Even if you supported Barack Obama's voice for change, voted for him and are thrilled that he is our president-elect, you might be worried about your upcoming tax bill if you earn more than $250,000 as a family or $200,000 as a single person.
Obama has proposed raising taxes for those who make at least those amounts, and many of my clients and friends who fit this financial category are worried -- even if they voted for him!
If you live in an expensive urban area such as New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Miami, Atlanta or Boston, it isn't that hard to reach that income level. But tack on expenses and you are like the rest of America: not much left over at the end of the month after the bills are paid.
The good news is that there is hope for your increasing tax bill. Clearly, no policy has been made yet, but there are potential and promised monetary benefits for you and your family if you earn more than $250,000.
Retire with peace of mind:
If you work for a small company, chances are your employer does not offer an IRA. Only 14% of small-business owners offer a 401(k) plan and 63% do not offer any retirement plan at all, according to a study by Harris Interactive and ShareBuilder. If that is the case, inertia sets in and you are not likely to set up an IRA for yourself.
Or if you are motivated, you might only be contributing to a Traditional IRA, which in 2009 is capped at only $5,000 a year (plus an extra $1,000 for those 50 and older). Let's face it, that isn't enough money to retire on. If you are 45 years old and start saving only $5,000 a year for the next 20 years, you will barely have $250,000, even if the market returns 8% a year, which certainly is not the case today. Obama plans to require employers that do not offer retirement plans to set up IRA-type accounts. This would be a fantastic benefit, especially if you work for a small business.
Or perhaps you are one of those employees whose company offers a 401(k) or SIMPLE IRA (a retirement plan usually found at small businesses), but you don't contribute to it. Obama plans to require companies to automatically enroll their employees in 401(k)s or IRAs. Today, only 44% of companies offer automatic enrollment, says Hewitt Associates. Obama has said: "Personal saving is at an all-time low. A part of the American dream is at risk." If automatic enrollment is implemented, that would make a big difference in the growth of your retirement savings. Just be sure your company automatically enrolls you in a diversified mutual fund portfolio and not in its company stock. (Remember Enron?)
It seems hard to imagine that if your family is earning $250,000 (or more) you could be facing foreclosure on your home. But perhaps you signed up for a short-term adjustable mortgage, or you bought a home with little money down and now home values have decreased significantly in your area or your expenses have dramatically increased. An Obama plan would provide immediate relief, regardless of income. One proposal would allow homeowners in trouble to refinance their loan and have it insured by the Federal Housing Administration. Another plan would be to eliminate the policy that prohibits bankruptcy courts from modifying mortgage payments. These are two fantastic solutions.
Retirement around the corner:
If this is your situation, the last thing you want to do is start selling investments in your IRA. All the market gurus are telling us that this is the worst time to sell. As you may know, if you are age 70½, you must withdraw a minimum amount from your IRA or 401(k), thereby forcing you to sell at a time when you would not choose to. Obama plans to temporarily exempt seniors from forced annual withdrawals from IRAs after age 70 ½. This allows the market to come back and let seniors grow their portfolios again.
Dealing with inheritance:
If you inherit more than $7 million during the Obama administration, the bad news is that you will have to pay an estate tax of 45%. The good news is that if you inherit less than $7 million, your estate tax will be zero. Chances are that, regardless of income, a small percentage of people will inherit more than $7 million.
For the rest of you:
If none of the above applies to you, there are a few quick things you can do to keep your tax bill low, even if Obama follows through on his promised tax increase.
If you have unrealized capital gains and are considering selling an investment, this might be the time to do so. Currently, the capital gains tax rate is 15%. Obama plans to raise it to 20%. If you are thinking of selling, sell now and pay only the 15% tax. On the bright side, if you are a small-business owner, Obama plans to eliminate capital gains taxes for you.
If you find that you are paying capital gains taxes on a regular basis, consider changing around your investments. This is a great time to consider buying more index mutual funds in your taxable portfolio. The turnover of stocks in index funds is very low, which means you pay less capital gain taxes on an ongoing basis.
On a final note, for those of you making more than $250,000, even with Obama's tax increases you will end up paying either the same or even a lower tax rate than you would have paid in the 1990s. Yes, it is more than what you might have paid the past few years, but when you view it with more perspective, embracing the change for our country seems worth it.
Galia Gichon is a personal finance expert who founded Down-to-Earth Finance. With over 14 years financial experience, an MBA in Finance and the author of the
, Down-to-Earth Finance provides unbiased financial education. You can visit her at