23 Million Americans Hit by a Tax Hike, But They May Not Know It Yet
(CNSNews.com) - Almost 23 million American households have already had their federal taxes raised by an average of $3,900 this year, but they may not know it yet.
They could get a big surprise when they prepare their tax returns next year.
Among those subject to this already-in-place tax increase are some families making less than $50,000 per year, and virtually all married couples earning between $100,000 and $500,000 a year, according to data published by the Congressional Budget Office.
This insidious tax hike is contrary to President Barack Obama's repeated promise not to increase taxes on any individual earning less than $200,000 a year or on any household earning less than $250,000.
This tax increase on almost 23 million people will happen if Congress does not quickly pass legislation that temporarily increases the amount of income exempt from the Alternative Minimum Tax.
The temporary reprieve passed by Congress for each of the past nine years expired on Dec. 31, 2009, and so far, Congress has not extended the AMT "fix" for 2010.
According to the CBO, an estimated 4.5 million American households were subject to the AMT in 2009, and 27.2 million are now liable to pay the AMT for the 2010 tax year unless Congress acts before Dec. 31. Under current law, at least 22.7 million American households that did not have to pay the AMT last year will have to pay it on the income they have been earning since Jan. 1 of this year.
Repealing the AMT completely and permanently would add $626 billion to the federal debt over the next ten years, according to CBO.
The AMT was enacted in 1969 and was intended to impose taxes on high-income individuals who used deductions and loopholes to reduce or eliminate their liability under the regular income tax. Because the tax has not been adjusted for inflation since then, additional families at progressively lower income levels become subject to the tax each year.
The tax especially hits married couples with children and mortgages because of the deductions and credits they are allowed under federal income tax laws. "Because of the particular tax preferences and exemptions disallowed under the AMT, that tax structure is more likely to affect married couples, large families, and taxpayers in states with high state and local taxes," says CBO.
Past Congresses and presidents have chosen to enact protective one-year “patches” that temporarily increase the income threshold subject to the AMT thus protecting between 10 and 30 million Americans from the tax. So far this year, Congress, which adjourned last week, has failed to take action on the matter. If Congress fails to renew the “patch” before Dec. 31, according to CBO, the 27 million Americans subjected to the AMT this year will see their tax bills rise by an average of $3,900.
Of the households that will be hit with the AMT this year under current law, according to CBO, 3 percent are households making less than $50,000 a year, 35 percent are household making between $50,000 and $100,000 per years; 47 percent are households making between $100,000 and $200,000 per year; and 14 percent are households making between $200,000 and $500,000 per year.
As the law now stands, virtually all married couples in America earning between $100,000 and $500,000 will be hit with the AMT this year--on income they started earning ten months ago. "If nothing is changed this year, one in six taxpayers will be affected by the AMT, paying on average an additional $3,900 in tax, and nearly every married taxpayer with income between $100,000 and $500,000 will owe some alternative tax."
Pete Sepp, executive vice president of the National Taxpayers Union, says that failure to renew the AMT patch would disproportionately hit middle-class families.
“Of the 20 to 30 million taxpayers who might get hit with AMT due to Congress’ inaction, the majority of them would be middle class,” Sepp told CNSNews.com. “The vast majority would consist of solidly middle-class taxpayers.”
Moreover, the increased tax bill would come at the worst possible time, Sepp said. “Families, especially, are experiencing low tax liabilities because they have lower incomes,” he said. “The AMT, ironically, would work in an almost contrary manner, because there would be, for example, households where one of the bread winners lost their job or had to reduce their hours, (and) would be reporting less hours, but they still may be taking the same number of exemptions and deductions for all their kids, for various other household property or operations -- business that they may have. They might still be claiming the same number and types of deductions and credits, but on an even lower income.”
Jim Billimoria, spokesman for the Republican minority on the House Ways and Means Committee, told CNSNews.com that failure to renew the patch would amount to a broken promise by President Obama, who made a pledge not to raise taxes on the middle class.
“Raising taxes on millions of families during a recession with an unemployment rate stuck near 10 percent not only breaks President Obama’s tax pledge but is the wrong formula for economic growth,” Billimora said in an e-mail.
When questioned about why Congress is having such difficulty extending the AMT patch, Sepp pointed to the failure by many in the public and the media to grasp the severity of the situation.
“Why a policy that has so many horrendous implications for the middle class is allowed to bumble along like this until the final months of the year is unclear,” he told CNSNews.com. “This is something that we’ve had to do a lot of educational work on. Not only with the public, but with the media, because this is sort of being lumped in with the 2001 and 2003 tax rate extensions--and those affect the year 2011 for returns filed in 2012. The AMT affects 2010 returns filed next year, so in that sense it’s far more urgent and in fact the IRS probably won’t be able to retool its operations quickly enough to allow for a smooth filing season for people with AMT issues.”
Bryan Ellis, tax policy director for Americans for Tax Reform, told CNSNews.com that there may be political motives behind the failure by the Democratic majority to enact a patch.
“If the Democrats wanted to get rid of the AMT and do so without having to worry about all of the tax increases or not worrying about PAYGO, and just get rid of it, that would get 400 votes in the House," Ellis said. “It would get the votes of virtually every Republican and virtually every Democrat.”
But a Congress that simply voted to eliminate the AMT without making equivalent spending cuts would be adding to the $626 billion to the ten-year deficit that CBO estimates as the cost of such a move.