Thursday, 28 February 2013 20:57

Understanding the American Taxpayer Relief Act

When President Obama signed the American Taxpayer Relief Act (ATRA) into law in January, the much-feared “fiscal cliff” was avoided, for the most part.

Smart Business spoke with Jim A. Forbes, CPA, a principal with Skoda Minotti’s Tax Planning & Preparation Group, about five key elements of the act affecting both individual taxpayers and businesses.

What item most benefits individuals?

Signage of the act provides permanent relief from the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT). If the AMT ‘patch’ had not been put in place, as many as 30 million taxpayers could have been affected. Fortunately, a permanent AMT patch has been put in place.

Retroactively, effective for tax years beginning after 2011, the AMT exemption amounts (and indexes for inflation) have been permanently increased to $50,600 for unmarried taxpayers, $78,750 for joint filers and $39,375 for married persons filing separately. This means that, for a single person, the first $50,600 of income is exempt from the AMT calculation.

Do any items have a negative effect on individual taxpayers?

Overall, passage of the act positively impacts most individual taxpayers. The return of the phase-out of itemized deductions and personal exemptions, though, could have a negative impact.

The Personal Exemption Phase-out (PEP) is reinstated with a starting threshold for those making $300,000 for joint filers and a surviving spouse; $275,000 for heads of household; $250,000 for single filers; and $150,000 for married taxpayers filing separately. For 2013, you’ll be able to deduct $3,900 for yourself, your spouse and your dependents. However, if you are over these thresholds, the value of each personal exemption is reduced by 2 percent for each $2,500 above the specified income thresholds. So a married couple making $400,000 would see a $2,000 cut in their personal exemptions.

Also, the ‘Pease’ limitation on itemized deductions was reinstated, with starting thresholds that are the same as for the PEP. For taxpayers subject to the ‘Pease’ limitation, the total amount of their itemized deductions is reduced by 3 percent of the amount by which the taxpayer’s adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeds the threshold amount, with the reduction not to exceed 80 percent of the otherwise allowable itemized deductions. For example, a married couple with income of $400,000 filing their tax return with $50,000 of itemized deductions would see about a $3,000 reduction in their itemized deductions, resulting in about $1,000 more in tax.

How are higher income individuals affected?

The regular tax rate and dividend/capital gains tax rate both increased for higher income individuals. The income tax rates for individuals will stay at 10, 15, 25, 28, 33 and 35 percent, but now a 39.6 percent rate applies for income above $450,000 for joint filers and surviving spouses; $425,000 for heads of household; $400,000 for single filers; and $225,000 for married taxpayers filing separately. The top rate for capital gains and dividends permanently rises to 20 percent for taxpayers with incomes exceeding $400,000 ($450,000 for married taxpayers). When combined with the new 3.8 percent Medicare surtax on investment income, the overall rate for higher income taxpayers will be 23.8 percent.

What are some of the ways that businesses are affected?

Two that are applicable to most businesses are the extension of bonus depreciation and the increase in Section 179 deduction.

The act retroactively extended 50 percent bonus depreciation for property placed in service before Jan. 1, 2014. And some transportation and longer period production property is eligible for 50 percent bonus depreciation through 2014. In other words, businesses can deduct 50 percent of the cost of the property while deducting the remainder of the cost of the property over its useful life. Plus, bonus depreciation can be used to create a loss. The Section 179 deduction can now be taken on new or used property up to $500,000, allowing businesses to fully deduct the cost of the property in the year it acquires it instead of deducting a portion of cost over its useful life. Previously, the deduction could only be applied to new or used property up to $139,000.

Jim A. Forbes, CPA, is a principal at Skoda Minotti. Reach him at (440) 449-6800 or

Contact: Have questions on how the American Taxpayer Relief Act affects you or your business? Contact our Tax Planning & Preparation Group at (440) 449-6800.

Insights Accounting & Consulting is brought to you by Skoda Minotti


Published in Cleveland

Taxpayers, investors and the stock market anxiously awaited the changes promised in the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (the Act) only to find that most passed provisions in the Act generally create more questions and concerns for the 2013 tax year and beyond.

To help unravel the changes made to the current tax laws that impact business owners, Smart Business spoke with Cathy Goldsticker and Robin Bell, tax partners at Brown Smith Wallace LLC. They outlined the Act’s relevant changes and the ways business owners can take advantage of many of its provisions and identify areas for tax planning opportunities.

