Friday, June 8, 2007

Do Not Inflate Net Worth: Ignore Taxes at Your Peril

Hat Tip: Ed provoked this post.

Part of series: Biggest Net Worth Mistakes: Is Your Net Worth Accurate or Useful?

Do not deceive yourself by inflating your net worth.

Yes, it is difficult to estimate some items but it is better to underestimate your wealth and later be pleasantly surprised than to overestimate and lay a trap for yourself.

The taxman cometh.

People often leave taxes and regulatory costs off their liability list but you can be sure that the government will ignore such creative accounting and will not forget to take its slice ("But look, my blog says I don't have a tax liability because I typed it that way.").

Remember what "net worth" is.

Net worth is a snapshot of what you would have if you liquidated now. If liquidating your IRA now would incur a 35% income-tax rate plus 10% penalty, then the accurate net worth of your IRA now is about half of what your account statements say.

To say that you would not liquidate now and things will be different later is to ignore net worth. If you use a non-net-worth measure, do not call it net worth.

It is better to understand the limitations of a measurement than to cook the books.

Even if you somehow accurately predict a $1 million nest egg for retirement and dismiss your tax liability on it as "only" 10%, leaving the tax liability off your books is a $100,000 error.

To estimate what your net worth will be decades from now is a very difficult endeavor because you would have to guess at fluctuating IRA and home values, variable inflation rates, uncertain future income and saving rates, and the competing compounded interest/returns of both investments and debts.

That difficulty is why it is easier to estimate your net worth now with all liablities from current tax brackets and current laws.

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