While you might assume any mutual fund investor should use Quicken’s mutual fund record-keeping tools, that isn’t the case. Because investment record keeping, including mutual fund record keeping, requires significant work and involves complexity, you need to make sure the effort is worth it.
In general, you keep investment records for any of the following reasons:
Reason 1: You want to track interest and dividend income.
Reason 2: You want to track realized and unrealized capital gains and losses.
Reason 3: You want to measure or grade the profitability of an investment by calculating its annual return or yield.
Obviously, all three of the tasks in the preceding list sound worthwhile, but many investors won’t need to use Quicken’s record-keeping tools to get this sort of information.
Tracking Investment Income
If your investing is done using tax-deferred accounts, such as individual retirement accounts, 401(k)s, and other similar investment containers, you don’t need to track the investment’s income. The income from tax-deferred investments stored is not currently taxable. The money you contribute to one of these tax-deferred accounts can be counted as a deduction when the money is transferred into the account. Any money you ultimately withdraw from one of these accounts can be counted as income when you move money out of the account and into your regular checking account.
For example, if you contribute money to an individual retirement account by writing a check on your regular bank account, you can categorize the check as “IRA contribution” when you write the check. This categorization lets you easily track the IRA contribution deduction you will need to report on your tax return. Similarly, if you withdraw money from an IRA account, all you need to do is categorize the deposit as IRA income. This lets you keep track of the IRA withdrawals you will also need to report on your tax return.
Tracking Capital Gains
As mentioned earlier, realized and unrealized capital gains are often the second reason for using Quicken for investment record keeping. In the case of a regular taxable investment account, any time you buy and then later sell an investment, you experience a capital gain or loss that needs to be reported on your tax return. Because capital gains and losses are important for your tax return, when you keep records of taxable investments you want to track these items. You even want to track potential, or unrealized, capital gains and losses.
However, while tracking unrealized and realized capital gains and losses is important for taxable investment accounts, you don’t need to do this for tax-deferred investment accounts like individual retirement accounts and 401(k) accounts. The reason is simple. For tax-deferred investment accounts, gains and losses aren’t taxable. Just as is the case with investment income, inside a tax-deferred investment account, gains and losses have no effect on taxable income. Again, the only tax effect comes from money you move into and out of the account. In general, money you move into the account is a deduction for purposes of calculating your taxable income. Money you move out of your account is an income amount for purposes of calculating your income tax return.
The general rule described in the preceding paragraph—that money moved into and out of a tax-deferred investment account is what produces a tax deduction or taxable income amount—is true. However, predictably, some tax-deferred investment accounts don’t work this way.
There are, for example, nondeductible IRA and Roth IRA accounts. A nondeductible IRA account doesn’t give the taxpayer a deduction merely for moving Quicken into the account. Also, a Roth IRA account doesn’t actually produce any taxable income just because you move Quicken out of the account.
The primary benefit of a Roth IRA is that you get to withdraw money from the IRA without including the withdrawal on your tax return. However, in spite of the fact that money moved into certain types of IRAs or out of certain types of IRAs doesn’t trigger a tax deduction or taxable income, the general rules described here still apply. Even for nondeductible IRAs or Roth IRAs, you don’t need to track investment income, dividend income, capital gains, and capital losses for tax record-keeping using Quicken.
Measuring Investment Performance
As identified earlier, the third reason for investment record keeping concerns investment performance measurement. In general, one of the things you want to do when you become serious about your investing is calculate how good or how bad an investment performs. Complete and accurate investment records force you to honestly evaluate your investing.
One of the ways you measure investment performance is by calculating the annual return, or yield, produced by the investment. For example, if you buy a stock for $12 a share and later sell it for $18 a share, you should calculate the annual return on the stock.
An annual return, or yield, resembles an interest rate. By comparing the return a stock earns to the return provided by other investments, you gain a frame of reference and get a better idea of whether a particular investment makes sense.
While calculating returns obviously makes sense, note that one of the tasks your mutual funds management company does is calculate annual returns. Therefore, you don’t need to duplicate this effort. In effect, one of the services you are already paying the mutual funds management company for is the calculation of this important performance measure.
Mutual fund management companies calculate returns on an annual basis—typically using the calendar year as the period for which returns are calculated. Your investment holding period may not match the period for which the return was calculated. For example, if you hold an investment for one year but your year runs from July 1 to June 30, a return measure provided by the mutual fund company may not be useful if the return is from January 1 to December 31. Nevertheless, if you use the prudent mutual fund investment strategy—which is simply to invest for longer periods, to buy and then hold—the mutual fund management company’s performance measurements do give you the information you need.