Sunday, December 9, 2012

Phantom Tax Credit for Elderly and Disabled


A Tax Credit in Name Only (TCNO)

- By: Larry Walker, II -

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how during this year’s continuing education courses it suddenly dawned on me that the base amounts used in calculating the taxability of social security benefits are exactly the same in tax year 2012 as they were in 1985. Well here’s another example of elder abuse. Congress has failed to inflation adjust the limitations on the Credit for the Elderly or the Disabled since it was last upgraded back in 1984. I am frankly surprised that this credit is still around, since in its present form it’s completely useless to 99.999% of taxpayers. Why is it still taking up space in IRS instruction booklets?

Back in 1981, when my study of tax law began, it was known simply as the Credit for the Elderly. It initially applied to persons over the age of 65, or under 65 if they had taxable income from a public retirement system. In tax year 1984 it became known as the Credit for the Elderly and the Permanently and Totally Disabled. It was also in 1984 that the same limitations that are in place today were established. Since 1988 it has been known simply as the Credit for the Elderly or the Disabled.

Although it sounds appealing, due to the failure to adjust for inflation, it has become a tax credit in name only (i.e. completely useless). How’s that, you say? Well, like I said, its name may have changed over the years, but the initial amounts and income limitations have not.

Maximum Credit

The maximum amount of the credit is limited to 15.0% of the following initial amounts, based on one’s filing status. (Note: For the disabled, the initial amounts used in calculating the tax credit cannot be more than the amount of the taxpayer’s taxable disability income.)

  • $5,000 if Single, Head of Household or Qualifying Widow(er)

  • $7,500 if Married Filing Joint and both spouses qualify

  • $5,000 if Married Filing Joint and only one spouse qualifies

  • $3,750 if Married Filing Separate and you did not live with your spouse at any time during the tax year.

Thus, on paper, the maximum amounts of this nonrefundable tax credit (at 15.0% of the initial amounts) are limited to the following:

  • $750 if Single, Head of Household or Qualifying Widow(er)

  • $1,125 if Married Filing Joint and both spouses qualify

  • $750 if Married Filing Joint and only one spouse qualifies

  • $562.50 if Married Filing Separate and you did not live with your spouse at any time during the tax year.

Since this is a nonrefundable tax credit, even if you are magically somehow able to qualify, you can only actually use the credit if you have a regular income tax liability. In other words, the credit cannot be used to offset self-employment taxes, penalties on retirement distributions, or other taxes found on lines 56 to 60 of Form 1040. The credit is figured on Schedule R and entered on line 53 of Form 1040.

Limitations

It sounds fantastic, and maybe it was in 1984. But since hardly anyone can qualify for the credit anymore, it’s really meaningless today. The main problem here is that the same income limitations in place in 1984 are in effect in 2012. So who can qualify today?

If your adjusted gross income (AGI) is equal to or greater than the following amounts, then you do not qualify for the tax credit.

  • $17,500 if Single, Head of Household or Qualifying Widow(er)

  • $25,000 if Married Filing Joint and both spouses qualify

  • $20,000 if Married Filing Joint and only one spouse qualifies

  • $12,500 if Married Filing Separate and you did not live with your spouse at any time during the tax year.

Additionally, if the nontaxable part of your Social Security and other nontaxable pensions is greater than the following amounts, you are also excluded from the credit. No, really.

  • $5,000 if Single, Head of Household or Qualifying Widow(er)

  • $7,500 if Married Filing Joint and both spouses qualify

  • $5,000 if Married Filing Joint and only one spouse qualifies

  • $3,750 if Married Filing Separate and you did not live with your spouse at any time during the tax year.

Finally, if one-half of your Excess Adjusted Gross Income (defined as adjusted gross income minus the following limits), plus the nontaxable portion of your pensions is greater than the initial amount of the credit, you are also disqualified.

  • $7,500 if Single, Head of Household or Qualifying Widow(er)

  • $10,000 if Married Filing Jointly

  • $5,000 if Married Filing Separate and you did not live with your spouse at any time during the tax year.

In other words, you must reduce the initial amount of the credit, by one-half of your Excess AGI and your total nontaxable pensions.

