Asset Location vs Asset Allocation: Maximizing Tax Efficiency

Sean Sevey |

How can two identical portfolios have different outcomes? It’s a funny question but the answer lies in one factor: Taxes.

Investing is a dynamic process that involves making strategic decisions to optimize returns while managing risks. Two critical aspects of investment strategy are asset location and asset allocation. While often used interchangeably, these concepts play distinct roles in constructing a well-balanced and tax-efficient investment portfolio.

Asset Allocation:

Asset allocation refers to the strategic distribution of investments across different asset classes, such as stocks, bonds, and cash equivalents. The primary goal is to create a diversified portfolio that can withstand market volatility and achieve long-term financial objectives. Investors allocate assets based on their risk tolerance, investment horizon, and financial goals.

A well-thought-out asset allocation strategy can help investors achieve a balance between risk and return. For example, a younger investor with a longer time horizon may opt for a more aggressive allocation with a higher percentage of stocks, seeking higher potential returns. On the other hand, a conservative investor nearing retirement may prefer a more income-focused allocation with a higher percentage of bonds for capital preservation.

Asset Location:

Asset location, on the other hand, involves the placement of specific asset classes in taxable or tax-advantaged accounts to optimize tax efficiency. The goal is to minimize tax liabilities and enhance after-tax returns. Different asset classes have varying tax implications, and placing tax-inefficient investments in tax-advantaged accounts can lead to significant tax savings over time.

For instance, bonds generate interest income, which is taxed at ordinary income rates. Placing bonds in tax-advantaged accounts, such as Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs), can help defer taxes on interest income. In contrast, stocks may generate capital gains, which can benefit from preferential tax rates. Placing stocks in taxable accounts may allow investors to take advantage of lower long-term capital gains tax rates.

Utilizing Higher-Risk Assets in Roth IRAs:

Roth IRAs provide a unique opportunity to incorporate higher-risk assets into an investment strategy. Unlike traditional IRAs, contributions to Roth IRAs are made with after-tax dollars, and qualified withdrawals, including earnings, are tax-free. This tax advantage makes Roth IRAs an attractive vehicle for higher-risk investments with the potential for substantial growth.

Investors can consider allocating assets with higher growth potential, such as growth stocks or small-cap equities, within Roth IRAs. The tax-free nature of qualified withdrawals ensures that any capital gains or income generated within the Roth IRA are not subject to taxation, allowing for the compounding of returns over time.

Comparative Analysis:

While both asset allocation and asset location are crucial components of a comprehensive investment strategy, they serve different purposes. Asset allocation focuses on managing risk and return by diversifying across various asset classes, while asset location aims to optimize after-tax returns by strategically placing assets in taxable and tax-advantaged accounts.

It's essential to recognize that the effectiveness of each strategy depends on individual circumstances, including tax brackets, investment goals, and time horizons. Investors should carefully assess their unique financial situation and consider combining both asset allocation and asset location strategies to create a well-rounded and tax-efficient portfolio.


In conclusion, asset allocation and asset location are integral components of a successful investment strategy. While asset allocation aims to balance risk and return by diversifying across asset classes, asset location focuses on optimizing after-tax returns by strategically placing assets in taxable and tax-advantaged accounts. Both strategies are complementary and can work together to help investors achieve their financial objectives. A thoughtful and personalized approach that considers both asset allocation and asset location is crucial for maximizing returns while minimizing tax liabilities over the long term.

At Sevey Wealth, we implement Asset Location as a core component of a well-structured investment policy. We believe that tying investments to time horizons as well as focusing on the tax efficiency allows our clients to achieve better results, even if the underlying asset allocation is exactly the same.