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Don't Live in Fear of an IRS Audit #financialplanning #tax

According to the IRS, the chances of you being audited are about 1 in 160.

You likely live in fear of a tax audit. Here ‘s how to protect yourself.

If the Internal Revenue Service suspects you underreported your gross income by 25% or more, it can challenge your return for up to six years. If the IRS suspects you filed a fraudulent return, no statute of limitations applies.

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

When the IRS challenges your return, the burden of evidence verifying your claims rests entirely with you.

If you haven’t been traumatized by an audit, you probably keep little of your financial documentation. If you have, you’re probably terrified to part with a single receipt. The IRS is one of the few courts where failure to produce proof of your claims results in the assumption that you stand guilty.

Here are ways to protect yourself:

·       Save all financial documents used to create your tax return.

·       Retain a paper copy or receipt of any tax-relevant financial exchange. Scan these documents and archive them electronically or acquire them in an electronic format.

·       If the purchase constituted a business or other deductible expense, record the expense and why it justifies the deduction. Store this information with the receipts.

Know Your Cost Basis

For a mutual fund with years of reinvested dividends, each dividend payment is part of the cost basis. As a result, sometimes you can compute the cost basis only if you access the complete transaction history.

Many custodians keep several years of electronic copies of brokerage statements and must send any known cost basis when you transfer to a new custodian. If your current custodian has the correct cost basis of your securities, you probably no longer need to keep brokerage statements. Better safe than sorry with the IRS, though.

Other Tips

Permanently keep records of nondeductible contributions to your individual retirement account. You may need the records every year in your retirement that you withdraw money to show that a portion of the withdrawal is not tax deductible. To avoid the hassle, consider clearing out nondeductible IRA contributions by converting your IRAs to Roth accounts.

Keep partnership documents, contracts and commission or royalty structures forever. This includes property records, deeds and titles, especially those relating to intellectual property. It also includes transfers of value for estate planning.

Save all your tax returns. After you file, save the paper or electronic copies, or both, with the rest of that year’s documents.

Once a year, scan and compile the records into PDFs and send them electronically to your financial advisor and the certified public accountant who does your taxes. Scanning the information gives you an electronic backup of the paper indefinitely.

Highlights: Warren Buffett’s 2018 Letter to Shareholders

Chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffet, released his annual letter to shareholders on February 23rd, 2019.

While the entire 15-page letter is great reading for all investors, here are a few snippets to incorporate into how you think about investing (and maybe even your life). Here’s the link to the full letter: http://www.berkshirehathaway.com/letters/2018ltr.pdf

Not a Fan of All Generally Accepted Accounting Principles

“Our advice? Focus on operating earnings, paying little attention to gains or losses of any variety. My saying that in no way diminishes the importance of our investments to Berkshire. Over time, Charlie and I expect them to deliver substantial gains, albeit with highly irregular timing.”

Stock Price is a Better Measure of Success

For nearly 30 years, Buffet would open his letter featuring the percentage change in Berkshire’s per-share book value. He wants to stop doing that now because he believes that Berkshire’s stock price will provide the best measure of business performance.

On Share Repurchases

“We very much like that: If Charlie and I think an investee’s stock is underpriced, we rejoice when management employs some of its earnings to increase Berkshire’s ownership percentage.”

Focus on the Forest – Forget the Trees

Buffett knows that Berkshire followers often focus on the many businesses they own – at last count there were 66 operating companies and another 47 investments in other companies – and he calls these companies “trees.”

But then he groups Berkshire’s trees into 5 different groves “of major importance, each of which can be appraised, with reasonable accuracy, in its entirety.”

With respect to each of his trees, he suggests that each is vastly different “ranging from twigs to redwoods.”

Buffet further suggests that a “few of our trees are diseased and unlikely to be around a decade from now.”

Then he adds that “many others, though, are destined to grow in size and beauty.”

Words to Live (Invest) By

Here are some of Buffett’s most thought-provoking quotes, taken directly from his shareholder letter – the words in bold are not Buffett’s but rather just category titles.

True Value Investor. “Abraham Lincoln once posed the question: ‘If you call a dog’s tail a leg, how many legs does it have?’ and then answered his own query: ‘Four, because calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it one.’ Abe would have felt lonely on Wall Street.

I will never risk getting caught short of cash.

My expectation of more stock purchases is not a market call. Charlie and I have no idea as to how stocks will behave next week or next year. Predictions of that sort have never been a part of our activities. Our thinking, rather, is focused on calculating whether a portion of an attractive business is worth more than its market price.

It would be foolish for us to sell any of our wonderful companies even if no tax would be payable on its sale. Truly good businesses are exceptionally hard to find. Selling any you are lucky enough to own makes no sense at all.

At Berkshire, the whole is greater – considerably greater – than the sum of the parts.”

Shareholders First. “For 54 years our managerial decisions at Berkshire have been made from the viewpoint of the shareholders who are staying, not those who are leaving. Consequently, Charlie and I have never focused on current-quarter results.

