You can’t make informed financial decisions without incorporating some sort of tax planning. And when creating a financial plan for your clients, the only way to help them take control of their financial future is to ensure they understand the taxes that they will be responsible for, both now and in retirement. So, in this episode, John Scherer, Founder of Trinity Financial Planning, joins the show to discuss how he shares the value of tax planning with his clients.
Listen in as John explains why you should have an intentional process for your clients to make sure you aren’t missing a possible opportunity that may only pop up every several years. You will learn what the dishwasher rule is, how to be respectful of the other professionals you collaborate with, and how to communicate the value you provide.
Steven and his guests share more tax-planning insights in today’s Retirement Tax Services Podcast. Feedback, unusual tax-planning stories, and suggestions for future guests can be sent to email@example.com.
Are you interested in content that provides you with action steps that you can take to deliver massive tax value to your clients? Then you are going to love our powerful training sessions online. Click on the link below to get started on your journey:
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We’re not overpaying. No, we’re not overpaying. We’re not overpaying anymore. The tax code’s complicated, boring, and overrated. You don’t want that, you want a pro. One thing that you should know: this is a radio show. It’s not tax advice, don’t take it that way.
Steven Jarvis: Hello everyone. And welcome to the next episode of the Retirement Tax Services Podcast, Financial Professional’s Edition. I am your host, Steven Jarvis, CPA. And in this show, I teach financial advisors how to deliver massive value through tax planning. With me on the show today, I have John Scherer certified financial planner with his own practice, Trinity Financial Planning, who is one of these advisors delivering massive value through tax planning. So John, welcome to the show.
John Scherer: Hi Steven. Thanks for having me on. Looking forward to our conversation.
Steven Jarvis: Yeah, I appreciate you setting aside the time for it, John. It’s always great to hear real life examples of what this looks like in practice. But before we dive into client examples of times you’ve been able to deliver value. Let’s just start with, how does tax planning fit into your practice as a whole? And how did you get to this point where you knew it was something you wanted to do?
John Scherer: It’s hard for me now, I’ve been doing this for 20 years. Last year was 20 years in business, and it’s hard to think about making financial decisions and making recommendations without incorporating taxes. Taxes, if you look at what people pay in taxes on their tax return, that’s one of the biggest expenses that so many people have. And so what, doesn’t it make sense as to incorporate the tax side of things, if we’re going to make an investment decision, if we’re going to make a real estate decision. If we’re going to make a mortgage decision. You need to look at the tax side of it, right? And so just coordinating those things together. When I first heard about, “Hey, this is a way we could do business.” 20 some years ago, it just resonated with me and makes sense. And it’s really a core focus. It’s a differentiator too, for us that not a lot of people are actually giving tax advice along with the holistic planning advice. So that’s how it came to be or why it’s been such an important part of our practice.
Steven Jarvis: Now, practically speaking, in my experience, clients probably aren’t coming to you and saying, “Hey, John, what I really want is tax advice.” People need it, but it’s not always at the tip of their tongue. And so how does this fit into your overall process? When you have a client that comes to you for financial planning, how do you weave taxes into that?
John Scherer: It’s an organic discussion as we talk through things. People come to us, oftentimes because they’ve got a retirement issue or they’ve got an investment issue. And as we talk through those decisions, I mean, taxes are just a big part of that. How much you pay in taxes makes a difference and how much you’re going to spend in retirement and where you should put your money, from an investing standpoint. And so as those things come up, it just evolves. And we talk about, “Hey, I can answer this question. How much should I save for retirement?” But maybe you want to know what are my taxes going to look like today and in the future and have that discussion. Does that… So I just ask clients, “That make sense, is it would be valuable for you to have that conversation?” And 99 times out of a hundred, the answer is yes.
Steven Jarvis: Yeah. That’s my experience as well. Is that, I mean, since all, nearly all of us have to pay the taxes when someone will proactively say, “Here’s how we can sand off the rough edges on that tax bill.” Of course clients are going to lean in and say, “Yes, let’s definitely include that as part of the plan.” You mentioned that it’s a real differentiator for your office, which I completely agree with that. What’s… One of the things that’s been interesting to me as I’ve spent more of my time focused in this industry, is that I run across a lot of advisors more in the independent space who will say, “Oh, well, tax plan’s differentiator because all those guys at the big wirehouses and broker-dealers, that the Ed Jones and Ameriprises of the world, they can’t do taxes. So really I can just scratch the surface with tax planning and I’m all set.”
