Q&A: Weighing portfolio rebalancing costs

Dear Liz: I constantly read about the need to “rebalance” portfolios each year or more often to make sure you have a specific distribution of stocks, bonds and cash. However, selling stocks can create capital gains that will be taxed. An advisor rebalanced my portfolio and the result for me was an increase in capital gains taxes and an increase in my Medicare premiums. The extra taxes and costs to me seem to outweigh the benefit of hitting an exact asset target. Can extra taxes and Medicare costs be avoided while rebalancing?

Answer: Most of the advice about rebalancing is focused on people whose primary savings are in retirement accounts, where capital gains aren’t taxed.

Outside of retirement accounts, the costs of rebalancing must be weighed carefully. There often are ways to minimize capital gains taxes, such as selling losing stocks to offset winners, but in many cases the rebalancing should be done slowly, over time, to manage the fallout.

If your advisor didn’t discuss the tax and Medicare implications with you before taking this action, then it’s time to find another advisor.

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