What a President Trump might mean for your personal finances
Donald Trump became the presumptive Republican presidential nominee this week, casting a more serious light on the policy proposals he has put forth during the GOP contest. Here’s a quick look at how some of Trump’s economic ideas could broadly affect your finances should he prevail with both voters and Congress (keeping in mind that his plans are likely to evolve as he prepares further policy speeches and chooses his running mate).
Your purchasing power
The hefty tariffs on imports Trump has proposed include many goods we take for granted and don’t have the capacity to produce within our own borders, said Mark Hamrick, Washington bureau chief and senior economic analyst at Bankrate.com. “Certainly agricultural sources in Mexico, they either become more expensive or unavailable,” Hamrick said. “Good luck eating dandelion greens for four months of the year.”
The threat of a 35 percent tax on auto imports from Mexico troubles Sam Stovall, U.S. equity strategist for S&P Global Market Intelligence. “That’s certainly going to hurt, because basically everything is imported, either in U.S. or foreign-made cars,” he said. And tariffs often spark retaliation, affecting U.S. exports as well.
On the other hand, if the tough talk succeeds in wresting concessions from partners, it could improve our trading position, Stovall said.
If Trump’s tariffs were enacted, including a 45 percent levy on Chinese goods, it would badly damage the economy and cost a lot of jobs, said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. And if his tough immigration stance were put in place, Zandi warned, “it would be, to steal a phrase from him, a disaster.”
“If Trump could deport even a fraction of the 11 million immigrants, it would be very disruptive to business,” he said, creating a hole in an important sector of the labor force and removing a lot of consumers from the economy. “If he deported all 11 million, it could lead to a recession. It would be a mess.”
Repatriating foreign earnings and possibly enacting some corporate tax reform, as Trump has discussed, could bolster stocks and benefit investors. Companies have twice as much cash on their books as they did 10 years ago, Stovall noted, and a lot of it is overseas. If they get more favorable tax treatment in the U.S. and bring that money back, they “will have additional money with which to do dividends, do share buybacks, and it could help companies looking to build new plants and equipment.” That, he said, could bring “better performance of the shares of the companies that we’re invested in in our 401(k)s.”
But a repeal of the Affordable Care Act “would do nothing but throw the health-care industry into a tailspin,” Stovall said.
A recent change in the candidate’s views on the minimum wage would affect such industries as retail and restaurants. Trump said earlier that he would not raise the wage but now says he is “open to doing something” with it, though Stovall doesn’t think he would go as far as $15 an hour.
There really is something to the maxim that Wall Street dislikes uncertainty, said Hamrick. It weighs on financial markets and the performance of the economy. “That Trump is unpredictable is quite distasteful for many people trying to price in risk and opportunity,” he said. “Certain businesses are going to be cautious about making investments until they have a bit more clarity, and that includes clarity on how the leadership of the Congress is determined. There’s a lot of cash sloshing around in the system, but it’s not being put to work.”
If a business is booming, the uncertainly is less of a factor, he said. “If you’re a business on the margin, however, and wondering if you should take a risk, you might be more risk-averse.”
The Tax Policy Center, which analyzed Trump’s proposal to reduce marginal rates for individuals and businesses while boosting standard deductions, says the plan would provide an average tax cut of $1.3 million to the top 0.1 percent of earners. It could also mean $9.5 trillion less in federal revenue over its first decade, the Center figures. If huge spending cuts don’t come with it, the group said, it “could increase the national debt by nearly 80% of gross domestic product by 2036, offsetting some or all of the incentive effects of the tax cuts.”
The proposal is in flux, however. Trump told CBNC this week that “when you put out a tax plan, you are going to start negotiating.”
The smartest move you could make right now, amid the election year’s sound and fury, is simply to focus on building your financial future, said Kate Warne, investment strategist at Edward Jones. With so much uncertainty on both the domestic and foreign fronts, that means owning both bonds and stocks, especially international stocks while the dollar is strong, and diversifying both across and within asset classes.
And no matter what the candidates say, remember that the U.S. is running a budget deficit, so you need to prepare for the possibility of higher taxes, Warne said. Investing in tax-free municipal bonds and taking advantage of any tax-deferred accounts, such as IRAs and 401(k)s, is a great way to start.
In short, she advises, pay less attention to the political discourse and more to what you need to do now. Certainly don’t sit on the sidelines, she said. “Stocks don’t wait,” Warne said. “So you shouldn’t wait either.”