Thursday, January 10, 2013

A Tax Planning Update

The "American Taxpayer Relief Act” prevents many of the tax hikes that were scheduled to go into effect this year and retains many favorable tax breaks that were scheduled to expire. Relief to high-income individuals is limited, albeit Congress raised the previously-anticipated threshold amount of where the highest tax rates and reductions of tax breaks kick in. Highlights of some key provisions of the Act follow:

Tax Rates.
For tax years beginning after 2012, the income tax rates for individuals will stay at 10%, 15%, 25%, 28%, 33% and 35% (instead of moving to 15%, 28%, 31%, 36% and 39.6% as would have occurred otherwise), but with a 39.6% rate applying for income above a certain threshold (specifically, income in excess of the "applicable threshold” over the dollar amount at which the 35% bracket begins). The applicable threshold is $450,000 for joint filers and surviving spouses; $425,000 for heads of household; $400,000 for single filers; and $225,000 (one-half of the otherwise applicable amount for joint filers) for married taxpayers filing separately. These dollar amounts are inflation-adjusted for tax years after 2013.
Personal Exemption Phaseout.
For tax years beginning after 2012, the Personal Exemption Phaseout (PEP), which had previously been suspended, is reinstated with a starting threshold for those making $300,000 for joint filers and a surviving spouse; $275,000 for heads of household; $250,000 for single filers; and $150,000 (one-half of the otherwise applicable amount for joint filers) for married taxpayers filing separately. Under the
phaseout, the total amount of exemptions that can be claimed by a taxpayer subject to the limitation is reduced by 2% for each $2,500 (or portion thereof) by which the taxpayer's AGI exceeds the applicable threshold. These dollar amounts are inflation-adjusted for tax years after 2013.
Itemized Deductions Phaseout.
For tax years beginning after 2012, the "Pease" limitation on itemized deductions, which had previously been suspended, is reinstated with a starting threshold for those making $300,000 for joint filers and a surviving spouse, $275,000 for heads of household, $250,000 for single filers, and $150,000 (one-half of the otherwise applicable amount for joint filers) for married taxpayers filing separately. Thus, for taxpayers subject to the "Pease” limitation, the total amount of their itemized deductions is reduced by 3% of the amount by which the taxpayer's adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeds the threshold amount, with the reduction not to exceed 80% of the otherwise allowable itemized deductions. These dollar
amounts are inflation-adjusted for tax years after 2013.
Capital Gain and Dividend Rates.
For tax years beginning after 2012, the top rate for capital gains and dividends will permanently rise to 20% (up from 15%) for taxpayers with incomes exceeding $400,000 ($450,000 for married taxpayers). When accounting for the 3.8% surtax on investment-type income and gains for tax years beginning after 2012, the overall rate for higher-income taxpayers will be 23.8%. For taxpayers whose ordinary income is generally taxed at a rate below 25%, capital gains and dividends will permanently be subject to a 0% rate. Taxpayers who are subject to a 25%-or-greater rate on ordinary income, but whose income levels fall below the $400,000/$450,000 thresholds, will continue to be subject to a 15% rate on capital gains and dividends. The rate will be 18.8% for those subject to the 3.8% surtax.
Estate & Gift Tax.
The Act prevents steep increases in estate, gift and generation-skipping transfer (GST) tax that were slated to occur for individuals dying and gifts made after 2012 by permanently keeping the exemption
level at $5,000,000 (as indexed for inflation). However, the Act also permanently increases the top estate, gift and rate from 35% to 40%. The Act also continues the portability feature that allows the estate of the first spouse to die to transfer his or her unused exclusion to the surviving spouse. All changes are effective for individuals dying and gifts made after 2012.