What effect did the extension of many tax provisions have on business tax?

One key business provision is the ‘Section 179’ expensing election for first year tax write-offs of furniture and equipment, which has been retroactively increased to what it had been in 2011. For 2012, there is a $500,000 immediate write-off available on up to a $2 million investment in equipment and furniture. Without this change, it would have been $139,000.

This means, if you bought more than $2 million in qualifying business assets, you would lose the ability to write off the $500,000 in year one. Conversely, if you bought qualifying assets in 2012 that totaled less than $2 million, you can write off $500,000 in 2012 immediately and depreciate the remaining purchase price over the prescribed IRS life.

The change ultimately results in added choices for business owners because, for some businesses, writing off $500,000 in 2012 is not such a good idea. For an S Corp. or a partnership, for example, it may be better to take the write-off over several years because the rates for higher-income individuals, which will be a marginal rate of 39.6 percent instead of 35 percent, makes waiting generally the better option. However, if you have a high income this year, but next year, you anticipate it will be lower, it might make more sense to take it in 2012.

On the other side, since the tax rates of C Corps. remain at 35 percent and it’s unclear whether rates will change, it would probably behoove that type of company to take the immediate expensing.

Additionally, the 50 percent bonus depreciation for the purchase of new business assets was retroactively reinstated to the beginning of 2012. But faster depreciation might not be the best choice if you expect a bigger benefit from a future deduction, similar to the Section 179 consideration. Also, the research and development credit was made retroactively available for 2012.

Were any permanent tax law changes made?

The one permanent tax law change that receives attention year after year relates to the alternative minimum tax and is referred to as ‘the AMT patch.’ It’s mostly applicable to middle-income and lower earners and has become permanent at $78,750 (married amount), with annual inflation adjustments. AMT affects business owners because many operate as S Corps. and partnerships, which means the tax is paid by the owner(s), not the business.

Another permanent tax law change is the estate and gift tax exclusion that’s now $5.12 million. It was widely believed that after 2012, the exclusion would decrease significantly by reverting back to the pre-2001 tax law amount. When it was believed it would expire, many undertook gifting and other estate planning measures before the end of 2012. Freezing it at the higher level enables many more people to take advantage of this provision.

What are the tax benefits for C Corps. that elect to become S Corps.?

There was a reduction in the S Corp. recognition period for built-in gains tax. If you’re currently a C Corp., you can make an election to be treated as an S Corp. for income tax purposes. When you make the election, you may have a double tax (built in gain tax) on certain asset dispositions during a 10-year period. Historically, the rule has been that from the day of conversion for 10 years, certain assets sold had additional income tax due on the difference between your basis in them at that time and their fair-market value. The 10-year period became five years for 2011 and that will continue for 2012 and 2013 under the Act. This provision is making it easier to avoid double taxation on certain assets or selling your business, but it’s also accelerating some collection by the IRS because in the first year there may be revenue to collect on certain transactions.

There are many reasons to change from a C Corp. to an S Corp., but the driver of avoiding double taxation could be part of a sound tax strategy. The Tax Act has raised the individual tax bracket up to 39.6 percent for higher-income taxpayers, so it’s possible a C Corp. structure, which utilizes a 35 percent maximum tax rate, is better.

Another permanent tax law change is the estate and gift tax exclusion that’s now $5.12 million. It was widely believed that after 2012, the exclusion would decrease significantly by reverting back to the pre-2001 tax law amount. When it was believed it would expire, many undertook gifting and other estate planning measures before the end of 2012. Freezing it at the higher level enables many more people to take advantage of this provision.

How were individual tax laws affected?

Although tax rates for lower-income taxpayers remain the same, higher income ($450,000 or higher) will now have a marginal tax rate of 39.6 percent (married taxpayers). Also, the capital gains and dividends tax rate is now 20 percent for higher-income taxpayers instead of 15 percent. These are just the basic income tax rates stemming from the 2012 Tax Act, but there is also a 3.8 percent Medicare tax coming with the implementation of health care reform on much of the same income. Another Tax Act provision reduces the tax benefits of personal exemptions and itemized deductions. Individual taxpayers are going to lose some itemized deductions and some or all of their personal exemption deductions as their income grows (phase-outs). This was the case when the Bush tax laws were in effect a few years back and didn’t get changed, modified or removed with the 2012 Tax Act. For the 2010 and 2011 tax years, these itemized deductions and personal exemption phase-outs disappeared. Because Congress didn’t do anything permanent to change the law, the phase-outs are in effect again, so the tax benefits for these two items are reduced.

