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.


Asia’s refining profits slump as Mideast exports surge

Updated 23 February 2019
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Asia’s refining profits slump as Mideast exports surge

  • Since 2006, the Asia-Pacific has been the world’s biggest oil-consuming region, led by industrial users South Korea and Japan along with rising powerhouses China and India
  • However, overbuilding of refineries and sluggish demand growth have caused a jump in fuel exports from these demand hubs

SINGAPORE: Asia’s biggest oil consumers are flooding the region with fuel as refining output is exceeding consumption amid a slowdown in demand growth, pressuring industry profits.
Since 2006, the Asia-Pacific has been the world’s biggest oil-consuming region, led by industrial users South Korea and Japan along with rising powerhouses China and India.
Yet overbuilding of refineries and sluggish demand growth have caused a jump in fuel exports from these demand hubs.
Compounding the supply overhang, fuel exports from the Middle East, which BP data shows added more than 1 million barrels per day (bpd) of refining capacity from 2013 to 2017, have doubled since 2014 to around 55 million tons, according to Refinitiv.
Car sales in China, the world’s second-biggest oil user, fell for the first time on record last year, and early 2019 sales also remain weak, suggesting a slowdown in gasoline demand.
For diesel, China National Petroleum Corp. in January said that it expected demand to fall by 1.1 percent in 2019. That would be China’s first annual demand decline for a major fuel since its industrial ascent started in 1990.
The surge in fuel exports combined with a 25 percent jump in crude oil prices so far this year has collapsed Singapore refinery margins, the Asian benchmark, from more than $11 per barrel in mid-2017 to just over $2.
Combine the slumping margins with labor costs and taxes and many Asian refineries now struggle to make money.
The squeezed margins have pummelled the stocks of most major Asian petroleum companies, such as Japan’s refiners JXTG Holdings Inc. or Idemitsu Kosan, South Korea’s top oil processor SK Innovation, Asia’s top oil refiner China Petroleum & Chemical Corp. and Indian Oil Corp., with some companies dropping by about 40 percent over the past year. Jeff Brown, president of energy consultancy FGE, said the surge in exports and resulting oversupply were a “big problem” for the industry.
“The pressure on refinery margins is a case of death by a thousand cuts ... Refinery upgrades throughout the region are bumping up against softening demand growth,” he said.
The profit slump follows a surge in fuel exports from China, India, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. Refinitiv shipping data shows fuel exports from those countries have risen threefold since 2014, to a record of around 15 million tons in January.
The biggest jump in exports has come from China, where refiners are selling off record amounts of excess fuel into Asia.
“There is a risk for Asian market turmoil if (China’s fuel) export capacity remains at the current level or grows further,” said Noriaki Sakai, chief executive officer at Idemitsu Kosan during a news conference last week.
But Japanese and South Korean fuel exports have also risen as demand at home falls amid mature industry and a shrinking population. Japan’s 2019 oil demand will drop by 0.1 percent from 2018, while South Korea’s will remain flat, according to forecasts from Energy Aspects.
In Japan, oil imports have been falling steadily for years, yet its refiners produce more fuel than its industry can absorb. The situation is similar in South Korea, the world’s fifth-biggest refiner by capacity, according to data from BP.
Cho Sang-bum, an official at the Korea Petroleum Association, which represents South Korean refiners, said the surging exports had “triggered a gasoline glut.”
That glut caused negative gasoline margins in January.