Which I take two issues with that. One, I work with advisors in those big firms and some of them, it is the exception, but some of them do tax planning with their compliance departments approval. So you can’t just scratch the surface and think you’re adding value. And that’s the other piece I take issue with is that, we shouldn’t ever just say, “Oh, well, that’s all I have to do.” It’s how do we keep delivering more and more value to our clients? And as you and I were talking getting ready for the show, and just from what I know about your practice from our friends over at the Perfect RIA, I know that you’re doing more than just scratching the surface. So talk about some of the things you do and maybe even share some specific examples of how you help clients really find that value through tax planning.
John Scherer: Sure. And I might circle back for just a second Steven on some background. So when I first started doing this as an independent advisor, I joined what is now the Alliance of Comprehensive Planners. And part of their deal was to focus on tax advice and tax planning. And we actually did tax returns for our clients for about the first 10 or 12 years of our existence. So part of my background is actually knowing, doing the taxes and implementing… actually preparing the returns. I’ve since gotten away from that. And really the value I think comes from the planning side and the tax preparation is just, is the reporting side of it, still super important, right? But not where a lot of the value comes in on my end of things. So that’s the background of where it came from is, I actually used to do the taxes and knew what went on and was heavily involved in the tax planning.
And for us, a lot of our work comes in the fall, as we… Before December 31st is when a lot of the actions can be taken. And so we focus a lot of our time at that time of the year with clients on saying, “Listen, what do we think your tax projection might look like? What do we think it might look like for this coming year?” And then, does this make sense to do a Roth conversion or to take some tax losses and investments or tax gains or whatever it might be going on and then going to their tax preparer and saying, “Listen, here’s what we think might make some sense. Does this make sense to you in working together as a team for the client in order to make some decisions on a proactive basis?”
So after saying all that, I don’t know if I answered your question or not as far as that goes. But that’s what some of the things that we do right now is actually getting into. And we’ll do the tax projections in our office and then work together with the CPA on what might make sense for the client to implement.
Steven Jarvis: Yeah. There’s a couple of things I want to draw out of there. And we normally end with action items. So we’ll just skip right to them and then we’ll keep having this discussion because I really want to focus on how you, or at least how I heard that. Because with your clients, and it’s really important that you highlighted before the end of the year, we can’t wait until tax reporting time. We’ve missed our chance a lot of times if we wait that long. But really the way I heard that, and maybe you phrased it differently, is that you’re evaluating the client’s situation. Then you’re making specific recommendations on what they should do. And then you’re collaborating with their tax preparer. And those are each different pieces. And they’re each really essential. We can’t just lock in on one or two of them.
And I think a lot of times that collaborate piece is what gets missed. Quite often, I’ll talk to advisors, I think you brought it up earlier. Maybe it was before we hit record, but if some advisor were to say, “Oh, well, I don’t give tax advice.” And they’ll use that as an excuse to not have these conversations. I am all for advisors ending their recommendations with, “And we should talk to your tax preparer.” But after you’ve done most of the work, it’s the collaboration. For it to really be a collaborative effort, the advisor needs to have done their side and then you team up and see it to the finish line. This phrase of, “Hey, make sure you talk to your CPA.” This isn’t a cop out to not do work. It’s the last piece in the puzzle.
John Scherer: Yeah. That’s really well put. Thanks for bringing that out, Steven. And that’s exactly right. It is not a cop out. Consult your advisor like, “No, here’s what I think.” And how we phrase it with people. And I think it’s… We were talking a little bit before we record it, about phrasing makes a difference on how we think about things, but it’s, yes it’s recommendations, but it’s, here’s these ideas, right? I’ve got these ideas that are… and well thought out and specific. These are the dollars we think you might consider converting to Roth. Let’s check with your CPA, because they are… I’ve got 15 or 20 years of tax experience. Right? But I’m still… The CPA is the person that’s driving the tax return. Right? I want to use their expertise.
