A rumor that is spreading rapidly on the Internet is that the Healthcare legislation that passed Congress earlier this year contains a provision to impose a 3.8 percent sales tax on homes sales. There is a hint of truth to the rumor, but for the most part it is untrue.
The tax being referred to is not a sales tax or a transfer tax, but a tax on certain capital gains, as described below. Some capital gains from the sale of a home could be caught up in the tax, but the rumor exagerates the impact. The vast majority of sales will not be impacted because of the capital gain exemption on a principal residence.
New Tax on Capital Income
Set to take effect in 2013, a tax increase on income from capital gains will affect some real estate investments. However, it will have a negligible impact on sellers of principal residences.
The new 3.8% Medicare tax on so-called unearned income will affect high-income taxpayers who report taxable income due to capital gains and other non-wage income. It will not affect income that is currently tax-exempt, including most capital gains like income resulting from the sale of a principal residence, the result of the $250,000/$500,000 gain exclusion rules. Taxpayers with less than $250,000 in income will not be impacted by the new tax.
Under prior law, Social Security and Medicare benefits are financed by payroll taxes on wages. The tax is equal to 12.4% of covered wages up to a maximum amount of $106,800 in 2010, with half paid by the employer and half paid by the employee; and 2.9% of covered wages uncapped, again with half paid by the employer and half paid by the employee. Self-employed individuals — including independent contractors — generally pay both the employee and employer parts of the tax. Unearned income (e.g. rents, dividends, interest and capital gains) were not subject to these taxes.
As a result of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, this system is changing. Under revised law, the Medicare tax will increase for taxpayers earning more than $250,000 (if married) or $200,000 (if single). In particular, the individual’s Medicare portion of the tax — which was previously 1.45% or half of the 2.9% — increases to 3.8%, but only for certain income amounts. The rate of 3.8% applies to the smaller of: (1) the amount of income above $250,000/$200,000 of modified adjusted gross income; or (2) net investment income. The tax also applies to self-employed individuals.
Net investment income is the sum of income from interest, dividends, annuities, royalties, rents and capital gain — except income derived from active participation in a trade or business, including sole proprietorships, partnerships and S Corporations.
As noted earlier, tax-exempt unearned income (excluded gain from the sale of a principal residence or interest income allocatable to a tax-exempt bond) is not subject to this new tax.
Here are two examples:
- A couple with wage income of $260,000 and $9,000 in capital gains will pay the extra 3.8% tax on the smaller of $19,000 (the difference between $269,000 and $250,000) and $9,000. $9,000 is smaller, so the increased tax is equal to $342 ($9,000 times 3.8%)
- A couple with wage income of $50,000 and gains income of $210,000 will pay the extra 3.8% tax on the smaller of $10,000 (the difference between $260,000 and $250,000) and $210,000. $10,000 is smaller, so the increased tax is equal to $380 ($10,000 times 3.8%).