Financial Independence Progress Report for July 2016

July has come and gone without much fanfare. After June, one of the two biggest months of the year for dividends, July feels disappointing actually. But, let the numbers speak rather than my emotions 🙂

08/01/2016
Emergency Fund ($72K)$60K 100.0%
College Fund (80K) 42.53% 44.30%
Passive Income (2015 vs 2016) $604.87 (07/2015) $579.61  (07/2016)
Retirement Fund ($900K) 61.64% 64.66%
Roof for our Family($750K) 00.00%
Medical Fund 00.00%
Life Insurance Done (term life insurance payments initiated)

Main Takeaways this month

  • Portfolio Increases (in green above)
    • I cannot believe that any of the positive gains will ever stand the test of time. It is the markets going crazy on us with insane valuations. So, I will not waste my time talking about it.
  • Portfolio changes
    • I did some more portfolio changes….hopefully for the last time this year. The main idea was to capture some gains and move them into a couple of new fund options. And also set aside some money for the cash fund.
    • I wrote about this here. My new mutual fund investments are VWELX and VDAIX.
  • Cash Fund
    • I started a cash fund in May since I anticipated a few days of down market towards the end of June…with the interest rate drama, Britain’s exit from Euro decision, etc. I used the fund completely to buy the Brexit dip.
    • I have started a new cash fund in July again…nothing big..two hundred dollars a month max. And some cash to seed the fund came from capturing some of the gains from some of my mutual funds.
  • Passive Income Stream
    • Passive Income for July 2016 ($579.61) was surprisingly lower than that of July 2015 (604.87). I was wondering why this happened…..and then I remembered on seeing the numbers. When I was jobless early this year, I sold some ESPP stock I had and used the money to buy VWITX (National MUNIs). I got to sell some ESPP without any additional taxes….the espp sale replaced some portion of my salary loss. The ESPP stock dividends are slightly more than the National MUNIs but at tax time, the MUNIs will score because the gains are tax free. I got the diversification I wanted but it came as a surprise.
    • My goal is to reach $750 pm by end of this year…it is already July…and my monthly dividends are appx $433 pm.
      • Target Dividend
        • $750 pm => $9000 pa
      • Current Dividend
        • $433 pm => $5196 pa
      • Balance to make up in the next 5 months
        • $9000 – $5196  => $3804 over the next 5 months
        • I think I might squeeze through….inspite of July’s weak dividends.
      • Lets hope for the best!!

Financial Independence Progress Report for April 2016

April is a slow month for dividends in my portfolio. But, after a couple months of no paychecks, seeing regular paychecks in April was such a joy! In celebration of that, I pumped a couple hundred dollars into making sure that future paychecks via dividends are a certainty 🙂

Lets look at the numbers now.

04/30/2016
Emergency Fund ($72K) 100.0% 100.0%
College Fund (80K) 39.33% 41.25%
Passive Income Streams ($4000 pm) $544.13 pm (04/2015) $509.15 pm (4/2016)
Retirement Fund ($900K) 57.96% 61.08%
Roof for our Family($750K) 00.00%
Medical Fund 00.00%
Life Insurance Done (term life insurance payments initiated)

Main Takeaways this month

  • Portfolio changes continues this month….
    • I wrote about my Capital Gains gut check here. As part of that exercise, I divested all my holdings in VTCLX (Vanguard Tax Managed Capital Appreciation) and VTMSX (Vanguard Tax Managed Small Cap).
  • Additions to my new investment vehicle…
    • Last month, I initiated a position in Vanguard Intermediate-Term Tax-Exempt Fund Investor Shares (VWITX). I wrote about it in my March Progress Report.
    • I took all the money from the sale of VTCLX and VTMSX and moved them into VWITX.
    • The gains are Federal Tax free and AMT (Alternative Minimum Tax) free as well. I would still have to pay CA state tax for VWITX though.
  • Dollar Cost Averaging
    • Did not have cash to dollar cost average (DCA) my funds this month…but I did boost my investments to dollar cost average VTMGX (Vanguard Developed Markets Index Fund….my non-US exposure mutual fund). I want to have some of my passive income streams to not come from US companies. VTMGX diversifies my passive income streams to include companies from Greater Europe, Greater Asia and Canada.
  • Passive Income Stream
    • Passive income for April 2016 ($1016.87) broke the positive trend of current year month winning over previous year’s month as April 2015 ($544.13). Hmm….
      • ….this was expected as my portfolio changes led to a some days where my money was not working for me…a gap of a couple days between closing of accounts and moving them into new accounts.
    • I compute Passive Income per month as (total passive income in this year) / number of months completed this year.
      • Total passive income is a sum of dividends + capital gains distributions.
      • April Passive Income = (total passive income in this year) / 12 == $201.98 which beat the 2015 April number ($172.40 per month)
      • Doing it this way keeps the monthly passive income more realistic because I can instantly know which of my monthly expenses are covered by this amount. I keep a separate tracker for this which I will write about at a later date.
    • My intermediate goal is to get $1000 pm in passive income first. My estimation for 2016 is that I will reach $750 pm. Lets see if I can push it some more 🙂

