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Your Tax Changes from the Fiscal Cliff Deal


There was far more involved in the fiscal cliff deal than just increased income taxes for people making more than $400,000. Here are the key provisions of this law, including capital gains taxes, charitable distributions and education incentives.

There was far more involved in the fiscal cliff deal — the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (ARTA) — than just increased income taxes for people making more than $400,000. Here are the key provisions of this law, which President Obama signed on Jan. 2, 2013.

Personal income taxes

Income tax brackets

The income tax brackets from the Bush tax cuts are permanently retained for taxable income under $400,000 for individuals and under $450,000 for couples. Taxable income above these levels is taxed at 39.6%. These brackets will be annually adjusted for inflation.

Payroll taxes

For 2011 and 2012 the employee portion of the Social Security tax had been reduced from 6.2% to 4.2%; but this two-year-old cut to payroll taxes was not extended.

Capital gains and qualified dividends taxes

The tax on long-term capital gains and qualified dividends will be 20% for individuals with income over $400,000 and $450,000 for couples. For lower income levels, the tax will be 0% or 15%. These tax rates are permanent. Short-term capital gains will continue to be taxed as ordinary income.

Itemized deductions and personal exemptions

For adjusted gross income over $250,000 for individuals and over $300,000 for couples, itemized deductions and personal exemptions will be limited. The calculations are complex but the experts believe that these phase outs will effectively increase marginal tax rates for affected taxpayers by 1%.

Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)

The AMT exemption has been made permanent and will be adjusted for inflation annually to prevent it from impacting middle-class families.

Deductions for sales taxes

The itemized deduction for state and local sales taxes in lieu of state and local income taxes is extended through 2013.

Qualified charitable distributions from an IRA to a charity

In 2013, people over 70-and-a-half years of age can continue to contribute up to $100,000 directly from their IRAs to a charity without the distribution being treated as taxable income by the IRS.

Additionally, these distributions made by Feb. 1, 2013 can be counted for the 2012 tax year. Thus, a qualified charitable distribution up to $100,000 will count toward the satisfaction of Required Minimum Distributions from the IRA.

Discharged mortgage debt

In 2013, income from the forgiveness of mortgage debt of up to $2 million on a primary residence can be excluded from taxes.

Coverdell Education Savings Accounts

The $2,000 maximum contribution amount and treatment of elementary and secondary school expenses as well as college expenses as qualified expenditures are permanently extended.

Other education incentives

The American Opportunity Tax Credit has been extended through 2017. The above-the-line deduction for qualified tuition and related expenses has also been extended until Dec. 31, 2013 and it has been retroactively re-instated to 2012.

Individuals with modified adjusted gross income below $55,000 and couples with modified adjusted gross income below $110,000 can continue to deduct up to $2,500 of student loan interest per year.

Finally, the law also makes permanent the exclusion for up to $5,250 for employer-provided education assistance for college and graduate school education.

Estate and gift taxes

Tax rates and exemption amounts

The law now provides for a permanent gift and estate tax exemption amount of $5 million. The exemption amount will be annually adjusted for inflation. The federal estate and gift tax rate above this exemption level is also made permanent at 40%.


The law makes permanent the portability of the estate tax exemption. At 2012 levels, this means that the second spouse to die could pass on as much as $10.24 million before federal estate taxes become effective.

State Death Tax Deduction

The law now provides for a federal estate tax deduction for state estate, inheritance, legacy or succession taxes.

The Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 (HCERA)

Beginning in 2013, workers will pay an additional 0.9% Medicare tax on their wages and self-employment income over $200,000 for individuals and over $250,000 for couples. Consequently, the employee’s share of the Medicare payroll tax levied on earned income above these thresholds will increase from 1.45% to 2.35%.

Beginning in 2013, high-income households will start paying a 3.8% Medicare surtax on at least a portion of their investment income such as realized capital gains, dividends, interest, rents, royalties, etc. The surtax will apply to the lesser of net investment income or the amount by which modified adjusted gross income exceeds $200,000 for individuals or $250,000 for couples.

While the above notes highlight some of the important changes in the law, there are others of which you should be aware. You should review with your tax professional how these changes might impact you personally.

Tom Orecchio is a principal and wealth manager with Modera Wealth Management, LLC (“Modera”). Nothing contained in this blog should be construed as personalized investment, financial planning, legal, tax, accounting or other advice, and there is no guarantee that the views and opinions expressed herein will come to pass. Investing involves gains and losses and may not be suitable for all investors. Information presented herein is subject to change without notice and should not be construed as a solicitation to buy or sell any security or engage in any particular investment strategy.

For more information about Modera, including our registration status, fees and services and/or a copy of our Form ADV Disclosure Brochure, please refer to the Investment Adviser Public Disclosure web site at, visit our web site at or contact us at (201) 768-4600. A full description of the firm’s business operations and service offerings is contained in our Disclosure Brochure which appears as Part 2A of Form ADV.

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