What’s new for taxes in 2012? The good news and bad news

Real Estate Tax Talk

By Stephen Fishman
Inman News®

Several tax changes will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2012 — some good, some not so good. Here are the most important changes you should know about:

Tax breaks that have been reduced for 2012

Several tax breaks will be reduced, but not eliminated, for 2012.

1. Bonus depreciation: During 2011 taxpayers can deduct in one year 100 percent of the cost of most types of personal property they buy for their businesses and place in service during the year. This amount is scheduled to lower to 50 percent for most types of property placed in service during 2012. However, it is possible that 100 percent bonus depreciation will be extended through 2012.

2. Section 179 expensing: For 2011, the maximum Code Section 179 deduction is $500,000, the highest it has ever been. The maximum Section 179 deduction will be reduced to $139,000 for 2012. Moreover, the 2012 limit will have to be reduced dollar for dollar by any amount by which the cost of Code Section 179 property placed in service during 2012 exceeds $560,000.

3. Employee transportation benefits: For 2011, an employer can provide up to $230 per month in tax-free transportation benefits — this includes transit passes or reimbursement for commuting to work by vanpool. Starting in 2012, the limit will be reduced to $125 per month.

Tax breaks that have been eliminated for 2012

Three widely used tax breaks will be eliminated entirely starting in 2012:

1. State and local sales tax deduction: For 2011, taxpayers can elect to deduct as an itemized deduction on their Schedule A (itemized deductions) state and local sales taxes, instead of state and local income taxes. This deduction is eliminated starting in 2012. This is bad news for taxpayers who live in states with no state income tax.

2. $4,000 education expense deduction: For 2011, taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income of $65,000 or less ($130,000 or less for joint returns) may deduct up to $4,000 of qualified education expenses paid during the year for themselves, their spouses, or their dependents.

Such expenses include tuition and mandatory enrollment fees to attend any accredited public or private institution above the high school level. This deduction is eliminated entirely for 2012.

3. Charitable Contributions: IRA (individual retirement account) owners age 70 1/2 and up can directly transfer up to $100,000, tax free, to eligible charities during 2011. This option, created in 2006, is available for distributions from IRAs regardless of whether the owners itemize their deductions. This provision is eliminated for 2012.

Tax breaks that have been expanded or extended

A couple of tax breaks have been expanded for 2012:

1. Hire a veteran, get a tax credit: If you hire an eligible unemployed veteran for your business during Nov. 22, 2011, through Dec. 31, 2012, you’ll qualify for an expanded work opportunity tax credit. This is a tax credit against income tax of up $5,600 (more for disabled veterans).

2. Reduced Social Security Taxes? During 2011, Social Security taxes are reduced to 10.4 percent up to the annual income ceiling, instead of the normal 12.4 percent. The U.S. Senate passed a two-month extension of the 2 percent reduction, but the House rejected the Senate bill.

However, most people believe that — one way or another — the 2 percent reduction will be extended through the end of 2012.

Stephen Fishman is a tax expert, attorney and author who has published 18 books, including “Working for Yourself: Law & Taxes for Contractors, Freelancers and Consultants,” “Deduct It,” “Working as an Independent Contractor,” and “Working with Independent Contractors.” He welcomes your questions for this weekly column.

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