ON THE MONEY: The fiscal cliff legislation fine print
In case you haven’t read the fine print of the recently enacted “Fiscal Cliff” fix, here is my take on some of the provisions.
Happily, our Congressmen and women did at least one thing right – they linked the income threshold for imposition of the Alternative Minimum Tax to inflation.
This move will ensure that there will be no more future delays in preventing middle class tax payers from having to pay this tax, solely due to inflationary pressures.
Death taxes will still be with us in 2013 and beyond.
The exemption level has been left untouched – still $5 million – but the estate tax rate has been raised to 40 percent on estates above $5 million.
There remains a hidden goody for married couples in that any unused exemption amount at the first death of a spouse may be transferred to the surviving spouse.
For example, if John Doe died with a gross estate of $3 million dollars in 2013, the unused $2 million exemption amount is passed to his spouse, so when she passes away, her personal estate exemption will be $7 million.
Another fortuitous non-change relates to the lifetime gift tax exemption, which remains at $5.12 million.
As was the case last year, gift and estate taxes are synchronized, in a manner of speaking, which means that if one depletes his lifetime gift tax exemption, his estate tax exemption is depleted as well.
One may still give away up to $14,000 to each recipient in 2013 without impacting the lifetime gifting limit.
So, if you have five grandchildren, you may give away up to $70,000 to them in 2013 without reducing from your lifetime limit.
Physicians who accept Medicare patients caught a break under the legislation, since their reimbursement rates from the federal government were scheduled to drop by 27 percent beginning in 2013, but the legislation kicked that can down the road for at least 12 months.
Taxes on dividends and capital gains remained at 15 percent for those individuals with Adjusted Gross Incomes of less than $400,000 and for married couples with AGI’s of less than $450,000.
Rates above those amounts rise to 20 percent, and this top rate represented a significant victory for Republicans, since a 20 percent rate should not impact investments in the economy by wealthy Americans.
Democrats were pushing for the same tax rate on dividends and capital gains that was passed on other income for this group – 39.6 percent.
Happily, we should not see a spike in milk prices, as had been suggested, dubbed the “dairy cliff” because it was also set to be imposed on Jan. 1.
Due to a nine-month extension of certain portions of the farm bill, milk and other dairy prices should not escalate in 2013.
If you have an AGI of more than $250,000 as a single taxpayer, or $300,000 if you are married filing jointly, say goodbye to your personal exemption of $3,800 for each of your family members. Additionally, your itemized deductions will begin to phase out if your AGI exceeds these amounts.
An extension of the 2 percent reduction in Social Security withholding was not part of the legislation, so every working American will see less take home pay in 2013.
Sadly, the legislation does not address limiting our debt ceiling, nor does it address any substantive cuts in spending.
However, Congress did vote to forego a $900 annual increase in pay for each member that had been approved earlier by President Obama. Whoopee!
Greg Roberts is a certified financial planner with 35 years of financial and estate planning experience.