Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Congress passes 2010 Tax Relief Act; provides individual, business, and estate tax relief across the board

On December 17, 2010 President Obama signed into law the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010 (2010 Tax Relief Act). This sweeping new tax law includes a two-year extension of the Bush-era tax cuts, including extension of the current, lower individual tax rates and capital gains/dividend tax rates. The new tax law - the largest in over ten years - also includes a temporary estate tax compromise, as well as the extension of many popular individual and business tax incentives, an alternative minimum tax (AMT) "patch" for 2010 and 2011, 100 percent bonus depreciation for businesses, and more. The much-anticipated legislation provides tax relief to taxpayers across-the-board. Here is a review of the 2010 Tax 

Relief Act's major provisions:

Income tax rates. Among the most valuable tax breaks for individuals in the new law is a two-year extension of individual income tax rate reductions. The new law retains the current 10, 15, 25, 28, 33, and 35 percent individual tax rates for two years, through December 31, 2012. If Congress had not passed this extension, the individual tax rates would have jumped significantly for all income levels.

The new law also extends the full repeal of the limitation on itemized deductions and the personal exemption phaseout for higher-income taxpayers, through December 31, 2012.

Capital gains/dividends. The new law extends reduced capital gains and dividend tax rates for two years, through December 31, 2012. For 2011 and 2012, individuals in the 10 and 15 percent rate brackets can continue to take advantage of a zero percent capital gains and dividend tax rate. Individuals in higher rate brackets will enjoy a maximum tax rate of 15 percent on capital gains and dividends, as opposed to a 20 percent rate on capital gains and ordinary income tax rates on dividends.

Marriage penalty relief. Married couples filing jointly will benefit from provisions designed to provide relief from the marriage penalty. For 2010, the standard deduction for a married couple filing a joint return is twice the single taxpayer's amount. The 2010 Tax Relief Act extends the increased standard deduction for married taxpayers for two years, through December 31, 2012. The 2010 Tax Relief Act extends the expanded 15 percent rate bracket for married couples filing a joint return for two years, through December 31, 2012.

Payroll tax cut. The new law provides a payroll tax cut for employees. Effective for calendar year 2011, the employee share of the OASDI portion of Social Security taxes is reduced from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent, up to the taxable wage base of $106,800. Self-employed individuals will get an equivalent tax break, paying 10.4 percent on self-employment income up to the wage base (reduced from the normal 12.4 percent rate). The payroll tax cut replaces the Making Work Pay credit that has been in place for 2009 and 2010, but generally offers a much higher benefit. Unlike the Making Work Pay credit, the payroll tax cut does not exclude individuals based on their earnings. Thus the payroll tax cut can provide significantly higher benefits -- a maximum payroll tax reduction of $2,136 on wages, compared to a maximum $800 Making Work Pay credit for married couples filing jointly and $400 for unmarried individuals.

AMT patch. The new law provides an AMT "patch" for 2010 as well as 2011 at higher exemption amounts. The 2010 Tax Relief Act raises the exemption amounts for 2010 to $47,450 for individuals, $72,450 for married taxpayers filing joint returns, and $36,225 for married taxpayers filing separately. For 2011, the amounts are increased to $48,450 for individuals, $74,450 for married taxpayers filing jointly, and $37,225 for married taxpayers filing separately.

More incentives. Along with all these incentives, the new law extends many popular but temporary tax breaks. Extended for 2011 and 2012 are:
  • $1,000 child tax credit;
  • Enhanced earned income tax credit;
  • Adoption credit with modifications;
  • The enhanced dependent care credit; and
  • Deduction for certain mortgage insurance premiums.
The new law also extends retroactively some other valuable tax incentives for individuals that expired at the end of 2009. These incentives are extended for 2010 and 2011 and include:
  • State and local sales tax deduction;
  • Teacher's classroom expense deduction;
  • Charitable contributions of IRA proceeds; and
  • Charitable contributions of appreciated property for conservation purposes.
Bonus depreciation. Businesses can use bonus depreciation to immediately write off a percentage of the cost of depreciable property. The new law provides 100 percent bonus depreciation for qualified investments made after September 8, 2010 and before January 1, 2012. It also continues bonus depreciation, albeit at 50 percent, on property placed in service after December 31, 2011 and before January 1, 2013. There are special rules for certain longer-lived and transportation property. Additionally, certain taxpayers may claim refundable credits in lieu of bonus depreciation.

