Fiscal Cliff Has Been Averted – The Tax Implications And Changes
The “Fiscal Cliff” has been averted as Congress passed the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 on January 1, 2013. The Act allows the Bush-era tax rates to sunset after 2012 generally for individuals with income over $400,000 and families with incomes over $450,000, permanently “patches” the alternative minimum tax (AMT), revives many now-expired tax extenders, including the research tax credit and the American Opportunity Tax Credit, and provides for a maximum estate tax rate of 40 percent with a $5 million exclusion, as adjusted for inflation. What are the fiscal cliff tax changes from these implications?
In addition to an extension for most taxpayers of the lower individual income and capital gains tax rates, marriage penalty relief and more than 50 other tax benefits popularly referred to as the “Bush Tax Cuts,” the legislation makes over 100 changes to the Internal Revenue Code.
Highlights of the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 include:
- 39.6% tax rate for incomes above $400,000 ($450,000 for families)
- 20% Maximum Capital Gains/Dividend Tax Rate
- All other Bush-Era Tax Rates extended
- Permanent AMT Patch
- Five-Year Extension of American Opportunity Tax Credit
- Two-Year Extension of Business Tax Extenders
Major Fiscal Cliff Tax Changes:
The major theme for 2013 is “reflation,” or a continued recovery for personal and financial assets. Investors are still concerned with policymaker decisions to address fiscal concerns, and this poses some short term headline risk (headline risk being these short term reactions in the markets to the latest news). Still, 2012 proved to be a good year for equity investors in spite of the general disbelief that we are in a recession.
The National Association of Homebuilders reports a recovery in the housing market. The changing demographics of our country will aid with this recovery, as we saw a lull in household formations over the past few years. This is tied to people between 30-35 years old, which is a key demographic for household formation. The children of the 80s (Gen Y or the “Echo Boomers”) are hitting that key demographic.
Also, the personal debt to income ratio for our country improved from 130% to 100%. Personal balance sheets have improved from debt reduction and some recovery in home values as well as their investment accounts. Brian also cited pent up demand for cars as the average vehicle on the road these days is about 11 years old. We could also see spending for other durable goods which should aid consumption and further fuel the economy.
Overseas, Europe continues to struggle, but European financial failure could have been much worse and devastating to the global economy. European Central Bank actions to maintain the Euro has worked well. Even Draghi’s words even had a positive effect on the European markets (that they would do “whatever it takes” to maintain financial stability).
Emerging markets or developing countries have seen significant growth, and there is much positivity to cite for the consumer in those countries who now have more free cash flow than they ever have in the past. Oppenheimer never believed in a hard landing for China as they have trillions in reserves. Even if they cannot achieve double digit growth, a modest 7% growth creates the equivalent economic production of a Saudi Arabia or Poland.
Brian expressed Oppenheimer’s clear favor for equities. They are concerned about interest rate sensitive securities (bonds), and when it comes to bonds they recommend a barbell strategy. Many investors are overweight to high quality US BarCap Agg type allocations. They may be better served by this barbell which might be heavy in shorter duration, good credit quality on one side and high yield, senior floating rates on the other side.
Oppenheimer recommends a “new 60/40” which essentially is more global portfolio. Equity exposure should include a significant amount of international and emerging markets, and bond exposure should also do that as well. Brian shared the example that 10-year sovereign debt securities from Brazil yields close to 10%.
What does that mean to us? Investors need to find a way to return to their long term strategic asset allocations, using a well-diversified, global, and professionally managed strategy.
Chad Smith CFP®, ChFC®, CLU
Our elected leaders started the New Year by passing the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012. This new legislation solves the tax side of the fiscal cliff and delays the mandatory across the board spending cuts that where scheduled to take place on January 1. For most Americans the new legislation permanently extends the lower income tax rates that they have paid for the last 10 years. However, high-income taxpayers, earning above $450,000 ($400,000 if single), tax rates will increase in several categories. In addition, working Americans will be affected by the expiration of the Payroll Tax Holiday. In 2011 the payroll tax was reduced from 6.2% to 4.2% and the American Taxpayer Relief Act failed to extend the 2% reduction. In addition, Americans earning $250,000 ($200,000 if single) will also be impacted by the new tax increases from the Affordable Care Act. While elected leaders still have to address the mandatory spending cuts and the federal debt ceiling in the coming months, most Americans now have some certainty as to how tax policy will affect the 8 Wealth Management Issues®.
