that this is something we need to talk about later in pivoting away from that emotional topic. I’m just saying, “Hey, we got to talk about it later. I want to plant the seed about X, Y, and Z. It’s just for down the road.”
Matthew Jarvis: Correct? Totally agree. All right. Well, let’s jump into a tax return. So for those of you listening, you’ll have to sort of imagine this or pull up a tax return if you’re not driving in your car and for a BackStage Pass members, you’ll gtt this recording. So we have a redacted 2018 tax return here, if you’re watching the recording, the top part of this is redacted, it’s blacked out. But even though it’s blacked out, I still want to point out a couple of things. We’re always going to look at tax returns to make sure that the contact information that we have matches what’s being filed on the tax return. And that’s pretty rare that it’s different. Sometimes it happens, client changes their mailing address or their primary residence and so the first thing we’re going to look for, especially with prospects, do we have all that contact information captured?
Micah Shilanski: Yeah. And this can also help out with what if the client moves, you have their updated address. They used an old address to send everything off to the IRS, but who cares? It’s all electronic filing. Well, if the IRS sends them a love letter, it’s going to the wrong address. Then all of a sudden they get a hate mail as soon as they get their address updated because they have not been in communication with the IRS. So checking it, solid value add right there.
Matthew Jarvis: Yeah, really is. This particular return we’re looking at does not have any children. I’m still in… And we’re going to bounce, I think back and forth between a client and a prospect. But if they don’t have children on there, I’m going to ask about it. If they do, I’m going to ask, “What are your plans for supporting your children in college? Are your children in kind of a financial burden on you?” So I’m going to again use the tax return to facilitate a discussion, a narrative, if you will, of their financial life, which is both getting me a lot of information, but it’s also showing them how valuable this tax return is in our planning process.
Micah Shilanski: Also make sure you’re jumping at the top and looking at the filing status right above this, that’s there. And it used to be below this on all the tax returns. So now it’s at the top line, which is interesting, but this is super important to look for a couple of things. One, has a mistake potentially been made? For example, if someone’s a qualified widower, this is something I see happen a lot. The year of death, they are married, filing joint. They do not have to do qualifying widower until the next year that’s going to be there.
Sometimes I see them marked as a qualified widower or sometimes I see them marked as single. That’s going to be there, when that is an incorrect status that’s there. I see this more on TurboTax as the preparer, not ragging on TurboTax but just as there’s the self help remedy, but checking that. Also, if you have two couples coming in, I presume they’re married when they’re coming in, but now I got two single tax trends. Now they’re not married. Now, there’s different planning things that I need to be thinking about with these couples as well, that this is the only indication that I have that really tells me they’re married except for potentially a will if I have their state planning documents.
Matthew Jarvis: Yeah. Well, I don’t know how we’re going to squeeze this in one episode. I just thought you mentioned about the widow, right? Someone who is widowed that year provides a… Phenomenal is a too strong of a word when someone loses a spouse. Provides a significant planning opportunity, right? Because theoretically every year going forward, they’re going to be filing single instead of married jointly, which is going to change all their tax situation. So we’ve had a lot of cases where we’re saying, “Hey, I know that your spouse just passed away, we need to take advantage of a couple of things this year before the tax year runs out, Roth conversions would be a big one.” Lots of opportunities there.
Micah Shilanski: Okay. Coming down as the signature information, which is just fine. One of the things that bit me in the butt this last year and so we were actually changing our process and I think I mentioned on a previous podcast is a client. And of course, we’re not preparing tax returns, right? Other people prepare tax returns to the client. In that stage I mean, I happened to be out of the country and said, “Hey, was my taxes filed?” This was my own dang fault. I opened up our CRM. I looked on it and it said, “Boom.” I had a copy of the taxes. I said, “Sweet, they’re filed.” The status was done. I even saw a correspondence from the CPA of our team saying, “Hey, are the taxes done?” And the response is, “The taxes are complete.” And so I was good.
Client came back and said, “I don’t think they’re done.” And sure enough the CPA said they were complete because the taxes were, the documents were complete, the client had never signed them and sent off a check to the IRS, that was there. So I looked like a frigging idiot because I said they were done and they weren’t. So the CPA and I had a little chit chat, “I’m taking full ownership on this one. It was my fault.” But what does done mean? What does complete mean? So now we’re checking for these e-file forms. Not here, I deleted it from this one, but we’re checking e-file. Is it’s the wet signature? These are important things. And then going down for the preparer, right? Documenting that preparer in your CRM. So later you can see how many clients share a tax preparer. Is this a COI that you need to chat with? This is a quick data entry that you should have in your system.
Matthew Jarvis: Yeah. You definitely should be capturing this, both for that relationship with a client, but also Micah, to your point, potential COI there. Now I’m going to wait until it’s outside of tax season and away from corporate filing deadlines or corporate extension deadlines and definitely contact the center of influence. “Hey, we share a client, would love to buy lunch and discuss that or pay for an hour of your time to discuss their situation. Let me know what information sharing agreement you need and I’ll get the client to sign it.” Quick note, most tax preparers now and in fact, all CPAs typically require an information sharing agreement annually, thanks to some guidance by the AICPAs. So don’t be surprised if they ask for this every year, they’re not trying to be rude, maybe a little rude, but rules are the rules.
