Vernoia, Enterline + Brewer, CPA LLC

Posts tagged ‘bush tax cuts’

ATRA delays start to 2013 filing season

As the 2013 filing season gets underway, some taxpayers may experience delays in filing returns and others need to revisit their returns because of the passage of the American Taxpayer Relief Act (ATRA) on January 1, 2013.  Late tax legislation always complicates tax planning and filing and 2013 is no exception.  ATRA extended many popular tax incentives for individuals and businesses retroactively to January 1, 2012.  This means that qualified taxpayers may claim them on their 2012 returns filed in 2013.  ATRA also made many changes that take effect in 2013, which will require careful planning as this year unfolds.

Delayed start to filing season

The most immediate effect of ATRA is a delayed start to the 2013 filing season.  Shortly after passage of ATRA, the IRS announced that the 2013 filing season would begin on January 30, 2013.  That reflected a delay of eight days from the previously anticipated start date of January 22, 2013.  The IRS explained that it needed time to program its processing systems for ATRA.  As of January 30, the IRS was able to accept returns affected by the AMT patch as well as three very popular “tax extenders:” the state and local sales tax deduction, higher education tuition deduction and teachers’ classroom expense deduction.

However, some taxpayers will experience a further delay.  A number of tax forms affected by late legislation require more extensive programming and testing of IRS systems. The IRS reported that it aims to begin accepting returns including these forms between late February and into March.  The IRS predicted that a specific date will be announced in the near future. Among the forms that require more extensive programming changes are some commonly used forms, most notably Form 4562 (Depreciation and Amortization). Other forms affected by the delay include Form 5695 (Residential Energy Credits) and Form 3800 (General Business Credit).

The IRS also announced special relief for farmers and fishermen who are affected by the delay.  Normally, farmers and fishermen who choose not to make quarterly estimated tax payments are not subject to a penalty if they file their returns and pay the full amount of tax due by March 1. Under the guidance to be issued, farmers or fishermen who miss the March 1 deadline will not be subject to the penalty if they file and pay by April 15, 2013.

Retroactive and prospective extensions

For individuals, some of the most popular incentives are the three mentioned above (the state and local sales tax deduction, the higher education tuition deduction and the teachers’ classroom expense deduction).  Other incentives that were retroactively extended to January 1, 2012 by ATRA, and therefore are available for 2012 returns filed in 2013, include special rules treating mortgage insurance premiums as deductible interest that is qualified residence interest, and special rules for contributions of capital gains real property for conservation purposes.

Another valuable incentive extended by ATRA is a tax break for energy efficient improvements.  ATRA extended retroactively to January 1, 2012 and through 2013 the Code Sec. 25C energy credit. Energy efficiency improvements include adding insulation, energy-efficient exterior windows and doors and certain roofs. The credit has a lifetime limit; qualifying improvements must be placed into service to the taxpayer’s principal residence before January 1, 2014, and there are other restrictions.

ATRA also provided transition relief for individuals wishing to make tax-free transfers of IRA funds to charitable organizations.  For tax year 2012 only, IRA owners could choose to report qualified charitable distributions made in January 2013 as if they occurred in 2012. Additionally, IRA owners who received IRA distributions during December 2012 could contribute, in cash, part or all of the amounts distributed to eligible charities during January 2013 and have them count as 2012 qualified charitable distributions.

For businesses, ATRA extended many temporary incentives.  Among the most commonly claimed are enhanced small business expensing, bonus depreciation, and the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC).  Under ATRA, the Code Sec. 179 small business expensing dollar limit for tax years 2012 and 2013 is $500,000 with a $2 million investment limit (both amounts indexed for inflation).  Bonus depreciation is available at 50 percent through 2013 and the WOTC is also available through 2013.  Many other business-related incentives that had expired at the end of 2011 are available for 2012 and 2013.

