5 Mortgage REITs for a Yield-Starved Market

Income is a scarce commodity these days, and that has investors looking for yield in some lesser-traveled areas of the market. And that includes mortgage REITs (mREITs).

Even after months of rising yields, the rate on a 10-year Treasury is a paltry 1.6%. That’s well below the Federal Reserve’s targeted inflation rate of 2%, meaning that investors are all but guaranteed to lose money after adjusting for inflation.

The story isn’t much better with many traditional bond substitutes. Taken as a sector, utilities yield only about 3.4% at current prices, according to data compiled by income-focused index provider Alerian, and traditional equity real estate investment trusts (REITs) yield only 3.2%.

If you’re looking for inflation-crushing income, give the mortgage REIT industry a good look. Unlike equity REITs, which are generally landlords with brick-and-mortar properties, mortgage REITs own leveraged portfolios of mortgages, mortgage-backed securities and other mortgage-related investments.

In “normal” economic times, mortgage REITs have a license to print money. They borrow money at cheap, short-term rates, and invest the proceeds in higher-yielding longer-term securities. A steep yield curve in which longer-term rates are significantly higher than shorter-term rates is the ideal environment for mREITs, and that’s precisely the scenario we have today.

Mortgage REITs are not without their risks. Several mREITs took severe and permanent losses last year when they were forced by nervous brokers to make margin calls. Investors worried that the COVID lockdowns would result in a wave of mortgage defaults, leading them to sell first and ask questions later. And many have a history of adjusting the dividend not just higher, but lower, as times require.

But here’s the thing. Any mortgage REIT trading today is a survivor. They lived through the apocalypse. Whatever the future might hold, it’s not likely to be as traumatic as a once-in-a-century pandemic.

Today, let’s take a good look at five solid mortgage REITs that managed to survive and thrive during the hardest stretch in the industry’s history.

Data is as of April 21. Dividend yields are calculated by annualizing the most recent payout and dividing by the share price.

1 of 5

Annaly Capital Management

Annaly Capital Management logoAnnaly Capital Management logo
  • Market value: $12.3 billion
  • Dividend yield: 10.0%

We’ll start with the largest and best-respected mREIT, Annaly Capital Management (NLY, $8.80). Annaly is a blue-chip operator with a $12 billion-plus market cap that has been publicly traded since 1997. This is a company that survived the bursting of the tech bubble in 2000, the implosion of the housing market in 2008 and the pandemic of 2020, not to mention the inverted yield curves and nonstop Fed tinkering of the past two decades.

Annaly was hardly immune to last year’s turbulence. But  able to skate by the turbulence of last year due to large part to its concentration in agency mortgage-backed securities (MBSes), or those guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Investors were confident that, no matter what unfolded, mortgages backed by government-sponsored entities were likely to get paid.

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At current prices, Annaly yields 10% on the nose, which is about average for this stock. In its two decades of trading history, Annaly has yielded as much as 22% and as little 3% – in part because of price variance, but also because NLY isn’t shy about making dividend adjustments in boom and bust times. But it always seems to come back to the 9% to 10% range.

Still, if you’re new to mortgage REITs, Annaly is a good place to start.

2 of 5

AGNC Investment

AGNC Investment logoAGNC Investment logo
  • Market value: $9.3 billion
  • Dividend yield: 8.3%

Along the same lines, AGNC Investment (AGNC, $17.44) is a solid, no-drama income option.

Take a minute and say “AGNC” out loud. It sounds like “agency,” doesn’t it?

That’s no coincidence. AGNC Investment specializes in agency mortgage-backed securities, making it one of the safest plays in this space.

For most of AGNC’s history, the stock has traded at a premium to book value. This makes sense. AGNC can borrow cheaply to juice its returns, and we as investors pay a premium to have access. But during the pits of the pandemic, AGNC dipped deep into discount territory. That discount has closed over the past year, but shares remain about 2% below book value.

The yield is a very competitive 8.3% as well. That’s a little lower than some of its peers, but remember: We’re paying for quality here.

3 of 5

Starwood Property Trust

Starwood Property Trust logoStarwood Property Trust logo
  • Market value: $7.3 billion
  • Dividend yield: 7.6%

For something a little more exotic, give the shares of Starwood Property Trust (STWD, $25.38) a look.

Unlike Annaly and AGNC, which both focus on plain-vanilla single-family home mortgage products, Starwood focuses on commercial mortgage investments. Starwood is the largest commercial mortgage REIT by market cap with a value north of $7 billion.

Approximately 60% of Starwood’s portfolio consists of commercial loans, with another 9% in infrastructure lending and 7% in residential lending. And unlike most mortgage REITs, Starwood also has a property portfolio of its own, making up about 14% of the portfolio. This makes Starwood more of an equity REIT/mortgage REIT hybrid than a true mREIT, though clearly the business leans heaviest toward “paper.”

This time last year, Starwood’s property portfolio had its points of concern. As a commercial mortgage REIT, it had exposure to hotels, offices and other properties hit hard by the pandemic. But as life gets closer to normal by the day, those concerns are evaporating. And frankly, they were always overstated. Starwood runs a conservative portfolio, and the loan-to-value ratio for its commercial portfolio is a very modest 60%. So, even if delinquencies had become a major problem, Starwood would have been able to liquidate the portfolio and safely be made whole.

Today, Starwood is an attractive post-COVID reopening play with a 7%-plus dividend yield. Not too shabby.

4 of 5

Ellington Residential Mortgage REIT

Ellington Residential Mortgage REIT logoEllington Residential Mortgage REIT logo
  • Market value: $148.6 million
  • Dividend yield: 9.3%

For a smaller, up-and-coming mortgage REIT, consider the shares of Ellington Residential Mortgage REIT (EARN, $12.04). Ellington began trading in 2013 and has a market cap just shy of $150 million.

