Musings from the CEO (Spring 2013)

Estate Planning has evolved significantly over the last several years.  In recent months, we have seen the estate tax exemption become “permanent” at $5,250,000 per person, and it will continue to adjust with inflation.  We have also seen the lifetime gift tax exemption and generation-skipping transfer tax exemption be permanently increased to keep pace with the “new” estate tax exemption.  An obvious effect of this development is that a significant number of estates will be able to pass to the next generation without transfer taxes.  A married couple can now pass at least $10,500,000 of wealth to their children before their estates are hit with the still significant 40% tax rate.

Congress has also made “portability” permanent, which means that any unused exemption when the first spouse dies is carried over to the estate of the surviving spouse.  Prudent planning generally does not rely on portability, since it is sabotaged by the subsequent marriage of the surviving spouse and does not apply to generation-skipping transfer tax.

The focus of seasoned estate planning techniques will continue for the more wealthy.  Estate planning should become less costly and complicated for most Americans, however, Hoffman & Associates will still focus on a significant use of dynasty trusts for a plethora of reasons.  These include not only potential estate tax savings, but also income tax flexibility, asset protection from creditors, preservation of family wealth in the bloodline, protection from divorce, and simplifying probate.  Dynasty trusts, however, are under scrutiny and threat as the Obama Administration pushes its agenda.  While most states are extending the period of time that trusts can hold property, there are proposals to limit that duration for transfer tax (and other?) purposes.

Joe Nagel’s article in this Newsletter is a good reminder to us of the many reasons for estate planning, most of which are not focused on taxes.  We want to be good stewards of our assets.

At Hoffman & Associates our practice will continue to focus on estate planning techniques and working with clients to accomplish their estate planning objectives, with significant focus on succession planning for family businesses and asset protection.

We are seeing an increased focus on elder law matters.  As our client base gets older and the imminent demographics of the country are affected by the baby boomers and their parents, medical technology and a focus on general health issues constantly increase our life expectancies.

As income tax rates continue increasing, we are witnessing a rekindling of our clients’ focus on income tax planning.  This is “back to the basics” for a tax planning firm like Hoffman & Associates.  We continue to focus on important decisions about retirement plans, social security, tax deductions, and the tax sensitive nature of investments on behalf of our clients.

Kim Hoipkemier’s article this month highlights a focus area of Hoffman & Associates, namely, Estate Planning for Women.  Again, demographics, the economy, education and corporate America recognizes that women continue to live longer, earn more, and prosper, with the ever increasing responsibility to juggle and manage family and wealth.

Finally, at Hoffman & Associates we have begun a new area of service for our clients, as their situations demand new and flexible assistance to help them manage their daily financial lives.  The Hoffman Family Office (HFO) services include record keeping, bill paying, bookkeeping, budgeting, investment analysis, insurance analysis/shopping, and family philanthropy matters.  Whether it is the overwhelmed widow, the busy corporate executive, or the family that wants to responsibly out-source some of their financial tedium to their trusted advisors, we want to fill the vacuum by providing such help from the Firm they have trusted with so many other important areas of their planning and financial well-being.  Carolina Gomez of our office has been busy defining the areas where HFO can make a difference, and is ready to talk to you about any area you think HFO may be of assistance.

These are interesting times, and I choose to believe we are at the beginning of good times.  While we are clawing out of a recession, and Washington, DC has us constantly on pins and needles, the economy is generally getting better, unemployment is generally not increasing, and our clients generally are in an upswing in their attitudes and well-beings.  We want to be here for those who need assistance, whether it is planning for them or an elderly family member, assisting with the growth and success of their business, or simply to put their mind at ease that they have satisfactorily addressed planning considerations within their realm of influence.  Let us hear from you!

 

 

For more information regarding estate planning, business law or tax controversy and compliance, please visit the Hoffman & Associates website at www.hoffmanestatelaw.com or call us at 404-255-7400.

 

In accordance with IRS Circular 230, this article is not to be considered a “covered opinion” or other written tax advice and should not be relied upon for IRS audit, tax dispute, or any other purpose. The information contained herein is provided “as is” for general guidance on matters of interest only. Hoffman & Associates, Attorneys-at-Law, LLC is not herein engaged in rendering legal, accounting, tax, or other professional advice and services. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a competent professional advisor.

What the New Tax Law Means to You

As you probably know, Congress avoided the so-called fiscal cliff by passing – at the 12th hour –the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (the 2012 Tax Act), signed into law by the President on January 2, 2013. The 2012 Tax Act makes several important revisions to the tax code that will affect estate planning for the foreseeable future. What follows is a brief description of some of these revisions – and their impact:

