New Tax Rules Under the Affordable Care Act – Individual Health Insurance

Dear Client:

Individuals without insurance owe a new tax. Although the administration delayed to 2015 the requirement that employers with 50 or more full-time workers provide employees with affordable health coverage or pay a fine, the 2014 starting date for the individual mandate wasn’t deferred.

All people must have qualifying coverage for themselves and their dependents to avoid the tax. This includes, for example, health coverage provided by an employer that meets minimum federal requirements, coverage purchased through an exchange and federal coverage such as Medicare, Medicaid, Tricare and veteran’s coverage.

Individuals for whom coverage is too expensive are exempt from the tax. Employees whose share of premiums exceed 8% of the household’s AGI (adjusted gross income) won’t be taxed. This is also true for people ineligible for employer coverage if the cost of a basic bronze-level plan in an exchange, less any tax credit for buying insurance, exceeds 8% of household AGI.

Also exempt: Filers without coverage for periods of less than three months and people who can show that a hardship forced them to go without coverage, including those whose insurance was canceled and who can’t buy an affordable policy.

The tax for being uninsured is normally the higher of two amounts:

The basic penalty or an income-based levy. The basic penalty is $95 a person ($47.50 for each family member who is under the age of 18), with a ceiling of $285. The income-based penalty is 1% of the excess of the taxpayer’s household AGI over the minimum level of AGI needed to trigger filing a return–$10,150 for singles and $20,300 for couples, plus $3,950 per dependent. The tax is lowered proportionally for any months the taxpayer had coverage. The levies will be higher in 2015 and 2016.

But in no case can the tax exceed the cost of a bronze-level exchange plan for the taxpayer and family members, also adjusted for months with health coverage.

IRS has limited remedies to collect this tax. It cannot use liens or levies, so it can only offset tax refunds. Nor can it charge interest on the unpaid balance.

Lower-incomers get a refundable tax credit to help them afford coverage. They can elect to have the credit sent directly to an exchange to help pay premiums or take the credit on their returns. The credit is allowed on a sliding scale for filers with household income over $11,490 for singles and $23,550 for a family of four. It ends as household income hits $45,960 for singles and $94,200 for a family of four.

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American Taxpayer Relief Act, H.R. 8

Pulling back from the “fiscal cliff” at the 13th hour, Congress on Tuesday preserved most of the George W. Bush-era tax cuts and extended many other lapsed tax provisions.

With some modifications targeting the wealthiest Americans with higher taxes, the act permanently extends provisions of the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001, P.L. 107-16 (EGTRRA), and Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003, P.L. 108-27 (JGTRRA). It also permanently takes care of Congress’s perennial job of “patching” the alternative minimum tax (AMT). It temporarily extends many other tax provisions that had lapsed at midnight on Dec. 31 and others that had expired a year earlier.

The act’s nontax features include one-year extensions of emergency unemployment insurance and agricultural programs and yet another “doc fix” postponement of automatic cuts in Medicare payments to physicians. In addition, it delays until March a broad range of automatic federal spending cuts known as sequestration that otherwise would have begun this month.

Among the tax items not addressed by the act was the temporary lower 4.2% rate for employees’ portion of the Social Security payroll tax, which was not extended and has reverted to 6.2%.

Here are the act’s main tax features:

Individual tax rates

All the individual marginal tax rates under EGTRRA and JGTRRA are retained (10%, 15%, 25%, 28%, 33%, and 35%). A new top rate of 39.6% is imposed on taxable income over $400,000 for single filers, $425,000 for head-of-household filers, and $450,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly ($225,000 for each married spouse filing separately).

Phaseout of itemized deductions and personal exemptions

The personal exemptions and itemized deductions phaseout is reinstated at a higher threshold of $250,000 for single taxpayers, $275,000 for heads of household, and $300,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly.

Capital gains and dividends

A 20% rate applies to capital gains and dividends for individuals above the top income tax bracket threshold; the 15% rate is retained for taxpayers in the middle brackets. The zero rate is retained for taxpayers in the 10% and 15% brackets.

