"Money is the root of all evil" is the first suggestion Google makes when searching about money. This is reflected in a lot of people's attitudes about money. While money is indispensable in the modern economy, we often feel a bit of disgust or shame about accumulating it and spending it on ourselves. It does not have to be this way! Beyond just living off of the profits from your hard work, there are plenty of ways to use your money as a force for good in this world. Here, we will briefly look at three ways, and hopefully I will expand those into longer posts later.
You can just give it away:
- If your money really disgusts you, or if you just know of someone who needs the money more than you, you can always just give it away. Each U.S. taxpayer can give $14,000 to each other without running into any gift tax issues. (If you're interested in going overboard, the giver has to pay the taxes.) There are a lot of uses in estate planning here. If you are thinking of giving to your children or grandchildren, just giving cash is the most advantageous way to do it with no strings attached.
You can give it away and collect some great benefits for yourself:
- If you don't just want to give unrestricted cash to a child or grandchild, consider a college savings account. Each state runs a 529 plan with possible tax benefits within that state.
- Give to charity - with more control. A Donor Advised Fund is an account you can set up which acts like your own personal charitable foundation. You can donate cash, appreciated stock or other assets for an immediate tax deduction. From there, you can grant money to a regular charity at any time. This is useful for taking advantage of the tax break before actually planning who and when to donate it. If you have a stock with a large capital gain, you can transfer it to the account, get the full amount as a tax deduction and not have to recognize the gain either. This could be a huge tax benefit!
You can invest it in responsible companies or projects who will provide you with a return while they make a positive impact in the world:
- Sustainable and Responsible Investing is attracting a lot more attention and money these days. Sustainability and Responsibility may form part of the core thesis of your investments, and you can generally expect similar returns investing this way as you can expect conventionally. You can either pick stocks and bonds yourself or you can invest through a fund. My main caution with investing through a fund is making sure that your actual beliefs and desires are accurately reflected in the fund management and portfolio. With a lot of investors and views to please, not everyone will be perfectly satisfied. That being said, there are now some really good options out there from both an investment standpoint and a sustainability standpoint.
- Some bonds are designed to finance noble causes. There are bonds that directly finance solar panel installation, microfinance, women and minority business support and many other socially responsible projects. These often have fixed terms and lower risk than an equity investment. You get to support the project and still earn a return on your money!
- Some credit unions also focus on financial education and anti-poverty practices that you can support just by opening a savings account!
- Some municipal bonds may be funding projects or government entities in your community you want to support. The interest payments are often tax exempt as well. Participating in a new offering directly lowers the cost of borrowing for the issuer. Be very careful here as these bonds can fund anything from bridges and schools to prisons and factories. Any broker or investment advisor should be able to tell you not only the terms and risk of the investment but the issuer and use of the proceeds to help you make a decision.
Keep in mind with each of these options there are a LOT of considerations to make. Consult your financial advisor as to what the implications here are. There are a variety of ways you can use your money for good and it may be refreshing to learn that you can do good with your money AND earn a decent return as well!
Not all of the investments are appropriate for all investors. This is only meant to give you some insight into the different ways you can use your money for good. As always, consult a trusted financial advisor before making any decisions on gifting, taxes or investing.