  • The federal gift, estate and generation-skipping transfer tax provisions were made permanent as of December 31, 2012. This is great news for all Americans; for more than ten years, we have been planning with uncertainty under legislation that contained built in expiration dates. And while “permanent” in Washington only means that this is the law until Congress decides to change it, at least we now have more certainty with which to plan.
  • The federal gift and estate tax exemptions will remain at $5 million per person, adjusted annually for inflation. In 2012, the exemption (with the adjustment) was $5,120,000. The amount for 2013 is expected to be $5,250,000. This means that the opportunity to transfer large amounts during lifetime or at death remains. So if you did not take advantage of this in 2011 or 2012, you can still do so – and there are advantages to doing so sooner rather than later. Also, with the amount tied to inflation, you can expect to be able to transfer even more each year in the future.
  • The generation-skipping transfer (GST) tax exemption also remains at the same level as the gift and estate tax exemption ($5 million, adjusted for inflation). This tax, which is in addition to the federal estate tax, is imposed on amounts that are transferred (by gift or at your death) to grandchildren and others who are more than 37.5 years younger than you; in other words, transfers that “skip” a generation. Having this exemption be “permanent” allows you to take advantage of planning that will greatly benefit future generations.
  • Married couples can take advantage of these higher exemptions and, with proper planning, transfer up to $10+ million through lifetime gifting and at death.
  • The tax rate on estates larger than the exempt amounts increased from 35% to 40%.
  • The “portability” provision was also made permanent. This allows the unused exemption of the first spouse to die to transfer to the surviving spouse, without having to set up a trust specifically for this purpose. However, there are still many benefits to proper estate planning using trusts, especially for those who want to ensure that their estate tax exemption will be fully utilized by the surviving spouse.
  • Separate from the new tax law, the amount for annual tax-free gifts has increased from $13,000 to $14,000, meaning you can give up to $14,000 per beneficiary, per year ($28,000 for a married couple) free of federal gift,  estate and GST tax – in addition to the $5 million gift, estate, and GST tax exemptions. By making annual tax-free transfers while you are alive, you can transfer significant wealth to your children, grandchildren and other beneficiaries, thereby reducing your taxable estate and removing future appreciation on assets you transfer. And, you can significantly enhance this lifetime giving strategy by transferring interests in a limited liability company or similar entity because these assets have a reduced value for transfer tax purposes, allowing you to transfer more free of tax.  Gifting to Family Trusts allows the tremendous advantage of gifting to one destination, while using the annual gift exclusions for all of your descendants.

For most Americans, the 2012 Tax Act has removed the emphasis on planning for worst case scenarios and put it back on the real reasons we need to do estate planning: taking care of ourselves and our families the way we want. This includes:

  • Protecting you, your family, and your assets in the event of incapacity;
  • Ensuring your assets are distributed the way you want;
  • Protecting your legacy from irresponsible spending, a child’s creditors, and from being part of a child’s divorce proceedings;
  • Providing for a loved one with special needs without losing valuable government benefits; and
  • Helping protect assets from creditors and frivolous lawsuits; and from estate depletion to fund nursing home costs.

For those with estates less than the $5.25 million exemption amount, trusts should still provide much valued asset protection.  However, those who are less concerned about asset protection may want to review options for unwinding previous transactions to the extent possible and, at a minimum, review their estate plan to ensure proper income tax planning (see below).

For those with larger estates, ample opportunities remain to transfer large amounts tax free to future generations, but it is critical that professional planning begins as soon as possible. With Congress looking for more ways to increase revenue, many reliable estate planning strategies may soon be restricted or eliminated.   REVENUE RAISING PROPOSALS INCLUDE 1) LIMITING THE BENEFITS OF GRANTOR TRUSTS, 2) LIMITING THE DURATION OF ALLOCATION OF GST EXEMPTION, 3) IMPOSING A MINIMUM 10 YEAR TERM FOR GRANTOR RETAINED ANNUITY TRUSTS (“GRATS”), AND 4) REDUCING THE AVAILABILITY OF ENTITY BASED VALUATION DISCOUNTS.  These are all tools that can reduce your estate tax exposure but that may not be available much longer.  Thus, it is best to put these strategies into place now so that they are more likely to be grandfathered from future law changes.

Further, as is well publicized, the 2012 Tax Act included several income tax rate increases on those earning more than $400,000 ($450,000 for married couples filing jointly).  Combined with the two additional income tax rate increases resulting from the healthcare bill, income tax planning for individuals is obviously now more important than ever.

What hasn’t been as publicized is that trusts (only those trusts not taxed as grantor trusts) and estates will be subject to these new taxes and higher tax rates on income above $11,950.   Proper income tax/distribution planning for trusts and estates will be essential going forward to minimize these burdensome tax increases.

Income tax basis planning will also be more important.  Many trusts hold highly appreciated, low tax basis assets. Reverse DGT transactions – purchasing low basis assets back from grantor trusts – can be used to obtain a step up in basis at death.  Trusts may be able to be amended and/or restated to allow a Trust Protector to identify low basis assets and take certain actions that would cause them to get a step up in tax basis at your death.   For assets not already in trust, Alaska Community Property Trusts can be utilized to get a double step up in tax basis at both spouse’s deaths.

