Tax Rates

Urgent Tax Moves to Make Before Dec 31

URGENT tax steps to take before year-end!
Starting 2018, the tax overhaul that President Donald Trump signed into law this past Friday caps the deductions for state and local income and property taxes at $10,000 combined. This is a significant blow to homeowners in expensive housing markets like California. If you pay more than that and itemize your taxes, it makes sense to try to pay as much of your California and local tax bill before 2018, when you can still use the old rules to take a larger deduction.

Hitting a Tax Gapper

Summer is almost here, and sports fans across America have a lot to look forward to. Basketball's 13-month-long season is (finally) starting to heat up. Hockey playoffs are coming to a close. Baseball is in full swing, and NFLers are about to report to training camps. Stop at any bar or water cooler in the land, and you'll hear talk of wins, losses, and plays that you just have to see.

Fans and analysts have all sorts of statistics they can use to measure (and argue about) their teams' performance. "Turf investors" have relied on The Daily Racing Form for over a century. Baseball is famed for legions of "sabermetricians," who obsess over statistics like WAR (Wins Above Replacement), BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play), and LWCT (Largest Wad of Chewing Tobacco). Football and basketball too, even hockey, all lend themselves to measures far beyond the mere score at the end of the game.

But there's one more sports statistic we might need to evaluate our favorite team by, and that's SITR (State Income Tax Rate).

Sneaky Sneaker Tax

Today's tight economy is forcing governments at every level to stretch for new revenue, with varying degrees of success. In Washington, the dysfunctional family known as "Congress" just raised the top income tax rate to 39.6%, and there are new taxes on earned income and investment income as well. But when President Obama proposed cutting loopholes to raise even more money as an alternative to the budget sequester, his idea was met mostly with scorn.

Most state governments are in fiscal hot water, too. But Illinois may be worst off of all. Nearly $100 billion in unfunded pension liability is crushing the state budget. Last week, the bond ratings agency Standard & Poor's downgraded the Land of Lincoln's score to last in the nation. Ratings rival Moodys ranks Illinois at the same level as the

Jedi Tax Planning

I have no idea how the evil Empire collected taxes a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. (I suspect that R2D2 kept awesome records in case he was audited; Darth Vader hid his money on Endor, a forest moon bearing a striking resemblance to the Cayman Islands; and Chewbacca never bothered to file at all.) But here in the U.S., gains from the sale of a business are treated as capital gains and subject to tax up to 15%. Lucas is taking half of his proceeds in Disney stock, so that part escapes tax for now. (He'll pay if he sells those Disney shares sometime down the road.) But that still leaves up to $2 billion in fully taxable cash gains. And that means up to $300 million in tax for Uncle Sam.

At least, that's how it works this year. On January 1, the Empire strikes back, when those Bush-era rates expire. Unless Washington gives us a new hope, that capital gains rate jumps to 20%. President Obama has said he wants to extend the current rates for income under $200,000 ($250,000 for joint filers), and the Senate has passed a bill to do just that. But if the 20% Clinton capital gains rate returns, at least for guys in Lucas's bracket, selling in 2013 could have cost him up to $100 million more in immediate tax. That's at least enough to recondition a Millenium Falcon or two!

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