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Archive for the ‘The economy’ Category

Recent tax changes reflected in new IRS statistics

statofincomeThe IRS recently released its Spring 2016 Statistics of Income (SOI) Bulletin containing a treasure-trove of useful information. The bulletin contains data gleaned from more than 148 million individual income tax returns filed for the 2014 tax year (TY). The data for 2014 reveal a corresponding increase in tax liability across all tax brackets. (more…)

3% Withholding Repeal and Job Creation Act

On November 21, President Obama signed into law the 3% Withholding Repeal and Job Creation Act. The new law does much more than merely repeal withholding on government contractors. The new law enhances the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) for veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces, expands the IRS’ continuous levy authority, and more.

Government withholding

The Tax Increase Prevention and Reconciliation Act of 2005 (2005 Tax Act) created a new withholding requirement for government agencies. The federal government, and every state and local government, would be required to withhold income tax at the rate of three percent on certain payments to persons providing any property or services. Some payments, such as payments of interest, were exempt.

The government withholding requirement was originally scheduled to apply to payments made after December 31, 2010. Congress delayed the effective date to payments made after December 31, 2011. The IRS issued final regulations in 2011, further delaying the effective date to payments made after December 31, 2012.

Since passage of the 2005 Tax Act, momentum for the repeal of withholding on government contractors has grown. The Senate approved the 3% Repeal Act unanimously on November 10, and the House voted 422–0 in favor of the bill on November 16. The 3% Repeal Act repeals government withholding as if it had never been enacted.

Veterans

The WOTC provides employers an incentive to hire individuals from various target groups, including veterans, The 3% Repeal Act modifies the WOTC for qualified veterans. The WOTC enhancements for veterans are called the Returning Heroes Tax Credit and the Wounded Warrior Tax Credit.

Returning Heroes Tax Credit. The Returning Heroes Tax Credit encourages employers to hire unemployed veterans. Employers hiring short-term unemployed veterans (generally veterans who have been unemployed for at least four weeks but less than six months) may be eligible for a credit of up to $2,400 per employee. The credit reaches $5,600 per employee if the employer hires a veteran who has been unemployed for longer than six months.

Wounded Warriors Tax Credit. The Wounded Warriors Tax Credit rewards employers that hire unemployed veterans with service connected disabilities. The credit reaches $9,600 per employee for employers that hire long-term unemployed veterans with service connected disabilities and $4,800 per employee for employers that hire short-term unemployed veterans with service-connected disabilities.

The 3% Repeal Act also extends the current WOTC for qualified veterans who receive food stamps through the end of 2012. The credit for qualified veterans in this target group can reach $2,400 per employee. Additionally, the 3% Repeal Act makes the WOTC for qualified veterans available to tax-exempt employers and streamlines the certification process.

The changes to the WOTC under the 3% Repeal Act are effective for veterans who begin work for an employer after November 21, 2011 (the date of enactment of the new law). The 3% Repeal Act, however, is temporary and its enhancements to the WOTC for veterans will expire after 2012 unless extended by Congress.

IRS continuous levy

The Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997 authorized the IRS to collect overdue tax debts of individuals and businesses that receive federal payments by levying up to 15 percent of each payment until the debt is paid. In 2004, Congress increased the percentage to 100 percent in case of certain payments due to vendors of services or goods sold or leased to the federal government. The 3% Repeal Act authorizes the IRS to continuously levy at 100 percent on payments for goods, services and property due to vendors of the federal government. This change is effective for levies issued after November 21, 2011 (the date of enactment of the new law).

More provisions

The 3% Repeal Act also:

  • Changes the definition of modified adjusted gross income for purposes of the Code Sec. 36B health insurance premium assistance tax credit and certain other federal health care programs
  • Extends information sharing between the IRS and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)
  • Enhances federal job training programs for veterans
  • Directs the Treasury Department to prepare a report on the tax gap and government contractors

If you have any questions about the 3% Withholding Repeal Act, please contact our office at (908) 725-4414.

Gov. Proposed Tax Reforms

Autumn 2011 in Washington, D.C. is expected to be a season of contentious debates over tax reform, and at the heart of the debate is the amount of taxes paid by higher-income individuals.  President Obama wants Congress to raise taxes on higher-income individuals to help reduce the federal government’s budget deficit and to pay for a jobs program.  Many lawmakers, especially Republicans, are opposed to any tax increases. The two sides appear far apart but the need to cut the nation’s deficit could encourage compromise.

