The key elements of the Act include the following:
• The current income tax rates will be retained for two years (2011 and 2012), with a top rate of 35% on ordinary income and 15% on qualified dividends and long-term capital gains.
• Employees and self-employed workers will receive a reduction of two percentage points in Social Security tax in 2011, bringing the rate down from 6.2% to 4.2% for employees, and from 12.4% to 10.4% for the self-employed.
• A two-year AMT “patch” for 2010 and 2011 provides a modest increase in AMT exemption amounts and allows personal nonrefundable credits to offset AMT as well as regular tax.
• Key tax credits for working families that were enacted or expanded in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 will be retained. Specifically, the new law extends the $1,000 child tax credit and maintains its expanded refundable feature for two years, extends rules expanding the earned income credit for larger families and married couples, and extends the higher education tax credit (the American Opportunity tax credit) and its partial refundable feature for two years.
• Businesses can deduct 100% of their new equipment and machinery purchases, effective for property placed in service after September 8, 2010 and through December 31, 2011. For property placed in service in 2012, the new law provides for 50% additional first-year depreciation.
• Certain recurring extenders are again extended for two years, retroactively to 2010 and through the end of 2011. These include: the election to take an itemized deduction for state and local general sales taxes in lieu of the itemized deduction for state and local income taxes; the $250 above-the-line deduction for certain expenses of elementary and secondary school teachers; and the research credit.
• After a one-year hiatus, the estate tax will be reinstated for 2011 and 2012, with a top rate of 35%. The exemption amount will be $5 million per individual in 2011 and will be indexed to inflation in following years. Estates of people who died in 2010 can choose to follow either 2010's or 2011's rules. (For more details, see our separate Client Alert entitled “Revisions to Federal Estate, Gift and Generation-Skipping Transfer Taxes.”)
Unfortunately, the Act does not repeal the controversial expansion of Form 1099 reporting requirements. It also does not extend the Build America Bonds program, which permits state and local governments to issue federally-subsidized municipal bonds.