Thursday, September 13, 2012

Higher FICA Taxes on the Horizon

Health care reform in the guise of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) came to us with many new benefits. In order to pay for those benefits, the government had two options -- cut costs or raise revenue (spelled T-A-X). Here we talk about one of those new taxes.

Beginning January 1, 2013, high earners will be required to pay additional HI (Medicare) taxes under the FICA program. The additional tax is 0.9% of compensation in excess of $200,000 for individual filers or $250,000 for couples filing jointly. The employer portion of FICA will not increase.

First, this is going to need to be administered differently from traditional FICA taxes which generally are paid through payroll deduction. Here, your employer has no obligation to know how you file (in fact, you don't need to decide until you actually file), and your employer has neither the obligation nor the right to know your spouse's income. So, presumably, higher earners will simply have an additional tax tacked on to their Form 1040.

Think about this. What are FICA wages. Generally, they are compensation first vested and reasonably ascertainable in a year. For most deferred compensation plans, the amount of compensation that has been deferred is reasonably ascertainable. However, for plans such as defined benefit SERPs or for certain stock plans, this may not be the case. Regulations under Code Section 3121(v) allow taxpayers to early include such deferred compensation. In the case of individuals with significant SERP benefits in particular, they may want to discuss the possibility of early inclusion with their employers. While the tax hit for 2012 could be meaningful, it may lessen the long-term blow.

On the other hand, we don't yet know the outcome of the 2012 presidential election. Mitt Romney has pledged to repeal PPACA if elected. Its repeal would eliminate this tax.

Planning isn't as easy as it used to be.

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