Though you can ask your advisor anything, some topics are harder to bring up.
In an age when you can Google anything, we often feel pressure to know all the answers. Which means asking certain things can make you feel a bit embarrassed. That’s why we’ve gathered four common financially awkward questions (or FAQs, if you will) people are afraid to utter out loud.
If you see your child’s or grandchild’s concerns reflected in some of these topics, feel free to share this article with them – but also know that your advisor can lend an ear as a neutral third party. You could even try a family meeting with your advisor as facilitator.
You may know that an individual retirement account (IRA) is a savings account that comes with tax breaks, i.e., where you save for retirement and keep your stocks, bonds, etc. But you may want to better understand the difference between a traditional IRA and a Roth IRA.
To tell the two apart, think of the classic candy Now and Later. With a Roth IRA, you pay taxes on the money you put in now; with a traditional IRA, you pay taxes on the money later, when you withdraw it. In both traditional and Roth IRAs, your money grows tax-free while it’s in the account.
To help pick between the two, the question is this: Do you think your tax rates will be higher or lower in the future?
Each type of account has distinct advantages, though there’s bad news for high earners – some aren’t eligible for a Roth IRA because there are income limits (just under $139,000 for tax year 2020 for singles and $206,000 for those married filing jointly). You can always ask your advisor whether adding a Roth IRA to your retirement mix makes sense.
It’s difficult to face our own mortality, let alone have a conversation about it. But making a plan for the care you will need later in life, as well as an up-to-date estate plan that clearly expresses your wishes, is an incredible gift to your loved ones – and to yourself. It’s hard to put a price on knowing you have a plan to maintain your quality of life.
A good place to start is researching the local cost of long-term care (assistance with the activities of daily living, like bathing and eating), at genworth.com/costofcare. This can give you an idea of how much money you need to have set aside for these costs, or the size of a long-term care insurance policy you might need. If you’re concerned you might be over- or under-insured in this area, talk to your advisor.
This question can be awkward to ask your advisor, with the feeling that you’re throwing a wrench into the planning they’ve done. But it’s a timely question, as many companies are looking to trim costs. Don’t be embarrassed if you don’t know how to tell if this option is in your best interest.
There’s a lot to consider before you make this momentous decision, best summed up in two questions:
Take your time thinking about these two aspects. If you have your financial ducks in a row for retirement, but don’t think you can deal with the loss of your work identity, then maybe a buyout isn’t the right thing for you. Maybe instead of retiring, you take the severance and work a few more years until you’re ready. It’s a personal decision. However, you should keep in mind that if you’re offered a buyout and don’t take it, there’s a chance you’ll be managed out in a less advantageous way down the road.
U.S. savings bonds are a little different than bonds you hold through a brokerage, which are usually cashed in automatically when they mature. In the case of a U.S. savings bond, you’re giving the Treasury Department a no-interest loan by not cashing in the mature bond.
If you have a physical bond (not an electronic one), take it to your bank, ideally one where you have a long-established account. If that’s not possible, you’ll have to provide a government-issued form of photo ID and you’ll be limited to cashing $1,000 worth of savings bonds.
There are a few exceptions, but in general, the person whose name is on the bond is the only person who can cash it in, and that person will owe taxes on the interest earned. If you plan to give the mature bond proceeds as a gift to someone, note that you’ll have the tax liability upon cashing it in. Your other option is to transfer ownership to someone else. You can find the form for transferring a physical savings bond at treasury.gov.
Sources: Treasury.gov; Forbes; Genworth.com; Kiplinger magazine
Roth IRA owners must be 59½ or older and have held the IRA for five years before tax-free withdrawals are permitted. Bond prices and yields are subject to change based upon market conditions and availability. If bonds are sold prior to maturity, you may receive more or less than your initial investment. There is an inverse relationship between interest rate movements and fixed income prices. Generally, when interest rates rise, fixed income prices fall and when interest rates fall, fixed income prices rise. These policies have exclusions and/or limitations. The cost and availability of Long Term Care insurance depend on factors such as age, health, and the type and amount of insurance purchased. As with most financial decisions, there are expenses associated with the purchase of Long Term Care insurance. Guarantees are based on the claims paying ability of the insurance company.
Five signs you’ve chosen the right accountant; two signs that suggest proceeding with caution.