What changes were made to estate and gift taxes?

The tax rate increased from 35 percent to 40 percent on taxable estates or deceased individuals with assets in excess of $5.12 million, indexed for inflation.

If you haven’t given away roughly $5 million from your estate in 2012, you have another chance because the larger exclusion remains in the law.

Another important aspect of the estate and gift tax is the portability feature of the exclusion. Historically, one person was entitled to an exclusion when they died. The Act made permanent a provision that allows one spouse to pass their unused estate exemption to their living spouse, doubling the amount the surviving spouse can gift during their lifetime without incurring a tax.

There are effects on this portability provision should the surviving spouse remarry, so make sure tax advice is obtained.

Which energy credits and provisions were extended?

Many credits for energy-efficient home improvements, appliances, new construction, two- and three-wheeled plug-in electric vehicles and alternative fuel sources were extended. However, while the credits have been preserved, there are still limitations on the applicability and amounts of the credits.

From a general perspective, the energy incentives should be here to stay and more should be in the pipeline. Those who are interested in understanding them should do a careful cost/benefit analysis on your purchase or construction.

That’s not to minimize the environmental impact of these purchases, but sometimes it is very expensive to try to be energy-efficient. And sometimes, the benefit from the credit perspective side does not offset the cost of trying to be green.

Ultimately, if you’re inclined to be green, that’s wonderful, but proceed with caution because the tax benefit may not outweigh the costs.

Cathy Goldsticker, CPA, is a partner, Tax Services at Brown Smith Wallace LLC. Reach her at (314) 983-1274 or

Robin Bell, CPA, is a partner, Tax Services at Brown Smith Wallace LLC. Reach her at (314) 983-1217 or

Published in National

When Congress passed the American Taxpayer Relief Act, it came with just enough time to give a clearer picture of expectations for the year ahead.

“There was a lot of anxiety and uncertainty in the last quarter of the past year as the deadline got closer and people had no idea what to do about their tax planning,” says Rick Applegate, president and CEO of First Commonwealth Financial Advisors.

Smart Business spoke with Applegate about the changes and how they impact your tax and financial planning.

What are some of the tax law changes? 

The act avoided higher ordinary income tax rates for most Americans, but higher-income earners — $400,000 per year for single filers or $450,000 per year if married and filing jointly — will have their tax rate revert back to 39.6 percent, the highest ordinary income tax rate in this country before the tax reductions instituted by President George W. Bush. This impacts approximately 1 to 1.5 percent of Americans.

The biggest overall impact is the 2 percent increase in the payroll tax back to 6.2 percent, which might slow the economy’s growth rate in the first six months of 2013. In the year ahead, the Social Security tax tops out at incomes of $113,700 — therefore, an individual could pay up to an additional $2,274 and a working couple even more. It’s estimated that the 2 percent increased payroll tax will generate about $125 billion for the Social Security system, but that’s money that reduces discretionary consumer spending, which has otherwise helped to drive a U.S. economic recovery.

Another notable change is the 5 percent increase in capital gains and dividend rates for higher-income earners to 20 percent. This increase was not as bad as it could have been — capital gains rates on dividends were scheduled to go to ordinary income tax rates, which could have been as high as that top income tax bracket of 39.6 percent.

Investment income also gets the new Medicare surtax of 3.8 percent tacked on for anyone making more than $200,000, or $250,000 if married and filing jointly. It’s not a killer, but people at these income levels who rely on investment income will pay.

Some other changes are:

  • Estate tax exemptions and rates. Congress extended the $5 million exemption and adjusted it for future inflation, and upped the top estate tax rate to 40 percent.

  • Permanently indexing the Alternative Minimum Tax to inflation. This fixed the problem where more and more middle-class Americans were paying a tax originally meant to catch high-income earners who used deductions and loopholes to avoid paying any taxes.

  • Reinstituting phase-outs of certain deductions for those with higher incomes.

