Getting ready for the Medicare tax on investment income

Updated 06 December 2012
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Getting ready for the Medicare tax on investment income

NEW YORK: There are few certainties for year-end tax planning this year, but if you're a wealthy investor there is one sure thing — the new Medicare tax, slated to begin in 2013.
Part of the 2010 health care reform law, it is a 3.8 percent tax on investment income for individuals with adjusted gross income above $ 200,000, or $250,000 for married couples filing jointly. The same high-income taxpayers will also face an additional Medicare tax of 0.9 percent on wages and self-employment income, on top of the Medicare tax they currently pay.
"This is very real," says Robert Keebler, a partner at Keebler & Associates, a tax and estate planning firm in Green Bay, Wisconsin, who recently wrote a book on the Medicare tax for tax research firm CCH. "People are still in denial, but this is starting to change."
Workers already pay 1.45 percent of their pay in Medicare taxes. Employers also pay 1.45 percent, but won't be required to pay half of the new 0.9 percent additional tax.
The new Medicare tax is structured as a surcharge on net investment income including capital gains, dividends, interest, royalties, partnerships and trusts. The tax does not apply to tax-exempt income, such as interest from municipal bonds, or distributions from retirement plans. The rules are complex; on Monday the Internal Revenue Service issued a 159-page proposed rule designed to clarify the tax.
Depending on how much you make from wages and investments, the surcharge could apply to all of your investment income or only to part of it.
To understand how the tax works consider two examples, included in a Wells Fargo Advisors explainer on the issue. Couple A has wages of $ 230,000 and capital gains of $ 30,000, for a total of $ 260,000; they're $10,000 over the threshold, so would owe 3.8 percent of that excess, or $ 380, for the Medicare tax. Couple B has wages of $ 350,000 and investment income of $ 35,000; they would owe 0.9 percent on the $ 100,000 in wages over the threshold (or $ 900), plus 3.8 percent on their investment income (or $ 1,330), for a total of $ 2,230.
These new Medicare taxes, coupled with the slated expiration of the George W. Bush-era tax cuts at the end of this year, have accountants and tax advisers preparing for a flurry of activity from their wealthy clientele.
For high earners, the combination of the Medicare tax and an expected higher capital gains rate could result in an effective long-term capital gains rate of 23.8 percent, versus today's low rate of 15 percent.
If you're lucky enough to be above the threshold, here's how to think about your planning over the next few weeks.
If you expect to be above the Medicare tax threshold and think your capital-gains rate will be higher in 2013, that turns traditional tax-loss harvesting on its head. Instead of the typical strategy of taking capital losses at year-end, you'll want to take gains and defer losses — you can lock in the gains at 15 percent this year, versus potentially paying 23.8 percent next year.
If you have stocks with substantial gains in your taxable portfolio, you could even choose to lock in the 15 percent tax on those gains, then buy back the same stock over the coming months in order to reset your cost basis for tax purposes before rates go up. (The so-called wash sale rule, which prohibits immediately buying the same shares back when you take a loss, doesn't apply to gains.) Ideally, you'll want to pay for the tax outside of the investment you sold so as to keep the amount invested the same.
Medicare surcharge strategies get more complex for those who have trusts. Trusts are subject to the Medicare tax on the lesser of their undistributed net investment income for the year or the excess of their adjusted gross income over a threshold, currently $11,650. The result is that most trusts — with the exception of charitable trusts, which are exempt — will be affected by the new Medicare tax.
"The threshold is very low on trusts," says Ron Finkelstein, a tax partner at Marcum LLP in Melville, N.Y. "The threshold for trusts is much lower than for individuals."
One possible strategy for trusts: They may be able to reduce or eliminate the Medicare tax by distributing income to beneficiaries — especially if those recipients have income levels that put them below the cut-off for the Medicare tax.
Interest payments on intra-family loans, which have been quite popular among affluent families at a time of low rates, could also be subject to the Medicare tax for those receiving the loan repayment. That means that those parents who have used intra-family loans to help their kids without paying gift taxes may want to revisit those arrangements.
"Things that people have done in the past that were revenue-neutral, like intra-family loans, no longer are," says Paul Gevertzman, a tax partner at accounting firm Anchin, Block & Anchin, in New York. "What was a good plan two years ago isn't a good plan now. So either you want to undo it or lower the interest rate to the lowest allowable amount."
Increasing taxes on investments could prove a boon to insurance sales. That's because investment income that accrues within insurance products isn't subject to the same taxes - and death benefits are never taxed, Keebler says. While he's advising his clients to wait until the final regulations on the Medicare tax come out, he figures that insurance will be a good option for at least some of them.
Then again, when making investments, tax should always be a secondary reason for deciding what to do. As Anchin, Block & Anchin partner Laurence Feibel puts it: "Warren Buffett is right. No one chooses not to invest because the tax rate is 50 percent. That's the reality."
— The writer is a Reuters columnist.
The opinions expressed are her own.


