Monday, February 9, 2015

Why fewer people may now owe the Alternative Minimum Tax

Bill Bischoff for writes: Remember back when you were young and poor and nothing made you madder than tales of rich people who paid nothing in income taxes? Well, you weren’t alone, and that anger led to the creation of something called the alternative minimum tax, which was designed to keep the rich from living tax-free.

Fast-forward a few years. You’re a bit older, somewhat better off and paying far more in taxes than you ever thought possible. So what’s the last thing you expect to see when you fill out your tax return? That you owe the alternative minimum tax. You can take some solace in the fact that thousands of taxpayers just like you have been snagged by this nasty bit of tax law in recent years. While only 19,000 people owed the AMT in 1970, millions are paying it now.
What happened? Inflation, mostly. While the “regular” tax brackets, exemptions and standard deductions were adjusted annually for inflation, the AMT brackets and exemptions were not, so many people whose income increased entered the dreaded AMT zone. Especially vulnerable are people with income over $75,000 and some large deductions, but not the exotic ones that were originally targeted by the AMT’s creators. Most vulnerable are taxpayers with several children, interest deductions from second mortgages, capital gains, high state and local taxes, and incentive stock options.
Thankfully, the AMT brackets and exemptions are adjusted for inflation for 2013 and beyond, which will cause fewer folks to be exposed to the tax.
How the tax works
The best way to understand the AMT is to view it as a separate tax system. It has its own set of rates and its own rules for deductions, which usually are less generous than the regular rules. Because of these confusing rules, the only ways you can tell if you owe the tax are by filling out the forms (essentially doing your taxes a second time) or by being audited by the Internal Revenue Service. If it turns out you should have paid the AMT but didn’t, you will owe the back taxes plus any interest or penalty that the IRS decides to dole out.
You should definitely run the numbers if your gross income is above $75,000 and you have write-offs for personal exemptions, taxes and home-equity loan interest. Ditto if you exercised incentive stock options during the year, or if you own a business, rental properties, partnership interests or S corporation stock. If you earn more than $100,000, run the numbers for that reason alone. SNIP.  The article continues at MarketWatch, click here to continue reading....