Thursday, July 08, 2010

News on Future Capital Gains Tax Possibilities

Found this on the Washington Wire Today. Who knows exactly what is coming down the pike!

By John D. McKinnon
Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner offered a glimmer of hope to investors who are facing huge tax increases on capital gains and dividends next January.

In a CNBC interview late Wednesday, Geithner said the Obama administration still hopes to hold the top tax rate on both capital gains and dividends to 20% next year – the level the White House has been proposing since taking office.

Of course, a 20% rate would represent a big increase over the current 15%. But it’s a lot better than the 39.6% top rate for dividends that congressional Democrats have signaled they were planning next year for higher earners.

“This is good news for people who worry about dividends, because it reinforces the administration’s commitment to 20%,” said Clint Stretch of Deloitte Tax LLP.
The tax changes are happening as the Bush-era tax cuts expire at the end of this year.

Congress currently is planning to extend most of the Bush breaks – particularly those for middle-income earners – for some period, perhaps only a year or two. But budget rules that lawmakers passed earlier this year anticipated the Bush-era breaks for higher income earners would expire immediately. That would mean the tax on dividends for higher earners would return to the pre-Bush ordinary income rate. That rate is expected to rise to 39.6% next year.

However, there are growing worries among Democrats that their plans to allow taxes to rise substantially for higher earners will create drag on the recovery, and particularly on financial markets. That appears to be opening the possibility that some of their severest tax increases will be put off, at least for a bit longer.
“There’s…real concern about what would happen in the markets” if dividend rates went as high as 39.6%,” Stretch said. Given the fragile state of the economy, lawmakers “are not in the mood to experiment with the markets.”

Ironically, another factor working in favor of higher earners is the growing public concern over deficits. That’s leading Democrats to consider the short-term extension of the Bush-era breaks for the middle class, instead of the permanent extension that everyone was discussing a year ago. If the middle-class breaks are extended for only a year or two, that could make room for higher earners to catch a few breaks, too.

Fear of Death is Now Not Biggest Fear

For older Americans surveyed by Allianz Life Insurance Co., death is not such a big deal. Not, that is, when it compares to the spectre of a dwindling bank account. In a poll of people between the ages of 44 and 75, 61% said that running out money was their biggest fear. The remaining 39% thought death was scarier.

With a couple of banking crises under our belts, we've become almost entirely focused on the monetary aspect of advanced age. The context is important. The poll of 3,257 people, released last month, found that a whopping 92% of respondents agreed that "the United States is facing a crisis in its retirement system," the AARP wrote about the report.

It's so well-known that the U.S. won't have enough to fund Social Security in the next several decades that most younger people are throwing up their hands in disgust and counting, instead, on their own ability to save, as well as family and community support. The younger cohort among the old folks, who may after all be farther from retirement than they'd like, have really nail-biting fears: 56% are concerned they won't be able to cover their basic living expenses once they reach retirement age.

A movement known as the "Radical Homemakers" argues that building a community safety net is so important, many of us would be better off quitting our jobs and focusing on creating a grassroots old-age support system -- building up assets of family, friendship and community ties instead of a 401(k). In addition, they advise that people build the skills to live on less -- the sorts of skills probably keenly honed in the parents of the 44- to 75-year olds that Allianz surveyed. After all, more than half of those surveyed said their net worth has tanked since the economic crisis began and many of them have already been forced to cut back.

So why is the financial crisis, and our greatly diminishing faith in financial institutions, such a big deal? Even in the golden age of lifetime employment and secure pension funds, we never placed so much of our hopes and dreams in corporations and the. Instead, we found our emotional security through religion or family or both. We might be wise to return to such comforts. While our banks may be "too big to fail," they surely do fail us, all the time; and our Social Security system's most commonly-used descriptor is "imploding." Little associations fail us too, but their impacts are more personal and don't require a deficit-doubling government bailout.

It's hard to face retirement in an age where even taxes seem uncertain and death is the only constant. It's assured, so why be afraid? Far more terrifying is the stuff leading up to it. Perhaps we would do better to spend more time focusing on our intangible assets; without a dollar-value market to go bust, they're a lot less stressful.