The good news is that if you have been sitting on the sidelines, waiting to see what Congress would do, the wait is over.  We have increased certainty with “permanent” laws and you can have some comfort that the rules won’t drastically shift from year to year.  Unfortunately, for those of you with larger estates, planning techniques that can be utilized to reduce estate tax exposure are still on the chopping block – so don’t wait to plan.  For all clients, income tax planning, including income tax basis planning, should be a focus this year.  As always, the ultimate goals of estate planning, including protecting family assets and providing for loved ones, do not change.  Make sure you have a good plan to meet these goals. Schedule an appointment today by calling us at (404) 255-7400.

In accordance with IRS Circular 230, this article is not to be considered a “covered opinion” or other written tax advice and should not be relied upon for IRS audit, tax dispute, or any other purpose.  The information contained herein is provided “as is” for general guidance on matters of interest only.  Hoffman & Associates, Attorneys-at-Law, LLC is not herein engaged in rendering legal, accounting, tax, or other professional advice and services.  Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a competent professional advisor.

Fiscal Cliff Avoidance Legislation

Pulling back from the “fiscal cliff” at the 13th hour, Congress on Tuesday preserved most of the George W. Bush-era tax cuts and extended many other lapsed tax provisions.
Shortly before 2 a.m. Tuesday, the Senate passed a bill that had been heralded and, in some quarters, groused about throughout the preceding day. By a vote of 89 to 8, the chamber approved the American Taxpayer Relief Act, H.R. 8, which embodied an agreement that had been hammered out on Sunday and Monday between Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. The House of Representatives approved the bill by a vote of 257–167 late on Tuesday evening, after plans to amend the bill to include spending cuts were abandoned. The bill now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature.

“The AICPA is pleased that Congress has reached an agreement,” said Edward Karl, vice president–Tax for the AICPA. “The uncertainty of the tax law has unnecessarily impeded the long-term tax and cash flow planning for businesses and prevented taxpayers from making informed decisions. The agreement should also allow the IRS and commercial software vendors to revise or issue new tax forms and update software, and allow tax season to begin with minimal delay.”

With some modifications targeting the wealthiest Americans with higher taxes, the act permanently extends provisions of the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001, P.L. 107-16 (EGTRRA), and Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003, P.L. 108-27 (JGTRRA). It also permanently takes care of Congress’s perennial job of “patching” the alternative minimum tax (AMT). It temporarily extends many other tax provisions that had lapsed at midnight on Dec. 31 and others that had expired a year earlier.

The act’s nontax features include one-year extensions of emergency unemployment insurance and agricultural programs and yet another “doc fix” postponement of automatic cuts in Medicare payments to physicians. In addition, it delays until March a broad range of automatic federal spending cuts known as sequestration that otherwise would have begun this month.
Among the tax items not addressed by the act was the temporary lower 4.2% rate for employees’ portion of the Social Security payroll tax, which was not extended and has reverted to 6.2%.
The legislation would allow tax rates to rise on the nation’s highest earners while also extending dozens of tax cuts for individuals and businesses. Major provisions of the bill include:

  • Raises the top tax rate to 39.6% for married couples earning $450,000; single taxpayers earning $400,000. These amounts will be indexed for inflation.
  • Raises long-term capital gains and qualifying dividends tax rate to 20% (from 15%) for taxpayers in the 39.6% tax bracket for regular and alternative minimum tax.
  • Permanently extends Bush-era tax cuts from 2001 and 2003 for all other taxpayers.
  • Reinstates phaseout of personal exemptions and overall limitation on itemized deductions for married couples filing jointly earning over $300,000 and single taxpayers earning over $250,000.
  • Raises the maximum estate tax rate to 40% but keeps the exemption amount at $5 million, adjusted for inflation.
  • Extends for 5 years (through 2018) the American Opportunity Tax Credit to pay for higher education, and special relief for families with 3 or more children for the refundable portion of the child tax credit and increased percentage for the earned income tax credit.
  • Patches the AMT for 2012 and adjusts the exemption amount for inflation going forward.
  • Extends through 2013 the following individual tax benefits: above the line deduction for teacher expenses, relief from cancellation of debt income for principal residences, parity for employer-provided mass transit benefits, deduction for mortgage insurance premiums as interest, election to deduct state and local sales taxes in   lieu of income taxes, above the line deduction for qualified education expenses, tax-free distributions from IRA accounts for charitable purposes.
  • Extends through 2013 certain business tax provisions that expired at the end of 2011 including: the research credit, the new markets tax credit, railroad track maintenance credit, mine rescue team training credit, work opportunity credit, the Section 179 asset expensing at $500,000, Section 1202 stock exclusion at 100%, and empowerment zone incentives.
  • Extends 50% bonus depreciation through 2013.
  • Extends through 2013 certain energy tax incentives that expired at the end of 2011 including: energy efficient credit for existing homes, alternative fuel vehicle refueling property credit, biodiesel and renewable diesel incentives, wind credit, energy efficient credit for new homes, and credit for manufacture of energy efficient appliances.

More detailed provisions of the Act are below:

Individual tax rates
All the individual marginal tax rates under EGTRRA and JGTRRA are retained (10%, 15%, 25%, 28%, 33%, and 35%). A new top rate of 39.6% is imposed on taxable income over $400,000 for single filers, $425,000 for head-of-household filers, and $450,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly ($225,000 for each married spouse filing separately).