Another extended incentive is transit benefits parity. Qualified transportation fringe benefits include transit passes, van pooling, and qualified parking. The Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization and Job Creation Act of 2010 provided for parity for the exclusion limitation on transit passes, van pool benefits and qualified parking through 2011. ATRA extended transit benefits parity retroactively to January 1, 2012 and through 2013. In Rev. Proc. 2013-15, the IRS reported that the inflation-adjusted maximum monthly excludable amount for 2013 is $245 for transit passes and van pool benefits and also $245 for qualified parking. The IRS has issued administrative relief for employers that provided transit benefits in 2012 at their pre-ATRA rates.

Changes for 2013 and beyond

ATRA’s most far-reaching changes – allowing the Bush-era tax rates to expire after 2012 for individuals with incomes over $400,000 and families with incomes over $450,000 along with increased capital gains and dividend taxes for higher income taxpayers – will be reflected on 2013 returns filed in 2014.  Other important provisions, such as the revived limitation on itemized deductions and the personal exemption phaseout, also will kick-in in 2013 and be reflected on 2013 returns filed in 2014.  Also taking effect in 2013 are an Additional Medicare Tax and a Net Investment Income surtax.  All these changes should be taken into account in planning your 2013 tax strategy.

Please contact our office at (908) 725-4414 for more information about the affect of ATRA on the 2013 filing season and tax planning for future years

Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 now law

In what undeniably came down to the wire in the early hours of January 1, 2013, the Senate passed the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, which, along with many other provisions, permanently extends the so-called Bush-era tax cuts for individuals making under $400,000 and families making under $450,000 (those above those thresholds now pay at a 39.6 percent rate). The House followed with passage late in the day on January 1; and President Obama signed the bill into law on January 2. Thus, the more than decade-long fight over the fate of the tax cuts, originally enacted under the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 (EGTRRA), accelerated under the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003 (JGTRRA) and extended by Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010 (2010 Tax Relief Act) comes to an end.

Prelude to the Fiscal Cliff

On May 26, 2001, Congress passed the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 (EGTRRA). The legislation was hailed as the largest tax cut in 20 years and dramatically changed the landscape of the federal tax code. Two years later, the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003 (JGTRRA) was signed into law and accelerated many of the tax cuts set in motion under EGTRRA. Originally scheduled to sunset, or expire, after December 31, 2010, Congress extended these popular provisions for another two years in late 2010 with the passage of the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010. In 2010, Congress acted before the end of the year to extend the cuts. At the end of 2012, Congress and President Obama engaged in intense negotiations over the “fiscal cliff,” a term that came to combine many federal laws that had a deadline of December 31, 2012, including the Bush-era tax cuts. Congress then passed the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 on New Year’s Day, 2013, effectively averting the fiscal cliff.

What Does This Mean for You?

The new law extends a majority of the Bush-era tax cuts in the same form as they have existed since 2001 or 2003 when initially enacted. However, major exceptions include a rise in rates, including a maximum 20 percent on capital gains and dividends, on higher-income individuals, as described above, and an increase in the estate tax rate from 35 to 40 percent. In addition to a general extension of the tax rates, many other provisions, including some not affected by the sunset of the Bush-era tax cuts, are significantly or permanently extended, including:

  • Marriage penalty relief;
  • Inflation protection against the alternative minimum tax (AMT);
  • Deductions for student loan interest and tuition and fees;
  • Enhanced child tax and child and dependent care credits;
  • Simplified earned income credit;
  • Deductions for primary and secondary school teacher expenses;
  • Deductions for state and local sales taxes;
  • Research credits;
  • Energy-efficiency credits for homes and vehicles; and
  • Many more provisions.

Unfortunately, the new law is also significant in what it does not do in one important respect. It does not renew the so-called payroll tax holiday that had been in effect during 2011 and 2012. As a result, employees and self-employed individuals will be paying 2 percent more employment tax on their earnings up to the Social Security wage base (which is up to $113,700 for 2013).

