As we rapidly approach the end of the year, the time to implement tax planning strategies for 2012 will soon end. The combination of the large number of changes that are already scheduled to occur and the multitude of others being considered makes tax planning especially difficult this year. Listed below are several considerations that we hope you will review with respect to your own particular circumstances. As always, we are available to answer any questions you have or to assist you with any tax planning needs.
Gift Tax Exclusions
The top tax rate for estates is currently scheduled to increase from 35% to 55% and the estate tax exemption amount would be lowered from $5 million to $1 million beginning with the 2013 tax year. Clients with significant assets who wish to consider gifting to family or others should act immediately to implement such strategies. However, this is likely an area where legislation will be implemented to change the estate tax rate and/or exemption amount.
For almost two years, employees and self-employed individuals have enjoyed a reduction of 2% (4.2% rather than 6.2%) on their portion of social security taxes. This reduction is currently scheduled to expire on December 31, 2012 and, unless renewed, will impact all paychecks issued after this date.
Income and Deduction Timing
In most tax years, we recommend that to the extent possible, our clients accelerate deductions and defer income. However, given the current legislative environment that we face, this advice may not necessarily be the best plan. Effective tax rates are likely to increase significantly for many high earning individuals and businesses. A determination as to the best course of action requires consideration of many factors unique to each taxpayer. We would recommend that you call us for a consultation to determine the best strategy for your situation.
Bunching of Deductions
Certain deductions (including the deduction for medical expenses and miscellaneous itemized deductions) require reaching a certain threshold to gain the benefit of the deduction. In many cases, taxpayers miss out on these deductions because they consistently remain below the threshold. Some taxpayers may benefit by “bunching” their deductions in one tax year. This is accomplished by paying more of the deduction in the current year to give the taxpayer some deduction benefit. To determine the appropriate limitation and whether bunching might be an advisable strategy, please contact our office.
Medicare Surtax on Investment Income
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) imposes an additional 3.8% Medicare surtax on an individual’s net investment income effective January 1, 2013. The tax applies to the lesser of an individual’s net investment income (i.e. interest, dividends, and net capital gains) or the amount of modified adjusted gross income in excess of the specified threshold ($200,000 for single taxpayers, $250,000 for married taxpayers filing a joint return, and $125,000 for married taxpayers filing separate returns).
Additional Medicare Tax
Beginning after December 31, 2012, an additional 0.9% Medicare tax will be levied on wages in excess of a defined amount ($200,000 for single taxpayers, $250,000 for married taxpayers filing a joint return, and $125,000 for married taxpayers filing separate returns).
Income Tax Rates
One of the hottest topics of discussion in Washington revolves around income tax rates. Currently, the income tax brackets established during the Bush administration are all scheduled to expire. This would impact taxpayers at all income levels. However, both political parties agree that, at least for middle and lower income taxpayers, the tax brackets should be kept at their current levels. President Obama has proposed that the brackets for higher income taxpayers be allowed to expire. The Republicans currently disagree with his proposal. Unless an agreement is reached, tax brackets for all taxpayers will be increased.
Capital Gain and Qualified Dividend Rates
For several years, capital gains and certain qualified dividends have enjoyed a favorable tax rate (not to exceed 15%). Currently, these favorable rates are scheduled to expire. This would result in such income being taxed at ordinary income tax rates. However, both political parties appear to agree that a full expiration is not a likely outcome. President Obama has proposed the current rate structure for low and middle income taxpayers with a new 20% rate bracket for higher income taxpayers. However, no proposal has been agreed upon.
Alternative Minimum Tax
Consistent with the last several years, Congress is waiting until the last minute to “patch” the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) exclusion amount. This results in a reduction in the number of taxpayers affected by the AMT. Congress is likely to approve an increase to the exclusion again this year, but currently no concrete action has been taken.
For the past several years, taxpayers have been allowed to take a special bonus depreciation (50% or 100% of the cost) on certain business assets. These special bonus provisions are set to expire on December 31, 2012.
Section 179 Expense Limitation
This IRC Section allows for the immediate expensing (100% of cost) of a certain amount of business property placed in service during any given year. For 2012, the maximum expense limit was reduced $139,000. In 2013, the expense limit is further reduced to $25,000. In addition, the expense allowance is limited or eliminated once a taxpayer’s investment in fixed assets exceeds $560,000 (in 2012) or $200,000 (in 2013). Both of these amounts are significantly reduced from 2011.
Itemized Deduction Limitation
One of the more popular proposals in Washington is to limit itemized deduction benefits rather than increase tax rates. The details of what deductions would be limited and how the limitation would be calculated is currently unknown.
Taxpayers domiciled in California or who have California source income have additional items to consider. These items include the following:
Individual Income Tax Rates
Proposition 30, which passed in the recent general election, imposes a retroactive income tax rate increase back to January 1, 2012. This tax rate increase adds anywhere from 1% to 3% to the existing top marginal tax rate of 9.3% for taxpayers with taxable income over certain levels, ($500,000 married taxpayers filing a joint return; $250,000 single taxpayers and married taxpayers filing a separate return; or $340,000 taxpayers filing head of household).
Itemized Deduction Limitation
Consistent with prior years, California severely limits itemized deductions for higher income taxpayers. This limitation, combined with the rate increases described above, will result in significantly higher California taxes for many taxpayers.
Sales Tax Increase
Proposition 30 also increased the sales tax rate by 0.25% for the next four years (beginning in 2013). Taxpayers responsible for collecting sales tax should be prepared to collect tax at the new rate beginning January 1, 2013.
Single Sales Factor Apportionment
Multi-state taxpayers have historically apportioned income to California based on a factor determined by the taxpayer’s relative amount of California sales, payroll, and property. Beginning with the 2013 tax year, taxpayers will be required to apportion their income based only on sales. Additionally, the method that taxpayers use to determine which state sales are attributable to has changed.
Other Planning Matters
Several traditional tax planning strategies may still be beneficial to many taxpayers. These strategies include:
Annual gifting up to the annual exclusion amount of $13,000
Determining the timing, amount, and method of charitable contributions, both cash and noncash contributions
Acceleration of the payment for certain deductible items (mortgage, property taxes, etc.)
Acceleration of state tax payments for taxpayers not affected by alternative minimum tax
Acceleration of business equipment, furniture and fixtures into December
Retirement plan considerations (many retirement plans must be set up by the end of the year to get 2012 tax year benefit, even if they will not be funded until later into 2013)
Appropriate timing of payroll payments and the associated payroll tax
Please Contact Us
As always, our office stands ready to assist you in compiling the effect of each of these provisions to your own tax situation. Please contact our office if we can assist in any way.
HALVERSON & COMPANY