Tag Archives: taxes

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GOP Tax Plan: Tax Brackets for Married Couples

More details of the GOP tax plan have leaked, and the new tax brackets look enticing (other than that we won’t have the funds to support infrastructure needs in the country) — on an individual level, even with the marriage penalty on the SALT deduction ($10k can be deducted per individual OR $10k per married couple), the actual brackets are promising in removing the marriage penalty for everyone except those who make over $600k as married filers. Continue reading

Holy Sh… Estimated Taxes… WTF… as a Married Couple

Getting married is wonderful for so many reasons. Taxes is not one of them. Besides the horrific marriage fine levied by our tax lords if you happen to want to be an independent woman and continue working post tying the not, there’s also a whole host of tax intricacies which suddenly make TurboTax no longer a viable option and accountants your new BFF.

My husband is an independent contractor.  He usually makes anywhere between $80k and $110k per year, depending on how business is going. As a single person, he was able to take advantage of safe harbors designed to protect self-employed folks from overpaying taxes to avoid fines for coming short on estimated tax payments.

Safe harbors for estimated taxes for single, self-employed folks basically say that you can either pay 90% of your current year’s eventual tax bill OR 100% of your prior year’s tax bill. As a single person, this is pretty easy to figure out — even if it’s hard to guess what 90% of this year’s tax bill will be, you can pay 100% of your prior year’s tax bill and know you’re safe from fines, even if you end up owing more at the end of the year. If business isn’t going quite as well this year, you’ll get a refund, and you’ll give uncle sam a loan for a while, but it won’t be that bad.

Of course, getting married makes this all sorts of more complicated, requiring expensive accounting help to make sense of this mess.

Estimated tax safe harbor for higher income taxpayers. If your 2016 adjusted gross income was more than $150,000 ($75,000 if you are married filing a separate return), you must pay the smaller of 90% of your expected tax for 2017 or 110% of the tax shown on your 2016 return to avoid an estimated tax penalty.

Thank you IRS for an explanation that is not clear at all. It sounds like if your AGI is over $150k as a single OR married person you are considered a higher income taxpayer. This means Mr. HECC would not have been considered a high income taxpayer as a single person, but now that we’re married we’re well over $150k and he can no longer use the safe harbors for his estimated taxes.

Instead, we have to pay 110% of our 2016 taxes (including my taxes) in order to not get penalized this year. Suddenly, my W2 withholdings are no longer an annoyance of over or underpayment to the government, but they can result in substantial penalties.

So – we need an accountant, stat. I consider myself fairly financially literate and the IRS explanation of all of this is the most confusing thing I’ve ever read.

Are any of you married with one partner earning W2 income and the other self employed? How do you manage your estimated tax payments?

Our Marriage Tax Penalty: How It Played Out

There is a lot of misinformation about the marriage tax penalty. While it’s true if one spouse doesn’t work and the other makes any amount of income, the couple will get a “marriage bonus,” once both partners are working and making enough income to live, esp in a high-cost-of-living area, the tax penalty is going to kick in.

The worst marriage penalties are seen when you have kids and lose deductions based on income, but I’m going to share in simple terms why we received a marriage penalty this year – this beautiful first year of our marriage – due tour income.

Federal Taxes Only (State marriage penalty not included below)

Mrs. HECC
Income: $195,000
Single Filer Tax: $47,749.25

Mr. HECC
Income: $105,000
Single Filer Tax:  $22381.75

  • Total Couple “Single” Federal Tax: $70131
  • Married Filing Jointly Tax: $74,217

And, just in case you’re wondering, it is not better to “file separately” as a married couple — this is not the same as filing single (which you can’t do when you’re married.)

Married Filing Separately:

Mrs. HECC

Income: $195,000
Single Filer Tax: $51,958.50

Mr. HECC
Income: $105,000
Single Filer Tax:  $22981.25

Total Married Filing Separately:  $74939.75 

As you can see, if you have somewhat higher incomes, the marriage tax penalty will be quite notifiable.

If we never got married… $70,131 in taxes
Marriage Fine (Filing Jointly)  +$4086
or, Marriage Fine (Filing Separately) +$4808.75

This plays out similarly in state taxes.

Yes, we’re fortunate enough to be high-income earners – but we also cannot afford a house. So there’s that.

 

Thoughts on the Marriage Tax Penalty, Now that I’m Married

Unlike many unsuspecting newlyweds, I was well aware of the marriage tax penalty long before I got married. It seemed like a cruel joke that the tax brackets were different for married couples than singles, and that once married you no longer could file as a “single person.” There’s plenty of publicity around the “marriage bonus” but this only applies if you have one working person in the household. If both partners work and make about the same amount of money, you end up screwed.

I got married anyway.