Micah Shilanski: All right. So we just went through a bunch of stuff. Okay. We’re going to blow past 30 minutes. We just went through a bunch of stuff, and we haven’t even got to tax returns.
Matthew Jarvis: This is part two of 17.
Micah Shilanski: Yeah, exactly. All right. So now we’re actually going to get into the data, which is right here. And one of the things that… Now, I’ve had to slow it down a little bit this last year or so, because it’s a new tax return, right? The formatting of it is different of how it’s laid out. So I’m just catching up. But this is something I’m going to quickly glance at the right hand side. So after I’d quickly glanced at the top, I’m not going to go to that right hand side just still kind of top to bottom and somewhat internalize these numbers. Does anything jump out at me and then I’m going to mark it and then I’m going to circle back to it with more detail later.
But that’s just the first thing because as you know is, going through a tax return, all of these numbers add up, right? So does everything make sense or is it just some weird thing that’s going to catch me later on or that I need to be looking out for like a passive activity, loss, limitation, something of that nature. If they’re a business owner, do I see self employment tax? Do I see retirement deductions in here? What are these other things that I should be quickly at a glance picking up.
Matthew Jarvis: Even starting with line one, I’m going to look, are they eligible for Roth or traditional contributions? And then say, “Boy, what kind of income do they have? Do they have any income at all?” This return we’re looking at it’s over 300,000. So right away I’m going to say, “Boy, they’re over the limits for kind of standard stuff, backdoor is an option.”
If their income is really low, let’s say they just have a little bit of part time work in retirement, I’m going to remind them, “Hey, listen, you only had $4,000 of wage income. We should still do a $4,000 contribution, might as well use that all up.” So I’m looking at both ends. If I’m looking at this with a prospect, especially if they have a six figure income like this, a solid six figure, I’m going to congratulate them on that. I’m going to say, “Hey, just want to take a second to congratulate you for the work you put into your career to be at this earning level. That’s really admirable.” Because I’m the first person to ever congratulate them for that.
Micah Shilanski: Amen. The other thing to look at on the box one, how many jobs do they have? It doesn’t tell you that but this is what you should know or you should find out. For example, one of these person on the tax return, he has two jobs and her wife has one job. So they have three jobs as a total on this tax return. And so one of them was exceeding the social security tax withholdings that was there, but she had two employers and so they were both withholding payroll tax. They were both withholding payroll taxes. Easy win. Wasn’t a lot of money because the second job was just kind of contract here and there stuff. However, it’s their money that they’re throwing away into the system so that they’re not going to get back if it’s not properly documented. And this one actually we’ve missed.
Matthew Jarvis: Yeah. Like have you ever had a client say, “Micah, that’s a trivial amount of money. I’m not going to worry about that.” Because I don’t think ever had that.
Micah Shilanski: It’s not about taxes.
Matthew Jarvis: Not about taxes, other areas, yeah. So I remember early in my career, I think, well, that’s only… Your example, that could have been like just a few hundred dollars. So let’s say this client has a net worth of three million and they say, “Well, $300. They’re not going to care about this.” Yes they do. Yes they do.
Micah Shilanski: Yep. And it’s not so much the $300 on tax return. Yes, because it’s taxes, it’s $300, it’s that you’re quiet. I’m not going to make a big deal out of this. You know what? This is an easy oversight, I see this frequently. What I’m going to do if it’s okay, I’m going to contact your preparer, I just like to bring this to their attention. They get busy in tax time. It’s a couple of hundred dollars savings, but I just want to make sure you’re taken care of it just okay. And I’m not going to make a big deal out of it because it’s a couple of a hundred bucks. It’s not a big deal, but now they know I’m looking out for this.
Matthew Jarvis: Yeah. I want to highlight one thing you said there about making it not a big deal. I’m always going to be very careful to make sure I’m defending the tax preparer, right? So even if this was blatantly the tax preparers fault, I’m not going to back the bus. I want to say to Micah, your point, “I see this mistake all the time. Sometimes this doesn’t get reported to the tax preparer correctly. Let me talk to them, see if I can get this cleared up. It shouldn’t be a big deal.” So I’m going to be very careful that I don’t need to make any enemies. Plus I make mistakes too and I don’t want people to back the bus over me when I make a mistake.
Micah Shilanski: Okay. Then kind of dropping down to the taxable interest income on loans and tax exempt, that’s going to be here. Of course, this is an interesting thing if they have large dollar amounts in here, where’s that income coming from, large amounts in tax exempt interest as well, where is that coming from? Especially in a low interest rate environment, do they have some pretty old investments that are yielding this? What are they doing? Do they have large accounts? Where is this money coming from? The same thing with qualified dividends as well.