Ellington runs a portfolio consisting mostly of agency MBSes, but the company also invests in private, non-agency-backed mortgage securities and other mortgage assets. As of the company’s latest earnings report, the portfolio was weighted almost exclusively to agency securities. The REIT held $1.1 billion in agency residential MBSes and had just $17 million in non-agency. Ellington opportunistically snapped up non-agency MBSes when prices collapsed last year and has been slowly taking profits ever since.

Despite being a small operator, Ellington navigated the COVID crisis better than many of its larger and more-established peers. Its stock price lost 65% of its value during the March 2020 selloff, but by the beginning of the third quarter, Ellington had already recouped all of its gains.

Today, the shares yield a mouth-watering 9.2% and trade at a respectable 10% discount to book value. Considering that the industry itself trades very close to book value, that implies a healthy discount for EARN shares.

5 of 5

MFA Financial

MFA Financial logoMFA Financial logo
  • Market value: $1.9 billion
  • Dividend yield: 7.0%

Some mortgage REITs had it worse than others last year. A few really took damage as they were forced to sell assets into an illiquid market to meet margin calls. But some of these less fortunate mortgage REITs now represent high-risk but high-reward bargains.

As a case in point, consider MFA Financial (MFA, $4.26). MFA got utterly obliterated during the COVID crisis, dropping from over $8 per share pre pandemic to just 32 cents at the lows. Today, the shares trade north of $4.

MFA will never fully recoup its losses. By liquidating its assets at fire-sale prices during the margin calls, the REIT took permanent damage. But today’s buyers can’t worry about the past; we can only look to the future.

At current prices, MFA could be a steal. The shares trade for just 77% of book value. This means that management could liquidate the company and walk away with a 23% profit (assuming they took their time and weren’t forced to sell at unfavorable prices). They also yield an attractive 7%.

There is no guarantee that MFA returns to book value any time soon. But we’re being paid a very competitive yield while we wait for that valuation gap to close.

Source: kiplinger.com

How Are Employee Stock Options and RSUs Different?

Two of the most common employee stock plans, employee stock options (ESOs) and restricted stock units (RSUs), both give you the chance to eventually become a shareholder in your company.

While these benefits may sound very similar, there are significant differences between them. An employee stock option is the promise that at a future date, an employee has the option to buy company stocks at a certain price. A restricted stock option is the promise that at a future date (or upon the accomplishment of another milestone or benchmark), an employee will receive company stocks.

An employee stock plan may be offered to everyone as a companywide benefit. Other times, it’s a custom plan that’s baked into an executive job offer as either a recruitment and retention incentive, a way to cover the lack of cash flow in a startup, or both.

Sometimes, employees get a choice between ESOs and RSUs. Understanding how each stock plan works, how they differ, and exactly what the risks are with each can help you make a decision that best aligns with your financial goals.

This guide outlines the key features of ESOs and RSUs, and breaks down the differences between them, so you can better decide what’s right for you.

Employee Stock Plans: Key Terms and Phrases

Having a grasp of stock market vocabulary can help you decipher quickly what your employer is offering, the terms and restrictions, and whether it’s a good deal for you.

The Grant/Strike/Exercise Price

These are three different words with the same meaning: grant, strike, and exercise price all refer to the price at which your plan says you can purchase company stock. It’s most often based on the stock’s current market value.

If your strike price is 1,000 shares at $1 per share, for example, that’s what you’ll pay for those shares if you decide to exercise your stock options, regardless of their current market price.

Being ”In the Money” and “Out of the Money”

When the stock is currently trading above the strike price, it’s called being “in the money” and may mean big profits.

Conversely, if the stock’s market price falls below the strike price, your options are considered “underwater” or “out of the money” and don’t hold any value. In that situation, it may be cheaper to buy your company’s stock on the open market.

What Are Employee Stock Options (ESOs)?

An ESO is an option to buy shares in your employer company in the future for a price set today. The “option” part means you can buy the stock later if it suits you, but you aren’t obligated.

Unlike an outright stock purchase, an option doesn’t give you actual shares until you decide to buy them, which is called exercising. Another difference from a traditional stock purchase is that options become null and void if you don’t exercise your stock options before the expiration date.

How do ESOs Work?

Generally, ESOs operate in four stages—starting with the grant date (aka strike date or exercise date) and ending with the exercise, or actually buying the stock.

1. The grant date. This is the official start date of an ESO contract. You receive official information on how many shares you’ll be issued, the strike price (aka grant price or exercise price) for those shares, the vesting schedule, and any requirements that must be met along the way.

2. The cliff. If a compensation package includes ESOs, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re available on day one.

Contracts often contain a number of requirements that must be met first, such as working full time for at least a year. Those 12 months when you are not yet eligible for employee stock options is called the cliff. If you remain an employee past the cliff date, you get to level up to the vest.

3. The vest. When you pass your cliff date, your vesting period begins, which means you start to take ownership of your options and the right to exercise them. Vesting can either happen all at once or take place gradually over several years, depending on your company’s plan.

One common vesting schedule is a one-year cliff followed by a four-year vest. On this timeline, you’re 0% vested the first year (meaning you aren’t eligible for any options), 25% vested at the two-year mark (you can exercise up to 25% of the total options granted), and so on until you own 100% of your options. At that point, you’re considered fully vested.

4.The exercise. This is when you pull the financial trigger and actually purchase some or all of your vested shares.

One common timeline is 10 years from grant date to expiration date, but specific terms will be in a contract.

Pros and Cons of Employee Stock Options (ESOs)

If you land a job with the right company and stay until you’re fully vested, exercising your employee stock options could lead to instant, huge gains.

For example, if your strike price is $30 per share, and at the time of vesting the stock is trading at $100 or more per share, you’re getting a great deal on shares.

On the other hand, if your strike price is $30 per share and the company is trading at $10 per share, you might be better off not exercising your employee stock options.

Tax Implications of Employee Stock Options

Generally speaking, employers offer two types of stock options: nonqualified stock options (NSOs) and incentive stock options (ISOs). NSOs are the most common and often the type offered to the general workforce.