Not everyone needs a professional in their corner come tax season. For some, tax software might do, perhaps followed by a professional review. But for those contending with master limited partnerships, complicated business structures, income from multiple states, major life transitions or other prickly tax scenarios, a strategic, knowledgeable numbers pro may be valuable when it comes to preparing and filing your personal or business taxes.
Here are a few signs that you’ve found the right professional and two that may indicate it’s time to reevaluate. These aren’t hard-and-fast rules, merely guidelines. Don’t forget that your advisor likely has relationships with accounting professionals and can let you know what to expect, so tap into that experience if you need to.
Your accountant should be proactively leading the tax strategy conversation, collaborating closely with your other professional advisors. Just expect those in-depth discussions to happen before or a bit after the hectic 13 or so weeks that comprise tax season. They’re only human.
Your accountant should have experience in your particular situation and be capable of thoroughly researching rarer issues. Invest in private companies? Your accountant should be familiar with K-1s, notoriously tardy reporting documents for partnerships that often demand specific expertise and amendments or extensions beyond normal tax-filing deadlines. Work in a particular industry or run your own business? Dealing with foreign affairs or global investing? Experience is vital in these complex arenas. It helps, too, if your values align with the person who’ll know every detail of your financial life.
Your accountant should have their fingers on the pulse and ear to the ground. The laws surrounding personal and business deductions change frequently (see the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017), so an accountant should be well-versed in ways to help you legally maximize your return (e.g., bunching charitable contributions in order to exceed the $24,000 standard deduction for married couples filing jointly). Expect your accountant to be up to speed on regulatory changes as well as current tax law, and to keep you informed in language you understand.
You’ll likely want to work with someone who has been vetted and recommended by people you know well and trust. Consider an accountant who is part of a professional organization (e.g., the AICPA) with continuing education standards and qualifications or has certifications in the type of service you need.
Your accountant should be responsive, responsible, trustworthy and transparent. He or she doesn’t have to be an expert in everything, but should be able to research an issue and get back to you as needed. Prompt, honest communication paired with a proposed solution is what you’re looking for. This is a relationship that should last, so it’s important to build on a strong foundation.
They have their head in the sand.
They do not have secure systems in place to keep the practice going in case of emergency or to protect your private information.
They’re an artful dodger.
If you’re working with an accountant who suggests something that sounds more like dodging taxes rather than minimizing them, look elsewhere. You don’t want to be on the wrong side of the law or the ledger.
Sources: inc.com; entrepreneur.com; investopedia.com; irs.gov; accountingweb.co.uk
Raymond James and its advisors do not offer tax advice. You should discuss any tax matters with the appropriate professional. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of Raymond James & Associates, Inc., and are subject to change.
Start the new year right by reviewing and revamping your financial plan.
Instead of hauling out those familiar New Year’s resolutions about eating less and exercising more, how about focusing on your financial well-being? Here are 12 resolutions that can help ensure your financial confidence in retirement.
You can’t expect to reach a goal without knowing where you’re starting from. Using December 31 as the effective date, update your personal balance sheet (assets versus liabilities, broadly speaking). If you’re retired, make note of the income you receive from Social Security, pensions, retirement plan assets or other sources. Everything proceeds from this first step, so take the time to bring these numbers up to date.
How closely did last year’s spending match what you’d planned? Were unexpected increases one-time items or ongoing costs? Where can you trim expenses?
Although some budget items are fixed, a sharp pencil can produce significant savings on other costs. Start with what you realistically expect to have as income, then assign those dollars to your various expense categories, while also maintaining flexibility to account for things like healthcare that can’t be pinned down precisely.
Account titling often occurs haphazardly, which can create problems down the line. If one partner dies and an account is titled only in their name, those assets can’t be readily accessed by the survivor. The solution may be creating joint accounts, but it’s not always that simple. Titling has implications across a range of estate planning issues, as well as other situations such as Medicaid eligibility and borrowing power, too. Review your account titling and discuss with your team of professionals.
If you don’t correctly document your beneficiary designations, who gets what may be determined by federal or state law, or by the default plan document used in your retirement accounts. When did you last update your designations? Have life changes (divorce, remarriage, births, deaths, state of residence) occurred since then?