Bush-era tax cuts

In 2001, Congress enacted the Economic Growth and Tax Reconciliation Act (EGTRRA), which set in motion a gradual decrease in the individual marginal income tax rates and the federal estate tax, along with marriage penalty relief, the introduction of a new 10 percent tax bracket and more.  The Jobs and Growth Tax Act of 2003 accelerated the reductions in the individual tax rates and also reduced capital gains and dividend tax rates (currently taxed at 15 percent for taxpayers in tax brackets above 15 percent and at zero percent for or all other taxpayers).  All of these tax cuts are collectively known as the Bush-era tax cuts.

In 2010, Congress passed, and President Obama signed, the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization and Job Creation Act. The 2010 Tax Relief Act extended the Bush-era tax cuts through the end of 2012. The extension proved especially valuable for higher-income taxpayers.  Without the extension, the top two individual income tax rates would have risen from 33 and 35 percent to 36 and 39.6 percent, respectively, after December 31, 2010.

White House proposals

President Obama released a Deficit Reduction Plan on September 19 and proposed to allow the Bush-era tax cuts to expire for higher-income taxpayers and to return the federal estate tax to its 2009 parameters.  The White House broadly defines higher-income taxpayers for purposes of the Bush-era tax cuts as individuals with annual incomes over $200,000 and families with annual incomes over $250,000.

The President’s Deficit Reduction Plan would:

–Allow the Bush-era high-income tax cuts to expire

–Return the federal estate tax to its 2009 levels

–Reduce the value of itemized deductions and other tax preferences to 28 percent for families with incomes over $250,000

All of these changes would apparently take place after 2012.

Keep in mind that if Congress does nothing before 2013, the Bush-era tax cuts are scheduled to automatically expire after 2012. Tax rates would not only rise for higher-income individuals but for all taxpayers.  The federal estate tax would return to its pre-EGTRRA levels (with some minor modifications) and capital gains/dividends would be taxed at much less taxpayer-friendly rates than under current law.

Additionally, higher-income individuals will pay more in taxes after 2012 because of existing laws. An additional 0.9 percent Medicare tax on wages and self-employment income and a 3.8 percent Medicare contribution tax on unearned income are scheduled to take effect after 2012 for higher-income taxpayers.

Buffett Rule

President Obama has asked Congress to enact legislation to provide that no household making over $1 million annually should pay a smaller share of its income in taxes than middle-income families. President Obama calls this tax treatment, the “Buffett Rule” after billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who said that his effective tax rate is lower than the tax rate of his secretary.

The White House has been deliberately vague on the mechanics of the Buffet Rule. In his Deficit Reduction Plan, President Obama said that the Buffett Rule would be enacted as part of overall tax reform, which increases the progressivity of the Tax Code.

The Buffett Rule could take the shape of increased taxes on capital gains and dividends.  Higher-income individuals typically have a significant portion of their income from investment activity. The Buffett Rule could also reform the alternative minimum tax (AMT). The AMT was originally enacted to prevent very wealthy taxpayers from avoiding taxes. Because the AMT was not indexed for inflation, and for other reasons, the AMT has encroached on middle income taxpayers.

Payroll tax cuts

The 2010 Tax Relief Act enacted a temporary payroll tax holiday. The employee-share of OASDI taxes is reduced from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent for calendar year 2011 up to the Social Security wage base ($106,800 for 2011). An individual with earnings at or above $106,800 in 2011 receives a $2,136 tax benefit. Self-employed individuals receive a comparable tax benefit.  Under current law, the payroll tax holiday ends after December 31, 2011 and the employee-share of OASDI taxes is scheduled to revert to 6.2 percent.

President Obama has proposed to extend and enhance the payroll tax cut for calendar year 2012.  The employee-share of OASDI taxes for 2012 would be reduced from 6.2 percent to 3.1 percent, under the President’s proposal.

The President’s proposal has a reasonably good chance of being enacted.  Taxpayers have become accustomed to the two percent reduction in effect for 2011. Moreover, lawmakers are reluctant to raise taxes in an election year.  However, opponents of any extension question its impact on the long-term health of Social Security.

If you have any questions about the proposals being debated in Washington, please contact our office at (908) 725-4414

Investment-related issues from fluctuating markets

With the stock market fluctuating up and down (but especially down), some investors may decide to cash out investments that they initially planned to hold.  They may have taxable gains or losses they did not expect to realize.  Other investors may look to diversifying their portfolios further, moving a more significant portion into Treasury bills, CDs and other “cash-like” instruments, or even into gold and other precious metals. Here are reminders about some of the tax issues involved in these decisions.

