Vernoia, Enterline + Brewer, CPA LLC

Archive for the ‘Federal tax reform’ Category

PATH Act provides planning opportunities

PATH Act provides planning opportunities with permanent extensions of many tax incentives

After years of routine temporary extensions, Congress has made permanent a number of previously temporary tax breaks for individuals and businesses as well as extending others. The Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (PATH Act), signed into law by President Obama in December, opens the door to new planning opportunities. (more…)

Protecting Americans From Tax Hikes Act Of 2015

The House and Senate passed the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (PATH Act). President Obama is expected to sign the bill as soon as it reaches the White House. The Act does considerably more than the typical tax extenders legislation seen in prior years. The following are some, but not all, of the tax extenders included in the PATH Act: (more…)

IRS moves to end many automatic extensions for information returns

tax returnTo curb identity theft, new IRS regulations remove the automatic extension of time to file most forms in the W-2 series. Starting for 2016 information due in 2017, employers and other taxpayers will be allowed only a one-time 30 day non-automatic extension. Further, the IRS issued proposed regs to remove automatic extensions for many information returns outside the Form W-2 series. (more…)

President signs Highway Bill revising return due dates

President Obama signed the Surface Transportation and Veterans Health Care Choice Improvement Act of 2015 on July 31. The Act revises some important return due dates, overrules a Supreme Court tax decision, revises the employer shared responsibility requirements in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and includes other tax compliance measures.

Although the highway and transportation funding portion of the Act is temporary (Congress must come up with another funding bill by late October), the tax compliance measures are permanent. (more…)

Post-election Congress grapples with extenders

The results of the mid-term elections create a new dynamic in Congress with Republicans poised to take control of both the House and Senate in January. Prospects for tax reform may have brightened for 2015. In the meantime, the lame-duck Congress must deal with some urgent tax bills, most notably the tax extenders.

Expired tax breaks

As the 2015 filing season grows closer, lawmakers are under pressure to renew a package of expired tax incentives, known as tax extenders. There are more than 50 expired extenders that impact individuals and businesses. For individuals, some of the most far-reaching are the above-the-line deduction for higher education expenses, state and local sales tax deduction, mortgage debt forgiveness, deduction for mortgage insurance premiums, credit for energy improvements to personal residences, and the teachers’ classroom expense deduction. For businesses, the expired incentives include the research tax credit, special expensing rules for film and television productions, bonus depreciation, enhanced small business expensing, incentives to encourage production of wind energy and alternative fuels, and many more. All of these incentives expired after December 31, 2013. That means taxpayers cannot claim them on their 2014 returns filed in 2015 unless the incentives are extended.

Many Congressional staffers and Hill observers predict that lawmakers will renew the extenders in December. A vote could come in the House and Senate before December 20. A comprehensive extenders bill, the EXPIRE Act, is pending in the Senate. A similar bill, however, has not moved in the House. Instead, the House voted to extend some but not all of the extenders. Before year-end, the Senate could approve the EXPIRE Act and send the bill to the House. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that extending all of the expired provisions would cost $94 billion over two years (reflecting a retroactive extension to January 1, 2014 and an extension through the end of 2015). Our office will keep you posted of developments as tax filing season approaches.

The IRS has cautioned that the longer Congress waits to renew the extenders the greater the likelihood that the start of the 2015 filing season will be delayed. The IRS’s return processing systems are programmed for the current tax laws. The IRS must update its return processing systems for any changes that lawmakers make to the tax laws, such as renewing the extenders. Late legislation in the past has delayed the start of the filing season by around two weeks.

Looking ahead

When the new Congress meets in January, Republicans will have majorities in the House and in the Senate. GOP leaders have started to outline some of their priorities for 2015, including tax-related issues.

Tax reform. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., who will serve as chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, has indicated his interest in tax reform, but so far has not provided any details. Ryan’s counterpart in the Senate, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who will serve as chair of the Senate Finance Committee, has also expressed support for tax reform. President Obama repeated his proposal to reduce the corporate tax rate in exchange for the elimination of some unspecified business tax breaks. Whether any tax reform proposals will gain traction in 2015 is unclear.

Affordable Care Act. Shortly after the elections, Hatch said he will propose an alternative to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as well as bills to repeal parts of the ACA, such as the medical device excise tax. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, added that the GOP-controlled House will move to repeal the ACA in 2015.

