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Phantom Tax Rates

Some time ago, in an article titled Social Insecurity, I wrote about what I call Phantom Tax Rates. To understand this, one first must understand what one’s Marginal Tax Rate is. A single person, after taking his exemption, and deductions, will pay 10% of the amount up to $16,050, then 15% from $16,050 to $65,100, then 25% from $65,100 up to $131,450. Let’s stop there. The Phantom Tax Rate comes into play when there is either a phase out of deductions or phase in of other income. In the case of Social Security, when half of your Social Security benefits plus other income exceed $25,000 ($32,000 if married filing joint) your benefits start to become taxable, until 85% of your benefits are fully taxed. This create a graph that looks as follows;

While we would expect a 15% rate from $16,050 right to $65,100, instead we find that for each $1000 of income (or IRA withdrawals for the person for whom this chart applied) that the incremental tax is as high as $462.50.

In another situation, the adoption credit is phased out for AGIs between $174,730 and $214,730, and in the case I’ve been alerted to, the taxpayer loses $11,600 on the next $40,000 of income due to this phaseout. This loss, plus his marginal rate of 25% total 54.13%. My advice to him was to defer income if possible to 2009, which he will. By deferring that $40,000 worth of income he will pay $26,600 less tax this year, and just $10,000 when he receives this income in 2009.

When it comes to taxes, nothing is simple. When planning, it’s best to get a copy of TurboTax and run a few ‘what-if’ scenarios to best understand the impact of any financial changes you may incur.

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