Alternative minimum tax

The exemption amount for the AMT on individuals is permanently indexed for inflation. For 2012, the exemption amounts are $78,750 for married taxpayers filing jointly and $50,600 for single filers. Relief from AMT for nonrefundable credits is retained.

Estate and gift tax

The estate and gift tax exclusion amount is retained at $5 million indexed for inflation ($5.12 million in 2012), but the top tax rate increases from 35% to 40% effective Jan. 1, 2013. The estate tax “portability” election, under which, if an election is made, the surviving spouse’s exemption amount is increased by the deceased spouse’s unused exemption amount, was made permanent by the act.

Permanent extensions

Various temporary tax provisions enacted as part of EGTRRA were made permanent. These include:

  • Marriage penalty relief (i.e., the increased size of the 15% rate bracket (Sec. 1(f)(8)) and increased standard deduction for married taxpayers filing jointly (Sec. 63(c)(2));
  • The liberalized child and dependent care credit rules (allowing the credit to be calculated based on up to $3,000 of expenses for one dependent or up to $6,000 for more than one) (Sec. 21);
  • The exclusion for National Health Services Corps and Armed Forces Health Professions Scholarships (Sec. 117(c)(2));
  • The exclusion for employer-provided educational assistance (Sec. 127);
  • The enhanced rules for student loan deductions introduced by EGTRRA (Sec. 221);
  • The higher contribution amount and other EGTRRA changes to Coverdell education savings accounts (Sec. 530);
  • The employer-provided child care credit (Sec. 45F);
  • Special treatment of tax-exempt bonds for education facilities (Sec 142(a)(13));
  • Repeal of the collapsible corporation rules (Sec. 341);
  • Special rates for accumulated earnings tax and personal holding company tax (Secs. 531 and 541); and
  • Modified tax treatment for electing Alaska Native Settlement Trusts (Sec. 646).

Individual credits expired at the end of 2012

The American opportunity tax credit for qualified tuition and other expenses of higher education was extended through 2018. Other credits and items from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, P.L. 111-5, that were extended for the same five-year period include enhanced provisions of the child tax credit under Sec. 24(d) and the earned income tax credit under Sec. 32(b). In addition, the bill permanently extends a rule excluding from taxable income refunds from certain federal and federally assisted programs (Sec. 6409).

Individual provisions expired at the end of 2011

The act also extended through 2013 a number of temporary individual tax provisions, most of which expired at the end of 2011:

  • Deduction for certain expenses of elementary and secondary school teachers (Sec. 62);
  • Exclusion from gross income of discharge of qualified principal residence indebtedness (Sec. 108);
  • Parity for exclusion from income for employer-provided mass transit and parking benefits (Sec. 132(f));
  • Mortgage insurance premiums treated as qualified residence interest (Sec. 163(h));
  • Deduction of state and local general sales taxes (Sec. 164(b));
  • Special rule for contributions of capital gain real property made for conservation purposes (Sec. 170(b));
  • Above-the-line deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses (Sec. 222); and
  • Tax-free distributions from individual retirement plans for charitable purposes (Sec. 408(d)).

Business tax extenders

The act also extended many business tax credits and other provisions. Notably, it extended through 2013 and modified the Sec. 41 credit for increasing research and development activities, which expired at the end of 2011. The credit is modified to allow partial inclusion in qualified research expenses and gross receipts those of an acquired trade or business or major portion of one. The increased expensing amounts under Sec. 179 are extended through 2013. The availability of an additional 50% first-year bonus depreciation (Sec. 168(k)) was also extended for one year by the act. It now generally applies to property placed in service before Jan. 1, 2014 (Jan. 1, 2015, for certain property with longer production periods).

