Loophole Around Retirement Accounts?

Hello guys,

This thread may not be directly tied with CFA itself but I’ve done many CFA-related problems about retirement (especially in CFA Level III) and it just dawned to me that there may or may not be a loophole with regards to retirement accounts.

My understanding is that, other than company matching contributions, there are two primary benefits of using a retirement account:

  1. Defer taxes in the hope of having a lower tax bracket in the future (not guaranteed though).

  2. Avoiding accrual taxes from realized interest/dividends from stocks/bonds (i.e. tax drag).

What if I instead invest in a taxable account consisting solely of Growth-oriented investments (ETFs, Mutual Funds, etc.)? Yes, there will be an issue with diversification so let’s just forgot this for a moment. The way I see it, there might be two major benefits:

  1. Growth-oriented investments typically have very low dividends (often less than 1%) which translates into very negligible dividends from stocks and the tax drag from accrual taxes would thus be extremely low.

  2. The appreciation of Growth-oriented investments don’t need to be realized until the very end because that’s how capital gain taxes work. Speaking of capital gain taxes, ordinary income tax rates (like most retirement accounts use) are higher than capital gain taxes. So shouldn’t we opt for capital gain taxes over ordinary income tax rates for retirement accounts especially if the capital gain taxes don’t need to be realized at the very end?

I realize this may be a noob question so I’m sorry in advance if it’s a dumb question. I know there are issues with this alternative theory of retirement (especially with diversification for Growth-only investments, for example) but I just wanted to get folks’ thoughts on this. Much thanks!

pay tax now or later:

IMO, its always better to pay taxes later. an ira gives you a tax deduction now, so its superior. if they are planning to raise taxes, you can theoretically roll the over to a roth right before they raise taxes. what im trying to say is, depending on the situation you can act accordingly to minimize taxes so best not to pay taxes now.

on growth investments for an ira:

also in an ira, the risk in the investment is shared with the govt, so its best to put the riskiest assets in an ira. also you can trade in or out without tax consequences. many growth companies stop growing at some point, so you may want to sell these assets, making ira the perfect tool to use.

on your question about capital gains vs ordinary income:

capital gains can also be negated if you hold the investment until death. it steps up in basis. which is why, if you have a taxable account, you want the best high quality investments that will grow in your taxable acct.

in an ira, when you are doing withdrawals, its taxation is tiered, so assuming you have no income at retirement, which is very likely, your tax rate can be ridiculously low.

a roth ira, will never be taxed in the future, best to put bonds, or things with high yields.

Uhhh other major benefit of retirement accounts (and this is a big one…): no capital gains tax


CFAQuanter, good question. What you’re talking about is a NUA strategy, and it’s quite common for people who have worked for successful companies over long periods of time. Companies such as Delta or IBM offer discounts on their common stock to encourage employees to ‘become owners’. In some cases, employees end up with a lot of appreciation over decades of buying the stock and a NUA strategy may benefit them. Obviously this works for individuals who are going to be in high tax brackets their whole life (usually a pension is involved or just a tremendous amount of qualified assets).

I’d consider a NUA a strategy to unravel a mistake (a lucky mistake, but still a mistake), not a strategy that one should try to employ.

if you’re going to have high taxable income for your entire life…say you have social security, a pension and rental/business income…and cap gains rates are lower than your marginal tax rate, then you’d prefer to pay cap gains on removing the money from the qualified accounts than pay ordinary income tax rates. You’re absolutely right, you don’t have to pay cap gains, but you have the ability to pay them INSTEAD of ordinary income tax, which in some cases is more advantageous.

Huskies, would you say this strategy is viable by using tax efficient index stock ETFs instead of a single stock concentration? In relation to other retirement saving alternatives, that is.

  1. NUA is only applicable to employer stock, so you couldn’t use it on ETF’s or mutual funds.

  2. I hope to never ever be in a lower tax bracket.

  3. The greatest (and really, the only) advantage of a tax-deferred (or tax-free) account is the tax deferral.

  4. If you get a tax deduction for your basis now, or if you can withdraw tax-free later, tax-advantaged accounts are always preferable to taxable accounts.

  5. In taxable accounts, the best kind of income is an unrealized capital gain. And if you do have to realize it, then realize it as infrequently as possible.