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U.S. News and Commentary



Monday
Dec032012

Gather ye sugar plums while ye may; Washington will impact your personal discretionary budget 

By Wendy N. Powell, guest contributor

Spend well this Christmas/holiday Season and be merry.  But ‘tis the season for budgeting for the new year as well. Unless otherwise averted, your Christmas/holiday or otherwise discretionary budget will fade next year to infinity and beyond.  The trend is that American holiday spending has diminished over the past 10 years from $1,037.00 in 2002 to $854.00 in 2012).This latest statistic compares to pre-recession spending.

Throw a travel budget into the mix (average of $1,200) and double your expenses for gas, and there you’ve got it. Your discretionary budget is going, then gone to pay your new tax obligations.

The Grinch could no more create this story; it is reality.

Reality be damned. According to the Tax Policy Center, the average American family is expected to pay $3,500 more in taxes annually.  This is the average for families, not millionaires or the nouveau riche defined $250,000 earners. This will affect us all, in a ho ho sized way, and I don’t mean Hostess. Take this seriously; your wallets will be lighter.

What is a family to do? Perhaps hunker down and bake gingerbread men or call your congressional representative. Now we are talking about real impact. Let us not forget. This will not only affect the “rich” Americans. This is planned to hit us all in the pocketbook.

We also need to plan for Obamacare. Many of us think that this tax, as defined by the Supreme Court, won’t affect our spending and expenses; Think again. Families will need to maintain their insurance at their employer, buy insurance or pay the tax penalty, estimated at $2,085 for a family in 2016 (average consistent with income level scales).

If employers, no, when employers stop their insurance benefits, this will become more real. We have been told if you like your doctor, you would be able to keep your doctor; if you like your plan, no one will take it away. President Obama indicates that 98 percent of Americans will be unaffected by the tax penalty and suggested that those who will be, should face up to their civic responsibilities. But a more recent estimate is that more than 6 million uninsured people will pay the tax penalty, largely middle class workers including approximately 10 percent at or below the poverty level.

Someone has to pay the piper, (with the exceptions for Indian tribes, Amish, wage earners of under $9,500 annually, or qualified hardships). But remember, there is no governmental control on businesses to maintain your level of benefits, period.

More than 80 percent of employers provide health care insurance to employees but this will drop considerably, if not by 50 percent. According to Price Waterhouse, at least 84 percent of employers are considering changes to health care plans to offset costs of taxes and regulations. Further, 50 percent are  considering the elimination of health care plans, presumably paying the expected penalty of $2,000 per employee to the IRS. Realizing the cost implications, this penalty is less costly for these employers than health care contributions.  

Many employees, who have counted on total compensation packages including health care, will see an end to their options for benefits.  But, if you have unlimited, pre-tax flexible spending accounts for medical expenses, anything over $2,500 will be taxed starting in 2013. There will be a 2.3% excise tax on medical devices and equipment that will be passed on to the patients. And starting in 2018, for employers that retain “Cadillac” premium health plans, you will be taxed 40 percent for the privilege.  It cuts both ways.

Call it fate, call it karma. More people to be covered, more expenses to recoup, more businesses to tax. So gather ye sugarplums while ye may. You are about to experience a change to your budget that will affect your lifestyle. This will not only affect the top one, two, or five percent. The average American family will see dramatic increases that will limit your spending ability. Perhaps there will be an eleventh hour rescue to avoid your portion of the fiscal cliff.  Asking for a Congressional miracle, you may have to tug on Santa’s beard to see if it’s real.

~~Wendy N. Powell is the author of the critically acclaimed Managing Experience Acquired: Necessary Skills for Successfully Managing Any Employee. Her book is now available on all of the e-book sites. She has been featured on ABC, Fox, and NBC as a management and career expert. Powell writes for a number of publications, including a column at The Huffington Post. To learn more about Powell, see the website Management Experience Acquired.

Read archived articles about the fiscal cliff at The US Report.


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