Capital Assets and Dividends

Capital assets. Most items of property are capital assets, unless they are inventory or are used in a trade or business. Stock and securities are capital assets. Gains and losses from a capital asset are short-term if the property is held for one year or less, with gains taxed at ordinary income rates and deductible losses (short- or long-term) limited to $3,000 annually. Long-term gains (from property held more than one year) are generally taxed at a 15 percent rate.

Stock and securities. For stock and securities traded on an established market, the holding period begins the day after the trade (purchase) date and ends on the trade (sale) date. The settlement date, which is a few days later, is not relevant to the holding period determination.

Precious metals. The maximum capital gains rate on collectibles is 28 percent, rather than 15 percent. Collectibles include gems, coins, and precious metals, such as gold, silver or platinum bullion. If the taxpayer’s regular tax rate is lower than the maximum capital gain rate, the regular tax rate applies. Collectibles gain includes gain from the sale of an interest in a partnership, S corp or trust from unrealized collectibles’ appreciation, but does not include investments in a non-passthrough entity like holding shares in a mining company operating as a C corporation. Since gold is considered investment property in whatever form held, however, capital loss from a sale of gold (if a loss can be imagined) would be deductible.

Dividends. If a dividend is declared before the stock is sold but paid after the sale, the payee or owner of record when the dividend was declared is taxable on the dividend. Dividends are qualified (and taxed at the lower 15 percent rate) if the stock is held for at least 61 days during the 121-day period that begins 60 days before the “ex-dividend” date (the first date on which the buyer is not entitled to the next dividend payment). Again, the holding period includes the day the stock is disposed of but does not include the purchase date.

Wash sale rules. Taxpayers cannot deduct losses from a wash sale. A wash sale is a sale of stock or securities preceded or followed by a purchase of identical stock or securities within 30 days of the sale. A purchase includes a purchase by the taxpayer’s IRA. Thus, taxpayers cannot cash in a loss while, in effect, retaining the investment. The holding period for a wash sale begins when the old stock or securities were acquired. The loss that is disallowed is added to the basis of the stock or securities purchased.

Interest Income

Treasury securities. T-bills are sold at a discount for terms up to one year. The difference between the discounted price and the face value received at maturity is interest. Most U.S. Treasury bonds or notes pay interest every six months. The interest is taxable when paid. Certain issues of U.S. Treasury bonds can be exchanged tax-free for other Treasury bonds.

Corporate bonds. If a taxpayer sells a corporate bond between payment dates, part of the price represents accrued interest and must be reported as interest.

Certificates of deposit.  For short-term CDs (one year or less), interest may be payable in one payment at maturity. Interest is generally taxable when paid or when not subject to a substantial penalty. If interest can only be withdrawn by paying a penalty, the interest may not be taxable as it accrues. A taxpayer that decides to cash out the CD must report the full amount of interest paid, but the penalty is separately deductible and can be deducted in full even if it exceeds the interest.

Savings bonds. A cash-basis taxpayer does not report the interest (or the increase in redemption price) until the proceeds are received, the bond is disposed of, or the bond matures. However, a cash-basis taxpayer can elect to report the increase in redemption price each year as current income.

Switching investments.  An exchange of mutual funds within the same family is still taxable — a sale of one fund and a purchase of another. However, investments held in a tax-free account, such as a 401(k) plans or an IRA, can be switched tax-free, unless the owner takes a distribution.

Please contact our office if you have any questions about the tax ramifications of current investment strategies aimed toward responding to changing market trends.

Federal debt limit talks move major tax proposals up for consideration

The federal debt limit negotiations that preoccupied Washington for most of July did not result in immediate tax legislation. However, the general debate did succeed in helping to jumpstart a serious discussion over taxes that now has the momentum to continue. Tax increases, rate hikes, rate reductions and general tax reform are now all on the table.

Whether tax legislation will be recommended and passed at year-end 2011 as the result of an immediate directive to start trimming the deficit is but one possible outcome of the debt-limit debates. Another increasingly persuasive catalyst for tax legislation will result from the many Congressional hearings on tax reform now being held on Capitol Hill. Those hearings are using as springboards initial proposals that have been introduced recently by the White House Deficit Commission Report, the Republican Study Committee, and the so-called Gang of Six, a bi-partisan group of Senators suggesting ways to cut trillions from the deficit over the next 10 years. Finally, the need for Congress to act on the Bush-era tax cuts set to expire after December 31, 2012, will all but force Congress to deal with tax reform in an era in which careful budgeting is essential to economic growth.

Administration’s Proposals

At the center of President Obama’s plan to trim the deficit is an extension of the Bush-era tax cuts for lower and middle income taxpayers after 2012, but not for some higher income taxpayers now in the top two rate brackets. Under the president’s plan, taxes would increase for higher income individuals (which the White House defines as individuals with incomes above $200,000 and families with incomes above $250,000). The White House has also called for the elimination of certain oil and gas tax preferences, a permanent research tax credit and an extension of the 2011 payroll tax cut.

