On Sept. 8 President Obama unveiled The American Jobs Act — a set of proposed tax incentives intended to help create more jobs. It is far from clear if any of these proposals will be enacted because they face significant opposition in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
If they are enacted, however, they will have a big — and largely positive — effect on self-employed real estate agents and brokers. Here are the basics of the president’s proposals:
Reduced Social Security taxes
The cornerstone of the jobs plan is a further temporary reduction of the Social Security taxes paid by employers, employees and the self-employed. Ordinarily, employers and employees pay a 6.2 percent Social Security tax up to an annual income ceiling — $106,400 in 2011.
The self-employed pay a 12.4 percent Social Security tax on their net self-employment income up to the annual ceiling. In 2011, the employee’s portion of the tax was reduced to 4.2 percent.
This reduction was scheduled to end in 2012. The Jobs Act extends the reduction through the end of 2012 and expands it as well: employees and employers would each be given a 50 percent reduction in Social Security taxes — that is, each would pay a 3.1 percent tax up the annual Social Security ceiling. The employer’s tax reduction is limited to the first $5 million of wages paid.
The 50 percent reduction in Social Security taxes would apply to the self-employed as well. Instead of paying a 12.4 percent tax (reduced to 10.4 percent for 2011), they would pay only 6.1 percent up to the Social Security tax ceiling.
This can save self-employed real estate agents and brokers a substantial amount of money — $6,597 for those whose net self-employment income is $106,400 or more.
In addition, for the last quarter of 2011 and for calendar year 2012, the proposal provides a payroll tax credit that fully offsets the employer Social Security tax that otherwise would apply to increases in wages, up to a $50 million cap.
Employers are also eligible for a maximum tax credit of $4,000 if they hire individuals who have been unemployed for at least six months.
Extension of bonus depreciation
The jobs act also extends 100 percent bonus depreciation through the end of 2012. This permits businesses to fully deduct in one year the cost of business equipment.
Limitation on itemized deductions
However, the act is not all good news for the real estate industry. In order to help pay for the Social Security tax reductions, the act would limit the value of all itemized deductions and certain other tax expenditures for high-income taxpayers — those earning $250,000 or more ($200,000 for single taxpayers).
The tax benefit of all itemized deductions for those at these income levels would be limited to 28 percent. For example, today taxpayers in the top 35 percent tax bracket save 35 cents for every dollar in itemized deductions. Under the jobs act their tax savings would be limited to 28 cents.
This reduction applies to all itemized deductions, including the home mortgage interest and property tax deductions. This is bad news for the struggling real estate industry, as it will limit the benefit of the home mortgage interest and property tax deductions for high-income taxpayers.
Limit on above-the-line deductions
The 28 percent limit would also apply to about two dozen "above-the-line" deductions — tax write-offs available to taxpayers who take the standard deduction.
These include the deduction for health insurance for the self-employed, health savings accounts, and some higher education expenses.
The 28 percent limit on itemized deductions and above-the-line deductions would take effect in 2013 (after the 2012 election).
Stephen Fishman is a tax expert, attorney and author who has published 18 books, including "Working for Yourself: Law & Taxes for Contractors, Freelancers and Consultants," "Deduct It," "Working as an Independent Contractor," and "Working with Independent Contractors." He welcomes your questions for this weekly column.