The Power of Investment Income

…through long term cap gains and dividends. If earning $73,800 per year (married filing jointly) or $36900 (filing single) and PAYING NO TAXES interests you, then please do read on for an interesting story. I will explain why lots of financial independence(FI) bloggers use investment income as a vehicle for their FI journey.

Many years ago, I remember Warren Buffett mentioning that he pays a lower tax rate that his secretary. I never really figured out what he meant until I started exploring financial independence myself and started investing in stocks myself. To understand his statement, one needs to understand some part of the income tax code….I know, not a popular topic, but knowing a little bit of the tax code can save you lots of money in taxes!! So, bear with me.

Types of Income

There are many types of income a person can earn. Some types are listed below:

  • From working for somebody
    • Salary
  • From owning stocks and bonds
    • Long and short term capital gains
    • Dividend Income
  • From owning real estate
    • Rental income
    • REIT funds income
  • From cash
    • Interest income from banks

Types of Income according to IRS

The tax man has a different notion of income. The tax man sets the amount of taxes based on the different notions of income. So, let us understand the types of income a tax man sees.

  • Ordinary Income
    • Salary
    • Short term capital gains (from selling stock owned less than a year)
    • REIT income
  • Ordinary Dividend Income
    • Owning non-qualified stocks that pay a dividend
  • Qualified Dividend Income
    • Owning qualified stocks that pay a dividend
  • Long term Capital Gains
    • from selling stock owned more than a year

The simple definition of Qualified dividends means income from corporations that meet a specific criterion like incorporated in the US or in a country that has a tax treaty with the US, stocks owned more than 60 days prior to the ex-dividend date, etc etc. There is a link at the bottom of this article for details. But, dividends from most US corporations are Qualified dividends.

Tax Filing Status

The tax man also specifies a filing status based on the different social definitions attached to a person.

  • Single
  • Head of Household
  • Married
    • filing jointly
    • filing separately
  • Qualifying Widow or Widower

IRS Tax Rates for the types of Income

Since the tax man sees income differently than you and me see it and different filing status, the tax rates are different for the different types of income. For 2014, let us consider the following table for two of the most common filing status types.

Tax Rates Single Married Filing Jointly / Qualifying Widow or Widower
Ordinary Income Long Term Capital Gains and Qualified Dividends Taxable Income over to Taxable Income over to
10% 0% $0 $9,075 $0 $18,150
15% 0% 9,075 36,900 18,150 73,800
25% 15% 36,900 89,350 73,800 148,850
28% 15% 89,350 186,350 148,850 226,850
33% 15% 186,350 405,100 226,850 405,100
35% 15% 405,100 406,750 405,100 457,600
39.6% 20% 406,750 457,600

The most important rows to consider are the rows in BLUE color. Two things stand out in the blue rows

  • 0% tax rate for
    • Long term capital gains
    • Qualified dividends
  • 0% tax rate until…
    • $73800 for married filing jointly
    • $36900 for single filers

What the above powerful statements tell us is that if *ALL* of your income comes from long term cap gains OR from qualified dividend, you will pay ZILCH to the tax man i.e. you get to keep what you earn!! How beautiful is that!

