The House recently released a nearly 900-page proposed bill that would make major changes to current tax laws. The bill is intended in large part to help pay for both the Biden Administration’s budget and infrastructure stimulus bill.
It’s important to keep in mind that the provisions and changes outlined below are by no means settled. Changes can (and likely will) still be made as the Senate ratifies the bill; however, the remainder of this article should give readers a good idea of the most significant provisions.
Income Tax Rates are Rising
The increase in the top income tax rate is probably the most talked about proposed change in the bill, bringing it up from 37 percent to 39.6 percent. The top marginal rate would apply to single filers with taxable income over $400,000, heads of household over $425,000 and married filing jointly taxpayers making over $450,000. The impact starts with income earned on Jan. 1, 2022, and after.
The highest capital gains rate would increase from 20 percent to 25 percent and apply to qualified dividends. The increase is effective on gains made from sales that happen on or after Sept. 13, 2021, but any gains from sales incurred before or that result from binding contracts executed before this date fall under the old rate. For example, gains received post-Sept. 13, 2021, under an installment sale entered on Aug. 31, 2021, would be subject to the old 20 percent rate.
Expansion of the Net Investment Income Tax
The bill also would redefine net investment income (NIIT) to include any income earned in the ordinary course of business. Currently, the 3.8 percent NIIT surcharge applies only to passive income. The NIIT is applied to single taxpayers with more than $400,000 in taxable income and joint filers with over $500,000, and would start Jan. 1, 2022.
New 3 Percent Surcharge on High Income Individuals
Starting after Dec. 31, 2021, a new 3 percent tax will be placed on Adjusted Gross Incomes (AGI) over $5 million ($2.5 million if married filing separately).
Small Business Tax Increases
Under the bill, the current 21 percent flat corporate (C-Corporation) tax rate would change to a three-tiered system. The structure would tax net income at 18 percent up to $400,000; 21 percent from $401,000 to $5 million; and 26 percent on net income over $5 million.
Other Miscellaneous Changes
As you can imagine in an 881-page bill, there are only so many changes that can be covered in this article, but here is a smattering of miscellaneous provisions.
- Crypto currencies would become subject to the constructive and wash sale rules (like most marketable securities such as stocks) starting Jan. 1, 2022. This means that if you are holding a position at a loss, you have until the end of 2021 to harvest the loss and immediately buy back in.
- IRAs will no longer be allowed to invest in an entity where the IRA owner has a 10 percent or greater ownership interest (down from the current 50 percent threshold) or if the IRA owner is an officer of the entity.
- $80 million is earmarked for the IRS to step up enforcement and audit more taxpayers.
- Smokers will feel the pain as the bill also doubles the excise taxes on cigarettes, small cigars and roll-your-own tobacco.
Remember that this is only the House version of the bill, and nothing is final. Also remember that Democrats control the House, and the Senate is split 50/50 with the Democratic VP as the tiebreaker. As a result, while there will be changes, the major provisions outlined above will likely be in the final law in some form or another.
Based upon a recent McKinsey Global Survey, nearly 9 in 10 (87 percent) of management and above level respondents affirmed they are currently, or within the upcoming five years, dealing with the skill gap among their employees. With the vast majority of businesses experiencing or forecasting a skills-gap, how can they close or reduce this challenge?
Due to the so-called “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” as the World Economic Forum (WEF) explains, the best scenario it sees is 54 percent of workers requiring “reskilling and upskilling by 2022.” However, the WEF points out that 3 in 10 workers susceptible to occupation disruption due to advancements in applied science obtained additional training in 2018.
It’s important to clarify the differences between re-skilling and up-skilling. Re-skilling is where workers who are displaced by industries becoming obsolete, such as coal miners, are forced to retrain for a new career, such as coding, teaching, etc. Up-skilling, in contrast, involves building and staying current in one’s field – a programmer learning the newest programming language or a marketing manager learning the latest search engine optimization (SEO) techniques.
Carve Out Skill-Improvement Time Blocks
Even for companies that strive to provide their employees with flexible time for a work-life balance, it doesn’t always guarantee companies foster a culture of self-improvement and upskilling. When personal, professional and/or global crises occur, there’s not always time for employees to learn new computer programs or the latest programming language. However, by providing employees with a few hours a week dedicated to professional development, businesses give employees the opportunity to up-skill, leading to more satisfied employees, along with limited strain on the budget.
Arrange Worker-Guided Study Groups
When it comes to learning a new skill, according to Degreed via Harvad Business Review (HBR), workers will go to their peers 55 percent of the time, second only to reaching out to their supervisor for guidance, when looking to up-skill.