Permanent extenders. Any renewal of the extenders will be temporary, carrying a likely expiration date of December 31, 2015. Lawmakers are expected to take a close look whether to make permanent some of the extenders and allow others to expire after 2015. Good candidates for a permanent extension are the state and local sales tax deduction, the higher education tuition deduction, enhanced small business expensing, and the research tax credit. One drawback, however, is the cost of making these incentives permanent. Many lawmakers will want to offset the cost. Negotiations over the long-term fate of the extenders are likely to be contentious as taxpayers seek to preserve their special tax breaks.

Corporate profits. In 2004, lawmakers agreed to a temporary repatriation tax holiday that allowed businesses to repatriate foreign profits at lower tax levels. Similar legislation is expected to be introduced in the new Congress. Again, negotiations will be intense as some lawmakers would seek to offset the cost of a repatriation tax holiday.

If you have any questions about the lame-duck Congress and the prospect for tax legislation in the new Congress, please contact our office. Keep in mind that as 2014 draws to a close, so does the time in which to make possible tax savings moves. Renewal of some or all of the extenders could impact your year-end tax planning.

Countdown to Supreme Court’s health care decision

After three days of oral arguments in March, the Supreme Court is deciding the fate of the Pension Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) and its companion law, the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act (HCERA).  Not only do the new laws impact health care, they contain numerous tax provisions, many of which have yet to take effect.  The Supreme Court may uphold the laws, strike them down in whole or in part, or decide that the case is premature.  The Supreme Court is expected to render its decision in June.  In the meantime, a quick checklist of the tax provisions in the two laws reveals how extensively they impact individuals, businesses and taxpayers of all types.


Congress passed, and President Obama signed, the PPACA and HCERA in 2010.  Almost immediately, several states and taxpayers challenged the laws in court.  The lawsuits generally argued that Congress had exceeded its authority by requiring individuals to obtain health insurance.

The cases made their way from federal district courts to the various federal courts of appeal, which reached different conclusions.  One circuit court invalidated the individual mandate; two circuit courts upheld the individual mandate and another circuit court dismissed the challenge on procedural grounds.

Supreme Court grants review

On November 14, 2011, the United States Supreme Court agreed to review the Eleventh Circuit Court’s decision in Florida v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  The Supreme Court stated it would examine four issues: (1) the Constitutionality of the individual mandate; (2) whether the individual mandate is severable from the PPACA; (3) whether the challenge to the individual mandate is barred by the Anti-Injunction Act; and (4) whether PPACA’s expansion of Medicaid exceeded Congress’s authority. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case on March 26-28 in Washington, D.C.

Individual mandate and penalty

The individual mandate generally requires individuals to maintain minimum essential coverage for themselves and their dependents after 2013. Individuals will be required to pay a penalty for each month of noncompliance, unless they are exempt (such as individuals covered by Medicaid and Medicare).  The PPACA also provides tax incentives to help individuals obtain minimum essential coverage.  Beginning in 2014, individuals with incomes within certain federal poverty thresholds may qualify for a refundable health insurance premium assistance tax credit.  The PPACA also provides for advance payment of the credit.

In Florida v. HHS, the Eleventh Circuit struck down the individual health insurance mandate but did not declare the entire PPACA unconstitutional.  In contrast, the Sixth Circuit held that the individual mandate was a valid exercise of Congress’ power to regulate commerce (Thomas More Law Center v. Obama).  The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit also upheld the individual mandate (Mead v. Holder).  The Supreme Court could find the entire PPACA unconstitutional or could find that the individual mandate is severable, thereby preserving other parts of the statute, including various tax provisions.

Tax provisions

While much attention has focused on the individual mandate, the Supreme Court may also decide the fate of many tax provisions in the PPACA and the HCERA. Among the tax provisions potentially affected by the Supreme Court’s decision are:

  • Code Sec. 45R small employer health insurance tax credit;
  • 3.8 percent Medicare contribution tax on unearned income for higher income taxpayers after 2012;
  • Additional 0.9 percent Medicare tax on wages and self-employment income of higher income taxpayers after 2012;
  • Increased itemized deduction for unreimbursed medical expenses after 2012;
  • Prohibition on over-the-counter medicines being eligible for health flexible spending arrangement (FSA), health reimbursement arrangement (HRA), health savings account (HSA), and Archer Medical Savings Account (MSA) dollars.
  • Additional tax on distributions from HSAs and Archer MSAs not used for qualified medical expenses;
  • Excise tax on high-dollar health plans after 2017;
  • Tax credit for therapeutic discovery projects;
  • Annual fees on manufacturers and importers of branded prescription drugs;
  • Reporting of employer-provided health coverage on Form W-2;
  • Codification of the economic substance doctrine.

