Series 54 Deadline Extended to November 30 Pending SEC Approval

If the SEC approves the request, principals at municipal advisor firms must pass the Series 54 exam by November 30, 2021, to continue acting as principals. Continue reading

As we covered in a previous blog post on the Solomon Industry News Blog, the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (MSRB) had announced plans to push back the deadline for municipal advisor principals to take the new Series 54 exam. However, the MSRB did not say how much of an extension they intended to give.

Now we know. On September 2, the MSRB filed a request with the SEC to extend the Series 54 deadline from November 12 to November 30.

The SEC must still approve the extension before it becomes official.

Read the full MSRB notice here.

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November 12 deadline for MSRB Series 54 Municipal Advisor Principal Exam

Principals at municipal advisor firms must pass the Series 54 exam by November 12, 2021, to continue acting as principals. Continue reading

When the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (MSRB) created an exam specifically for principals at municipal advisor (MA) firms, the plan was for all MA principals to take it within a year.

The exam, known as the Series 54, was first made available on November 12, 2019. The MSRB required that all MA principals who wanted to continue acting as principals would have to pass the Series 54 by November 12, 2020.

But like many plans in 2020, the MSRB’s plan for the Series 54 was disrupted by Covid-19. With FINRA testing centers shut down for months, and uncertainty regarding when testing would resume, the MSRB added a one-year grace period to its original deadline. MA principals would now have until November 12, 2021, to pass the Series 54 exam.

The regulator recently reminded MA firms that “those who engage in the management, direction or supervision of…municipal advisory activities” will need to pass the Series 54 on or before November 12.

UPDATE: On August 11, the MSRB announced that it would seek SEC approval for an additional extension. The MSRB did not say how long the planned extension would be, but the regulator plans to announce this by September 10. The MSRB also announced an “interim accommodation” allowing those who need to take the Series 54 exam online to do so. Details about how to apply for this accommodation will be posted on MSRB.org no later than August 20.

UPDATE: On September 2, the MSRB announced that it has filed a request with the SEC to extend the Series 54 deadline from November 12 to November 30, 2021. View the blog post about this announcement here.   

What is a Municipal Advisor?

A municipal advisor, or MA, differs from a municipal securities dealer in that an MA does not underwrite and sell municipal securities. Instead, an MA gives advice about structuring an issue of municipal securities, selecting an underwriter, investing the proceeds, and related matters. Unlike a municipal securities dealer, an MA is the municipality’s fiduciary, which means that the MA must put the municipality’s interests before its own. MAs became regulated in a manner like municipal securities dealers as one of the reforms resulting from the 2008 financial crisis.

When MAs first came under the MSRB’s jurisdiction, the MSRB only had one qualification exam for MA personnel: the Series 50, which is taken by representatives and principals alike. During the grace period, principals who have only passed the 50 have been allowed to continue as principals. After the deadline, MA principals will need to have passed both the Series 50 and the Series 54.

Solomon Exam Prep has helped hundreds pass the Series 50 and Series 54 exams.

Solomon offers an innovative suite of exam prep products for the Series 54 to help you pass this difficult test, plus a step-by-step study schedule to tell you how to do it. Choose from an easy-to-understand Study Guide, an Exam Simulator with hundreds of relevant practice questions and detailed rationales, and a Video Lecture to help you learn and highlight the most critical information for the exam.

Solomon recommends at least 40 hours of studying to give yourself the best chance at passing this challenging principal exam.

Do yourself a favor and start studying well before the deadline, and let Solomon help you on your road to success! Explore Solomon’s Series 54 study materials by clicking the link below.

Curious about the Solomon Learning System? Watch the video overview!

Watch the latest Solomon Exam Prep video for a complete look at the Solomon learning system and what it offers students and firms. Continue reading

Solomon Exam Prep has helped thousands of financial professionals pass their FINRA, NASAA, MSRB, and NFA licensing exams. Watch the video for a complete look at the Solomon learning system and what it offers students and firms.

To explore Solomon Exam Prep study materials for 21 different securities licensing exams, including the SIE and the Series 3, 6, 7, 14, 22, 24, 26, 27, 28, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 63, 65, 66, 79, 82, and 99, visit the Solomon website.

Simplifying After-Tax and Tax-Equivalent Yields

For many when choosing bonds the most important factor is the tax implications. Knowing the after-tax yield and tax-equivalent yield calculations is critical. Continue reading

Bonds can be nice, reliable investments. Pay some money to an issuing company or municipality, receive interest payments twice a year, and then get all of your original investment back sometime down the road. Sounds like a plan.

