Because some tax laws will lapse by their own terms and because new laws will certainly be enacted, the year-end tax planning for 2009 differs from most years: you need to also consider the changes that will occur in 2010 and even 2011.
First, when the Bush tax cuts expire in 2010, the two top tax rates will move up from 33 percent and 35 percent to 36 percent to 39.6 percent. For a couple making $500,000, the added tax will be about $6,000 per year, for a couple making $1 million about $30,000.
Second, the 15% capital gains rate will end. So, do you sell stocks now, perhaps using capital losses from prior years to shelter the gain, in order to increase your basis so that when you later sell, less will be taxed at the higher rate?
Third, IRA distributions may be taxed at higher rates in the future. So, do you take the current law deferral and not distribute in 2009 or instead distribute anyway so that less comes out in future years at higher rates?
Fourth, do you delay major deductions such as planned charitable gifts? The deduction could be worth more in 2011 or you could be in the AMT.
There are some changes the did get enacted for 2009 that help:
The first time home buyer credit of $8,000 is extended for contracts signed by April 30, 2010 and closing by June 30, 2010 (however, there is a phase out of this credit for high income filers).
Also, small business can carry back 2008 or 2009 losses five instead of two years.
All of these issues can lead you wondering what to do. The starting point, whether you do the work or hire someone to do it for you, is to create good working tax projections for 2009, 2010 and 2011. From these, you can see if you are in the AMT or not, if you will have more income taxed at higher rates in the future, etc.
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