Q: Did Democrats increase federal income tax rates in 2014 under Obamacare?
A: No. Tax increases mentioned in a viral email went into effect a year earlier, as part of a budget deal supported by many Republicans as well as most Democrats.
Is this information correct? I have tried to check it out but get terribly confused.
It came as an email from a friend in Colorado.
Top Income Payroll Tax went from 37.4% to 52.2%
Capital Gains Tax went from 15% to 28%
Dividend Tax went from 15% to 39.6%
Estate Tax went from 0% to 55%
We started getting dozens of queries about this one about three weeks before tax filing day. It's nonsense. Some of these figures aren't accurate, and none of these increases took effect on Jan. 1, 2014, or had anything to do with the Affordable Care Act. And the claim that "not one Republican voted to do these" is false.
Here's what really happened, and when:
Capital gains rates also increased in 2013 under the same "fiscal cliff" deal — but not nearly as much as this email claims. For long-term gains (on assets held more than one year) the top rate went from 15 percent to 20 percent (not 28 percent), and also applied to individuals making more than $400,000 and couples earning more than $450,000.
The top rate for dividends also went up to 20 percent (not 39.6 percent) in 2013 as part of the same fiscal cliff package, and also only for those with more than $400,000 individual or $450,000 joint taxable income.
It's true that the estate tax was once effectively zero percent — but only for people who died in 2010, not last year. The top rate went back up to 35 percent for those who died the following year, and (under the fiscal cliff deal) to 40 percent for those who died in 2012 and thereafter. Furthermore, the rate is still zero percent for any individual who dies this year and whose estate is valued at less than $5,340,000. The threshold for filing an estate-tax return was set at $5 million in 2011, and is indexed for inflation each year.
The claim that the fiscal-cliff tax increases were "passed with only Democratic votes" is false. The deal passed by a vote of 89-8 in the Senate (including 40 Republican votes in favor) and by a vote of 257-167 in the House (with 85 Republican votes in favor). The package made permanent the 2001 Bush tax cuts for all but very high-income earners, avoiding tax increases that otherwise would have taken effect Jan. 1, 2013, when the "temporary" Bush tax cuts were scheduled to expire.
The email's claim about "income payroll tax" is a head-scratcher, since no tax expert we know of uses such a term. Our best guess is that the anonymous author meant to refer to the combined effect of the federal income tax and the Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes, and did not understand how these taxes work. No combination of payroll and federal income taxes would produce a top marginal rate of 52.2 percent, so far as we can figure.
Back in 2008, when Obama was first running for president, conservative commentator Larry Kudlow claimed that Obama's tax proposals would amount to "a 52.2 percent combined income and payroll tax." But even that claim was wrong, because of the simple fact that the top marginal income-tax rate applied at that time only to income above $349,701 and Social Security taxes applied only to wage or salary income below $97,500. Any income taxed at the top income-tax rate would incur zero Social Security tax.
And the same is true today: Taxable Social Security wages now stop at $117,000, and the top marginal income-tax bracket doesn't kick in until $406,751 for singles and $457,601 for joint filers. All of these levels are adjusted for inflation each year.
Having said all that, we'll note that taxes have gone up for some as a result of Obamacare. The law imposes a 3.8 percent tax on net investment income that applies to people who earn more than $200,000 a year for singles, or $250,000 for joint filers. It also levies an additional Medicare tax of 0.9 percent on wages, salaries and self-employment income for people in those income groups. However, these changes also took effect in 2013, not 2014.
– Brooks Jackson
Tax Foundation. "U.S. Federal Individual Income Tax Rates History, 1862-2013 (Nominal and Inflation-Adjusted Brackets)." 17 Oct 2013.
Hollander, Catherine. "Here's What's in the Fiscal-Cliff Deal." National Journal. 1 Jan 2013.
Fidelity Brokerage Services. "A taxpayer's guide to 2013." 27 Feb 2013.
Ruffenach, Glenn. "Navigating the Dividend Storm; Tax rates on corporate payouts are heading higher for some. Don't just sit there." Wall Street Journal. 10 Jan 2013.
Cook, Douglas C. "Current & Historical Federal Estate Tax Structure, Exemptions & Rates." Cook & Cook law firm website. 17 Dec 2012.
U.S. Internal Revenue Service. "Estate Tax" Web page. 9 Apr 2014.
U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 112th Congress – 2nd Session. "On Passage of the Bill (H.R. 8, As Amended )." 1 Jan 2013.
U.S. House of Representatives. "Final Vote Results for Roll Call 659." 1 Jan 2013.
Kudlow, Larry. "Obama's Big-Government Vision." National Review Online. 14 Feb 2008.
Social Security Administration. "Contribution and benefit bases, 1937-2014." Undated Web page accessed 15 Apr 2014.
Internal Revenue Service. "Questions and Answers on the Net Investment Income Tax." 5 Mar 2014.
Internal Revenue Service. "Affordable Care Act Tax Provisions."
Internal Revenue Service. "Questions and Answers for the Additional Medicare Tax."
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