Finally, the American Taxpayer Relief Act also includes extensions of provisions that expired at the end of 2011, but now apply to the 2012 tax year. That means it has immediate effect on the 2013 filing season.

The landscape of federal tax law has changed once again, and with it the need to reassess present tax strategies. Please call our office at (908) 725-4414, if you have any questions about the new law or how it impacts you directly.

White House, Congress seek to avert “fiscal cliff”

All eyes are on Washington as the White House and the GOP seek to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff” before the end of the year.  President Obama and House Republicans are negotiating the fate of the Bush-era tax cuts, mandatory spending cuts and more in the last weeks of 2012 and negotiations are expected to go right up to the end of the year.  At the same time, the IRS has cautioned that the start of the 2013 filing season could be delayed for many taxpayers because of late tax legislation.

Taxes and spending

Almost immediately after President Obama won re-election, Democrats and Republicans scrambled to stake out their positions over the fiscal cliff.  Unless the White House and the GOP reach an agreement, the Bush-era tax cuts will expire for all taxpayers after 2012 and across-the-board spending cuts will take effect.  Many popular but temporary tax incentives, known as tax extenders, expired after 2011, with many more scheduled to expire after 2012.  The alternative minimum tax (AMT), intended many years ago to apply to wealthy taxpayers, is on track to encroach on more middle income taxpayers because it is not indexed for inflation.  Also, the employee-side payroll tax cut is scheduled to expire after 2012.

Since winning a second term, President Obama has repeated that the Bush-era tax cuts should expire for higher income individuals after 2012.  The top two tax rates would rise to 36 percent and 39.6 percent after 2012. All of the remaining rates would be extended.  Tax rates on capital gains and dividends would also increase for higher income individuals. On the campaign trail, President Obama described higher income taxpayers as individuals with incomes above $200,000 and families with incomes above $200,000.

President Obama has talked about trimming $4 trillion from the federal budget deficit.  Approximately $1.6 trillion would come from increased taxes on higher income individuals.  To achieve a target of $1.6 trillion in tax revenue, the Bush-era tax cuts could not be extended for higher income individuals.  Other incentives for higher income individuals would likely be curtailed or possibly eliminated under the President’s plan. These include the personal exemption phaseout (PEP) and the Pease limitation on itemized deductions. President Obama may also re-propose his “Buffett Rule,” which, the President has explained, would ensure that individuals making over $1 million a year pay a minimum effective tax rate of at least 30 percent.

The GOP, its majority reduced in the House after the November elections, has offered few details about its plans to avoid the fiscal cliff.  House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has indicated that the GOP may be open to raising revenue by closing tax loopholes and capping certain unspecified deductions for higher income individuals.  Revenue could also be raised by limiting or abolishing business tax deductions and credits.  Among the business tax incentives most often hinted at for elimination are ones for oil and gas producers. President Obama, however, has said that he will not support a deficit reduction plan that relies on closing undefined tax loopholes.

Possible scenarios

Looking ahead, several scenarios may play out before year-end.  President Obama and the GOP could agree on a tax and deficit reduction package that meets or comes close to the President’s targets.  President Obama and the GOP may agree to extend the Bush-era tax cuts and delay the spending cuts for three or six months to give everyone more time to negotiate a long-term deal.  On the other hand, both sides could fail to reach any agreement before year-end and the Bush-era tax cuts would expire as scheduled.  The spending cuts also would kick-in as scheduled.

Filing season

Whenever Congress changes the tax laws, the IRS has to reprogram its return processing systems.  Tax laws passed late in 2012 have the potential to delay the start of the 2013 filing season depending on how long it takes the IRS to reprogram its systems.

IRS officials have told Congress that they are preparing for late tax legislation, especially legislation on the AMT.  In past years, Congress has routinely “patched” the AMT to shield middle income taxpayers from its reach.  The IRS appears to be anticipating that Congress will patch the AMT for 2012.  If Congress does not, the IRS has warned that the start of the 2013 filing season could be delayed for as many as 60 million taxpayers.

