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If you're still wondering how a GOP tax overhaul might affect you, things just got a lot more complicated.
Senate Republicans are now out with their own tax proposal, called the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, a little over a week after the House GOP unveiled its tax plan. While both are aimed at cutting taxes while limiting or ending popular deductions, they go about in some very different ways.
Among the key differences:
• The Senate plan would have seven tax brackets, the House four.
• The Senate would eliminate all deductions for state and local taxes, including property taxes. The House would limit state and local tax deductions to $10,000.
• The Senate would keep some deductions the House cuts, including those for certain medical expenses and interest on mortgage debt of up to $1 million.
Depending on your financial and family situation, all of this may leave you with some sense of hope—or dread. But with so much still to negotiate between the two chambers of Congress, experts say it's too early to tell what a final bill could mean to you and your family.
"There's no way to generalize," says Howard Hook, a CPA and certified financial planner based in Princeton, N.J. "You have to look at it on a case-by-case basis."
Here's a more detailed comparison of the two tax plans.
Tax Rates and Deductions
• Tax brackets. The Senate version would have seven tax brackets, rather than the four proposed by the House. In the Senate plan, the lowest rate would be 10 percent, starting at $9,525 for single filers and $19,050 for joint filers. That's slightly higher than what's in place today.
• Top tax rate. The Senate plan would have a top tax rate of 38.5 percent, while the House would leave it at 39.6 percent. Both top rates start at income of $500,000 for single filers and $1 million for joint filers. "At the top level, the Senate bill looks a little better at the same income level," notes Mark Luscombe, principal analyst with Wolters Kluwer Tax and Accounting in Riverwoods, Il.
• Standard deduction. Under the Senate plan, the standard deduction for individuals would be $12,000, slightly less than the $12,200 proposed by the House. The current deduction for individuals is $6,350. For heads of household it would be $18,000, compared with $18,300 in the House plan. The current deduction for heads of household is $9,300. For married couples filing jointly, the standard deduction would rise to $24,400, slightly higher than the $24,000 the House proposes. The current rate for joint filers is $12,700.
• Child tax credit. The credit, available for every child in a household under age 17, would rise to $1,650 from $1,000 under the Senate plan and would be unavailable to taxpayers making $500,000 or more. The House plan would raise the credit to $1,600.
• Family tax credit. The Senate offers no credit, while the House proposal calls for $300 per parent in a household with children.
• Estate tax. The Senate plan would keep the estate tax, but double the exemption to nearly $11 million per individual. The House repeals the estate tax after six years.
• Medical expenses. Under the Senate plan, households could continue to deduct medical expenses above 10 percent of a taxpayer's adjusted gross income. The House bill eliminates that break.
• Student loan interest. The Senate plan would retain credit for up to $2,500 in student loan interest. The proposed House tax plan would disallow this.
Where the Plans Agree
Both the Senate and the House would keep a credit of up to $13,570 for adoptions. The original House bill had eliminated it, but the version approved Thursday by the House Ways and Means Committee restored the credit.
Both plans also scrap the personal exemption, currently worth $4,050 per household member.
In both plans, the earned-income tax credit, designed for lower-income earners, would be preserved.
Neither bill would change the deductibility of charitable donations or what can be contributed, tax-free, toward retirement savings.
Both bills drop the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), a parallel taxation system that mainly affects households with income of $200,000 to $400,000.
At the same time, in an effort to keep the tax bill's cost within a target, $1.5 trillion, Senators would delay a planned reduction in top corporate tax rates to 20 percent from 35 percent to 2019. Tax plan writers in the House Ways and Means Committee had scheduled the changes to go into effect in 2018.
What About High-Tax States?
The proposed higher standard deduction could leave many homeowners ahead without itemizing, some experts note. But residents of high-tax states such as New York and California who itemize their tax returns could stand to lose from the Senate proposal, which eliminates the deduction for all state and local taxes.
"My real estate taxes are about $20,000 on a regular, middle-class house," says Ed Slott, a CPA in Rockville Centre, N.Y. "If you're paying that and working in New York City, where your state and city taxes can be 10 percent of your income, that's a big deduction to miss."
On the other hand, Hook, the Princeton CPA, notes that many of his upper-middle-income clients may not suffer so much because under arcane AMT rules, they can't deduct their property taxes now anyway. "If both the AMT and property-tax deduction are repealed, it may put them into essentially same situation they're in now," he says.
What Happens Next
Much can change between now and when a final, reconciled bill emerges, however. With the House bill and its amendments, now sanctioned by the Ways and Means Committee, moves to the full House for a vote next week.
The Senate Finance Committee expects to make amendments to its bill next week. The full Senate is expected to debate it after the Thanksgiving recess.
Bills from both houses would need to be reconciled in December in order to meet President Trump's stated goal to sign legislation by Christmas.
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