Few businesses are known to have developed a system for peer-to-peer learning in the workplace. According to McKinsey, “Learning & Development officers” reported businesses letting their employees put their skills into practice to develop additional skills, along with holding academic-type instruction and “experiential learning” for developing role competency. When it comes to structured peer-to-peer learning, fewer than 50 percent of businesses have anything established. Thirty-three percent of those surveyed responded that there’s no system established to facilitate skills development opportunities between co-workers.
From HBR’s “The Expertise Economy,” one reason that peer-to-peer learning is not the first choice for employee learning is due to a common belief that those who are proficient at a particular skill often exist outside the organization, such as a paid training consultant. This belief also is reinforced due to external educational experiences normally condensed into a single session, compared to smaller and more frequent in-house sessions.
HBR argues that peer-to-peer learning leverages the business’ internal expertise more effectively. If more experienced employees share their expertise with less seasoned co-workers to increase their skills, it can be very productive. In fact, HBR lays out a four-point plan for peer-to-peer learning to maximize employee up-skilling.
By using HBR’s “Learning Loop,” businesses can help employees learn new skills and knowledge through four steps:
- Employees obtain new information.
- After assimilating the new information, they practice implementing the new information.
- After it’s been applied, they obtain feedback on the application.
- The employee then reflects on what has been learned to further assimilate the new information.
While this program must be tailored to every organization, it shows that by taking a personal approach to up-skilling employees and building on their existing knowledge and skill sets, peer-to-peer learning can be one effective approach to helping employers and their employees close the skills gap.
According to the Sept. 8, 2021, release of the Federal Reserve’s Beige Book, the U.S. economy is facing many headwinds.
The report found that restaurants and the travel sector saw a drop in activity. Home and auto sales were low because of fewer available houses on the market and a challenging supply of computer chips for auto makers. The same report found that although more people have found work, the level of newly created employment was mixed, despite a continuing need for more workers. Due to people quitting their jobs, people retiring, and those unable to find means of suitable childcare, the employment situation remains uncertain. With continued stressors on the economy, how will the stock market fare through the rest of 2021 and into 2022?
The Beige Book, officially known as the Summary of Commentary on Current Economic Conditions, comes out eight times throughout the year. Information collection begins six weeks before, and the report is released two weeks prior to Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meetings, providing an overview of the economic health of each of the 12 districts of the Federal Reserve Bank.
The Sept. 8, 2021, Beige Book Report found challenges in different sectors; however, some challenges, such as the semi-conductor shortage, were faced nationally. Based on past analysis, current sentiment reported by businesses and consumers will be confirmed or dispelled by forthcoming data.
As Northwestern University’s Medill School notes, the Beige Book is devoid of formulas, statistical analysis or industry jargon. Rather, it contains observational and comparative data derived from speaking with and sampling business owners and business analysts. In contrast to statistical data, it illuminates what business executives and consumers are worrying about.
It’s often referred to as a key gauge and is especially important because when the economy takes a downturn, the data deterioration often renders business statistics obsolete. It’s also relevant because the FOMC uses it to determine monetary policy chiefly via modifying the federal funds interest rate target. Similarly, when it comes to economic figures, it’s important to keep in mind the timeliness of such statistics because they are announced after they’ve been recorded.
During the coronavirus pandemic, especially when little was known in the beginning, the Beige Book offered Fed officials the ability to speak with industry insiders in the thick of it, especially when data was scant or unknown. Others observe that the Beige Book predicted the 2008/2009 housing crisis starting in October 2006 when mortgage delinquencies began appearing.
By viewing events in real-time, it offers anecdotal evidence compared to questionable forecasts. For example, the July 18, 2018, Beige Book Report found that well before the data confirmed manufacturers’ worries over the trade war with China and Trump’s tariffs, 10 districts reported “moderate economic growth.”
According to a 2003 study performed by Occidental College and the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, the more confidence-inspiring news a Beige Book Report contains, the greater the correlation with higher interest rates, especially when it comes to long-term rates. It also expresses a bullish correlation with increases in stock prices when the economy is growing, but a deceleration during an economic slowdown. When banks set their lending rates, they directly or indirectly use long-term rates as reference. Policy makers also use this as an indicator for inflation expectations in the financial markets.
While no one has a crystal ball to predict how the economy and stock markets will perform going forward, the Beige Book is an important tool the Fed and those in the government factor in when attempting to steer economic growth.
Today, 70 percent of college students graduate with an average of $30,000 in student loan debt. The average payment is nearly $400 a month and will take about 20 years to pay off. On an individual level, paying off high debt can delay hopes of saving to buy a house, start a family, launch a business or invest for retirement.
On a broader level, the national burden of student debt could impact America’s economic future. When young adults are unable to afford home ownership, that reduces spending on all types of consumer products that accompany home buying. It also reduces property taxes used to support local resources and reduces the insurance pool of property owners used to help repair and rebuild homes after extreme weather crises.