NSOs are subject to income tax on the difference between the exercise price and the market price at the time you purchase the stock. (ISOs are “qualified”, meaning you don’t pay any taxes when you exercise the options—only when and if you sell them at a profit later on.)

Any money you make above and beyond that if you sell your shares later can also be subject to the capital gains tax. If you hold your shares less than a year, the short-term capital gains tax rate equals your ordinary income tax rate, which could be up to 37% for the highest tax bracket.

For assets held longer than a year, the long-term rate can be 0%, 15%, or 20%, depending on your taxable income and filing status.

What Are Restricted Stock Units (RSUs)?

Restricted stock units, or RSUs, fall somewhere in between stocks and options—they are a promise of stock at a later date. When employees are granted RSUs, the company holds onto them until they’re fully vested.

The company determines the vesting criteria—it can be a time period of several years, a key revenue milestone, or even personal performance goals. Like ESOs, RSUs can vest gradually or all at once.

How Do Restricted Stock Units (RSUs) Work?

RSUs are priced based on the fair market value of the stock on the day they vest, or the settlement date. This means that you don’t have to worry about falling out of the money—the company stocks you receive from your company will be worth just as much as they would be if you purchased them on your own that same day.

As long as the company’s common stock holds value, so do your RSUs. Upon vesting, you can either keep your RSUs in the form of actual shares, or sell them immediately to take the cash equivalent. Either way, they will be taxed as income.

Pros and Cons of Restricted Stock Units (RSUs)

One good thing about RSUs is the incentive they can provide to stay with the company for a longer period of time. If your company grows during your vesting period, you could be very far in the money when your settlement date rolls around.

But even if the stock falls to a penny per share, they’re still awarded to you on your settlement date, and they’re still worth more than the $0 you paid for them.

In fact, you may only lose out on money with RSUs if you leave the company and have to forfeit any units that aren’t already vested, or if the company goes out of business.

Tax Implications of RSUs

When your RSU shares or cash equivalent are automatically delivered to you on your settlement date(s), they’re considered ordinary income and are taxed accordingly. In fact, your RSU distributions are actually added to your W2.

For some people, the additional RSU income may bump them up a tax bracket (or two.) In those cases, if you’ve been withholding at a lower tax bracket before your vesting period, you could owe the IRS even more.

As with ESOs, if you sell your shares at a later date and make a profit, you’ll be subject to capital gains taxes.

Feature ESOs RSUs
The benefit An employee can buy company stock at a set price at a later date. An employee receives stock at a later date.
The stock price The “strike price” is determined when ESOs are offered to an employee—even if they can’t purchase shares for a year or more (until they’re vested). The share price is based on the fair market value of the stock on the day they vest.
Tax implications The difference between the strike price and the stock’s value when you exercise your options is considered earned income and added to your W-2, where it’s taxed just like your salary. If you sell your shares later at a profit, you may also be subject to the capital gains tax. RSU shares (or cash equivalent) are considered ordinary income as soon as they are vested, and are taxed accordingly.

The Takeaway

Knowing how ESOs and RSUs work—and understanding the differences between them in terms of terms, pricing, and tax implications—can help you make an informed decision if and when you are offered one or both of these workplace perks.

Having the option to own stock in your employer company has the potential to provide attractive financial benefits, especially if you believe in the company and its future. However, one key investing strategy that many investors follow is portfolio diversification—making sure your investments are spread out across companies, industries, and assets.

Here’s why: Because if all your investments are in company stock and the business folds or takes a downturn, you risk losing both your salary and your stock.

With SoFi Invest®, members can Trade stocks, ETFs, crypto, and may be able to participate in upcoming IPOs—diversifying in a way that best suits individual risk tolerance, preferences, goals, and more.

Find out how to get started with SoFi Invest.


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Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.
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Credit card chips can fall Out—and into the wrong hands

rebuilding credit

Protecting your personal information is important to protecting and repairing your credit. Security risks are everywhere, including your wallet. By now, you probably now have a credit or debit card that uses a chip. Those chips, however, can fall out of the plastic card. An intact chip could be placed onto another card, allowing an unauthorized person to access the account or personal information. Consumers should be aware of this issue to protect their security and identity.

When it comes to security, losing a credit card chip is equivalent to losing the entire card itself. Glue holds the chip in place, and normal wear and tear can loosen the adhesive. In an extreme scenario, a thief could remove a card’s chip and replace it with a dummy chip. With the stolen chip, a thief could make purchases without raising suspicion. Recovering from credit card theft is a time consuming process. Depending on the extent of the damage, the effects could have a long-term impact on your credit, especially if an account becomes delinquent.

Tips to Protect Yourself

Security risks always exist, but you can take measures to protect yourself. Bankrate compiled five easy techniques for consumers to protect their accounts and information:

  • Set up mobile banking alerts for your phone from your financial institution. You can discover unusual activity as quickly as possible.
  • Regularly monitor your accounts online. Being familiar with your activity can help identify fraudulent transactions faster.
  • Avoid public computers. Do not log on to your email if your bank corresponds with you there. Set up a separate email account just for your finances and checking it from safe locations.
  • Avoid doing business with unfamiliar online companies. Stick to established merchants and websites.
  • If your information has been compromised, notify your financial institutions and local law enforcement. Remember to notify any of the three credit bureaus—Experian, Equifax and TransUnion—to place a fraud alert on your credit reports.

Lexington Law can help you monitor and repair your credit. You can learn more here, and carry on the conversation on our social media platforms. Like and follow us on Facebook and leave us a tweet on Twitter.

Sources

http://abcnews.go.com/US/chips-potentially-fall-chip-credit-cards-leaving-consumers/story?id=49103435

http://abc7chicago.com/finance/credit-card-chips-can-fall-out-posing-a-security-risk/2284510/

Chip in credit cards can fall out, be removed and stolen

https://www.bankrate.com/finance/credit-cards/5-ways-theives-steal-credit-card-data/

Source: lexingtonlaw.com

How Do Employee Stock Options Work?