Now I’m going to store that in kind of the back of my mind, because those are things I can generally easily fix or adjust in order to affect the tax return. If I need to shut off taxable interest in dividends, I probably can with an investment change and that potentially could reduce your taxes. Now it could yield higher capital gains, right? So now we have to balance this but now in my mind, I have a lever that I could potentially pull on their tax return to start reducing some numbers. In this case, it’s only 1700 bucks. It’s not that large of a number, but it’s something that says, “Hey, if we’re right at a threshold, that’s potentially $1,700. I could shut off. I could reduce, I could change in order to get their income lower.”
Matthew Jarvis: Yeah. I would say also on that tax exempt income, I’m looking no matter how big the number is, should they really be in muni bonds? Does their tax situation warrant that? So we see that very commonly that, “Tax free interest, that’s perfect.” It doesn’t always make sense. Taxable interest again, if there’s a large number there, I’m going to make a comment. If it’s not a client saying, “Interesting that your bonds aren’t inside your IRA account.” That’s a real tax oversight there. We’ll have to look at that. So again, I’m watching for that. And Micah to your point, I’m watching for accounts that haven’t been disclosed for some reason. How do you have $10,000 interest unless there’s money somewhere?
Micah Shilanski: Right. And again, to some aspect, defend the other financial advisor, defend the other person that set that account up. “Look, I wasn’t there for the conversation. A lot of these firms aren’t even allowed to give tax advice so they can’t advise in this stuff.” That’s one of the things that makes us unique is we are going to help in this aspect and we always look at tax ramifications before we make any decisions. And as we work together in the future, something you’re always going to realize, if you ever asked me a question, I’m going to start backing in the taxes and just to think through that process. And I hope that’s okay.
Matthew Jarvis: Yeah. This is a good point. I think advisors, a lot of times, all professionals make the mistake of thinking if they’re at a prospect situation, I need to attack the other person. You really don’t. You just need to plant those seeds and even defend them a little bit because it makes you look like such a good person that the client has already realized, wow, my current advisor doesn’t get this at all but Micah is such a gentleman, he’s not throwing the guy under the bus. You say, “Hey, this happens. Sometimes people aren’t aware of this. I’m sure he looks at your tax return every year.” “No, Micah, he never looks at my tax return.” “That’s really interesting.” That’s a big focus point for us. So I can use these things to my advantage without getting the fists up, getting ready.
Micah Shilanski: I like it. Pension incomes, I’m going to look at those in IRAs. Really prefer them when they are separated so I can take a peek at these and kind of see where the income is coming from. And then again, mental notes, IRAs, I’m going to be thinking QCDs, of course age. There were seven and a half qualified charitable distributions, a lot of times, again, I think we talked about this on the last pod, this gets missed. QCDS get reported as taxable income frequently and they’re not marked on here because the custodian does not mark them in any way. They’re told to mark them as normal distribution. It’s up to you to make them a QCD on the tax return. So this is something that gets missed. So I’m going to look at those. I’m going to look at what pensions, other incomes, et cetera they have and what’s that deviation which is going to be there.
Let’s assume they don’t have a pension, they just have an IRA. If there’s a deviation between gross distribution and taxable amount, why is that number different? Do they have 8606 money? Do they have nondeductible IRA money that’s there. So they have a basis inside of an account that could be a pot of gold we want to turn into a Roth IRA. Do they take a distribution? Do they do a roll of work? Did they do these other things that we need to be aware of that would cause the disparity between those numbers.
Matthew Jarvis: An error I caught several years ago, I think I mentioned this on a podcast, we had a client do a 401(k) rollover and the 401(k) company coded the whole thing as a taxable distribution, even though it was a trustee to trustee transfer, the tax preparer gets the thing it’s marked $486,000 taxable distribution, they put it as a taxable distribution. The client writes up like a hundred drains out all their savings, writes the check to pay for this.
Micah Shilanski: How did it not cause any red flags.
Matthew Jarvis: Yeah. The client’s just like, “Well, I guess that’s how it is.” So they empty out all their savings, they pay the tax. I get the tax return. I’m looking at it and I fall out of my chair. Wait a second. Why is this here? Start looking. Sure enough, the custodian had reported it incorrectly. The tax preparer had just filled out the form, didn’t think anything of it. And so I called the client said, “Hey, guess what? You’re going to get $186,000 back from the IRS.” “What? No, that’s not possible.” It is possible. You should be a client for life now.
Micah Shilanski: Come on. Now when you looked at that return, you said, “Oh crap, I screwed up that transfer.” The first thing that went through your mind.
Matthew Jarvis: The first thing I thought was like, “What did we screw up?”
Micah Shilanski: No, that’s right.
Matthew Jarvis: And so it happened. Again, wasn’t the tax preparers fault. They were mad as hornets at the tax preparers. I said, “Hey, wasn’t the tax preparers fault. They filed the tax return as it was indicated.” And I’m thinking to myself, why did they not ask, “Hey, did you really pull all this money out?” But there it is.
