Beginning next month, every American who files a Form 1040 tax return will have to check a box indicating whether or not they have health coverage. If a person doesn't have an employer plan, and doesn't fall under one of nine exemptions, you must have health insurance, or face a penalty. But calculating that penalty is complicated, as is figuring out other tax implications of the Affordable Care Act.
That has the professionals who prepare more than half of the tax returns filed in this country feeling pretty optimistic about the future.
As George Brandes of Jackson Hewitt says in this Marketplace piece, complicated taxes means more people needing help.
“A study by the University of California, Berkeley, suggests as many as a third of all tax credit recipients will owe some money back, and so that adds another layer of complexity on how you handle something like this,” he says.
The feds call the tax the "individual shared responsibility payment" and you will be asked about it on Line 61 of Form 1040. If you have insurance, you check the box. If you qualify for one of the exemptions, you attach a new Affordable Care Act Form 8965.
Pay me now or pay me later
For single Americans without employer plans, the penalty has been widely reported as $95. Since coverage is much more than that, many have decided apparently to skip it for now.
But it's not that simple, as Roberton Williams of the Tax Policy Center pointed out in this Oregon Live piece.
Here's why. The Affordable Care Act says those who refuse coverage must pay either a flat fee per uncovered family member or a percentage of excess income, whichever's higher. That's the key: whichever amount is greater determines the fee you pay.
As a result, any single person under age 65 making more than $19,650 in 2014 will likely owe more than $95. For example, a single person with modified adjusted gross income of $35,000 and no dependents will owe a penalty of $249, not $95, according to the Tax Policy Center's calculator.
The penalty will go up substantially over the next two years and the Congressional Budget Office has estimated the penalties will generate $7 billion in revenues by 2017 and $9 billion by 2021.
That may be why some professional tax preparers are concerned about compliance and the "honor system" in this new maze of mandates, coverage and penalties.
“Those that for whatever reason want to mislead the system — what do you do about them?” asked Mark Steber, chief tax officer at Jackson Hewitt in this piece in Politico. “The IRS tells us to use the current rules. We would have liked to have a little bit more security with such a dramatic change in the tax law in the last 25 years.”
The delay in the employer mandate means most businesses don’t have to document health care coverage to either employees filing taxes or the IRS for tax year 2014. And smaller businesses aren’t required to cover workers, so they have no reporting requirements.
But for American taxpayers, new reporting requirements begin next month.