Review of Year-End Tax Legislation
Eleventh-hour votes in Congress in December renewed a package of tax extenders for 2014, created new savings accounts for individuals with disabilities, cut the IRS’ budget, and more. At the same time, the votes helped to set the stage for the 114th Congress that convenes this month. Republicans have majorities in the House and Senate and have indicated that taxes are one of the top items on their agenda for 2015.
The Tax Increase Prevention Act of 2014, signed into law by President Obama in December extends more than 50 individual, business and energy tax incentives retroactively to January 1, 2014. As a result, taxpayers can claim these incentives on their 2014 returns filed in 2015. The Act includes all of the popular incentives for individuals, such as the state and local sales tax deduction and higher education tuition deduction, as well as many business incentives, including the research tax credit, bonus depreciation and enhanced Code Sec. 179 expensing. A handful of extenders were not renewed, mostly targeted to energy efficiency. If you have any questions about the renewal of the extenders for 2014, please contact our office.
As part of the extenders package, Congress approved the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act of 2014. The Act establishes ABLE accounts for individuals with disabilities. Funds in ABLE accounts may be used for qualified expenses of persons with disabilities. To fund these accounts, the Act:
- Adjusts for inflation some civil tax penalties
- Authorizes the IRS to certify qualifying professional employer organizations
- Excludes dividends from controlled foreign corporations from the definition of personal holding company income
- Increases the IRS’ levy authority on payments to Medicare providers
- Raises the Inland Waterways Trust Fund financing rate
The IRS goes into the 2015 filing season with a reduced budget. The omnibus spending agreement, signed into law by President Obama on December 16, cuts the IRS’ fiscal year (FY) 2015 budget by some $345 million. The omnibus spending agreement also instructs the IRS to improve its response times in helping victims of identity theft and reduce refund fraud. In response to the budget cuts, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said the agency will freeze hiring and take other steps to reduce expenses. Koskinen also cautioned that revenue collection and tax enforcement could be impaired by the budget cuts as the agency will have to make do with less. Taxpayer audits were singled out by Koskinen as one area where cutbacks could have a negative effect.
Affordable Care Act
Congress also clarified the status of so-called expatriate health plans under the Affordable Care Act. These plans cover very specific groups of people, including participants in a group health plan who are aliens residing outside the United States and U.S. nationals about whom there is a good faith expectation of being abroad, in connection with his or her employment, for at least 180 days in a 12-month period.
The omnibus spending agreement exempts expatriate health plans, employer sponsors of these plans, and insurance issuers providing coverage under these plans from the health care coverage requirements of the Affordable Care Act. Additionally, the omnibus spending agreement treats these plans as providing minimum essential coverage for purposes of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate.
Multi-employer pension plans
The extenders package and the omnibus spending agreement amend the rules governing multi-employer pension plans. The provisions, supporters argued, are intended to shore-up many struggling plans. Opponents countered that the changes weaken protections for beneficiaries. The amendments to the multi-employer pension rules are very technical. Please contact our office for more details
The Tax Increase Prevention Act did not extend the extenders beyond 2014. As of January 1, 2015, they all expired again. During 2014, proposals to extend the incentives for two years or make them permanent were floated in Congress. The GOP-controlled House voted to make permanent bonus depreciation, enhanced Code Sec. 179 expensing and some charitable giving breaks, but these bills were not taken up by the Democratic-controlled Senate. This could change in the 114th Congress. The new leaders of the tax-writing committees, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, have both indicated their interest in addressing the extenders as part of comprehensive tax reform.
Any movement toward comprehensive tax reform will require cooperation between the White House and the Republican-controlled Congress. In December, President Obama said that he would be willing to work with Republicans on corporate tax reform but any decrease in the corporate tax rate would need to be paid for by revenue raisers elsewhere. The President also said that he wants to preserve and make permanent some temporary enhancements to individual tax breaks, such as the earned income credit. New Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., also said in December that he could work with the White House.