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American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 now law; Fiscal Cliff compromise makes significant changes

Andrew Presti

In what undeniably came down to the wire in the early hours of January 1, 2013, the Senate passed the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, which, along with many other provisions, permanently extends the so-called Bush-era tax cuts for individuals making under $400,000 and families making under $450,000 (those above those thresholds now pay at a 39.6 percent rate). The House followed with passage late in the day on January 1; and President Obama signed the bill into law on January 2. Thus, the more than decade-long fight over the fate of the tax cuts, originally enacted under the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 (EGTRRA), accelerated under the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003 (JGTRRA) and extended by Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010 (2010 Tax Relief Act) comes to an end.

Prelude to the Fiscal Cliff

On May 26, 2001, Congress passed the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 (EGTRRA). The legislation was hailed as the largest tax cut in 20 years and dramatically changed the landscape of the federal tax code. Two years later, the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003 (JGTRRA) was signed into law and accelerated many of the tax cuts set in motion under EGTRRA. Originally scheduled to sunset, or expire, after December 31, 2010, Congress extended these popular provisions for another two years in late 2010 with the passage of the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010. In 2010, Congress acted before the end of the year to extend the cuts. At the end of 2012, Congress and President Obama engaged in intense negotiations over the “fiscal cliff,” a term that came to combine many federal laws that had a deadline of December 31, 2012, including the Bush-era tax cuts. Congress then passed the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 on New Year’s Day, 2013, effectively averting the fiscal cliff.

What Does This Mean for You?

The new law extends a majority of the Bush-era tax cuts in the same form as they have existed since 2001 or 2003 when initially enacted. However, major exceptions include a rise in rates, including a maximum 20 percent on capital gains and dividends, on higher-income individuals, as described above, and an increase in the estate tax rate from 35 to 40 percent. In addition to a general extension of the tax rates, many other provisions, including some not affected by the sunset of the Bush-era tax cuts, are significantly or permanently extended, including:

  • Marriage penalty relief;
  • Inflation protection against the alternative minimum tax (AMT);
  • Deductions for student loan interest and tuition and fees;
  • Enhanced child tax and child and dependent care credits;
  • Simplified earned income credit;
  • Deductions for primary and secondary school teacher expenses;
  • Deductions for state and local sales taxes;
  • Research credits;
  • Energy-efficiency credits for homes and vehicles; and
  • Many more provisions.

Unfortunately, the new law is also significant in what it does not do in one important respect. It does not renew the so-called payroll tax holiday that had been in effect during 2011 and 2012. As a result, employees and self-employed individuals will be paying 2 percent more employment tax on their earnings up to the Social Security wage base (which is up to $113,700 for 2013).

Finally, the American Taxpayer Relief Act also includes extensions of provisions that expired at the end of 2011, but now apply to the 2012 tax year. That means it has immediate effect on the 2013 filing season.

The landscape of federal tax law has changed once again, and with it the need to reassess present tax strategies. Please call this office if you have any questions about the new law or how it impacts you directly.


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