Other business provisions extended through 2013, and in some cases modified, are:

  • Temporary minimum low-income tax credit rate for non-federally subsidized new buildings (Sec. 42);
  • Housing allowance exclusion for determining area median gross income for qualified residential rental project exempt facility bonds (Section 3005 of the Housing Assistance Tax Act of 2008);
  • Indian employment tax credit (Sec. 45A);
  • New markets tax credit (Sec. 45D);
  • Railroad track maintenance credit (Sec. 45G);
  • Mine rescue team training credit (Sec. 45N);
  • Employer wage credit for employees who are active duty members of the uniformed services (Sec. 45P);
  • Work opportunity tax credit (Sec. 51);
  • Qualified zone academy bonds (Sec. 54E);
  • Fifteen-year straight-line cost recovery for qualified leasehold improvements, qualified restaurant buildings and improvements, and qualified retail improvements (Sec. 168(e));
  • Accelerated depreciation for business property on an Indian reservation (Sec. 168(j));
  • Enhanced charitable deduction for contributions of food inventory (Sec. 170(e));
  • Election to expense mine safety equipment (Sec. 179E);
  • Special expensing rules for certain film and television productions (Sec. 181);
  • Deduction allowable with respect to income attributable to domestic production activities in Puerto Rico (Sec. 199(d));
  • Modification of tax treatment of certain payments to controlling exempt organizations (Sec. 512(b));
  • Treatment of certain dividends of regulated investment companies (Sec. 871(k));
  • Regulated investment company qualified investment entity treatment under the Foreign Investment in Real Property Act (Sec. 897(h));
  • Extension of subpart F exception for active financing income (Sec. 953(e));
  • Lookthrough treatment of payments between related controlled foreign corporations under foreign personal holding company rules (Sec. 954);
  • Temporary exclusion of 100% of gain on certain small business stock (Sec. 1202);
  • Basis adjustment to stock of S corporations making charitable contributions of property (Sec. 1367);
  • Reduction in S corporation recognition period for built-in gains tax (Sec. 1374(d));
  • Empowerment Zone tax incentives (Sec. 1391);
  • Tax-exempt financing for New York Liberty Zone (Sec. 1400L);
  • Temporary increase in limit on cover-over of rum excise taxes to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands (Sec. 7652(f)); and
  • American Samoa economic development credit (Section 119 of the Tax Relief and Health Care Act of 2006, P.L. 109-432, as modified).

Energy tax extenders

The act also extends through 2013, and in some cases modifies, a number of energy credits and provisions that expired at the end of 2011:

  • Credit for energy-efficient existing homes (Sec. 25C);
  • Credit for alternative fuel vehicle refueling property (Sec. 30C);
  • Credit for two- or three-wheeled plug-in electric vehicles (Sec. 30D);
  • Cellulosic biofuel producer credit (Sec. 40(b), as modified);
  • Incentives for biodiesel and renewable diesel (Sec. 40A);
  • Production credit for Indian coal facilities placed in service before 2009 (Sec. 45(e)) (extended to an eight-year period);
  • Credits with respect to facilities producing energy from certain renewable resources (Sec. 45(d), as modified);
  • Credit for energy-efficient new homes (Sec. 45L);
  • Credit for energy-efficient appliances (Sec. 45M);
  • Special allowance for cellulosic biofuel plant property (Sec. 168(l), as modified);
  • Special rule for sales or dispositions to implement Federal Energy
  • Regulatory Commission or state electric restructuring policy for qualified electric utilities (Sec. 451); and
  • Alternative fuels excise tax credits (Sec. 6426).

Foreign provisions

The IRS’s authority under Sec. 1445(e)(1) to apply a withholding tax to gains on the disposition of U.S. real property interests by partnerships, trusts, or estates that are passed through to partners or beneficiaries that are foreign persons is made permanent, and the amount is increased to 20%.

New taxes

In addition to the various provisions discussed above, some new taxes also took effect Jan. 1 as a result of 2010’s health care reform legislation.

Additional hospital insurance tax on high-income taxpayers. The employee portion of the hospital insurance tax part of FICA, normally 1.45% of covered wages, is increased by 0.9% on wages that exceed a threshold amount. The additional tax is imposed on the combined wages of both the taxpayer and the taxpayer’s spouse, in the case of a joint return. The threshold amount is $250,000 in the case of a joint return or surviving spouse, $125,000 in the case of a married individual filing a separate return, and $200,000 in any other case.

For self-employed taxpayers, the same additional hospital insurance tax applies to the hospital insurance portion of SECA tax on self-employment income in excess of the threshold amount.