Micah Shilanski: Right. Next thing down, social security income. I mean, this is just a reference point. I don’t really take a peek at that. Most of my clients are over the 44,000 married filing joint to pay taxes on it or whatever the new number is. I don’t pay too much attention to it. So this is just an interesting, do they have social security returned on or not? That’s the only thing I would look at from this then on the next item, line six, I would get back to that later because that’s now on separate schedules. That’s the other income that they would have, whether it’s self employed income, et cetera, that’s going to be on a separate schedule. So if something’s there now I know I need to go look for it. And that’s as far as I go with that line item and that brings us pretty much towards gross income.
Matthew Jarvis: That is a quick one. Sometimes clients will only provide their 1040 front and back or what we used to be front back or 1040. And so that’s a good like, “Hey not all the information’s here. I need the all pages of the return.” And we remind clients of that all time. We need all pages of the return. I don’t particularly worry about getting the W-2’s or not. Micah, I’m curious, your approach on that.
Micah Shilanski: Now when a client says that you need all pages, well, Jarvis you don’t need the whole 80 pages that TurboTax or the CPA gave me. You just need the first couple, right?
Matthew Jarvis: No, I’ll take the whole thing, every page. And I say, “Don’t worry. We have a fast copier machine. It will just take a minute.” Colleen takes care of that. But there are clues for us, if you will, on every page of that tax return. Some of our clients and Micah I know you have this to business on our clients. They say, “My tax return is 283 pages long.” Send it over. I read fast.
Micah Shilanski: Great. We don’t make a hard push for the W-2’s, but we do encourage supporting documentation, which is going to be there. I’ve gone back and forth on it but the short answer is if I have a question, sometimes it’s just nice to have supporting documentation there. It’s a separate scanned file for us in our system. So one is supporting documentation, the other one is the tax return if I wanted to go look at it. If the client brings it in, we’re scanning the whole thing. We’re getting all that supporting stuff. No, I’m not going to go through and scan a bunch of receipts and that other stuff, but any tax form that’s generated or a summary sheet, maybe a client self-employed, they did a summary sheet, I’m going to want that scanned in there, but we don’t make a push for it.
Matthew Jarvis: Yeah, I will. And again, for the nation listening, if you’re new to asking a tax returns and you start getting pushback from clients, remember to use these examples, even if they’re not yours, you can say, “Boy, an advisor that mentors me.” Here’s a quick one. We had a client, got an audit and they audited his carry forward losses from 2008 from before he was client. And the IRS said, “Hey, if you can’t show us transactions for those losses, we’re going to tax those and penalize you for the last 10 years for having carried forward these losses. Luckily that year that they had become a client, I had gotten copies of all their tax information, all their statements and saved all of that but they had a four or $500,000 carried forward. That was all going to be disallowed except for the records that I had. And so that’s an example I use for clients. “Hey, one of the reasons we keep this is if you get audited and for some reason you can’t find your records, we have a copy of that.”
Micah Shilanski: Yep. We keep a copy and we never destroy electronically, I don’t get myself in trouble. I can’t think of a time where we purged out a client’s file that has tax documents. So it’s not the last three years, four years, blah, blah, blah, we keep them all. We keep all of the client records as long as they’re our client because I want all of their tax returns in our system. And if the client chooses to get rid of the other ones, that’s fine. We’re going to keep them for just things like that.
Matthew Jarvis: Yeah. Because what’s the cost to you? It’s nothing, right? Like it clutters up your emails? Just organize better. So keep them all.
Micah Shilanski: For the next use. Okay. Then that’s going to bring us really down to our AGI, adjusted gross income. This client that really didn’t have any adjustments so it’s just goes to the AGI, 324,000 then it’s going to kick down to the standard deduction. Before I used to look at this a lot harder because a lot of clients would work with that one, now the $24,000 standard deduction on this tax return, most clients are going to be below that. So I am going to take a look at that. Taxable income is just kind of simple math. There shouldn’t be anything big there, Jarvis.
Matthew Jarvis: I will real quick. Because it’s all buried, almost everybody’s filing the standard deduction. I am going to ask clients and prospects. “Hey, you used to be able to deduct your gifts to charity. You can’t anymore.” By the way, most clients have not picked up on this, not disrespect, they just haven’t. Are there any organizations you’re supporting? So I’m going to use that as an example for just trying to pull out more information. So I’ll always ask that of a client or prospect. “Hey, are there any organizations that you’re supporting? If they say, “Yeah, I give $10,000 a year to the Boys and Girls Club.” Perfect. I’m going to keep that in mind in our planning, because there’s some other ways we can get tax benefits, right? Donor-advised funds and QCDs, things like that. So again, I’m making a note of that as I go.
Micah Shilanski: I keep forgetting this is a video and I’m being recorded. So that’s going to be fun.
Matthew Jarvis: Just get it in podcast mode.
Micah Shilanski: No, those are good things to note down too because what if a client wants to do a future gift to these charities, right? Or maybe you suggest it. Maybe they have enough money and they have the opportunity to do a gift. These are things to bring up that are going to be there. I love it. It gets down to the aspect of taxes and this is going to be something that I think so many people don’t realize is what they actually pay in taxes. And this is a client, it’s over $60,000 and that’s just federal taxes by the way.
