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5 Tax Trends That Could Cost You in 2012

Cliffhangers
You don't tug on Superman's cape. You don't spit into the wind.

And, if you are a politician in an election year, you avoid anything other than sugarcoated tax discussions.

For months, Congress has punted any real discussion of taxes down the road, likely until after November's presidential and state by state contests. A wide range of political stalemates and temporary compromises mean a whole lot of uncertainty for taxpayers in the year ahead.

"One common theme during 2011 for practitioners and taxpayers was the lack of certainty in tax planning for future years," CCH Principal Tax Analyst Mark Luscombe says. "And that uncertainty was magnified by the scheduled expiration of many tax incentives after Dec. 31, 2011, and the end of the Bush-era tax cuts after 2012, due to extension by the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization and Job Creation Act of 2010."

Will the payroll tax cut continue beyond its temporary stay of execution? What's the fate of the Bush-era tax cuts (extended through 2012) and a variety of tax extenders? Will the maximum tax rate for capital gains increase to 20% from 15% or more if the Bush-era tax cuts expire?

Should the "rich" be taxed at a higher rate, a position taken by President Barack Obama and derided by conservatives?

Will there be changes to the personal exemption phase-out, something that would be a boon to wealthier Americans?

Are changes afoot for future implementations of the estate tax? CCH cites expert speculation that the current $5 exclusion will be lowered to $3.5 million and the top rate will rise to 45%.

Will deficit reduction talks -- including the stalled response to the budget-cutting "Super Committee" -- lead to increased revenue plays, a major point of division among Democrats and Republicans?

No one really knows, and we'll all have to wait until November's elections are in the history books to get a clear read.

An impact of all that uncertainty is that numerous tax strategies will be difficult to commit to in 2012. Income shifting in its many forms (deferred compensation, delaying year-end billings, maximizing retirement contributions, etc.) will be a gamble given that no one knows -- or will know until late in the year -- how taxes will rise or fall in 2013.

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