Tax Law Changes in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009

The following article provides an overview of the tax changes that will affect many individuals and families. The recently passed "American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009" (ARRA) will actually create tax relief for individuals and families with low and moderate incomes, those who have college expenses, as well as those who purchase new cars or new homes.

"Making Work Pay" credit

With the new credit, workers may see that their weekly withholding drops about $13 in June. ARRA has created an individual tax credit for 6.2% of an individual's income. This amount is not to exceed $400 for a single return, or $800 for a joint return. If an individual earns an income in excess of $75,000 ($150,000 for a joint return), he or she is not eligible for the credit. Those who are eligible will receive either the aforementioned reduction in withholdings or in a credit on a tax return. It is expected that next year, additional take-home pay will be closer to $7.70 each week.

Economic recovery payment

Those individuals who are retired and are collecting Social Security payments, or those are receiving disability benefits from the Social Security Administration or the U.S. Department of Veterans' affairs are eligible to receive a one-time payment of $250 from the ARRA. Railroad Retirement beneficiaries and those veterans who have pension plans are also able to collect this credit.

Refundable credit for certain federal and state pensioners

Certain government retirees may also be eligible for the one-time tax credit of $250, if they are not receiving Social Security benefits.

Unemployment compensation exclusion

Federal income tax will be suspended on the first $2,400 of unemployment benefits received in 2009 by an eligible recipient.

Expanded earned income tax credit

Tax relief for families with three or more children will be provided by the ARRA, and marriage penalty relief will be increased in 2009 and 2010.

Expanded child tax credit

ARRA will lower the earned income threshold to $3,000 (down from $8,500 in 2008) in order to increase a family's eligibility for a refundable child tax credit in 2009 and 2010.

Expanded and revised higher education tax credit

A new credit will temporarily replace the Hope credit by offering a $2,500 tax credit, which will be available during the first four years of college. Each student will receive a credit based on 100% of the first $2,000 spent on tuition and related expenses (fees, books, etc.). The next year, he or she will receive $25% of the $2,000. However, the credit is phased out if the individual or family has an AGI in excess of $80,000 ($160,000 for joint returns). Of this new credit, 40% will be refundable.

Computers as an education expense

Computers and computer technology will now qualify as legitimate educational expenses in 529 education plans, beginning in the 2009 and 2010 tax years.

Expanded credit for first-time home buyers

A refundable tax credit, equivalent to an interest-free loan for 10% of a home's purchase price, was offered by Congress to first-time homebuyers last year. It could be up to $7,5000 and was applied to homes purchased between April 9, 2008 and July 1, 2009. Those who received this credit were expected to repay the amount received over 15 years in even installments. If the home was sold, the amount had to be repaid to the government in full. Those taxpayers with AGIs in excess of $7,500 ($150,000 for joint returns) were not eligible. However, ARRA has now eliminated the repayment obligation for those individuals who purchase homes on or after January 1, 2009. The credit has been extended until November 2009 and will now cover up to $8,000 of the purchase price.

Tax break for new car purchasers.

Under the new legislation, taxpayers may deduct state and local sales taxes paid on new automobiles, including, light trucks, SUVs, motorcycles and motor homes, unless they have AGIs in excess of $125,000 ($250,000 for joint returns). Those who itemize their deductions and those who do not are both eligible, however, the taxpayer who deducts state and local sales tax in lieu of state and local income taxes will not receive the credit.

Alternative minimum tax (AMT) patch

The ARRA will also increase the AMT exemption amount to $46,700 for unmarried individuals, $70,950 for joint returns and $35,475 for married individuals who choose to file separately. This legislation is intended to hold the number of taxpayers subject to the AMT at bay.

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