Under the Internal Revenue Code, expenses for investment management are tax deductible. Accordingly, taxpayers are permitted to deduct the typical assets-under-management (AUM) fee of an investment manager. However, financial planning fees not specifically attributable to investment management (or tax planning) are non-deductible, treated instead as a personal expense.
With the rise of wealth management, though, it is increasingly common for consumers to pay a single “bundled” AUM fee, that covers not only (deductible) investment management services, but also (non-deductible) financial planning as well. Which means technically, those clients should probably only be deducting a portion of the AUM fee, not the entire amount – at least, where the AUM fee covers a “material” amount of financial planning services. And the issue is especially concerning when it comes to retirement accounts like IRAs, where paying a personal financial planning fee with retirement assets could trigger a (taxable) deemed distribution, or at worst disqualify the entire IRA as a prohibited transaction!
Ultimately, the easiest solution to the problem – at least from a tax perspective – is simply to unbundle the financial planning and investment management fees. And in fact, unbundling is now required under new IRS regulations when it comes to the investment management vs administration and other fees for estates and trusts. Yet for some firms, unbundling fees can present other business challenges about communicating the value of their services.
Fortunately, the issue may not receive scrutiny anytime soon, given that many advisory firms with bundled fees are still charging the same as investment-only firms (implying the financial planning fees may not be "material" from a tax perspective). Nonetheless, as long as the tax treatment is different for financial planning versus investment management fees, advisors should at least be cautious about how those fees are characterized by clients, especially when extracted directly from an IRA!