Our generations of lawmakers truly don't want to make our financial life easy, and that's why every year there are a long list of tax rule changes that affect everyone's life. To this end, Tom Herman, the tax columnist at the Wall Street Journal, provided a great summary of major personal income tax changes for 2008.
Without repeating the every single bullet in the long list, I just want to highlight one change that may have profound impact on many's investment strategy or portfolio management. Do you know the rules of capital gains are becoming much more favorably starting this year for those in 10% or 15% tax brackets?
Yes, for the next three years (2008 to 2010), taxpayers in those two tax brackets won't have to pay anything for long-term capital gains and qualified dividends. The tax rate on such income for those of higher income, will stay at the prevailing rate of 15%. For short-term capital gains and disqualified dividends, all taxpayers still have to pay tax at the marginal tax rate just like other ordinary income.
While most obviously retirees in those two tax brackets will benefit by cashing out appreciated stocks for free, those investors that are decades from retirement can also benefit by resetting their investment holdings to a higher cost basis for free -- in order to do that they just need to sell and buy same or similar issues, as long as they are careful enough to avoid falling victim of the wash sales rule.
Those with higher marginal tax rate can also benefit in certain circumstances. If they have relatives in the lowest two brackets, they can gift appreciated investments to their loved ones to a certain limit, without being taxed by Uncle Sam for the investment appreciation.
The best summary I can find so far is from The CPA Journal. Take a look if you want to be serious in managing your taxes, and give a call to your CPA or tax preparer if you are not sure about how to proceed.