Back to Warren Buffet and his secretary…

You did not think I forgot about him did you 🙂 According to some news articles, Warren Buffet himself declares that he pays a 17.4 percent rate on taxable income. Note that he earns millions of dollars in income, but the first $73800 is tax free. His secretary apparently pays 8-9 points above him i.e. her average tax rate is atleast 25%. How is this possible? This is possible because of this:

  • Warren Buffett
    • most income is Investment income
    • Taxed at lower rates
    • First $73800 of investment income is tax free
  • His Secretary
    • most income is Salary income
    • Taxed at a much higher rate (from the table about, it is 25%)

Conclusion

Most financial independence bloggers, when they achieve financial independence and retire early, expect to get income from two sources

  • Stock investment
    • selling stocks and realizing long term capital gains
    • qualified dividend income
  • Rental income

If you are in the stocks category, like I am trying to be, aim for a good chunk of income from Investment income and get to keep all of the income until $73800 (married filing jointly) or $36900 (single filers).

It would be good to diversify the income streams and get some rental income as well. But, that is not my chosen path yet because of lack of hard $cash$.

Go Investment Income!!

Links

What is Tax Efficient Investing?

Before we talk about tax efficient investing, lets talk about the two different types of accounts: Tax-advantaged and Taxable accounts.

Tax-Advantaged Accounts

Examples of this type of accounts are 401K and IRA accounts. I do not have to pay taxes when I file taxes every year for any gains produced by investments in these accounts. The gains can be via capital gains, dividend distributions, interest, etc. The gains can grow in a tax-free environment  until money is withdrawn from these accounts. At that time, taxes will need to be paid based on the tax bracket one is at that time.

Taxable Accounts

Any account that is not tax-advantaged is a Taxable account. For example, my bank account with cash that produces interest is a taxable account because I will have to pay taxes on the interest money reported by the bank. Likewise, my Vanguard investment accounts, using post-tax money from my bank account, are taxable as well i.e. any dividends and/or capital gain distributions are taxable as well.

Tax-Efficient Investing

Gains produced in taxable accounts will be taxed according to the tax bracket one is in. Lets take an example. Consider the fund VDIGX…a dividend growth fund from Vanguard. The expected distributions for this fund for the  year 2014 are as follows:

Dividend Growth Fund    VDIGX

  • Dividends: $0.17
  • Short Term: $0.07
  • Long Term: $0.25

Each of the different category of gains are taxed at different levels depending on the investor’s tax bracket

  • Short term gains taxed at investor’s tax bracket (say 33%)
  • Long term gains taxed at 20% (fixed)
  • Dividends (qualified 100%) taxed at 15% (for folks in 33% tax bracket)

Tax-efficient investing is choosing investments in such a way that the taxes paid on the gains is minimized as much as possible. In the above example, it would be most tax-efficient if all of the gain comes in the form of dividends which are the least taxed category at 15%.

Consider another example of VCAIX….a California MUNI fund from Vanguard as well. This fund invests in MUNI bonds within California. The special treatment given to such bonds is that the gains form such bonds are both Federal and State Tax free and in most cases AMT free as well. For now, lets ignore AMT free…I will talk about this in another post. Now consider the gains produced by VCAIX for the calendar year 2014.

CA Intermediate-Term Tax-Exempt VCAIX

  • Dividends: $0.02
  • Short term: $0
  • Long Term: $0

For a resident of California, all the gains produced by VCAIX are completely *tax-free* i.e. both federal and state tax free. If not a resident of California, then it is only Federal tax free and state taxes have to be paid. So, in comparison to VDIGX,  for a resident of California, VCAIX isdefinitely more tax efficient than VDIGX.

So, tax-efficient investing is not about NOT_PAYING_TAXES. It is about MINIMIZING-TAXES-PAID and hence maximizing the gain that the mutual fund delivers.

NOTE:

  • VCAIX offers an appx gain of say 3%.But, being tax free means I get to keep the 3% completely.
  • For a taxable (or a less tax-efficient) fund to allow me to keep 3% post taxes, the fund has to produce a gain much higher than 3% to compensate for the taxes that need to be paid.
  • There is a calculator called Taxable Equivalent Yield Calculator (link below) where if I put in 3% and 33% as my tax bracket, I get the result of 4.48%. So, before paying taxes, the fund has to provide a gain of 4.48% so that post tax, I get to keep 3%.
  • For a portion of my portfolio, I may decide to take less risk and go for VCAIX at 3% vs taking more risk and investing in another fund that produces 4.48% gain. Now you see the power of tax efficiency 🙂
  • Of course, I do not want all my investments to be in VCAIX right…it is not diversified enough. So, asset allocation should still be higher priority than tax-efficient placement. Another post for this later….but for now, read the first link in the reference links below.

Reference Links