How to Protect Your Financial Health during the Pandemic

Five actions for U.S. taxpayers to consider in the spring of COVID-19.

What can we do as the novel coronavirus sweeps the globe, markets roil, and governments try to contain the damage?

We might focus on what we can control, put to good use any extra time created by social distancing, make sure loved ones are doing well, understand how governmental actions might affect us, and try to contribute to the general good.

Applying these potential responses to our firm’s area of expertise—wealth planning and investments—our bankers offer you this Spring Essentials Action Plan for financial planning during this crisis.

Here are five steps that may be advisable for you to take now.

  1. Review Your Financial Goals and Plans—for Your Sake and Your Family’s

Virus-sparked market swings have shaken many people. Major shocks to the financial system are to be expected periodically, though we’ve not had one of this magnitude in more than 10 years.

Now, before making any adjustments to your wealth plans, it would be wise to speak with your J.P. Morgan banker about financial advice. This is a good time to:

  • Discuss how you are feeling in the wake of this shock. Has it changed your views? Are you still comfortable with the assumptions on which you’ve based your portfolio, personal wealth plans, and estate plans? Is your portfolio positioned to support your long-term goals?

Check that all your key legal documents are in place and support your wishes. Every U.S. adult needs to have, at least, a current healthcare proxy, power of attorney, and will (or will substitute).1

It’s our mission to help you take care of yourself and your family financially during these unusual times.

Beyond basics: If you’ve created a revocable trust but haven’t yet funded it, we strongly advise you to do so immediately. Courts have been closed across the United States. If you were unable to manage your assets, no legal authority may be available to designate a personal representative for your affairs; funding a revocable trust might be a solution. To fund your existing revocable trust, simply ask your J.P. Morgan representative to transfer your individually held assets into the trust.


If you have not yet created a revocable trust, we strongly advise contacting an estate-planning lawyer to discuss whether this protective strategy is suitable for you and to decide who should serve as trustee for this trust. 

[To read more of Ryan Bristol’s thought leadership click here]

  1. Make Sure Your Investing Is “Tax Aware”

As the markets began to seesaw, clients called us asking what to do—especially with the losses in their portfolios. A strategy to consider is “harvesting” the losses, or using them for tax purposes to offset gains, now and going forward.

If you decide to do this, be aware of the “wash sale rule” that, if triggered, can delay your ability to take a loss you incurred on the sale of a security. 

Here is what you CANNOT do if you want to take a loss: Sell the security at a loss and buy that same position, or a substantially identical security, within 30 days before or after selling the loss position.

Here is what you CAN do: Sell the security at a loss. If you want to maintain the exposure to the same sector or industry, buy a different security with similar characteristics (if you want to maintain the exposure to a certain sector or industry). For instance, you might sell stock in one technology company and purchase shares in another technology company or a technology-oriented mutual fund.

Using a tax-loss harvesting approach might help you take a fresh look at your portfolio, but it is essential that you consult with your tax advisor so you don’t run afoul of the wash sale rule. 

  1. Assess Your Best Planning Strategies in Light of Recent Government Actions and Lower Stock Values

Two important changes were made regarding retirement accounts:

  • IRA owners and beneficiaries do not have to take what would have been their required minimum distributions (RMDs) from their retirement plans this year. Federal lawmakers recognized that, because RMDs are determined based on the last day of the previous year, distributions this year would be outsized if withdrawn from current, potentially depreciated portfolios. The lawmakers are giving IRA owners time for their portfolios to recover. 
  • The deadline for last year’s contributions to your IRA, originally April 15, has been extended to July 15.

Two key moves to consider making with depreciated assets:

  • Convert a traditional IRA to a Roth. If the traditional IRA’s assets are temporarily lower, you may pay less in taxes now on a conversion. Withdrawals from traditional IRAs are taxed at your current income tax rate; withdrawals from Roths are tax free.
  • Transfer wealth to family. It would use less of your lifetime gift tax exclusion amount if you gift depreciated assets (including underwater options). However, avoid gifting assets whose current value is less than their basis. You also may want to take advantage of low interest rates to create grantor-retained annuity trusts or make intra-family loans.
  1. Contribute to the General Good

Depreciated assets mean that now is not a financially advantageous time to give to charity. But just as clearly, there is a great need around the world. Nonprofits sorely need donations to help ease the suffering caused by COVID-19 and to continue the work they’d be doing even without a crisis.

For these reasons, the U.S. government is seeking to encourage charitable giving, both large and small. The CARES Act created two highly unusual provisions that allow you to:

  • Deduct up to $300 in cash contributions made to charitable organizations this year, whether you itemize or not
  • Reduce your tax bill to zero—if you donate to a public charity a cash amount equal to your 2020 adjusted gross income

Note, though, that contributions to your donor-advised fund and private foundation would not qualify for these tax breaks.

[For more on J.P.Morgan Private Bank’s approach to Wealth Management click here]

  1. Pay Attention to Special Actions You May Be Able to Take as a Business Owner, Executive, or Entrepreneur  
  • Business owners: A lot of focus has been on loans to small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program. However, one of the most potentially beneficial measures for owners of flow-through businesses is that they will be able to apply 100 percent of their net operating losses for 2018 through 2020 to their incomes from up to the previous five years. 
  • Corporate executives: If your company’s stock is down, now could be a good time to take positive actions for yourself and your company, such as utilizing a 10b5-1 plan to show faith in your firm’s future by buying its stock, if you’re in a position to do so. Also, you may want to revisit your options exercise strategy.
  • Entrepreneurs: Have you exercised incentive stock options (ISOs) earlier this calendar year, only to see your company’s per-share valuation decline? Or do you expect the share price to go down? You may want to consider doing a “disqualifying disposition” on the ISOs in order to avoid a potentially large alternative minimum tax bill. 

We Can Help

It’s our mission to help you take care of your and your family financially during these unusual times. Your banker is available to answer questions and help you plan with financial planning during the COVID-19 pandemic. Please do not hesitate to reach out to us.

1 For example, revocable trusts can often accomplish what wills might do.  

Disclosures:

The information expressed is being provided for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. You should carefully consider your needs and objectives before making any decisions. For specific guidance on how this information should be applied to your situation, you should consult your qualified representative. The information provided may inform you of certain products and services offered by J.P. Morgan’s wealth management businesses, part of JPMorgan Chase & Co. (“JPM”). The views and strategies described in the material may not be suitable for all investors and are subject to risks. This material is confidential and intended for your personal use. It should not be circulated to or used by any other person, or duplicated for non-personal use, without our permission. 

JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. and its affiliates (collectively “JPMCB”) offer investment products, which may include bank-managed accounts and custody, as part of its trust and fiduciary services. Other investment products and services, such as brokerage and advisory accounts, are offered through J.P. Morgan Securities LLC (JPMS), a member of FINRA and SIPC. JPMCB and JPMS are affiliated companies under the common control of JPMorgan Chase & Co.

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