Perhaps you’ve been offered a job package with a combination of salary, benefits, and employee stock options. In order to make an informed decision, it helps to know how employee stock options (ESOs) work. Knowing the basics can be especially important if you’re considering taking a lower salary offer in exchange for ESOs.

Or maybe your current employer has already given you employee stock options, but you’re still not clear on how to exercise them. This is an incentive that could be valuable—so you probably don’t want to ignore it.

Employee stock options have the potential to make an employee some extra money, depending on the market, which may be a nice perk. Stock options can also give employees a sense of ownership (and, to a degree, actual ownership) in the company they work for.

Here is everything you need to know about ESOs—from how they work to the different types, and all the details in between.

What Are Employee Stock Options?

Employee stock options give an employee the chance to purchase a set number of shares in the company at a set price—often called the exercise price—over a set amount of time. Typically, the exercise price is a way to lock in a lower price for the stock.

This gives an employee the chance to exercise their ESOs at a point when the exercise price is lower than the market price—with the potential to make a profit on the shares.

Sometimes, an employer may offer both ESOs and restricted stock units (RSUs)—RSUs are different in that they are basically a promise of stock at a later date.

Employee Stock Option Basics

When talking about stock options, there are some essential terms to know in order to understand how options work. For investors who know their way around options trading, some of these terms may be familiar.

•  Exercise price/grant price/strike price: This is the given set price at which employees can purchase the stock options.
•  Market price: This is the current price of the stock on the market (which may be lower or higher than the exercise price). Typically an employee would only choose to exercise and purchase the options if the market price is higher than the grant price.
•  Issue date: This is the date on which you’re given the options.
•  Vesting date: This is the date after which you can exercise your options per the original terms
•  Exercise date: This is the date you actually choose to exercise your options.
•  Expiration date: This is the date on which your ability to exercise your options expires.

How Do Employee Stock Options Work?

When you’re given employee stock options, that means you have the option, or right, to buy stock in the company at the established grant price. You don’t have to exercise options, but you can if it makes sense to you.

Exercising your ESOs means choosing to actually purchase the stock at the given grant price, after a predetermined waiting period. If you don’t purchase the stock, then the option will eventually expire.

ESO Vesting Periods

Typically, employee stock options come with a vesting period, which is basically a waiting period after which you can exercise them. This means you must stay at the company a certain amount of time before you can cash out.

The stock options you’re offered may be fully vested on a certain date or just partially vested over multiple years, meaning some of the options can be exercised at one date and some more at a later date.

ESO Example

For example, imagine you were issued employee stock options on Jan. 1 of this year with the option of buying 100 shares of the company at $10/share. You can exercise this option starting on Jan. 1, 2021 (the vesting date) for 10 years, until Jan. 1, 2031 (the expiration date).

If you choose not to exercise these options by Jan. 1, 2031, they would expire and you would no longer have the option to buy stock at $10/share.

Now, let’s say the market price of shares in the company goes up to $20 at some point after they’ve vested on Jan. 1, 2021, and you decide to exercise your options.

This means you decide to buy 100 shares at $10/share for $1,000 total—while the market value of those shares is actually $2,000.

Exercising Employee Stock Options

You don’t have to exercise your options unless it makes sense for you. That may depend on your financial situation, the forecasted value of the company, and what you expect to do with the shares after you purchase them.

If you do plan to exercise your ESOs, there are a few different ways to do so. It’s worth noting that some companies have specifications about when the shares can be sold, because they don’t want you to just exercise your options and then sell off all your stock in the company immediately.

Buy and Hold

Once you own shares in the company, you can choose to hold onto them. To continue the example above, you could just buy the 100 shares with $1,000 cash and you would then own that amount of stock in the company—until you decide to sell your shares (if you do).

Cashless Exercise

Another way to exercise your ESOs is with a cashless exercise, which means you sell off enough of the shares at the market price to pay for the total purchase.

For example, you would sell off 50 of your purchased shares at $20/share to cover the $1,000 that exercising the options cost you. You would be left with 50 shares.) Most brokerages will do this buying and selling simultaneously.

Stock Swap

A third way to exercise options works if you already own shares. A stock swap allows you to swap in existing shares of the company at the market price of those shares and trade for shares at the exercise price.

For example, you might trade in 50 shares that you already own, worth $1,000 at the market price, and then purchase 100 shares at $10/share.

When the market price is higher than the exercise price—often referred to as options being “in the money”—you may be able to gain value for those shares because they’re worth more than you pay for them.

Why Do Companies Offer Stock Options?

The idea is simple: If employees are financially invested in the success of the company, then they’re more likely to be emotionally invested in its success as well and it can increase employee productivity.

From an employee’s point of view, stock options offer a way to share in the financial benefit of their own hard work. In theory, if the company is successful, then the market stock price will rise and your stock options will be worth more.

A stock is simply a fractional share of ownership in a company, which can be bought or sold or traded on a market.

The financial prospects of the company influence whether people want to buy or sell shares in that company, but there are a number of factors that can determine stock price, including investor behavior, company news, world events, and primary and secondary markets.

Tax Implications of Employee Stock Options

There are two main kinds of employee stock options: qualified and non-qualified, each of which has different tax implications. These are also known as incentive stock options (ISOs) and non-qualified stock options (NSOs or NQSOs).

Incentive Stock Options (ISO)

When you buy shares in a company below the market price, you could be taxed on the difference between what you pay and what the market price is. ISOs are “qualified” for preferential tax treatment, meaning no taxes are due at the time you exercise your options—unless you’re subject to an alternative minimum tax.

Instead, taxes are due at the time you sell the stock and make a profit. If you sell the stock more than one year after you exercise the option and two years after they were granted, then you will likely only be subject to capital gains tax.

If you sell the shares prior to meeting that holding period, you will likely pay additional taxes on the difference between the price you paid and the market price as if your company had just given you that amount outright. For this reason, it is often financially beneficial to hold onto ESO shares for at least one year after exercising and two years after your exercise date.