Phaseout of itemized deductions and personal exemptions
The personal exemptions and itemized deductions phaseout is reinstated at a higher threshold of $250,000 for single taxpayers, $275,000 for heads of household, and $300,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly.

Capital gains and dividends
A 20% rate applies to capital gains and dividends for individuals above the top income tax bracket threshold; the 15% rate is retained for taxpayers in the middle brackets. The zero rate is retained for taxpayers in the 10% and 15% brackets.

Alternative minimum tax
The exemption amount for the AMT on individuals is permanently indexed for inflation. For 2012, the exemption amounts are $78,750 for married taxpayers filing jointly and $50,600 for single filers. Relief from AMT for nonrefundable credits is retained.

Estate and gift tax
The estate and gift tax exclusion amount is retained at $5 million indexed for inflation ($5.12 million in 2012), but the top tax rate increases from 35% to 40% effective Jan. 1, 2013. The estate tax “portability” election, under which, if an election is made, the surviving spouse’s exemption amount is increased by the deceased spouse’s unused exemption amount, was made permanent by the act.

Permanent extensions
Various temporary tax provisions enacted as part of EGTRRA were made permanent. These include:

  • Marriage penalty relief (i.e., the increased size of the 15% rate bracket (Sec. 1(f)(8)) and increased standard deduction for married taxpayers filing jointly (Sec. 63(c)(2));
  • The liberalized child and dependent care credit rules (allowing the credit to be calculated based on up to $3,000 of expenses for one dependent or up to $6,000 for more than one) (Sec. 21);
  • The exclusion for National Health Services Corps and Armed Forces Health Professions Scholarships (Sec. 117(c)(2));
  • The exclusion for employer-provided educational assistance (Sec. 127);
  • The enhanced rules for student loan deductions introduced by EGTRRA (Sec. 221);
  • The higher contribution amount and other EGTRRA changes to Coverdell education savings accounts (Sec. 530);
  • The employer-provided child care credit (Sec. 45F);
  • Special treatment of tax-exempt bonds for education facilities (Sec 142(a)(13));
  • Repeal of the collapsible corporation rules (Sec. 341);
  • Special rates for accumulated earnings tax and personal holding company tax (Secs. 531 and 541); and
  • Modified tax treatment for electing Alaska Native Settlement Trusts (Sec. 646).

Individual credits expired at the end of 2012
The American opportunity tax credit for qualified tuition and other expenses of higher education was extended through 2018. Other credits and items from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, P.L. 111-5, that were extended for the same five-year period include enhanced provisions of the child tax credit under Sec. 24(d) and the earned income tax credit under Sec. 32(b). In addition, the bill permanently extends a rule excluding from taxable income refunds from certain federal and federally assisted programs (Sec. 6409).

Individual provisions expired at the end of 2011
The act also extended through 2013 a number of temporary individual tax provisions, most of which expired at the end of 2011:

  • Deduction for certain expenses of elementary and secondary school teachers (Sec. 62);
  • Exclusion from gross income of discharge of qualified principal residence indebtedness (Sec. 108);
  • Parity for exclusion from income for employer-provided mass transit and parking benefits (Sec. 132(f));
  • Mortgage insurance premiums treated as qualified residence interest (Sec. 163(h));
  • Deduction of state and local general sales taxes (Sec. 164(b));
  • Special rule for contributions of capital gain real property made for conservation purposes (Sec. 170(b));
  • Above-the-line deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses (Sec. 222); and
  • Tax-free distributions from individual retirement plans for charitable purposes (Sec. 408(d)).

Business tax extenders
The act also extended many business tax credits and other provisions. Notably, it extended through 2013 and modified the Sec. 41 credit for increasing research and development activities, which expired at the end of 2011. The credit is modified to allow partial inclusion in qualified research expenses and gross receipts those of an acquired trade or business or major portion of one. The increased expensing amounts under Sec. 179 are extended through 2013. The availability of an additional 50% first-year bonus depreciation (Sec. 168(k)) was also extended for one year by the act. It now generally applies to property placed in service before Jan. 1, 2014 (Jan. 1, 2015, for certain property with longer production periods).
Other business provisions extended through 2013, and in some cases modified, are:

