Programming note: The Tax Update will take tomorrow off. I will be in Phoenix tomorrow on a panel on state film tax credits sponsored by the National Conference of State Legislators. The panel will include, among others, Joseph Henchman of the Tax Foundation. Normal programming resumes Monday.
ACA frenzy! Thanks to a kind Twitter mention from Megan McArdle (who you really should follow at @), my Tuesday post on ACA and filing-season dread made it to a wider audience than usual, including the readers of Real Clear Politics. A cousin who I normally only see at family weddings and funerals saw it and sent me a note (Hi, Bob!), so I know it really got around.
It has also generated questions in the comments and the Twitterverse that are worth addressing. We’ll start with this from Alan in the comments:
In a few months when people receive their W2’s they will get a real shock when all the employer paid share of the company paid share of health care plan is included in their gross pay and now they must pay taxes on all that extra income.
Obamacare is ugly, but it isn’t that ugly. While many (but not all) employers will disclose the cost of coverage on W-2 box 12 (code DD), it will not be included in W-2 Box 1, “taxable wages.” From IRS.gov, Employer-Provided Health Coverage Informational Reporting Requirements: Questions and Answers:
Q1. Does the cost of an employee’s health care benefits shown on the Form W-2 mean that the benefits are taxable to the employee?
A. No. There is nothing about the reporting requirement that causes or will cause excludable employer-provided health coverage to become taxable. The purpose of the reporting requirement is to provide employees useful and comparable consumer information on the cost of their health care coverage.
Any chance it won’t be that bad?
I suppose that depends on what “that bad” means. Blood seeping from the walls, shape-shifting brain-eaters from Planet Zargon, cats and dogs living together– probably not that bad. But there’s still plenty of bad to go around. The things that worry me:
- Many taxpayers will not have the information handy to determine their health insurance status for all 12-months of 2014. Only those who buy insurance on the exchanges will have Form 1095, the information return on insurance status. Others are supposed to get information from employers, but they are likely to lose track of it, especially this first year.
- Lacking any matching documents, taxpayers will be tempted to claim coverage where there is none, or maybe wasn’t for part of the year, to avoid penalties. There won’t be an easy way to verify this. Preparers will either have to take taxpayers at their word or send them back for proof (or, inadvertently, to another preparer). It’s always bad when taxpayers feel they should lie to preparers. Yet as the IRS will often have no way to detect false claims of coverage, they will feel like chumps for telling the truth.
- Taxpayers with penalties for non-coverage will be irate when they find they get no refund. As Ms. McArdle wisely put it, “I do not have hard figures on this, but my basic experience in personal finance and tax reporting suggests that approximately zero percent of those affected will be expecting the havoc it will wreak on their tax refund.” Experience shows that the taxpayer’s first instinct is that the preparer screwed up.
- It will be even worse when we have to tell people to repay advance health-care tax credits paid to insurers to lower consumer out-of-pocket costs. This can happen when actual taxable income exceeds the amounts estimated when coverage was obtained on the exchanges. As the taxpayer never “saw the money” — it was paid to the insurer, not to the taxpayer directly — she may not be easily convinced that she has an excess benefit to repay.
- Preparers haven’t had to deal with this before. Any new tax provision has a learning curve, and this is a complicated one that will apply to almost everyone. In many cases, preparers will mess up, being human. Getting it right will take extra time that is hard to come by during tax season.
- This doesn’t even touch the problems that many small employers are going to be dealing with as they realize their Section 105 individual coverage premium reimbursement plans, and their cafeteria plans funding premium payments on individual policies obtained by employees, are considered non-compliant under the ACA “market reforms.” At $100 per employee, per day, the penalties could be ruinous. While taxpayers are encouraged to report the penalties on Form 8928 and zero them out with a “reasonable cause” claim, we don’t know yet how generous the IRS will be in granting reasonable cause relief. Figuring out what to do here will be time-consuming and nerve-wracking for taxpayers and preparers, unless the IRS issues a blanket penalty waiver for 2014 (as it should).
On top of all this, we will probably have another late “extender” bill like we had two seasons ago, which made for an awful tax season by itself. Maybe things will go well this season, but so many things seem likely to go wrong that it’s hard to be optimistic.
Tony Nitti, The Top Ten Tax Cases (And Rulings) Of 2014: #6-The IRS (Finally) Figures Out The Real Estate Professional Rules. It’s an excellent lesson on the tax rules covering “real estate professionals” and passive losses — and by extension, the 3.8% net investment income tax.
Jack Townsend, Another UBS/Wegelin Related Indictment in SDNY
Peter Reilly, Kent Hovind And Creation Science Evangelism – How Not To Run A Ministry. When it gets you imprisoned, you may well be doing it wrong.
Jason Dinesen, I Don’t Have Time to Write Grant Proposals or Meet with Donors … But Give Me Money Anyway! OK, then…
TaxProf, The IRS Scandal, Day 560.
Cara Griffith, Bad News for State Public Pension Plans (Tax Analysts Blog). “New research has come out revealing the level at which state public pension plans are underfunded, and it’s not good news.”
The denial of reality in administering public pensions is amazing. Public defined benefit plans are a lie. Either the public is being lied to about how much current public services cost, or current employees are being lied to about their retirement benefits. Maybe both.
Alan Cole, Extenders and the Opportunity for Tax Reform (Tax Policy Blog):
The Examiner characterizes many of the extenders as “repugnant carve-outs.” This is undeniably true, but it is also the case that some – but not all – of the tax extenders are genuinely good policy. Particularly, Bonus Depreciation and Section 179 are important for moving the tax code towards proper treatment of new investment.
In any case, the current system of pretending tax provisions are “temporary” to hide their true cost is dishonest and should end.
Renu Zaretsky, “Dead Reform Walking:” On Fairness, Immigration, and Spending. The TaxVox headline roundup covers developments in the Marketplace Fairness Act, extenders and immigration, among other things.
News from the Profession. KPMG Gives the Department of Homeland Security a Clean Audit Opinion Because of Course They Did (Adrienne Gonzalez, Going Concern). “I don’t know about you but I feel safer already.”