If anyone was a winner in the tax bill, at large, it was people with educational loans and families trying to pay for college. The act extended certain credits and deductions for qualified taxpayers.

How do investment advice and tax considerations go hand-in-hand?

You don’t want your investments to be ruled by tax decisions — you want investments to be made based on the projected economics of the deal and its potential returns.

That’s why it’s an adviser’s job to get people past their fears and emotions, and focus on making money. If investors can’t get past it themselves, they should sit down with a trained adviser who has a perspective on why there are always opportunities out there.

What are some strategies that can add value in the year ahead?

The average investor shouldn’t be too intimidated by these adjustments because, by and large, they mostly impact those in very high-income brackets. High-income earners may benefit from tax-exempt income from municipal bonds, tax deferrals like low-cost annuities, and/or decreasing their ordinary income by deferring more taxable income today into a retirement plan.

Until Congress permanently deals with the debt ceiling, headline volatility will likely be a fact of life. However, we still think that 2013 will be a fairly good year for the stock market. We would advise taking advantage of market declines that are likely to occur and to buy into opportunities such as the emerging markets. Investors shouldn’t let headlines make decisions; smart investors take advantage of market dips because, long-term, the stock market offers good value.

Rick Applegate is the President and CEO of First Commonwealth Financial Advisors. Reach him at (724) 933-4529 or

To connect with First Commonwealth Bank, visit our Facebook page.

Insights Wealth Management is brought to you by First Commonwealth Bank

Published in National

There had been much talk surrounding the fiscal cliff, or the triggering of automatic federal spending cuts if Congress did not act by the end of 2012.

“It was everywhere — you couldn’t escape a newscast or report without hearing about it as 2012 came to a close,” says Todd Jolicoeur, tax senior at Cendrowski Corporate Advisors LLC.

However, the crisis was averted when the U.S. Congress approved the American Taxpayer Relief Act (ATRA), which paved the way for President Obama to sign the bill into law a day later. While not much has changed because of the bill, it did lay out a plan, freezing some tax rates and deductions that will offer taxpayers some answers as to how to plan for the coming years.

Smart Business spoke with Jolicoeur about the act and its tax implications.

What are some of the highlights of ATRA?

The most discussed is the return of the 39.6 percent tax rate for taxable income above $400,000 for single tax filings and $450,000 for those filing jointly. There is also a change to the tax rate on capital gains and dividends, as well as estate and gift tax. Additionally, there is the needed patch for the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT). Many enhanced education credits were also extended.

How will taxpayers be affected by the 39.6 percent rate?

The new rate only affects individual taxpayers with bottom-line taxable income above $400,000 — $425,000 for head of household filers, $450,000 for married taxpayers. The other marginal income tax rates, 10, 15, 25, 28 and 33 percent, will remain the same going forward. The 35 percent rate has been carved to include those taxpayers between the top of the 33 percent rate and the income threshold established for the new 39.6 percent bracket.

What about the tax rate increase on capital gains and dividends?

The top rate for capital gains and dividends was increased from 15 to 20 percent. The increase on the top rate comes with the same income threshold that applies to the 39.6 percent ordinary income rate — $400,000 for single filers, $425,000 for head of household filers and $450,000 for joint filers. The previous zero percent tax rate remains as it was. The previous 15 percent rate still applies to those taxpayers between the two income thresholds established for the zero and 20 percent tax rate. Qualified dividends for all taxpayers will continue to be taxed at capital gains rates instead of ordinary income tax rates.

You mentioned a new maximum rate for estate and gift taxes. How has that changed?

The maximum rate for estates of decedents dying after Dec. 31, 2010, and before Jan. 1, 2013, is 35 percent, but has increased to 40 percent for estates of decedents dying after Dec. 31, 2012. In addition, the annually inflation-adjusted $5 million exclusion was extended.

Did the AMT patch become a part of ATRA?

Yes, ATRA contains a provision that ‘patches’ AMT for 2012 and beyond. It has done this by increasing the exemption amounts while also allowing nonrefundable personal credits to the extent of a taxpayer’s regular and AMT tax. The exemption rates for 2012 increased to $50,600 for individual filers, $78,750 for taxpayers filing joint returns or those of a surviving spouse, and $39,375 for returns of married taxpayers filing separately.

Does ATRA affect small businesses at all?

