How to plan for year-end tax changes Featured

8:04pm EDT November 30, 2012
How to plan for year-end tax changes

Tax planning is even more uncertain and complex this year because of the number of tax changes scheduled to take place when the calendar flips to 2013.

“The expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts, the imposition of the Medicare surtax in 2013, whether or not certain tax provisions will be extended and President Obama’s proposed extension of the 36 percent tax bracket to married couples earning more than $250,000 adds a level of uncertainty to year-end tax planning not seen in years,” says Tom Tyler, partner with Crowe Horwath LLP.

Smart Business spoke with Tyler about potential tax changes and what business owners should do in preparation.

What are the Bush-era tax cuts, and what would be the effect of their expiration?

President George W. Bush cut individual tax rates to 10 percent, 15 percent, 28 percent, 33 percent and 35 percent, depending on a taxpayer’s taxable income, and reduced to 15 percent the rates for qualified dividends and capital gains. Taxpayers in the 10 percent and 15 percent brackets pay zero percent on qualified dividends and capital gains.

If Congress does not extend these rates beyond 2012, the new tax rates beginning in 2013 would be 15 percent, 28 percent, 31 percent, 36 percent and 39.6 percent. Dividends would no longer receive preferential tax treatment; instead, they would be taxed at ordinary income rates. Capital gains would be taxed at 20 percent — 10 percent for taxpayers in the 15 percent tax bracket.

In addition, President Obama has proposed extending the 36 percent tax bracket to adjusted gross incomes greater than $200,000 and $250,000 for single filers and joint filers, respectively. Note that adjusted gross income is determined before personal exemptions and itemized deductions; taxable income is determined after personal exemptions and itemized deductions. Absent the Obama changes, the 36 percent bracket would start at taxable income of $183,250 and $223,050, for single and joint filers, respectively.

What other tax changes are on the way in 2013?

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act added a 3.8 percent Medicare surtax beginning in 2013 for higher-income taxpayers. The tax applies to the lesser of a taxpayer’s net investment income or the amount by which the taxpayer’s modified adjusted gross income — adjusted gross income with foreign income added back — exceeds $200,000 in the case of a single filer or $250,000 in the case of a joint filer. Net investment income includes interest, dividends, royalties, rents, capital gains and passive income from trade or business activities. Higher income individuals with wages or self-employment income exceeding $200,000 for single filers and $250,000 for joint filers will see an increase in their Medicare tax rate from 1.45 percent to 2.35 percent.

For the past two years, the employee share of Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) has been reduced from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent. This rate reduction is scheduled to expire at year-end and will return to 6.2 percent. Employers that typically pay bonuses after year-end should consider accelerating the payment of those bonuses into 2012 for those employees below the Social Security wage base of $110,100.

Any other steps people should take before the tax rates change?

With respect to the tax rate increases and Medicare surtax, individuals might want to consider selling in 2012 appreciated capital assets that would generate long-term capital gains to take advantage of the 15 percent tax rate — zero percent for those in the 10 percent or 15 percent bracket. Loss assets could be held and sold in 2013 when the loss could be deducted at higher rates and result in increased savings.

If an individual controls a C corporation, consider distributing dividends from the corporation in 2012 instead of 2013, when the maximum rate on dividends is 15 percent instead of a potential rate of 43.4 percent — 39.6 percent plus 3.8 percent Medicare surtax. An S corporation that was formerly a C corporation and is considering distributing former C corporation earnings and profits could do so in 2012 to take advantage of the 15 percent tax rate on dividends.

Taxpayers also might want to consider repositioning their investment portfolios in light of these changes. Higher tax rates make tax-exempt investments more appealing. A shift away from dividend-paying stocks to nondividend paying stocks makes tax sense given the expiration of the favorable tax rate on dividends and the application of the 3.8 percent Medicare surtax to dividend income in 2013.

These tax saving ideas should be considered just one tenet of an individual’s overall investment plan.

Are deductions and exemptions going to change as well?

Unless extended by Congress, personal exemptions and itemized deductions will be subject to a phase-out beginning in 2013. Personal exemptions will begin to phase out at $267,200 of adjusted gross income for joint filers and $178,150 for single filers. Itemized deductions will be reduced by 3 percent of the amount adjusted gross income exceeds a threshold, projected at $178,150 for 2013.

Another uncertainty is the alternative minimum tax (AMT) exemption. Without congressional action, the exemption for 2012 would be $45,000 for joint filers and $33,750 for single filers. However, we are hopeful that an AMT ‘patch’ will be passed prior to year-end and increase the exemption. Last year’s exemption for joint filers was $74,450.

Tom Tyler is a partner with Crowe Horwath LLP. Reach him at (214) 777-5250 or tom.tyler@crowe.horwath.com.

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