Alternative Minimum Tax

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Congress created the alternative minimum tax (AMT) to prevent wealthy taxpayers from paying little or no tax due to various deductions, exemptions and other preferences in the tax code. The AMT is essentially a separate tax system that requires people to recalculate their taxes using income that would otherwise be exempt from regular taxation. For many years, the AMT affected few taxpayers but recently, application of the AMT has grown so rapidly that it now affects several million people.
If you have questions about the AMT or whether it affects you, talk to an experienced tax lawyer at our firm.

Structure of the Alternative Minimum Tax

The AMT is basically a separate tax system from the “regular” federal income tax system. Strictly speaking, it is not an alternative tax, but rather an addition to an individual’s regular federal income tax. The definitions of income, deductions and exemptions differ from the regular tax system, so much so that the AMT is essentially a parallel tax system that shadows the regular system. With the AMT, personal exemptions for the individual, spouse and children, if any, are not allowed. In addition, taxpayers cannot deduct mortgage interest or the amount of any state and local taxes they paid. There is an AMT exemption, however. The amount the taxpayer owes under the AMT system is the amount, if any, by which AMT liability is greater than regular tax liability.

Why Has the Number of People Affected by AMT Increased?

The main reason the number of people affected by the alternative minimum tax has increased is that, unlike the regular income tax, exemptions in the AMT are not adjusted for inflation. Another factor is that tax credits, particularly the child credit, have caused many middle class taxpayers to have the amount they would owe under the regular tax system to be lower than the AMT.

The expanding application of the AMT tends to impose transaction costs that go beyond the basic difference in tax liability. Taxpayers potentially affected by the AMT must complete a second set of forms, whose definitions regarding income, deductions and exemptions differ from the regular tax system. The AMT may also affect these taxpayers’ decisions such as whether to itemize deductions and when to pay for deductible activities. Given that approximately one-third of taxpayers itemize their deductions; the amount of transaction costs involved in examining the potential applicability of the AMT is considerable.

Why Does the AMT Disproportionately Affect Married Couples?

Married couples filing jointly are more likely to be affected by the AMT than unmarried taxpayers with comparable incomes. One reason for this is that married couples typically have more dependents than single taxpayers. Under the AMT, these couples are less able to make use of exemptions and child credits than under the regular tax system. Another reason is that the standard deduction for married couples is larger than the deduction for single taxpayers. In addition to married taxpayers, people who have high state and local taxes are more likely to pay AMT because there is no deduction for state and local taxes under the AMT system.

Speak to a Tax Attorney

An experienced tax attorney at our firm can assist you in resolving alternative minimum tax liability issues.

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