(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
High earners are seeing a combination of federal tax increases for 2013: a top marginal rate of 39.6 percent, up from 35 percent; a 20 percent tax on long-term capital gains and dividends, up from 15 percent; and a new 3.8 percent tax on investment income. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

The higher tax rates passed by Congress this year have some top U.S. earners seeking last-minute strategies to lower their tax bite as year-end calculations turn up unpleasant surprises.

“There are many, many high-income taxpayers now who are finding themselves facing tax rates in excess of 50 percent,” said Suzanne Shier, a tax strategist and director of wealth planning at Chicago-based Northern Trust Corp. (NTRS) “That really gets their attention.”

High earners are seeing a combination of federal tax increases for 2013: a top marginal rate of 39.6 percent, up from 35 percent; a 20 percent tax on long-term capital gains and dividends, up from 15 percent; and a new 3.8 percent tax on investment income. Also, limits on exemptions and deductions are taking effect for this tax year.

Some top earners are only now realizing they may owe much more by April 15 because they’ve been paying quarterly estimated taxes based on their liability for 2012, which the Internal Revenue Service allows in a “safe-harbor” rule, said Elda Di Re, a partner at Ernst & Young LLP.

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