The Problem

Think inflation. The average monthly Social Security benefit for a retired worker was about $1,230 at the beginning of 2012. So a single retiree with an average benefit would receive around $14,760 per year. A married couple with an average benefit would receive around $29,520 per year. So with that, let’s see whether or not it’s even possible to qualify for this tax credit.

Example 0: Let’s say you are single, over the age of 65, and receive social security benefits of $14,760. Since social security isn’t taxable until half of your social security plus your other income (both taxable and tax exempt) exceeds $25,000, if that is your only source of income, then none of it is taxable, and the Credit for the Elderly or the Disabled doesn’t apply. So let's try to figure out the precise circumstances under which the credit does apply.

  1. In order for 50% of your social security benefits to be taxable, your income from other sources (both taxable and tax exempt) must be greater than $17,620 [17,620 + 7,380 (½ of social security benefits) = $25,000].

a) But if this is the case, then your adjusted gross income is also likely to be more than the AGI limit of $17,500, so you will not qualify for the credit.

b) And since only half of your social security is taxable, because the nontaxable portion of $7,380 (14,760 / 2) is greater than the $5,000 limit for nontaxable pensions, you don’t qualify.

c) Also, since your adjusted gross income is likely greater than $17,500, subtracting the limit for excess adjusted gross income of $7,500 leaves $10,000, which when divided by 2 is equal to or greater than the initial amount of $5,000, which means you don’t qualify. Got it?

  1. In order for 85% of your social security benefits to be taxable, your income from other sources (taxable and tax exempt) must be greater than $26,620 [26,620 + 7,380 (½ of social security benefits) = $34,000]. But then, you are also likely disqualified due to both (a) and (c) under #1 above. Got that?

  1. And there’s another problem. Because the standard deduction for a single person over the age of 65 in 2012 is $7,400 [5,950 + 1,450], and the personal exemption allowance is $3,800, your adjusted gross income must be greater than $11,200 to even have an income tax liability. In other words, if your adjusted gross income is under $11,200, you don’t qualify. But if your AGI is between $11,200 and $17,500, and the nontaxable portion of your social security benefits is less than $5,000 (item #1 (b)), then you might qualify.

a) However, if your AGI is between $11,201 and $17,499, then in this example, the nontaxable portion of your social security benefits will be greater than $5,000 which disqualifies you under item #1 (b).

  1. Even if you don’t receive social security, and the nontaxable portion of your other pension income is less than the $5,000 limit, when calculating the credit, you must then subtract one-half of your excess AGI plus your nontaxable pensions, from the initial credit amount, in order to determine your limited tax credit. So at the low end, your Excess AGI would be $3,700 (11,200 – 7,500), and at the high end it would be $10,000 (17,500 – 7,500). But this poses further problems.

a) The initial amount of your tax credit is limited to $5,000, but this must be further reduced by one-half of your excess AGI, which will either be $1,850 (3,700 / 2) at the low end, or $5,000 (10,000 / 2) at the high end, plus the nontaxable amount of your pensions (i.e. up to $5,000). So at the low end, assuming a nontaxable pension of $5,000, the initial amount of your credit is limited to -0- (5,000 – 1,850 – 5,000), and at the high end it is also reduced to -0- (5,000 – 5,000 – 5,000).

  1. Finally, if none of your income is from social security, you don’t have any other nontaxable pensions, and assuming all other criteria are met, then in order to qualify for the tax credit, the adjusted gross income of a single taxpayer is limited to being between $11,201 and $17,499. Simple, right?

a) However, since the amount of the actual tax credit is further limited to 15.0% of the initial amount (after the reduction of one-half of excess AGI), the maximum amount of the credit can be no greater than $472.50 [(5,000 – ((11,201 – 7,500) / 2)) * 15.0%], and this would be further limited to the amount of income tax actually owed.

b) At the low-end, a single retiree with AGI of $11,201 qualifies for the maximum credit of $472.50 [(5,000 – ((11,201 – 7,500) / 2)) * 15.0%], but would have an income tax liability of $0 [(11,201 – 11,200) * 10.0%]. Thus, the credit is useless.

c) In the mid-range, a retiree with AGI of $14,350 would have a tax liability of $315 [(14,350 – 11,200) * 10.0%], and would qualify for a tax credit of $236 [(5,000 – ((14,350 – 7,500) / 2)) * 15.0%]. That would about cover the cost of calculating this monstrosity.

d) At the high-end, a retiree with AGI of $17,499 would have a tax liability of $630 [(17,499 – 11,200) * 10.0%], and would qualify for a tax credit of $0 [(5,000 – ((17,499 – 7,500) / 2)) * 15.0%]. Thus, the credit is once again useless.