The marriage penalty impacts different classes in different ways. The worst impact is on lower income couples who end up phasing out of tax credits and other benefits such as healthcare allowances if both partners work, even if together the couple is still together earning at poverty levels. For middle income couples in high-cost-of-living areas, the $1k-$10k+ that has to be paid to the government just for the privilege of being married is significant. Is love worth that much? Continue reading

Marriage Is the Worst Financial Decision of My Life – And I Don’t Regret It

The marriage tax penalty is real and it is painful if you live and work in a region of the country that tops the “highest cost of living” lists. While you can make the argument that this is a “choice” and that incomes tend to be higher in that region versus the rest of the country (if you work in a high-paying field), it still doesn’t balance out. I’m glad that I knew going into marriage it was the worst financial decision of my life (my husband says the wedding was, but actually the cost of the wedding was pennies versus what I’ll personally lose over my lifetime, financially speaking.)

There are numerous benefits to marriage, and above all else I’m a sap who believes in love and cares more about stability and security than wealth. I’m happy to be married. Happier than I thought I’d be (at least a month in) as it shockingly feels very different from being single. I didn’t expect it to feel different at all, especially after dating over a decade and co-habiting for the last two years. The only difference, I thought, would be that I can’t just walk out the door without repercussions, and neither could he.

Continue reading

Fun with Tax Loss Harvesting When the Stock Market Goes South

What’s a girl to do when her short term and long term “gains” are actually bright red losses?

Sell! Sell! Sell!

Now, before you berate me for selling when the market is down, let me explain, I am not selling to get out of the market.

My Vanguard shares were down significantly enough that I wanted to take action. Investing in index funds, I don’t have a strong opinion on one or the other. I had a dividend appreciation fund and a small-cap fund that today were mutually down about $500. That’s a $500 loss I can take against any gains made this year. I could wait for it to go down even more (it probably will) or, I could just pull out the money now and plop it straight into another “different” investment to reap the potential gains (or further losses) of being in the stock market this year.

I pulled out a good $23k from these two investments, and moved them into my Vanguard Healthcare fund which I’m slowly but surely plugging away at the $50k minimum for the Admiral version (I love me a good low-fee admiral fund.) So now my healthcare fund is at about $34k and I’ll have $500 in losses to write off come tax time next year. Not so shabby.

Note I’m not a tax professional and I don’t actually know what I’m doing, so get some real advice before you take any of mine. 🙂

My Parents, My Aunt’s New House, and Taxes

If my father were to find out that I hadn’t filed taxes for four years, I would never hear the end of it. He would basically tell me I’m a horrible, disorganized person who is so irresponsible. I hear his voice now, sighing my name in judgement-filled disappointment. And that judgement would kick me straight in the stomach yet again, because I’d believe that there is something truly wrong with me, and that I’ll never be able to resolve my deep-rooted mess of a self.

But when it’s my own father who hasn’t filed the taxes, well, then the world is out to get him. He is being kind of enough to co-sign a loan for my divorced aunt who is attempting to purchase a house, and in order to do this they’ve asked for two years worth of back taxes documentation. Well, he doesn’t have that because while he’s paid what he believes he owes, he’s never actually filed for 2011-2013.

The reality of the situation is that both of my parents could be in very big trouble for not filing taxes. It sounds like he has actually paid the amount owed, but he can’t know for sure because he hasn’t actually filed and filled out the paperwork. My mother is concerned about this, of course, but whenever she brings it up with him he will go off on her and call her a jerk. He really likes to call her a jerk.

It’s so unfortunate for her to be in this spot where she has absolutely no control over the finances. If they were to be audited they could both be thrown in jail. Now, you could say that she should be more pro-active in ensuring her own taxes are filed on time, but my father keeps all of the financial information in boxes that even he isn’t able to find easily. He’s been procrastinating on filing taxes because everything is a giant mess. I wonder where I get this being a mess thing from, hmm.

To be “fair” to my father, he does have terminal prostate cancer, and I’m sure he doesn’t want to spend his remaining days doing taxes. Maybe in his mind, since the doctors told him he would die five years ago, he was putting it off so that he’d never actually have to deal with it. Who knows. It’s hard to task a dying man with filing paperwork to the IRS, but he’s lived much longer than the doctors have thought and he typically spends his days not schlepping up to Sloan Kettering in NYC watching television or napping.

I’m concerned about my parents, but there really isn’t anything I can do. My dad is so ridiculously stubborn and he won’t change that. He spent a good ten minutes yelling (over the phone) at my aunt’s loan officer because he thought that he only had to show two years of taxes for 2013 and 2014, and in fact they need 2012 and 2013. Well, he just loves to yell. He’s just so angry and I don’t know if I’ve ever met a person with more anger in his heart – no empathy at all for other people just trying to do their job – no concern for his own wife who he could be setting up for jail time. No, he’ll just spend all his time screaming at everyone else, because the whole world is against him, clearly.

