Change in the Wind

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Eva Rosenberg, MBA, EA - Los Angeles, CA - Last night, as I listened to Barack Obama’s acceptance speech, I was reminded of the very thing that made him appealing to the electorate in the first place – his stating that he will be the president of all the people, not just those who voted for him.

Well, that’s the good news.

The bad news?

When it comes to tax legislation, Obama has been constantly lowering the bar on which Americans will face additional taxes. Let’s face it, we all know that you can’t offer credits and incentives and lots of expensive programs and have the top 5% of the population pay for it all.

And there is no way to assign all the tax increases only to those individuals who’ve been substantially overpaid, and rewarded, on Wall Street, while collapsing the American and world economy – much as we might like to see that in our deepest darkest daydreams.

What will this mean to tax professionals like us?

With a Democratic Executive Branch and Democratic majority in the Legislature, passage of laws will be swifter. Expect to find a spirit of enthusiasm and cooperation on Capital Hill.

Look for some quick changes early in 2009 as a new stimulus package is passed.

Don’t look for major changes in health care legislation, credits or anything similar.

Changes that are easy to pass, from the list of Obama’s Tax Proposals. (See the Tax Policy Center summary.):

Tax Neutral:

  • Require information reporting of basis for gains. (This is already in the works.)

    Tax reductions:

  • Refundable "Universal Mortgage Credit" of 10 percent of mortgage interest for nonitemizers up to $800 – or some compromise amount.
  • Eliminate income tax for seniors making less than $50,000 per year.
  • Penalty-free withdrawals of up to 15 percent from retirement accounts. (One thing I would love to see in this economy is for penalty-free withdrawals of retirement funds as long as a taxpayer is unemployed. Sure, the intention is for the money to be there to sustain folks in old age. But if they’re going to lose their homes or apartments now – what use will the money be in 20 years?)

    Offsetting increases:

  • Social Security/payroll taxes: impose additional tax of 2-4 percent (combined employer and employee) on workers with income above $200,000 ($250,000 for married couples)
  • Make permanent estate tax with $3.5 million exemption and 45 percent rate
  • Increase maximum capital gains rate to 20 percent for those earning more than $200,000 ($250,000 for married couples)

    If your practice relies on the quickie, street traffic kind of clientele, I’ve got good news and bad news.

    The good news – you can cut your advertising budget. Why?

    The bad news – You will not be getting as many of those clients.

    Next year, watch for the simplified tax forms “giving taxpayers the option of pre-filled tax forms to verify, sign and return. Under the Obama tax plan, 40 million Americans who take the standard deduction will be able to do their taxes in less than five minutes and will not have to hire an accountant.” Naturally, IRS can’t get this ready for 2008. But this shouldn’t be that hard to do for 2009.

    These few changes should not be hard to pass. The others might take a little work.

    Those are my predictions.

    You’re smart and well-read. What do you think will pass first thing next year?

    (Incidentally, do you want to see President Obama's 'top priority" promises?)

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