Summary: In order for a single retiree to qualify for the Credit for the Elderly or the Disabled, his Adjusted Gross Income must fall between $11,201 and $17,499, and he must either not be on social security, or the nontaxable portion of his combined pension income must be less than $3,150 (5,000 – 1,850). The mid-range amount of the final tax credit for such a rare individual would be around $236 (between -0- and $472.50), while the maximum credit would only be available against an income tax liability of -0-. Thus, in order to qualify for the optimal credit, a single retiree would have to have an adjusted gross income of around $14,350, with no income from social security and no other nontaxable pension income.

The results for married couples and the disabled are similar. The example above is just a long way of proving that the Credit for the Elderly or the Disabled has become obsolete due to the failure of Congress to adjust its 1984 initial amounts and limitations for inflation.

Solution

The table below shows the limitations in force in 1984 and 2012, along with the inflation adjusted amounts. As you can see, a simple inflation adjustment would more than double the income limitations, likely causing at least some elderly and disabled taxpayers to qualify. So why hasn’t this been done? Is it too hard, or has Congress simply forgotten?

The maximum amount of the credit would increase to 15.0% of the following initial amounts, based on filing status. (Note: For the disabled, the initial amounts used in calculating the tax credit cannot be more than the amount of the taxpayer’s taxable disability income.)

  • To $11,131 from $5,000 if Single, Head of Household or Qualifying Widow(er)

  • To $16,697 from $7,500 if Married Filing Joint and both spouses qualify

  • To $11,131 from $5,000 if Married Filing Joint and only one spouse qualifies

  • To $8,348 from $3,750 if Married Filing Separate and you did not live with your spouse at any time during the tax year.

Thus, on paper, the maximum amounts of the nonrefundable credit (at 15.0% of the initial amounts) would increase as follows:

  • To $1,670 from $750 if Single, Head of Household or Qualifying Widow(er)

  • To $2,505 from $1,125 if Married Filing Joint and both spouses qualify

  • To $1,670 from $750 if Married Filing Joint and only one spouse qualifies

  • To $1,252 from $562.50 if Married Filing Separate and you did not live with your spouse at any time during the tax year.

Now that’s more like it. It’s not all that, but it’s better than what we have today. Inflation Indexing should be an integral part of tax reform. It’s not right to screw our seniors and disabled out of a tax credit, when an automatic adjustment is granted in other areas of the tax code. We should have more respect for the elderly and disabled.

The following example is based on one used by the IRS. It calculates the tax credit before and after the proposed inflation adjustments:

Example 1 (before) – You are 66 years old and your spouse is 64. Your spouse is not disabled. You file a joint return on Form 1040. Your adjusted gross income is $14,630. Together you received $3,200 from social security, which was nontaxable. You figure your credit as follows:

You cannot take the credit since your nontaxable social security (line 2) plus your excess adjusted gross income (line 3) is more than your initial amount on line 1.

Example 1A (after) – The same circumstances as in example 1, except that all limitations have been adjusted for inflation.

Your potential tax credit is now $1,189.65 which will be limited by the amount of income tax shown on line 46 of your Form 1040 tax return.

Example 1B – This is the income tax calculation for the couple in Examples 1 and 1A.

Since the sum of the taxpayers' standard deduction, additional standard deduction for one spouse being over the age of 65, and the deduction for personal exemptions are greater than their adjusted gross income; the taxpayers' do not have a tax liability. Thus, in this case, although they qualify for the tax credit in Example 1A, they are not able to, and do not need to use it. However, what’s changed is that after the inflation adjustment, the couple could potentially have up to $38,000 of adjusted gross income (or around $24,000 more than in the example) and still qualify for the tax credit.