Update your beneficiary listings on wills, life insurance, annuities, IRAs, 401(k)s, qualified plans and anything else that’d affect your heirs. If you’ve named a trust, have any relevant tax laws changed? Have you provided for the possibility that your primary beneficiary may die before you? Does your plan address the simultaneous death of you and your spouse? An estate attorney can help walk you through these various scenarios.
A certain amount of assets should be set aside in cash accounts that can be readily accessed – talk with your advisor about whether your current allocation strikes the right balance. Note that the cash portions of your brokerage and retirement accounts serve a different purpose and shouldn’t be counted as emergency reserves.
Appreciation in one asset class or underperformance in another can leave your portfolio with a different allocation than what you originally intended. Revisit your current and ideal asset allocation at least annually and rebalance as needed (consider rebalancing with new contributions to help avoid capital gains taxes).
Consider, too, whether you’re comfortable with your portfolio’s current level of risk. Risk tolerance isn’t static – it changes based on your net worth, age, income needs, financial goals and other considerations.
Most retirees have several income sources, such as Social Security, pensions, retirement portfolios, rental properties, notes receivable, inheritances, etc. Think about how secure each source is. Can you count on that inheritance? Would rental property vacancies interrupt your cash flow? Are the notes receivable backed by collateral? If too much of your retirement income is from less-than-solid sources, it may be time to reposition your assets.
If you’re not yet retired, go online and establish an account with the Social Security Administration – the SSA doesn’t mail out individual statements of accrued benefits anymore. Review your statement, and be sure all your earnings over the years have been recorded. Use the SSA’s online calculator to compute your benefits at various retirement ages. If appropriate, revisit your spousal plan and revise as needed.
Think strategically about your contributions – for example, consider whether or not it’d make sense to donate low-basis stocks in lieu of cash, or learn about establishing a donor advised fund to take an upfront deduction for contributions made over the next several years. Give, but do so with an eye toward reducing your tax liability.
What changes are needed given your current lifestyle and the market environment? Don’t fixate solely on your retirement assets’ value – instead, drill down into what types of assets you hold, what your expected cash flow will be, what your contingency plans are, what rate of return you’re assuming, what inflation rate you’re assuming and how long you’re planning for. Retirement plans have many moving parts that must be monitored on an ongoing basis.
You should now have a good idea of your cash flow situation, what your retirement income picture looks like and where other challenges lie. Do you need to adjust your IRA contributions, other account contributions or tax withholding? Are you taking full advantage of your employer’s retirement plan options, particularly any contribution match? Go after any problems areas – or opportunities – systematically and promptly.
Your advisor can help offer specialized tools, impartiality and experience earned by dealing with many market cycles and client situations. Communicate openly about what’s happening in your life today and what may happen in the future. Advisors can’t help you manage what they don’t know, so err on the side of over-communicating. Establish a regular meeting schedule to review your portfolio and retirement plans.
RETIREMENT AND LONGEVITY
November 11, 2020
Scammers are casting a wide net for victims. Here’s how to sidestep it.
There’s a good reason the U.S. has the Medicare Fraud Strike Force. Scams against the system are persistent – and they cause all taxpayers to endure the rising cost of healthcare premiums. With a pandemic providing a smoke screen for criminals, new scams have popped up.
Some of the latest fraud complaints are about telemarketing calls, text messages, social media messages and door-to-door salesmen offering COVID-19 tests or face masks in exchange for your Medicare number. Once they have this information, they can rip off the system. Scammers are also masquerading as COVID-19 contact tracers to get this data.
In this type of environment, it’s prudent to be cautious about giving out your Medicare number. It’s also not a bad idea to regularly check your Medicare summary notices for errors in billing, and be wary if a new provider is prescribing what seems like unnecessary testing or drugs.
There have also been reports of inbound calls from someone pretending to be a Medicare representative, then asking for a Social Security number and personal financial information (and using scare tactics, saying you will lose eligibility for benefits). Knowing that Medicare will not make inbound calls to ask for your data is the armor you need to combat this. Hang up and report the scam call to 1.800.MEDICARE.
If you’re ever concerned you may have disclosed information that could lead to identity theft or financial account takeover, contact your advisor. You can also get a free credit report each week until April 2021 at annualcreditreport.com. To place a freeze or alert on your credit report, contact the three nation- wide credit bureaus directly: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.