Non-qualified Stock Options (NSOs or NQSOs)

NSOs do not qualify for preferential tax treatment. That means that exercising stock options subjects them to ordinary income tax on the difference between the exercise price and the market price at the time you purchase the stock. Unlike ISOs, NSOs will always be taxed as ordinary income.

Taxes may be specific to your individual circumstances and vary based on how the company has set up its employee stock option program, so it’s always a good idea to consult a tax advisor for specifics.

Should You Exercise Employee Stock Options?

While it’s impossible to know if the market price of the shares will go up or down in the future, there are a number of things to consider when deciding if you should exercise options:

•  the type of option—ISO or NSO—and related tax implications
•  the financial prospects of the company
•  your own portfolio and how these company shares would fit into your goals

You also might want to consider how many shares are being made available, to whom, and on what timeline—especially when weighing what stock options are worth to you as part of a job offer. For example, if you’re offered shares worth 1% of the company, but then the next year more shares are made available, you could find your ownership diluted and the stock would then be worth less.

The Takeaway

Employee stock options may be an enticing incentive that companies can offer their employees: the chance to invest in the company directly, and possibly profit from doing so. There are certain rules around ESOs, including timing of exercising the options, as well as different tax implications depending on the type of ESO a company offers its employees.

For some investors, owning shares in their employer company may be just one aspect of a diversified portfolio. With SoFi Invest®, members can participate in upcoming IPOs, trade stocks, ETFs, and crypto—or start automated investing—as a way to diversify their portfolios based on their personal goals, risk tolerance, and other preferences.

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Source: sofi.com

11 Real Estate Exit Strategies for Low- or No-Tax Investment Gains

The single greatest predictor of wealth in the U.S. isn’t education level, ethnicity, gender, or any other demographic descriptor. It’s whether or not you own real estate.

In the most recent Survey of Consumer Finances, the Federal Reserve found the median net worth of homeowners to be 46 times greater than that of renters. While the median renter had a net worth of $5,000, the median homeowner owned $231,400 in net assets.

Homeowners benefit from appreciation, forced savings in the form of principal repayment toward mortgages, and often lower annual housing costs compared to local renters. Those advantages get compounded by a tax code that favors property owners. Beyond simple homeownership, real estate investors can reduce their taxes through myriad strategies and incentives.

Still, when it comes time to sell, many property owners face sticker shock at their prospective tax bill. So how can property owners reduce — or better yet, eliminate — their taxes when they go to sell?

Common Real Estate Exit Strategies

Try these low- and no-tax real estate exit strategies to keep more of your real estate profits in your pocket and out of Uncle Sam’s grasping paws.

1. The Homeowner Exclusion

To begin, homeowners get an inherent tax break when they sell their home — with certain requirements and restrictions, of course. If you’re a homeowner selling your primary residence, chances are you won’t have to pay taxes on your profits from the appreciation of the home’s value since you bought it.

Single homeowners can exclude the first $250,000 in profits from their taxable income, and the number doubles for married couples filing jointly. Sometimes called a Section 121 Exclusion, it prevents most middle-class Americans from having to pay any taxes on home sale profits.

Any profits over $250,000 ($500,000 for married couples) get taxed at the long-term capital gains tax rate. More on that shortly.

To qualify for the exclusion, however, homeowners must have owned and lived in the property for at least two out of the last five years. They don’t have to be consecutive; if you lived in the property for one year, moved out for three years, then moved back in for one more year before selling, you qualify.

If you want to sell a property you don’t currently occupy as your primary residence, and want to avoid taxes through a Section 121 Exclusion, consider moving into it for the next two years before selling.

2. Opt for Long-Term Capital Gains Over Short-Term

If you own a property — or any asset for that matter — for less than a year and sell it for a profit, you typically pay short-term capital gains tax. Short-term capital gains mirror your regular income tax level.

However, if you keep an asset for at least one year before selling, you qualify for the lower long-term capital gains tax rate. In tax year 2020, single filers with an adjusted gross income (AGI) under $40,000 pay no long-term capital gains taxes at all — the same goes for married filers with an AGI under $80,000. Single filers with incomes between $40,001 and $441,450 and married filers between $80,001 and $496,600 pay long-term capital gains at a 15% tax rate, and high earners above those thresholds pay 20%.

Keep your investment properties and vacation rentals for at least one year if you can. It can save you substantial money on taxes.

3. Increase Your Cost Basis by Documenting Improvements

If you slept through Accounting 101 in college, your cost basis is what you spent to buy an asset. For example, if you buy a property for $100,000, that makes up your cost basis, plus most of your closing costs count toward it as well. Let’s call it $105,000.

Say you live in the property for 20 months, making some home improvements while there. For the sake of this example, say you spent $15,000 on new windows and a new roof.

Then you sell the property for $160,000. Because you lived there for less than two years, you don’t qualify for the homeowner exclusion. After paying your real estate agent and other seller closing costs, you walk away from the table with $150,000.

How much do you own in capital gains taxes?

Assuming you earn enough income to have to pay them at all, you would owe the IRS for $30,000 in capital gains: $150,000 minus your $105,000 cost basis minus the additional $15,000 in capital improvements. If you can document those improvements, that is — you need to keep your receipts and invoices in case you get audited.

In this example, your capital gains tax bill would come to $4,500 (15% of $30,000) if you document the capital improvements, rather than $6,750 (15% of $45,000) if you don’t.

4. Do a 1031 Exchange

Section 1031 of the U.S. tax code allows investors to roll their profits from the sale of one property into buying a new property, deferring their capital gains tax until they sell the new property.

Known as a “like-kind exchange” or 1031 exchange, you used to be able to do this with assets other than real estate, but the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 excluded most other assets. However, it remains an excellent way to avoid capital gains taxes on real estate — or at least to postpone them.

Real estate investors typically use 1031 exchanges to leapfrog properties, stocking their portfolio with ever-larger properties with better cash flow. All without ever paying capital gains taxes when they sell in order to trade up.

Imagine you buy your first rental property for $100,000. After expenses, you earn around $100 per month in cash flow, which is nice but you certainly won’t be retiring early on it.

