3.8% Medicare Tax
Now that Obamacare has made it this far, let’s re-visit the tax on house sales. Here is a link to the FAQs from the NAR (hat tip to goaround for the reminder):
Q: So who will be subject to the new tax? When is it effective?
The new 3.8% tax will apply to the “unearned” income of “High Income” taxpayers. The new Medicare tax on unearned income will take effect January 1, 2013. Proceeds from the tax will be allocated to shoring up the Medicare fund.
Q: Who is a “High Income” Taxpayer?
Those whose tax filing status is “single” will be subject to the new unearned income taxes if they have Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) of more than $200,000. Married couples filing a joint return with AGI of more than $250,000 will also be subject to the new tax. (The AGI threshold for married filing separate returns is $125,000.)
Q: What is “unearned” net investment income?
Unearned income is the income that an individual derives from investing his/her capital. It includes capital gains, rents, dividends and interest income. It also comes from some investments in active businesses if the investor is not an active participant in the business. The portion of unearned income that is subject both to income tax and the new Medicare tax is the amount of income derived from these sources, reduced by any expenses associated with earning that income. (Hence the term “net” investment income.)
Q: Give me an example.
If AGI for a single individual is $275,000, then the excess over $200,000 would be $75,000 ($275,000 minus $200,000). Assume that this individual’s net investment income is $60,000. The new 3.8% tax applies to the smaller amount. In this example, $60,000 of net investment income is less than the $75,000 excess over the threshold. Thus, in this example, the 3.8% tax is applied to the $60,000.
If this single individual had AGI if $275,000 and net investment income of $90,000, then the new tax would be imposed on the smaller amount: the $75,000 of excess over $200,000.
Q: Will the 3.8% tax apply to any part of the gain on the sale of a principal residence?
The new Medicare tax would apply only to any gain realized that is more than the $250K/$500K existing primary home exclusion (known as the “taxable gain”), and only if the seller has AGI above the $200K/$250K AGI thresholds.
So, for example, if the taxable gain was $30,000 and a married couple had AGI (which would include the taxable gain) of $180,000, the 3.8% tax would not apply because AGI is less than $250,000. If that same couple had AGI of $290,000, then the application of the 3.8% tax would be subject to the same formula described above. The $30,000 taxable gain on the sale would be less than the $40,000 excess above $250,000 AGI, so the $30,000 gain would be subject to the new 3.8% tax.