And the reality is, I don’t know. And a lot of our viewers of the show here, we don’t know what we don’t know. Hey, here’s what I think makes sense. Maybe I’m missing something. Right? I don’t know. Does it make sense to do this Roth conversion? Here’s what I’m thinking. And then number one, it has that collaboration with the tax preparer, right? No, from a legitimate standpoint. And the other thing from our end of things, my end anyway, is that, geez, maybe there’s something I don’t know. And I don’t sound stupid when I say something like this and here’s what I think. Right? But let’s be together on this and every now and again, there’s like, “Oh no, that doesn’t make any sense.” Okay, great. Well, let’s say these are ideas, right? This is… I’m sitting on the client side of the table and we’re trying to work together to help produce good results for the clients. It’s not about, as you said before, shirking your duty or protecting yourself for the… It’s like, what’s in the best interest of the client. So I think that’s really a great way to put things.
Steven Jarvis: As you described that, I want to bring it back one more time to the, that you mentioned the timing. Getting these things done before the end of the year and not just doing the evaluation and the projections before the end of the year. But having that conversation with the tax preparer before the end of the year, because that really changes how that dynamic works. If you come to a tax preparer in March and say, “Hey, last year we already did this thing, I just need you to report it.” That tax preparer is not going to be your friend.
In fact, they’re probably going to constantly throw you under the bus to your shared client because you’ve given them no opportunity to be part of the conversation. And so, like you talked about, if you’re doing these things before the end of the year and you come to a tax preparer in November, December towards the end of the year and say, “Hey, here’s what we came up with, but we wanted to make sure we got your input.” Now the tax preparer also feels like they’re part of the team and they’re going to work very proactively with you and to your point, for the good of the client.
John Scherer: Yeah. So I’ve got actually one example that came up recently. And really, in one of the questions that I’ll ask prospective clients as we’re talking is, “When’s the last time that your tax person came to you and said, Hey, Steven, I’ve got this… There’s been some tax law changes, I’ve got a couple ideas. Let’s sit down and take a look at them before the end of the year to see if they might make any sense?” Right? And the tax preparers, they’re focused, generally speaking, on getting the return done in the spring or in the next year. Right? So we don’t have that side of it. And then the other question would be, “When’s the last time your financial advisor looked at your tax return and made some specific recommendations,” right? “On both sides?”
And when you can be in that spot. So that’s just something that popped into my head on asking that question. And then following through and doing it as you said, then it’s like, “Listen, when you’re working with us, we’re going to take a look at those things for you before the end of the year.” We got a client who had started a side business and ended up leaving his primary job over the past couple of years. And I didn’t really… Wasn’t all in tune with what the side business was or where it was. And it was a throwaway. We’re doing some other tax planning at the end of the year. And the client said, “Oh, by the way, I’ve made an extra, I got about $20,000 of profit in my business.”
And it raised a flag. I said, “Well, wait a minute, let’s take a look and see what your last pay stub had to say, because I don’t think that you maxed out your 401k for the year.” And it turned out with her former employer, that they hadn’t. And so we were able to set up a solo 401k where they could defer a bunch of money. They didn’t need the cash and reducing taxes today is important for them. And deferring it into the next few years when they’ll have a lower tax bracket, is important. But guess when did that 401k need to be set up? Right before the end of the year. And if we were asking that question or if the tax preparer was even asking that question in the spring, golly were too late for that. Right? So that’s one example of some, of getting that 1231 deadline, some really valuable things and saving a few thousand dollars in taxes for folks.
Steven Jarvis: Yeah. Such a great example of how regularly having that conversation has an impact. This might seem a little bit unrelated, but one of the other things I want to draw out of there is that up until that example, you and I both had thrown out Roth conversion a couple of times as a potential planning opportunity. And a lot of times I’ll get both taxpayers and advisors who will say, “Well, why is Roth conversion a thing that everyone talks about all the time. Is that really the only tax planning opportunity.” And it’s not. Roth conversions can be great, but I think one of the reasons it comes up so often is because there’s a potential to do it every single year. So it’s just, it’s top of mind for a lot of us. But your example, the very first example you went to, had nothing to do with Roth conversions.