What is a grown adult daughter to do in these situations? My mother is dealing with her own mother’s finances and taxes, which is quite ironic given she doesn’t have a handle on her own. My mother doesn’t get sad, ever – as the daughter of a narcissist herself she was not allowed to have emotions – but she is clearly frustrated by my father’s failure to just pay the taxes. She laughs it off with her nervous laugh, because her only emotion as far as I can tell is “anxious.” There is nothing I can do, but it upsets me that my father, even after all of these years, even after he has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, even after his children have grown up and removed that stress from him, is still as bitter, selfish, and full of rage as he ever was. I’d like for there to be a day when he finally realizes that the world isn’t out to get him, that criticism can be constructive, that people deserve to be treated with respect. But that will never happen. I only get to hope that my parents do not end up in jail and my dad finally files the taxes.

Update: Tax Benefits only the Rich Enjoy

One of my readers, Jake, posted a thoughtful response to my post 10 Tax Breaks Only the Rich Enjoy noting that my explanations were factually inaccurate. I thought he had some really good points, so I wanted to address each below. I also want to clarify that I do not necessarily have anything against rich individuals who worked their way up to obtain wealth. The problem is that once a family has money they can maintain that money within their family for generations, with many “trust-fund babies” not having to earn their wealth. Also, I have a problem with tax loopholes that are designed to only benefit the wealthy yet that are useless to the middle class.

(Side note: I think that federal and state income tax should be adjusted for cost of living per county. It is obscene that a San Francisco household should have to pay the same effective tax rate to someone in Fresno where cost of living is much lower. $300k in AGI for a married couple is a lot in many regions of the country and in others it is squarely in the middle class. Thus, income tax brackets should be adjusted for cost of living. I’m not sure if this could work, but it would make a lot more sense then the current tax system.)

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Jake wrote: “Sorry, but most of this applies to the 0.01% of income earners, not the 1%. Additionally, a lot of what you outline is misleading. I’ll address each section.”

While many of these tax breaks are most beneficial for the .01%, the .05% and yes even the 1% get more out of many of these tax breaks than people with middle class incomes. The super, super rich get the best tax breaks of all.

RE: The Rich paying 0% on Capital Gains Tax

Jake: I don’t know how you got 0% capital gains tax. Not only do the rich have to pay capital gains tax, but they pay it at a higher rate because of their income.

The really rich do not pay capital gains tax at a higher rate. How can this be? Most people who aren’t extremely wealthy have to work and work for pay. When we work, we generate income. This income is what defines our capital gains tax rate. The top capital gains rate for the wealthy is 20%. So how are some getting away with not paying any capital gains tax?

The super rich do not need to generate income. If an investor is in the 10% and 15% tax bracket for income, then s/he pays 0% in capital gains tax. This means that if someone has enough money to sustain them via investment growth and dividends, s/he never has to earn income and can stay in the lowest income tax bracket, thus withdrawing any dividends and gains on investments at a 0% capital gains tax rate.

Thus, my point is that capital gains tax rate should be the same for everyone, not based on income levels, so that way no one can cheat the system.

RE: Mitt Romney paid just 15% federal income taxes despite making way more money than someone in the top brackets

Jake: Yes, Mitt Romney paid 15% in federal income taxes, but most Americans making 50-75k paid 7.8%. Someone that makes 100-200 paid 12.1%. The kicker? The bottom 50% of income earners paid 0% in income taxes. It puts Romney’s 15% in context. These are facts.

This isn’t about the bottom 50%. Yes, in our society people who make money pay tax to support services for people who are unable to make enough money to live, true. But the actual problem here is not about the bottom 50%. It’s the fact that the middle class is disappearing due to loopholes like this only available to the super rich. If you make $100,000 a year (single filer) you will pay 21.18% of all of your income to federal tax. If you make $200k, you’ll pay 24.93% of your income to federal tax. At $300k a year, that’s 27.62% to federal taxes. But if you’re super rich and in one of these jobs where the loopholes are available, you can pay much less while earning much more.

RE: Home deduction tax benefit is much better for the rich than the middle class

Jake: “Yes, the rich enjoy the home interest deduction along with 67% of America. The rest of Americans can also deduct the full amount, while the PEASE limitation reduces the amount that the rich can deduct.”