So a nugget that’s in here that Jarvis you won’t see because I took off the state returns, there’s three state tax returns as part this federal filing. So there’s a lot of nuggets inside of there that but the one I’m talking about is this one. So there’s a lot of federal income taxes that they’re paying. And I want to point that out to the client to make sure that they understand that it’s not the overpayment, the refund of $6,000 they’re going to get, it’s the $60,000 that they sent to the IRS that we need to look to see if there any way we can lower this?
Matthew Jarvis: Yeah. We did that as a value add one year and I’ll have to remember what year it was. We can pull it out and put on a BackStage Pass. But as part of the tax planning letter we sent a client to say, “Hey, just so you know, last year, in this example, you paid just over $60,000 in federal income taxes to the IRS.” And then we would put like a joke line about, “Thank you for being such a Patriot.” Kind of try to lighten the mood a little bit. But Micah, to your point, if we picked 100 clients, maybe 99 of them wouldn’t actually know how much they paid in taxes. They would say, “Oh, I got an $800 refund.” Still out 60 grands.
Micah Shilanski: And by the way, so as we go through this and if you guys are interested, we’ll share with you how we set it up. We input all of this information into our CRM that’s there. You can do it and do a spreadsheet, right? So I can pull a list and say, “Great, what’s the AGI of my clients?” And this is what Jarvis is talking about for that value add, it’s now super easy because we were in advance of this. We have the tax drain information added in. It’s super easy to go in and say, “Hey, what effect is this going to have?” When we move to the TCJA Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in 2018, when this was going through, we were able to super quick do a report and show our clients what the difference between the old tax law and new tax law is because we had their data. If we didn’t have their data, we never would have been able to do that effectively. So having this data in electronic format really important.
Matthew Jarvis: Yeah. And if you are again, newer to the tax planning, or you don’t have the resources to track these things, a great tool that I used for a lot of years, if you Google 1040 Excel, so like 1040 Excel document, there is a great free Excel document. Again, not vouching for its accuracy though in my experience, it’s been pretty darn good, and you can plug the numbers in and it will start doing the calculations. And it’s an easy way to say what happens if we do another $10,000 IRA distribution, what happens to social security taxes? All those things will trickle down and it will help you. You can just play with that. I would recommend again to our younger advisors or advisors that are newer to tax planning, 1040 Excel start typing in lots of numbers and see what happens if I adjust this number, what happens? And you start to get a mind for how the flow or the language of the tax returns, if you will.
Micah Shilanski: And then from that, I’m just going to kind of keep looking down and just to see what other taxes do they have? And in this particular case, the client has other taxes, right? So it’s not only $60,000 in federal income tax, they have a benefit of another $1,200 of taxes that they have to pay. So great. Where did that come from? What is generating that? More than likely it’s because of their earnings. That’s a speculation until we look further in the tax return. And so their total taxes is $41,000. They’ve had 45,000 withheld. And so they owe an extra $8,500, actually they made $8,500 in estimates and then they owe an extra $6,800 in taxes. So this is really important to look at this because it tells us a couple of things.
Number one, they have $45,000 tax withheld. Okay. They owed $60,000, that’s short $15,000. Why is that such a disparity between that? If they got W-2 jobs that are generating income, this isn’t self-employed income, these are W-2 jobs, why is that such a big disparity in tax withholding? So that’s a big question mark for me on why that’s there. Was it different in 17 versus 18 versus 19? What changed to make this? Do they always have to pay this much in quarterlies and that doesn’t make any sense. So something is off. When I’m looking at this number, I’m like… Again, it’s just not passing my straight face as to what’s different about this year. That’s an alarm bell gone off.
Matthew Jarvis: It definitely is. And it’s a question to ask them. I think we talked about this in the last episode. “Hey, I see that you owed $6,800. Any thoughts on that?” And they might say, “Matthew. I try to owe as much as I possibly can, because I want to keep the money. I don’t want to let the IRS or an interest on it.” Okay. Fine. Note to self, stay on the low side of withholding. If they say, “Oh geez, Matthew, I can’t believe I hate owing money because my property taxes are due at the same time. I’m so angry that I owed money.” Note to self and I’m tapping my head, saying note to self, what I’m really doing is typing in my computer, keep the withholding on the high side. And we store in our CRM what withholding are we using for that client so that when we’re doing distributions, we can say, “Hey, normally with hold 25% on this or whatever we do.” But you’re going to want to have that discussion with every client.
Micah Shilanski: Yeah. And then just kind of walks down to the end. So that is basically the 1040 in a really quick nutshell, that’s going to be there. Jarvis before we move on to any of the schedules and then some of the other things that are here and also not here. Anything else you want to add on this page?
Matthew Jarvis: Yeah. A couple of more things I would throw in here, not relevant to this return, child tax credit. So for your younger clients or clients that are near that threshold, sometimes you’ll find people that their child tax credit is getting phased out. And there’s some planning opportunities that they could help, not a lot of that age. It’s probably mostly saying, “Hey, why don’t you ramp up your 401(k) contributions so that you can get down and do a little bit more of that child tax credit.”
