The Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) began as a way to prevent wealthy taxpayers from using deductions to not pay income tax. The tax’s purpose is to ensure everyone pays a minimum amount of tax. However, Congress hasn’t updated the factors that determine who must pay the AMT. As a result, more middle-income people must pay the AMT.
Exemption amounts are set by law for each filing status. Starting with 2013, the exemption amounts are inflation that’s adjusted annually. The exemption amounts for 2013 are:
$51,900 for single filers
$80,800 for married filing jointly and qualifying widow(er)
$40,400 for married filing separately
The AMT rate has increased substantially since its creation, but regular tax rates have decreased. So, instead of the AMT rate being much lower than regular tax rates, the regular tax rates are often lower than the AMT rate.
The AMT is a parallel tax system. You must:
Complete your regular return.
Complete AMT Form 6251.
Compare the two taxes.
Pay the higher of the two taxes.
You can’t claim many of the deductions you can claim for your regular tax computation for the AMT.
There's no easy way to see if you're subject to the AMT. Some indicators might be:
Having more than three children
Claiming many deductions on your Schedule A
Exercising incentive stock options (ISOs), but not selling the stock in the same year
You will use Form 6251to figure the AMT. It requires you to report adjustments to reflect the differences between the two parallel systems. So, you might have to add back amounts you deducted for regular tax purposes, like personal exemptions
You must first calculate your AMT income:
If you itemize, start with your income after itemizing deductions. Don’t include your personal exemptions.
If you didn't itemize, start with your adjusted gross income (AGI).
For AMT purposes, you can't claim your personal exemptions. These exemptions reduce your income on your 2012 regular return by $3,800 per person. This amount is less for high-income individuals
Also, if you itemize, you can’t claim as many deductions for the AMT as you can on your regular return. You must add them back into your income. The only itemized deductions allowed for AMT include:
Medical and dental expenses more than 10% of the regular tax AGI
AMT investment interest to the extent of net AMT investment income
Qualified housing interest
Miscellaneous deductions not subject to the 2% of AGI limitation
In the regular tax system, you can deduct most of your mortgage interest. This is subject to limitations based on the loan’s size. To learn more, see the Interest on Home Mortgage tax tip.
However, for AMT purposes, you might not be able to deduct the interest. This is true if you use mortgage money to do something on your first or second home other than:
This affects you if both of these are true:
You borrowed on a home equity loan or refinanced your mortgage for a loan that was more than the original debt.
You used some of the money for other purposes, like to buy a new car or pay down credit card debt.
AMT -- Depreciation
The AMT has different depreciation rules than the regular tax system. Depreciation is often lower under the AMT. This is true especially for items you put into service before 1999.
You must figure a separate AMT depreciation for items put into service before 1999 if the items were for:
By doing this, you usually spread the depreciation over more years and at a less favorable rate.
This will also affect the amount of capital gain or loss you realize when you sell the depreciated asset. The basis of the property is equal to its cost adjusted up or down by certain amounts. This includes a downward adjustment for depreciation allowed.
If your depreciation is lower for AMT than for your regular taxes, your basis will be higher for AMT. Since you have a higher basis, your gain will be lower or your loss will be greater. This difference in basis usually results in an adjustment in the year you sell the asset. The adjustment will decrease the amount of income subject to AMT.
You must track AMT depreciation separately. This requires additional calculations to complete your return. Also, it’s a good idea to have good recordkeeping.
You usually must still figure depreciation for AMT purposes for these types of property:
Personal property that fits these requirements:
Placed in service after 1998
Depreciated using the 200% declining balance method
This is usually three-, five-, seven-, and 10-year property under the modified accelerated cost recovery system (MACRS). To learn more, see Form 6251 instructions.
Depreciation of real property that fits these requirements:
Placed in service after 1998
Not depreciated for regular tax purposes using the straight-line method
Most property placed in service after 1986 and before 1999
AMT -- Incentive Stock Options (ISOs)
The ISO is a preference item. It’s often a major reason you have to pay AMT. To learn more about preference items, see Form 6251 instructions.
You might exercise an ISO but don't sell the stock in the same year you exercised the options. If so, you don't have income or loss to report on your regular return. It's as though the transaction never happened. However, for AMT purposes, you must assume something did happen.
Usually, an ISO lets you to buy stock at a price lower than the current fair market value of a publicly traded stock. An income item for AMT purposes is the difference between these two items:
Amount paid for the stock -- like your exercise price
Stock’s fair market value on the day you exercised your option
AMT -- Taxable Tax-Exempts
Income from municipal bonds usually isn't taxable for regular tax purposes. However, you might have municipal bonds that are private-activity bonds. If so, you might have taxable income for AMT purposes. This is only true for private-activity bonds issued after Aug. 7, 1986. The Form 1099-INT you receive should show how much of your tax-exempt interest subject to AMT. You might not have any.
Your total AMT income and your filing status determine your exemption amount. Exemption amounts for 2012 are:
Married filing jointly or qualified widow(er) -- $80,800
Single or head of household -- $51,900
Married filing separately -- $40,400
For 2012, the exemption amounts are phased out at the rate of 25 cents for each $1 of AMT income more than:
Married filing jointly or qualified widow(er) -- $153,900
Single or head of household -- $115,400
Married filing separately -- $76,950
You’ll have income subject to the AMT after you subtract the exemption amount from the AMT income. The AMT rate is a flat 26% for income up to $89,750 -- or $179,500 if married filing jointly. Income more than those amounts is taxed at a rate of 28%. Income taxed at a lower rate -- like long-term capital gains or qualified dividends -- is still subject to those rates, not the AMT rate.