Conclusion

The Credit for the Elderly or the Disabled is a Tax Credit in Name Only (TCNO). In its present state it is completely useless to 99.999% of Americans. It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of needle than to qualify for this phantom credit. Its initial amounts and limitations should immediately be adjusted for inflation (although the numbers probably need a bit more tweaking). If Congress refuses to make these simple adjustments, then all references to this tax credit should be purged from the Internal Revenue Code, from all income tax forms and publications, and from the IRS’s computers. It costs money to print B.S., and frankly, it’s a waste of time to calculate and explain to a senior or disabled person why they are not qualified.

Related:

Taxing Social Security Taxes

#Taxes

References:

U.S.Inflation Calculator

2012 Schedule R

2000 Schedule R

1990 Schedule R

1985 Schedule R

1984 Schedule R

1983 Schedule R

1981 Schedule R

1980 Schedule R

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Fiscal Responsibility Cliff


Talk About Crazy Bastards...

- By: Larry Walker, II -

Hiking tax rates now, in advance of the pending 2013 Medicare Tax Increase from 2.9% to 3.8% on those making $200K ($250K if married), the new 3.8% Medicare Tax on Investment Income including capital gains, the 2014 health insurance tax on individuals of $695 to $2,085 (plus inflation) depending on family size, and the 2014 shared responsibility penalty of $2,000 per employee on companies with 50 or more part-time employees (working 30 hours or more), probably isn’t wise. Legislator's must pare any further tax increases with the hikes already baked in the cake.

Many of the provisions commonly referred to as the Bush Tax Cuts were phased in gradually between 2003 and 2010 culminating in maximum favorability in 2010. Since Congress has already extended these temporary provisions for two years, I would have no problem with returning to the pre-2008 tax law right now (i.e. the laws in effect prior to the Stimulus package which only added to the current morass). I would hesitate to call removing the 2010 concessions and Stimulus subsidies a tax hike, because each were designed to be temporary in nature, not extended ad infinitum. However, if Congress insists on raising income tax rates, then any such increases should be gradual (i.e. phased in over a 7 to 10-year period), not jammed in all at once.

Lawmakers should be careful not to turn a blind eye to what’s already beneath the icing while cooking up the next barrage of tax law changes. In my opinion, the Obama Administration is not qualified to address income tax matters; it lacks mathematical fortitude. Its words are mere noise, good for little more than forefinger exercise in locating the mute button, at least for me. You crazy bastards have already screwed up everything for three years in a row. We really don't have the time or patience for anymore of this nonsense. You've talked enough. It's time to get off the T.V. shows and do some work. Step one should be a mandatory crash course in income tax law for all legislators and the White House. You really should take a timeout to contemplate the monstrosity you've already created before making another move.

References:

Under Obamacare, Medicare Double Taxation Begins in 2013

Obamacare’s Effect on Small Business

Get ready to fill out Obamacare’s individual mandate tax form

IRS issues proposed regs. on 3.8% net investment income tax

Proposed regulations - Net investment tax

Related: #TAXES

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Tax Fairness | Reverse Parity


It’s Magic!

- By: Larry Walker, II -

The current 2012 Tax Rate Schedule is shown below. Applying the Obama-Doctrine, single filers making over $200,000, and married filers making over $250,000 would get a tax hike. However, since there is no cut-off at either $200,000 or $250,000 in the current tax rate schedule, the 33% bracket would need to be split, resulting in a sharp tax increase for a handful of unfortunate individuals.

Thus, taxpayers with taxable incomes between $200,000 ($250,000 if married) and $388,350 would see their taxes rise by 20%, while those with incomes over $388,350 would get that plus a marginal increase of 13.1% on income above the new ceiling (see tables below).

So what’s the effect?

We’ll use the married filing joint filing status in the following examples to determine the overall effect.

# 1 – If you’re married and have taxable income of $400,000, your taxes will increase by 19.4%, or by $9,667.

# 2 – If you’re married and have taxable income of $1,000,000, your taxes will increase by 14.3%, or by $37,267.

# 3 – If you’re married and have taxable income of $10,000,000, your taxes will increase by 13.2%, or by $451,267.

# 4 – If you’re married and have taxable income of $20,000,000, your taxes will increase by 13.2%, or by $911,267.

# 5 – If you’re married and have taxable income of $100,000,000, your taxes will increase by 13.2%, or by $4,591,267.

What’s wrong with this picture?