To get an idea of the impact of this type of fraud, consider one of the largest Medicare schemes, amounting to $1.2 billion in 2019. It involved an international call center that lured in unwitting victims, telehealth consults, and doctors being paid kickbacks for prescribing unnecessary back or knee braces. The scheme was complex and widespread.
If you’re among the Medicare beneficiaries these fraudsters are targeting, you can fight back by being as stingy as possible with your data. When in doubt, don’t give it out. And don’t take it personally – these criminals are taking advantage of a tragic moment on a broad scale.
BUSINESS OWNERSHIPNovember 09, 2020
Reviewing your finances can help prepare your business for future disruptions.
If you are like most small businesses, 2020 has been a year of wild fluctuation in budgets and planning. While daily operations may have been one way at the start of the new year, by March and April the entire landscape had changed with the advent of COVID-19 and the ensuing shifts in state and local regulations.
Changing revenue streams, temporary shutdowns and being forced to pivot quickly are all part of the everyday world of doing business these days. And while being adept, resilient and shifting with changing market conditions are normal for every small business, COVID-19 has brought new meaning to being nimble, especially with budgets.
If you have made it thus far, pat yourself on the back, but know that the coming months or even years could matter even more to the strength of your business. Budgeting to reflect the new realities of daily operations may mean all the difference.
When it comes to budgeting in a chaotic environment where you’re not sure what revenue streams will be, looking at cash flow is job number one. If you have never utilized financial forecasting tools, now is the time to do so. Your advisor has specialized software that can do this and stress test your revenue stream, but even a simple Excel spreadsheet can help you look at the future in multiple ways. Financial forecasting tools can also allow you to run hypothetical scenarios and make contingency plans for each one, so you can adjust quickly in any new landscape. While you may not be able to predict the future, having an adjustable plan in place can provide peace of mind.
Another budget item to consider is your real estate footprint. Are you leasing or do you own your commercial space? Does it make sense to sublease your space or possibly downsize your space?
Now is a good time to look ahead and consider the space you absolutely need for your staff and everyday operations, and think about other options if you have extra space. Some ideas could include inviting a partner, client or even a vendor you closely work with to share space – and the cost – or opening up part of your space for coworking, where solo entrepreneurs safely share office space and common functions. Reach out to your network and you may also find other small businesses who are figuring out creative ways to reduce monthly real estate costs.
Finally, shoring up emergency funds is a must-do for all small businesses during the pandemic. Ensuring three to six months of continued operations in the face of another shutdown is a good goal. Check out your insurance options with your advisor and make sure any disruption insurance is up to par. Get a clear picture of exactly what your current insurance will cover and what you’ll need to file claims. Do you need to allocate funds to bolster your current insurance coverage? Consider all the options.
Keeping focused on your long-term goals and preparing as best you can to weather unexpected scenarios could add longevity and sustainability to your business vision.
Three ways you can take action to plan ahead for business disruptions:
Sources: dailyherald.com; bizjournals.com; forbes.com; bench.co
RETIREMENT AND LONGEVITY October 13, 2020
More than 64 million Americans will see the increase in their payments beginning in January.
The Social Security Administration has announced a cost of living adjustment (COLA) to recipients’ monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. More than 64 million Americans will see the 1.3% increase in their payments beginning in January of 2021.
The increase – slightly lower than last year’s 1.6% adjustment – is tied to the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers and was put in place to ensure the purchasing power of these benefits isn’t eroded by inflation.
According to the Social Security Administration, on average, retired workers currently collect $1,523 per month in Social Security payments, or roughly $18,276 per year. The 1.6% COLA will add about $20 per month to those payments, or $240 for the year.
Keep in mind, all federal benefits must be direct deposited. So if you haven’t already started receiving benefits, you need to establish electronic transfers to your bank or financial institution. Contact your financial advisor for more information.
Source: Social Security Administration
RETIREMENT AND LONGEVITY September 28, 2020
Things to consider – and learn – before joining a community with like-minded retirees.
Not long ago, most planned retirement communities revolved around a golf course, a few tennis courts and an Olympic pool thrown in for good measure. But today, there are many choices available. That’s because baby boomers are choosing to enjoy their lifestyles and pursue their passions in retirement, rather than settle for “traditional” retirement living.
