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New Tax Law a Real Pain for Taxpayers in 2013

The American Taxpayer’s Relief Act of 2012 (ATRA) is just about a month old and already there is much confusion as to what the law contains and what effect it will have on taxpayers.

The American Taxpayer’s Relief Act of 2012 (ATRA) is just about a month old and already there is much confusion as to what the law contains and what effect it will have on taxpayers.

Misconception #1: None of the changes enacted under the law apply to the 2012 tax year.

In actuality, a good amount of the law is retroactive back to Jan. 1, 2012. The past few years, Congress has renewed expiring tax breaks in December and made them retroactive to the beginning of that tax year. ATRA has extended some of these items permanently, such as the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) patch, and other provisions have been extended  between  two to five years.

Making tax laws retroactive is normally not good policy since it creates uncertainty and inaction. The retroactive changes made by ATRA were even more frustrating to taxpayers since the law was not enacted until after Dec. 31, 2012, and made it impossible to plan at all for 2012.

Misconception #2: Only taxpayers in the top tax bracket will see an increase in their taxes under the law.

Much has been made of the fact that only taxpayer’s in the highest tax bracket ($400,000 for single taxpayers and $450,000 for married couples) will see an increase in their Federal Income Taxes. This, however, is simply not true.

The past two years, taxpayers have seen a two percent reduction in the amount of social security tax that has been withheld from their paychecks. This provision expired at the end of 2012 and was not renewed under ATRA. Therefore, all taxpayers, regardless of their tax bracket, who have earned income subject to social security tax being withheld will see a decrease in their paychecks. For
example, someone earning $50,000 a year will see their take home pay decrease by $1,000.

Taxpayers under the age of 65 in lower tax brackets may also see their income taxes go up because the threshold for deducting unreimbursed medical expenses is increasing from 7.5 percent to 10 percent of adjusted gross income.

In addition to the change in the threshold for deducting medical expenses, taxpayers whose adjusted gross income exceeds $250,000 ($300,000 for married couples) will lose a portion or all of their personal exemptions, and could lose as much as 80 percent of their itemized deductions under the new law.

Misconception #3: Now that the rates are permanent, tax planning will be simpler.

With each new tax law that is passed, the degree of complexity involved in preparing your tax return goes up another notch or two. The changes enacted under ATRA are no different. For example, prior to ATRA most taxpayers had to deal with two long-term capital gains rates for the sale of their stock or bond investments: 0 percent and 15 percent. Now, ATRA, along with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act(passed in 2010), increases from two to five the number of long-term capital gains rates: 0 percent, 15 percent, 18.8 percent, 20 percent  and 23.8 percent . ATRA also sets different thresholds for different portions of the law when determining which taxpayers a particular portion applies to, which also creates confusion when trying to plan.

There is no argument that planning is easier when you know what the law will be for the next several years (and hopefully longer).  Lawmakers are to be applauded for making many of the temporary provisions we have had to deal with these past many years permanent. However, even permanent tax laws can be and are often times changed. Probably the best advice is to assume nothing is permanent beyond the next several years. Keeping up on current tax policy may not be the most exciting way to spend your time, but it may go a long way toward proper planning.

Howard Hook is a financial planner from Wayne.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Michelle January 31, 2013 at 08:01 PM
What is your opinion of a flat tax? I've been a advocate of it for years.
Flood Plain February 07, 2013 at 05:37 PM
A tax " revenue neutral " flat tax of about 17% for personal income earners would be perfect. All income, including muni interest, dividends, and insurance paid by an employer would be counted. There wold be no deductions of any kind ( not mortgage interest, etc.), except for a personal exemption or family exemption of about $20,000. Thus, there would be a beginning threshold of about $20,000 prior to any individual owing any taxes at all. This way everyone would be treated fairly; those who make more would pay more. Everyone would have some "skin in the game" and contribute to the cost of operating the U. S. NO MORE FREE RIDERS.
Flood Plain February 07, 2013 at 05:39 PM
The new tax regulations' titles are about as funny as the new "Unaffordable Uncaring Act" which will extort the American Tax payers with reduced health care courtesy of the three Marxists: Barry, Harry, and Nancy.

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