But which bonds are best for a specific investor? There are many factors for bond investors to consider when choosing which bond to buy, but for many the most important is the tax implications of investing in one bond instead of another. This concern is most prominent when an investor compares a corporate bond to a municipal bond. For reference, a corporate bond is one issued by a corporation or business, while a municipal bond is one issued by a state, city, or municipal agency.

Comparing the tax implications of these bonds is important because the interest payments that investors receive from municipal bonds are typically not taxed at the federal level. Conversely, interest payments on all corporate bonds are subject to federal taxation. This means that someone in the 32% tax bracket will have to give Uncle Sam 32% of his interest received from a corporate bond, while he will not give up any of his interest received from a municipal bond. Additionally, an investor does not pay state taxes on municipal bond interest if the bond is issued in the state in which the investor lives. Corporate bond interest, on the other hand, is always subject to state tax.

  • interest payments taxed federally
  • interest payments subject to state tax
  • interest payments not federally taxed
  • interest payments not taxed by state if issued in state local to investor

For these reasons, when comparing a corporate bond to a municipal bond, understanding the after-tax yield and the tax-equivalent or corporate-equivalent yield is essential. This is true both for investors and for those who will be taking many of the FINRA, NASAA, and MSRB exams. So let’s look at how to calculate those yields.

After-Tax Yield

First the after-tax yield. The after-tax yield tells you the amount of a corporate bond’s annual interest payment that an investor will take home after accounting for taxes he will be assessed on that interest. Once that amount is known, the investor can compare it to the yield he would receive from a specific municipal bond and see which potential investment would put more money in his pocket. When calculating the after-tax yield, start with the annual interest percentage (a.k.a. coupon percentage) of the corporate bond, which represents the percent of the bond’s par value that an investor receives each year in interest. For instance, a corporate bond that has a $1,000 par value and an interest rate of 8% will pay an investor $80 dollars in annual interest ($1,000 x 0.08 = $80). You then multiply the coupon percentage by 1 minus the taxes an investor will pay on the corporate bond that he will not pay on the municipal bond that he is considering.

This is where it sometimes gets tricky. What taxes will an investor not pay when investing in a municipal bond that he will pay when investing in a corporate bond? Remember that for just about all municipal bonds, investors do not pay federal tax on interest received.

The formula for after tax yield is:

After-tax yield = Corporate Bond Annual Interest Rate x
( 1 – Taxes Investor Does Not Pay By Investing in Municipal Bond)

On the other hand, an investor always pays federal taxes on interest received from a corporate bond. Additionally, an investor does not pay state taxes on interest payments from a municipal bond issued in the state in which the investor lives.

On the other hand, an investor always pays state taxes on interest received from corporate bonds. So if you see an exam question in which you need to calculate the after-tax yield of a corporate bond to compare it the yield on a municipal bond, you will always subtract the investor’s federal income tax rate from 1 in the equation. You will also subtract the investor’s state tax rate from 1 if the municipal bond is issued in the investor’s state of residence.

Seems simple, right? Here’s a question to provide context:

Marilyn is a resident of Kentucky. She is considering a bond issued by XYZ Corporation. The bond comes with a 7% annual interest rate. Marilyn is also interested in purchasing municipal bonds issued in Ohio. If Marilyn has a federal tax rate of 28% and Kentucky’s state tax rate is 4%, what is the after-tax yield on XYZ’s bond?

To answer this question, begin with the interest rate on the XYZ bond, which is 7%. Then subtract from 1 the taxes Marilyn will not pay if she invests in the municipal bond in question. She will not pay federal taxes on the municipal bond interest, so you would subtract 28%, or .28. However, because Marilyn is a resident of Kentucky and the municipal bonds she is considering are issued in Ohio, she will pay state taxes on the bond. That means you would not subtract her state tax rate (0.04) from 1. After subtracting .28 from 1 to get 0.72, you multiply that amount by the 7% coupon payment. Doing so gives you a value of 5.04 (7 x 0.72 = 5.04%). This means that the interest amount she would take home from the XYZ bond would be equivalent to what she would receive from a municipal bond issued in Ohio that has a 5.04% interest payment. If she can get a bond issued in Ohio that has a higher interest payment than 5.04%, she would take home more money in annual interest payments than she would from the XYZ bond.

Tax-Equivalent Yield

The second approach an investor can take to compare how a potential bond investment will be affected by taxation is to calculate the tax-equivalent yield (TEY). This calculation is also known as the corporate-equivalent yield (CEY). The TEY/CEY measures the yield that a corporate bond will have to pay to be equivalent to a given municipal bond after accounting for taxes due. To calculate this yield, you take the annual interest of the given municipal bond and divide it by 1 minus the taxes the investor will not pay if she invests in the municipal bond that she would pay if she invested in a corporate bond.

