It’s easy for non-specialists to be confused by U.S. tax law. Take recent concern among nonprofit groups about a provision in the new tax law enacted at the beginning of this year.
The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 reinstated the so-called Pease limitation on itemized deductions for high earners, raising concerns that charitable contributions would suffer as a result.
The Pease limitation cuts back itemized deductions by 3% of the amount by which an individual taxpayer’s adjusted gross income exceeds $250,000 ($300,000 for married couples), but not more than 80% of the total.
Nonprofit organizations lobbied hard against reinstatement of the limitation, which came into effect in 1991 and was phased out between 2006 and 2010. Some groups raised alarms after President Barack Obama signed the new tax bill into law. Certain high-profile individuals, such as former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, said they would have to be stingier in their charity this year.
A new paper by the Urban Institute Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy should allay these concerns. Its analysis of the new law finds that “the Pease limitation has negligible effects on the tax incentive for charitable giving.”
The reason is that Pease is driven by the taxpayer’s income, not by the amount of his or her deductions. “Taxpayers who elect to itemize their deductions can continue to deduct charitable contributions at their full marginal income tax rate,” according to the paper.
In fact, the new law increases their incentive to do so. The top tax rate on ordinary income has jumped from 35% in 2012 to 39.6% in 2013 on taxable income over $400,000 for individuals ($450,000 for married couples). This makes each dollar of itemized charitable deduction worth nearly 40 cents this year, compared with 35 cents last year.
Consider this example from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.