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Posts tagged ‘Payroll tax cut’

Payroll tax holiday extended

On February 22, President Obama signed the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012.  The new law extends the employee-side payroll tax holiday, giving wage earners and self-employed individuals 12 months of reduced payroll taxes in 2012.

2011 payroll tax holiday

Until 2011, the Old-Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance (OASDI) tax rate for employees was 6.2 percent (12.4 percent for self-employed individuals who pay both the employee-share and the employer-share).  These taxes help to fund Social Security.

In 2011, a payroll tax holiday took effect.  The payroll tax holiday reduced the employee-share of OASDI taxes by two percentage points from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent for calendar year 2011 up to the Social Security wage base of $106,800.  The payroll tax holiday also gave a similar percentage reduction to self-employed individuals for calendar year 2011.

Two-month extension

The 2011 payroll tax holiday was originally enacted as a one-year tax break.  It was scheduled to expire after December 31, 2011.

In December 2011, Congress approved a two-month extension of the payroll tax holiday for January and February 2012.  The two-month extension provided for a 4.2 percent OASDI tax rate for individuals receiving wages and a comparable benefit for self-employed individuals through the end of February 2012.

Tough negotiations

In early 2012, lawmakers began negotiations over extending the two-month payroll tax holiday for the remainder of the year.  The 2011 payroll tax holiday had not been offset; that is, the lost revenue had not been made up elsewhere.  The two-month extension had been offset by higher fees on certain government-backed mortgages. Some lawmakers wanted any full-year extension of the payroll tax cut to be offset.

Several offsets were proposed and rejected, including a surtax on individuals with incomes over $1 million and repeal of certain business tax preferences.  In the end, lawmakers could not agree on any offsets and decided to extend the payroll tax holiday without paying for it.  They did agree to pay for extended unemployment benefits and the so-called Medicare “doc fix” with offsets.

The House passed the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of February 17 as did the Senate.  President Obama signed the bill on February 22.

2012 payroll tax holiday

The 2012 payroll tax holiday is essentially an extension of the 2011 payroll tax holiday. This means that wage earners pay OASDI taxes at a rate of 4.2 percent for calendar year 2012 up to the Social Security wage base ($110,100 for 2012). Self-employed individuals also benefit from a two-percentage point reduction in OASDI taxes for calendar year 2012.  The OASDI tax rate for employers, however, is not reduced and remains at 6.2 percent for calendar year 2012.

According to the White House, an “average” taxpayer should expect to see about $1,000 in savings in 2012.  An individual who makes at or above the Social Security wage base for 2012 ($110,100) will see a $2,202 benefit.

No recapture rule

In good news for some taxpayers, the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act repeals a recapture rule Congress had imposed on the two-month extension.  The recapture rule was intended to prevent higher income individuals from enjoying too great a benefit from the payroll tax cut if it was not extended for all of 2012.  Because the payroll tax cut has been extended through the end of 2012, the recapture rule is expressly removed in the new law.

Employers and payroll processors

Because the 2012 payroll tax cut holiday is essentially an extension of the 2011 payroll tax cut holiday, employers and payroll processors should expect few glitches. The IRS has reported it anticipates no problems in administering the extension through the end of 2012. It has already issued a revised 2012 Form 941, Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return, for use by employers to cover their revised reporting responsibilities.

If you have any questions about the 2012 payroll tax holiday, please contact our office at 1 (908) 725-4414.

Fate of the payroll tax cut

The fate of the employee-side payroll tax cut along with a host of tax extenders and other expired provisions could be decided in coming weeks. A conference committee of House and Senate members is negotiating a full-year extension of the payroll tax cut and could add some or all of the tax extenders to a final package. Lawmakers also could extend the payroll tax cut without acting on any tax incentives.

Payroll tax cut

The Temporary Payroll Tax Cut Continuation Act of 2011 extended the employee-side OASDI tax cut through the end of February 2012. The employee-share of OASDI taxes is 4.2 percent for the two-month period, rather than 6.2 percent. The employer-share of OASDI taxes remains at 6.2 percent for the two month period. Self-employed individuals also benefit from a two percentage point reduction in OASDI taxes.