2013 Tax Overview
With the newly approved legislation in place, Americans can expect:
• Expiration of the Payroll Tax Holiday – Payroll taxes will increase from 4.2% to 6.2% affecting working Americans.
• Income Tax Rates – Income tax will stay the same for most taxpayers that earn below the threshold of $450,000 ($400,000 if single). Taxes will increase for those that make above $450,000 ($400,000 if single) reverting to the top tax rate under the Clinton administration of 39.6%.
• Capital Gains and Qualified Dividend Rates – For taxpayers with income above $450,000 ($400,000 if single) capital gains rates and qualified dividend rates have been increased to 20%. For all other taxpayers the rates remain the same at either 15% or 0%. For taxpayers with income above $250,000 ($200,000 if single) the new 3.8% Medicare surtax will be added to the base rate.
• Permanent AMT Relief – The American Taxpayer Relief Act increased the 2012 AMT exemption to $78,750 ($50,600 if single). This legislation also created a yearly inflation adjustment so that Congress will not have to pass “AMT patches” on an annual basis.
• Personal Exemption and Itemized Deduction Phase Out – Both personal exemption and itemized deductions will be phased out for taxpayers with income above $300,000 ($250,000 if single). (Since 2010, neither personal exemptions or itemized deductions have been phased out based on income.)
• Federal Estate and Gift Tax – The American Taxpayer Relief Act made permanent the $5,000,000 (adjusted for inflation) gift and estate tax exclusion beginning in 2013. This legislation also increased the estate tax rate from 35% to 40%. The bill made “portability” permanent allowing a spouse to utilize a deceased spouse’s unused exemption amount. The annual gift tax exclusion has been indexed for inflation to $14,000 per year.
The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012
The Affordable Care Act
Effective now, the employee portion of the Medicare payroll tax will be 1.45% for the first $250,000 ($200,000 if single) and 2.35% for income over $250,000 ($200,000 if single). In addition there will be a new Medicare Excise Tax of 3.8% on investment income for taxpayers above $250,000 ($200,000 if single). This tax will be levied on interest, dividends, and distributions from non-qualified annuities, royalties and rental income.
Planning Considerations Steps to take:
• Evaluate Personal Spending – With the expiration of the Payroll Tax Holiday, Americans earning a paycheck will see them decrease by 2%. For workers living paycheck to paycheck the 2% decrease in take home pay could stretch monthly budgets.
• Look to Maximize Qualified Planning Opportunities – With income taxes increasing for some, taxpayers should look to vehicles like 401(k) and defined benefit plans to reduce taxable income.
• Evaluate Portfolio Construction to avoid the Medicare Surtax – Consider tax-advantaged vehicles like municipal securities. Look to place certain asset classes in qualified accounts while maintaining more tax efficient asset classes in taxable accounts.
• Consider AMT Favorable Investments – For taxpayers subject to AMT, consider looking at AMT free municipal securities and tax advantaged vehicles.
• Create a Written Plan – It is hard to know where you are going without knowing where you are. The process of creating a written plan can assist a family in knowing if they are on track to meet their personal goals and objectives. In conclusion, Many Americans have delayed their personal planning waiting to see what would occur inside the Washington Beltway. While there are many things yet to be resolved on Capitol Hill, we now have certainty concerning the tax side of the fiscal cliff. Over the next few months, politicians will move on to the next crisis. At the same time American families should begin implementing their personal planning strategies by meeting with their Advisors to create a written plan. This begins with an investment and cash flow plan which looks at a family’s specific goals and objectives. The second step also takes into account a family’s cash flow, liquidity needs, risk tolerance, and family dynamics. The planning process is dynamic and needs to be monitored to ensure that the plan stays current with changes in tax law and personal dynamics.
All The Fiscal Cliff Tax Changes As A Result
The views and opinions presented in this article are those of Chad Smith and not of H.D. Vest Financial Services® or its subsidiaries.
Investments are subject to market risks including the potential loss of principal invested.
This information does not constitute tax advice. Please consult your tax adviser for complete information.
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