3.8 Percent Medicare Tax on Investment Income

The health care reform package (the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Health Care and education Reconciliation Act of 2010) imposes a new 3.8 percent Medicare contribution tax on the investment income of higher-income individuals. Although the tax does not take effect until 2013, it is not too soon to examine methods to lessen the impact of the tax. Certain year-end strategies might also be considered to avoid the tax, such as accelerating capital gains and other investment income into 2012 or converting a portion of your investments into tax-exempt interest.

Net investment income. Net investment income, for purposes of the new 3.8 percent Medicare tax, includes interest, dividends, annuities, royalties and rents and other gross income attributable to a passive activity. Gains from the sale of property that is not used in an active business and income from the investment of working capital are treated as investment income as well. However, the tax does not apply to nontaxable income, such as tax-exempt interest or veterans’ benefits. Further, an individual’s capital gains income will be subject to the tax. This includes gain from the sale of a principal residence, unless the gain is excluded from income under Code Sec. 121, and gains from the sale of a vacation home. However, contemplated sales made before 2013 would avoid the tax.

The tax applies to estates and trusts, on the lesser of undistributed net income or the excess of the trust/estate adjusted gross income (AGI) over the threshold amount ($11,200) for the highest tax bracket for trusts and estates, and to investment income they distribute.

Deductions. Net investment income for purposes of the new 3.8 percent tax is gross income or net gain, reduced by deductions that are “properly allocable” to the income or gain. This is a key term that the Treasury Department expects to address in guidance, and which we will update you on developments. For passively-managed real property, allocable expenses will still include depreciation and operating expenses. Indirect expenses such as tax preparation fees may also qualify.

For capital gain property, this formula puts a premium on keeping tabs on amounts that increase your property’s basis. It also puts the focus on investment expenses that may reduce net gains: interest on loans to purchase investments, investment counsel and advice, and fees to collect income. Other costs, such as brokers’ fees, may increase basis or reduce the amount realized from an investment. As such, you may want to consider avoiding installment sales with net capital gains (and interest) running past 2012.

Thresholds and impact. The tax applies to the lesser of net investment income or modified AGI above $200,000 for individuals and heads of household, $250,000 for joint filers and surviving spouses, and $125,000 for married filing separately. MAGI is AGI increased by foreign earned income otherwise excluded under Code Sec. 911; MAGI is the same as AGI for someone who does not work overseas.

The tax can have a substantial impact if you have income above the specified thresholds. Also, don’t forget that, in addition to the tax on investment income, you may also face other tax increases proposed by the Obama administration that could take effect in 2013. The top two marginal income tax rates on individuals would rise from 33 and 35 percent to 36 and 39.6 percent, respectively. The maximum tax rate on long-term capital gains would increase from 15 percent to 20 percent. Moreover, dividends, which are currently capped at the 15 percent long-term capital gain rate, would be taxed as ordinary income. Thus, the cumulative rate on capital gains would increase to 23.8 percent in 2013, and the rate on dividends would jump to as much as 43.4 percent. Moreover, the thresholds are not indexed for inflation, so a greater number of taxpayers may be affected as time elapses. Congress, together with a new administration, may step in and change these rate increases, but the possibility of rates going up for upper income taxpayers is sufficiently real that tax planning must take them into account.

 

Please contact our office if you would like to discuss the tax consequences to your investments of the new 3.8 percent Medicare tax on investment income.

 

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