Unless extended, the employee-share of OASDI taxes is scheduled to revert to 6.2 percent after February 29, 2012. The White House and the leaders of the two parties in Congress agree that the payroll tax cut should be extended a full-year. They disagree, however, how to pay for the extension; even if it should be paid for at all.

Congress could extend the two-month payroll tax cut through the end of 2012 without paying for it. The 2011 payroll tax cut was unfunded. Congress appropriated to the Social Security trust funds amounts equal to the reduction in payroll tax revenues. The 2011 payroll tax cut was estimated by the Congressional Budget Office cost approximately $111 billion. Extending it through the end of 2012 is estimated to cost just as much if not more.

House Republicans reportedly have proposed a number of revenue raisers to offset the cost of extending the payroll tax cut through the end of 2012. One GOP proposal would extend the current pay freeze for employees of the federal government. Another GOP proposal would require higher-income individuals to pay increased Medicare premiums.

One possible revenue raiser, increasingly under discussion by Democrats, is a change in the taxation of so-called carried interest. Current law generally taxes carried interest as capital gains and not as ordinary income. Past efforts to change the tax treatment of carried interest have failed to pass Congress.

Extenders

The so-called tax extenders, popular but temporary tax provisions, expired at the end of 2011. Many taxpayers are surprised to learn that their particular tax break, whether it be the state or local sales tax deduction, the teachers’ classroom expense deduction, or the research tax credit, are temporary. The extenders have been routinely revived many times in the past. This year, however, could be different. Faced with record federal budget deficits, lawmakers may decide to extend only some of the expired provisions.

President Obama’s FY 2013 proposals

President Obama is expected to release his fiscal year (FY) 2013 federal budget proposals in early February, which will reignite debate over the Bush-era tax cuts. President Obama is expected to urge Congress to allow the Bush-era tax cuts to expire after 2012 for higher-income taxpayers, which President Obama defines as individuals earning more than $200,000 or families earning more than $250,000. In recent weeks, there has been speculation that President Obama may revisit those definitions in his FY 2013 budget, possibly raising the amounts.

Few Capitol Hill observers expect Congress to take any action on the Bush-era tax cuts before the November elections. Instead, Congress may take up some of President Obama’s other proposals. As in past budgets, President Obama will likely propose to extend some energy tax breaks for individuals and businesses, extend tax incentives for education and provide some targeted-tax breaks to businesses. President Obama has also promised to introduce proposals to encourage U.S. companies to “insource” jobs at home.

On some issues, such as energy and education, lawmakers may find common ground but negotiations are likely to go down to the wire. Our office will keep you posted of developments.

If you have any questions about the payroll tax cut, tax extenders or the various tax proposals under discussion, please contact our office at (908) 725-4414.

Looking back: Top 10 federal tax developments of 2011

Looking back over 2011, the IRS, Congress and the courts made many tax decisions impacting taxpayers of all types. Some tax developments were taxpayer-friendly; others imposed new requirements on taxpayers.  Here is a brief rundown of the top 10 federal tax developments of 2011.

1. Bush-era tax cuts unresolved

Reduced individual income tax rates, marriage penalty relief, an enhanced child tax credit, and much more are part of a package of tax breaks known as the “Bush-era tax cuts.”  All of these incentives were renewed in 2010 and are scheduled to expire after 2012. President Obama wants to allow the Bush-era tax cuts to expire for higher income individuals, which the White House broadly defines as single persons with incomes over $200,000 and families with incomes over $250,000.  In the summer of 2011, the White House and the GOP reportedly came close to an agreement but nothing materialized.  The fate of the Bush-era tax cuts will likely be one of the major issues in the 2012 presidential election.

