Last winter's massive tax overhaul was chock-full of goodies for corporations and investors, but there were also a few bits of social engineering designed to encourage investments in parts of the United States that haven't been doing so well, even in the current economic boom, like the ability to minimize your capital gains taxes when you invest in qualified opportunity zones. If you haven't heard about them yet, you won't be alone -- they're so new the IRS only locked down the definition of what one was a few months ago.
In the "What's Up, Bro?" segment from this episode of Motley Fool Answers, hosts Alison Southwick and Robert Brokamp will start off by giving you the basics on this new tax break. Then -- because Robert read too many interesting articles recently -- they shift to a savings tip that's more accessible to the masses: There are 10 major retailers (at least) that will price-match with Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN) this season, and he'll tell you which ones they are. Then comes the bad news: The college debt situation in this country is only getting worse.
A full transcript follows the video.
This video was recorded on Nov. 06, 2018.
Alison Southwick: So Bro, what's up?
Robert Brokamp: Well, Alison, as you know, in this segment I usually choose one item from the news and talk about it for about five minutes, but I read so much I have trouble narrowing it down. This time I'm going to try something different. I'm going to highlight three things -- with a shorter time for each -- and one fun/weird fact. Are you ready?
Southwick: I'm ready. Let's bring it. No. 1.
Brokamp: No. 1 -- defer your gains with qualified opportunity zones. This is a lesser-known creation of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed at the end of last year. Basically, if you sell an investment for a profit, normally you have to pay taxes on the capital gains, but you can avoid that if within 180 days you invest in these qualified, special opportunity zones. It was a way for Congress to try to get people to invest in lower-income areas of the country. It's so new that they haven't even worked out all the details, and just in July did the IRS actually designate what these special opportunity zones are.
How it works is you sell one investment. You invest it. Don't have to pay taxes on those capital gains. You can defer them up to the year 2026, and if you keep holding for several years, your cost basis goes up, so your gain is actually shorter, at least in terms of the taxable gain. You invest in a business or real estate in one of these lower-income communities. If you hold that for 10 years, when you sell if you have a gain, you don't pay taxes on that gain.
It's an extraordinary opportunity, but they're just starting to work out the details. If you are interested in doing this, learn a lot of the details. One great recent article on it can be found on kitces.com. That's K-I-T-C-E-S dot com. Written by Jeffrey Levine. It's called "Using Qualified Opportunity (Zone) Funds to Minimize Capital Gains," so check that out.
No. 2 -- Just in time for the holidays get online prices at bricks-and-mortar stores, and this comes from a Money magazine article written by Paul Schrodt titled "10 Big Chain Stores That Will Secretly Match Amazon's Low Prices."
It listed a bunch of stores where you can go in with your phone and say, "Look, here's the price on Amazon.com. Will you give it to me?" They will do it. Those 10 stores are Bed Bath & Beyond, Best Buy, Fry's, Home Depot, J.C. Penney, Nordstrom, Lowe's, Staples, Target, and, of course, Jo-Ann Fabrics.
And I did some research and found some other stores that will do this, too. Dick's Sporting Goods. Walmart will do it. I thought that was kind of interesting. I went and tried it at Best Buy, when we were getting a gift for my daughter, and it worked.
Southwick: Isn't there a way that you scan barcodes into Amazon, too? That would make it super easy to actually do the apples-to-apples comparison.
Brokamp: And that's a good point, because each store has their own rules about this, and in some of the stores the rule is it has to be the exact item and it has to be sold directly by Amazon and not by a third-party seller. That would be very handy. But some stores, like Home Depot and J.C. Penney, won't only just match the price, but they'll give you a 5%-10% discount on it. So something to consider.
No. 3 -- and it's a sad one coming straight from Bloomberg. Here's the headline. "America's Student Loan Debt Crisis Is About to Get Much Worse." It starts with these sad stats straight from the article. "Federal student loans are the only type of consumer debt with continuous, cumulative growth since the Great Recession." Student loans have seen almost 157% cumulative growth in the last 11 years, compared to just 52% for cars. Actually, overall mortgage and credit card debt has gone down.
When you look, too, at delinquencies, one in 10 people with student loans are delinquent. That means they haven't paid it in more than 90 days, compared to 1%-4% for mortgages and car loans. And it's about to get worse, because school is getting more expensive and interest rates are going up. It's like this double whammy on kids.
The bottom line here is, at this point, there are kids all across the country -- one of mine included -- who are applying to colleges, and students of all ages are applying for financial aid now, because the FAFSA opened on Oct. 1 -- the FAFSA being the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. People are going to be making some big decisions about where they're going to school, and it's going to affect their life five, to 10, to 20 years after that, depending on how much student loan they take out.
So please do whatever you can to graduate without student loans. It could be looking harder for scholarships. Considering ROTC. Staying in state. Going to a community college for a couple of years. But whatever you do, try to graduate with as little debt as possible.
And then finally, the fun fact. This comes from the new Bogleheads on Investing podcast. It's hosted by Rick Ferri, who's one of my all-time favorite investing writers. The very first episode featured an interview with none other than John Bogle, the founder of Vanguard and the father of the index fund. They talked about the beginning of the index fund.
And it turns out when they first launched the fund, it was such a dud that they didn't collect enough money to buy all 500 stocks. They could only buy 275, so they tried to do a sampling of all the sectors and industries within it. The first manager of the fund was a young woman who did it only on a part-time basis. Her other job was working in her husband's furniture store in Wilmington, Delaware. And from those inauspicious beginnings, the Vanguard 500 has since grown to be the biggest mutual fund in the world.
Southwick: Wow! That was a fun fact.