Medicare tax on investment income. Starting Jan. 1, Sec. 1411 imposes a tax on individuals equal to 3.8% of the lesser of the individual’s net investment income for the year or the amount the individual’s modified adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeds a threshold amount. For estates and trusts, the tax equals 3.8% of the lesser of undistributed net investment income or AGI over the dollar amount at which the highest trust and estate tax bracket begins.

For married individuals filing a joint return and surviving spouses, the threshold amount is $250,000; for married taxpayers filing separately, it is $125,000; and for other individuals it is $200,000.

Net investment income means investment income reduced by deductions properly allocable to that income. Investment income includes income from interest, dividends, annuities, royalties, and rents, and net gain from disposition of property, other than such income derived in the ordinary course of a trade or business. However, income from a trade or business that is a passive activity and from a trade or business of trading in financial instruments or commodities is included in investment income.

Medical care itemized deduction threshold. The threshold for the itemized deduction for unreimbursed medical expenses has increased from 7.5% of AGI to 10% of AGI for regular income tax purposes. This is effective for all individuals, except, in the years 2013–2016, if either the taxpayer or the taxpayer’s spouse has turned 65 before the end of the tax year, the increased threshold does not apply and the threshold remains at 7.5% of AGI.

Health flexible spending arrangement. Effective for cafeteria plan years beginning after Dec. 31, 2012, the maximum amount of salary reduction contributions that an employee may elect to have made to a flexible spending arrangement for any plan year is $2,500.

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Year End Tax Planning Letter

To Our Clients and Friends:

Year-end planning will be more challenging than normal this year. Unless Congress acts, starting in 2013, individuals will see higher tax rates across the board and a number of popular deductions and credits will be gone. Estate and gift tax rates will be higher as well. Additionally, a number of popular deductions expired at the end of 2011 and won’t be available for 2012.

Traditional Strategy of Deferring Income Is Dicey This Year

Be careful when considering the time-honored strategy of deferring taxable income from this year into next year. The strategy makes sense if you’re confident you’ll be in the same or lower tax bracket next year, but the tax picture for 2013 is blurry. With just over two months left in 2012, the fate of many tax provisions as well as what the tax rates will be for 2013 and beyond is still very much unknown. Congress will return to Washington after the November elections to hopefully deal with these issues. In the meantime, we are left with a whole lot of conjecture and very little time for planning once the eventual outcome is known.

The best course of action may be to start now to identify ways you could defer or accelerate some of your income and deductions between 2012 and 2013, but wait to pull the trigger until we know more. Cash-basis businesses may be able to control the timing of income by sending out December invoices early (if they want the income received in 2012) or late (if they want it received in 2013). They may also be able to accelerate or defer deductions by carefully timing the payment of expenses or the purchase of business supplies and equipment, so they fall in 2012 or 2013, whichever is preferred.

Ideas for Increasing Deductions

Make Charitable Gifts of Appreciated Stock. If you have appreciated stock (or mutual fund shares) that you’ve held more than a year and you plan to make significant charitable contributions before year-end, consider keeping your cash and donating the stock instead. You’ll avoid paying tax on the appreciation, but will still be able to deduct the donated property’s full value. If you want to maintain a position in the donated securities, you can immediately buy back a like number of shares. (This idea works especially well with no load mutual funds because there are no transaction fees involved.)

However, if the stock is now worth less than when you acquired it, sell the stock, take the loss, and then give the cash to the charity. If you give the stock to the charity, your charitable deduction will equal the stock’s current depressed value and no capital loss will be available. However, if you sell the stock at a loss, you have to wait 31 days to buy it back. Otherwise, you will trigger the wash sale rules, which means your loss won’t be deductible, but instead will be added to the basis in the new shares.

Don’t Lose a Charitable Deduction for Lack of Paperwork. Charitable contributions are only deductible if you have proper documentation. For cash contributions of less than $250, this means you must have either a bank record that supports the donation (such as a cancelled check or credit card receipt) or a written statement from the charity that meets tax-law requirements. For cash donations of $250 or more, a bank record is not enough. You must obtain, by the time your tax return is filed, a charity-provided statement that shows the amount of the donation and lists any significant goods or services received in return for the donation (other than intangible religious benefits) or specifically states that you received no goods or services from the charity.