First of all, those with taxable incomes below $200,000 ($250,000 if married) get to keep the tax rates they’ve had for the last 10 years, plus all the other garbage in the tax code, which is being called –– a tax cut. So in other words, for 95% of Americans, nothing is the new something.

Secondly, those who already pay the highest tax rates will receive a 13.2% to 20.0% tax hike, which is being called –– fair. However, tax rates will go up the most not on millionaires and billionaires, but rather on single individuals with taxable incomes between $200,000 and $388,350 and married couples with taxable incomes between $250,000 and $388,350.

So why not just admit it? This isn’t a tax cut for the middle-class. And it’s not so much a tax hike on millionaires and billionaires. What it represents is a massive tax hike on those with taxable incomes between $200,000 ($250,000 if married) and $388,350, and a more modest hike on millionaires and billionaires. Got it?

If a top marginal rate of 33% has been proven to raise more revenue than higher rates, due to the Laffer Curve (see video: Do High Taxes Raise More Money?), then why are we even talking about raising rates above the 35% mark? Aren’t rates already too high? Couldn’t we achieve the same parity by keeping top rates where they are and simply cutting tax rates on the 95% of Americans with incomes below the new ceiling? Why, yes we could. And here’s what the new tax rate schedule would look like if we were to do just that.

The 10%, 15%, 25%, 28% and 33% brackets are reduced by 13.2% (the same amount of increase currently being proposed on the wealthy), and are thus lowered to 8.7%, 13.0%, 21.7%, 24.3% and 28.6%. Note that the 35% bracket is still lowered to include those with taxable incomes over $200,000 ($250,000 if married), so that those making between $200,000 ($250,000 if married) and $388,350 will still see a modest increase of around 6%, but isn’t this the group we we’re trying to screw anyway? Yep! So there you go.

You say, “But what will your plan do for the deficit”? I say, what does the one on the table do for the deficit? Score them both dynamically (skip the static nonsense) and see which plan raises more revenue in the long-term. Not that it really matters though, since the main goal here is fairness, right? Well, that’s what my plan achieves.

Reverse Parity Tax Effects

So here’s how the Obama-Doctrine stacks up against the reverse parity plan. At current tax rates, married taxpayers filing jointly pay the following taxes (see table below).

Under the Obama Doctrine, married taxpayers filing jointly get nothing at taxable incomes below $250,000, and realize a 13.1% (rounded down) tax increase at upper levels. This means income tax burdens would increase by $451,267 to $4,591,267 for those with taxable incomes between $10,000,000 and $100,000,000, respectively (see table below).

But under the Reverse Parity Plan, married taxpayers filing jointly will realize a 13.2% tax cut at taxable incomes below $250,000, and only negligible savings at upper levels. This means income tax burdens will decrease by $875 to $7,842 for married couples with taxable incomes between $50,000 and $250,000, respectively (see table below). At the same time, income tax burdens will fall by $5,074 for those with taxable incomes over $1,000,000, representing a negligible decline.

It’s the same thing the White House is striving for, except in reverse. The big difference is that under the reverse parity plan the middle-class gets a genuine tax cut, not just smoke and mirrors, while the upper-class pays an effectively higher tax rate, roughly 13.1% more than those with taxable incomes under $200,000 ($250,000 if married), and this is achieved without actually raising tax rates. The only exception, of course, is those poor saps stuck between taxable incomes of $200,000 ($250,000 if married) and $388,350, but that’s life, right?

It’s real simple. If ‘no change’ for 95% of Americans can be deemed a tax cut, then ‘no change’ for the remaining 5% can likewise be deemed a tax hike. It’s magic! Ninety five percent of taxpayers receive a stimulative tax cut, the top five percent get nothing, the Laffer Curve is respected, and fairness is restored. Problem solved. Now it’s time to tackle the real problem, those elusive spending cuts.

Related:

Taxing Social Security Taxes

#Taxes

Video: Do High Tax Rates Raise More Money?