Public Service Announcement: There Is No Health Care Tax on Home Sales

The 2010 health reform legislation introduced a new 3.8% tax on the net investment income of high-income taxpayers. That tax, which I suspect you will hear more about in coming months, goes into effect on January 1, 2013.

This tax raises important policy issues, not least of which is whether Congress should give the name “Unearned Income Medicare Contribution” to an investment tax whose proceeds have nothing to do with Medicare.

The most pernicious myth, however, is that this new tax will apply to home sales. This meme appears regularly in the blogosphere. I even encountered out at the Kauffman bloggers conference. But it’s completely untrue.

As Howard Gleckman explains over at TaxVox:

Yes, the health law will impose a 3.8 percent tax on investment profits and other non-wage income starting in 2013. But that tax applies only to couples with adjusted gross income of $250,000 (or individuals with AGI [adjusted gross income] of $200,000). About 95 percent of households make less than that, and will be exempt from the law no matter what.

In addition, couples who sell a personal residence can exclude the first $500,000 in profit from tax ($250,000 for singles). That would be profit from a home sale, not proceeds. So a couple that bought a house for $100,000 and sold it for $599,000 would owe no tax, even under the health law.

If that couple had AGI in excess of $250,000 and made a profit of $500,010, it would owe the new tax. On ten bucks. That would be an extra 38 cents.

The Tax Policy Center figures that in 2013 about 0.2 percent of households with cash income of $100,000-$200,000 would pay any additional tax under this provision. And they’d pay, on average, an extra $235. Keep in mind that is added tax on all sources of non-wage income, not just home sales.

In short, the tax applies to capital gains, not home sales. Most capital gains on primary residences are exempt from tax. And it only hits high-income taxpayers. That doesn’t mean you have to like it. But opponents really need to get their facts straight.

P.S. For more information about the tax, please see my recent Tax Notes article: “Health Reform’s Tax on Investment Income: Facts and Myths“.

Capital Gains Taxes Are Going Up

The top tax rate on long-term capital gains is currently 15%. That’s why Mitt Romney is spending so much time talking about his tax returns.

That revelation has set off a familiar debate about whether that low rate is appropriate. Often overlooked in these discussions, however, is the fact that the days of the 15% tax rate are numbered. As of this posting, it has only 342 left.

On January 1, 2013, capital gains taxes are scheduled to go up sharply:

First, the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts are scheduled to expire. If that happens, the regular top rate on capital gains will rise to 20%. In addition, an obscure provision of the tax code, the limitation on itemized deductions, will return in full force. That provision, known as Pease, increases effective tax rates on high-income taxpayers by reducing the value of their itemized deductions. On net, it will add another 1.2 percentage points to the effective capital gains tax rate for high-income taxpayers.

And that’s not all. The health reform legislation enacted in 2010 imposed a new tax on the net investment income of high-income taxpayers, including capital gains. That adds another 3.8 percentage points to the tax rate.

Put it all together, and the top tax rate on capital gains is scheduled to increase from 15% today to 25% on January 1. That’s a big jump. If taxpayers really believe this will happen, expect a torrent of asset selling in November and December as wealthy taxpayers take final advantage of the lower rate.

Of course, the tax cuts might get extended for all Americans, including high-income taxpayers. That’s what happened in 2010. In that case, the increase in the capital gains rate will be smaller. Because of the health reform tax, the top capital gains tax rate will increase from 15% to 18.8%. That’s still a notable increase, but would likely set off much less tax-oriented selling this year.

The only way that the top capital gains tax rate remains at 15% will be if the tax cuts are extended for high-income taxpayers and the new health reform tax gets repealed. That’s a key distinction in the election: President Barack Obama opposes those steps, while the GOP presidential candidates favor them (and some candidates would cut the capital gains tax rate even further).