Six Mutual Fund Tax Tips

April 10, 2007

Morningstar lists six ways you can make your mutual fund portfolio more tax efficient by minimizing your taxable fund distributions. Tax-efficient funds are those that make very few or relatively small taxable payments to shareholders; some funds try to keep trading activity low (minimizing realized gains which have to be distributed), some watch the way they buy and sell securities in an effort to minimize the tax burden to their shareholders.

  1. Invest in Tax-Managed Funds - The managers of tax managed funds take special care to keep taxable distributions to a minimum. They generally don't do much trading, and attempt to "sell losing stocks to offset winners elsewhere in the portfolio." Tax managed funds mentioned in the article: Vanguard Tax-Managed Growth & Income (VTGIX), Vanguard Tax-Managed Balanced (VTMFX), and Eaton Vance Tax-Mgd Value A (EATVX).
  2. Look for Closet Tax-Managed Funds - Many funds, such as Oakmark Fund (OAKMX) and Third Avenue Value Fund (TAVFX) don't officially call themselves tax efficient, but have managers that try to keep taxes low.
  3. Don't Forget about Index Funds - Index funds track indexes such as the S&P 500, and the people that decide which stocks are included in such indexes don't add or remove stocks from them very often. Because these funds tend to have low turnover, they are generally very tax efficient.
  4. Think about ETFs - Most ETFs track indexes, just like index funds do, and hence have low turnover. Low turnover usually equals high tax efficiency. In addition, ETFs unique structure minimizes taxable gains that have to be distributed to shareholders.
  5. Make Other Investors' Losses Your Gain - Mutual funds that have had particularly bad performance periods (think tech funds in 2002), can 'carry forward' those losses and offset gains for years to come. This is one we particularly like because it also means you are probably making a contrarian investment – investing where others have just lost money.
  6. Houseclean Your Own Portfolio - If you're planning on dumping a fund that has posted a loss, selling before December 31st will allow you to use the loss as a tax deduction on that year's taxes.


Of course, the most tax-efficient funds are the ones that stink when you own them, because they never distribute profits (there are none!) and often generate nice tax losses when you sell them.

See also:

Ask MAX: Capital Gains Quickies

How Mutual Funds Work - Capital Gains