There are a few tax provisions that are applicable to businesses. There is the extension of the dollar limit and investment limit when calculating Section 179 depreciation and the extension of the 50 percent bonus depreciation through 2013. Another business credit that is extended is the research tax credit.

Is that the extent of the ATRA changes?

No. In addition to other provisions that relate to individuals and businesses, the new tax on investment income remains in effect. Also, the employee portion of FICA taxes on wages was restored to 7.65 percent. Ask your CPA to look into the tax rates, deductions, credit, and extenders as part of your 2012 tax preparation and planning for 2013.

Todd Jolicoeur is tax senior at Cendrowski Corporate Advisors LLC. Reach him at (248) 540-5760 or

Insights Accounting is brought to you by Cendrowski Corporate Advisors LLC

Published in Chicago

Although Congress passed the last-minute fiscal cliff tax deal in a seemingly haphazard way, many changes in the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 will have both positive and negative impacts on executives, says Elizabeth Bunk, partner-in-charge of Houston Tax and Strategic Business Services at Weaver.

“Unlike the Congressional change two years ago, the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 provides permanent changes to certain tax rates and exemption levels,” she says. “Therefore, we won’t be in the same situation again two years from now because many of these tax changes won’t expire. This will allow executives to plan for their future taxes with greater confidence.”

Smart Business spoke with Bunk about what executives need to know about their tax considerations for 2013.

What is the new maximum rate?

Congress added a top income tax rate of 39.6 percent for those with an annual income of more than $400,000 for single filers and more than $450,000 for joint filers. They also kept the same rates of 10, 15, 25, 28, 33 and 35 percent that were available in prior years. Therefore, executives earning above the $400,000 or $450,000 threshold will pay an additional 4.6 percent on the portion of their income that exceeds the highest bracket limit. While it was widely anticipated that income tax rates on high-income earners would increase in 2013, executives can at least be pleased that the final version of the act doubled the threshold amounts at which the 39.6 percent rate begins from the often-mentioned $200,000 and $250,000 threshold amounts.

How are capital gains and dividend rates handled?

Following the same threshold — $400,000 and $450,000 — the capital gains and dividend rates permanently increased from 15 to 20 percent. It is also important to note that higher income taxpayers will get hit by the new 3.8 percent surtax on investment income imposed by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. This surtax, which applies at an income threshold of more than $200,000 for single filers and more than $250,000 for joint filers, will bring the final tax rate on capital gains and dividends to 23.8 percent.

How will health care reform impact other income?

Starting in 2013, high-income taxpayers will be subject to a brand new Medicare tax on their unearned income. The 3.8 percent surcharge applied to capital gains and dividends, as mentioned above, is applied to other investment income as well. A different set of limits — $200,000 for single and $250,000 for those married filing jointly — are the baseline for the surtax to apply. Taxpayers whose adjusted gross income exceeds the threshold will be subject to this tax. This surcharge combined with the increased maximum tax bracket could mean that some taxpayers are paying 43.4 percent on their highest levels of income.

What other provision is noteworthy?

A key provision to be aware of is the reinstatement of the phase out for itemized deductions and exemptions. Itemized deductions, which had avoided phase out during 2010 through 2012, will now be subject to severe limits, depending on income levels. Total itemized deductions in 2013 and beyond, which include real estate taxes, mortgage interest and charitable contributions, will be reduced by 3 percent of the amount by which a taxpayer’s AGI exceeds a threshold of $250,000 for single taxpayers and $275,000 for those married and filing jointly. The reduction cannot exceed 80 percent of the total deductions.

What’s the overall impact?

For many executives, these provisions are probably what they anticipated. There are certainly some negative changes in the act, but there are at least two positive results:

1. Permanent changes to tax rates, including the dividend and capital gain rates.

2. Applying the new top income tax rate to a threshold amount that is double what was originally predicted.

These positives should at least slightly raise revenue without significantly raising taxes for all Americans.

Elizabeth Bunk, CPA, CFP, is partner-in-charge, Houston Tax and Strategic Business Services at Weaver. Reach her at (832) 320-3220 or

Our coverage of the fiscal cliff law continues next month with more insight into how these taxes will interact with those related to health care reform.

For more information about the fiscal cliff law’s impact to businesses and individuals, see the articles on Weaver’s website:

Insights Accounting is brought to you by Weaver

Published in Dallas