You then spend the next year or two saving up more money to invest with, and set your sights on a three-unit rental property that costs $200,000. To raise money for the down payment, you sell your previous rental property, and net $20,000 in profit at settlement. Ordinarily you’d have to pay capital gains taxes on that $20,000, but because you put it toward a new rental property, you defer owing them.

Instead of $100 per month, you net $500 per month on the new property.

After another year or two of saving, you find a six-unit property for $400,000. You then sell your three-unit to raise money for it, and again use a 1031 exchange to roll your profits into the new six-unit property, again deferring your tax bill on the proceeds.

The new property yields you $1,000 per month in cash flow.

In this way, you can keep scaling your real estate portfolio to build ever-more cash flow, all the while deferring your capital gains taxes from the properties you sell. If you ever sell off these properties without a 1031 exchange, you will owe capital gains tax on the profits you’ve deferred along the way. But until then, you need not pay Uncle Sam a cent in capital gains.

5. Harvest Losses

Invest in enough assets, and you’ll end up with some poor performers. You can sit on them, hoping they’ll turn around. Or you can sell them, eat the loss, and reinvest the money elsewhere for higher returns.

It turns out that there’s a particularly good time to accept investment losses: in the same year when you sell a property for hefty capital gains. Known as harvesting losses, you can offset your gains from one asset by taking losses on another.

Say you sell a rental property and earn a tidy profit of $50,000. Slightly nauseated by the notion of paying capital gains tax on it, you turn to your stock portfolio and decide you’ve had enough of a few stocks or mutual funds that have been underperforming for years now. You sell them for a net loss of $10,000, and reinvest the money in (hopefully) better performing assets.

Instead of owing capital gains taxes on $50,000, you now owe it on $40,000, because you offset your gain with the losses realized elsewhere in your portfolio.

6. Invest Through a Self-Directed Roth IRA

Want more control over your IRA investments? You can always set up a self-directed IRA, through which you can invest in real estate if you like.

Like any other IRA, you can open it as a Roth IRA account, meaning you put in post-tax money and don’t owe taxes on returns. Your investments — in this case, a real estate portfolio — appreciate and generate rental income tax-free, which you can keep reinvesting in your self-directed Roth IRA until you reach age 59 1/2. After that, you can start pulling out rent checks and selling properties, all without owing taxes on your profits.

Just beware that setting up a self-directed IRA does involve some labor and expense on your part. I only recommend it for professional real estate investors with the experience to earn stronger returns on real estate investments than elsewhere.

Pro tip: In addition to owning physical properties through a self-directed IRA, you can also use your self-directed IRA to invest in real estate through platforms like Fundrise or Groundfloor.


Hold Properties to Pass to Your Children

“Exit strategy” doesn’t always mean “sell.” The exit could happen in the form of your estate plan.

Or, for that matter, through methods of passing ownership of properties to your children while you still draw breath. There are several ways to go about this, but consider the following options as the simplest.

7. Leave the Property in Your Will

In 2020, the first $11.58 million in assets you leave behind are exempt from estate taxes. That leaves plenty of room for you to leave real estate to your children without them getting hit with a tax bill from Uncle Sam.

And, hey, rental properties can prove an excellent source of passive income for retirement. They generate ongoing income with no sale of assets required, which means you don’t have to worry about safe withdrawal rates or sequence of returns risk with your rental properties. They also adjust for inflation, as you raise rents each year. You can delegate the labor by hiring a property manager, and once your tenants eventually pay off your mortgage, your cash flow really explodes.

Plus, you can let your kids hassle with hiring a real estate agent and selling the property after you depart this mortal plane. In the meantime, you get to enjoy the cash flow.

8. Take Out a Home Equity Loan

Imagine you buy a rental property while working, and in retirement, you finally pay off the mortgage. You can enjoy the higher cash flow of course, but you can also pull money out through a home equity loan.

In this way, you pull out almost as much money as you’d earn by selling. Except you don’t have to give up the property — you can keep earning cash flow on it as a rental. You let your tenants pay down your mortgage for you once, all while earning some cash flow. Why not let them do it a second time?

You pull out all the equity, you get to keep the asset, and you don’t owe any capital gains taxes. Win, win, win.

You can follow the same strategy with your primary residence, but in that case you incur more personal debt and living expenses. Not ideal, but you have another option when it comes to your home.

9. Take Out a Reverse Mortgage

Along similar lines, you could take out a reverse mortgage on your primary residence if you have equity you want to tap into. These vary in structure, but they either pay you a lump sum now, or ongoing monthly payments, or a combination of both, all without requiring monthly payments from you. The mortgage provider gets their money back when you sell or kick the bucket, whichever comes first.

For retirees, a reverse mortgage helps them avoid higher living expenses while pulling out home equity as an extra source of income. And, of course, you don’t pay capital gains taxes on the property, because you don’t sell it.

10. Refinance & Add Your Child to the Deed

My business partner recently went to sell a rental property to her son for him to move into with his new wife. But the plan derailed when the mortgage lender declined the son’s loan application.

So they took a more creative approach. My business partner and her husband refinanced the property to pull out as much cash as they could, and they had the title company add their son and his wife to the deed and the mortgage note. The son and daughter-in-law moved into the property, taking over the mortgage payments. My partner and her husband took the cash, and while they remain on the deed, their ownership interest will pass to the younger generation upon their death.

In this way, they also streamline the inheritance, as the property won’t need to pass through probate.

This strategy comes with two downsides for my partner and her husband, however. First, they remain liable for the mortgage — if their son defaults, they remain legally obligated to make payments. Second, mortgage lenders don’t lend the entire value of the property when they issue a refinance loan, so my partner didn’t receive as much cash as she might have if she’d sold the property retail.

Of course, she also didn’t have to pay a real estate agent to market it. And any small shortfall in cash from refinancing rather than selling outright could be collected as a “down payment” from your child, or you could just shrug and think of it as a gift.