It really highlights the impact you can have if this is a part of your regular process. We can’t just guess in every three years ask the question and hope we got the timing right. This has to be just an institutionalized part of what we do to serve our clients. And sure, maybe Roth conversions or helping with withholds or contributing to retirement accounts. These are things that can come up every year. But part of what we’re doing is creating a space for our clients and ourselves to identify these opportunities that come up maybe only once or at once every several year years as changes happen. Because the 401k, yeah they’re going to keep contributing to it. But that was really… You had a unique opportunity in that one year, to get that set up and maximize it, maximize that opportunity before that year ended. And like you said, if you would’ve waited until February and said, “Hey, let’s talk about taxes.” It’s gone that opportunity is not there.
John Scherer: Yeah. Yeah. That’s right. It’s that idea of that these things come up periodically and that’s really… I mean, Roth conversions, right? Those are things you need to look at every year, I think. But I’ll describe it to clients by saying, a lot of our tax planning is like looking under rocks. We never know when we’re going to find a diamond underneath there, right? Or a piece of gold. And most of the time we don’t, but when we do, man, it can really be a benefit, right? And so sometime, and even internally, sometimes it feels like, “Oh geez, we got to go through this again.” Nothing ever changes. Except for that one time it does. And it’s worth thousands of dollars to the client, right? That’s the thing where it’s really can make a big impact.
A few years ago, I think it was 2018, when the stock market dumped over right to the last six weeks of the year. You reminded me that one of the things we do every fall is take a look at what we think estimated distributions will be from mutual funds, right? That sometimes mutual funds will make distributions. And it has nothing to do with the client selling their holding. And usually by Thanksgiving or so, we have an idea of what those look like. We are able to take, and most of the time we look at it and then we tell the clients, “We looked at this and there’s nothing to do. And we looked at this and there’s nothing to do.”
And that year we looked at it. And even though the market was going down at the end of the year, during the year, things went well enough. I guess it is that the distributions were going to be fairly high. So we were able to do some tax-loss selling or in some cases tax-gain selling. We sold for a little bit of… Sold and there was a thousand dollars of gain, but we’re avoiding $5,000 of taxable distributions in somebody’s taxable account. Right? Again, there were some significant savings and most of the time it doesn’t do any good. But when it does, you can really make a big impact for folks.
Steven Jarvis: Oh, most definitely. And you said it casually, but I want to make sure people didn’t miss in there that. At least, as you described that, it wasn’t just that you looked and saw that there was nothing to do, but you told the… You let the client know, “Hey, we reviewed this for you. And there’s no action to take.” We like to call that the dishwasher rule, because you only get credit for doing the dishes if someone notices. And this isn’t about your client’s being able to give you a pat on the back, it’s making sure they know they’re taking care of. That this is one of the things that you are doing for them. I like your description there of turning over the rocks, of we’re not going to find huge tax savings underneath every rock. But we’re going to keep turning them over because we know from experience, that eventually there’s going to be a situation where it was worth picking up those rocks.
John Scherer: Yep. Yep. That’s right. There’s a number of examples I can think of, Steven, where it comes across. And it’s this thing where it’s like water dripping, right? You do the same thing over and over and nothing changes. But when those opportunities come up, it can be really significant for folks. And there’s some things we see on the other side of it too. I remember we had a client that came to us and they had a significant loss in a business that they were running. And they came to us after the fact, it was a year later and we looked at their tax return and last year, income of negative $100,000 or something like this. And nobody was looking at it proactively. And one of the things we looked at and said, “Well, golly, if this happens again in the future, we have opportunities for Roth conversions.” Tax free Roth, money that went into IRAs 401ks at 25, 30% and taking it out at 0% or selling capital gains items.
A lot of advisors will talk about, “Well sure, we do tax-loss harvesting for our clients.” Which most of the time makes sense. Right? But what about in a situation like that, when somebody’s got a loss and we actually want to have gains go on the tax return at 0%, those sorts of things. Lots of examples over the years that show up and it comes from paying attention. You can’t just say, “Oh, good take tax losses.” Yeah, most of the time, sure. But it needs to be looked at each year to see what applies to that individual client situation.
Steven Jarvis: Yeah. Such great examples in there. A lot of times people get hung up on the big flashy headlines of these complicated, really nuanced tax situations, where in one instance, someone was able to save tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes. But for most of us, where the tax savings come from, is this consistent approach of being able to identify when we can make decisions and then taking advantage of those opportunities available to us. Because the IRS is only so patient and they’re only so generous. For the most part, we’re going to pay taxes on our income. But the tax code does give us lots of instances where we can make choices about the timing of that income.
