The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 ("2012 Taxpayer Relief Act") was signed into law by President Obama on January 2, 2013. The 2012 Taxpayer Relief Act overrides several tax increases that were scheduled to go into effect in 2013 and preserves several favorable tax provisions that were set to expire at the end of 2012. At the same time, the 2012 Taxpayer Relief Act increases income taxes for certain high income earners and slightly increases transfer tax rates.
Below is a summary of how the provisions of the 2012 Taxpayer Relief Act will impact individual taxpayers.
Preservation of Income Tax Rates for Most Individuals
Income tax rates for most individuals will remain at 10%, 15%, 25%, 28%, 33%, and 35% (as opposed to moving to 15%, 28%, 31%, 36%, and 39.6% as would have otherwise occurred). Note, however, that certain high-income individuals will be subject to an increased tax rate of 39.6% beginning in 2012.
Tax Rate Increases For High Income Individuals
Although the 2012 Taxpayer Relief Act preserved lower income tax brackets for the majority of Americans, tax rates will increase for certain high income individuals. Specifically, a 39.6% rate will apply to income that exceeds an "applicable threshold." The "applicable threshold" is $450,000 for joint filers, $425,000 for heads of household, $400,000 for single filers, and $225,000 for married taxpayers filing separately. These dollar amounts are subject to adjustments for inflation for tax years after 2013.
Capital Gain and Dividend Rate Increases for Higher-Income Taxpayers.
The 2012 Taxpayer Relief Act raised the maximum rate for capital gains and dividends to 20% (up from 15%) for taxpayers with incomes exceeding $400,000 ($450,000 for married filing jointly). In addition, these high-income taxpayers will be subject to the 3.8% surtax on investment income under Section1411 of the Internal Revenue Code, resulting in an aggregate tax rate of 23.8% for higher-income taxpayers.
Capital Gain and Dividend Rates for Other Taxpayers
For taxpayers who are taxed on ordinary income at a rate below 25%, capital gains and dividends will permanently be subject to a 0% rate. Thus, some lower-income taxpayers may actually realize tax savings as compared to the previous rates.
For taxpayers who are taxed on ordinary income at a rate of 25% or more (but whose income levels fall below the $400,000/$450,000"applicable threshold") will continue to be subject to a 15% rate on capital gains and dividends.
In addition, certain taxpayers will be subject to the 3.8% surtax (i.e. married taxpayers with modified adjusted income in excess of $250,000 ($125,000 if married filing separately), all other taxpayers with modified adjusted income in excess of $200,000). For these taxpayers, the maximum tax rate for capital gains and dividends will be 18.8% (15% + 3.8% surtax).
Alternative Minimum Tax ("AMT") Relief
In a nutshell, the AMT is the excess, if any, of the tentative minimum tax for the year over the regular tax for the year. The tentative minimum tax is calculated by adjusting the regularly computed tax liability for certain items. The resulting amount is the alternative minimum taxable income (AMTI), which is subject to an AMT rate of 26% or 28%. The purpose of the AMT is to ensure that higher income taxpayers who would otherwise be able to offset substantial income through the use of favorable deductions and tax credits are liable for a minimum amount of tax. This summary vastly oversimplifies the AMT and is only meant to provide general background information.
Without the 2012 Taxpayer Relief Act, the individual AMT exemption amounts for 2012 would have been $33,750 for single taxpayers, $45,000 for joint filers, and $22,500 for married taxpayers filing separately. Tthe 2012 Taxpayer Relief Act retroactively increased these exemption amounts to $50,600 for single taxpayers, $78,750 for joint filers and $39,375 for married taxpayers filing separately.
Also, without the 2012 Taxpayer Relief Act, many nonrefundable personal tax credits were allowed only to the extent that an individual taxpayer's regular income tax liability exceeded his tentative minimum tax. The 2012 Taxpayer Relief Act retroactively (for tax years beginning after 2011) allows an individual taxpayer to offset his entire regular tax liability and AMT liability by the nonrefundable personal credits.
Retention of Transfer Tax Exemption Amounts (Subject to Rate Increase)
The 2012 Taxpayer Relief Act thwarted a sharp increase in estate, gift and generation-skipping transfer taxes that were scheduled to occur for individuals dying and gifts made after 2012 by permanently preserving the $5 million exemption amount (subject to adjustment for inflation). Note, however, that the 2012 Taxpayer Relief Act also increases the maximum estate, gift and generation-skipping transfer rate from 35% to 40%. As a final note, the 2012 Taxpayer Relief Act maintains the portability feature that allows the estate of the first spouse to die to transfer his or her unused exclusion to the surviving spouse.
Extension of Certain Favorable Tax Provisions for Individuals
The 2012 Taxpayer Relief Act extends the following favorable tax items for individuals that were set to expire at the end of 2012:
American Opportunity Tax Credit extended for 5 years - permits eligible taxpayers to claim a tax credit equal to 100% of the first $2,000 of qualified tuition and related expenses, and 25% of the next $2,000 of qualified tuition and related expenses (for a maximum tax credit of $2,500 for the first four years of post-secondary education)
Deduction for Classroom Expenses of Elementary and Secondary School Teachers - originally expired at the end of 2011; has been revived for 2012 and 2013
Exclusion of Discharge of Qualified Principal Residence Indebtedness from Income - originally applicable to discharges before January 1, 2013; now extended to apply to discharges before January 1, 2014
Treatment of Mortgage Insurance Premiums as Qualified Residence Interest - expired at the end of 2011; has been revived for 2012 and 2013
Option to Deduct State and Local Sales Taxes - expired at the end of 2011; has been revived for 2012 and 2013
Special Rule for Contributions of Capital Gain Real Property made for Conservation Purposes - expired at the end of 2011; has been revived for 2012 and 2013
Above-the-line Deduction for Qualified Tuition Expenses - expired at the end of 2011; has been revived for 2012 and 2013
Tax-Free Distributions from Individual Retirement Plans for Charitable Purposes - expired at the end of 2011; has been revived for 2012 and 2013. (Note: Because 2012 has already passed, a special rule allows distributions taken in 2012 to be transferred to charities for a limited period in 2013. In addition, certain distributions made in 2013 can be treated as deemed made on December 31, 2012)
50% Bonus Depreciation - extended for 1 year so that bonus depreciation continues to be available for qualified property placed in service before 2014