Other Exit Strategies

11. Donate the Property to Charity

Finally, you can always avoid taxes by giving the property to your charity of choice.

No clever maneuvers or tax loopholes. Just an act of generosity to help those who need the money more than you or Uncle Sam do.

By donating real estate you not only avoid paying taxes on its gains, you also get to deduct the value — in this case the equity — from your tax return. But bear in mind that the IRS looks closely at charitable deductions, especially house-sized ones, and you may hear from them demanding more information.


Final Word

Property owners have plenty of exit strategies at their disposal to minimize capital gains taxes. But don’t assume all of these options will last forever — with an ever-widening federal budget deficit, expect tax rates to rise and investment-friendly tax rules to suffer. Your taxes may go up in retirement, not down.

Whether you own a real estate empire or simply your own home, choose the strategy that fits your needs best, and aim to keep more of your proceeds in your own pocket.

What are your exit strategies for your properties? How do you plan to minimize your tax burden?

Source: moneycrashers.com

Will you get a second stimulus check? – Lexington Law

The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice. See Lexington Law’s editorial disclosure for more information.

By mid-May 2020, the IRS had issued more than $218 billion in stimulus checks related to the CARES Act, and it was still working to ensure all eligible Americans received theirs. But in early August, 2020, almost five months after the CARES Act was passed, many people were wondering if they would receive a second stimulus check. Find out what’s known about stimulus checks and future financial assistance from the federal government in the article below.

Will There Be a Second Stimulus Check?

Judging on the number of bills being passed around Congress, there’s a possibility another stimulus act is coming, and it may come with a second round of stimulus checks. But the details—including how much the check will be worth and who will be eligible—depend on which of the acts ends up making it through.

Bills currently being discussed include:

By mid-May 2020, the IRS had issued more than $218 billion in stimulus checks related to the CARES Act.

The HEALS Act

The HEALS Act comes from the Republicans and is a stimulus package similar to the CARES Act. If this act passes in its current form it will include many of the details described below.

How Much Money Will People Get?

Yes, this act does include stimulus payments to many Americans. The details of how much and who might get what amount are included below.

  • Individuals making less than $75,000 per year will get $1,200.
  • Couples filing jointly and making less than $125,000 per year will get $2,400.
  • People making above those amounts may still get a check. The stimulus is reduced $5 for every $100 of income above those limits until it tapers off completely. So, someone making $80,000 per year would get $950, for example.
  • An additional $500 is also included for every dependent claimed on the person or couple’s tax return, which is different from the CARES Act, which excluded dependents over the age of 16.

Who Would Qualify?

The income and dependent restrictions explained above will determine who would qualify for the stimulus. Qualification would likely be based on tax returns or Social Security benefit statements as was the case with the CARES Act.

What Other Benefits Are Included?

The HEALS Act contains a number of other benefits and stimulus efforts for businesses, schools and workers. Some of the main provisions are highlighted below, but this is not a comprehensive list.

  • Additional unemployment benefits would be provided, but it would be less per week than under the CARES Act.
  • The act would expand the Paycheck Protection Program by another $190 billion and make it easier for businesses to comply with the payroll requirement.
  • A return-to-work bonus may be offered to unemployed workers who find new jobs.
  • Funds to schools to help support reopening efforts would be included.
  • Some protection against lawsuits related to COVID-19 would be provided for businesses.
  • The act also includes $16 billion in coronavirus testing support.

The HEROES Act

This is the stimulus act being proposed by the Democrats. It also includes stimulus payments and other benefits for individuals and businesses.

How Much Money Will People Get?

As with the other bills, the HEROES Act includes a round of stimulus payments for qualifying Americans. The details of the payment amounts being proposed are summarized below.

  • Individuals making less than $75,000 get a $1,200 check under this act.
  • Married people filing jointly making less than $125,000 total annually get a $2,400 check under this act.
  • The stimulus is reduced $5 for every $100 of income above those limits until it tapers off completely.
  • The HEROES Act provides $1,200 per dependent for the first three dependents for an individual or married couple with no age restrictions. So if you claim three children, you would get an additional $3,600 in stimulus funds.

Who Would Qualify?

The qualifications for stimulus checks would be similar to those under the HEALS and CARES Acts as represented above.

What Other Benefits Are Included?

Here are some of the other benefits included in the HEROES Act:

  • This act includes the same enhanced unemployment benefits available under CARES, just extended for a longer period of time.
  • The HEROES Act also includes expanded eligibility for the Paycheck Protection Program and a reduction in the payroll requirement.
  • An expansion and extension of the eviction moratorium and protections for renters is included in the HEROES Act but not the HEALS Act.
  • Funds to support school reopenings are also included in this act.

When Could a Second Stimulus Check Come?

When a second stimulus check might arrive depends heavily on when a bill is passed. Both the House and the Senate must pass the bill, and then it has to be signed by the president. But the hope is that it won’t take as long for the IRS to turn around payments as it did in March and April. Ideally it won’t—the IRS has now done this once already and has probably learned lessons and put a system in place that speeds up the second round.

In fact, Steven Mnuchin, the US Treasury Secretary, said that the IRS could start sending payments within a week of an act being passed. So, if the act is passed anytime in mid-September, for example, the checks could start rolling out before the calendar moved into October.

The Stimulus check process in 4 steps

Will This Be the Last Stimulus Check?

It’s pure speculation at this point to discuss a second, or even third or fourth stimulus check. But it’s not impossible. It likely depends on the state of the economy and job market as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. If future stimulus checks do come, though, they may become increasingly more targeted as time passes. For example, it’s possible stimulus funds might start to go to people who can demonstrate a need.

However, until this second act is passed and lawmakers move on to considering future bills, there’s simply no way to know.

Protecting Your Financial Status During COVID-19 and After

Whether you’re waiting for and relying on a second stimulus check or you’re beginning to see a light at the end of your own personal COVID-19 financial tunnel, it’s definitely important to keep an eye on your personal finances during these trying times. That can include checking your credit report to ensure all the information is accurate and disputing inaccurate items so they don’t drag down your score in the future. It can also include managing your debt, income and investments in the most responsible way. During COVID-19 and beyond, Lexington Law offers information that can help you navigate finances and plan for the future. Check out articles that range from student loans to mortgages, and consider our credit repair services if you need help getting your credit report back to rights.