If you think about it, we gravitate toward those with similar interests, values and lifestyles. Simply put, it can be fun to be around like-minded people. It can also make it easier to form important relationships as we age.
Begin your search for the perfect niche retirement community with a frank discussion of what you desire in retirement. What medical support do you need? Do you enjoy physical activities or those that are more cerebral? What about RV storage if you enjoy road trips? Once you and your spouse or partner identify your retirement desires, you can pinpoint a community that will fulfill them.
Also consider the fact that a niche retirement community may be limited in the diversity of activities offered. If you are the kind of person who thrives in a changing environment, you may consider another option or find a niche that caters to your need for variety. Otherwise, if you are invigorated at the thought of grabbing your paintbrush, palette and easel, an artists’ enclave may be just the thing for you.
Next, it’s time to think about a budget. Will you rent or buy? In some cases, there are entrance fees – such as those at university-based retirement communities (UBRC) – and subsequent monthly fees to cover medical care, meals and other amenities. To create your budget, set up time with your advisor. He or she will be happy to help guide you through this process.
Choosing a niche retirement community should be as fun as it sounds. First and foremost, visit the community. Talk to people who live there and read reviews. Remember, information is your ally.
According to aplaceformom.com, residents of the most successful niche retirement communities engage over shared interests/traits, like astronomy, heritage, equestrian, fitness, golf, RVs, learning or cultural experiences.
Or retirement from like professions, industries or services such as the post office, military or the arts.
The Burbank Senior Artists Colony in California, welcomes professional and aspiring actors, artists, musicians and other creative types, as well as retired professionals. There’s a 40-seat performance theater, artist studios and classrooms, a library, galleries as well as healthcare services.
Under the dark, rural Florida skies, you’ll find the Chiefland Astronomy Village. Because the village’s skies aren’t affected by light pollution, stargazers flock to the community.
At Fox Hill Club in Bethesda, Maryland, retirees enjoy wellness offerings for the mind, body and spirit. There’s a gym, a full-service spa, three health-conscious gourmet restaurants, an organic herb garden, indoor golf range, outdoor walking trails, swimming pool with electronic lifts, and physical therapy.
For letter carriers, there’s Nalcrest, a letter carriers’ retirement community, about 70 miles east of Tampa, Florida. It offers 500 garden-style apartments and all residents must be 55 and older.
Horse-minded retirees can find their niche at The Ridge at Chukker Creek, Aiken, South Carolina. This community offers sweeping views of horse pastures, a spring-fed pond, and a nature preserve with riding trails. Residents live in single-family homes; horses reside in the community’s shared barns.
The fastest growing niche is the university-based retirement community (UBRC). Besides obvious learning and classroom benefits, UBRCs usually offer healthcare services as part of the housing component. Residents may also have access to campus fitness centers and athletic events.
Similar in name only, it would be difficult to find two UBRCs that are alike. But senior housing expert Andrew Carle gives five criteria that, from the perspective of residents, the university and the housing provider, contribute to a successful UBRC:
For most, planning where to live in retirement can be overwhelming. The good news: there are resources to help. Seniorliving.org, for example, is a veritable goldmine of retirement information and provides tools to help you evaluate and understand the many types of senior living opportunities available.
FAMILY AND LIFE EVENTSSeptember 29, 2020
Learn how virtual classes, gap years, K-12 expenses and refunds may impact your education savings.
The COVID-19 outbreak has upended normal life across the world, and higher education has been no exception. As more college students respond to the pandemic by taking a gap year (i.e., a year-long break from school) or opting for reduced course loads, you may be wondering what these and other changes could mean for your 529 plan. Fortunately, we’ve got answers.
Higher education expenses that would normally be covered under a 529 plan also apply to virtual classes. These expenses include tuition, books, school supplies, fees, computer equipment and peripherals. Room and board will also be covered if your student is enrolled at least half time. To explore estimated expenses for an academic year, visit the respective college or university’s cost of attendance page.
Since 529 plans do not have an expiration date, your funds will be ready when you need them. This means you can resume distributions as you normally would once your student returns to school. If your student has opted for a reduced course load, then tuition, supplies and fees will all be covered by your 529 plan. However, they will need to be enrolled at least half time for room and board to qualify under your plan. If you have any questions regarding your student’s level of enrollment (partial, half time or full time), contact their educational institution.