Accelerate Itemized Deductions into This Year. For 2012, itemized deductions are allowed in full regardless of your AGI. However, the phase-out rule that reduces write-offs for the most popular itemized deduction items (including home mortgage interest, state and local taxes, and charitable donations) is scheduled to come back with a vengeance in 2013 unless Congress takes action to prevent it. If the phase-out rule comes back, it will wipe out $3 of affected itemized deductions for every $100 of AGI above the applicable threshold. For 2013, the AGI threshold will probably be around $178,000, or around $89,000 for married individuals who file separate returns. Individuals with very high AGI can see up to 80% of their affected deductions wiped out.

Bottom Line: Depending on your AGI, you may get more tax-saving benefit from accelerating into 2012 your state and local tax payments that are due early next year and some charitable donations that you’d normally make in 2013. However, things get a bit tricky if you’ll be subject to the AMT this year. Please contact us if you have questions about the advisability of accelerating itemized deductions into this year.

Take Another Look at the Medical Expense Deduction. This year, unreimbursed medical expenses are deductible (if you itemize deductions) to the extent they exceed 7.5% of your AGI, but in 2013, for individuals under age 65, these expenses will be deductible only to the extent they exceed 10% of AGI. If you have a shot at exceeding the 7.5% floor this year, you may want to accelerate into this year discretionary medical expenses, such as prescription glasses and sunglasses or elective, but deductible, medical or dental procedures not covered by insurance.

Take Advantage of the 0% Rate on Investment Income

For 2012, the federal income tax rate on long-term capital gains is 0% to the extent they fall within the 10% or 15% federal income tax rate brackets. This will be the case to the extent your taxable income (including long-term capital gains and qualified dividends) does not exceed $70,700 if you are married and file jointly ($35,350 if you are single). While your income may be too high to benefit from the 0% rate, you may have children, grandchildren, or other loved ones who will be in one of the bottom two brackets. If so, consider giving them some appreciated stock or mutual fund shares that they can then sell and pay 0% tax on the resulting long-term gains. Gains will be long-term as long as your ownership period plus the gift recipient’s ownership period (before he or she sells) equals at least a year and a day.

If the Bush-era tax cuts are allowed to expire at year-end, the minimum tax rate on 2013 long-term gains for these taxpayers will be 10% (or 8% for gains from certain investments held for over five year) So, consider doing what you need to do to take advantage of the 0% rate this year. Next year, it might be history.

Note: If you give securities to someone who is under age 24, the Kiddie Tax rules could potentially cause some of the resulting capital gains and dividends to be taxed at the parent’s higher rates instead of at the gift recipient’s lower rates, which would defeat the purpose. Also, if you give away assets worth over $13,000 during 2012 to an individual gift recipient, it will generally reduce your $5.12 million unified federal gift and estate tax exclusion. However, you and your spouse can together give away up to $26,000 without reducing your exclusion.

Year-end Moves for Investments

The maximum federal income tax rate on long-term capital gains from 2012 sales is 15%. (Gains will be long-term as long as you have owned the asset for more than a year.) In 2013, the maximum rate on long-term capital gains is scheduled to increase to 20%. Also, the 3.8% Medicare contribution tax on net investment income, including long-term capital gains, could come into play for some high-income taxpayers. Thus, the maximum long-term capital gains rate for 2013 could be as high as 23.8%. Therefore, you might want to consider the following moves in 2012, assuming they otherwise make financial sense:

  • If you are thinking of selling assets that you have owned for more than a year that are likely to yield large gains, such as stock or a vacation home in a desirable resort area, try to complete the sale before year-end. Ditto for the sale of your main home if you expect the gain to substantially exceed the $250,000 home-sale exclusion amount ($500,000 for joint filers).
  • If you own appreciated stock you have owned for more than a year and you want to lock in a 15% tax rate on the gain, but you think the stock still has plenty of room to grow, consider selling the stock and then repurchasing it. You’ll pay a maximum tax of 15% on long-term gain from the sale, but you’ll also wind up with a higher cost basis in the repurchased stock. If capital gain rates go up and you sell the repurchased stock down the road at a profit, the total tax on the 2012 sale and the future sale could be lower than if you had not sold in 2012 and had just made a single sale in the future. However, given the time-value of money, it might not make sense to pay the tax now if you don’t think you’ll sell the stock in the next several years or if you plan on holding onto the stock to pass on to your heirs.