Here’s the formula for tax-equivalent yield:

Tax-equivalent yield = Municipal Bond Annual Interest Rate /
(1 – Taxes Investor Does Not Pay By Investing in Municipal Bond)

When determining what tax rates to subtract from 1 in the denominator, the same principal as described above applies. That is, the investor will not have to pay federal tax on the municipal bond, so her federal rate is always subtracted from 1. The investor will also not have to pay state tax on the bond if it is issued in the state in which she lives. If that is the case, the investor’s state tax rate should also be subtracted from 1. However, if the investor lives in a different state than the state in which the bond is issued, she will have to pay state taxes on the interest payments. In that case, her state tax rate would not be subtracted from 1.

Here’s another question to provide context.

Franz, a resident of Michigan, has purchased a Michigan municipal bond that pays 4% annual interest. If his federal tax bracket is 30% and the Michigan state tax rate is 4%, what interest rate would he need to receive on a corporate bond to have a comparable rate after accounting for taxes owed?

To answer this question, begin with the interest rate on the Michigan municipal bond, which is 4%. Then subtract from 1 the taxes that Franz will not pay on that bond that he would pay if he invested in a corporate bond. He wouldn’t pay federal taxes on the municipal bond interest, so you would subtract 0.30 from 1. Additionally, since the bond is issued in Michigan and he is a Michigan resident, Franz will not pay state taxes on the bond. So you subtract Michigan’s state tax rate of 4%, or 0.04, from 1 as well. After subtracting 0.30 and 0.04 from 1 to get 0.66, you divide that number into the 4% municipal bond annual interest. Doing so gives a value of 6.06 (4 / 0.66 = 6.06). This means Franz would need to find a corporate bond that pays 6.06% in annual interest to match the amount of interest he will take home annually from the Michigan municipal bond after accounting for taxes.

Many people are confused by the concepts of the after-tax and tax-equivalent yields. But you don’t have to be one of them. Just follow this simple approach and any questions you see on this topic will not be overly taxing.

Mastering these equations will help you succeed in passing the Series 6, Series 7, Series 50, Series 52, Series 65, Series 66, and Series 82.

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FINRA delays Online Testing Service

It was previously announced that FINRA and NASAA had been working to introduce an online testing service as an alternative to candidates taking their exam at traditional test centers, to be launched Continue reading

It was previously announced that FINRA and NASAA had been working to introduce an online testing service as an alternative to candidates taking their exam at traditional test centers, to be launched on May 24th.

FINRA has now announced that this service, which is currently in its pilot phase, requires further validation before it can be implemented and therefore will not be launched on May 24th as planned. This also means that there will be a delay in booking appointment times for the five exams that will be included in its initial launch, including the SIE, Series 6, Series 7, Series 63, and Series 66 exams.

FINRA has also updated policies for test candidates, extending enrollment windows that have either expired, or are due to expire between March 16th and June 30th, 2020. This includes all FINRA, NASAA and MSRB exam enrollment dates, with affected enrollment windows being systematically updated in CRD.

Prometric will continue to reopen test centers in accordance with local, state and federal regulations. You can check their Site Openings page, which is continually being updated. You can also read more about the Prometric policies to ensure candidate safety on their Covid-19 Update page.

If your Solomon Exam Prep materials are due to expire before June 1st, contact Customer Service on 503 601 0212 or by email at info@solomonexamprep.com for a complimentary extension until August 1st.

Series 54 Pilot: Solomon Voyage to Municipal Advisor Principal Exam

Solomon Exam Prep is excited to launch the first study guide to the new MSRB Series 54 Municipal Advisor exam.  Continue reading

Solomon Exam Prep is excited to launch the first study guide to the new MSRB Series 54 Municipal Advisor exam. 

According to Jeremy Solomon, president of Solomon Exam Prep, the Series 54 is a new qualifying exam for individuals who supervise or manage the municipal advisory activities of a municipal advisor firm and its associated persons. Individuals interested in taking the Series 54 pilot exam must have passed the Series 50 Municipal Advisor exam.

According to the MSRB, the permanent Series 54 exam will be available in late 2019, at which time individuals functioning in a municipal advisor principal capacity will have one year to take and pass the permanent Series 54. Anyone who passes the pilot Series 54 will qualify as a municipal advisor principal and will not have to take the permanent Series 54.

