Get ready. Whether you're a business owner or an employee, a huge change to your taxes is coming. And it's not what you think.
One thing's for certain in 2014. There will not be a lot of individual tax increases. We had most of that last year, particularly from the effects of the Affordable Care Act. This year the highest earners will see their top federal tax rate go up to 39.5%. Medical-device and other companies in the health-care field will be levied with new surcharges. And of course there's the individual mandate, requiring everyone to have health insurance or be subject to a penalty (or a tax or whatever it's called) that will be reported on taxpayers' federal returns.
But that's not the biggest change. A bigger one will happen in 2014 and in the next few years. More people will itemize. Are you itemizing? Are your employees? You will be!
Hello, Medical-Expense Deduction
Right now, most taxpayers earning less than $75,000 per year and a third earning up to $100,000 still do not itemize their deductions on their federal tax returns. That's because to itemize, you must first have eligible expenses that exceed $6,200 (or $12,400 for married households) which is the standard deduction we're allowed to take in lieu of itemizing. For many taxpayers, the standard deduction, even when considering mortgage payments and state taxes and medical expenses (which have to now be more than 10% of your adjusted gross income to be eligible for a deduction) was higher (and easier) to deduct than itemizing individual expenses. But not anymore.
That's because we are now in a new era of health care. And in the next few years health plans are going to change. If health-care insurance costs increase as many experts predict, employers will be able to absorb only so much. Business owners will look to save money while still being in compliance with the law. So what will likely happen to your company's benefits? Your future health-insurance plan will almost certainly have higher deductibles for both you and your employees. And more out of pocket expenses. Brace yourself.
Employers like me will have a choice of offering platinum, gold, silver and bronze plans for ourselves and our employees. All of these plans will be in compliance with the new health-care law. Most of my clients' current plans are probably somewhere in the silver range. The lowest-cost one will be the bronze plan. It will offer the minimum essential benefits required by law. But it will come with higher deductibles and more out-of-pocket costs. Most employers like me will do our best to help our employees with this cost. But the reality is that more employees will likely have to bear the burden as health-care premiums continue to rise, which many experts predict.
Employers will likely give employees a choice in the future. We will explain that they can stick with their current plan and pay higher premiums. Or, they may find themselves opting to take a lower-priced bronze plan but exposing themselves to higher deductibles and out-of-pocket costs that were once covered. Have a soccer kid in the family? A cheerleader? Weekend-warrior spouse? One broken leg, one torn ligament, one hip replacement and you'll find yourself easily out-of-pocket for thousands. The good news is that the Affordable Care Act will ultimately limit your out-of-pocket expenses to a maximum of $6,350 ($12,700 for families). The bad news is that you're going to start getting familiar with that maximum.
So now think about your future tax returns. Whether you're a business owner or an employee, that medical-expense deduction will be looking pretty attractive right? If you're making $50,000 or $75,000 a year and you've got a bronze plan, you could find yourself spending more than 10% of your income on medical expenses and premiums. And when you combine that with your mortgage and state and local taxes you will probably exceed the standard deduction amount.
Which means that you'll want to itemize. Things are changing. So prepare. Keep good records to back up your itemized expenses. And if you're an employer, like me, you want to make sure that your people know that the silver lining to increased medical expenses is the potential to realize a bigger tax deduction in the future. It isn't a lot of comfort. But it's something.