 Year-end Moves for Your Business

 Consider Paying a Dividend in 2012. If you’re a shareholder in a closely-held C corporation, the current federal income tax rate structure is helpful to your cause. If the company pays you a taxable dividend in 2012, the maximum federal rate is only 15% (it is 0% to the extent you are in the 10% or 15% ordinary income tax brackets). However, this may well change in the near future. Thus, now may be a good time to convert some of your C corporation wealth into personal cash at a very manageable tax cost (and possibly none at all). Unless Congress acts soon, the maximum federal rate on dividends starting in 2013 will skyrocket from the current 15% to 39.6%, possibly 43.4% if the Medicare Contribution tax applies.

Take Advantage of Tax Breaks for Purchasing Equipment and Software. Your business may be able to take advantage of the temporarily increased Section 179 deduction. Under the Section 179 deduction privilege, an eligible business can often claim first-year depreciation write-offs for the entire cost of new and used equipment and software additions. For tax years beginning in 2012, the maximum Section 179 deduction is $139,000 (assuming eligible property purchases for the year don’t exceed $560,000). For tax years beginning in 2013, however, the maximum deduction is scheduled to drop back to only $25,000.

Your business can also claim first-year bonus depreciation equal to 50% of the cost of most new (not used) equipment and software placed in service by December 31 of this year. For a new passenger auto or light truck that’s used for business and is subject to the luxury auto depreciation limitations, the 50% bonus depreciation break increases the maximum first-year depreciation deduction by $8,000 for vehicles placed in service this year. The 50% bonus depreciation break will expire at year-end unless Congress extends it. Contact us if you want more details about these generous, but temporary, tax breaks.

Year-end Moves for the Office Maximize Contributions to 401(k) Plans. If you have a 401(k) plan at work, it’s just about time to tell your company how much you want to set aside on a tax-free basis for next year. Contribute as much as you can stand, especially if your employer makes matching contributions. You give up “free money” when you fail to participate to the max for the match.

Take Advantage of Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs). If your company has an FSA, before year-end you must specify how much of your 2013 salary to convert into tax-free contributions to the plan. You can then take tax-free withdrawals next year to reimburse yourself for out-of-pocket medical and dental expenses and qualifying child care costs. You may want to increase the amount you set aside for next year in your health FSA if you set aside too little for this year. Watch out, though, FSAs are “use-it-or-lose-it” accounts—you don’t want to set aside more than what you’ll likely have in qualifying expenses for the year. Keep in mind that beginning next year, the maximum contribution to a health FSA will be $2,500. And don’t forget that you can no longer set aside amounts to get tax-free reimbursements for over-the-counter drugs, such as aspirin and antacids.

If you currently have an FSA, make sure you drain it by incurring eligible expenses before the deadline for this year. Otherwise, you’ll lose the remaining balance. It’s not that hard to drum some things up: new glasses or contacts, dental work you’ve been putting off, or prescriptions that can be filled early.

Don’t Overlook Estate Planning

For 2012, the unified federal gift and estate tax exclusion is a historically generous $5.12 million. However, the exclusion will drop back to only $1 million in 2013 unless Congress takes action. In addition, the maximum federal estate tax rate for 2013 is scheduled to rise from the current 35% to a painfully high 55%. Therefore, planning to avoid or minimize the federal estate tax should still be part of your overall financial game plan. Even if you already have a good plan, it may need updating to reflect the current $5.12 million exclusion and the uncertainty about next year’s rules. Contact us for specifics.

Conclusion

As stated in the beginning, this letter is intended to give you just a few ideas to get you thinking about tax planning moves for the rest of this year. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you want more details or would like to schedule a tax planning strategy session. We are at your service!

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