On February 22, President Obama signed the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012. The new law extends the employee-side payroll tax holiday, giving wage earners and self-employed individuals 12 months of reduced payroll taxes in 2012.

2011 payroll tax holiday
Until 2011, the Old-Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance (OASDI) tax rate for employees was 6.2 percent (12.4 percent for self-employed individuals who pay both the employee-share and the employer-share). These taxes help to fund Social Security.

In 2011, a payroll tax holiday took effect. The payroll tax holiday reduced the employee-share of OASDI taxes by two percentage points from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent for calendar year 2011 up to the Social Security wage base of $106,800. The payroll tax holiday also gave a similar percentage reduction to self-employed individuals for calendar year 2011.

Two-month extension
The 2011 payroll tax holiday was originally enacted as a one-year tax break. It was scheduled to expire after December 31, 2011.

In December 2011, Congress approved a two-month extension of the payroll tax holiday for January and February 2012. The two-month extension provided for a 4.2 percent OASDI tax rate for individuals receiving wages and a comparable benefit for self-employed individuals through the end of February 2012.

Tough negotiations
In early 2012, lawmakers began negotiations over extending the two-month payroll tax holiday for the remainder of the year. The 2011 payroll tax holiday had not been offset; that is, the lost revenue had not been made up elsewhere. The two-month extension had been offset by higher fees on certain government-backed mortgages. Some lawmakers wanted any full-year extension of the payroll tax cut to be offset.

Several offsets were proposed and rejected, including a surtax on individuals with incomes over $1 million and repeal of certain business tax preferences. In the end, lawmakers could not agree on any offsets and decided to extend the payroll tax holiday without paying for it. They did agree to pay for extended unemployment benefits and the so-called Medicare “doc fix” with offsets.

The House passed the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of February 17 as did the Senate. President Obama signed the bill on February 22.

2012 payroll tax holiday
The 2012 payroll tax holiday is essentially an extension of the 2011 payroll tax holiday. This means that wage earners pay OASDI taxes at a rate of 4.2 percent for calendar year 2012 up to the Social Security wage base ($110,100 for 2012). Self-employed individuals also benefit from a two-percentage point reduction in OASDI taxes for calendar year 2012. The OASDI tax rate for employers, however, is not reduced and remains at 6.2 percent for calendar year 2012.

According to the White House, an “average” taxpayer should expect to see about $1,000 in savings in 2012. An individual who makes at or above the Social Security wage base for 2012 ($110,100) will see a $2,202 benefit.

No recapture rule
In good news for some taxpayers, the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act repeals a recapture rule Congress had imposed on the two-month extension. The recapture rule was intended to prevent higher income individuals from enjoying too great a benefit from the payroll tax cut if it was not extended for all of 2012. Because the payroll tax cut has been extended through the end of 2012, the recapture rule is expressly removed in the new law.

Employers and payroll processors
Because the 2012 payroll tax cut holiday is essentially an extension of the 2011 payroll tax cut holiday, employers and payroll processors should expect few glitches. The IRS has reported it anticipates no problems in administering the extension through the end of 2012. It has already issued a revised 2012 Form 941, Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return, for use by employers to cover their revised reporting responsibilities.

If you have any questions about the 2012 payroll tax holiday, please contact our office.