Tuesday, January 8, 2013
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Will You Pay the AMT?
You had to have heard the term AMT, Alternative Minimum Tax, tossed around during fiscal cliff debates. The term is used as a pivotal talking point each and every time we have discussion on budget issues that relate to tax code.
And since legislators fail to agree on anything throughout the year, these talks are never resolved. They merely patch the most urgent need and kick the rest down the road until next go-round.
Once more centered around those same critical issues that were only patched the previous session.
The AMT is one such issue. Hopefully, it will be the last time the subject is addressed.
Enacted in 1982, this tax was designed to prevent the wealthy from shielding income by employing too many loopholes. It followed on the heals of a similar tax enacted in 1969. Those subject to the AMT pay a flat tax rate on an adjusted amount of taxable income above a stated exemption.
In other words, taxable income is calculated differently than for those who pay regular income tax. Certain deductions are not permitted, others are capped at different levels.
As originally enacted in 1982, the exemption for married couples filing jointly was $40,000. Adjusted for inflation, that would be $95,428 in today's dollar.
Problem was that the law never allowed for inflation adjustment. Congress had to vote for a patch every year to prevent the AMT from trickling down to lower income Americans as income levels rose.
This was finally resolved with the approval of the fiscal cliff package just last week. The AMT will now be permanently adjusted for inflation.
So you won't hear about it as often, but it still applies. You need to know if, and how, it affects you.
Each year, every taxpayer must pay the greater of the regular tax or an Alternative Minimum Tax. The AMT is a flat tax based on your modified income. Rates and exemptions vary by filing status. The lower rate and exemptions are phased out above certain income levels.
For 2012, the exemption for a single taxpayer or head of household is $50,600. It begins to phase out at $112,500. Those earning above the stated level cannot deduct the full exemption amount. Married taxpayers filing jointly receive an exemption of $78,750 with phase out beginning at $150,000.
The highest rate under the AMT is 28% - lower than that of the regular system. Yet those subject actually pay more in taxes since it's based on a greater amount of taxable income.
Under the AMT, taxpayers cannot deduct for state and local income taxes. Nor property taxes. Home equity loan interest is not deductible, neither is depreciation. Child tax credits are not available. Personal exemptions are not granted. Miscellaneous deductions are not permitted.
Medical expenses are only deducted if they exceed 10% of Adjusted Gross Income rather than the 7.5% threshold previously allowed for those paying the regular tax. The Affordable Care Act raised the allowable deduction to 10% for all taxpayers. However, a transitional rule allows taxpayers 65 and older to continue deducting above the 7.5% limit through 2016 for those paying the regular tax.
Mortgage interest and charitable deductions are still allowed. Certain adjustments must be made to deduct investment interest and the way incentive stock options are reported.
While not everyone is subject to AMT, it is every taxpayer's responsibility to figure out if it applies to them. The IRS includes a worksheet that must be used for this purpose. If your total deductions and exemptions under the normal tax code come close to the AMT numbers above, you may be subject to this tax.
Many people don't even realize its existence until they get a letter from the IRS telling them they owe more money.
Fortunately, tax professionals are on the lookout for you. They'll detect your tax situation and assure you pay the proper rate. Good tax preparation software programs will do the math automatically as well.
Don't overlook the AMT at tax time. To do so could be quite costly.
Look What's New at CES 2013
Despite persistent challenges to its relevance, the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) kicked off in Las Vegas yesterday.
Microsoft ended its participation with the 2012 event. Neither Apple nor Amazon participate, Google doesn't have its own display.
Yet the show still draws in thousands of spectators anxious to be among the first to see the next great gadget or gizmo.
Much of what you will see never makes it to market. But those that have transformed the industry.
But one undeniable outcome of CES is imagination. The brightest minds envision "what if" and turn it into "check it out." Without a venue to showcase invention, how would creative thinkers remain motivated? How would the wheels of progress continue to spin?
So let your imagination roam freely as we introduce concepts unveiled at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show.
Do your eyes move as they scroll across a display? Of course they do. And with Tobii Technology's Windows 8 eye-controlling technology, your screen will scroll along with them. And zoom, auto-center and open windows. The Tobii Rex is a pen-sized USB device that works in tandem with a mouse, keyboard and touch controls. Look for a fall 2013 release date.
TV designs always bring the WOW factor to these events. This year is no different. Several manufacturers will show off models featuring voice activation controls, social media interface and wireless Bluetooth capability.
Samsung positions itself as an industry leader with the F8000. The new TV design includes an advanced content guide called Intelligent Viewing, a quad core processor, Apps support, Internet connectivity, social networking interface and voice navigation.
The company says it will reinvent its branding at this year's CES. Speculation centers around health and fitness offerings.
How long does your smartphone run on full charge? The Nectar Mobile Power System is a new fuel cell powered by a butane cartridge. Nectar claims to give you two weeks of power. It's about the size of a small paperback book that carries 10 to 14 full charges for a phone or tablet. You can't use standard butane fluid to refill. For that you'll need a Nectar Pod. Watch for Nectar in Brookstone stores this summer for $300. Nectar refill pods will sell for $10 each.
Automotive electronics continue to awe the public. More than 100 auto tech companies dazzled the CES crowd this year with hands-free devices that help drivers park, monitor their speed and avoid collisions.
Those that prefer to control their own vehicle may be interested in Cobra's iRadar S-Series. The radar detector mounts behind the car's front grille, invisible to law enforcement officers. Detected signals are sent to your mobile phone via an iPhone or Android app. It connects by Bluetooth so it's easy to install. The S-Series will hit store shelves last quarter of 2013, in time for Christmas, with a $300 price tag.
As long as innovation develops, there will be a place for shows such as CES. It matters not if every big player is there. They hold court throughout the year as they unveil an endless stream of the next-greatest-you-can't-live-without product. New features piggybacked on the last new features that you still haven't used.
CES gives opportunity to focus on diverse offerings from multiple product lines. Some will bowl you over, others leave you wondering what the creator was thinking. It brings exposure to both the outstanding and the outlandish. But no matter which side of the divide your favorite gadget falls, people are talking about it.
That makes it relevant by any measure.
Our Financial Insights column is on temporary hiatus due to staffing changes at GCF.
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