The Solomon Exam Prep Guide to the Series 54 covers the three functions on the exam:

  • Understanding the Municipal Advisor Regulatory Framework
  • Supervising Municipal Advisory Activities
  • Supervising Municipal Advisor Firm Operations

Enrollment is between March 4-15, 2019 via FINRA’s Test Enrollment Services System.  

Anyone who misses the enrollment period might be “left behind” and not be able to join in this historic municipal securities exam pilot mission!

The Series 54 Exam Is Coming …

The Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (MSRB) has received approval from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to amend MSRB Rule G-3, on professional qualification requirements, to establish a qualification exam for municipal advisor professionals who act in a principal capacity at their firms. Continue reading

The Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (MSRB) has received approval from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to amend MSRB Rule G-3, on professional qualification requirements, to establish a qualification exam for municipal advisor professionals who act in a principal capacity at their firms. The MSRB says it will “pilot” the Municipal Advisor Principal Qualification Examination (Series 54) from February 2019 through June 2019. Any municipal advisor principal may take the pilot Series 54 examination during the pilot period and if that individual achieves a passing score or better, the individual will be considered qualified as a municipal advisor principal when the MSRB permanently establishes the Series 54 in the fall of 2019. Go to SolomonExamPrep.Com to be notified when Solomon Exam Prep’s Series 54 Exam Study materials are launched.

November Study Question of the Month

Submit your answer to info@solomonexamprep.com to be entered to win a $10 Starbucks gift card. Continue reading

Submit your answer to info@solomonexamprep.com to be entered to win a $10 Starbucks gift card.

Question

Relevant to the Series 50Series 51, Series 52, and Series 53.

 

 

 

 

 

A municipal finance professional decides to donate his time to a municipal official’s campaign. He donates his time outside of work hours. Which of the following is true?
 
A. This would not be considered a contribution under G-37, and would not need to be disclosed and would not trigger the ban
B. This is considered a contribution that will need to be reported and may trigger the ban
C. This will need to be disclosed by the dealer, but it would not trigger the ban

D. This is considered a contribution that may trigger the ban, but will not need to be reported

Answer: A. An employee of a dealer generally can donate his or her time to a municipal official’s campaign without it being considered a contribution to the official, as long as the employee is volunteering his or her time during non-work hours, or is using previously accrued vacation time or the dealer is not otherwise paying the employee’s salary (e.g., an unpaid leave of absence). Because the volunteering takes place outside of work hours, it would not be considered a contribution and will not trigger the ban or need to be disclosed.

Tax Changes and Securities Licensing Exams

If you’re studying for a FINRA, NASAA or MSRB securities licensing exam such as the Series 6, Series 7, Series 65, Series 66, Series 50, Series 52, Series 79, Series 82 or Series 99, and you’re wondering how the sweeping tax overhaul might affect your exam and your studying, have no fear, the Solomon Exam Prep team is hard at work figuring out what the changes might mean for securities exam-takers. Continue reading

If you’re studying for a FINRA, NASAA or MSRB securities licensing exam such as the Series 6, Series 7, Series 65, Series 66, Series 50, Series 52, Series 79, Series 82 or Series 99, and you’re wondering how the sweeping tax overhaul might affect your exam and your studying, have no fear, the Solomon Exam Prep team is hard at work figuring out what the changes might mean for securities exam-takers. Regulators and exam committees have yet to weigh in, so what follows is just a first pass at the tax reform law that might be of particular interest to Solomon securities exam-takers:

Investment management fees

The new tax law eliminated a bunch of deductions that had been grouped together as “miscellaneous itemized deductions.” This includes deductions for unreimbursed employee expenses, union dues, legal expenses, and tax preparation, all of which are now gone. The biggest loss for investment advisers is that customers may no longer deduct their fees.

The loss of these deductions only applies to individuals. Businesses (including sole proprietorships) will still be able to deduct fees for investment advice. Individuals would have been less likely to use the deduction anyway, since the increase in the standard deduction makes itemizing less attractive.

The pass-through deduction

There is a new 20% deduction for people who get their income through a “pass-through entity” like a partnership, LLC, or S corporation. But not all pass-through income gets the deduction. This is one of the more complex provisions in the new law. A major limitation is that the deduction begins phasing out after $157,500 for certain “service trades or businesses,” defined as “any trade or business where the principal asset of such trade or business is the reputation or skill of 1 or more of its employees or owners.” Financial and brokerage services are specifically named as among the businesses in this category.

Benefits to REITs

REITs are pass-through entities, and income from REIT dividends gets the pass-through deduction, while avoiding the cap for income from service trades or businesses. The portion of a REIT’s dividends that comes from capital gains on the REIT’s property is specifically excluded from the new deduction. However, as a capital gain this portion is taxed at a lower rate to begin with.