And if we’re doing projections, like you talked about that you do for your clients. We can have this baseline of, “Hey, here’s what we expect over the coming years, as far as where we’re going to be, from a relative income, a relative tax bracket standpoint.” So when we have these situations where we have a business loss or there’s something else that comes up where something’s changed and we can say, “Okay, do we need to reevaluate the decisions we’ve made? And do we accelerate income? Do we do accelerate deductions? Do we delay income?” But we’ve got to have a handle on what those levers are we can pull, so that we can do that quickly when the time comes.
John Scherer: Yeah, that’s right. It’s like, and maybe like investing or other things too where the opportunities come when the environment changes, right? The economic environment, a person’s individual job situation, but our work remains the same. It’s that diligence and the consistency of being prepared for it, as you just said, as being prepared for those things, to be able take advantage of that. And it can come and go, right? As you mentioned earlier, Roth conversions, those are going to be a topic on a consistent basis. But look at the last couple of years, right? People that have had lower incomes, no income for a while, those things come and go. And being able to take advantage of those when the opportunity is there is really important. And part of an advisor’s job then is paying attention to those things, but doing that proactive work. And then when we can loop the CPAs and the tax folks in and work together for the best interest of the client, and it makes the tax folks look good too, right? They’re part of this team that’s helping do these things. I think that’s a really important thing as well.
Steven Jarvis: Yeah. If our goal is to make sure the client gets as much value as possible, all the professionals in their life are going to get credit for it. This isn’t… This doesn’t have to be a fight of whose idea was it? Was it John’s idea? Was it the CPA’s idea? As long as the client is winning, they’re going to come back to whoever is actively having these conversations with them, every single time. And it’s just going to be a winning situation for the client.
John Scherer: Yep. Yep. That’s exactly right. One thing that I was just thinking about as it comes, applies to this. I’ve been doing this for a long time and pretty heavily involved in taxes. And I really appreciate what you’re doing with Retirement Tax Services. Bringing this to people that want to do the best they can for their clients is really important. And as I think about it, it’s… And we’re talking a little bit about some of the various episodes you’ve had of this podcast and the things that I’ve learned from that, even with my experience. And I look back, and I think, “Boy, if there was something like this in place, when I first started that would’ve been really huge to, just from ground zero.” Right? And then at the same time… And as I said before, when I joined ACP, having a network of people that were tax-focused was really helpful. But it was a different era 20 years ago.
But today, even when I look at the things that I’ve learned, it’s the… Once you’ve developed a background, even if you’ve been doing this a long time, it’s the little things that make a difference, right? There was a recent episode on Cost Segregation that was really useful. It just takes a little bit of something, that can make a huge difference, one idea. So as I think about the things I listen to and what I digest and the organizations I’m a part of. At one point, it was building things and it’s really useful. And the things that you do are really useful for that. At this stage, for me, it’s, a little idea can make a huge difference over a lot of people. And so that’s one of the things that I’ve been thinking about as I was thinking about sharing here on the podcast, is that for a new person, for an experienced person, there’s always improvement.
And I think that’s an important thing that sometimes we gets lost as we think about like, “Geez, I’ve been doing this a long time and there’s… I don’t… There’s no new tax things.” And of course they always change the tax laws on us. There’s some job security for people like you and I, right? But there’s always something that’s out there for you and being… And you don’t get that unless you’re involved. Unless you’re listening, unless you have some discipline, you have a group that you’re involved with and paying attention to. So I just wanted to share that as something I think is an important, and maybe loop back on that for the action items at the end. I’ll tell you, there’s one other thing, one other comment that I just wanted to make or thought was useful is, when I’m working with a CPA or any other professional, I want to make sure that we’re working together for the client, but not in front of the client necessarily.
And being really respectful of those things. And that’s maybe that’s where I get the idea of, “Hey, let’s ask questions and here’s ideas.” And not, I don’t want to come up with a recommendation and say, “Well, geez,” effectively implying, “Well, you miss this, here’s this thing that I get credit for.” No, let’s talk offline. “Hey, I think this, I think we can help this client this way, Steve. And does this make sense to you?” And then we can present it to the client. I had something, I remember, a few years back where we had a client and we had a great relationship, worked well with the CPA, but there was a question about, “Geez, we’ve got this extra cash. What should we do with it?” And the CPA jumped in and said, “Well, you should definitely start up a retirement plan now that you’re making SOME money in the business. And here’s what I think you should do.”
