Tax Changes for 2012: A Checklist

Welcome 2012! As the new year rolls around, it's always a sure bet that there will be changes to the current tax law and 2012 is no different. From medical savings accounts to retirement contributions here's a checklist of tax changes to help you plan the year ahead.

Individuals

The current tax rate structure ranging from 10% to 35% remains the same for 2012, but tax-bracket thresholds increase for each filing status. Standard deductions and the personal exemption have also been adjusted upward to reflect inflation. For details see Tax Brackets and Exemptions for 2012 below.

Alternate Minimum Tax (AMT) 
Alternate Minimum Tax (AMT) limits decrease for all taxpayers at $33,750 for singles, $45,000 for married filing jointly, and $22,500 for married filing separately.

"Kiddie Tax" 
For taxable years beginning in 2012, the amount that can be used to reduce the net unearned income reported on the child's return that is subject to the "kiddie tax," is $950. The same $950 amount is used to determine whether a parent may elect to include a child's gross income in the parent's gross income and to calculate the "kiddie tax". For example, one of the requirements for the parental election is that a child's gross income for 2012 must be more than $950 but less than $9,500.

For 2012, the net unearned income for a child under the age of 19 (or a full-time student under the age of 24) that is not subject to "kiddie tax" is $1,900, the same as 2011.

Medical Savings Accounts
Self-only coverage. For taxable years beginning in 2012, the term "high deductible health plan" means, for self-only coverage, a health plan that has an annual deductible that is not less than $2,100 and not more than $3,150, and under which the annual out-of-pocket expenses required to be paid (other than for premiums) for covered benefits do not exceed $4,200.

Family coverage. For taxable years beginning in 2012, the term "high deductible health plan" means, for family coverage, a health plan that has an annual deductible that is not less than $4,200 and not more than $6,300, and under which the annual out-of-pocket expenses required to be paid (other than for premiums) for covered benefits do not exceed $7,650.

Eligible Long-Term Care Premiums
Premiums for long-term care are treated the same as health care premiums and are deductible on your taxes subject to certain limitations. For individuals age 40 or less at the end of 2012, the limitation is $350. Persons over 40 but less than 50 can deduct $660. Those over age 50 but not more than 60 can deduct $1,310, while individuals over age 60 but younger than 70 can deduct $3,500. The maximum deduction $4,370 and applies to anyone over the age of 70.

Adoption Assistance Programs
For taxable years beginning in 2012, the amount that can be excluded from an employee's gross income for the adoption of a child with special needs is $12,650. In addition, the maximum amount that can be excluded from an employee's gross income for the amounts paid or expenses incurred by an employer for qualified adoption expenses furnished pursuant to an adoption assistance program for other adoptions by the employee is $12,650 (down from $13,360 in 2011).

The amount excludable from an employee's gross income begins to phase out under for taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) in excess of $189,710 and is completely phased out for taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income of $229,710 or more.

Taxpayers adopting children are eligible for both the adoption credit (see below) and the adoption assistance exclusion of adoption expenses paid for through an employer's adoption assistance plan. However, the same adoption expense cannot qualify for both the adoption credit and the adoption assistance exclusion.

Foreign Earned Income Exclusion
For taxable years beginning in 2012, the foreign earned income exclusion amount is $95,100, up from $92,900 in 2011.

Estate Tax 
For an estate of any decedent dying during calendar year 2012, the basic exclusion amount is $5,120,000, up from $5,000,000 in 2011. Also, if the executor chooses to use the special use valuation method for qualified real property, the aggregate decrease in the value of the property resulting from the choice cannot exceed $1,040,000, up from $1,020,000 for 2011. The maximum tax rate remains at 35%.

Individuals - Tax Credits

Adoption Credit
For taxable years beginning in 2012, the credit allowed for an adoption of a child with special needs is $12,650. For taxable years beginning in 2012, the maximum credit allowed for other adoptions is the amount of qualified adoption expenses up to $12,650. The available adoption credit begins to phase out for taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) in excess of $189,710 and is completely phased out for taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income of $229,710 or more.

Child Tax Credit
For taxable years beginning in 2012, the value used to determine the amount of credit that may be refundable is $3,000.

