Democrats and President Biden are knee-deep in the political act of horse-trading and arm-twisting. It’s sausage-making at its worst. In the end, most Americans will find the result downright tasty. For the wealthiest among us, it’ll no doubt cause some financial indigestion.
In exchange for the extension of the new bulked up child tax credits, a broadening of childcare tax benefits, the expansion of Medicare benefits along with the introduction of free community college, paid sick leave and universal pre-K, a slew of tax changes are on the table.
In keeping with Biden’s election promise, most of the proposed tax hikes for individuals will only affect people who make more than $400,000 to $500,000 per year. To loosely paraphrase the famous bank robber, Willie Sutton, this is where a lot of the money is and, conveniently, where most of the voters aren’t.
To start, the top tax bracket would be about 3% higher than it is today, returning it to the familiar 39.6% level. This proposal not only increases the top tax rate, it would kick in at a lower income threshold.
Next, high-earning business owners who use S-Corps to split their earnings as partly “wage income” and partly “business profit” may face an extra 3.8% tax on the portion they choose to classify as business profit. This proposed change partially closes a loophole that helps them avoid paying Medicare taxes.
Also on the docket is a tax hike on long-term capital gains. The proposal would raise this tax to 25% from the current level of 20%. Once again, this would only affect those making over about $500,000 per year. An earlier proposal to capture capital gains taxes on inherited assets appears to have been abandoned, for now.
Rounding out the tax changes for high earners is a new 3% “surcharge” on income that exceeds $5 million as well as a slew of limitations placed on massive IRA balances above $10 million. Finally, certain Roth conversion strategies may also be a thing of the past (although some come after a 10 year delay!)
Beyond these proposed tax changes for individuals, Congress is also focused on reversing some of the corporate tax cuts introduced in 2018.
Under current proposals, the top corporate tax rate for businesses structured as C-Corps would rise from the 21% rate to around 26%. Prior to the Trump tax cuts, the top rate for big businesses was once 35%, so this change only represents a partial reversal of tax policy.
Finally, for certain business owners who conduct their activities through pass-through entities – such as S-Corps or LLCs – the lucrative 20% business income deduction will fade away if they make more than $5 million in profits.
Just as sausage-making is a notoriously unappetizing thing to watch, over the coming weeks Congress looks poised to grind out an ugly legislative process. Frankly, if it wasn’t my job to watch it all closely, I’d simply choose to avert my eyes!
Jason P. Tank, CFA, CFP® is both the owner of Front Street Wealth Management, a purely fee-only advisory firm and the founder of the Money Series, a non-profit program committed to providing open-access to financial education, for all. Contact him at (231) 947-3775, by email at [email protected] and at www.FrontStreet.com