By the way, I wouldn’t ever advertise this because I would get some issues with the SCC, but I’m yet to see a tax return that I couldn’t find a tax savings on. And that tax savings could be as easy as turn up your 401(k) contributions, make backdoor IRA contribution. Very, very rarely is someone taking advantage of every single tax opportunity that’s out there. And even that one about turning up your 401(k), even if you know that their cashflow is not there to contribute more to the 401(k), you can still throw that out there and say, “Hey, listen if you find way to increase your 401(k)contribution, it will lower your tax bill.” Those are things that no one else is telling them.
Micah Shilanski: Yeah. Those are really, really good points to think about. Okay, we’re going to move down to the next page, bring to this thing over. All right, this is just going to go through their schedules. So the way this one works is, it goes through additional income then adjustments to income that’s going to be there. One of the things that some tax software does, which is really nice and some do not, which we always have to look out for it is sometimes if there is a form in the back of a tax return that is reflective on an input that may be on the front side of the return, it’ll mark it zero, other times bad software, in my opinion, we’ll leave it blank, for example real estate. So if someone has a Schedule E on line 17, it’s going to pop up… I think it’s still lines 17, right?
Matthew Jarvis: Yeah.
Micah Shilanski: Line 17. It’s going to pop up with a zero on that line if for whatever reason it’s negative. In this particular software, it just pops up as a blank. So we’re going to get to that, but Jarvis, just a hint because I know you this the first time you’re really looking at the return, the client has several rental properties.
Matthew Jarvis: Yeah. And that’s a good reminder. If you’re going through a return live of the prospect that you don’t jump to too many conclusions. So if you say, “Oh, blah, blah, blah, I see you don’t have any rental real estate.” Maybe they do, but it’s not proprieting through because of how it’s set up. So be careful there, you can seed, but don’t seed prematurely, if that’s a phrase to use there.
Micah Shilanski: So just kind of going through the basics of this. The first one is just really going to be a state and local income taxes which I’m getting more of because my clients are more in the lower 48. Luckily in the great state of Alaska and Washington, we don’t generally have to worry about state income taxes, which is nice, but there’s some state tax refunds the client is getting here. So it’s $6,200. So that’s again odd, why did they owe so much in federal? Why are they getting so much of a refund for the 2017 that’s reflecting your 18 return? And all of these things are just interesting data points where it points to me, they do not have good tax planning in place. This is not a detriment to the client. They’re both very smart, really great people, they do a lot of stuff, but they do not have a tax plan, which is one of the reasons they’re coming to see us.
Matthew Jarvis: Micah, do you ever give clients a guardrail, if you will, for how close you want those tax returns to be? I always say, “Hey, ideally, we want to be within about 1000 dollars plus minus of your actual amount.” Now again for the nation, that’s not a scientific number. And for some small business owners, we all know that that’s going to be… I wouldn’t say that to a small business owner to suggest that a business owner can get their return within 1000 dollars plus minus that’s not going to happen, but for everybody else, we should really be within 1000 dollars plus minus.
Micah Shilanski: Yeah. It’s exactly what I tell clients. Of course, they carry out is if they want or why not?
Matthew Jarvis: That’s a good point to there.
Micah Shilanski: Well, perfect. So that’s what happens. Jarvis at one point in time do you ever seen him at a conference? So how he got his new wardrobe? So that’s a fun story too.
Matthew Jarvis: And my shoes. It’s our inside joke.
Micah Shilanski: Hopefully, we’ll at a conference this year if any of them are going on, who knows? Next one down 11 is alimony of… I never see this, but it’s something that I just look at. Jarvis, do you have any experience with this?
Matthew Jarvis: No, I don’t. I’ve seen it as the same thing about farm income. I did once have a client that had farm income and that’s kind of an interesting thing as well, right?
Micah Shilanski: Business income, I’ll pay a lot of attention to this thing. This has so much Schedule C. There’s so many fun things to do that clients are not doing with self employed. I just geek out when there’s a self employed client and we could spend hours just on all those benefits so that one’s a super easy one. Capital gains and loss, we pretty much understand this, however, take a peek at it though. And again, what is the client’s tax paying tolerance that’s going to be there? I have several multimillion dollar clients that really get pissed when they have to write checks to the IRS. Even if they’ve had 40, 50, 70, 80, $100000 capital gains, they’re like, “Absolutely not. I don’t like it.” So in December we see whether realized gain and loss and in January we’re cutting a check to pay for those realized gains and loss because they get mad when they have to pay in taxes. So again, this is a data point is that they had capital gains. How is this going to reflect their tax tolerance?