The IRS also must reprogram its processing systems for the tax extenders.  These tax law changes generally do not require the level of reprogramming the AMT patch requires.  The IRS has predicted that any year-end extension of the extenders will be manageable.

Please contact our office at (908) 725-4414  if you have any questions about the tax and spending negotiations underway in Washington.

2013 inflation-adjusted taxes; increases benefitting taxpayers

Taxpayers recovering from the current economic downturn will get at least some relief in 2013 by way of the mandatory upward inflation-adjustments called for under the tax code, according to CCH, a Wolters Kluwer business. CCH has released estimated income ranges for each 2013 tax bracket as well as a growing number of other inflation-sensitive tax figures, such as the personal exemption and the standard deduction.

Projections this year, however, are clouded by the uncertainty of expiring provisions in the tax code. If Congress allows the so-called Bush-era tax cuts to expire at the end of 2012, many taxpayers could lose more ground than they will otherwise gain. These tax cuts, first enacted within Economic Growth Tax Recovery and Reconciliation Act of 2001 (EGTRRA) with a ten-year life, were last extended by the 2010 Tax Relief Act, but only for two years through 2012.

When there is inflation, indexing of brackets lowers tax bills by including more of taxpayers’ incomes in lower brackets – in the existing 15-percent rather than the existing 25-percent bracket, for example. The formula used in indexing showed an average amount of inflation this year of about 2.5 percent – the highest in several years. Most 2013 figures therefore have moved higher.

Tax Rates

The current 10, 15, 25, 33 and 35-percent rates are now officially scheduled to sunset to the pre-EGTRRA rate structure of 15, 28, 31, 36 and 39.6-percent. While no one in Washington is calling for a full sunset of all the current tax rates, congressional gridlock might produce a cliffhanger on what will happen until after the November elections, and perhaps not even before January when the new, 113th Congress convenes. In the meantime, there are three possible alternative scenarios being debated by lawmakers:

  • Extend the current tax bracket structure in its entirety;
  • As proposed by President Obama, keep the current rate structure except revive the 36 and 39.6-percent rates, starting at a higher-income bracket level of $200,000 for single filers, $250,000 for joint filers, $225,000 for head-of-households and $125,000 for married taxpayers filing separately, also indexed for inflation since initially proposed in 2009 but keyed to adjusted gross income (AGI) rather than taxable income (indexed 2013 projections for those AGI levels, based on the Administration’s FY 2013 Budget, are $213,200 / $266,500 / $239,850 / and $133,250, respectively); or
  • As proposed by certain Senate Democrats, raise the top tax rate only for individuals making more than $1 million.

Tax Brackets

Here is a sample of how inflation will raise rate brackets in 2013, assuming a full extension of tax rates:

  • Joint returns. For married taxpayers filing jointly and surviving spouses, the maximum taxable income subject to the 10-percent bracket will rise from $17,400 in 2012, to $17,850 in 2013; the top of the 15-percent tax bracket will increase from $70,700 to $72,500. The bracket amounts for the remaining tax rates will show similarly proportionate increases: $146,400 as the maximum for the 25-percent bracket (up $3,700 from 2012); $223,050 for the 28-percent bracket (up $5,600 from 2012); and $398,350 for the 33-percent bracket (up $10,000 from 2012). Amounts above the $398,350 level will be taxed at the 35-percent rate.
  • Single filers. For single taxpayers, the maximum taxable income for the 10-percent bracket will increase to $8,925 for 2012 (up from $8,700 in 2012). The remainder of the rate brackets show inflation increases of: $900 for the top of the 15-percent bracket (to $36,250); $2,200 for the 25-percent bracket (to $87,850); $4,600 for the 28-percent bracket (to $183,250); and $10,000 for the top of the 33-percent bracket (to $398,350).