Code Sec. 179 expensing. Along with bonus depreciation, the new law also provides for enhanced Code Sec. 179 expensing for 2012. Under current law, the Code Sec. 179 dollar and investment limits are $500,000 and $2 million, respectively, for tax years beginning in 2010 and 2011. The new law provides for a $125,000 dollar limit (indexed for inflation) and a $500,000 investment limit (indexed for inflation) for tax years beginning in 2012 (but not after). Otherwise, those caps would have dropped to a $25,000/$200,000 level.

Research credit. Congress extended the research tax credit for two years, for 2010 and 2011.

More incentives. Other valuable business incentives in the new law include extensions of:
  • 100 percent exclusion of gain from qualified small business stock;
  • Transit benefits parity;
  • Work Opportunity Tax Credit (with modifications);
  • New Markets Tax Credit (with modifications);
  • Differential wage credit;
  • Brownfields remediation;
  • Active financing exception/look-through treatment for CFCs;
  • Tax incentives for empowerment zones; and
  • Special rules for charitable deductions by corporations and other businesses.
Energy Tax Breaks
Businesses. The new law extends some energy tax breaks for businesses. One of the most valuable energy incentives is the Code Sec. 1603 cash grant in lieu of tax credits. This incentive encourages the development of alternative energy sources, such as wind energy. Other business energy incentives extended by the new law include excise tax and other credits for alternative fuels, percentage depletion for oil and gas from marginal wells, and other targeted incentives.

Individuals. The new law also extends some popular energy tax incentives for individuals. Individuals who made energy efficiency improvements to their homes in 2009 or 2010 can benefit from the Code Sec. 25C energy tax credit, which rewards individuals who install energy efficient furnaces, add insulation, or make other similar improvements to reduce energy usage. The new law extends the credit through 2011 but reduces some of its benefits.

The Tax Code includes a number of incentives to encourage individuals to save for education expenses. Many incentives are temporary and expired at the end of 2009, or were set to expire at the end of 2010. The new law extends for two years, through December 31, 2012, the following popular education tax breaks:
  • The American Opportunity Tax Credit (previously the Hope education credit);
  • Student loan interest deduction;
  • Exclusion for employer-provided educational assistance;
  • Enhanced Coverdell education savings accounts; and
  • Special rules for certain scholarships.
The higher education tuition deduction was extended through 2011.

Estate and gift taxes
Beginning in 2011, the estate tax had been scheduled to revert to its pre-2001 levels of a 55 percent tax rate and a $1 million exclusion. For 2010, estates were subject to no federal estate tax but heirs had to take inherited property under a modified carryover tax basis regime.

Estate tax. The new law revives the estate tax through 2012, but at a reduced maximum estate tax rate of 35 percent and a $5 million exclusion. The revived estate tax applies to estates of decedents dying in 2011 and 2012. However, for 2010, the new law gives estates the option to apply the estate tax at the 35 percent/$5 million level, with a stepped-up basis, or to elect no estate tax but with modified carryover basis. The new law also allows "portability" between spouses of the maximum exclusion (for a combined $10 million benefit) and extends some other taxpayer-friendly provisions originally enacted in 2001.

This far-reaching tax package affects almost every taxpayer. Please contact our office if you have any questions on how you can start maximizing your savings within this sweeping $800 billion tax law.

Certified public accountants and consulting firm located in Troy, Michigan. This data is distributed for informational purposes only, with the understanding that Doeren Mayhew is not rendering legal, accounting, or other professional advice.

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