REITs were also given the ability to opt out of a provision of the new law that could have hindered them. Most businesses must now accept a cap on the amount they can deduct for interest on their debt. A REIT can choose not to be subject to this limitation, if it also agrees to deduct depreciation on its real estate at a slower rate.

Advance refundings no longer tax-exempt

Under the new law, bonds issued for the purpose of “advance refunding” are never tax-exempt, not even for government bonds. Advance refunding is when the bond issuer wants to take advantage of lower interest rates by selling new bonds to pay off old bonds. If the old bonds are more than 90 days from maturity, this practice is considered advance refunding and the new bonds lose their tax-exempt status.

New income tax brackets for estates and trusts

The new law doubles the threshold before the estate tax kicks in, from $5.6 million to $11.2 million.

Estates and trusts also got lower tax rates and new tax brackets along with other types of taxpayers, as follows:

Old New
Income Rate
Up to $1,500 15%
$1,501 – $3,500 28%
$3,501 – $5,500 31%
$5,501 – $7,500 36%
$7,501 + 39.6%
Income Rate
Up to $2,550 10%
$2,551 – $9,150 24%
$9,151 – $12,500 35%
$12,501 + 37%

 

In addition, disability trusts still get the personal exemption that was eliminated for individuals.

Fewer taxpayers subject to alternative minimum tax

The alternative minimum tax (AMT) is designed to make sure wealthy taxpayers don’t reduce their taxes beyond a certain amount. Under the old law, individual taxpayers had to have an income of $54,300 for singles or $84,500 for married couples before they needed to worry about the AMT. Those amounts were raised to $70,300 for singles and $109,400 for married couples.

The AMT for corporations has been eliminated entirely.

Changes for special savings plans

The bill included several changes to IRAs, 401(k)s, and 529s. For example, converting a traditional IRA into a Roth IRA no longer comes with the option to change your mind and convert back within a limited period of time. People who lose or leave a job with an outstanding 401(k) loan now have longer to pay it back. 529 accounts can now be used for elementary and secondary school expenses, up to a limit of $10,000.

What didn’t make it into the final bill

The final version of the bill passed on December 20th. When you search for information about it, you should pay close attention to when that information was published or posted.

For example, at one point the bill included a proposed FIFO (first-in, first-out) rule, which said that when selling part of your stock in a company you have to sell the oldest shares first. Since the oldest shares have probably gained the most value, you would have owed more capital gains tax, at least in the short term.

However, the FIFO rule was dropped from the final version of the bill. You may have also read about a major reduction in the annual contribution limits for 401(k)s, or a proposal to remove the tax-exempt status of private activity bonds. Neither made it into the final bill.

This process is not over. Although the ink has dried on the legislation itself, the situation is still developing with regard to how the law will actually be applied in practice and how it will affect your licensing exam. Count on Solomon Exam Prep to be there with the most up-to-date information as it relates to FINRA, NASAA and MSRB securities licensing exams.

A Year in Review: MSRB Changes

Perhaps it’s the changing leaves or the nostalgic smell of pumpkin pie wafting through the office, but this fall has Solomon Exam Prep reflecting on the past year. Continue reading

Perhaps it’s the changing leaves or the nostalgic smell of pumpkin pie wafting through the office, but this fall has Solomon Exam Prep reflecting on the past year.

In particular, we’d like to look back on the MSRB’s launch of the Municipal Advisor Representative Qualification Exam—commonly known as the Series 50 exam. The MSRB officially launched this exam in 2016, but the exam wasn’t mandatory for municipal advisors until September 12, 2017.

The first exam of its kind and a huge success, the MSRB reports that more than 3,000 individuals passed the Series 50 exam before the September 12 deadline—and over 22% of those new municipal advisors used Solomon Exam Prep to study and pass their Series 50 exam.

The MSRB still has big plans coming down the line. The municipal securities regulator intends to launch the brand new Municipal Advisor Principal Exam (Series 54) in 2019.  And when it does, like with the Series 50, Solomon Exam Prep will be ready with another robust study program to help individuals pass this new municipal supervisory exam quickly and painlessly.

If you’d like a free consultation with Solomon about your firm’s licensing and registration program or you’d like to set one up, please call us at 503-601-0212 or email Jeremy@SolomonExamPrep.Com.

In the meantime, Solomon Exam Prep would like to extend a congratulations to the 3,000 and counting municipal advisors who passed the Series 50 this past year. Treat yourself to a slice of pumpkin pie.