And the reality on our side of things was the client was, had a lot of anxiety around having liquidity and having money. They spent a lot of money and it was a big deal. And so, the best advice for them was, “Let’s talk about that next year. Now that we finally made some money, let’s solidify our liquidity and… ” The CPA didn’t know the whole situation. They don’t need to do much more in the way of retirement savings and they’re going to be in pretty good shape. But they had some other things going on. So it was interesting for me on the receiving end of that was like, “Hey, wait a minute. Why didn’t you ask beforehand? You behind the scenes and we could come together.”
So anyway, you know, client, “Hey, listen, let’s… We’re going to do a retirement plan the following year, but next year let’s make sure that you don’t ever have to worry about your money.” Right? Like where are your cash flows coming from and those things. So I think that, that was… That’s one of the things that I think is useful for folks too, is to make sure that we don’t know what’s going on the other side of the situation. Maybe the CPA had, or tax person had a really good reason for not suggesting that this idea that I’ve got, right? And so to be respectful of that, because otherwise it can make for an uncomfortable situation.
Steven Jarvis: Yeah. That’s a great reminder, as we move to action items here in just a second, of when we’re collaborating with other professionals, I like to think of this as assuming positive intent. Unless you have some really persuasive reason to think otherwise, let’s just assume that the other professionals in our clients’ lives are doing the best they can with the information they have. So if something comes up that doesn’t make sense because of the context we have, let’s have that conversation and wherever possible, let’s not have it in front of the client, to make sure that we’re not just confusing the issue or creating this combative relationship.
It’s easy for all of us to be defensive when someone questions what we’re doing in front of the client. But if we can have a side conversation to just say, “Hey, help me understand what you meant when we were talking about the setting out this retirement plan,” or, “Hey, can I give you a little context for some of the things that we’ve talked with Bob and Sue about before.” You’re starting from that place of, “Hey, let’s assume positive intent.” And again, work together to make sure that the client is ultimately the one who wins.
John Scherer: Yeah, that’s great.
Steven Jarvis: So John really appreciate you coming on. You already transitioned us really well, a couple of times in the action items. So let’s recap for everybody just to make sure that we have just real clear action that we can take from this episode. I want to recap those steps that you have in your process. So really the action item is making sure you have an intentional process for tax planning for your clients. And for you it’s, do an evaluation, make a recommendation, then collaborate with the tax preparer to make sure that this is effective from start to finish.
The other piece that you just mentioned a minute ago, was this, making sure that you’re continually improving, whether that’s consuming content or finding peers that you can learn from. I certainly appreciate the recommendation there for what we do here at Retirement Tax Services. But whether you’re getting it from us or from other great resources in the industry, because there are plenty of other great resources. You need to have this commitment, whether you’re new to the industry, you’re 20 years in like John is, there’s always more to learn and more ways to deliver value to our clients. John, any other recommendations or action items you would suggest to our listeners?
John Scherer: Steven, I think the only other one that I’d throw out there is maybe something that people can put into their meetings or with prospects is just asking them, “When was the last time your tax folks or your investment folks, financial planners made proactive recommendations, came to you before the end of the year to say, this is what we think your taxes might look like.” That one simple question can really open some doors I think, or be able to help communicate that value that we can add for folks.
Steven Jarvis: That’s great. I love it. Last thing I’ll share is that, if like John, you’re getting a lot of value out of this podcast, take a minute to give us a review, to give us five stars on Apple Podcasts or Spotify or wherever you listen, share us on social media so that we can keep reaching more advisors and having more of an impact through this stuff. I like talking about it. I like hearing that other people are benefiting from it. So again, John, thanks so much for coming on the show today.
John Scherer: Yeah. Thanks so much, Steven.
Steven Jarvis: And for all our listeners, thanks for being here and until next time, good luck out there. And remember to tip your server not the IRS.
We’re not overpaying. No, we’re not overpaying. We’re not overpaying anymore. The tax code’s complicated, boring, and overrated. You don’t want that, you want a pro. One thing that you should know: this is a radio show. It’s not tax advice, don’t take it that way.