As a proposal advances in Congress to cut taxes on capital gains, many savers and investors are eager to plot some tax strategies right now.
If the tax rules affecting investments like stocks, bonds, mutual funds and homes are changed, it stands to reason that the ripple effects will be felt throughout the markets.Certainly, anyone might consider holding off on the sale of some investment now if it could be unloaded a few months later under more favorable tax conditions.
At the same time, however, analysts who are watching the situation closely caution against assuming any particular outcome of the current debate - and, furthermore, against getting carried away with the whole subject of taxes.
"Don't count your capital gains tax cuts until they're enacted," suggests Claudia Mott at the Wall Street firm of Prudential Securities.
Early this month the House of Representatives approved a bill that would, among many other things, effectively exempt from taxes half the capital gains realized by individuals and families on most types of investments.
If you were in the 28 percent marginal tax bracket and sold a stock at a $1,000 profit, the federal income tax you would owe on that gain would be $140, instead of the $280 you would owe under current law.
That's an extremely simplified example. The proportionate size of the cuts for upper-income investors would be less, for instance, since they now already enjoy the benefit of a cap at 28 percent on long-term capital gains rates.
Then there is the question of the effective date. The House proposal would be retroactive to Jan. 1 of this year.
But the Senate, which takes its turn next, will be considering its own, different proposals.
"Some form of capital gains tax reduction is likely to be passed by the Senate," says CCH Inc., a firm that tracks tax developments. "However, watch out for a change in the effective date in the Senate."
Once the Senate agrees on its version, further negotiation can be expected between the two legislative bodies and with President Clinton, whose eventual signature would make the final measure law. Merrill Lynch & Co. estimates that the process will extend to late summer or early fall.
That's just too far off, most experts agree, to allow anyone to project for certain the specifics of any final plan.
Even if you could do that, you might only confuse yourself. Consider, for instance, that a capital gains tax cut wouldn't provide any benefit for individual retirement accounts, employer-sponsored 401 plans and other tax-deferred retirement savings programs.
In these arrangements, no taxes are due until you begin withdrawing from a plan, at which point all income is treated the same, however you earned it.
Given the absence of a capital gains break in IRAs and 401 , you might conclude that stocks, mutual funds and similar assets were not so well suited for those accounts any more.
Yet those are precisely the investment choices most advisers recommend for long-term retirement saving.
The past two decades have been marked by an almost nonstop debate over tax changes, and the enactment of too many tax "reform" measures to count. On the basis of that record, any investor who waits for the tax outlook to become clear before adopting a strategy may never take any action at all.