Whether you’re a graduate or the relative of a graduate in this situation, it’s worth considering various strategies to help pay off this debt. After all, it may be better – for both your offspring and the country’s GDP – to financially help them out now rather than later via a larger inheritance.
High Interest and Consolidation Considerations
The strategic way to approach student debt is to focus on paying off high-interest loans first. This generally includes private loans and any others with variable interest rates that may increase over time. Be aware that with federal student loans, there are different types and the borrower is permitted to switch to a different payment plan that better suits his needs over time. Another option is to consolidate student loans. However, if sometime in the future federal student loans are forgiven, your student could miss out on that by transferring or consolidating to a privately held loan.
Employer Assistance Programs
In recognition of student loan debt as both a personnel and national concern, many employers are starting to offer repayment assistance programs – even to parents paying off parent student loans. It’s important to inquire whether or not an employer offers this benefit, as they are not always promoted – especially to current workers. However, these programs have become more appealing to companies since passage of the CARES Act, which extended pre-tax employer-provided educational assistance for up to $5,250 per employee, per year through 2025
Another program that some companies have introduced is the ability for employees to convert the cash value of unused paid-time-off (PTO) toward their student loan payments. In other words, if a worker is not able to use all of his accrued paid vacation days in a given year, he can request the employer contribute that income toward his student loan debt.
College Savings Plans
Each state sponsors a Section 529 college savings and investment plan, which feature tax-deferred growth and tax-free withdrawals when used to pay for qualified education expenses.
In 2019, as part of the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act, Congress included a provision that permits up to $10,000 (a lifetime cap, per each beneficiary) from 529 College Savings Plans to be used to repay student loans. For example, if a family has three college students, the parents may withdraw up to $30,000 to help pay off that debt from their 529 account(s). Note that a 529 account owner can change the 529 plan beneficiary at any time without tax consequences.
Be aware, however, if 529 college funds are used to make principal and interest payments on a qualified student loan, that student loan interest cannot be claimed as a deduction on their tax return.
So you want to save for a down payment for your dream house, but you aren’t sure how to get there. It might even feel overwhelming. But take heart, here are some tried and true methods that you can start today that will help you save sooner than you think.
Save a Fixed Amount Monthly
This is super easy, but first you need to figure out how much of a down payment you want to make. Remember, the higher your down payment, the lower your loan and monthly mortgage payment will be. With that said, put this amount on auto draft and deposit it into your savings account. Once you get used to this, you won’t miss it. Never use this savings for any other purpose except your down payment. Keep your eyes on the prize and stay the course.
Lower Your Expenses
If you don’t have a budget, make one. Review how much you’re spending on necessary items like rent, utilities and food. Also look at how much you’re spending on discretionary things, like going out to eat, subscriptions to magazines, driving instead of walking, etc. You might also evaluate how much those short-term indulgences mean to you. Only you can decide, but if you stick to a budget and start saving, the dream of a down payment can become a reality.
Skip Vacations For a Year
This one might be hard to swallow. However, if you save the money you’d otherwise spend on your vacation, you can make a significant contribution toward your down payment. If skipping a vacation is out of the question, try a staycation; or at least drive or take a bus or train to someplace near you that won’t cost an arm and a leg, like a natural park, an area lake or even, if you’re lucky enough to live near one, a beach. With every decision you make to delay gratification and focus on your long-term goal of home ownership, you’ll be more likely to stay on track.
Reduce Your High Interest Rate Debt
Credit card interest rates can really eat into the amount of money you are trying to save. If you can pay them off, do so – and start with the one that’s the highest. When you’ve paid it off, close the account and move on to the next one. You can also apply for a card with a temporary 0% interest rate (for maybe 15 months) and transfer your other balances to this one card. Good options include Bank of America’s Unlimited Cash Rewards credit card, Discover it Balance Transfer and Citi Double Cash Card.
Borrow From Your Retirement Plan
If you want to expedite getting into a house and are comfortable doing this, the look for penalty-free withdrawals from your retirement plan. Many company-sponsored 401(k) or profit-sharing plans allow you to borrow against your nest egg to purchase a home. Just ask your HR or payroll department.
Sell Some of Your Investments
While this option might not be instantly appealing, think of this as a way to move some of your current investments into another – your house. Once you’ve moved in and are paying your mortgage, you’ll be building equity. As your house increases in value, so does your investment.
Look Into Down Payment Assistance
Yes, this is a thing! There are organizations that might be able to help you, like the Federal Housing Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Housing Service and the Veterans Administration. Another source is your local housing authority.
These are a few options to help you move toward a down payment. But no matter what you choose, don’t wait. Get started today. This way, you’ll be packing up and moving in no time.