Tax Update: Some Clarity, More Questions to be Resolved

By Mark J. Muñoz on November 14, 2012

With the election season behind us, some of the uncertainty about personal tax rates has been lifted. Of particular note for California taxpayers are tax increases resulting from the passage of Proposition 30, which are effective through 2018. The tax increases included in Proposition 30 are as follows:

  • Raises California’s sales tax rate from 7.25% to 7.50%
  • Retroactive to January 1, 2012, raises marginal California personal income tax rates from the current maximum rate of 9.3%* to a new maximum rate of 12.3%*. The new marginal rates are graduated, affecting single filers with taxable income greater
    than $250,000 and joint filers with taxable income greater
    than $500,000.

* Excludes 1% mental health tax on taxable income in excess of $1 million. While California’s personal income tax rates are now known, many issues remain unresolved related to the “Fiscal Cliff” facing the U.S. government. Fiscal Cliff is a term used to describe the expected adverse effects on the U.S. economy of various laws that, if left unchanged, are expected to result in tax increases and government spending cuts beginning in 2013. Several key issues are being discussed by policymakers related to the Fiscal Cliff, including the following:

Expiration of Temporary Tax Cuts
  • Increases to marginal ordinary income tax brackets, including an increase to the top marginal ordinary income tax rate
    from 35% to 39.6%
  • Increase to the maximum long-term capital gains tax rate
    from 15% to 20%
  • Increase to the maximum tax rate on qualified dividends
    from 15% to 39.6%
  • Reversion of the Alternative Minimum Tax thresholds to 2000 levels
  • Reductions to the lifetime estate tax, gift tax, and generation-skipping transfer tax exemptions from $5.1 million to $1 million ($1.3 million for generation-skipping transfer tax)
  • Increase to the maximum estate tax, gift tax, and generation-skipping transfer tax rates from 35% to 55%
  • Increase to the FICA payroll tax rate from 4.2% to 6.2%
Spending Cuts
  • Automatic across-the-board spending cuts required by the Budget Control Act of 2011
  • Expiration of federal unemployment benefits
Implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act
  • An additional Medicare tax of 0.9% on income from self-employment and wages in excess $200,000 for single filers and $250,000 for married couples filing jointly
  • A 3.8% “unearned income tax” on the lesser of net investment income or modified gross income in excess of $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for married couples filing jointly

We are continuing to monitor the political, economic, and financial market effects of the U.S. government’s activities related to the Fiscal Cliff, as well as economic conditions and geopolitical events around the world. While we are cautiously optimistic that policymakers will come together to address the Fiscal Cliff issues, the timing and manner in which these issues will be addressed are uncertain. Accordingly, the financial markets may be subject to increased volatility over the next several weeks and months as events unfold. As we emphasized in our July newsletter in the context of the European fiscal crisis and a century of uncertainty, we continue to maintain a long-term view of the financial markets focused on appropriate asset allocation, tax efficiency, disciplined rebalancing, and managing costs for our clients. Please do not hesitate to contact one of our professional advisers if you have questions about this information or would like to discuss other matters related to your financial situation.


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