Standard Deductions

The 2013 standard deduction will increase for all taxpayers. The standard deduction amounts for 2013 is projected to be $6,100 for single taxpayers; $8,950 for heads of households; $12,200 for married taxpayers filing jointly and surviving spouses; and $6,100 for married taxpayers filing separately. The standard deduction for dependents rises $50 to $1,000 (or earned income plus $350). The additional standard deduction for those have reached 65 or are blind will rise to $1,200 for married taxpayers; $1,500 for unmarried individuals.

Personal Exemptions

The amount of personal and dependency exemptions for 2013 will increase to $3,900 from the 2012 level of $3,800.

Gift Tax Exclusion

The gift tax annual exclusion, which rose from a base of $10,000 to $11,000 in 2002; $12,000 in 2006, and $13,000 in 2009, once again will rise in 2013 to $14,000. Pursuant to the IRC, the exemption can rise only when the inflation adjustment produces an increase of $1,000 or more.

Year-end; 3.8 % Medicare tax looms for 2013

In 2013, a new and unique tax will take effect—a 3.8 percent “unearned income Medicare contribution” tax as part of the structure in place to pay for health care reform. The tax will be imposed on the “net investment income” (NII) of individuals, estates, and trusts that exceeds specified thresholds. The tax will generally fall on passive income, but will also apply generally to capital gains from the disposition of property.

Specified thresholds

For an individual, the tax will apply to the lesser of the taxpayer’s NII, or the amount of “modified” adjusted gross income (AGI with foreign income added back) above a specified threshold, which is:

  • $250,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly and a surviving spouse;
  • $125,000 for married taxpayers filing separately;
  • $200,000 for single and head of household taxpayers.

Examples. A single taxpayer has modified AGI of $220,000, including NII of $30,000. The tax applies to the lesser of $30,000 or ($220,000 minus $200,000), the specified threshold for single taxpayers. Thus, the tax applies to $20,000.

A single taxpayer has modified AGI of $150,000, including $60,000 of NII. Because the taxpayer’s income is below the $200,000 threshold, the taxpayer does not owe the tax, despite having substantial NII.

For an estate or trust, the tax applies to the lesser of undistributed net income, or the excess of AGI over the dollar amount for the highest tax rate bracket for estates and trusts ($11,950 for 2013). Thus, the tax applies to a much lower amount for trusts and estates.

Application of tax

The tax applies to interest, dividends, annuities, royalties, and rents, and capital gains, unless derived from a trade or business. The tax also applies to income and gains from a passive trade or business.

Other items are excluded from NII and from the tax:  distributions from IRAs, pensions, 401(k) plans, tax-sheltered annuities, and eligible 457 plans, for example. Items that are totally excluded from gross income, such as  distributions from a Roth IRA and interest on tax-exempt bonds, are excluded both from NII and from modified AGI.

The tax does not apply to nonresident aliens, charitable trusts, or corporations.

Tax planning techniques

Taxpayers are concerned about having to pay the tax. One technique for avoiding the tax is to sell off capital gain property in 2012, before the tax applies. This can be particularly useful if the taxpayer is facing a large capital gain from the sale of a principal residence (after taking the $250,000/$500,000 exclusion from income). Older taxpayers who do not want to sell their property may want to consider holding on to appreciated property until death, when the property gets a fair market value basis without being subject to income tax.

The technique of “gain harvesting” may be even more attractive if tax rates increase on dividends, capital gains, and AGI in 2013, with the potential expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts. However, the status of these tax rates will not be determined until after the election, potentially in a lame-duck Congressional session. It is also possible that Congress will simply extend existing tax rates for another year and “punt” the decision until 2013, as tax reform discussions heat up.