The K-12 provision in 529 plans applies exclusively to tuition expenses. You may use up to $10,000 each year to cover these costs. While K-12 distributions are considered a qualified expense under federal law, not every state treats K-12 distributions in the same manner. To determine how your state treats K-12 distributions, consult with a local tax professional.
You have several options when it comes to managing amounts refunded by the school. The first is to use the refunded amount toward other qualified education expenses that same calendar year. This will ensure that your 1099 matches the incurred expenses. The second option is to re-contribute the refunded amounts back into the 529 plan within 60 days of the day the school issued the check. This contribution will be counted as a current year contribution. Just remember to safely store documentation of the refund and re-contribution for your records.
Earnings in 529 plans are not subject to federal tax and in most cases state tax, as long as you use withdrawals for eligible education expenses. However, if you withdraw money from a 529 plan and do not use it on an eligible education expense, you generally will be subject to income tax and an additional 10% federal tax penalty on earnings. Investment products are: not deposits, not FDIC/NCUA insured, not insured by any government agency, not bank guaranteed, subject to risk, and may lose value.
RETIREMENT AND LONGEVITY September 16, 2020
Important dates and timely planning tips for October, November and December.
Confirm cost of living: Next year’s Social Security adjustment is typically announced in October.
Gear up for open enrollment: Prepare your documents for Medicare open enrollment, if eligible. If you’re working and your employer offers benefits, take the time to understand them.
Head to the polls: The 2020 presidential election is set for November 3, so mark your calendar and cast your vote. Studies show voting can help you feel more connected to your community, plus taking action can help alleviate feelings of uncertainty.
Be a savvy donor: As deadlines for year-end gift and charitable contributions approach, make a strategy for your philanthropic goals. Consult with your advisor if you’re interested in bunching, which means donating a few years’ worth of contributions in one year, usually to a donor advised fund, to help you meet the threshold for itemizing on your tax returns.
Steer clear of fraud: Start by tracking and reviewing all of your bank and credit card statements for irregular activity. You can also request a copy of your consumer credit profile and stay on the lookout for scams asking you to confirm or update your account information via email.
Tune up your plan: It’s important to monitor your retirement and investment accounts regularly and make adjustments to insurance and estate plans as needed. The holidays can be a good time to do this if you want to discuss what you’re planning with close friends or relatives.
Size up your portfolio: If you’re invested in mutual funds, don’t forget about capital gains distributions dates that typically fall in December. Consider balancing your realized capital gains with losses where appropriate. Talk to your advisor about whether this strategy might help lower your tax liability.
Reflect on resolutions: Before beginning your New Year’s celebrations, review the financial planning you did for the past year. Did you meet your goals?
Withdrawals from tax-deferred accounts may be subject to income taxes, and prior to age 59½ a 10% federal penalty tax may apply. Raymond James financial advisors do not render legal or tax advice. Please consult a qualified professional regarding legal or tax advice.
MARKETS AND INVESTING September 16, 2020
What do President Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s election platforms include in relation to environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues?
Below, Washington Policy Analyst Ed Mills and Institutional Equity Strategist Tavis McCourt, CFA, discuss what the 2020 U.S. election results could mean for ESG-related policies and company ratings. To learn more about sustainable investing and how a customized strategy can fit your financial and personal goals, reach out to your financial advisor.
The net-zero carbon goals set forth in the Green New Deal and modified for Biden’s platform (goal deadline of 2030 in the Green New Deal, 2050 under Biden platform) would make it easier to track and compare CO2 emissions. Such regulations could impact some companies’ ESG ratings. While many ESG investors may currently focus on companies’ level-one carbon footprint, carbon reduction regulations could call for specific disclosures around three levels of carbon output: product, manufacturing and supply chain. Companies with large manufacturing footprints or outsourced supply chains would likely see the most impact to their ESG scores or profiles.
The implementation of these net-zero policies would likely require a Democrat sweep and a vote to eliminate the Senate filibuster.
Recent ESG ratings have been materially adjusted due to companies’ perceived responses to COVID, which may have included expanding health benefits and days off, allowing work from home where applicable, providing personal protective equipment to essential employees, and balancing return-to-work plans with employees’ childcare needs. If a Biden administration and Congress addressed these issues in an infrastructure bill, it could remove the negative pressure on ESG ratings for companies that have not responded as well or adequately disclosed what their response entailed.