Gulf airlines Emirates, Etihad, Qatar Airways seen flying under radar at Farnborough Airshow

Updated 34 min 32 sec ago
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Gulf airlines Emirates, Etihad, Qatar Airways seen flying under radar at Farnborough Airshow

  • Over 1,500 exhibitors and 100,000 trade visitors are expected to attend this week’s airshow
  • Farnborough and the Paris Airshow — held on alternate years — have accounted for around 30 percent of annual commercial business

LONDON: The aviation industry heads to the UK’s Farnborough International Airshow on Monday in rude health, with higher oil prices and a strong global economy leading to predictions of a large number of orders at the week-long show.
But this time around, significant orders from Gulf carriers such as Etihad, Emirates and Qatar Airways are unlikely to materialize, as the region’s carriers continue to take stock after a period of bruising losses.
Over 1,500 exhibitors and 100,000 trade visitors are expected to attend this week’s airshow, one of the most important events for the global aviation industry.
Farnborough and the Paris Airshow — held on alternate years — have accounted for around 30 percent of annual commercial business for manufacturers like Boeing and Airbus since 2012, according to aviation consultancy IBA Group.
Some $124 billion worth of orders and commitments were placed at the 2016 show, according to organizers.
The aviation industry is in rude health in 2018, with passenger numbers and load factors rising internationally thanks to global economic growth.
Plane makers bagged around 900 firm or provisional orders in Paris last year, the consultancy said. And while the international order backlog is high, a similar number of orders is expected next week on the back of recent rises in the price of oil.
“The trend between oil price and annualized orders has been uncannily strong,” said IBA’s Chief Executive Officer Stuart Hatcher in a report issued July 9.
“This is not surprising given that most orders have been placed for new fuel-efficient technology, but even with such large backlogs in play, orders continue to come in as oil rises.”
This time around however, the big three Gulf carriers — Etihad Airways, Emirates and Qatar Airways — are unlikely to feature too heavily among the big spenders next week, analysts predict.
Etihad Airways made headlines in Farnborough in 2008, when it made $20 billion worth of orders from Boeing and Airbus.
Fast forward 10 years though, and the Abu Dhabi carrier is in consolidation and restructuring mode, its international expansion plan on hold following the insolvency of its European partners Air Berlin and Alitalia.
After posting an annual loss of $1.5 billion for 2017 (albeit an improvement on the previous year), Etihad earlier this month announced a reorganization into seven business units to be accompanied by further job cuts, significantly scaling back its international ambitions.
The main deals the carrier is reportedly working on with manufacturers are attempted price reductions for previously placed orders.
“It’s not the done thing to cancel existing orders at airshows,” said Saj Ahmad, chief analyst at Strategic Aero Research.
Etihad did not respond to a request for comment.
John Strickland, director of JLS Consulting, said the other two big Gulf carriers were also unlikely to splash significant cash at Farnborough.
“It’s probable that any statements by Emirates and Qatar Airways will be more modest,” he told Arab News.
Dubai’s Emirates has fared better than its Abu Dhabi counterpart, reporting a $1.1 billion profit for the year ending March 2018.
Despite the airline’s continuing recovery, recent headline orders from both Boeing and Airbus are tempering the expectations for what will be announced at Farnborough.
“Emirates has placed recent orders for Boeing 787s and more Airbus A380s so large headline orders are unlikely,” said Strickland.
Emirates declined to comment.
Qatar Airways has been hit hard by the boycott of its home market by the Anti-Terror Quartet — Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt — last year, with the group’s CEO Akbar Al-Baker admitting the airline is likely to report a large loss for the past year.
But the company has been in acquisition mode, acquiring a 9.6 percent stake in Cathay Pacific in November for $662 million, and has expanded a number of its routes in recent months.
“Qatar Airways may plump up for more (Boeing) 777Fs as it looks to build its freight capacity in the wake of the (boycott) to alleviate import pressures on goods and services,” Ahmad told Arab News.
IBA forecasts that aircraft leasing firms may dominate Farnborough orders, accounting for between 30 and 50 percent of orders.
Ahmad told Arab News that Dubai-based DAE Capital may be one of the firms preparing to place large orders, with rumors of 100 jets apiece for Airbus and Boeing.
DAE, Airbus and Boeing did not respond to requests for comment.