Getting ready for the Medicare tax on investment income

Updated 06 December 2012
0

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.


INTERVIEW: SABB Managing Director David Dew steering through historic transaction in Saudi banking

Updated 21 October 2018
0

INTERVIEW: SABB Managing Director David Dew steering through historic transaction in Saudi banking

DUBAI: David Dew has been working in banking in the Middle East and other emerging markets for 40 years, and you might think he has seen it all. But the merger between SABB and Alawwal in Saudi Arabia — which he is steering through to completion next year — is a career achievement for him.
“I think it’s a clear case of a win-win situation, and all our stakeholders will get benefit from it. It’s a genuinely exciting landmark transaction, and a significant transformation for the Kingdom,” he said.
It is a historic transaction, Dew explains. “It is the third biggest banking merger in the history of the region — the other two were in the UAE with significant government ownership — so SABB-Alawwal is also the biggest private banking merger for 20 years. It’s the first since the Capital Market Authority (CMA) was formed and the first since the new takeover rules came in.”
The merger will create the third biggest bank in the Kingdom by assets, loans and deposits, and — perhaps more significant in the current financial environment — forge a bank that is unashamedly international in its outlook. The transaction has its origins in the different imperatives of foreign banks operating in the Kingdom. Saudi Arabia has been identified as a global growth market by HSBC, which holds 40 percent of SABB — full name the Saudi British Bank.
Alawwal — the “first bank” in Arabic, reflecting its long heritage in the Kingdom — was dominated by a consortium of foreign banking interests, notably cash-strapped RBS (Royal Bank of Scotland) of Britain. RBS and its consortium partners — from Spain and Holland — wanted to reduce their overseas footprint. Getting out of Alawwal was a logical move from that perspective.

RBS and the Spanish bank Santander — which would each have about 4 percent of the enlarged company — have undertaken not to sell their shares for six months after completion.

The foreigners’ different strategic interests might have been the original spark for the merger, but Dew firmly believes it is in the best interests of the Saudi banking business, and bank customers. “Our first stakeholder is the Kingdom, and the merger is a great example of why and how Vision 2030 is actually working. It’s showing that Saudi Arabia is open for business. An important part of the Vision plan is the financial sector development program, and this merger shows it is working.
“The idea is to grow and develop capital markets, and this will help the Kingdom do that. It’s the kind of thing that just might not have happened even a few years ago.”
The next set of stakeholders he is working to satisfy is the regulatory establishment. The deal has been quite a long time in gestation, and much of that time has been taken up in getting it just right from a regulatory standpoint. “It’s taken a bit longer than you might have expected, but the regulators have been with us all the way — the CMA, the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority, and the Ministry of Finance. All good things take time, and it is more important to do it right than to do it quick,” he said.
The next key group of stakeholders are the shareholders on both sides. In addition to HSBC and the RBS consortium, there are big investors in both banks in the shape of the Olayan conglomerate, and the government agency the General Organization for Social Insurance. Both have recused themselves from involvement in the merger negotiations. But both boards have recommended the merger terms.
“We’ve explained the business rationale and made a compelling case to them that the merger creates value. There will be a circular from both parties to all shareholders, we hope, by the end of the year.”
The next stakeholders on the list are the customers. “I know it’s a cliche that the customers are all important, but it’s true, and they will see real benefits,” Dew said.

(Illustration by Luis Grañena)


Comprising as much as 75 percent of the new bank’s business, the corporate sector will be crucial. “It will be the leading corporate bank by lending, and will offer other products, too, for example trade finance. It will also be the leading cash management business, and a significant foreign exchange provider.
“I think it will occupy a powerful corporate position and overall will be a bellwether for the underlying economy, so it will be followed closely by anybody interested in the Kingdom’s business,” Dew explained. With a market capitalization of about SR65 billion ($17.33 billion) and a sizeable free float on the Tadawul, it will be valuable proxy for investment in the modernizing Kingdom.
The new bank will also use its connection with HSBC’s powerful investment banking operation in Saudi Arabia to help satisfy customers’ needs in that segment.
In the retail sector, it will never be as big as NCB or Al Rajhi, market leaders with more than 50 percent of the retail market between them. But with about 10 percent of the Kingdom’s retail market, Dew feels it will be approaching the “tipping point” at which it becomes a serious player.
“The home loans market is critical. We estimate we’ll have 16 percent of that market, which is vitally important to the changes that are happening in the Kingdom,” he said. It will also have around 20 percent of the Saudi credit card market, he estimated.
“We will redouble our efforts to offer a good SME (small and medium-sized enterprises) proposition. SABB has not done enough in this sector, but we will do more, and the ability to do it will be enhanced by the merger,” he added.
“For corporate customers, we will be able to offer the biggest balance sheet and underwriting capability, which adds up to more ‘muscle’ for corporate clients. For retail customers, we will offer additional scale and focus, especially on the digital side. This is the future for the retail banking business, and we will build on Alawwal’s strengths here. They are pretty good in digital already. They have punched above their weight,” Dew said.
The final group of stakeholders are the employees. “Again it is trite to say ‘We are nothing without our people,’ but I happen to believe it. We have promised and we mean it, that there will be no involuntary redundancies. That does not mean there will be no losses through attrition. People come and go all the time, so that is only natural,” Dew said.
The new bank will have 4,800 employees, more than 90 percent of them Saudi citizens and 20 percent women. Its new chairperson will be Lubna Olayan, head of the eponymous conglomerate and one of the leading business figures in the Kingdom. “She has a track record in business, leadership expertise and international connectivity. To have somebody like that as chair of the new bank is an incredibly powerful statement. She will also be the first female chair of a listed Saudi company,” said Dew, who will be managing director of the new entity.
The bank will start operating in what Dew sees as an improving economic and financial environment in the Kingdom, with the long-promised privatization and initial public offering program materializing. “Two years ago, growth and bank lending were falling. In 2018 there has been a modest but significant improvement, and I do believe next year is going to show further improvement.”
On the geopolitical background, always a big factor in the business climate in the region, he brings a historical perspective to bear.
“When I came here 40 years ago, Israel-Palestine was the big issue. Since then, the region has become even more complicated and volatile. But business has navigated through these problems and I’m confident it will do so again. It’s all about having strong foundations,” he said.