Anti-Injunction Act

The Supreme Court could decide that the challenge to the PPACA is premature.  Under the Anti-Injunction Act, a taxpayer must wait to oppose a tax until after it is collected.  The PPACA’s individual mandate and its related penalty do not take effect until 2014.  The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the penalty amounted to a tax and taxpayers could not challenge the tax until it took effect (Liberty University v. Geithner).

If you have any questions about the tax provisions in the health care reform laws, please contact our office 908-725-4414. We will be following developments as they ensue after the Supreme Court issues its decision in June.

Retirement savings plans in tax reform

Proposals to reform retirement savings plans were highlighted during an April 2012 hearing by the House Ways and Means Committee.  Lawmakers were advised by many experts to move slowly on making changes to current retirement programs that might discourage employers from sponsoring plans for their workers.  Nevertheless, it is clear that Congress wants to make some bold moves in the retirement savings area of the tax law and that likely it will do so under the broader umbrella of general “tax reform.” While tax reform is gaining momentum, it is unlikely to produce any change in the tax laws until 2013 or 2014. Considering that retirement planning necessarily looks long-term into the future, however, now is not too soon to pay some attention to the proposals being discussed.


The Chief of Actuarial Issues and Director of Retirement Policy for the American Society of Pension Professionals and Actuaries testified that current federal tax incentives can transform taxable bonuses for business owners into retirement savings contributions that benefit both owners and employees. “This incentive for the business owner to contribute for other employees results in a distribution of tax benefit that is more progressive than the current income tax structure,” she observed.

An American Benefits Council representation warned at the hearing that the wisest course for lawmakers is to not enact new laws that would disrupt the success of the current system. Short-term retirement legislation designed to boost tax revenues generally do so by eliminating the existing savings incentives and eroding the amount that workers actually save.

Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich. questioned whether the large number of retirement plans now existing with their different rules and eligibility criteria leads to confusion, reducing the effectiveness of the incentives in increasing retirement savings. Ranking member Sander Levin, D-Mich., questioned the value of making tax reform-inspired changes to retirement plans. “Tax reform should approach retirement savings incentives with an eye toward strengthening our current system and expanding participation, not as an opportunity to find revenue,” Levin said.

JCT report

In advance of the hearing, the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) summarized the tax treatment of current-law retirement savings plans and described some recent reform proposals in a report, “Present Law and Background Relating to the Tax Treatment of Retirement Savings” (JCX-32-12). The report highlighted several of the recent proposals on retirement savings:

Automatic enrollment payroll deduction IRA.  President Obama has proposed mandatory automatic enrollment payroll deduction IRA programs.  An employer that does not sponsor a qualified retirement plan, SEP, or SIMPLE IRA plan for its employees (or sponsors a plan and excludes some employees) would be required to offer an automatic enrollment payroll deduction IRA program with a default contribution to a Roth IRA of three percent of compensation. An employer would not be required to offer the program if the employer has been in existence less than two years or has 10 or fewer employees.

Expand the saver’s credit.  The Administration has also proposed to make the retirement savings contribution credit, known as the saver’s credit, fully refundable and for the saver’s credit to be deposited automatically in an employer-sponsored retirement plan account or IRA to which the eligible individual contributes. In addition, in place of the current credit ranging from 10 percent to 50 percent for qualified retirement savings contributions up to $2,000 per individual, the proposal would provide a credit of 50 percent of such contributions up to $500 (indexed for inflation) per individual.

Consolidate plans.  The JCT also reviewed two retirement proposals from the Bush administration:  Consolidating traditional and Roth IRAs into a single type of account called Retirement Savings Accounts (RSAs) and creating Lifetime Savings Accounts (LSAs) that could be used to save for any purpose with an annual limit for contributions of $2,000. The JCT explained that the tax treatment of RSAs and LSAs would be similar to the current tax treatment of Roth IRAs (contributions would not be deductible, and earnings on contributions generally would not be taxable when distributed). Additionally, the Bush Administration had proposed to consolidate various current-law employer-sponsored retirement arrangements under which individual accounts are maintained for employees and under which employees may make contributions into a single type of arrangement called an employer retirement savings account (ERSA).

The American Society of Pension Professionals and Actuaries (ASPPA) told the Ways and Means Committee that the large number of plans with different rules and criteria does not reduce the effectiveness of the incentives in increasing retirement savings. ”Consolidating all types of defined-contribution type plans into one type of plan would not be simplification,” the ASPPA cautioned. “It would disrupt savings, and force state and local governments and nonprofits to modify their retirement savings plans and procedures.”