Update on Extension of Bush Era Tax Cuts

I promised to update you on progress in changes to income tax legislation that affects all of us in 2011.  As you may recall, the Bush-era tax cuts were scheduled to expire after 2010, which essentially amounts to a tax increase if Congress didn’t act to extend them.

After the stock market close yesterday, President Obama, in a televised speech, announced a compromise with Republicans in Congress which, if passed into law, would amount to a much bigger fiscal package in 2011 than virtually anyone expected. In addition to a two-year extension of the Bush-era tax cuts, he added a one-year reduction in the payroll tax and a huge investment tax credit.  While the ultimate bill that gets passed may be different than detailed below, I wanted to get you some details right away.

I would expect that the proposal will be signed and turned into law in the next couple of weeks.  Among the highlights of the proposed bill are:

— A two year extension of tax cuts for all income levels.   The 15% rate on capital gains and dividend income would also be extended as part of the deal. The president also proposes a 35% estate tax rate, with a $5 million exemption.  It appears that the President traded tax extensions for the “rich” for unemployment benefit extensions and the below payroll tax deduction.

— Payroll tax deduction. This would reduce the 6.2% Social Security payroll tax applied to employee wages by 2 percentage points.

— Renewal of emergency unemployment benefits through the end of 2011. This would be more than the three-month extension most analysts had expected. It puts around $60 billion in the hands of unemployed citizens, which is much more than the consensus expected.

— ARRA tax cut extensions. Several small tax cuts in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, passed in 2009, will be extended, including an expanded earned income tax credit, and various education-related tax breaks.

— Full expensing of business investments in 2011.  This would allow the expensing of business investment in 2011, similar to the policy that the president proposed in September.  It will allow companies to deduct the entire cost of capital expenditures on their taxes rather than depreciate them.

Congress and the White House will need to work out the details, but I expect this tax bill to pass. It’s not likely that this lame duck Congress would leave for the holidays until this is sent to the President for his signature.  It’s rare that I pity the Internal Revenue Service, but with tax forms to revamp and guidance and rules to formulate, they will be behind the curve on getting this out.  I would expect some delays of 2010 income tax refunds for returns filed early, but none that are terribly lengthy.

The stock markets have been expecting this, and some of it already factored into current levels, but I still expect market reaction to be positive and further bolster any Santa Claus rally we may have coming.  This is essentially another huge fiscal stimulus plan, perhaps larger than any of us have been expecting or realize.

I’ve been saying all along that Congress will “hem and haw”, posture for their constituents, and pretend to be against tax cuts and for fiscal responsibility.  But ultimately the economy is too fragile to be saddled with a tax increase this year or next. Even I am a bit surprised by the depth and breadth of the bill, but I could not see Congress not doing something before year-end. Failing to pass something would have amounted to a quantitative easing neutralizer (i.e., rendering quantitative easing worthless).

I will keep my eyes and ears peeled open for more details about this bill and its ultimate passage and will let you know what ultimately gets passed. If you, a family member, friend or colleague would like more information about this or just need to talk about a financial situation, please feel free to forward a link to this post to them and suggest they get in touch with me (http://www.ydfs.com).  I will be sure to take good care of them.  As always, I’m available for any questions you may have and welcome your comments.

Have a great holiday season and look for my year-end and 2011 Economic and Market Outlook letter later this month.

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