At Berkshire, our audience is neither analysts nor commentators: Charlie and I are working for our shareholder-partners. The numbers that flow up to us will be the ones we send on to you.”

The American Tailwind. “Remember, earlier in this letter, how I described retained earnings as having been the key to Berkshire’s prosperity? So it has been with America. In the nation’s accounting, the comparable item is labeled ‘savings.’ And save we have. If our forefathers had instead consumed all they produced, there would have been no investment, no productivity gains and no leap in living standards.

Charlie and I happily acknowledge that much of Berkshire’s success has simply been a product of what I think should be called The American Tailwind. It is beyond arrogance for American businesses or individuals to boast that they have ‘done it alone.’ The tidy rows of simple white crosses at Normandy should shame those who make such claims.

There are also many other countries around the world that have bright futures. About that, we should rejoice: Americans will be both more prosperous and safer if all nations thrive. At Berkshire, we hope to invest significant sums across borders.

Over the next 77 years, however, the major source of our gains will almost certainly be provided by The American Tailwind. We are lucky – gloriously lucky – to have that force at our back.”

Love What You Do. “We continue, nevertheless, to hope for an elephant-sized acquisition. Even at our ages of 88 and 95 – I’m the young one – that prospect is what causes my heart and Charlie’s to beat faster. (Just writing about the possibility of a huge purchase has caused my pulse rate to soar.)

On March 11th, it will be 77 years since I first invested in an American business. The year was 1942, I was 11, and I went all in, investing $114.75 I had begun accumulating at age six. What I bought was three shares of Cities Service preferred stock. I had become a capitalist, and it felt good.

For 54 years, Charlie and I have loved our jobs. Daily, we do what we find interesting, working with people we like and trust.”

Why Should You Diversify?

As 2019 approaches, and with US stocks outperforming non-US stocks in recent years, some investors have again turned their attention towards the role that global diversification plays in their portfolios. For the five-year period ending October 31, 2018, the S&P 500 Index had an annualized return of 11.34% while the MSCI World ex USA Index returned 1.86%, and the MSCI Emerging Markets Index returned 0.78%. As US stocks have outperformed international and emerging markets stocks over the last several years, some investors might be reconsidering the benefits of investing outside the US.

While there are many reasons why a US-based investor may prefer a degree of home bias in their equity allocation, using return differences over a relatively short period as the sole input into this decision may result in missing opportunities that the global markets offer. While international and emerging markets stocks have delivered disappointing returns relative to the US over the last few years, it is important to remember that:

1.  Non-US stocks help provide valuable diversification benefits.

2.  Recent performance is not a reliable indicator of future returns.

Over long periods, investors may benefit from consistent exposure to both US and non‑US equities.

THE LOST DECADE

We can examine the potential opportunity cost associated with failing to diversify globally by reflecting on the period in global markets from 2000–2009. During this period, often called the “lost decade” by US investors, the S&P 500 Index recorded its worst ever 10-year performance with a total cumulative return of –9.1%. However, looking beyond US large cap equities, conditions were more favorable for global equity investors as most equity asset classes outside the US generated positive returns over the course of the decade. (See Exhibit 2.) Expanding beyond this period and looking at performance for each of the 11 decades starting in 1900 and ending in 2010, the US market outperformed the world market in five decades and underperformed in the other six.[2] This further reinforces why an investor pursuing the equity premium should consider a global allocation. By holding a globally diversified portfolio, investors are positioned to capture returns wherever they occur.

[2]. Source: Annual country index return data from the Dimson-Marsh-Staunton (DMS) Global Returns Data, provided by Morningstar, Inc.

PICK A COUNTRY?

Are there systematic ways to identify which countries will outperform others in advance? Exhibit 3 illustrates the randomness in country equity market rankings (from highest to lowest) for 22 different developed market countries over the past 20 years. This graphic conveys how difficult it would be to execute a strategy that relies on picking the best country and the resulting importance of diversification.

In addition, concentrating a portfolio in any one country can expose investors to large variations in returns. The difference between the best- and worst‑performing countries can be significant. For example, since 1998, the average return of the best‑performing developed market country was approximately 44%, while the average return of the worst-performing country was approximately –16%. Diversification means an investor’s portfolio is unlikely to be the best or worst performing relative to any individual country, but diversification also provides a means to achieve a more consistent outcome and more importantly helps reduce and manage catastrophic losses that can be associated with investing in just a small number of stocks or a single country.

A DIVERSIFIED APPROACH

Over long periods of time, investors may benefit from consistent exposure in their portfolios to both US and non‑US equities. While both asset classes offer the potential to earn positive expected returns in the long run, they may perform quite differently over short periods. While the performance of different countries and asset classes will vary over time, there is no reliable evidence that this performance can be predicted in advance. An approach to equity investing that uses the global opportunity set available to investors can provide diversification benefits as well as potentially higher expected returns