  • Temporary minimum low-income tax credit rate for non-federally subsidized new buildings (Sec. 42);
  • Housing allowance exclusion for determining area median gross income for qualified residential rental project exempt facility bonds (Section 3005 of the Housing Assistance Tax Act of 2008);
  • Indian employment tax credit (Sec. 45A);
  • New markets tax credit (Sec. 45D);
  • Railroad track maintenance credit (Sec. 45G);
  • Mine rescue team training credit (Sec. 45N);
  • Employer wage credit for employees who are active duty members of the uniformed services (Sec. 45P);
  • Work opportunity tax credit (Sec. 51);
  • Qualified zone academy bonds (Sec. 54E);
  • Fifteen-year straight-line cost recovery for qualified leasehold improvements, qualified restaurant buildings and improvements, and qualified retail improvements (Sec. 168(e));
  • Accelerated depreciation for business property on an Indian reservation (Sec. 168(j));
  • Enhanced charitable deduction for contributions of food inventory (Sec. 170(e));
  • Election to expense mine safety equipment (Sec. 179E);
  • Special expensing rules for certain film and television productions (Sec. 181);
  • Deduction allowable with respect to income attributable to domestic production activities in Puerto Rico (Sec. 199(d));
  • Modification of tax treatment of certain payments to controlling exempt organizations (Sec. 512(b));
  • Treatment of certain dividends of regulated investment companies (Sec. 871(k));
  • Regulated investment company qualified investment entity treatment under the Foreign Investment in Real Property Act (Sec. 897(h));
  • Extension of subpart F exception for active financing income (Sec. 953(e));
  • Lookthrough treatment of payments between related controlled foreign corporations under foreign personal holding company rules (Sec. 954);
  • Temporary exclusion of 100% of gain on certain small business stock (Sec. 1202);
  • Basis adjustment to stock of S corporations making charitable contributions of property (Sec. 1367);
  • Reduction in S corporation recognition period for built-in gains tax (Sec. 1374(d));
  • Empowerment Zone tax incentives (Sec. 1391);
  • Tax-exempt financing for New York Liberty Zone (Sec. 1400L);
  • Temporary increase in limit on cover-over of rum excise taxes to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands (Sec. 7652(f)); and
  • American Samoa economic development credit (Section 119 of the Tax Relief and Health Care Act of 2006, P.L. 109-432, as modified).

Energy tax extenders
The act also extends through 2013, and in some cases modifies, a number of energy credits and provisions that expired at the end of 2011:

  • Credit for energy-efficient existing homes (Sec. 25C);
  • Credit for alternative fuel vehicle refueling property (Sec. 30C);
  • Credit for two- or three-wheeled plug-in electric vehicles (Sec. 30D);
  • Cellulosic biofuel producer credit (Sec. 40(b), as modified);
  • Incentives for biodiesel and renewable diesel (Sec. 40A);
  • Production credit for Indian coal facilities placed in service before 2009 (Sec. 45(e)) (extended to an eight-year period);
  • Credits with respect to facilities producing energy from certain renewable resources (Sec. 45(d), as modified);
  • Credit for energy-efficient new homes (Sec. 45L);
  • Credit for energy-efficient appliances (Sec. 45M);
  • Special allowance for cellulosic biofuel plant property (Sec. 168(l), as modified);
  • Special rule for sales or dispositions to implement Federal Energy
  • Regulatory Commission or state electric restructuring policy for qualified electric utilities (Sec. 451); and
  • Alternative fuels excise tax credits (Sec. 6426).

Foreign provisions
The IRS’s authority under Sec. 1445(e)(1) to apply a withholding tax to gains on the disposition of U.S. real property interests by partnerships, trusts, or estates that are passed through to partners or beneficiaries that are foreign persons is made permanent, and the amount is increased to 20%

New taxes
In addition to the various provisions discussed above, some new taxes also took effect Jan. 1 as a result of 2010’s health care reform legislation.

Additional hospital insurance tax on high-income taxpayers. The employee portion of the hospital insurance tax part of FICA, normally 1.45% of covered wages, is increased by 0.9% on wages that exceed a threshold amount. The additional tax is imposed on the combined wages of both the taxpayer and the taxpayer’s spouse, in the case of a joint return. The threshold amount is $250,000 in the case of a joint return or surviving spouse, $125,000 in the case of a married individual filing a separate return, and $200,000 in any other case.
For self-employed taxpayers, the same additional hospital insurance tax applies to the hospital insurance portion of SECA tax on self-employment income in excess of the threshold amount.

Medicare tax on investment income. Starting Jan. 1, Sec. 1411 imposes a tax on individuals equal to 3.8% of the lesser of the individual’s net investment income for the year or the amount the individual’s modified adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeds a threshold amount. For estates and trusts, the tax equals 3.8% of the lesser of undistributed net investment income or AGI over the dollar amount at which the highest trust and estate tax bracket begins.
For married individuals filing a joint return and surviving spouses, the threshold amount is $250,000; for married taxpayers filing separately, it is $125,000; and for other individuals it is $200,000.
Net investment income means investment income reduced by deductions properly allocable to that income. Investment income includes income from interest, dividends, annuities, royalties, and rents, and net gain from disposition of property, other than such income derived in the ordinary course of a trade or business. However, income from a trade or business that is a passive activity and from a trade or business of trading in financial instruments or commodities is included in investment income.

Medical care itemized deduction threshold. The threshold for the itemized deduction for unreimbursed medical expenses has increased from 7.5% of AGI to 10% of AGI for regular income tax purposes. This is effective for all individuals, except, in the years 2013–2016, if either the taxpayer or the taxpayer’s spouse has turned 65 before the end of the tax year, the increased threshold does not apply and the threshold remains at 7.5% of AGI.

Flexible spending arrangement. Effective for cafeteria plan years beginning after Dec. 31, 2012, the maximum amount of salary reduction contributions that an employee may elect to have made to a flexible spending arrangement for any plan year is $2,500.

