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Inflation adjustments may generate tax savings in 2012

The IRS recently announced that inflation is increasing many dollar amounts in the Tax Code for 2012. For taxpayers, the inflation adjustments may help reduce their overall tax liability in 2012.

Inflation adjustments

Many provisions in the Tax Code are required to be adjusted annually for inflation. These include various deductions, exemptions and exclusion amounts. The tax law also requires that the individual income tax brackets be adjusted annually for inflation. Low inflation in 2009 and 2010 resulted in many of the provisions experiencing no increases for 2010 and 2011.

Next year is different. In October, the IRS announced that inflation is running at just over 3.8 percent. In response, the IRS adjusted a number of amounts in the Tax Code upward for 2012.

Retirement accounts

401(k) plans. For 2012, the maximum amount an individual can contribute tax-free to a 401(k) plan increases $500 from $16,500 to $17,000.  However, some 401(k) plans limit maximum contributions to levels below the ceiling in the Tax Code.

IRAs. The deduction for taxpayers making contributions to a traditional IRA is phased out for single individuals and heads of households who are covered by a workplace retirement plan and whose modified adjusted gross incomes fall within certain ranges. For 2012, the income phaseout range starts at $58,000 and ends at $68,000, up from $56,000 and $66,000, respectively, for 2011. For married couples filing jointly, in which the spouse who makes the IRA contribution is covered by a workplace retirement plan, the income phaseout range for 2012 starts at $92,000 and ends at $112,000, up from $90,000 and $110,000, respectively, for 2011. For an IRA contributor who is not covered by a workplace retirement plan and is married to someone who is covered, the deduction is phased out for 2012 if the couple's income is between $173,000 and $183,000, up from $169,000 and $179,000, respectively, for 2011.

Roth IRAs are subject to similar rules. The AGI limit for maximum Roth IRA contributions for a married couple filing a joint return for 2012 is $173,000, an increase of $4,000 from 2011. The AGI limitation for all other taxpayers (other than married taxpayers filing separate returns) increases from $107,000 for 2011 to $110,000 for 2012.

Saver's credit. The Code Sec. 25B credit rewards eligible individuals with a tax credit for contributing to a retirement plan or an IRA. For 2012, the AGI limit for the "saver's credit" increases for single individuals to $28,750, an increase of $500 from 2011. The AGI limit for married couples filing joint returns increases from $56,500 for 2011 to $57,500 for 2012.

Individual income tax brackets

Inflation also impacts the individual income tax rate brackets (which are 10, 15, 25, 28, 33, and 35 percent, respectively, for 2011 and 2012). Indexing of the income tax rate brackets effectively lowers tax bills by including more of an individual's income in lower brackets.

More inflation adjustments

Standard deduction. Taxpayers who elect not to itemize deductions use the standard deduction amount. The standard deduction increases by $500 for married couples filing a joint return from $11,400 for 2011 to $11,900 for 2012.  The standard deduction for single individuals increases from $5,700 for 2011 to $5,950 for 2012.

Personal exemption. Taxpayers may claim a personal exemption deduction (and an exemption deduction for each person they claim as a dependent). The amount of the personal exemption and the dependency exemption increases from $3,700 for 2011 to $3,800 for 2012.  The Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization and Job Creation Act of 2010 (2010 Tax Relief Act) repealed the personal exemption phaseout for higher income taxpayers for 2011 and 2012.

Estate tax. The 2010 Tax Relief Act provided that the basic exclusion amount for determining the amount of the unified credit against estate tax for estates of decedents dying after December 31, 2009 is $5 million. The $5 million amount is adjusted for inflation for tax years beginning after December 31, 2011. For 2012, the inflation-adjusted amount is $5,120,000.

Gift tax exclusion. For 2012, you can give up to $13,000 to any person without incurring gift tax. Married couples can gift up to $26,000 tax-free to any person. There is no limit on the number of individuals you can make the $13,000 ($26,000) gift. The $13,000 and $26,000 amounts are unchanged from 2011.

If you have any questions about these or other inflation adjustments, please contact our office.