Earned Income Credit
For tax year 2012, the maximum earned income tax credit (EITC) for low- and moderate- income workers and working families rises to $5,891, up from $5,751 in 2011. The maximum income limit for the EITC rises to $50,270, up from $49,078 in 2011. The credit varies by family size, filing status and other factors, with the maximum credit going to joint filers with three or more qualifying children. In addition, for taxable years beginning in 2012, the earned income tax credit is not allowed if certain investment income exceeds $3,200.

Additional Child Credit
The $1,000 per-child additional child tax credit has been extended through 2012. The credit will decrease to $500 per child in 2013.

Individuals - Education

Hope Scholarship - American Opportunity, and Lifetime Learning Credits
The maximum Hope Scholarship Credit allowable for taxable years beginning in 2012 is $2,500.

The modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) threshold at which the lifetime learning credit begins to phase out is $104,000 for joint filers, up from $102,000, and $52,000 for singles and heads of household, up from $51,000.

Interest on Educational Loans
For taxable years beginning in 2012, the $2,500 maximum deduction for interest paid on qualified education loans begins to phase out for taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) in excess of $60,000 ($125,000 for joint returns), and is completely phased out for taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income of $75,000 or more ($155,000 or more for joint returns).

Individuals - Retirement

Contribution Limits 
The elective deferral (contribution) limit for employees who participate in 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans, and the federal government's Thrift Savings Plan is increased from $16,500 to $17,000. Contribution limits for SIMPLE plans remain at $11,500. The maximum compensation used to determine contributions increases to $250,000 (up $5,000 from 2011 levels).

Income Phase-out Ranges
The deduction for taxpayers making contributions to a traditional IRA is phased out for singles and heads of household who are covered by a workplace retirement plan and have modified adjusted gross incomes (AGI) between $58,000 and $68,000, up from $56,000 and $66,000 in 2011.

For married couples filing jointly, in which the spouse who makes the IRA contribution is covered by a workplace retirement plan, the income phase-out range is $92,000 to $112,000, up from $90,000 to $110,000. For an IRA contributor who is not covered by a workplace retirement plan and is married to someone who is covered, the deduction is phased out if the couple's income is between $173,000 and $183,000, up from $169,000 and $179,000.

The AGI phase-out range for taxpayers making contributions to a Roth IRA is $173,000 to $183,000 for married couples filing jointly, up from $169,000 to $179,000 in 2011. For singles and heads of household, the income phase-out range is $110,000 to $125,000, up from $107,000 to $122,000. For a married individual filing a separate return who is covered by a retirement plan at work, the phase-out range remains $0 to $10,000.

Saver's Credit
The AGI limit for the saver's credit (also known as the retirement savings contributions credit) for low-and moderate-income workers is $57,500 for married couples filing jointly, up from $56,500 in 2011; $43,125 for heads of household, up from $42,375; and $28,750 for married individuals filing separately and for singles, up from $28,250.

Businesses

Standard Mileage Rates
The rate for business miles driven is 55.5 cents per mile for 2012, unchanged from the mid-year adjustment that became effective on July 1, 2011.

Section 179 Expensing 
For 2012 the maximum Section 179 expense deduction for equipment purchases is $139,000 (down from $500,000 in 2011) of the first $560,000 (down from $2 million in 2011) of business property placed in service during the year.

Transportation Fringe Benefits
If you provide transportation fringe benefits to your employees, for tax years beginning in 2012 the maximum monthly limitation for transportation in a commuter highway vehicle as well as any transit pass is $125 (down from $230 in 2011). The monthly limitation for qualified parking is $240 (up from $230 in 2011).

Work Opportunity Credit
The work opportunity credit has been expanded to provide employers with new incentives to hire certain unemployed veterans. Businesses claim the credit as part of the general business credit and tax-exempt organizations claim it against their payroll tax liability. The credit is available for eligible unemployed veterans who begin work on or after November 22, 2011, and before January 1, 2013.

While this checklist outlines important tax changes already in place for 2012, additional changes in tax law are more than likely to arise during the year ahead.

Don't hesitate to call us if you want to get an early start on tax planning for 2012. We're here to help!