This news alert published by:  Marshall, Jones & Co., www.marshalljones.com

JIn accordance with IRS Circular 230, this article is not to be considered a “covered opinion” or other written tax advice and should not be relied upon for IRS audit, tax dispute, or any other purpose.  The information contained herein is provided “as is” for general guidance on matters of interest only.  Hoffman & Associates, Attorneys-at-Law, LLC is not herein engaged in rendering legal, accounting, tax, or other professional advice and services.  Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a competent professional advisor.

 

2012 Year End Newsletter

Dear Tax Clients:

With the year coming to an end, as always, there becomes a heightened sense of emphasis on financial and tax planning. This is true now more than ever with the future of America’s tax code being so uncertain and with many tax cuts taxpayers have taken for granted for over a decade set to expire in 2012.  Knowing this, we at Hoffman & Associates, would like to help you by providing some general reminders, items of interest for the current tax year and some valuable planning tips for changes we are likely to see in the future. We hope these notes, as well as some general estate planning and business items that are of importance, will help you prepare for your 2012 taxes as well as for the future. However, as every taxpayer paints a different picture, we recommend contacting one of our tax and legal experts for reassurance or with any question you may have.

Individuals

Tax planning for individuals for both the 2012 year-end and forward will be complicated for a multitude of reasons, with the most important being that most of the Bush-era tax cuts are set to expire at year end.  This casts doubts about the renewal of many tax extenders, like the AMT patch, and makes the possibility of across-the-board tax hikes, including the new 3.8 percent “medicare” tax on investment income and .9 percent increase one earned income, a likelihood. Individual taxpayers will want to be sure to make the most of the favorable tax savings opportunities while they are available in 2012 because they may not see such favorable tax rules in the coming years.  Although Congressional action between now and the end of the year may cause more tax changes, we have summarized below some year-end tax reminders and tips.

Annual Reminders

  • Estimated Payments – Make your 4th Quarter Georgia estimated payment in December instead of waiting until January 2013, unless you are in an AMT situation (see “Current Year Items of Interest”).
  • Tax Withholdings – If you have not had enough withheld from your 2012 pay, or you have missed an estimated payment, you can opt to have more tax withheld from your paycheck before year end in order to cover this potentially costly mistake.
  • Sell Your “Losers” – Don’t forget to offset any 2012 capital gains. Married taxpayers can take up to a $3,000 capital loss ($1,500 for single filers). Be careful to avoid “wash sale” rules by not buying the same stock within 30 days before or after the original sale; otherwise the losses won’t count.
  • Retirement Plan Contributions – Have you made your contributions to your retirement plans for 2012? The deadline for all types of IRA contributions is April 15th, 2013, you can make these contributions before the end of the year.

Items Set to Expire in 2012

  • Consider Converting Your IRA – With an expected tax increase post-2012 and into the future, you may want to consider converting your Traditional IRA to a Roth IRA. You would owe tax on the IRA amount currently, to the extent it exceeds basis, but upon retirement when tax rates are expected to be higher, all the distributions from the Roth, if the holding period is met, would be tax free.   The conversion of traditional IRA’s to Roth IRA’s is not an all or nothing proposition.  Also, the maneuver is particularly attractive if you are experiencing an extraordinary low income or loss year.
  • Alternative Minimum Tax – Unless action is taken in Congress, the exemption for AMT in 2012 will decrease to $33,750 for individuals and $45,000 for married couples. Favorable legislation passed in the House and Senate earlier in the year indicating action will be taken to increase these amounts has yet to be enacted. Therefore, taxpayers should not assume this change will take place and should be prepared if there is no increase.
  • American Opportunity Tax Credit – This enhancement to the Hope Education Credit that allows for a credit of up to $2,500 per student for the first four years of post-secondary education expires after 2012.  If not made permanent by Congress in 2013, it will revert back to the less generous Hope Scholarship credit (maximum credit of $1,950 and available for only two years).  In contrast, the still available Lifetime Learning Credit is a per taxpayer per year credit and can be claimed for an unlimited number of years.
  • Student “Above-the-Line” Expense – The Qualified Higher Education Expense deduction for tuition and fees expired last year.  For those who will are paying off student loans, the student loan interest deduction after 2012 will be limited to five years and phased out at lower AGI levels.
  • Social Security Payroll – Most taxpayers can expect a smaller paycheck in 2013 due to Social Security Payroll taxes withheld reverting back to their normal amounts. The social security wage base for this additional 2 percent is $113,700 in 2013 (up from $110,100 in 2012) and also applies to self-employed individuals, whose self-employment tax on social security will revert back to 15.3 percent in 2013 (up from 13.3 percent in 2012).

