Q. I am 82 years old. I have been reinvesting the dividends I receive on my equity investments for many years. When interest rates declined, I invested in stocks that consistently paid good dividends.
Now I wonder why I did that? My pension is sufficient to meet my personal needs, so I do not need to withdraw cash from my investments. I pay ordinary income tax on most of my dividends. If I had picked companies that do not pay dividends, there would be no tax due until the stocks were sold.
If things go as planned, I would not sell these equities. Instead, my children will inherit them. They would be entitled to a stepped-up cost basis. I am thinking now of looking at Vanguard or Fidelity for a fund that specializes in non-dividend paying stocks. Does this make any sense? —R.B., by email
A. If your pension income meets all your needs, you have attractive choices, not problems. Most stocks, for instance, pay dividends that are taxed at the same rate as capital gains, 15 percent, unless your income as a single filer this year is over $413,200 ($464,850 on a joint return). So you could move your portfolio out of its current investments (probably REITs whose dividends are taxed at ordinary income rates) into more typical stocks with dividends taxed at lower rates.
Whatever you do, searching for investments that yield no dividends simply to avoid taxes isn’t a good investment idea. No-yield stocks are often growth stocks. They are often overpriced and chased by optimistic investors. More important, there is little evidence companies that pay dividends will provide less in capital gains than companies that pay no dividends. Indeed, one entire category of mutual funds-- the “equity-income” funds-- is based on the notion that a “yield-tilt” adds current income and sometimes provides a higher total return.
Finally, the dividend yield on common stocks is so low today— 1.87 percent on the S&P 500— that it’s a non-consideration, particularly since the tax rate on dividends for most companies is the same as the capital gains tax rate.
Owning stocks that provide dividends has some other advantages, too. For one thing, the dividends can be reinvested and help you to acquire more shares during bear markets. But the dividend income could also be spent on your children now, today, while you are alive.
If the money is invested, that will be a good thing. If it helps your children (who are now full-grown adults) further some of their goals and projects now that would be a good thing too. And if you just spend the money with them, going on trips, etc. that will also be a good thing.
So don’t sweat the dividends. They are an opportunity, not a problem.
Q. Our disabled son inherited some money. We have created a special-needs trust for him with our trust attorney. We would like to invest one-third of the money in the stock market with low-cost funds.
Is the Couch Potato the way to go for him? He is 35 years old. We would like the money to grow for many years for his future use in elder years--65 and older. There is a Charles Schwab office in our small city, so we would like to go with them. Are we on the right track? —A.R., by email
A. Yes, you are on the right track. Starting the special-needs trust is particularly important. Allowing the money to grow without the drag of high fees is also a good idea, particularly since it is pretty easy to put together a very low-cost Couch Potato portfolio at Charles Schwab. The ingredients, using their exchange-traded funds (ETFs) are: Schwab Multi-Cap Core ETF (ticker SCHB, expense ratio 0.04 percent) and Schwab U.S. TIPS ETF (ticker SCHP, expense ratio 0.07 percent).
The Schwab Multi-Cap fund is comparable to the Vanguard Total Market ETF and the iShares Core S&P U.S. Stock Market ETF, but slightly less expensive. Using those two Schwab funds, your total cost of management would be 0.055 percent a year, a tiny fraction of typical managed fund expenses.