Taxpayers may also want to change the source of their income. Investing in tax-exempt bonds will be more attractive, since the interest income does not enter into AGI or NII. Converting a 401(k) account or traditional IRA to a Roth IRA will accomplish the same purpose. Income from a Roth conversion is not net investment income, although the income will increase modified AGI, which may put other income in danger of being subject to the 3.8 percent tax. Increasing deductible or pre-tax contributions to existing retirement plans can also lower income and help the taxpayer stay below the applicable threshold.

Trusts and estates should make a point of distributing their income to their beneficiaries. A trust’s NII will be taxed at a low threshold (less than $12,000), while the income received by a beneficiary is taxed only if the much higher $200,000/$250,000 thresholds are exceeded.

Uncertainty

There was some uncertainty about the tax taking effect because of litigation challenging the health care law providing the tax, but a June 2012 Supreme Court decision upheld the law. The application of the tax is also uncertain because the Republican leadership has vowed to pursue repeal of the health care law if the Republicans win the presidency and take control of both houses of Congress in the November 2012 elections. But this is speculative. In the meantime, the Supreme Court decision guarantees that the tax will take effect on January 1, 2013.

These can be difficult decisions. While economic considerations for managing assets and income are important, it also makes sense for a taxpayer to look at the tax impact if the certain asset sales or shifts in investment portfolios are otherwise being considered.

Year-end tax planning amid legislative uncertainty

As 2013 draws closer, news reports about “taxmageddon” and “taxpocalypse,” describing expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts, are proliferating. Many taxpayers are asking what they can do to prepare. The answer is to prepare early. September may seem too early to be discussing year-end tax planning, but the uncertainty over the Bush-era tax cuts, incentives for businesses, and much more, requires proactive strategizing. Ultimately, the fate of these tax incentives will be resolved; until then, taxpayers need to be flexible in their year-end tax planning.

Individuals

In less than three months, the individual income tax rates are scheduled without further action to automatically increase across-the-board, with the highest rate jumping from 35 percent to 39.6 percent. Additionally, the current tax-favorable capital gains and dividends tax rates are scheduled to expire. Higher income taxpayers will also be subject to revived limitations on itemized deductions and their personal exemptions. The child tax credit, one of the most popular incentives in the tax code, will be cut in half. Millions of taxpayers are predicted to be liable for the alternative minimum tax (AMT) because of expiration of the AMT “patch.” Countless other incentives for individuals will either disappear or be substantially reduced after 2012.

In July, the House and Senate passed competing bills to extend many of these expiring incentives one more year (through 2013). No further action is expected on these bills until after the November elections. However, they do signal a highly probable temporary solution to the fate of the Bush-era tax cuts. Regardless of which party wins the White House and Congress, the probability of a one-year extension of the Bush-era tax cuts appears high.

Along with expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts, the two percent payroll tax holiday for 2012 is scheduled to expire. For individuals with income at or above the Social Security wage base for 2012 ($110,100), the payroll tax holiday represented a $2,202 savings. Unlike the Bush-era tax cuts, an extension of the payroll tax holiday is unlikely.

Putting aside the Bush-era tax cuts and the payroll tax holiday for a moment, two new taxes are scheduled to take effect after 2012: an additional 0.9 percent Medicare tax on wages and self-employment income and a 3.8 percent Medicare contribution tax on unearned income. Both new taxes are targeted to individuals with incomes over $200,000 (families with incomes over $250,000). One important misconception about the 3.8 percent Medicare tax is that it is a direct real estate tax. Taxpayers that dispose of real estate may be exempt from the tax either because of income limitations or because of an exclusion provided for primary residence home sales. However, certain high-end homes may feel the sting of the 3.8 percent tax on some or all of the gain realized. Despite some rumblings in the GOP-controlled House, it is unlikely the new Medicare taxes will be repealed before 2013.