2. Foreign account reporting oversight increases

Since passage of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) in 2010, the Treasury Department and the IRS have ratcheted-up their oversight of foreign accounts.  In December 2011, the IRS issued final Form 8938, Statement of Specified Foreign Assets, which taxpayers will file to report foreign accounts (if they meet certain requirements). The IRS also issued guidance in 2011 for foreign financial institutions about their reporting obligations under FATCA.  In related news, the Treasury Department issued final rules on Form TD-F 90-22.1, Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR) in February 2011. Lastly, the IRS launched a new campaign in 2011 to encourage taxpayers to voluntarily disclose unreported offshore accounts.  The 2011 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Initiative (OVDI) rewarded taxpayers who came forward voluntarily with a reduced penalty framework (although not as generous as a similar program in 2009).

3. Payroll tax cut extended two months

President Obama signed the Temporary Payroll Tax Cut Continuation Act of 2011 in December 2011. The new law extends the employee-side payroll tax cut through the end of February 2012. The two-month extension is intended to give Congress additional time to negotiate a longer-term extension of the payroll tax cut to cover all of calendar year 2012.

4. Cell phones removed from listed property category

The Small Business Jobs Act of 2010 removed cell phones from the definition of “listed property.”  That category generally requires additional recordkeeping by taxpayers.  In September 2011, the IRS issued guidance on the treatment of employer- provided cell phones as an excludible fringe benefit. When an employer provides an employee with a cell phone primarily for noncompensatory business reasons, the business and personal use of the cell phone is generally nontaxable to the employee and the IRS will not require recordkeeping of business use to receive this tax-free treatment.

5. IRS launches Voluntary Classification Settlement Program

In September 2011, the IRS launched a new program to enable employers to voluntarily reclassify their workers for federal employment tax purposes and take advantage of a reduced penalty framework.  The Voluntary Classification Settlement Program (VCSP) is open to employers currently treating their workers as independent contractors and who want to prospectively treat the workers as employees. The employer must not be under audit and satisfy other requirements.  The IRS has not announced an end-date to the VCSP.

6. IRS makes mid-year 2011 adjustment to business standard mileage rate

For the third time in six years, the IRS announced a mid-year adjustment to the business standard mileage rate because of rising gasoline prices.  The business standard mileage rate increased from 51 cents-per-mile to 55.5 cents-per-mile for the second half of 2011. The medical/moving standard mileage rate increased from 19 cents-per-mile to 23.5 cents-per-mile for the second half of 2011. Congress did not make a mid-year adjustment to the charitable standard mileage rate, which remained at 14 cents-per-mile for the second half of 2011. For 2012, the business standard mileage rate is 55.5 cents-per-mile and the medical/moving standard mileage rate is 23 cents-per-mile. The statutorily-determined charitable standard mileage rate remains at 14 cents-per-mile for 2012.

7. FUTA surtax expires

In 1976, Congress enacted the 0.2 percent FUTA surtax to help repay federal revenues paid in unemployment benefits. The Worker, Homeownership and Business Assistance Act of 2009 extended the surtax through 2010 and the first six months of 2011.The 0.2-percent FUTA surtax expired after June 30, 2011.  In December 2011, the IRS released Form 940, Employer’s Annual Federal Unemployment (FUTA) Tax Return, and accompanying schedules, for 2011. Form 940 for 2011 reflects the mid-year expiration of the FUTA surtax.

8. IRS continues Fresh Start Initiative

During 2011, the IRS continued its Fresh Start Initiative, which the agency explains is its response to the economic slowdown. The Fresh Start Initiative allows lien withdrawals for taxpayers entering into direct debit installment agreements (and for taxpayers who convert from a regular installment agreement to a direct debit agreement).  The IRS also announced it would make streamlined installment agreements available to more small businesses.  Qualified small businesses with $25,000 or less in unpaid taxes can participate in the streamlined installment agreement program.

9. Basis overstatement regs

The Supreme Court agreed in September 2011 to resolve a split among the federal courts of appeal over IRS regulations that impose a six-year limitations period on assessments due to overstated basis.  The IRS asked the Supreme Court to decide, among other questions, whether an understatement of gross income attributable to an overstatement of basis in sold property is an omission from income that can trigger the six-year assessment period.

