New Tax Rules To Watch Out For!

Here’s a quick rundown of what to expect starting January 1, when a bunch of current tax rules expire, and some new rules take effect. : The Bush tax cuts expire.

That means the top rates on ordinary income goes from 35% to 39.6%; the top rate on capital gains goes from 15% to 20%; and the top rate on qualified dividends jumps from 15% to 39.6%. Much of the debate over tax rates focuses on income at the top. But, the expiration of the Bush tax cuts affects all of us. The lowest 10% rate will disappear entirely, and everyone who actually pays income tax will pay more.

  1. the 2011-2012 payroll tax cuts expire, which means Social Security and self-employment taxes go up by 2% on all earned income up to $113,700. Two percent may not sound like a lot — but it means higher taxes for about 163 million working Americans.
  2. new taxes imposed by the 2010 “Obamacare” legislation take effect – the Medicare portion of Social Security and self-employment taxes goes up from 2.9% to 3.8% on earned income topping $200,000 ($250,000 for joint filers). And there’s a new 3.8% “Unearned Income Medicare Contribution” (which sounds so much better than “tax’) on “net investment income” (interest, dividends, capital gains, rents, royalties, and annuities) over those same amounts.
  3. the Alternative Minimum Tax exemptions revert back to where they stood in 2000. Under current law, those exemptions are not adjusted for inflation. So, every couple of years, Congress “patches” the system by temporarily raising the exemptions to where they would be if they were indexed for inflation. The AMT currently hits about 4½ million Americans – but without the “patch,” that number explodes to 33 million.

Oh, and do not think dying solves your tax problem. That is because estate taxes, which currently start at 45% on estates over $5 million, will jump to 55% on estates over just $1 million.

So, January 1 2013 is our fiscal cliff, and we’re hurtling towards it.  What can we do? Well, plenty of legislators have proposed extending part or all of the Bush tax cuts, extending the payroll tax cuts, patching the AMT, and raising the estate tax exemption. But actually passing anything will be a challenge — Congress has passed just 132 bills this year, and 20% of those were to name post offices!

The partisan gridlock has many observers convinced that we will actually go over that fiscal cliff. We may see Washington wait for the election results and pass something noncontroversial like the AMT patch before the end of the year. Then in 2013 they will pass legislation extending at least part of the Bush tax cuts and make it retroactive to January 1.

We, the Chicago Accountants want you to know that we are watching everything closely to help you make the most of your opportunities and avoid land mines where possible. And remember, we are here for your family, friends, and colleagues, too so give us a call: 773-728-1500

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The Cost of Reform – Medicare Tax

By now, of course, you’ve heard the news that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare.” The Court ruled that the controversial individual mandate is constitutional under the government’s power to tax, rather than its power to regulate commerce.

We’re not here to debate the merits of the Court’s decision. If that’s what you want, turn on any cable news network and you’ll find various assorted bloviators from both sides, bloviatingright now. (Try it. It’s fun!)

What we are here to discuss is how the Court’s decision affects your tax bill. That’s because the original legislation that the Court upheld makes care affordable in part by imposing several new taxes — in addition to the “tax” or “penalty” imposed by the individual mandate — that will now go into effect as already scheduled:

  • On January 1, 2013, the Medicare tax on earned income, currently set at 2.9%, jumps to 3.8% for individuals earning over $200,000 ($250,000 for joint filers, $125,000 for married individuals filing separately).
  • Also on January 1, there’s a new “Unearned Income Medicare Contribution” of 3.8% on investment income of those earning more than $200,000 for individuals or joint filers earning more than $250,000. (Doesn’t that sound better than “tax”?)
  • Beginning January 1, 2014, there’s a $2,500 cap on tax-free contributions to flexible spending accounts.
  • Also beginning January 1, 2014, employers with more than 50 employees face a penalty of $2,000 per employee for not offering health insurance to full-time employees.
  • Finally, the threshold for deducting medical and dental expenses rises from 7.5% of your adjusted gross income to 10%. You probably don’t get to deduct your out-of-pocket medical expenses anyway — but the new, higher threshold will just make it that much harder.

These new taxes raise new planning questions. How can we structure your investment portfolio to avoid the new “Unearned Income Medicare Contribution”? (Doesn’t that sound better than “tax”?) What role should flexible spending accounts play in your finances? Should we look at a Health Savings Account or Medical Expense Reimbursement Plan to write off newly-disallowed medical expenses?

And the new healthcare taxes aren’t the only challenge we face this Independence Day. We’re six months away from what some wags are calling “Taxmageddon.” On January 1, the Bush tax cuts are scheduled to expire. And the 2% payroll tax “holiday” expires as well. These mean higher taxes for everyone, not just “the 1%.” But with Washington geared up for elections, there’s little hope for quick or easy resolution.

Together, these new developments make for some real planning challenges. But when the going gets tough . . . the tough get going. So count on us to get going on today’s most pressing planning questions. And remember, we’re here for everyone just give us a call at: 773-728-1500.

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