Gang of Six Tax Proposals

In early 2011, six members of the Senate (the Gang of Six) began negotiations on a comprehensive deficit reduction plan. On July 19, 2011, the senators released a bipartisan blueprint to reduce the budget deficit by $3.7 trillion over 10 years through a combination of spending cuts and revenue raisers.

Individual tax rates. The Gang of Six would replace the current individual marginal income tax rate schedule with three new tax brackets, ranging from: 8-12 percent; 14-22 percent; and 23-29 percent. The alternative minimum tax (AMT) would be repealed as well.

Tax expenditures. In return for lower tax rates and no AMT, the Gang of Six would reduce a yet unspecified number of “tax expenditures,” aka deductions and credits. Possible tax expenditures up for reform, but not repeal, could include the home mortgage interest deduction, the deduction for charitable contributions and the deduction for certain medical expenses.

Corporate tax. The Gang of Six would establish a single, lower corporate tax rate of somewhere between 23 percent and 29 percent while promising to raise as much revenue as under the current corporate tax system by eliminating many yet-to-be specified business deductions, credits and other preferences. The Gang of Six would also move to a territorial tax system under which profits would be taxed only by the country where the income is earned.

House Republican Study Committee

The Republican Study Committee (RSC) is made up of 175 conservative members of the House. The RSC drafted the deficit reduction proposal which passed the House on July 19, 2011 as the Cut, Cap and Balance Act. The Cut, Cap and Balance Act, ultimately rejected by the Senate, did not include any tax increases.

Tax reform. The RSC has called for a “smarter” Tax Code that would lower rates while broadening the tax base. The RSC to date has not offered any further specifics on how it would lower rates and broaden the tax base. The RSC has previously indicated its opposition to any scaling back of the Bush-era tax cuts.

White House Deficit Commission

The bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform issued its final report, “The Moment of Truth,” in December 2010. The Commission developed a six-part plan designed to reduce the federal deficit by almost $4 trillion by 2020. The 18-member commission approved the report by a vote of 11-7, with Democrats and Republicans on both sides of the vote.

Tax reform. Tax reform as envisioned by the Deficit Commission would achieve at least 20 percent of the $4 trillion reduction. The Deficit Commission plan aims to reduce, if not eliminate, $1.1 trillion in tax expenditures in the current Tax Code for individuals and businesses. Under current law, the largest tax expenditure is the tax-free treatment of contributions to health care plans at approximately $144 billion per year.

Other substantial tax expenditures include:

  •    $79 billion by disallowing portions of the home mortgage interest deduction,
  •    $57 billion by curtailing accelerated depreciation,
  •    $53 billion by raising capital gains rates, and
  •    $49 billion by tightening the availability of the earned income credit.

At the same time, the plan would reduce tax rates, the amount depending on the amount of tax expenditures eliminated.

Individual income tax rates. Under one scenario, the Deficit Commission’s plan would provide three ordinary income tax rates as low as 8, 14, and 23 percent. The plan would treat capital gains and dividends as ordinary income, but, of course, ordinary income rates would be lower. The plan would eliminate the alternative minimum tax (AMT).

More “reforms. Other targeted reforms proposed by the Deficit Commission include:

  •    Limiting the charitable deduction for individuals to amounts over two percent of adjusted gross income;
  •    Repealing the state and local tax deduction for individuals;
  •    Repealing all miscellaneous itemized deductions for individuals;
  •    Capping the income tax exclusion for employer-provided health insurance; and
  •    Raising the federal gasoline tax by 15 cents per gallon.

Corporate tax. The Deficit Commission plan would provide a single corporate tax rate of 26 percent, compared to the current maximum rate of 35 percent. Additional business-related reforms include eliminating the Code Sec. 199 domestic manufacturing deduction, the LIFO (last-in, first-out) method of accounting, and oil and gas production incentives.

TAX WRITING COMMITTEES

In tandem with deficit reduction proposals, the tax writing committees in Congress are exploring possible reforms to the Tax Code. The Senate Finance Committee, controlled by Democrats, and the House Ways and Means Committee, controlled by Republicans, have looked at a variety of issues related to individual and business taxation.

The Senate Finance Committee (SFC), under the leadership of Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., has held a series of hearings in recent months on tax reform. The SFC has examined, among other issues, oil and gas tax preferences, the tax treatment of business and household debt, strategies to increase the voluntary compliance rate to 90 percent, and efforts to close the tax gap.

