The health care reform package (the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010) imposes a new 3.8 percent Medicare contribution tax on the investment income of higher-income individuals. Although this tax has a wide reach, certain steps may be taken to lessen its impact.
Net investment income. Net investment income, for purposes of the new 3.8 percent Medicare tax, includes interest, dividends, annuities, royalties and rents and other gross income attributable to a passive activity. Gains from the sale of property that is not used in an active business and income from the investment of working capital are treated as investment income as well. However, the tax does not apply to nontaxable income, such as tax-exempt interest or veterans' benefits. Further, an individual's capital gains income - both long-term and short-term - will be subject to the tax. This includes gain from the sale of a principal residence, unless the gain is excluded from income under Code Sec. 121, and gains from the sale of a vacation home. Planning the sale of “big ticket items,” therefore, now often requires attention to the new 3.8 percent surtax.
The tax also applies to estates and trusts, on the lesser of undistributed net income or the excess of the trust/estate adjusted gross income (AGI) over the threshold amount ($12,150 for 2014) for the highest tax bracket for trusts and estates, and to investment income they distribute. Use of family trusts and other trust-based strategies now must factor in the 3.8 percent surtax in the construction and operation of the trust. Executors must also be aware of how the 3.8 percent surtax is applied against income on assets held by the estate rather than immediately distributed.
Deductions. Net investment income for purposes of the new 3.8 percent tax is gross income or net gain, reduced by deductions that are "properly allocable" to the income or gain. This is a key term that the Treasury Department expects to address in guidance, and which we will update you on developments. For passively-managed real property, allocable expenses will still include depreciation and operating expenses. Indirect expenses such as tax preparation fees may also qualify.
For capital gain property, this formula puts a premium on keeping tabs on amounts that increase your property's basis. It also puts the focus on investment expenses that may reduce net gains: interest on loans to purchase investments, investment counsel and advice, and fees to collect income. Other costs, such as brokers' fees, may increase basis or reduce the amount realized from an investment.
Thresholds and impact. The tax applies to the lesser of net investment income or modified AGI above $200,000 for individuals and heads of household, $250,000 for joint filers and surviving spouses, and $125,000 for married filing separately. MAGI is AGI increased by foreign earned income otherwise excluded under Code Sec. 911; MAGI is the same as AGI for someone who does not work overseas.
Example. Jim, a single individual, has 2014 modified AGI of $220,000 and net investment income of $40,000. The tax applies to the lesser of (i) net investment income ($40,000) or (ii) modified AGI ($220,000) over the threshold amount for an individual ($200,000), or $20,000. The tax is 3.8 percent of $20,000, or $760. In this case, the tax is not applied to the entire $40,000 of investment income.
The tax can have a substantial impact if you have income above the specified thresholds. Also, remember that, in addition to the tax on investment income, you may also face other tax consequences. The top marginal income tax rate is 39.6 percent and the top tax rate on long-term capital gains is 20 percent. Thus, the cumulative rate on capital gains for someone in the highest rate bracket is 23.8 percent. Moreover, the 3.8 percent surtax’s thresholds are not indexed for inflation, so a greater number of taxpayers may be affected as time elapses.
Exceptions. Certain items and taxpayers are not subject to the 3.8 percent tax. A significant exception applies to distributions from qualified plans, 401(k) plans, tax-sheltered annuities, individual retirement accounts (IRAs), and eligible 457 plans. At the present time, however, there is no exception for distributions from nonqualified deferred compensation plans subject to Code Sec. 409A, although some experts claim that not carving out such an exception was a Congressional oversight that should be rectified by an amendment to the law.
The exception for distributions from retirement plans suggests that potentially taxed investors may want to shift wages and investments to retirement plans such as 401(k) plans, 403(b) annuities, and IRAs. Increasing contributions will reduce income and may help you stay below the applicable thresholds. Small business owners may want to set up retirement plans, especially 401(k) plans, if they have not yet established a plan, and should consider increasing their contributions to existing plans.
Another exception covers income ordinarily derived from a trade or business that is not a passive activity under Code Sec. 469, such as a sole proprietorship. Investment income from an active trade or business is also excluded. However, SECA (Self-Employment Contributions Act) tax will still apply to proprietors and partners. Income from trading in financial instruments and commodities is also subject to the tax. The tax does not apply to income from the sale of an interest in a partnership or S corporation, to the extent that gain of the entity's property would be from an active trade or business.
The tax also does not apply to business entities (such as corporations and limited liability companies), nonresident aliens (NRAs), charitable trusts that are tax-exempt, and charitable remainder trusts that are nontaxable under Code Sec. 664.
Please contact our office if you would like to discuss the tax consequences to your investments of the new 3.8 percent Medicare tax on investment income.
Reproduced with permission from CCH’s Client Letter, published and copyrighted by CCH Incorporated, 2700 Lake Cook Road, Riverwoods, IL 60015.