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LOS ANGELES, Nov. 26, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- What Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has called the "fiscal cliff" is imminent – but there is still a little time to limit the damage to your personal wealth. According to tax specialist Suzanne Payne of the Los Angeles-based CPA firm Gerber & Co., a handful of prudent, strategic decisions – right now – can affect your after-tax income and near-term wealth. "The upcoming expiration of Bush-era tax cuts, combined with across-the-board cuts in government spending, create a time of great uncertainty and peril," Ms. Payne says. In response, she and her specialist associates at the Gerber firm have prepared a core list of actions which every concerned taxpayer should review.
Accelerate non-business income into 2012. The anticipated bump in rates and new taxes turns upside down the conventional wisdom which holds that it's always savvy to defer income. In the upcoming environment, deferring income by even one year may result in a substantially larger tax payment.
For example, consider selling your appreciated securities before the end of this year specifically to lock in the lower tax rates. On the flip side, you may want to wait until next year to sell any securities that have lost value. Such losses could provide a more valuable offset of future capital gains.
Time your home sale. If you are planning to sell your home, consider moving the closing into this year. Starting January 1, 2013, gain from the sale of a home in excess of the exclusion for a primary residence ($250,000 for single individuals/$500,000 for married joint filers) will be subject to a 3.8% surtax if the taxpayer's income exceeds a threshold amount.
Accelerate business income into 2012, and wherever possible, defer business expenses into 2013. This will result in a larger tax saving when income is taxed at the higher rates anticipated in 2013.
Time your payments of itemized deductions. In 2013, taxpayers will again be subject to a limitation on some itemized deductions to the extent that their adjusted gross income exceeds a certain threshold amount. Taxpayers who anticipate having incomes that exceed the threshold in 2013 should consider accelerating payments of property tax, state income tax deposits, charitable contributions, and miscellaneous itemized deductions into 2012.
Review your estate planning to ensure that it takes full advantage of expiring provisions. Current law allows individuals to make gifts during their lifetime of up to $5,120,000 before January 1, 2013, without incurring a gift tax. (The exemption for lifetime gifts does not include smaller annual gifts of $13,000 per person or direct payments to schools or healthcare providers.) Unless Congress acts, the estate and gift tax exemption will fall to $1,000,000, and the tax rate on transfers above the exemption will increase from 35% to 55% on January 1. Although no one can predict what Congress will do, it is likely that this is a window of opportunity for estate and gift tax planning that is closing.
"One more caveat," she adds. "Before you make any significant changes, keep in mind that at any time these scheduled changes could be reversed or modified by Congress. And that's only one reason our firm says, 'Surprises are for birthdays, not for tax time.'"
Of course, Ms. Payne urges all readers to check with their own advisors before considering any of these serious financial actions.
"We know that taxes are going up," says Mo Graber, Tax Director at the Gerber firm. "All that is being decided now in Washington is how to pluck more feathers from the goose with the least amount of hissing."
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