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01/15/2016

Tax Extenders & The Deficit Dilemma

Though Congress has received some applause for reviving a set of more than 50 tax breaks, called “tax extenders,” there is as much dismay-driven head shaking over the fact that the bipartisan agreement and the now signed budget bill dig the federal deficit hole even deeper.

The new tax law, entitled the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act of 2015, and the newly signed funding bill provide $1.1 trillion to cover spending for most government agencies to the end of fiscal year 2016, perhaps coincidentally past the upcoming presidential election. The defense sector, NASA, the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health received a bit of a boost with most other agency funding remaining flat. ENews 2016 pic tax-credit3

IRS funding restrictions remain, so it’s expected that taxpayers will continue experiencing communication and customer service problems and an increase in computer-generated correspondence audits throughout 2016 and 2017. The new National Taxpayer Advocate Annual Report to Congress blasts the IRS for planning to “substantially reduce telephone and face-to-face interaction with taxpayers,” turning that job over to tax return preparers and tax software companies.

Meanwhile, the good news for taxpayers is that the PATH Act makes permanent several charitable tax provisions, indicating that lawmakers support using tax incentives to encourage charitable giving. For example, those 70 ½ or older may contribute up to $100,000 from an IRA directly to a charity with the contribution qualifying for their required minimum distribution (also known as Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD) rules).

Other permanently renewed tax provisions include the American Opportunity Tax Credit for college expenses and the deduction for state and local sales taxes. The schoolteacher expense deduction has been enhanced and made permanent, as has the child tax credit.

The mortgage insurance premiums and qualified residence interest deductions have been extended for another year. Taxpayers who suffered losses from selling their home for less than the outstanding mortgage will also be able to avoid the tax consequences from debt cancellation under the Mortgage Debt Relief Act for another year.

Companies that utilize bonus depreciation like those involved in the telecommunications industry or who invest in capital-intensive projects will continue enjoying this helpful tax provision for a few more years. The tax law also makes permanent the research and development tax credit, which encourages important business R&D like that in the pharmaceutical and defense sectors.

The solar investment tax credit (ITC) and the wind production tax credit (PTC) are being phased out but will remain active through 2019 and 2021 respectively. The energy industry overall has received both tax incentives and funding resources, adding a boost of confidence to alternative energy producers.

Tax increases levied on individuals and businesses to pay for the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) continue to be unpopular, and some were not enacted. Now it’s possible the two most controversial taxes may be repealed. These are the proposed tax on medical devices and the 40% excise “Cadillac” taxes on higher-priced employer-sponsored health plans that compete with government-sponsored plans.

The 2015 year-end budget battle, which starts our new tax year without delays, was a fistfight compared to the combative, destructive delay-causing 2014 debate. Yet, even as lawmakers are cooling to budget debates, the looming budget deficit has not disappeared and continues to grow. Our 2016 budget will add to the deficit, rather than reduce it. The Congressional Budget Office reports that overall US Treasury debt has grown to 74% of GDP that “could have serious negative consequences for the nation, including restraining economic growth in the long term ... and eventually increasing the risk of financial crisis.”

Overall, the bipartisan tax bill was passed with the understanding that Congress is committed to comprehensive tax reform that will simplify the tax code, eliminate temporary provisions and lower tax rates by broadening the tax base. Lawmakers who supported the PATH Act stated in a news release, “Americans deserve a simpler, fairer and flatter tax code that’s built for growth, and this bill will help make that possible.” The 2016 election year will likely determine how far that ship will sail.

If you have any questions about how the current tax law affects your individual and/or business tax obligation, please contact us now at McRuer CPAs for a tax planning session.

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