aka … The Fiscal Cliff Deal Wake-Up Call
By Lon Jefferies MBA CFP®
Below is a brief summary of the major implications of the Taxpayer Relief Act that was passed by congress. The changes under the act are permanent and do not expire like the previous round of Bush tax cuts. Note, however, that laws can always be changed.
The Tax Increase That Will Impact Us All
As of December 31, 2012, the Payroll Tax Cut expired. The cut reduced the FICA tax rate by 2% in 2011 and 2012. Consequently, this Social Security tax rate will return to 6.2% for employees (as opposed to the 4.2% rate during the last two years). This tax will apply to any income below the Social Security Wage Base of $113,700.
Essentially, this change will cause an average taxpayer earning $50k per year to pay $1,000 more in federal taxes.
Income Tax Brackets
The top tax bracket will increase from 35% to 39.6% and will apply to individuals with taxable income in excess of $400k and married couples with incomes over $450k. No other changes were made to the federal income tax.
Income Tax Brackets
Taxpayers in the 10% or 15% or income tax bracket will continue paying 0% tax on long-term capital gains and dividends. A 15% capital gains and dividend tax will continue to apply to all other taxpayers not in the highest tax bracket (again, individuals with incomes above $400k and married couples with incomes above $450k). For taxpayers in the top tax bracket, the capital gains and dividend tax effectually rises to 23.8% – consisting of 20% for capital gains or dividends plus an additional 3.8% Medicare tax to boot.
Phaseout of Deductions and Exemptions
Total itemized deductions are reduced by 3% of any excess income over an established limit. That limit is adjusted gross income (AGI) of $250k for individuals and $300k for married couples. Personal exemptions are also phased out once AGI is above the same limits. The exemptions are reduced by 2% for each $2,500 of excess income over these limits.
While the top estate tax rate has been increased from 35% to 40%, individuals will continue to pay no taxes on estates less than $5,120,000. This figure will continue to rise with inflation. Note: couples essentially get two of these exemptions, allowing them to pass $10,240,000 to heirs without paying estate taxes.
Alternative Minimum Tax
The new AMT exemption amount will be $50,600 for individuals and $78,750 for married couples. These figures will be adjusted annually for inflation. Speak to an account to determine how this impacts your tax return.
Bonus – Potential 401k to Roth 401k Conversions
If your employer offers Roth 401k accounts, you can now convert your traditional 401k investments to the Roth plan while still employed. This process will be similar to converting a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA and taxes will be due upon conversion. However, your employer isn’t required to offer a Roth 401k, so speak to your employer’s HR department to determine if this is an option. Further, speak with your financial planner for information on whether this is a strategy you should explore.
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Filed under: Breaking News, Estate Planning, Financial Planning, Taxation Tagged: | adjusted gross income, AGI, Alternative Minimum Tax., estate tax, Explaining the Taxpayer Relief Act, FICA, income tax brackets, IRS, Lon Jefferies, Payroll Tax