The House Ways and Means Committee has also held a series of hearings on tax reform in recent months. The Ways and Means Committee has examined, among other issues, the advantages and disadvantages of a value added tax (VAT), tax incentives to encourage foreign investment in the U.S., and the corporate tax rate.

Please contact this office if you have any questions over how momentum toward deficit reduction and tax reform may impact your bottom line tax liability in the future.

Latest IRS Statistics Reveal Typical Profiles Of Higher-Income Individuals

The trend in recent increases in numbers of federal individual income tax returns reporting incomes of $200,000 or more has reportedly hit a speed bump, according the a recently released IRS survey. The IRS’s Spring 2011 Statistics of Income (SOI) Bulletin reports a 3.5 percent drop in the number of individual returns reflecting adjusted gross income of $200,000 or more for tax year 2008, when the economic downturn officially started and the year for which the most recent full-year statistics are available.  This trend comes after several years of increases in the number of returns filed by higher income individuals.  The IRS received 4.3 million returns from taxpayers reporting adjusted gross income (AGI) of $200,000 or more for tax year 2008.  In contrast, the IRS received more than 4.5 million returns from taxpayers reporting AGI of $200,000 or more for tax year 2007.

Most pay higher taxes

IRS statistics reveal that most higher-income taxpayers do not engage in aggressive tax avoidance but, as a group, accept the tax that ordinarily must be paid on their income.  Three facts about the information the IRS extrapolated from returns filed by higher income individuals stand out:

  • Only a small percentage (0.4 percent) of higher-income individuals reported no U.S. income tax liability (of these returns, 0.2 percent reported no worldwide income tax liability).
  • Another relatively small group of higher-income individuals (0.9 percent) was able to offset a substantial fraction of income before being subject to taxation.
  • Overall, most higher-income individuals were subject to tax on their income.

Typical income profile

Among individuals whose returns reflected incomes of $200,000 or more for tax year 2008, the largest source of income was salaries and wages at $1.2 trillion.  More than 3.8 million returns from higher-income taxpayers reported income from salaries and wages.  Other significant sources of income included partnership and S corp income ($446 billion reported by 1.3 million taxpayers), income from sales of capital assets ($417 billion reported by 1.3 million taxpayers); dividends ($125 billion, reported by 3.2 million taxpayers); and royalties ($17 billion reported by over 300,000 taxpayers).

Typical deductions and credits

The most common deduction for returns reflecting incomes of $200,000 or more was the deduction for taxes paid. More than 4.1 million returns from higher income taxpayers reported deductions for taxes paid. The deduction for interest paid was the second-most common deduction among higher income taxpayers with more than 3.5 million returns reporting deductions for interest paid (of which 3.3 million returns reflected home mortgage interest). Over 3.9 million returns from higher income taxpayers reflected deductions for charitable contributions.

Among the various tax credits, the credit for foreign taxes paid was the most common among returns filed by higher income taxpayers.  More than 1.5 million returns reflected the foreign tax credit. Just over 300,000 returns reported the child tax credit.

Latest IRS Statistic of Income Bulletin reflects economic slowdown

The IRS’s latest Statistics of Income Bulletin (Winter 2011), just released in April, reveals a significant drop in taxable income, reflecting the economic slowdown. The IRS also reported a drop in alternative minimum tax (AMT) revenue.

Income. The IRS reported that adjusted gross income (AGI) fell 6.3 percent from tax year 2008 to tax year 2009. Taxable income decreased 9.3 percent, total income tax fell 15.4 percent and total tax liability decreased 15 percent. The largest component of AGI, salaries and wages, declined 3.7 percent from tax year 2008 to tax year 2009. The second largest component of AGI, taxable pension and annuities, increased 3.1 percent from tax year 2008 to tax year 2009. Statistics for the 2010 tax year will not be available until the IRS gathers and then releases the data from returns just filed for the April 18, 2011 filing deadline.

AMT. For the first time since 2001, revenue collected from the AMT decreased. The IRS reported that AMT revenue fell 9.1 percent to $20.2 billion for tax year 2009.

Credits. Among all tax credits, the IRS reported that residential energy credits experienced the greatest percentage increase. The $1,500 tax credit for home-efficient improvements, including installation of certified heating/air conditioning units, however, expired on December 31, 2010.  A maximum $500 credit nevertheless remains available for 2011.

Comment.  Despite the drop in income due to the economy, the IRS audit rates did not also drop.  Statistics for the IRS indicate that, while slightly fewer returns were filed and revenue collection dropped overall in FY 2010 (Sept 2009 through August 2010) as compared to the 2007-2009 period, audit rates remained fairly constant.