Sunday, December 12, 2010


This one isn’t going down without a fight. After Democrats in Congress publicly defied President Obama by refusing to endorse the tax deal he negotiated with Republicans, the measure is going to another vote. On Monday (12.13.10), the Senate will take up a procedural vote to attempt to bring the deal to the floor. In response, Democrats have threatened a filibuster. However a test vote seemed to indicate that it would be easy to get the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster.

The House, and especially Nancy Pelosi, remains firmly opposed to the deal as written. A caucus vote by Democrats overwhelmingly opposed the compromise package. The major source of consternation? Tinkering with the federal estate tax. Democrats felt blind-sided at the deal which not only increased the personal exemption to $5 million per taxpayer (well above the $3.5 million per taxpayer under the so-called Bush tax cuts) but slashed the tax rate to a top rate of 35%, a rate not seen since the 1930s.

So what’s next? Here’s what will probably happen (though, in all honesty, nothing would surprise me much at this point):

  • The Senate will approve the deal pretty much as is with perhaps some concession on energy tax credits.
  • The House will grudgingly approve most of the deal, likely tweaking the estate tax rates and exemptions, scaling them back to the 2009 levels.
  • That would force the hand of Republicans in the House by giving them the option of voting down the entire deal based on the federal estate tax rates since the deal, more or less, has already given them everything else that they claimed they wanted (tax cuts for everyone, etc.).

Here’s a synopsis of the various components of Obama's compromise of taxes:

Federal Estate Tax. 35% – the lowest since 1931 – with estates over $5 million per person. It’s effectively a repeal for most Americans since, with a little bit of decent estate planning, a married couple can pass $10 million to their heirs without being subject to the tax.

Individual Income Tax Rates. The same rates created as 2010. If this passes we have avoided a 3% hike – for a family making $50,000, that means you’ve avoided a $1,500 bump in tax for 2011.

Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT). We got our patch. I haven’t seen the numbers but I’ve been told that it’s similar to the 2009 numbers for 2010 and 2011. No word on 2012 and beyond. We were doing a pretax for a client on Friday that owed $357 if they fix the AMT. If no fix, he owed over $9,300 in tax. He is going to be watching the news.

Capital Gains Rates. Lower capital gains always, always means heightened investments and a better economy. Always. It’s worked so far, right? Cause we have the same rates for the next two years (meaning a top rate for long-term gains of 15%).

Dividends. Same story as on capital gains rates: current rates are extended.

Payroll Tax “Holiday.” With the administrative nightmare that was the Making Work Pay Credit gone, we needed a little something else to challenge preparers and the IRS. Enter the payroll tax “holiday.” It’s a one year (just one, not two like much of the other provisions) cut in Social Security taxes for workers. For 2011, you’ll pay in 4.2% on the first $106,800 of wages rather than 6.2%. That means a 2% cut so that a worker earning $50,000 would pay $1,000 less in 2011. But only for 2011. I am glad that I am not a computer programer working on payroll tax programs. If this passes, I would be burning the midnight oil between now and January 1st rewriting computer programs.

Child Tax Credit. The child tax credit had been bumped under Bush to $1,000 per child with a $3,000 earned income floor to make it refundable. That will stand for the next two years.

Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The EITC is probably the most controversial of the tax credits. It cost taxpayers $42.9 billion in 2008. The EITC base remains the same as for 2010.

American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC). We heard all about how great this extension was from Obama, who pushed hard for the renewal. The modified version of the Hope Credit allowed a slightly bigger credit ($2,500 versus $1,800) for students pursuing a degree.

State and Local Sales Tax Deduction. The option to deduct sales and local sales taxes on your federal income tax return – even if you don’t itemize – ended in 2009. Rumor has it that the new tax deal brings the deduction option back, retroactively, so that it will apply to 2010 and 2011.

Transfers of IRAs to Charities. Also rumored to be in the plan. The option to allow those taxpayers over the age of 70-1/2 to roll their IRAs directly to charity.

So that’s the summary of what’s in the tax deal (allegedly – remember, the ink isn’t dry yet).