True. However, the way taxes work, the wealthy are getting a much bigger benefit to purchase property over the middle class. If the wealthy haven’t taken advantage of the former loopholes, basic math tells us that the deduction for the rich is going to be greater than that for the middle class. “One of the unfortunate and largely unintended effects of structuring tax benefits as deductions or exclusions is that they tend to provide much bigger tax benefits to those in the highest tax brackets. For a wealthy taxpayer in the highest tax bracket—now 39.6 percent—a $10,000 itemized deduction, such as one for mortgage interest, results in $3,960 in tax savings. For a taxpayer in the 15 percent bracket, however, that same deduction is worth only $1,500.” (source) Yes, the PEASE limitation is helping this a bit, but the mortgage interest deduction still percentage-wise much greater benefits the wealthy over the average middle class person.

RE: Giving to charity to preserve family wealth

Jake: “This just doesn’t make sense. How can you knock giving to charity?”

Answer: Because “giving to charity” is not always actually giving to charity. For example, the Walton family, heirs and heiresses to the Walmart fortune, are using this loophole very smartly to preserve their wealth over generations. With a fortune worth $115.7B, the family is set for at least a few generations, and tax laws help them ensure this.

How is this possible? The Waltons and many other super rich families use a charitable trust that allows the donor to pass money on to heirs after an extended period of time without having to pay estate tax! If a donor locks up assets in charity  trusts (CLATs) for a long period of time an amount set by the donor is giving away each year but whatever is left goes to a beneficiary TAX FREE. Just one of the charitable trusts would result in $2.2B for Walton heirs, without owing any tax on it. (source). While most people won’t have to pay estate tax anyway (your estate needs to be worth more than $1M before estate taxes begin to be levied), it is the super rich that the estate tax is designed for – to ensure that people aren’t just living off their family’s wealth and never paying a cent to support the government or working a day in their lives.

RE: Deduction for private jets

Jake: ‘Not many 1%’ers own private jets. That’s for corporate CEOs, professional atheletes and entertainers….many of the 0.01%”

True. This is probably relevant only to the top elite only. Nonetheless, it’s still a tax break the super rich enjoy.

RE: Fake-Out Agricultural Tax Credits

Jake: Anyone who owns a home can do this (67% of America), not just the 1%

Each state has its own rules on how individuals who own property can take tax credits for agricultural use. The point is not whether anyone who owns a home can take these credits, but how the credits are much more valuable for people who own expensive homes and properties. Another example of this – in NJ, fake farmers are costing the state millions of dollars. The Farmland Assessment Act of 1964, intended to preserve agriculture in NJ, is being used by millionaires, developers and anyone with at least five acres of land to slash their farmland tax bills by 98% — all they need to do is produce $500 in goods per year to qualify for tax breaks. For instance, one person used a cow to eat the home’s front lawn for a few months and then sold the animal, enabling the individual to take the tax break on their five acres.  Even Bruce Springsteen takes this tax credit. While he pays $138k a year in taxes on his own home, he owns an additional 200 acres which he has a farmer come and grow a few tomatoes so he doesn’t have to pay a lot of tax on this land (only $4639 per year.) (source)

Thus this tax loophole doesn’t benefit 67% of America who own property, but only the super wealthy who own more than five acres of property (rules vary per state but generally this is designed to help the super rich fake farmers only.)

RE: Rental Property Tax Benefits

Jake: Anyone with a rental property can do this type of exchange, not just 1 percenters.

Again, you’re spot on Jake. Anyone can take advantage of the tax loophole which enables them to purchase rental property and do a like kind exchange to trade it for property worth the same or more without paying taxes. Now, only the rich can afford to do this enough for it to make a big difference. For example, as someone with $300,000 networth, I invest in real estate via REITs. When I sell a REIT I must pay capital gains tax on this REIT, even if I want to purchase another REIT. I cannot just trade this without paying any tax. Also, I could own rental property and do a like kind exchange, but with $300,000 total in networth I’m not going to be able to purchase enough property for this to really help. Since wealthy real estate investors can do this over and over again (there is no limit for how many times they can trade property without paying tax and taking deductions for depreciation of their owned properties on sale) in the long run they will only pay capital gains rates on the property sold last.

But if you’re really rich, you never have to sell this property when you’re alive! You can pass this on to your children tax free. The basis which your children will pay tax on upon sale of the asset is determined not by how much you paid for the property in the first place, but instead how much it was worth on the day you die. Assuming you were a very smart investor and used like-kind trades throughout your life, you could have significantly grown your real estate value over time, enjoyed depreciation deductions, and then pass on the property tax free to heirs who can sell it for the amount it’s worth on the day of your passing. Most people cannot afford to keep so much of their networth locked up in investment property, but the super rich can.

So, Jake, as you see, much of my points have to do with how these tax benefits mostly help the super rich. This may not be the 1% but at 1% you start to experience some of these benefits. Once you have a certain amount of money in your family, though, you can maintain it for many, many generations through these loopholes.