Of Taxes Past, Present, and Future

With the 2011 tax filing season behind us, much attention is being paid to the expiring “Bush tax cuts”–the reduced federal income tax rates, and benefits, that will expire at the end of 2012 unless additional legislation is passed. In fact, though, several important federal income tax provisions already expired at the end of 2011. Here’s a quick rundown of where things stand today.

What’s Already Expired?

A series of temporary legislative “patches” over the last several years has prevented a dramatic increase in the number of individuals subject to the alternative minimum tax (AMT)–essentially a parallel federal income tax system with its own rates and rules. The last such patch expired at the end of 2011. Unless new legislation is passed, your odds of being caught in the AMT net greatly increase in 2012, because AMT exemption amounts will be significantly lower, and you won’t be able to offset the AMT with most nonrefundable personal tax credits.

Other provisions that have already expired:

  • Bonus depreciation and IRC Section 179 expense limits– If you’re a small business owner or self-employed individual, you were allowed a first-year depreciation deduction of 100% of the cost of qualifying property acquired and placed in service during 2011; this “bonus” depreciation drops to 50% for property acquired and placed in service during 2012, and disappears altogether in 2013. For 2011, the maximum amount that you could expense under IRC Section 179 was $500,000; in 2012, the maximum is $139,000; and in 2013, the maximum will be $25,000.
  • State and local sales tax– If you itemize your deductions, 2011 was the last tax year for which you could elect to deduct state and local general sales tax in lieu of state and local income tax.
  • Education deductions– The above-the-line deduction (maximum $4,000 deduction) for qualified higher education expenses, and the above-the-line deduction for up to $250 of out-of-pocket classroom expenses paid by education professionals both expired at the end of 2011.

What’s Expiring At The End Of 2012?

After December 31, 2012, we’re scheduled to go from six federal tax brackets (10%, 15%, 25%, 28%, 33%, and 35%) to five (15%, 28%, 31%, 36%, and 39.6%). The rates that apply to long-term capital gains and dividends will change as well. Currently, long-term capital

gains are generally taxed at a maximum rate of 15%. And, if you’re in the 10% or 15% marginal income tax bracket, a special 0% rate generally applies. Starting in 2013, however, the maximum rate on long-term capital gains will generally increase to 20%, with a 10% rate applying to those in the lowest (15%) tax bracket (though slightly lower rates might apply to qualifying property held for five or more years). And while the current lower long-term capital gain rates now apply to qualifying dividends, starting in 2013, dividends will be taxed at ordinary income tax rates.

Other provisions expiring at the end of the year:

  • 2% payroll tax reduction– The recently extended 2% reduction in the Social Security portion of the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) payroll tax expires at the end of 2012.
  • Itemized deductions and personal exemptions– Beginning in 2013, itemized deductions and personal and dependency exemptions will once again be phased out for individuals with high adjusted gross incomes (AGIs).
  • Tax credits and deductions– The earned income tax credit, the child tax credit, and the American Opportunity (Hope) tax credit revert to old, lower limits and (less generous) rules of application. Also gone in 2013 is the ability to deduct interest on student loans after the first 60 months of repayment.

New Medicare Taxes in 2013

New Medicare taxes created by the health-care reform legislation passed in 2010 take effect in just a few short months. Beginning in 2013, the hospital insurance (HI) portion of the payroll tax–commonly referred to as the Medicare portion–increases by 0.9% for high-wage individuals. Also beginning in 2013, a new 3.8% Medicare contribution tax is imposed on the unearned income of high-income individuals.

Who is affected? The 0.9% payroll tax increase affects those with wages exceeding $200,000 ($250,000 for married couples filing a joint federal income tax return, and $125,000 for married individuals filing separately). The 3.8% contribution tax on unearned income generally applies to the net investment income of individuals with modified adjusted gross income that exceeds $200,000 ($250,000 for married couples filing a joint federal income tax return, and $125,000 for married individuals filing separately).

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