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With Barack Obama and John McCain arguing about who is going to cut taxes more, I though it would be interesting to find out what investors think is going to happen to their tax bills in the coming years.
So, in a totally unscientific survey, I asked four money managers what their clients think. The results were striking: Every one said their clients overwhelmingly believed their taxes would rise in the coming four years, no matter who is president. As you watch tonight's debate, keep in mind both candidates are desparately pitching tax cuts to voters who don't believe either will deliver.
The managers were in metropolitan Washington, D.C., Boston, Seattle, and Boca Raton, FL. Their clients were generally 50 or older. Many were retirees, although a significant number still worked. Some had clients with assets in the $250,000 to $3 million range. Others ran money for people of significantly greater wealth. But, according to the managers, none of that mattered.
The Washington-area adviser seemed surprised I'd even ask the question. "It goes without saying," she told me. "My clients have been preparing themselves for this for months."
Another said recent news made the nearly-inevitable even more likely. "Even before the (financial market) bailout, my clients expected their taxes would go up. Now, they think it is a certainty."
Interestingly, the outcome of the election doesn't seem to matter much to these investors, at least when it comes to their tax bills. Many with relatively small nest eggs (for this group, at least) expect their taxes will rise even if Obama is elected. Despite the fact that many earn well below $250,000 annually—the income level below which Obama vows to cut taxes—these clients simply don't believe it, their advisers say. Similarly, high net worth individuals doubt McCain would keep their taxes as low as they have been in recent years.
The Boston adviser told me, "Of course, my clients were happy to see the Bush rates—especially on capital gains and dividends—but they never thought they'd last. They know what McCain has promised. But they also know he'll be working with a Democratic Congress."
Is the likelihood of high taxes changing their clients' investment strategies? Unfortunately, the past few days were probably not the best time to ask that question. Said the Florida adviser, "My clients are hanging on for dear life right now. 2010 capital gains rates are the last thing on their minds."
Posts and comments are solely the opinion of the author and not that of the Tax Policy Center, Urban Institute, or Brookings Institution.