The Fiscal Cliff

Talk of “going off the fiscal cliff” has been haunting me over the last several months. I started researching the provisions, and realized that the impact was much more far reaching than I had originally understood. The combination of the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts as well as the impending start of the Obama Care tax provisions would have resulted in significant tax increases for virtually all of the American population, which could potentially cripple economic recovery. However, most people believed that these negotiations were related only to higher income taxpayers. For several months now, Cover & Rossiter has been providing emails, conducting seminars and even meeting individually with our clients to inform them of the impact of the pending changes. It was extremely difficult to adequately predict what would actually transpire because of the differing proposals from the Democrats and Republicans. I suspected these negotiations would go to the last minute, but hoped that legislation would pass with significant time to assist each one of you with year-end planning opportunities.

However, in true Congressional fashion of recent years, nothing was agreed upon until January 1, 2013. The tax side of the fiscal cliff was averted when the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 was signed into law by President Obama on January 2. Outlined below are many of the provisions of this law:

  • The Bush-era tax rates were extended for taxpayers with incomes below $400,000 (single) and $450,000 (married filing jointly); a new ordinary income tax bracket of 39.6% was created for taxpayers who exceed those thresholds. Originally, President Obama proposed that these increases would apply to AGI levels of $200,000 (single) and $250,000 (married filing jointly).
  • Capital gains and qualified dividends for taxpayers that exceed those thresholds will now be 20% (to the extent that their income exceeds the thresholds). Taxpayers below the thresholds will continue to be taxed at the 15% rate on this income.
  • The payroll tax holiday, which reduced Social Security tax from 6.2% to 4.2% in 2011 and 2012, was not extended. All wage earners will see a 2% increase in their Social Security tax withholdings for 2013.
  • Trusts will continue to be taxed at the Bush-era tax rate levels except for the highest bracket. Trusts with income in excess of $11,950 will be taxed at the top rate of 39.6%.
  • A permanent Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) “patch” was enacted increasing the 2012 exemption levels to $50,600 for single taxpayers and $78,750 for married filing jointly taxpayers. In future years, the amounts will be indexed for inflation.
  • Itemized deductions will once again be subject to phaseouts when income exceeds the threshold of $250,000 for single and $300,000 for married filing jointly.
  • Personal exemption phaseouts will be reinstated as well once incomes exceed the threshold levels also indicated for itemized deductions.
  • The maximum federal estate tax rate will be 40% for decedents dying after December 31, 2012 who have taxable estates in excess of approximately $5.12 million. The portability election between spouses will now be permanent.
  • The child tax credit level was scheduled to be reduced to $500 in 2013, but has been permanently extended to $1,000.
  • The 50% bonus depreciation provisions were extended through 2013.

There are many other provisions that were extended with this Act, so if you have specific questions please feel free to contact Marie Holliday at (302) 691-2211 or


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