Matthew Jarvis: We have this standing joke in our office that we will pay any client’s tax bill for them? And it’s a kind of a joke I use because if somebody comes in and says, “Oh, Matthew, I had to pay $40,000 in capital gains tax this year.” And I say, “Great news. I will pay that capital gains tax for you.” “Really?” “Yes. We’ll transfer the gains from your account to my account and then I will pay for the taxes.” Now, obviously and for who’re listening, we can’t actually do that. That would not be a legal thing it’ll be dubious at best, but it’s kind of a fun joke and I’ve got a big dumb grin on my face. It lightened the mood and say, “Great, no problem. I’ll pay the tax. Transfer the gains to my account.” “Oh, Matthew. Well, all right.” Now I say that, I had the same discussion with my CPA like, “Dang it. I can’t believe I had to pay this much in taxes.” And she says, “No, they’re actually great news.”
Micah Shilanski: Did she mean her job?
Matthew Jarvis: “Great news. I’ll pay your tax bill. You transfer over your income.” “Fine. What do I say?” So it’s emotional for everybody. Money is an emotional thing.
Micah Shilanski: Sorry Matt. So when you had to schedule, you could write off the financial planning expenses, right? Investment advice, I would absolutely say that to a client. It’s says if you want a bigger tax deduction, we have an unlimited one. You just write me a check for whatever you want. We’ll write it off on your tax return. No problem whatsoever. I will pay the taxes on that money for you.
Matthew Jarvis: It’s a 2% floor, there’s no cap to that one.
Micah Shilanski: That’s right. That’s right.
Matthew Jarvis: That’s funny.
Micah Shilanski: Alright.
Matthew Jarvis: A couple other things that I expand out were just-
Micah Shilanski: Other things other-
Matthew Jarvis: Sorry, we got a tight bit of leg here. A couple things I would watch for, and again, I’m just watching for planning opportunities. If they are not using a health savings account, I’m going to mention that as a planning opportunity. Again, if they’re self employed, we’re watching for so many things. If they have students, we’re kind of watching for that. What are our planning opportunities there? So again, we’re looking for opportunities like clues, if you will, to other areas of planning.
Micah Shilanski: And this is the one where I’m not going to lead going off if you want to talk about the prospect, right? I know we’re going back and forth. I’m not going to lead going off and talking about the taxes. I’m going to look at their tax return in advance. I’m going to gather all of those data points. Then in the conversation now I’m going to be able to weave those things in. For example, if I find out they’re on an HSA, but there’s no HSA deduction, great thing to bring up. If I find out they’re a teacher in some capacity and they don’t have educator expenses, this doesn’t make any sense, right? Why isn’t there an IRA deduction? All of these little things that are going to be clues in the conversation. But again, I don’t want to assume in advance. So taxes will be later in our meeting to make sure I have a good baseline of a conversation to put it in context of the tax return.
Matthew Jarvis: Line 30 on Schedule 1, Penalty for Early Withdrawal of Savings. I’m going to look and say, “Boy, was there a way that we could get around that? Did they not claim it correctly? Do they qualify for one of the exemptions under section 72?” So there’s a lot of opportunities and at the risk of this podcast getting really long, I hope the nation can see. Micah and I we’ve looked at so many of these and we’re constantly asking ourselves questions about the numbers. What does this number mean? What does this lack of number mean? What planning opportunity is here? And if you just go through a return and ask yourself that about every question, a lot of times the answer might be, there’s no planning opportunity here, but then go to the next line. What planning opportunities are here? Well, backdoor Roth contributions, interest in educator expenses, all these different things start coming to mind. You can’t just gloss over this and say, “Well, it’s a return. It’s return and file it away.”
Micah Shilanski: Yeah. And so going back to line 17, as we’ve talked about before, it’s blinking this one, but the client does have multiple real estate properties and multiple state locations that’s there, which comes a fun tax consequence that’s going to be there. But also the client thought they were getting a tax deduction because at least I can deduct my real estate expenses. At least I conduct my rental properties. It may not cashflow but I’m going to get a tax deduction for it. And this is where I show them that they’re not because they can look at their Schedule E and they can see a negative number. And they’re like, “Well, at least I was able to write this off.” And this is the reason going through the 1040 with them is important because they see it’s a goose egg. It’s not a negative number.
Matthew Jarvis: Yeah. Just so many planning opportunities here. So many planning, which is… Well, Micah, I worry if we go to more schedules, we are going to make this one of our longest episodes ever. Do you want to tie some action items on this? Maybe we’ll do a part three at some point and dive into some other schedules or do you have one or two schedules you want to look at real quick?
Micah Shilanski: I had a couple other lines and things I want to talk about. Maybe we could just talk about them in concept versus just going line by line, that’s going to be there. But one of the things that I wanted to go through again, things that are missing on the tax return that are there. So on rental properties, one of the things I want to talk with my client, like how do they use rental properties especially if they’re out in a different location, do they travel to those rental properties? How do they manage those? All of those things. Most of the time, they’re not writing off the little expenses, like the airplane, the hotel, the car rental, right? So outlining how they should do that. And also getting into a cashflow conversation is really important to making sure they’re operating things the way they’re supposed to operate.
