Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012: Sorting It Out

Now that the dust has settled on the new tax legislation, here are a few talking points to take up with your financial advisor or accountant.

 As if the annoying back and forth to avoid the fiscal cliff at the close of last year wasn’t bad enough, the end result, dubbed the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, could mean a lot of scrambling on your part to hem in what you owe the IRS. No matter what your tax bracket or circumstances, chances are you’re probably already feeling the impact from the expiration of the “payroll tax holiday”. The news isn’t all bad, however: While your bill may go up, there are still some major tax breaks you can snare for your business. The bottom line is it’s an opportune time to schedule a meeting with your financial advisor or accountant to examine strategies.

Here’s a summary of some of the most important developments to come out of the new legislation:

Income Tax Rates and Deduction Reduction.

Tax rates made the biggest headlines during the fiscal cliff standoff, and for good reason. When the dust settled, Washington raised the income tax rates on those who make over $400,000 (or $450,000 in the case of married couples) to 39.6% from 35%. That’s potentially a minimum of nearly $20,000 you’ll have to hand over to Uncle Sam if you qualify. That’s not the only increase: If you make over $200,000 — $250,000 in the case of a couple filing jointly — you’ll pay an additional 0.9% tax on your earned income, while you’ll also be assessed an additional 3.8% on your net investment income.

Strategies to consider:

There’s ample reason to mull over alternatives with your tax accountant the minute there’s the risk you might fall into either of those brackets. If you’re the boss, or if you and one or more of your key employees fall over the threshold, there’s never been a better time to investigate either deferring income or setting up non-qualified deferred compensation arrangements. If you’re the owner of an LLC, Partnership or S Corporation, now might be the time to see if there is an advantage to switching over to a C corporation. The reason: The switch to C corporation status might make it possible to take advantage of the nearly 5% gap that has opened up between the highest personal income and corporate tax rates.

Payroll Taxes.

If you draw a salary, you can count on your payroll taxes rising this year. The government rolled back the 2% it cut from the Social Security tax assessed on your wages — the rate returns to 6.2% of your 2013 wages up to $113,700 (the 2013 Social Security wage base). This is up from last year’s 4.2%.

Strategies to consider:

If you make quarterly estimated tax payments, you may want to revisit your calculations in order to take the increase into account.

Depreciation Deductions.

The new tax law still makes it possible to log some sizeable deductions — on generous terms, too. For instance, there’s the depreciation on the purchase of new or used gear for your business. Beginning in 2013, you’re eligible to deduct the full cost — 100% — of certain pieces of new or used equipment you bring in up to $500,000. It’s also possible to amass up to $250,000 in deductions for real estate as part of that total amount. You may be able to opt for bonus depreciation on top of what you would report for first-year use of some equipment. There are restrictions, however, based on your business’s taxable income and your structure, matters you’ll want to review closely with your tax professional.

Strategies to consider:

It may well be an opportune time to pony up for the new computer system or trucks you’ve had your eye on. Again, check in with your tax pro.

While the negotiations over the new tax bill certainly made for a lot of sound bites, the result is once more very much the same: There are still ways to work the rules to minimize your tax bill. Take it as incentive to spend a bit more time with your advisor or accountant to figure out the solutions that work best for you.

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