All these provisions can be seen as the perfect storm. Year-end tax planning takes on new urgency because of the uncertainty. Some variations on traditional year-end planning techniques may be valuable. Instead of shifting income into a future year, taxpayers may want to recognize income in 2012, when lower tax rates are available, rather than shift income to 2013. The same strategy may apply to recognizing income from capital gains and dividends. Another valuable year-end strategy is to “run the numbers” for regular tax liability and AMT liability. Taxpayers may want to explore if certain deductions should be more evenly divided between 2012 and 2013, and which deductions may qualify, or will not be as valuable, for AMT purposes. Additionally, keep in mind the new Medicare taxes and how they will impact investments and possibly home sales.

Estate tax planning is also in flux. Under current law, the maximum estate tax rate is 35 percent with an applicable exclusion amount of $5 million (indexed for inflation) for decedents dying before January 1, 2013. Unless Congress acts, the estate tax will revert to its less generous pre-2001 rates. Gift and generation-skipping transfer (GST) taxes also will revert to their pre-2001 rates.

Businesses

Businesses are also confronted with uncertainty in tax planning as 2012 ends. Special incentives, such as bonus depreciation, enhanced Code Sec. 179 expensing and a host of business tax extenders, may be unavailable after 2012.

Under current law, 50-percent bonus depreciation applies to qualified property acquired and placed in service after December 31, 2011 and before January 1, 2013 (January 1, 2014 for certain property). For tax years beginning in 2012, the Code Sec, 179 expensing dollar limitation is $139,000 and the investment ceiling is $560,000 for tax years beginning in 2012. After 2012, 50-percent bonus depreciation is scheduled to expire (except for certain property) and the Code Sec. 179 expensing dollar limitation will drop to $25,000 with a $200,000 investment ceiling.

Enhanced Code Sec. 179 expensing is a good candidate for extension after 2012, but at less generous amounts. In July, the Senate approved a Code Sec. 179 dollar amount of $250,000 and an $800,000 investment limitation for tax years beginning after December 31, 2012. The House approved a Code Sec. 179 dollar amount of $100,000 and a $400,000 investment limitation after 2012.

The list of expired business tax extenders is long. The expired incentives include the research tax credit, special expensing for film and television productions, the employer wage credit for military reservists, and many more. A host of related energy incentives have also expired and are awaiting renewal. Unlike past years, Congress is not expected to routinely extend all of the expired provisions. The more widely utilized incentives are likely to be extended; some lesser used incentives may not.

Businesses do have some good news in year-end planning. Temporary “repair” regulations issued in late 2011 include a valuable de minimis rule, which could enable taxpayers to expense otherwise capitalized tangible property. Qualified taxpayers may claim a current deduction for the cost of acquiring items of relatively low-cost property, including materials and supplies, if specific requirements are met. The aggregate cost which may be expensed annually under a taxpayer’s expensing policy is subject to a ceiling equal to the greater of 0.1 percent of gross receipts or two percent of total depreciation and amortization reported on the financial statement.

Businesses should also explore the Code Sec. 199 domestic production activities deduction. This deduction, unlike many other incentives, is permanent and will not expire after 2012. The deduction allows qualified taxpayers to deduct an amount equal to the lesser of a phased-in percentage of taxable income (adjusted gross income for individuals) or qualified production activities income. A taxpayer’s Code Sec. 199 deduction cannot exceed one-half (50 percent) of the W-2 wages paid by the taxpayer during the year.

Sequestration

The fate of the Bush-era tax cuts and the other incentives is linked to sequestration. The Budget Control Act of 2011 imposes across-the-board spending cuts starting in 2013. Many lawmakers want to postpone or repeal the spending cuts but savings must be recouped somehow. Several energy tax incentives, especially for oil and gas producers, have been viewed as likely candidates for elimination to offset repeal of the Budget Control Act.

Please contact our office at (908) 725-4414 if you have any questions about the incentives we discussed and how you can develop a year-end tax plan that responds to the current climate of uncertainty.

