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July 2013 - Marriage Penalty

Posted by Admin Posted on Aug 15 2013

The marriage penalty occurs under the current tax system when a married couple pays more federal income tax when filing jointly than they would if they had remained single and each filed as an individual taxpayer. Historically, Congress has taken steps and passed legislation to provide relief from the marriage penalty. However, the 2010 Affordable Care Act (Affordable Care Act) and the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (2012 Taxpayer Relief Act) increased the marriage penalty for some high-income couples. Let?s take a look at how this legislation adversely impacts married taxpayers.

The Affordable Care Act brought about the 3.8% net investment income tax (3.8% NIIT) and additional 0.9% Medicare tax. These taxes are sometimes referred to as ?Medicare Taxes.?

The 3.8% NIIT is generally assessed on investment income (interest, dividends, annuities, royalties, rents, and capital gains). The tax is 3.8% of the lesser of net investment income or modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) over an applicable threshold. The thresholds are $250,000 for a married couple filing jointly and $200,000 for a single filer. So a married couple with MAGI of $400,000, all of which is investment income would pay a surtax of 3.8% on $150,000 ($400,000 ? $250,000) or $5,700. If that couple was not married, filed as single taxpayers, and each had $200,000 of income subject to the 3.8% NIIT, they would each have an exclusion of $200,000 available and, therefore, neither would owe this surtax.

The additional 0.9% Medicare tax is assessed on employment and self-employment earnings above the same thresholds. Therefore, a married couple with joint employment earnings of $400,000 would pay the additional 0.9% Medicare tax on $150,000 ($400,000 ? $250,000) or $1,350. Once again, if the individuals were not married, each had $200,000 in earnings, and filed as single taxpayers, they each would have the $200,000 exclusion available and neither would owe the tax. When added to the 3.8% NIIT, that?s a $7,050 ($5,700 + $1,350) marriage penalty resulting from the Affordable Care Act.

The 2012 Taxpayer Relief Act added new 39.6% ordinary income and 20% capital gains rates for some high-income taxpayers. Once again, these new rates potentially increase the marriage penalty. Both rates apply to married couples filing jointly with taxable income above $450,000 and single taxpayers with taxable income above $400,000.

Married individuals with taxable income of $800,000 filing jointly, will pay 39.6% on $350,000 (800,000 ? $450,000) of that income. In contrast, if the couple were not married, had $400,000 of taxable income each, and filed as two single taxpayers, their marginal tax rate (rate on the last dollar of income) would be 35%. So, they would not pay 39.6% on any of their income, but would top out in the 35% bracket. This would make quite a difference in their overall tax bill. In a similar fashion, a married couple filing jointly with $800,000 in long-term capital gains would have $350,000 ($800,000 ? $450,000) subject to the new 20% capital gains rate. Once again, if they were not married with $400,000 each in long-term capital gains and filed as two single taxpayers, the maximum rate on their gains would be 15%.

There you have it. The marriage penalty is alive and well when it comes to high-income taxpayers. Please contact us to discuss the appropriate strategies to reduce your tax bill.