Fiscal Cliff

More Than Meets the Eye

We usually try and keep these dispatches light and entertaining. We know you'd rather read about "Tax Strategies for Somali Pirates" than, say, the latest regulations governing domestic international sales corporations. But every so often it's time to put on our serious face, and this is one of those times.

By now, of course, we all know that Congress spent their New Year's crafting a last-minute deal to avoid a "fiscal cliff" disaster. The "American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012" extended the Bush tax cuts, permanently, for incomes up to $400,000 for single filers and $450,000 for joint filers. Ordinary income above those thresholds will be taxed at 39.6%; corporate dividends and long-term capital gains will be taxed at 20%. The Alternative Minimum Tax is "patched" for good, and the estate tax is eliminated for estates under $5 million.

If your income isn't quite that high, you may think you've just dodged a bullet. But the sad reality is, you're probably already paying more tax, even if your income is nowhere near $400,000:

Dying to Save Taxes?

2013 is here, and after months of post-election sound and fury, we took a quick "test leap" off the dreaded "fiscal cliff." Look out below!

By this point, we're all familiar with the income tax consequences of the cliff. The Bush tax cuts expired, as scheduled, on December 31, sending everyone's taxes up. The 2% payroll tax holiday expired at the same time, with no hope of resuscitation. The Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), which up until this week had never been indexed for inflation, still hadn't been "patched" for 2012, meaning it would catch 27 million more Americans in its claws. There are even new Medicare taxes and a 3.8% "unearned income Medicare contribution" on earned income and investment income for individuals earning over $200,000 and joint filers earning over $250,000. (Okay, those new Medicare taxes aren't technically part of the "fiscal cliff" -- but they don't give upper-income earners much reason to cheer 2013, either!)

But the fiscal cliff also threatened some dramatic estate tax changes as w

Watching Out for the Cliff

Ordinarily, I use these posts to discuss fun items related to taxes and finances. I know that you can read the usual boring articles about the usual boring tax topics pretty much anywhere else. And most of you are happy to let me worry about "the details."

Every so often, though, I need to discuss more serious issues, even if it's just to let you know that I’m on top of them. That's the case today with the so-called "fiscal cliff" -- Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's clever term for what happens on January 1, when a bunch of current tax rules expire, and some new rules take effect. Here's a quick rundown of what to expect:

  • The Bush tax cuts expire. That means the top rates on ordinary income goes from 35% to 39.6%; the top rate on capital gains goes from 15% to 20%; and the top rate on qualified dividends jumps from 15% to 39.6%. Much of the debate over tax rates focuses on