Extension for Farmers & Fishermen

This year the IRS was not ready to begin receiving and processing 2012 tax returns when they normally do so.  In fact, they’re still not ready.  The IRS has been making last minute changes stemming from the American Taxpayer Relief Act which, by the way, has such a nifty name.  Where exactly is the tax relief in this legislation?

The IRS doesn’t appear to be ready for forms commonly filed by fishermen and farmers either.  Form 4562 and the processing systems involved need “extensive programming and testing” according to the IRS.  Another unintended consequence of the American Taxpayer Relief Act.

And the estimated tax normally required by March 1st can be paid up until April 15th without incurring a penalty this year.  It does not look like merit-based penalty relief; all you have to do is “ask.”  However, it is important for farmers and fishermen to know that this penalty relief does not come automatically.  They will need to submit a penalty waiver (Form 2210-F) with their tax return.

IRS Delays Start of 2013 Tax Season

The IRS has delayed the official start of tax season by a whole 8 days this year, announcing today that they will begin accepting tax returns on January 30th.  The delay is a result of the fiscal cliff legislation and the necessary tweaking, updating, and testing of IRS processing systems.  No change to the filing deadline as of yet…

Eight days doesn’t seem like a lot, but when you consider the millions of early filers that normally file during those first eight days, we can expect a pretty big bottleneck this year.  If you do expect a tax refund, don’t be surprised if it takes the IRS a little longer than normal to send you the check or wire you the money.  You can speed up the process if you file electronically and opt for direct deposit, but you’ll still need to be extra patient this year.

Meanwhile here at the California Franchise Tax Board, state tax season begins TODAY.

Fiscal Cliff Highlights

Payroll taxes increased for wage earners

There’s no tax relief for anybody in the fiscal cliff tax deal. For wage earners, your Social Security (FICA) tax withholdings will be deducted at 6.2 percent for the first $113,700 of earnings. This is a 2 percent increase from the 4.2 percent deduction that has been the withholding rate for the past two years. Unlike some of the other changes that won’t be felt until the 2013 tax season, this change will have an immediate impact on your next paycheck.

Income taxes increased only for the wealthy

Income tax rates will remain the same for individuals with annual income of less than $400,000, or $450,000 for those filing married joint returns. The income tax rate for those wealthy taxpayers will increase from 35 percent to 39.6 percent.

Investment taxes increased only for the wealthy

Capital gains and dividend tax rates will remain the same for those individuals earning less than $400,000, or $450,000 for married joint filers. The capital gains and dividend tax rates for the wealthy will increase from 15 percent to 20 percent.

Income tax deductions and exemptions limited for the wealthy

Individuals with annual income of at least $250,000, and those married filing jointly earning at least $300,000, will be limited on the personal exemptions and itemized deductions they can claim. Taxpayers with incomes above $422,500 will not qualify for a personal exemption. This is a throw-back to the limits on deductions and credits for the wealthy that were in force prior to the Bush era tax cuts, and that were eliminated in 2010.

Important tax credits extended

Tax credits created by American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 are extended for five years. These include the Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, and the American Opportunity Tax Credit.

Debt Forgiveness Extended

Homeowners that weren’t able to complete their debt negotiations or procedures before December 31, 2012, were granted a reprieve. Forgiven mortgage debt will continue to not be treated as taxable income for an additional year.

The National Debt Ceiling: The "Other Cliff"

By now you probably know that the dreaded fiscal cliff has been averted, at least for a month or two.

The term fiscal cliff refers to the potential for a deeper recession that would have been triggered by the terms of the Budget Control Act of 2011 which was scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2013. It was thought that if the Bush-era tax cuts were allowed to expire, thereby raising taxes for virtually everybody, at the same time that mandatory governmental spending cuts were scheduled to be implemented, there would be a devastating impact on the U.S. economy such that the economy would be in a free-fall … over the cliff.

The government narrowly avoided the fiscal cliff by passing the American Taxpayer Relief Act in these first days of 2013. The compromise that was reached focused primarily on tax relief and not spending cuts. The main impact will be on those taxpayers who are considered wealthy. However, if you were paying attention during the presidential campaigns, you will notice that the income threshold for those who are considered “wealthy” increased significantly from the time of campaigning to the thresholds established through this deal.

The next political hurdles are the negotiations on the spending cuts and the debt ceiling. Very simply, the debt ceiling is the maximum amount that the federal government can borrow at any given time and in-turn, pay its obligations that have already been incurred. If a compromise cannot be reached, the economy may go off the fiscal cliff despite the recent deal. Congress has about two months before it must raise the debt ceiling or risk causing the government to default on its bills and financial obligations. If a deal is not made, a federal government shutdown is possible. This may include suspension of the payment of federal benefits and payroll, in addition to the shutdown of government departments such as the Internal Revenue Service, during the height of tax season… of course.