Beware of the Alternative Minimum Tax

Many unsuspecting taxpayers will find themselves paying more income tax this year because of the alternative minimum tax (AMT). This odd-sounding tax was originally enacted in 1969 to force "high income" taxpayers to pay a minimum amount of tax even if they used various types of tax shelters available at that time.

The tax was aimed at 155 families with more than $200,000 in income that paid little or no tax. In the past 40 years, the AMT has changed some, but it is now estimated that more than 3 million taxpayers are subject to the AMT.

What is the AMT?

The actual mechanics of the AMT can be complicated. In essence, after your regular tax is calculated, you do another tax calculation with adjustments to various income items, itemized deductions and personal exemption amounts and use the AMT tax rates of 26% to 28%. If the AMT calculation results in a higher tax, the difference is added to your regular income tax. That "add-on" is the alternative minimum tax.

What Triggers the AMT?

Did You Know?

Determining if the AMT affects you means calculating your tax liability twice.

The answer lies in the adjustments made, the relationship between the AMT tax rates and your normal income tax bracket rates. Here is a brief description of some of the adjustments.

The primary adjustment to your income can come from the exercise of incentive stock options. Any difference between the exercise price and the fair market value on the date of exercise is added to your income for AMT purposes.

Itemized deductions that must be "added back" include most state and local income taxes and property taxes. Personal exemption amounts that reduce your regular taxable income are not available for AMT purposes. Several other less common items can trigger the AMT as well.

The AMT exemption for 2015 is $83,400 for couples and $53,600 for individuals. The AMT exemption for 2016 is $83,800 for couples and $53,900 for individuals. These exemption amounts will be indexed for inflation in future years.

This article is a very general discussion of the AMT. Everyone's tax situation is different and deserves focused attention. If you think you may be subject to the AMT, or if you are not comfortable with your understanding of the tax laws, consult a qualified tax professional to get the advice you and your taxes deserve.

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