With all the talk of higher taxes when the Bush tax cuts expire at the end of the year, it’s important not to become so focused on future tax policy that we overlook some short-lived opportunities.
- Prior to the implementation of the Jobs Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003 (JGTRRA or the second Bush tax cut), dividends were taxed as ordinary income. With the passage of JGTRRA, qualified dividends became eligible for the more favorable capital gains rate of 15%. At the end of this year, however, the qualified dividend rules will sunset, and dividends will once again be taxed at ordinary income rates. At the same time, the highest tax bracket will increase from 35% to 39.6%, and high wage earners will be subject to a new 3.8% Medicare tax on investment income. Therefore, the dividend tax could shoot up to a high of 43.4%, not including state tax. This means owners of closely-held businesses have a unique tax planning opportunity to pay dividends this year and take advantage of the 15% tax rates.
- Until the end of 2012, couples with taxable income up to $70,700 (or $35,350 for individuals) do not have to pay capital gains tax. That presents a great opportunity for parents to gift appreciated stock to their adult children. (Remember, children over age 18 are not subject to the kiddie tax.) However, it’s important to watch that parents’ gifts of highly appreciated mutual funds or stocks don’t push the child into the next higher tax bracket.
- If you have been thinking about converting your traditional IRA (where distributions are taxed at ordinary income rates) to a Roth IRA (where, after five years, distributions are tax-free), 2012 may be the year to convert. Why? If you convert this year, you will be taxed according to this year’s tax rates, which are scheduled to increase across the board when the Bush tax cuts sunset at the end of the year.
As always, you should consult your accountant on these and other tax planning opportunities.