10. Congress bans tax strategy patents

In September 2011, President Obama signed the America Invents Act.  The new law is a comprehensive overhaul of the nation’s patent laws. The new law treats any strategy for reducing, avoiding or deferring tax liability as prior art under patent law and therefore not patentable.

If you have any questions about these or any tax developments in 2011, please contact our office at (908) 725-4414

Payroll tax cut extended; temp. incentives expire

As 2012 gets underway, Congress has extended the employee-side payroll tax cut but a laundry list of tax incentives have expired and their renewal is in doubt.  The fate of these incentives, along with the Bush-era tax cuts, will dominate debate in Washington D.C. in 2012.  At the same time, tax planning in a time of uncertainty appears to have become the new normal.

Payroll tax cut

The Temporary Payroll Tax Cut Continuation Act of 2011, approved by Congress on December 23 and signed by President Obama the same day, extends the 2011 payroll tax holiday through the end of February 2012. The employee-share of OASDI taxes is 4.2 percent for the period January 1, 2012 through February 29, 2012 (10.4 percent for self-employment income). The new law also includes a recapture provision for certain individuals.  However, the House Ways and Means Committee reported that the recapture provision will only apply if the payroll tax reduction is not extended for the remainder of 2012.  Lawmakers are expected to extend the employee-side payroll tax cut through the end of 2012, although not before difficult negotiations.

One speed bump to extending the payroll tax cut through the end of 2012 is its cost. The two-month extension is paid for by increasing certain fees charged to mortgage lenders.  A full-year extension will require additional offsets (unless Congress decides not to offset an extension). Lawmakers are reportedly discussing additional revenue raisers, such as unspecified changes to the S corporation rules and the closing of a loophole for corporate jets.  Other revenue raisers reportedly under consideration are repeal of certain oil and gas preferences and repeal of the last-in, first-out (LIFO) method of accounting.  A variety of spending cuts are also on the table.

Extenders

After December 31, 2011, many popular but temporary tax breaks expire.  The incentives, which are known as “extenders,” impact individuals and businesses.  Some of the more popular individual extenders are the state and local sales tax deduction, the higher education tuition deduction, and the teachers’ classroom expense deduction.  For businesses, the research tax credit is one of the most important extenders.

One immediate change that many taxpayers will notice is a drop in transit benefits.  In 2011, commuters benefitted from more generous transit benefits.  The 2011 monthly limit on the tax benefit for transit and vanpools of $230 per month reverts to $125 per month in 2012. However, the monthly limit for qualified parking provided by an employer to its employees for 2012 will increase to $240, up $10 from the limit in 2011.

Several bills have been introduced in Congress to extend the expiring incentives. However, the bills have languished in committee. One reason for the lack of movement is that Congress can extend the incentives in 2012 and make them retroactive to January 1, 2012.  The extenders are also separate from the temporary Bush-era tax cuts, which are scheduled to expire after December 31, 2012.  Many lawmakers do not want to link the extenders to the more-controversial Bush-era tax cuts.

IRS budget

One bill that did pass Congress at year-end 2011 was a fiscal year 2012 budget for the IRS.  Congress voted to cut $305 million from the IRS’s FY 2012 budget.  How this cut will impact IRS operations is unknown. In November 2011, the IRS offered buyouts and early outs to back-office employees to reduce its greatest expense: employee payroll.  The IRS could also delay some business systems modernizations to save money.  The IRS will likely keep customer service as close as possible to full funding, especially during the busy 2012 filing season.

Tax planning

One of the most significant challenges to long-term tax planning is the on-again, off-again nature of many tax incentives.  Temporary incentives, such as the research tax credit and the state and local sales tax deduction, have become de facto permanent incentives because they are regularly extended.   Nonetheless, they are temporary. Because of their temporary nature, taxpayers must have two tax plans: one that takes into account an extension of the incentives, and a second plan that does not.

If you have any questions about tax planning and tax legislation in 2012, please contact our office at (908) 725-4414.