ATRA delays start to 2013 filing season; requires careful planning for retroactive and prospective provisions
As the 2013 filing season gets underway, some taxpayers may experience delays in filing returns and others need to revisit their returns because of the passage of the American Taxpayer Relief Act (ATRA) on January 1, 2013. Late tax legislation always complicates tax planning and filing and 2013 is no exception. ATRA extended many popular tax incentives for individuals and businesses retroactively to January 1, 2012. This means that qualified taxpayers may claim them on their 2012 returns filed in 2013. ATRA also made many changes that take effect in 2013, which will require careful planning as this year unfolds.
Delayed start to filing season
The most immediate effect of ATRA is a delayed start to the 2013 filing season. Shortly after passage of ATRA, the IRS announced that the 2013 filing season would begin on January 30, 2013. That reflected a delay of eight days from the previously anticipated start date of January 22, 2013. The IRS explained that it needed time to program its processing systems for ATRA. As of January 30, the IRS was able to accept returns affected by the AMT patch as well as three very popular "tax extenders:" the state and local sales tax deduction, higher education tuition deduction and teachers' classroom expense deduction.
However, some taxpayers will experience a further delay. A number of tax forms affected by late legislation require more extensive programming and testing of IRS systems. The IRS reported that it aims to begin accepting returns including these forms between late February and into March. The IRS predicted that a specific date will be announced in the near future. Among the forms that require more extensive programming changes are some commonly used forms, most notably Form 4562 (Depreciation and Amortization). Other forms affected by the delay include Form 5695 (Residential Energy Credits) and Form 3800 (General Business Credit).
The IRS also announced special relief for farmers and fishermen who are affected by the delay. Normally, farmers and fishermen who choose not to make quarterly estimated tax payments are not subject to a penalty if they file their returns and pay the full amount of tax due by March 1. Under the guidance to be issued, farmers or fishermen who miss the March 1 deadline will not be subject to the penalty if they file and pay by April 15, 2013.
Retroactive and prospective extensions
For individuals, some of the most popular incentives are the three mentioned above (the state and local sales tax deduction, the higher education tuition deduction and the teachers' classroom expense deduction). Other incentives that were retroactively extended to January 1, 2012 by ATRA, and therefore are available for 2012 returns filed in 2013, include special rules treating mortgage insurance premiums as deductible interest that is qualified residence interest, and special rules for contributions of capital gains real property for conservation purposes.
Another valuable incentive extended by ATRA is a tax break for energy efficient improvements. ATRA extended retroactively to January 1, 2012 and through 2013 the Code Sec. 25C energy credit. Energy efficiency improvements include adding insulation, energy-efficient exterior windows and doors and certain roofs. The credit has a lifetime limit; qualifying improvements must be placed into service to the taxpayer's principal residence before January 1, 2014, and there are other restrictions.
ATRA also provided transition relief for individuals wishing to make tax-free transfers of IRA funds to charitable organizations. For tax year 2012 only, IRA owners could choose to report qualified charitable distributions made in January 2013 as if they occurred in 2012. Additionally, IRA owners who received IRA distributions during December 2012 could contribute, in cash, part or all of the amounts distributed to eligible charities during January 2013 and have them count as 2012 qualified charitable distributions.
For businesses, ATRA extended many temporary incentives. Among the most commonly claimed are enhanced small business expensing, bonus depreciation, and the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC). Under ATRA, the Code Sec. 179 small business expensing dollar limit for tax years 2012 and 2013 is $500,000 with a $2 million investment limit (both amounts indexed for inflation). Bonus depreciation is available at 50 percent through 2013 and the WOTC is also available through 2013. Many other business-related incentives that had expired at the end of 2011 are available for 2012 and 2013.
Another extended incentive is transit benefits parity. Qualified transportation fringe benefits include transit passes, van pooling, and qualified parking. The Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization and Job Creation Act of 2010 provided for parity for the exclusion limitation on transit passes, van pool benefits and qualified parking through 2011. ATRA extended transit benefits parity retroactively to January 1, 2012 and through 2013. In Rev. Proc. 2013-15, the IRS reported that the inflation-adjusted maximum monthly excludable amount for 2013 is $245 for transit passes and van pool benefits and also $245 for qualified parking. The IRS has issued administrative relief for employers that provided transit benefits in 2012 at their pre-ATRA rates.
Changes for 2013 and beyond
ATRA's most far-reaching changes – allowing the Bush-era tax rates to expire after 2012 for individuals with incomes over $400,000 and families with incomes over $450,000 along with increased capital gains and dividend taxes for higher income taxpayers – will be reflected on 2013 returns filed in 2014. Other important provisions, such as the revived limitation on itemized deductions and the personal exemption phaseout, also will kick-in in 2013 and be reflected on 2013 returns filed in 2014. Also taking effect in 2013 are an Additional Medicare Tax and a Net Investment Income surtax. All these changes should be taken into account in planning your 2013 tax strategy.
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