Reviewed by Kenton Arbon, an Associate Attorney at Lexington Law Firm. Written by Lexington Law.

Kenton Arbon is an Associate Attorney in the Arizona office. Mr. Arbon was born in Bakersfield, California, and grew up in the Northwest. He earned his B.A. in Business Administration, Human Resources Management, while working as an Oregon State Trooper. His interest in the law lead him to relocate to Arizona, attend law school, and graduate from Arizona State College of Law in 2017. Since graduating from law school, Mr. Arbon has worked in multiple compliance domains including anti-money laundering, Medicare Part D, contracts, and debt negotiation. Mr. Arbon is licensed to practice law in Arizona. He is located in the Phoenix office.

Note: Articles have only been reviewed by the indicated attorney, not written by them. The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice; instead, it is for general informational purposes only. Use of, and access to, this website or any of the links or resources contained within the site do not create an attorney-client or fiduciary relationship between the reader, user, or browser and website owner, authors, reviewers, contributors, contributing firms, or their respective agents or employers.

Source: lexingtonlaw.com

Are Hotel Rewards Credit Cards a Bad Idea?

Hotel Credit Card RewardsHotel Credit Card Rewards

If you are an avid traveler, it’s likely that you’ve been tempted to apply for a hotel credit card at one time or another. The best hotel cards out there offer a variety of benefits for everyday and travel spending, giving consumers the opportunity to earn rewards such as free hotel stays and upgraded accommodations.

But are these rewards all they are advertised to be? Let’s explore what hotel rewards credit cards are and how this type of loyalty program may or may not benefit consumers.

What are hotel rewards credit cards?

Hotel credit cards enable the holder to book free nights at a variety of hotels around the world. They advertise fantastic rewards and exclusive cardholder perks (late checkouts, loyalty program status upgrades, free in-room internet, etc.) to enhance your travel experience. When searching for the best hotel credit card that is going to give you the most for your spending habits, experts recommend keeping these criteria in mind:

  • Available introductory point bonuses and your ability to meet the card’s initial spending requirements.
  • Rewards for different spending categories, and how this fits in with your day-to-day spending.
  • Hotel upgrades, add-ons, and perks to make your stay more enjoyable.
  • Annual, as well as foreign, transaction fees. Will the card give you enough value to justify these fees?

What’s the big deal?

At this point, you may be thinking that a hotel rewards credit card sounds like a pretty great deal – but is it really? The travel industry is one of the largest industries in the US, contributing a total of 1.5 trillion dollars to the GDP in 2015. While it may seem that they certainly have enough money to give away a night or two, that’s just not how big business works. In fact, with the amount of money that it costs to simply maintain a luxury hotel, they aren’t likely to start giving away rooms for free anytime soon.

Generally speaking, rewards cards often have the highest APRs, in part to help pay for all of the points, fancy hotel stays, and miles they are dishing out. As such, hotel rewards cards probably aren’t the best idea if you find yourself in a situation where you need to carry a revolving debt for a period of time. In fact, experts say that in some circumstances the fees can far outweigh the benefits of reward and loyalty credit cards.

When is a hotel reward credit card a good idea?

While anyone who chooses to join a rewards or loyalty program should do so with caution, there are steps that consumers can take to make the most of out of their hotel rewards credit card. Before you apply for a credit card, it’s important to understand the offer, along with the card’s terms and agreements. Read through the fine print before you apply to help you understand just what type of contract you are entering into.

Whenever possible save large purchases for low-interest cards. You may feel like you are missing out on your “rewards,” but you’ll probably save more than that free night stay would have been worth anyway. You know that your “frequent-flyer miles” are far from free, so save your reward cards for small purchases that you know you can pay within the month’s billing cycle.

Conclusion

Different people have different opinions about what the “best” hotel credit card is. No card is universally superior to another. Just like any other credit card you apply for, you’ll want to understand your commitment and make the best choice for your spending habits and style.

Source: creditabsolute.com

Four Percent Mortgage Proposed to Solve Crisis

Last updated on February 2nd, 2018

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As expected, the recent spike in mortgage rates has led to wild new proposals to solve the ongoing mortgage crisis.

The latest proposal comes from Arizona businessman Kenneth Wm. Parker, owner of Parker Properties/Parker Development, who has introduced the so-called “4/40 for Freedom Loan.”

It’s essentially a government-backed mortgage set at a four percent interest rate with a 40-year amortization.

“Americans are begging for relief,” said Parker, founder of 4/40 for Freedom, in a statement. “The program benefits are immediate; lower mortgages means increased disposable income, which translates to available cash to stimulate the economy through investments and product and service purchases.”

“We have received enthusiastic support from the financial and business community regarding the program,” he added.

Expected savings from the program are 33-38 percent per month per household, which would certainly ease pressure on struggling homeowners and move much needed money back into the economy.

“If each homeowner saves an estimated $250 a month on their mortgage, all of a sudden they can make additional purchases and the effect on the economy will be tremendous,” Parker said.

Once passed by Congress, the program would be available for one year to both new and existing homeowners; those with a mortgage would receive loan modifications without a credit check or any other qualification (sounds great).

Jumbo loans would also be offered up to loan amounts of $3.5 million.

“As the economy improves and home values go up, homeowners will refinance with conventional mortgage programs and the U.S. backed real estate interest loan debt will be repaid, resulting in additional economic capital,” the release said.

You can read more about the program over at their site. It’s clearly a bit over the top, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we see subsidized mortgage rates soon if the government isn’t able to rein them in.

About the Author: Colin Robertson

Before creating this blog, Colin worked as an account executive for a wholesale mortgage lender in Los Angeles. He has been writing passionately about mortgages for 15 years.

Source: thetruthaboutmortgage.com