The Biden platform includes several policy proposals titled “Made In All Of America By All Of America’s Workers” that are aimed at fueling an economic recovery for working families. These policies would likely be included in any economic recovery bills passed early next year in the event of a Democratic sweep. Overseas supply chains in areas of cheap labor or weak labor laws hurt ESG scores, so for companies forced to bring some of their manufacturing footprint – or at least part of their supply chains – back to the U.S., their ESG scores could improve even if margins are lower. Republican initiatives to bring manufacturing back to the U.S. could have the same effect.
Any pay gap legislation or programs around childcare, education or fair housing that would improve diversity in the workforce would benefit companies that have been negatively impacted by ESG investors or ratings firms for poor support of those programs. The government taking over some of those initiatives would level the playing field a bit across corporations. These proposals are tenets of several policy ideas from the Biden platform, woven throughout the Build Back Better campaign.
These policies seem clear, and the involved companies should see increased revenue from the projects as well as improved ESG profiles themselves, even if already viewed positively.
Given the proposal from the Biden campaign, a public option on the healthcare exchanges may be a policy focus if Democrats control the House, Senate and White House and if the Senate filibuster is eliminated. It may not become law as proposed, however. If passed, the public option could materially impact healthcare companies if corporations are legally permitted to and decide to transition their employees to the public option rather than provide it themselves. Right now, strong benefits packages – especially insurance coverage – positively boost ESG profiles and attract employees, but the public option could be established in a way to allow corporations to not offer coverage, and therefore not be subjected to the same ESG hit or negative press they would otherwise take.
Stricter regulations around drug pricing and the over-prescription or over-marketing of opioids could impact ESG investors. Some proposals to increase transparency could provide ratings agencies a better view of the poor performers in that area.
Policies are being proposed by both parties, but the Trump administration has yet to implement substantive changes. The Biden administration may result in more concrete progress forward. Major action requires legislative changes, and Congressional action is more likely in the event of a Democratic sweep and elimination of the filibuster. It remain questionable whether a Republican-controlled Senate would support bipartisan action, especially if the pharmaceutical industry invests heavily to help Republicans maintain their majority.
Known as the fair minimum tax rate, the U.N. Principles for Responsible Investment view paying “fair tax rates” as a top tenet of their ESG guidelines. If U.S. companies suddenly have to pay increased taxes to at least the 15% minimum tax rate, companies that have managed their taxes below that rate may see a benefit to their ESG scores. The Biden platform is calling for some corporate tax rates to revert to a middle ground between where they are now and pre-Trump tax cut levels (the average being mentioned is 28%). Raising taxes is always difficult without a single party sweep, and even a Democrat sweep may need the filibuster eliminated to pass a minimum corporate tax rate.
There is a push from the Republicans to de-list Chinese equities due to human rights issues, support Hong Kong/Taiwan independence and, generally, pursue more direct action around the relationship with China. Regardless of the results of the November election, trade policy with China will likely be renegotiated – it’s a very bipartisan issue – but the Trump administration seems to be more focused on de-listing Chinese companies from U.S. exchanges.
The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) is proposing a rule that would make it more difficult for ESG funds to be used in retirement plans. The DOL is also working on a rule that would make proxy access for investors more difficult. As both of these rules are being proposed under the current Trump administration, they may be more likely to come into fruition under another Trump victory. A change in proxy access for investors could dramatically impact the influence that activist investors, such as the Climate Action 100+, have on companies in terms of ESG propositions.
One of the tenets of Biden’s Build Back Better campaign is universal broadband in the U.S. While this issue has been brought up in past administrations, the COVID pandemic and resulting work- and school-from-home situation has brought this issue to the forefront. While the Trump administration has not outright opposed universal broadband, we believe it would not be a policy they’d push if reelected.
A Biden administration would likely fold this into an infrastructure spending bill for the economic recovery, and we’d also expect them to push to restore net neutrality. For the last few years, even before COVID, telecom companies that came out in favor of or that were working to build universal broadband and net neutrality saw benefits to their ESG profiles. However, if these issues were to be federally instituted, that ESG boost for vocal supporters would likely dwindle. On the other hand, companies that were actively involved in building the new universal broadband network would likely see a strong boost in ESG ratings/profiles.
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