Timing gains and losses: selloff before rising rates

In 2012, many taxpayers will have additional considerations when analyzing whether to sell investments before the end of the year or retain them in 2013. First, the Bush-era tax cuts are scheduled to expire at the end of 2012. This affects ordinary income rates, as well as rates on capital gains and dividends. Second, under the health care law, a new 3.8 percent Medicare tax on unearned income, including interest, dividends and capital gains, will take effect in 2013. Together, these real and potential changes may add up to hefty new taxes in 2013, unless Congress takes action otherwise.

Income tax rates

Current income tax rates continue through the end of 2012.  These include the overall individual income tax rates, currently at 10, 15, 25, 28, 33 and 35 percent. If Congress does not take any action, these rates revert to the higher rates that used to apply: 15, 28, 31, 36, and 39.6 percent. Republicans favor retaining all of the Bush-era rates. President Obama and many Democrats support retaining the 10, 15, 25, and 28 percent rates for lower- and middle-income taxpayers, while reinstating the 36 and 39.6 percent rates for taxpayers with income over $200,000 (single taxpayers) or $250,000 for joint filers.

Additionally, there are calls for tax reform and for an overall lowering of income tax rates, in exchange for ending unspecified tax deductions and benefits. For example, House Republicans have called for replacing current income tax rates with two brackets, of 10 and 25 percent.

Capital gains and dividends

Current income tax rates that extend through the end of 2012 also include the 15 percent rate on capital gains and qualified dividends for qualified taxpayers. If Congress does not act, these rates revert to much higher ordinary income rates, in the case of dividends, and to the 20 percent rate that formerly applied to capital gains. Again, the President and the Republicans would both extend the current rates, but disagree on whether to apply the extensions to all taxpayers (the Republicans) or only to lower- and middle-income taxpayers under the $200,000/$250,000 thresholds (the President).

3.8 percent tax

Adding to the mix is the impending 3.8 percent tax on unearned income. Under the health care law, this tax will apply to 2013 income (and beyond) of single taxpayers with income exceeding $200,000 and joint filers with income exceeding $250,000. The tax is imposed on the lesser of net investment income or the excess of adjusted gross income about the $200,000/$250,000 thresholds.

Net investment income also includes rents, royalties, gain from disposing of property used in a passive activity, and income from a trade or business that is a passive activity. The tax does not apply to distributions from retirement plans and IRAs. Taxpayers cannot necessarily avoid the tax by moving assets to a trust, because the tax will apply if trust income exceeds a threshold currently set at only $11,200.

Sell or hold

Generally, taxpayers should make investment decisions based on economics, holding on to a “good” investment and selling a “bad” investment. This involves looking at past performance and perhaps gazing into a crystal ball. Taxpayers that are debating whether to sell appreciated assets or assets that pay qualified dividends may want to act in 2012, when income tax rates are lower and before the 3.8 percent tax takes effect. Taxpayers considering the sale of declining assets may want to consider holding off until 2013, when losses can offset more highly-taxed gains and reduce the income potentially subject to the 3.8 percent tax.

Because the 3.8 percent tax does not apply to tax-free income, such as municipal bonds and distributions from a Roth IRA, taxpayers may want to shift some of their investments to yield nontaxable income. While the income from converting a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA would be included in the income calculations, qualifying distributions after the conversion would not be included.

Again, the decision must make economic sense. If the taxpayer expects an asset to continue to decline in value during 2012, he or she should sell the asset soon and not wait until 2013. Another consideration is the bunching of income. Taxpayers that sell substantial capital gains assets in 2013 may push their income up to the $200,000/$250,000 thresholds that trigger higher taxes. If the taxpayer is considering a sell-off of assets, it may make more sense to sell assets before 2013.

If a taxpayer wants to shift to more conservative investments, income yields may decline, but so will the incidence of the dividend, capital gains, and unearned income taxes described above. On the other hand, taxpayers looking at more speculative investments should understand that a successful investment may generate income taxed at higher rates in 2013.

Please contact our office at (908) 725-4414 if you have any questions.