2012 Tax Planning: Individual Overview
2012 began with great uncertainty over federal tax policy and now, with the end of the year approaching, that uncertainty appears to be far from any long-term resolution. A host of reduced tax rates, credits, deductions, and other incentives (collectively called the “Bush-era” tax cuts) are scheduled to expire after December 31, 2012. To further complicate planning, over 50 tax extenders are up for renewal, either having expired at the end of 2011 or scheduled to expire after 2012. At the same time, the federal government will be under sequestration, which imposes across-the-board spending cuts after 2012. The combination of all these events has many referring to 2013 as “taxmeggedon.”
Expiring incentives. The phrase “Bush-era” tax cuts is the collective term for the tax measures enacted in the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 (EGTRRA) and Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003 (JGTRRA). EGTRRA and JGTRRA made over 30 major changes to the Tax Code that are scheduled to sunset at the end of 2012.
In July 2012, the House and Senate passed competing bills to extend many of the expiring incentives one more year. Both bills would extend the current income tax rates (10, 15, 25, 28, 33, and 35 percent) through 2013. The House bill would extend the current capital gains and dividends treatment but the Senate bill would extend the tax favorable rates only for individuals with incomes below $200,000 (families with incomes below $250,000). For income in excess of $200,000/$250,000 the tax rate on capital gains and dividends would be 20 percent. Both bills would extend the $1,000 child tax credit through 2013 and provide for an AMT patch for 2012 (the House bill also provides an AMT patch for 2013).
3.8 Percent Medicare Contribution Tax. In 2013, two new taxes kick-in. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) imposes an additional 0.9 percent Medicare tax on wages and self-employment income and a 3.8 percent Medicare contribution tax. The 3.8 percent Medicare contribution tax will apply after 2012 to single individuals with a modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) in excess of $200,000 and married taxpayers with an MAGI in excess of $250,000. MAGI for purposes of the Medicare contribution tax includes wages, salaries, tips, and other compensation, dividend and interest income, business and farm income, realized capital gains, and income from a variety of other passive activities and certain foreign earned income. For individuals liable for the tax, the amount of tax owed will be equal to 3.8 percent multiplied by the lesser of (1) net investment income or (2) the amount by which their MAGI exceeds the $200,000/$250,000 thresholds. Taxpayers with MAGIs below the $200,000/$250,000 thresholds will not be subject to the 3.8 percent tax.
End of Payroll Tax Holiday. For the past two years, the employee’s share of Old Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance (OASDI taxes has been reduced from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent (with comparable relief for the self-employed). Under current law, that reduction is scheduled to expire after December 31, 2012. On January 1, 2013, the employee’s share of OASDI taxes will revert to 6.2 percent; effectively increasing payroll taxes across the board.
Alternative Minimum Tax. The alternative minimum tax (AMT) rates (26 and 28 percent on the excess of alternative minimum taxable income over the applicable exemption amount) are not scheduled to change in 2013. However, exposure to the AMT may change as a result of the scheduled sunset of the regular tax rates. Because the determination of AMT liability requires a comparison between regular tax and AMT computations, the higher regular tax rates post-2012 may help lower AMT exposure by the same amount.
However, taxpayers should not ignore the possibility of being subject to the AMT, as this may negate certain year-end tax strategies. For example, if income and deductions are manipulated to reduce regular tax liability, AMT for 2012 may increase because of differences in the income and deductions allowed for AMT purposes.
As in past years, taxpayers are waiting to see if Congress will enact an AMT “patch” for 2012. The last patch, which provided for increased exemption amounts and use of the nonrefundable personal credits against AMT liability, expired after 2011.
Personal Exemption/Itemized Deduction Phaseouts. Higher income taxpayers may also be subject to the return of the personal exemption phaseout and the so-called Pease limitation on itemized deductions. Both of these provisions were repealed through 2012. However, they are scheduled to return after 2012 unless the repeal is extended.
Revival of the personal exemption phaseout rules would reduce or eliminate the deduction for personal exemptions for higher income taxpayers starting at “phaseout” amounts that, adjusted for inflation, would start at $267,200 AGI for joint filers and $178,150 for single filers.
In addition, return of the Pease limitation on itemized deductions (named for the member of Congress who sponsored the legislation) would reduce itemized deductions by the lesser of:
Three percent of the amount of the taxpayer’s AGI in excess of a threshold inflation-adjusted amount projected for 2013 to be $178,150 ($89,075) for a married individual filing separately), or
80 percent of the itemized deductions otherwise allowable for the tax year.
Education. American Opportunity Tax Credit. In 2009, congress enhanced the Hope education credit and renamed it the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC). The temporary enhancements, including a maximum credit of $2,500, availability of the credit for the first four years of post-secondary education, and partial refundability for qualified taxpayers, are scheduled to expire after 2012. Under current law, less generous amounts will be available with the revived Hope education credit.
Coverdell Education Savings Accounts. Similar to IRAs, Coverdell Education Savings Accounts (Coverdell ESAs) are accounts established to pay for qualified education expenses. Under current law, the maximum annual contribution to a Coverdell ESA is $2,000, and qualified education expenses include elementary and secondary school expenses. Unless extended, the maximum annual contribution for a Coverdell ESA is scheduled to decrease to $500 after 2012.
Employer-Provided Education Assistance. Under current law, qualified employer-provided education assistance of up to $5,250 may be excluded from income and employment taxes. However, the 2010 Tax Relief Act only made the exclusion available through 2012.
Student Loan Interest. Individual taxpayers with MAGI below $75,000 ($150,000 for married couples filing a joint return) may be eligible to deduct interest paid on qualified education loans up to a maximum deduction of $2,500, subject to income phase out rules. The enhanced treatment for the student loan interest deduction is scheduled to expire after 2012.
Higher Education Tuition Deduction. The above-the-line higher education tuition deduction expired after 2011. The maximum $4,000 deduction was available for qualified tuition and fees at post-secondary institutions, subject to income phaseouts.
Individual Tax Planning. Year-end planning for 2012 requires a combination of multi-layered strategies, taking into account a variety of possible scenarios and outcomes. Traditional year-end planning techniques nevertheless remain important. Particularly as applied to the special 2012 year-end circumstances. Every tax situation is different and requires a careful and comprehensive plan. We can assist you in aligning traditional year-end techniques with strategies for dealing with the uncertainties created by Congress’s delay in addressing sunsetting tax rates and the extension of other major tax benefits. Please call our office for an appointment.