Legislation enacted during the past few years, including the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010 and the more recently enacted Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010 (2010 Tax Relief Act), contains a number of important tax law changes that affect 2011. Key changes for 2011 affect both individuals and businesses. Certain tax breaks you benefited from in 2010, or before, may have changed in amount, timing, or may no longer be available in 2011. However, new tax incentives may be valuable. This article highlights some of the significant tax changes for 2011.

New payroll tax cut for wage earners
New for calendar 2011 is a payroll tax cut for wage earners and self-employed individuals. The payroll tax cut, as provided by the 2010 Tax Relief Act, reduces the employee’s share of Social Security taxes by two percent, from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent, for all wages earned during the 2011 calendar year, up to the taxable wage base of $106,800. Future Social Security is not affected by the payroll tax cut.

Many workers can expect to see an average tax savings of more than $1,000 as a result of the new payroll tax cut. For example, a single individual who earns $40,000 annually and is paid weekly will see an extra $15 in her paycheck every week. A single individual who earns $60,000 annually and is paid bi-weekly will see an extra $46 in her paycheck.

Self-employed individuals also benefit from the payroll tax cut. Self-employed individuals will pay 10.4 percent on self-employment income up to the threshold.

Payroll companies and employers are responsible for implementing the payroll tax cut; employees do not need to adjust their withholding or take any other action. However, it is always a good decision regardless to review your withholding to ensure you are not withholding too much or too little.

No more Making Work Pay Credit. The payroll tax cut replaces the Making Work Pay Credit (MWPC), which expired at the end of 2010 and was not renewed for 2011. The MWPC provided a refundable tax credit of up to $400 for qualified single individuals and up to $800 for married taxpayers filing joint returns for 2009 and 2010.

Residential energy improvement credits
For individuals who may be making energy-efficient improvements to their homes in 2011 important changes have taken place for a popular tax credit. The 2010 Tax Relief Act extended the Code Sec. 25C nonbusiness energy efficient property credit for homeowners for one year, through December 31, 2011. However, more restrictive rules apply for 2011 than applied in 2010. Effective for property placed in service after December 31, 2010, an individual is entitled to a credit against tax in an amount equal to:

  • 10 percent of the amount paid or incurred for qualified energy efficiency improvements (building envelope components) installed during the tax year
  • The amount of residential energy property expenditures paid or incurred during the tax year

The maximum credit allowable is $500 over the lifetime of the taxpayer. The $500 amount must be reduced by the aggregate amount of previously allowed credits the taxpayer received in 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010. There are certain restrictions on the amounts claimed for certain items as well. The amount claimed for windows and skylights in a year can not exceed $200 less the total of the credits you claimed for these items in all earlier tax years ending after December 31, 2005. The credit also can not exceed:

— $50 for an advanced main circulating fan;
— $150 for any qualified natural gas, propane, or hot water boiler; and
— $300 for any item of energy efficient property

Energy-efficient credit for contractors
The 2010 Tax Relief Act retroactively extends the new energy efficient home credit for eligible contractors for two years, through December 31, 2011. Eligible contractors can claim a credit of $2,000 or $1,000 for each qualified new energy efficient home either constructed by the contractor or acquired by a person from the contractor for use as a residence during the tax year.

Annuity contracts
Beginning in 2011, taxpayers may partially annuitize non-retirement plan annuity payments they receive from an annuity contract. This partial annuitization applies to amounts you receive in tax years beginning after December 31, 2010 and applies to such an annuity, endowment or life insurance contract. If you receive an annuity for a period of 10 years or longer, or over one or more lives, under any portion of the annuity, endowment or life insurance contract, that portion is treated as a separate contract for purposes of annuity taxation.

FSAs, HSAs and Archers MSAs
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act enacted in 2010 places new limits on flexible spending arrangements (FSAs), health savings accounts (HSAs) and Archer medical savings accounts (Archer MSAs). After December 31, 2010, a distribution from an FSA, HSA or Archer MSA for a medicine or drug is a tax-free qualified medical expense only if the medicine or drug is a prescribed drug (determined without regard to whether such drug is available without a prescription) or is insulin. Additionally, for distributions made after 2010, the additional tax on distributions from an HSA that are not used for qualified medical expenses increases significantly, from 10 percent to 20 percent of the disbursed amount. The additional tax on distributions from an Archer MSA that are not used for qualified medical expenses increases from 15 percent to 20 percent of the disbursed amount.

Simple Cafeteria Plans for small employers
Beginning January 1, 2011, certain small employers can adopt “simple cafeteria plans,” which provide certain nontaxable benefits to employees. Eligible employers generally include those with an average of 100 or fewer employees on business days during either of the two preceding tax years. Benefits of simple cafeteria plans can include certain medical coverage, group-term life insurance, flexible spending accounts (FSAs), and dependent care assistance.

New electronic filing rules for employers
Nearly all employers must use the IRS Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS) for federal tax payments made in 2011. Beginning after December 31, 2010, employers must use electronic funds transfer (EFT) to make all federal tax deposits, including deposits of employment tax, excise tax, and corporate income tax. After December 31, 2010, Forms 8109 and 8109-B, Federal Tax Deposit Coupon, can no longer be used.

Employer payroll tax forgiveness expires
Qualified employers who hired unemployed workers after February 3, 2010 and prior to January 1, 2011 may have been eligible for payroll tax forgiveness. The Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment Act (HIRE Act) provided temporary forgiveness of the employer-share of Social Security tax for eligible new-hires. For each worker retained for at least a year, businesses may claim an additional general business tax credit, up to $1,000 per worker, when they file their 2011 income tax returns.

New broker basis reporting rules
Beginning in 2011, generally all brokers who are required to file information returns reporting gross proceeds of a “covered security” (such as corporate stock), must include in the return the customer’s adjusted basis in the security. A broker must report the adjusted basis and type of gain (long term or short term gain or loss) for most stock acquired on or after January 1, 2011.

Reporting is generally undertaken on Form 1099-B, Proceeds from Broker and Barter Exchange Transactions. A “covered security” includes all stock acquired beginning in 2011, as mentioned above, except for stock in a mutual fund (regulated investment company or RIC) or stock acquired in connection with a dividend reinvestment plan (DRP). Reporting for these and other types of securities and options will need to be reported beginning after 2012 and 2013.

Real estate reporting requirements
Beginning in 2011, taxpayers receiving rental income from real estate who make payments of $600 or more during the tax year to a service provider (excluding incorporated entities) must provide an information return to the IRS, as well as the provider, reporting the payments. Typically, the information is to be reported on Form 1099-Misc. Certain exceptions, such as for hardship or active members of the uniformed services or employees of the intelligence community apply.

These are just some of the many important tax changes that expired at the end of 2010 or take effect this year. Please contact us if you have any questions.