The secret to avoiding a high tax bill

Shelter your best investments

Jim Shambo - The tax cutter
Lifetime Planning Concepts, Colorado Springs, Colo.

You should always maximize tax-deferred 401(k)s and IRAs, but what assets do you hold in them? The usual argument is to keep stocks outside your 401(k) so that when you sell you're taxed on the capital gain, not ordinary income.

But most people ignore a fund's portfolio turnover to their detriment. Even if you don't sell a single share of your actively managed stock fund, you're going to have gains because the whole portfolio turns over every five years, maybe less. The longer you hold the fund, the better off you are having it in a tax-deferred account. If you're under 40, you've got maybe 40 years of tax deferral.

Outside an IRA you're paying capital-gains taxes every year. Turnover is why I like index funds. Their portfolios turn over maybe once every 20 years. If you invest only in index funds, keeping stocks on the outside of an IRA and a 401(k) and bonds inside makes sense.

Actually, it's important to have a blend of stocks and bonds inside and out of your retirement accounts so you have the flexibility to rebalance in the IRAs. You don't want to sell stocks in a taxable account and generate gains.

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