Signs say last year's changes could mean a taxing new year

  • Posted: Thursday, January 2, 2014 12:01 a.m.

Happy New Year, everybody.

I don't know how tax laws are going impact people this year, but my crystal ball is telling me that change from the IRS, Congress and the courts will probably translate into net increases in taxation.

According to the Kiplinger Tax Letter, here's a summary of some of the highlights that took place last year, at least on the national scene. This does not include all the various fees and other garnishments levied at the state and local levels.

Payroll tax relief expired as of Dec. 31, 2012, so many employees may have seen smaller paychecks as the rate returned to "normal."

A 0.9 percent Medicare surtax on earned income kicked in for those with higher incomes.

A 3.8 percent Medicare surtax on net investment also began last year as another aspect of health care reform. It, too, affected higher incomes and impacted revenue sources such as interest, dividends, payments of substitute interest and dividends by brokers, capital gains, annuities, royalties and passive rental income. Tax-free income was exempted, along with payouts from retirement plans, such as 401(k)s, IRA's, deferred pay plans and pension plans.

Speaking of 401(k)s, anybody know what the maximum allowable contribution was for last year? How about, $17,500 ($500 higher than 2011), and those born before 1964 were able to put in as much as $23,000.

Those receiving Social Security benefits may have noted a modest 1.7 percent increase in distributions last year, which was less than half of 2012's hike. The Social Security Wage Base (the maximum earned gross income or upper threshold on which a wage earner's Social Security tax may be imposed) was raised to $113,700 - a $3,600 boost.

In general, Medicare saw premium increases and new personal tax brackets were established, with tax rates on high wage earners increasing for the first time since 1993. A 39.6 percent rate now applies for taxable income over $400,000 for singles, $425,000 for heads of house and $450,000 for married couples filing jointly. Median household income for a family of four in 2012 was about $55,000. Their tax bracket? Twenty-five percent.

It's all so impossibly complicated which, of course, is the whole point. And the fact that it's a moving target makes it that much more inscrutable.

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Going through some of the mail, James Island native (now living in Charleston, W.Va.) Lawton Posey says the column about the JFK assassination brought back a flood of memories. "I was 28," he writes, "and served 2˝ churches on the eastern shore of VA. Driving down Route 13 in our '49 Chevy, the weak radio picked up the news from 'Wonderful WESR' on the 'Shore.' I soon pulled into the Central High school lot and listened to the coverage inside a friend's new car. We listened until LBJ made his moving speech on the tarmac at Andrews AFB.

"I wasn't particularly a Kennedy fan but voted for him. I seriously underestimated the skills of LBJ. Many on the shore were quite conservative and opposed to Kennedy's programs. Despite the nearly visceral hatred of the Kennedy family, Johnson, though crude, could effectively squeeze the Southern Democrats until they agreed with him."

The revival of an old Archibald Rutledge Christmas poem pleased Walter Duane. "For years the local newspapers carried light verse in the daily editions, including that by Edgar Guest, Grantland Rice (sports writer) and Henry McLemore (another sports writer).

"I grew up reading poetry since my mother had won several books of it by Henry Timrod and Abram Joseph Ryan, the so-called Poet-Priest of the South or Laureate of the Confederacy.

"In grammar school we learned poems from Stevenson's 'A Child's Garden of Verses.' At Bishop England we were introduced to Keats, Shelley, Wordsworth, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and many others, including Southerners Sidney Lanier and (later) James Dickey. What happened?

"T.S. Eliot said our only monument would be '... the asphalt road and a thousand lost golf balls.' His expectations were too lofty. Instead we have the flat screen TV, a six-pack of beer, and talking heads dumbing down America."

It's interesting that Mr. Duane should mention St. Vincent Millay, who narrowly beat out Rutledge for the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. (Rutledge also placed second in the vote for the Nobel Prize in Literature when it went to William Faulkner.)

And speaking of golf balls and Rutledges, Cousin Arch's grandson, Don Rutledge, enjoyed seeing the Christmas poem reprinted and, as an aside, reports that a "small, rinky-dink, one-day private golf tournament played at Cassique (on Seabrook) last November - with 19 foursomes, mostly retired, high handicappers, old fogies, etc. - generated 6 holes-in-one. This is not a misprint. Everyone was stunned. What are the odds?"

Slim - very, I would think. Then again, what are the odds of a 57-year-old (that would be me), who has been playing golf (badly) forever, and has never seen a hole-in-one, much less made one?

I guess you get what you play for.

Edward M. Gilbreth is a Charleston physician. Reach him at edwardgilbreth

@comcast.net.

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