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The latest Biden tax proposal

Key takeaways

  • The Biden administration has proposed raising the top individual income tax rate and adding a 25% minimum tax on those with a net worth greater than $100 million.
  • The proposed changes target the wealthiest American taxpayers, but are unlikely to become law given obstacles in Congress.
  • Still, it may be wise to consider certain strategies in anticipation of a future high-tax environment.

On Monday, March 11, President Biden released his proposed budget for 2025, articulating the administration's priorities and detailing where they would seek to generate the revenue to pay for them. This year's budget largely resembles what the administration proposed last year, for 2024, and like that budget, this proposal is unlikely to become law, given that control of Congress is divided between Democrats and Republicans. However, elements of the budget proposal will likely become topics of debate during the 2024 presidential election.

What's being proposed?

The budget proposal seeks to generate revenue by raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans to fund expansions of the Child Tax Credit, Earned Income Tax Credit, and Premium Tax Credit, among other spending priorities. Generally speaking, the income tax changes laid out in the budget would impact a very small number of taxpayers if they were implemented—specifically, those who earn more than $400,000 in annual income.

  • The top individual income tax rate would rise to 39.6% from 37% for income above $400,000 (single filers) or $450,000 (married filing jointly).
  • The net investment income tax rate would rise to 5% from 3.8% for those earning more than $400,000 in regular income, capital gains, and pass-through business income combined. The additional Medicare tax rate for those earning more than $400,000 would also increase to 5% from 3.8%.
  • Qualified dividends and long-term capital gains would be taxed as ordinary income, plus the net investment income tax, for income that exceeds $1 million.
  • Transfers of property by gift or death would trigger a tax on the asset's appreciated value if in excess of the applicable exclusion.
  • Roth IRA conversions would be prohibited for high-income taxpayers, and "backdoor" Roth contributions, where after-tax traditional IRA contributions can be rolled into a Roth IRA despite income limits, would be eliminated.

For taxpayers with a net worth greater than $100 million, a 25% minimum tax would be imposed on total income, including unrealized gains.

The budget would also eliminate the ability to defer gains on the like-kind exchange of real property and impose limits on the duration of generation-skipping trusts. "These would be meaningful changes," says David Peterson, head of Advanced Wealth Solutions at Fidelity. "More family wealth would be taxed, and fewer assets would be transferred to the next generation."

What is the likelihood that this becomes law?

Presidential budgets are largely symbolic. “Every year, the current administration puts out a budget proposal to express their policy priorities that lays out a wish list on what they’d like to accomplish,” says Alice Joe, a vice president on Fidelity’s Government Relations team. “Elements of it can get incorporated into various bills, but the president’s budget as a whole is rarely, if ever, turned into law.”

Joe views the proposed budget primarily as a messaging tool to Democratic legislators and voters. “The overall budget is mostly a campaign document,” says Joe, "and the likelihood of these changes moving forward with a split Congress is extremely low. However, we may see these proposals resurface again down the road."

How should you prepare?

Though President Biden's proposed budget isn't expected to become law, some of its tax provisions are going to come into effect in a few years when some provisions of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) expire. The reduction of the top marginal income tax rate to 37%, for example, is scheduled to sunset at the end of 2025. This means that unless Congress acts to extend those provisions of the TCJA, the top rate will jump back to 39.6%. The Biden budget simply proposes to do this sooner, in 2025.

"While we don't expect these changes to come into effect next year, it's still worth considering what strategies might make sense in a higher tax environment," says Greg Doyle, a vice president on Fidelity's Advance Planning Team. Doyle points to 4 strategies that could potentially help minimize your tax burden and facilitate wealth transfer to the next generation should income taxes increase:

  • Roth IRA conversions: If you are likely to be affected by the increase in the highest marginal income tax rate, converting a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA now, when the rate is still relatively low, could be advantageous. A Roth IRA can help provide tax-free growth potential and tax-free withdrawals in retirement or for your inheritors, especially if they live in high-tax states like New York or California.
  • Bunching charitable deductions: If you itemize your deductions and plan on making a large charitable gift, it may make sense to defer that gift if you expect to be in a higher tax bracket in future years.
  • In-kind transfers: If you have a grantor trust, you may want to consider moving high-cost-basis assets into your trust and taking low-cost-basis assets of equal value out. Bringing those low-basis assets back into your estate may allow your spouse or children to "step-up" the basis of the assets to the fair market value when they inherit them, offering a substantial savings on capital gains taxes.
  • Tax-smart strategies: Investors of every income level can implement strategies designed to help manage, defer, or reduce taxes, such as tax-smart asset location and tax-loss harvesting.

It’s worth noting, however, that changes to some of these strategies are proposed in the 2025 budget. Specifically, the administration proposes to limit in-kind transfers and eliminate the step-up in basis at death. Additionally, individuals with Roth IRAs that have a balance greater than $10 million would be subject to special distribution rules requiring them to withdraw a portion of the excess amount. While it’s unlikely these proposals will come into effect anytime soon, it’s important to be conscious of the potential for changes in the future.

A good opportunity to reassess

Doyle suggests that while there may not be any immediate need to make a change to your plan, it's never a bad time to assess your situation. "This could be a good time to revisit your plan, and test assumptions around your tolerance for risk and your time horizon," he says. "Having a plan in place that's designed for the long term can help you avoid making reactionary decisions that could lead you to miss out on potential growth."

"Taxes are just one consideration when making decisions about your portfolio," says Peterson. "It's best to stay focused on your long-term goals while building flexibility into your plans and into your mindset."

As always, before you consider making any changes to your personal plan, make sure to look at your whole financial picture and consult your tax advisor.

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Fidelity does not provide legal or tax advice. The information herein is general and educational in nature and should not be considered legal or tax advice. Tax laws and regulations are complex and subject to change, which can materially impact investment results. Fidelity cannot guarantee that the information herein is accurate, complete, or timely. Fidelity makes no warranties with regard to such information or results obtained by its use, and disclaims any liability arising out of your use of, or any tax position taken in reliance on, such information. Consult an attorney or tax professional regarding your specific situation.

Views expressed are as of the date indicated, based on the information available at that time, and may change based on market or other conditions. Unless otherwise noted, the opinions provided are those of the speaker or author and not necessarily those of Fidelity Investments or its affiliates. Fidelity does not assume any duty to update any of the information.

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