The New Year's Day compromise on the fiscal cliff was designed to prevent massive tax increases from taking effect that many feared would devastate the economy. Yet even with the compromise, several new taxes in 2013 will raise tax bills for millions of Americans, and the groups that are the most affected by the changing of the calendar may surprise you.
Here's a list of new taxes that took effect as of Jan. 1:
Payroll Taxes: Returning to Old Levels
For the past two years, just about everyone who has a job got a tax break of 2 percentage points on the Social Security taxes withheld from their paychecks. But on Jan. 1, the rate of tax withheld from employee paychecks rose from 4.2% to 6.2%, representing about a $1,000 tax increase for typical families earning $50,000. Already, anyone who's received a paycheck in 2013 has likely seen the impact of this tax, with those who get paid twice a month having about $40 extra taken out under the FICA on their paychecks.
Few analysts expected the fiscal cliff negotiations to extend this tax break further. But given that it hits at just about everyone, it could have the biggest impact of any of the new taxes in 2013.
High-income earners will see a brand-new tax this year. Single filers earning more than $200,000 and joint filers with income over $250,000 could be subject to two new taxes.
With one tax, if your earned income goes above the threshold, then you'll owe an extra 0.9% of your earnings in Medicare withholding. In some cases, this additional money may be taken directly out of your paycheck, although for joint filers, your employer may not be able to do so accurately because it doesn't know what your spouse earns in order to get the calculation correct.
The second tax applies to investment income, including interest, dividends, and capital gains. For this income, you'll owe an extra tax of 3.8% for any amount that exceeds the threshold. The idea behind this part of the new tax is to treat investment income for high-income earners the same way as earned income, making both types of income subject to the same higher Medicare tax rate.
New Tax Brackets and Rates for High-Income Earners
The biggest news from the fiscal cliff compromise was the return of the 39.6% tax rate for singles earning more than $400,000 and joint filers with income above $450,000. This rate is a carryover from the old rate structure that existed before the tax cuts of the early 2000s and represents a 4.6 percentage point rise from the old 35% rate.
In addition, taxpayers whose earnings are above these thresholds will see their taxes on dividends and capital gain income rise from 15% to 20%. Given that dividend rates could have risen as high as the 39.6% ordinary income tax rate, investors were fairly pleased with the eventual outcome.
Disappearing Deductions and Other Hidden Taxes
In addition to the explicit increases in taxes, some old provisions are back that will have the same tax-increasing impact. In particular, two separate rules that phase out certain deductions for high-income taxpayers came back this year after having been absent from tax law since 2009.
The phase-outs target two areas: personal exemptions and itemized deductions. One rule, known as the PEP, reduces the value of your personal exemptions by 2% for every $2,500 in additional income you earn over thresholds of $250,000 for singles and $300,000 for joint filers. The other rule, called the Pease phaseout, cuts the amount you can claim in itemized deductions by 3% of the amount of additional income you earn over those same thresholds, subject to a maximum reduction of 80% of your itemized deductions.
Those calculations are a bit complicated, but the net result is that you can end up paying thousands of extra dollars in taxes by losing the value of those deductions.
Finally, the estate tax rate rose from 35% to 40% this year. With the $5 million exemption made permanent, however, the impact of the tax will be limited to far fewer families than would have paid tax without the fiscal cliff compromise.
These new taxes for 2013 won't make anyone happy, but by knowing about them early on, you can start planning for them right away. Doing so may not let you reduce your tax bill too much, but it'll at least get you prepared for the hit to your paycheck and your tax refund next year.
With the prospect of higher taxes and federal budget cuts looming on Dec. 31, here are 11 easy ways you can save money and/or put a few extra dollars back in your pocket in 2013.
I'm a realist and I understand that debt arises from unforeseen circumstances for many Americans. What people should do, though, is take a good look at their credit card statements and focus on paying down their highest-interest account(s), even if it means making smaller payments on lower-interest credit cards. For instance, retail chain J.C. Penney's credit card currently carries an APR of 26.99%. If I were a revolving-credit cardholder, I'd be focusing every dollar I had on paying this off ASAP! You'll find similar high-rate cards throughout the department store sector.
Do you enjoy it when you get a big fat refund in April? So does the government, because they don't have to pay you a cent in interest on the money you overpaid them by failing to properly gauge your tax status. Too many Americans overpay on their taxes during the course of the year, cheating themselves out of money they could be using each month to pay down debt or invest to generate some profit. While it's impossible to predict exactly what you'll make in the course of a year, sit down and determine what your rough tax implications are now to ensure you don't grossly overpay in 2013.
There are nearly 2,000 companies on the major U.S. stock exchanges paying out dividends in some form; how many do you have in your portfolio? Dividends aren't free money (they're taxed at 15%, and that rate will probably be higher next year), but they offer a way for corporations to share their profits with shareholders. Not only do you get the potential for share price appreciation, but stable names like Coca-Cola and Johnson & Johnson have increased their payouts for 50 consecutive years!
Still scared of the volatility of holding individual stocks? No problem. Buy a corporate or municipal bond instead. ExxonMobil bonds carry a AAA rating (one of only four stocks to carry that pristine stamp of approval) and their yield will vastly outpace the current inflation rate. If you really, really have a penchant for avoiding individualized stocks, you can often search out tax-free municipal bonds in your state.
Want to get a nice tax deduction today while investing for your future? Then consider maximizing your 401(k) contribution each year (assuming your company offers one) and maxing out your IRA contribution. Many corporations match part of your contributions to 401(k)s -- that's free money -- and Roth IRAs allow users' money to grow tax-free until they reach the distribution age of 59½ years. Contributions to both are tax deductible.
Still paying checking fees for your bank account? Well, stop it. Between the emergence of local credit unions that rarely charge account fees and the option offered by most large banks to avoid checking fees by simply signing up for direct deposit, there are easy ways you to get around paying a $5 to $7 monthly charge for "holding your cash."
Did you know that you can customize your health care plan to your needs? Most Americans don't, and simply accept that their HMO has written their plan in stone for them. Certain plans offer patients lower co-pays for drugs that they will regularly use, so it pays to do a little research. In addition, the passing of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will soon open up a market of health solutions to Americans, giving us more freedom of choice, as well as lower costs.
One of the easiest ways to save a dollar at a time is to buy generic whenever you can. With prescription drugs, this isn't always possible, but with everyday items at the supermarket like cereal, batteries and meat, it can make quite a difference. With no brand-name premium or middleman to deal with, grocery stores can offer store-brand merchandise far cheaper.
I may trash travel website Orbitz from a financial perspective, but I am an avid user of the site for my travel plans. Without question, I save thousands of dollars annually on travel because of online travel sites like Orbitz, compared to what I'd pay booking a vacation directly through an airline or hotel.So before you book that next trip, check your favorite online travel sites for deals and be willing to travel during non-peak times, when rates are considerably lower.
If you'd like to keep more of your cash now, you can do so by becoming a do-it-yourselfer. This means everything from doing the little things like eating at home more and making your own coffee in the morning to heavy-duty projects like painting the house yourself instead of hiring a professional. I can tell you for a fact that I spend in the neighborhood of $1,300 annually at Starbucks, and I could probably shave $1,000 off my annual expenses if I were to make my own coffee at home.
Finally, while this may sound counterintuitive, donate to those less fortunate than you if at all possible. Donations are tax-deductible, so they help put more money in your pocket come tax time by reducing your taxable income. And whether it's for the poor, the sick, or another cause altogether, your donations make a difference in the lives of others.
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