And one of the things on this Schedule E, that’s on this one here, we’ll see if we can pop it up in a little bit but what this shows is by the names, I know I haven’t redacted the address, but all of the properties, none of them are in an LLC. And so this is a very interesting thing that we can see right here. How come they’re not an LLC? Okay. Now we have properties in different States, one is potentially in California, which is not a great state to Diane, especially if you don’t live there and you don’t have a trust or an LLC. So why aren’t these things set up is a great question. And another thing that was missing… Now it wasn’t missing from this tax return, it was missing from another one about the same time from a client. And basically in talking with them, the client had IRAs that they had been funding for years and years and years and years but sure enough, there was no 8606.
So again, it’s not what’s on our tax return, but what’s missing. So the client had lost track of it. They had filed it, but the last few years they had stopped filing it for some reason, I don’t know why the 8606. So we lost a basis in their IRA accounts and of course they were prospects accounts. It was a phenomenal fine because they had about 86,000 in her account, 90,000 in his account of nondeductible money that we’re able to do this massive Roth conversion with. And again, now we have clients for life because we found that that got lost on their tax return.
Matthew Jarvis: Yeah. There’s so many powerful strategies there.
Micah Shilanski: All right, I’m going to be done with my rant. I’m sorry, I can geek out about this stuff for a long time.
Matthew Jarvis: Not at all. And so we can do—when we do our big conference in 2021 details pending, we will do some pretty gnarly tax sessions because it’ll be a lot of fun.
Micah Shilanski: All right, let’s go ahead and jump into some action items. This podcast is all about action items. It is all about you taking action in your practice today. So I’m going to kick off and say, the first one is find, read and advise on a few dozen returns. Now, if you don’t have them, you should have them from your clients, pull them out, Google them, take political officials tax returns that are published. Some apparently aren’t but the ones that are published, go ahead and grab those and review them and at least get experience that’s going to be there.
Matthew Jarvis: Totally. And I would approach those with the mindset of, I’m not going to sit down this return until I’ve found some way to deliver value to this person or this hypothetical person, because there’s always value there. And it’s a quest that you’ve got to do. The second action item and I think I mentioned this on the last podcast, if you’re like me, don’t like committing all these numbers to memory, Putnam Investments has a real amazing tax printout that I’ve been using for years. If you just Google Putnam tax print out, we’ll put a link on the podcast. I keep that on my desk. So I have all these numbers at hand. What are the IRA contribution limits? What are the tax brackets, all those things. So you don’t have to memorize everything, you just need to know how to access it and build a watch for the triggers.
Micah Shilanski: And number three creative process for doing tax review. Now this can be super simple, right? If you’re new to this, keep it simple because I want a sticky change, that’s going to be there. It could be one, request and track, you’re getting every single client’s tax return, that’s going to be there. Number two, review the tax return and pick two or three things that you want to review on it. Maybe you don’t review everything because maybe it’s outside of your scope just yet. Maybe you just look at the IRA deductions. Maybe you look at the 401(k) funding. Maybe you’ll look at the tax withholding that’s going to be there. Maybe you just look at those three things, but create a process for that.
And then a communication piece to your client. This is, “Hey, we reviewed this.” Are you eligible for a Roth conversion? And doesn’t make sense? How does nondeductible IRAs work, right? How all these things create that communication piece with your clients? And if you stick to those things by the way, regardless of where you’re at, you should be able to advise on that. Should you be putting money in an IRA or doing a Roth conversion, should you be funding more money in your K Plan, these aren’t very controversial even with warehouses.
Matthew Jarvis: I would throw another action items related to that one. If you are under compliance scrutiny from your broker dealer, from your RA, from whomever work, don’t fight them, work with them on saying, “Hey, tax planning is a critical component. It’s part of the CFPs.” Planning and process, it’s one of those key areas. How can we help clients be proactive on their tax planning without crossing the line into tax advice? And some of the things we’ll have them you say… Anytime we’re talking about taxes, I’ll say review this with your tax preparer before taking action. What do we need to make this happen? Don’t let that be an excuse for not doing tax plans, it’s too valuable for the client. It’s too big an opportunity to deliver massive value to say, “Well, my compliance says I can’t, so I’m not going to.”
Micah Shilanski: All right. And your last action item, I know this is a lot, but you spent the time to listen to this at least get your CEs, jump on our website, theperfectria.staging.wpengine.com. You’re going to see, you’ll be able to log in there. You’ll be able to put your answer to questions, we’re going to need your CFP number and your social, your date of birth, your bank account, those fun things, right? Don’t worry about it.
Matthew Jarvis: Yeah. Just a couple of things.
Micah Shilanski: So I’ll go the bank.
Matthew Jarvis: The number to your bank.
Micah Shilanski: Yeah. So jump on, do the CEs that are going to be there so you get credit for them.
Matthew Jarvis: Perfect. Well, thanks everybody for listening. This was our first attempt at the technical aspect. Let us know what you thought, if you want us to do more technical ones like this, or when you like it better if we just stay on the soap box and rant about whatever’s going on in the industry. And until next time, happy planning.
Micah Shilanski: Happy planning.
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