Despite the passage of the American Tax Relief Act of 2012 – which its supporters argued would bring greater certainty to tax planning – many taxpayers have questions about the tax rates on qualified dividends and capital gains.
Before ATRA, the maximum tax rate on net capital gains and qualified dividends was 15 percent for taxpayers in the 25, 28, 33, or 35 percent individual income tax brackets (the 35 percent rate was the highest individual tax bracket before ATRA). For 2008 through 2012, taxpayers in the 10 and 15 percent individual income tax brackets enjoyed a zero percent tax rate on net capital gains and qualified dividends. Generally, the 15 and zero percent rates applied to long-term capital gains (resulting from the sale of an asset held for longer than one year) and qualified dividends (such as dividends received from a domestic corporation and certain foreign corporations).
Under ATRA, the 15 percent rate on net capital gains and qualified dividends is made permanent for taxpayers in the 25, 28, 33, or 35 percent individual income tax brackets. This treatment applies for 2013 and all subsequent years unless modified by Congress in the future. ATRA also made permanent the zero percent tax rate on net capital gains and qualified dividends for taxpayers in the 10 and 15 percent income tax brackets. This treatment applies for 2013 and all subsequent years unless modified by Congress.
Additionally, ATRA created a 20 percent tax rate on net capital gains and qualified dividends intended to apply to higher income taxpayers. The 20 percent tax rate applies to qualified capital gains and dividends of taxpayers subject to the revived 39.6 percent income tax bracket. Taxpayers are subject to the 39.6 percent income tax bracket to the extent their taxable income exceeds certain thresholds: $450,000 for married couples filing joint returns and surviving spouses, $425,000 for heads of households, $400,000 for single filers, and $225,000 for married couples filing separate returns. These threshold amounts are projected to be slightly higher in 2014 as indexed for inflation.
Collectibles and unrecaptured Code Sec. 1250 gain
The Tax Code has special tax rates for collectibles and unrecaptured Code. Sec. 1250 gain. These tax rates were not changed by ATRA or other legislation. A 28 percent tax rate applies to collectibles, and a 25 percent tax rate applies to unrecaptured Code Sec. 1250 gain.
Short-term capital gains
The tax rates are significantly different for short-term capital gains than for long-term capital gains. Short-term capital gains are taxed at ordinary income tax rates. This means that the tax rate on short-term capital gains can range from 10 percent to 39.6 percent, depending on the taxpayer’s situation. Income generated from non-capital assets are also subject to these rates.
Net investment income surtax
Unrelated to ATRA’s changes is a new 3.8 percent surtax imposed by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) on individuals, estates and trusts that have certain investment income above threshold amounts including $250,000 for married couples filing jointly and $200,000 for single filers. These amounts are not subject to an annual adjustment for inflation. The 3.8 percent surtax took effect January 1, 2013 and therefore will be reflected on 2013 returns filed in 2014.
Timing the recognition of capital gain and offsetting losses when possible can frequently lower overall tax liability. Year-end tax planning can be a particularly advantageous in this regard. If you have any questions about the capital gains and dividends tax rates, please contact our office at (908) 725-4414.