Tax Planning Opportunities

  • Child Tax Credit – The child tax credit for 2012 is $1,000 per eligible child, but going forward will be reduced to $500. Taxpayers should plan ahead for this reduction as the refundable amount also will be limited for those with at least three qualifying children in 2013.
  • Increasing Tax Rates – The current percentage rates of 10, 15, 25, 28, 33 and 35 are set to  revert to the pre-Bush tax cut rates of 15, 28, 31, 36 and 39.6 percent. President Obama has  proposed to keep the current structure, but replace the 33 and 35 percent rates with the 36 and 39.6 percent rates for higher income tax payers. Because of potential tax hikes across the board, taxpayers should discuss their income projections and tax plan for 2013 with both their financial advisor and tax preparer to ensure adequate estimates and withholdings, especially since the 39.6 percent top rate does not include the 3.8 and .9 percent Medicare taxes.
  • Capital Gains/Losses and Dividends – Beginning in 2013, the tax rates for long-term capital gains and qualified dividends will change. The rates will move from zero percent for taxpayers in the 10 and 15 percent brackets and 15 percent for everyone else to 10 percent for taxpayers in the 15 percent bracket and 20 percent for everyone else, respectively. Dividends will be taxed at ordinary income tax rates (top rate of 39.6 percent, or 43.4 percent if the 3.8 percent Medicare tax applies.  Individuals should consider accelerating capital asset sales and C Corporations may want to declare and distribute special dividends before year-end).
  • 3.8 Percent Medicare Contribution Tax – 2013 also brings a new 3.8 percent “unearned income Medicare contribution” tax. The tax will target higher-income individuals, estates and trusts and will be assessed on the smaller of net investment income (NII), which is investment income minus allocable expenses, or the amount by which  an individual taxpayer’s modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is over $200,000 ($250,000 for married couples). For estates and trusts, this tax applies to the lesser of undistributed NII or adjusted gross income (AGI) in excess of $11,950 for 2013. Estates and trusts should consider distributing NII to beneficiaries whose MAGI threshold is much higher.  Individual taxpayers, and certain estates with passive rental income, whose NII exceed MAGI and AGI thresholds, should re-do their triple net leases so they can actively participate in the management of their rental properties and avoid this 3.8 percent tax.  Income from taxable IRAs, social security and alimony is not investment income, but increases MAGI and could subject your NII to this tax.  Consider investing in tax-exempt bonds or funds which are neither included in AGI nor MAGI for investment income purposes.
  • Personal Exemption Phaseout and Pease – The personal exemption phaseout (PEP) and Pease (a limitation on itemized deductions) were repealed through 2012, but could be reinstated in 2013. A reinstatement of the PEP and Pease means taxpayers that have an adjusted gross income of certain amounts (estimates of the phaseout are said to begin at $178,150 for singles and $267,200 for those married filing jointly) will lose any advantage of personal exemptions and itemized deductions. Note that medical and investment interest expenses, gambling and casualty or theft losses are not subject to the Pease limitation.  Therefore, taxpayers should consider making additional gifts to charity this year.  Paying state income or real estate taxes in 2012 is a good idea too, unless you are subject to the AMT.
  • Medical Expense Deductions – As provisions for personal exemption phaseouts and limitations on itemized deductions are set to kick in, so is an increase to the threshold for the itemized medical deduction. Currently, medical expenses must exceed 7.5 percent of a taxpayer’s adjusted gross income (AGI) before they qualify as a subtraction to AGI. Beginning in 2013, the threshold will increase to 10 percent of AGI; however, individuals who are age 65 and older will be exempt from this increase through 2016.  If possible, taxpayers under 65 years old should take advantage now of the current 7.5 percent of AGI threshold by accelerating elective unreimbursed qualifying medical expenses.

Estate Planning

Estate planning is another important aspect of your financial well-being. This is an area of tax that is often convoluted and constantly changing. Some important and potentially drastic changes are set to expire in 2012. We have listed below the changes that we believe will have the most impact on our clients.

  • Estate and Gift Tax – The 2012 estate and gift tax rate is 35 percent with an exemption of $5.12 million. This will revert back to $1 million in 2013 as the maximum tax rate reverts back to 55 percent. Also, the portability rule allowing an individual’s estate or spouse to make the election on a timely filed federal estate tax return to utilize the “deceased spouse’s unused exclusion” amount (DSUE Amount) is set to expire.  If made, the surviving spouse’s unused estate and gift tax exemption amount available for gifting before the 12-31-12 expiration date, could be in excess of $10,000,000.  Therefore, individuals with significant assets should consider taking advantage of the higher gift and generation-skipping exclusions now.
  • 2012 Annual Gift Tax Exclusion – The annual exclusion for gifts free of any gift tax is $13,000 this year ($14,000 beginning in 2013) (married couples can gift up to $26,000) to each individual. Married donors can gift up to $26,000 in 2012 ($28,000 in 2013) per donee.
  • Year End Donations – When gifting to charitable organizations consider gifting securities that have appreciated. As long as you have held the securities more than a year, you take a deduction for their market value.

Business Planning

Business tax planning, like individual tax planning, will become just as difficult to plan for in the coming years because of the expiring tax incentives. The tips and changes we believe will be the most significant to our clients are listed below.

