The last-minute fiscal cliff compromise - H.R. 8, which will also be known as the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (or "ATRA") - extends the majority of tax cuts that were scheduled to expire at the end of 2012, in addition to retroactively reinstating some rules that had expired in 2011. However, the legislation also introduces a number of changes as well - including a new top tax bracket of 39.6%, and an increase in the top long-term capital gains and qualified dividend rate to 20%. And some old rules that had lapsed and were scheduled to come back have in fact returned, such as the Pease limitation (phaseout of itemized deductions) and the Personal Exemption Phaseout (PEP). In addition, a new rule will allow 401(k) participants to complete intra-plan Roth conversions.
For planning purposes, though, the good news is that not only was the fiscal cliff largely "averted" with last minute legislation, but the changes under ATRA are permanent. On the other hand, making some rules permanent - such as not only the current gift and estate tax exemption, but also the portability of a deceased spouse's unused exemption - will change income and estate tax planning going forward.
In this article, we take a first look at the details of the H.R. 8 fiscal cliff legislation and some of its financial planning implications.