  • 2012 Section 179 Expense – Typically, for business property with a useful life of more than one year, the cost must be depreciated (deducted ratably over several tax years).  IRC Section 179 allows the business to fully expense the cost of eligible-tangible personal property in the year purchased.  The maximum amount in 2012 that may be expensed is $139,000 with a $560,000 investment ceiling placed on the purchase of all otherwise qualifying expenses.  In 2013, both the Section 179 expense and investment ceiling are scheduled to drop to $25,000 and $200,000, respectively.
  • Bonus Depreciation – Fifty percent first year bonus depreciation is allowed for the cost of new qualified property with a recovery period of 20 years or less placed in service (i.e., ready for use and not merely purchased) in 2012, but will expire at year end. Businesses should take advantage of these favorable expensing rules now while they are still available.
  • Dividends – Closely-held C Corporations may want to declare and distribute special dividends this year so shareholders may take advantage of the lower expiring tax rates and to avoid the 3.8 percent Medicare tax on investment income.

Additional Items to Note

  • IRS “Phishing” Scams – As was noted in last year’s letter, the IRS continues to battle cons taking advantage of taxpayers. They stress that the IRS does not solicit taxpayer information via e-mail and that any emails received from the “IRS” requesting personal information should be deleted immediately.
  • Audits – Taxpayer audits continue to be a problem for individual taxpayers. As the Federal government continues to struggle financially, the automatic notices for audits and penalties are sent out at a staggering rate. Please let us know if you receive any notice from the IRS as we are prepared to help you if you have any issues.

 As always, we encourage you to feel free to contact us with any concerns or questions you may have about your taxes.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

HOFFMAN & ASSOCIATES, ATTORNEYS-AT-LAW, L.L.C.

In accordance with IRS Circular 230, this article is not to be considered a “covered opinion” or other written tax advice and should not be relied upon for IRS audit, tax dispute, or any other purpose.  The information contained herein is provided “as is” for general guidance on matters of interest only.  Hoffman & Associates, Attorneys-at-Law, LLC is not herein engaged in rendering legal, accounting, tax, or other professional advice and services.  Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a competent professional advisor.

Opportunities to Take Advantage of Before Its Too Late

Tax laws are changing at the end of this year.  Take advantage of these opportunities before it’s too late.

Estate Tax Savings’ Techniques:

Gifting:  Use your $5,120,000 gift tax exemption.  Next year, the exemption is scheduled to be reduced to $1,000,000.  If you don’t use the exemption, you could lose it, and there is little downside as long as you don’t need the assets for future sustenance.

Spousal Access Trusts: Create spousal access trusts to use all or a portion of your gift tax exemption.  Your gift tax exemption can be used in a way that still allows you to provide for your spouse.

Valuation Discounts: Utilize valuation discounts for lack of marketability and lack of control. Gift hard to value or fractional interests in property.  By doing so, you can leverage your $5.12 million dollar exemption to remove even more property from your estate.  These valuation discounts for family owned assets and businesses are under scrutiny by the IRS and Congress.  If you wait too long, the law might change and you may lose the opportunity to leave more to your children and grandchildren.

Intra-Family Loans: Make intra-family loans. Interest rates are at all time lows.  By loaning money to trusts for the benefit of your children and grandchildren, you can remove virtually all of the appreciation on the loaned funds from your taxable estate, while knowing the principal is still there and can be paid back should you end up needing it.

Income Tax Savings’ Strategies:

Make Distributions: Make dividend payments from C corporations to take advantage of the current 15% tax rate. Next year, the rate is scheduled to go back up to ordinary income tax rates, and the new Healthcare Surtax could apply in certain circumstances making the highest effective tax rate on dividends 43.4%. That is almost a 200% increase in the tax rate on dividends.

Harvest Capital Gains: Sell appreciated assets now rather than next year.  The current capital gains rate of 15% is scheduled to rise to 20% next year and with the Healthcare Surtax, the highest effective tax rate on capital gains will be 23.8% in 2013.  That’s almost a 60% increase in the tax rate.

Charitable Deductions: Contribute to charities now, when the benefit is 35 cents on the dollar. Proposed legislation will reduce the deduction to 28 cents on the dollar next year.  Consider donor advised funds and private foundations that will allow you to have some control after the gift is made.

Fund 529 Plans: 529 plans are a great way to save for college.  Growth is tax free, and distributions are tax free if used to pay for qualified tuition and living expenses.  You can use up to 5 years worth of annual exclusion gifts in one year – that’s $65,000 per child in one year ($130,000 from a married couple), without using any of your lifetime gift exemption.  Act now because Congress may act to curb, reduce, or make the requirements more restrictive.

 

For more information regarding estate planning, business law or tax controversy and  compliance, please visit the Hoffman & Associates website at www.hoffmanestatelaw.com or call us at 404-255-7400.

 

In accordance with IRS Circular 230, this article is not to be considered a “covered opinion” or other written tax advice and should not be relied upon for IRS audit, tax dispute, or any other purpose.  The information contained herein is provided “as is” for general guidance on matters of interest only.  Hoffman & Associates, Attorneys-at-Law, LLC is not herein engaged in rendering legal, accounting, tax, or other professional advice and services.  Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a competent professional advisor.